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A Long Time Coming

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"I can't believe it's only two months to the end of the mission," Kirk said, making Spock look up from his reports.

He had taken to working in Kirk's room in the second year of their mission, when he had decided that it was much more efficient to be in the captain's presence to ask him any questions he might need answered. It had since become a habit, and Spock admitted (to himself, though no one else) that he did it now mostly because he enjoyed Kirk's company. They would talk and play chess when they had finished working, and Spock felt more relaxed in the captain's quarters than he did in the rec rooms.

"I see no reason why you should be skeptical of the fact," Spock said.

Kirk snorted, "You know what I mean. At the beginning of this it felt like five years was pretty much an eternity. Now it's gone by so fast... We're winding down, and I have to start thinking about what I'm doing next."

"You would most likely be best served by writing reports on the command staff, and any other personnel whose performance you feel deserves particular comment."

"Don't worry, Mr. Spock, I plan on writing you an absolutely glowing recommendation."

"That is very kind of you, Captain," Spock said with a small nod.

"But what I meant was that I'm not sure what I'm going to do after the mission is over. Nogura told me I'm probably up for promotion." A small frown creased his brow as he said it.

"Well-deserved, in my opinion," Spock cut in, unable to guess why that would be cause for Kirk's apparently melancholy mood.

"Thanks. I'm not going to deny that it would be a real feather in my cap – it would make me the youngest Admiral that Starfleet's ever had – but I'm not sure I'm ready to take a desk job."

Spock nodded, "I understand. You have become accustomed to captaining a starship and find the work familiar and comfortable. Reluctance to change is a very human trait."

Kirk laughed outright, "And of course, you are above such human emotions."

"I am not reluctant to change, but most sentient lifeforms are comfortable in routine. It is frequently an evolutionary advantage to not change what works."

Kirk put a gentle hand on his arm, "Is that your way of saying you're not ready for it to be over, either?"

Spock glanced down at Kirk's hand. He didn't like to be touched by anyone, but for some reason he had never minded when it was Kirk doing the touching.

"I have found my position aboard the Enterprise to be quite satisfying, though I am sure I will adjust to whatever my new role will be after the conclusion of the mission."

"So, what are you thinking of doing?" Kirk said, "I know you're long overdue for a promotion yourself. Think you might get your own ship?"

"As I have said before, Captain, I have no desire for command. Another starship posting would be agreeable to me, as would a teaching position at the academy. I have also considered taking a leave of absence and returning to Vulcan for a time."

"Yeah," Kirk nodded, "Five years is more than enough time to get homesick. And I know you're on better terms with your father now..."

Spock didn't bother correcting Kirk about a Vulcan's inability to feel the emotion humans referred to as 'homesickness'. He was not entirely sure that it was the truth anymore. Kirk did not know, but by Vulcan standards, Spock's time among humans, and particularly with Kirk, had made him extraordinarily demonstrative and openly emotional.

"Spock..." Kirk said softly, with a tone of longing in his voice that Spock wasn't sure what to make of. Kirk's face was very close to his now.

"Captain?" he asked.

"I hope you'll decide to stay with me."

"Jim..." Spock let the word trail off, uncertain of what he wanted to say.

"You're my dearest friend. I can't imagine what my life would be like without you in it. I know you're a brilliant scientist, a reliable officer, and a good man. You have so many options open to you that it feels like I'm being selfish to ask this, but I hope for you to choose one that will keep you in my life," Kirk said softly. He was looking into Spock's eyes intently, and his face was close enough that Spock could feel the heat of his breath when he exhaled, "I know not everything will stay the same, but... I hope that we can."

"Jim. I will - " Spock hesitated. He dropped his gaze from Kirk's intense look, feeling almost as though it would be dangerous to maintain eye-contact any longer. "I will certainly take that under consideration when I make my decision."

Kirk sighed, leaning back with a look of disappointment that Spock didn't quite understand, and finally dropped his hand from Spock's arm, "Well, whatever you decide, tell me and I'll tailor my recommendation for it."

"Thank you, Captain."

~ ~ ~

Sometimes, Spock wanted to compile a list of every mistake he and his crewmates had ever made and give it to the young crew of the Enterprise.

He knew it was an illogical desire – even putting aside the ethical considerations of tampering with the past, it was a moot point because the timeline had already been significantly altered, and it was highly unlikely that the new Enterprise would come across even a small percentage of the same challenges that Spock's Enterprise had.

He had already interfered as much as he could justify. His younger counterpart was still in Starfleet, and well on his way to being friends with Jim Kirk. That would have to suffice.

As for Spock, he kept himself busy, just as he had since the death of his Jim Kirk. There was much to be done to preserve what was left of the Vulcan world – planning and logistics and, unfortunately, no small amount of politics. He rarely had the time to stop and dwell on what was now lost. The only indulgence he allowed himself was prolonging his infrequent conversations with the young Jim whenever he called, and letting himself enjoy the company of someone who was almost, almost the man he once called his dearest friend.

When he got a call from Jim, he usually smiled at the young man, but when the screen showed his face this time, Spock blinked in surprise.

“May I ask what exactly the markings on your face are?”

Jim grinned widely, the purple swirls on his face shimmering as his skin moved, “Ceremonial face-paint from Alrai VI.”

“Ah,” Spock nodded in understanding, “I take it that you attended the coronation, then?”

Jim nodded, “The new queen is a sweet kid. We gave her a tour of the ship and she thanked me with this. I tried to wash it off after we left, but it's really water-resistant so I need to wait for it to wear off on its own. It shouldn't be more than a couple days or so.”

Spock allowed himself a tiny smile, “It is not unflattering, at least.”

“Well, I thought so, but everyone else seems to think I look ridiculous,” Jim said, shaking his head, “And Spock was pretty much radiating disapproval, but if I'd turned her down, I think the queen would have cried. She's about the equivalent of a human six year old, and when a six year old wants to give you a gift, you just let them.”

"Indeed. I have met few non-Vulcan children that young, but they do seem to cry over very minor grievances, and the sound of a child's crying is distressing to adults of any species."

"Mm-hm," Jim agreed, "Vulcan children don't cry, do they?"

"Not past infancy, no," Spock said, "As soon as they become verbal, they are taught to say what their needs are, rather than crying."

Well, that had been the case. Now, though, Vulcans of all ages were crying much more readily than he had ever imagined he would see. The grief of his people seemed to hang in the air everywhere, and there had been several suicides, despite the illogic of further reducing the numbers of their now-endangered species.

"I thought not," Jim said, shaking his head, "Yeah, if Spock had ever heard crying children, I think he would get his face painted to avoid that noise, too."

"What is your next mission?" Spock asked, wanting to change the subject from crying children as quickly as possible.

"Orders came in about six hours ago. We're being sent out to investigate an anomaly in space. It's pretty slow-moving, but it apparently completely disabled the first ship which found it and it's likely to pass through Earth's solar system in about forty to fifty years. Starfleet wants to know if it's dangerous now, so they'll have plenty of time to prepare if it heads towards an inhabited planet."

Spock nodded in approval. The Starfleet of this timeline had apparently become much more cautious about threats in the distant future, and he felt that was a very good thing. Perhaps that would keep the Federation from being blindsided by so many of the things that he and Kirk had had to face before. He wondered if this anomaly would prove to be anything he remembered.

"Any of it sound familiar?" Jim asked with a grin.

"Unfortunately, an 'anomaly in space' is far too vague of a term to determine if it is something I am aware of," Spock said, "And if it were more specific, I would not tell you."

“No, you'd just drop hints the size of office buildings,” Jim said with that familiar grin. He shrugged, "Well, it was worth a shot. I need to get up to the bridge in a few minutes, and I want to grab lunch and try and get some more of this stuff off of my face. I'll call you again after my shift, and then I should have the time to talk for longer than a few minutes."

"That would be agreeable," Spock said, raising his hand in the ta'al, "Farewell, Jim. I will look forward to speaking with you again."

Spock turned off the console, and then gently touched his pendant, which contained the last message his Jim Kirk had ever given him. He had played it many times and felt no need to do so again tonight, but conversations with the young Jim always put him in a contemplative mood.

"Who's to say we can't go one more round?" Kirk's message had asked. Spock wondered if he would have been satisfied with this outcome. He wondered if their counterparts would come to care for each other the same way, come to love each other in the same way... and hurt each other in the same way.

Spock often wondered how things might have turned out if he had been able to understand and accept his emotions that day as he understood and accepted them now, but instead he had retreated from the intimacy of Kirk's request, the love in his eyes, out of fear. Kirk's look of disappointment when Spock said that he had chosen to return to Vulcan had cut deeply, almost enough to make him reconsider, but Kirk had quickly given him a smile.

"That's great, Spock. I suppose you'll be spending a lot of time with your family?"

"For a while. However, I intend to pursue the Kolinahr discipline. It is a process that can take several years to master."

"Are you retiring from Starfleet, then?" Kirk asked, unable to keep the hurt off of his face.

"I may choose to return when I have finished my training, so instead I am applying for a long leave of absence. If you would recommend that Starfleet grant me my request, I would be grateful.”

"I – alright, I did say I would support you," Kirk said with a small, sad smile, "I'll write up that recommendation for you and send it to you when I send it to Starfleet."

Thank you, Captain.”

Kirk clearly had not known at the time what the Kolinahr was, otherwise he wouldn't have been so calm about Spock's request. Spock had chosen not to tell him. Kirk would not understand Spock's decision, his need to finally commit to a life of pure logic. He was Vulcan, and his years in Starfleet, his friendship with Kirk, and to a lesser extent the rest of the command staff, were making him forget that. They were always quick to remind him that he was half-human, as though being a Vulcan meant no more than genetics, as though the millennia-old history of his people meant nothing to his identity. He could not be human enough for his crewmates, but he could be fully Vulcan, if he committed himself to the Kolinahr. He was tired of existing in the undefined place between his parents' species.

He still regretted the three years it had taken him to understand how wrong he had been.

~ ~ ~

There were two schools of thought on New Vulcan. One group held that the near-annihilation of their species necessitated drastic changes in the way they would live going forward, and the other believed that their brush with destruction made holding on to and preserving their traditions all the more important. For the most part the council held the latter view, but they couldn't ignore the fact that a sizable minority of the surviving Vulcans (Spock estimated around 36%, though no formal survey had been taken) did not agree.

Spock himself tried his best to stay out of the debate, doing what he could to help with the rebuilding efforts. Personally, he felt that drastic change was not only necessary, but inevitable. There was no way to keep Vulcan culture what it had been as a race of six billion members, on the planet they had evolved on in an ecosystem that they were adapted to. Though New Vulcan had the correct atmosphere and gravity, with a climate suitable for growing their staple foods, everything about it was subtly different enough that no Vulcan would ever be able to forget that this planet was not their home world. Preservation of their culture was important, but it certainly was not more important than recovery. Vulcan shouldn't simply be preserved, like an artifact in a museum, it had to thrive again, even if differently than before.

Most of the Vulcans he had known in his own timeline had perished in the destruction of Vulcan, and Spock felt a distinct guilt that sometimes he found this a source of relief instead of grief. It was easier to deal with complete strangers than people who were counterparts to people he had known. Counterparts simply reminded him of how acutely alone he was in this universe, which was why he did not like to speak to Sarek if he could avoid it. Unfortunately, Sarek was the only member of the council who knew the full truth of Spock's identity. The other council members only knew that he was a Vulcan who had been flung from his own timeline, and Spock had a vested interest in keeping it that way, for the sake of his younger self. He didn't want to see the grief and rage of the survivors turned against a Vulcan innocent of any wrongdoing, and for all his race's highly vaunted logic, scapegoating was alive and well. It was another good reason to avoid direct contact with the council, excepting Sarek when Spock had real need to consult with him.

"Ambassador Sarek," Spock greeted him with a nod, "Thank you for agreeing to speak with me."

It was strange, to say the very least, to see his father in his prime, to be older than him, to be the one with years of experience and perspective. It had taken him many, many years to finally understand the full depth of his father's love for him, and he wondered if his younger self would ever understand it the same way. This Sarek was a little sharper than his father had been, his placid expression less emotional control and more emotional repression.

"There would have been no logical reason for me to refuse," Sarek said.

Which did not mean that Sarek hadn't wanted to refuse. Their interactions were infrequent and strictly professional. Spock suspected that Sarek found talking with him just as strange as Spock did. The man before him wasn't the father he had known, and Spock was certainly not his son.

"The Federation Council has offered to send a contingent of three thousand counselors to New Vulcan, to help our people learn to manage our grief. I told them that they would not be of much help unless they were well-studied in Vulcan culture and psychology,” Sarek said.

"I've also heard about their proposal," Spock said, "One of the healers at the hospital mentioned it. I think you should urge the council to accept their offer, whether the counselors are particularly well-versed in Vulcan culture or not."

"Indeed?" Sarek asked, raising his eyebrow. Goodness, having spoken to both Sarek and this younger self, Spock could certainly how much he took after his father. So many of his mannerisms were just like Sarek's, and Spock hadn't seen it as a young Vulcan because of how hurt he had been by their estrangement. "Wouldn't it be only logical to insist any counselors sent have a thorough enough understanding of Vulcan psychology that they would be of help?"

"It would be logical, yes," Spock agreed, "Except for the fact that the definition of a 'thorough enough understanding of Vulcan psychology' is wildly variable. What constitutes 'thorough enough'? The council was leaning towards isolationism even before the destruction of Vulcan, and now their aversion to other races is becoming even more extreme. Our people will not survive without outside help, ambassador."

Sarek nodded in acquiescence, "That is correct. But the concern that too much outside help will destroy what remains of our culture is a valid one. The Federation means well, but other races do not understand Vulcan's commitment to logic."

"You know as well as I that not all Vulcans chose to follow the path of logic," Spock said, thinking sadly of Sybok, "And, despite what some may have thought, that choice made them no less Vulcan."

"Then are Romulans also Vulcans?" Sarek asked, with a touch of incredulity that Spock found somewhat amusing - his father was not infallible after all.

"Genetically speaking, yes. Romulans and Vulcans are identical,” Spock said, “In my own time, I was working towards opening lines of communication and trade. In this timeline, I believe the goal should be an eventual reunification of our two peoples.”

Sarek's eyebrow climbed even higher, “You may be correct, but I will have a hard time convincing the council of that.”

“Then convincing them to accept the Federation's grief counselors will be quite easy by comparison, won't it, ambassador?”

“Indeed.”

~ ~ ~

There was a time when Spock would never have admitted, even to himself, to feeling anything so flagrantly emotional as eagerness, but it was certainly eagerness he felt while waiting for Jim to call him again. It would not have been obvious to the human yet – Spock had been able to tell that Jim and his younger self were becoming friends, but there wasn't yet a sense of ease and intimacy between the two of them. Though Jim certainly seemed to like young Spock, he had not yet allowed Jim much closeness.

He wasn't sure what he might do to encourage their relationship, and furthermore, was not certain that he should. His interference would prevent their development, and he knew better than to give in to the temptation. Even a strong temptation.

When the call came through, and Jim's smiling face appeared on the screen (this time free of Alraian face paint), Spock almost smiled at him.

"Hello again, Jim," he said.

"Hey," Jim said brightly, "How was your day?"

Spock thought about his conversation with Sarek, which had been productive, and about his shift volunteering at the hospital, which had included preventing another suicide attempt, this time by a fourteen year old. "My day was... quite average," he said, “And yours?”

"Also average," Jim said brightly, "Bones found a soap that got the face paint off, and we paused to take some short-ranged scans of a neutron star. Spock had a lot of fun with that, though I don't think he would use the word 'fun'. 'Fascinating,' maybe."

"I also find that neutron stars are a very fascinating phenomenon."

"I always thought pulsars were more interesting," Jim said with a shrug, "But there's not really a lot for me to do when we're scanning stars, I just sit in the chair looking pretty and occasionally I say something like 'carry on, Mr. Spock'. It's a little boring for me."

Spock nodded, remembering fondly how his captain had thought the same thing, which was why Spock had often been left in charge while Kirk went down to the gym for that kind of work.

"Perhaps next time you might excuse yourself to other parts of the ship," Spock suggested, "Or use it as an opportunity to complete small tasks you may have been putting off."

"Way ahead of you there. I read a whole bunch of reports from Starfleet. I hadn't gotten around to them because they didn't really have anything to do with the running of the Enterprise," Jim suddenly smiled very widely, "There's talk that they're planning to set up a deep space exploration mission. Five years long! Almost totally uncharted territory! I want that mission."

"I would be surprised if you aren't under consideration for it," Spock said, answering Jim's smile with a tiny one of his own, "The Enterprise has one of the top rated performances in the fleet, despite having a crew consisting of mostly very new graduates."

Jim's smile grew even wider, "That would be just... the best thing I can imagine. And I have a good imagination."

"Then I would advise you to keep your ship's performance exemplary, and you may very well not be limited to your imagination."

Jim gave him a shrewd look, "You had the five year mission. In your own timeline. I can tell, you've got that satisfied look you get when things in this timeline are similar to yours."

Sometimes, Spock became distracted with Jim's youthful energy, and forgot that Jim's mind was just as sharp in this timeline as it had been in his own. He was good at deducing from Spock's hints. “That is very astute of you. You are correct, the Enterprise did have a five year mission in my timeline.”

“Wonderful. I'll drop a line to Pike, let him know I want it. I'm sure he'll put in a good word for me.”

"You will need more than just Admiral Pike's approval to receive the five year mission," Spock pointed out gently, "And though your missions have thus far had a high success rate, you have certainly aggravated many of the admirals with your penchant for bending Starfleet regulations."

"Your opinion, Mr. Spock?" Jim asked, and Spock felt an ache at the familiarity.

"I would advise you to follow regulation more strictly. Make a concentrated effort to operate within Starfleet regulations, and do not abandon protocol the instant it becomes inconvenient. Thus far, you have proved your improbable luck to Starfleet as much as your skill, and much more than your responsibility."

Jim frowned, "Ugh. I know you're probably right, I just don't like it."

"Your dislike has nothing to do with it. Simply put, Starfleet isn't going to allow you the latitude of five years in deep space exploration if they aren't certain that you will represent Starfleet in an appropriate manner."

"You've got a point," Jim sighed, "Alright. I'll make an effort to toe the line more carefully. By the book for investigating this anomaly, at least as long as it doesn't do something completely unexpected.” He trailed off, looking thoughtful for a moment, then said, "Oh, so this is a total change of topic, but I had a question for you."

"Yes?"

"Some of the reports I read today were about the reconstruction on New Vulcan, and one of them mentioned a term I wasn't familiar with. What is Kolinahr?"

"It is a Vulcan discipline that aims for mastery of pure logic and the purging of all emotion. It is, or rather, was quite well known. Did it not occur to you to ask your first officer?" Spock asked.

"I... try to avoid talking to him about anything to do with New Vulcan. He'll answer my questions, but it's like there's a bit of him that just... shuts off whenever the topic comes up. I can tell he's still grieving, but he clearly doesn't want to talk about it."

"Few Vulcans do," Spock said, "The destruction of our planet cannot be explained or rationalized with logic. We feel a grief that cannot be described in mere words, yet we have no context or experience to begin to process it."

“I guess they think Kolinahr will help your people. The report was talking about how they were very concerned that only three masters survived the destruction.”

“Kolinahr might provide relief for some, but the path is not for all Vulcans. Though we control and temper our emotions with logic, removing them completely is more than most are capable of. I came close to mastery, but ultimately failed.”

Or, more accurately, been rejected. Spock hadn't understood at the time why he had been rejected. He had certainly been capable mentally; it had taken him less than three years to fully excise his emotions, when it usually took five or six before a Vulcan was considered ready to be named a master.

“You did?” Jim asked, bright with interest, “How exactly did you fail? Or is that too personal?”

In his last moment before the meld he had thought of Kirk and, if only in the privacy of his own thoughts, called him "t'hy'la", a word that Vulcans hesitated to use for the emotionalism which the ancient term implied. Spock marveled that his rejection had confused him at the time.

“It is a very personal thing,” Spock said, “Suffice to say that in the end, I could not let go of my strongest emotions. I resented it at the time. I believed that my failure meant that I was less than Vulcan. Inadequate.”

“It couldn't have been easy to move past that.”

“I would never claim it was easy, though it happened quite quickly. I returned to Starfleet. It seemed logical to go back to a job where I was useful, and I believed my human crew mates were less capable of realizing my failings that other Vulcans would be. At the same time, I blamed them for it. I believed the years I had spent living among humans had damaged my emotional controls too much.”

He had been cruel when he first returned, angrier and more hurt than he could understand, though he'd hid it under now perfect controls. He attempted to act the way a Vulcan should, with pure logic and no emotion, but knew that he was behaving in a way that was purposefully widening the divide himself and Kirk. He hadn't known for certain if his actions were truly born from the logic of not wasting effort on emotionalism, or if they were a form of pettiness, blaming Kirk for being the thing he had been unable to let go of and achieve Kolinahr.

“You got over that quickly?”

“It did take a rather extraordinary event to do so. We encountered a being. A living machine. I attempted a mind meld with it – an action which left me nearly comatose – and when I experienced a mind of pure and absolute logic, I was repulsed by it. I wanted no part of it. I should have known better, but even the most logical mind can deceive itself. But in that experience, I found a balancing point between the human and Vulcan sides of myself.”

He had found his balancing point after the meld, in medbay, when Kirk had held his hand tightly, but with so much love.

"This simple feeling is beyond V'ger's comprehension."

Until that day, it had been beyond Spock's, too. He had caused Kirk so much pain, and Kirk had forgiven him so easily in that moment...

“Are you okay?” Jim asked, and Spock realized he had been silently contemplating his hands for several seconds.

“Yes,” he said, “Forgive me. Nostalgia is a particularly illogical emotion, but it is one I succumb to often.”

“Yeah. I bet,” Jim said, and there was sympathy in his eyes. Spock appreciated it. He usually avoided such serious topics when speaking with Jim, preferring to focus on the new adventures of the Enterprise, but it was good to know that he would receive empathy when he spoke about painful topics.

“It took some time to repair my friendship with the Jim Kirk of my universe – my decision to pursue Kolinahr had hurt him deeply,” Spock said, “But I do not regret my attempt, as I doubt I would have been able to truly come to terms with my dual nature without it.”

“You know, the way you talk about the Jim Kirk of your universe... were you two really just friends?”

"What do you mean?" Spock asked. Although he knew what Jim was implying, he wanted to hear Jim say it clearly.

Jim looked awkward, but he clarified, "You talk like you loved him. Were the two of you ever...?"

"In a romantic relationship?" Spock cut in, "Is that the question you mean to imply?"

Jim nodded, and Spock shook his head, "No. We were not. We were dear friends, I cared for him deeply, and I would classify our relationship as an intimate one, but we were never romantically involved."

Jim nodded, with a soft smile, "Okay. I wondered. Were you with Uhura in your universe, too?"

"No. Though she showed some interest in me early in our acquaintance, I did not respond to it and she did not pursue me. I eventually married a woman named Saavik, later in life. It was a logical match, as she was a friend, we enjoyed each other's company, and her association with my family was beneficial to her career."

"Oh. Is Saavik...?"

"She perished in the destruction of Vulcan," Spock said, "Long before my younger self would have ever met her. I regret that, as she could have been a good friend to him. I had few enough in my own timeline, he seems doomed to have even fewer."

"Well, he's got me. And Uhura. Bones, too, not that either of them are going to admit it any time soon."

"Yes. I may be too pessimistic. My younger self seems to be more accepting of his emotions at a younger age than I was, he may have more friends as well. I hope that turns out to be the case. My younger years were very lonely."

"Don't worry," Jim said, smiling broadly again, "I won't let him be lonely. Or you, either."

Spock gave him a small smile in return, "And I am very grateful for that, Jim."

"Okay, I've got to get off the line," Jim said, "Talk to you later."

"I will look forward to it," Spock said, "Farewell, Jim, and remember what I said about following protocol."

"I will, I will," Jim said, "'Night, Spock."

"Goodnight."

Spock rose from his chair and prepared for bed. He would sleep for a full eight hours tonight, he decided. Perhaps he would dream of Kirk.

~ ~ ~

"I have hurt you with my actions."

Kirk nodded, "You did. But I'm not angry any more, Spock. You don't need to apologize."

"I believe I do," Spock said, "I am truly sorry for hurting you the way that I did. I... did not make my decision with the intention of hurting you, but I knew it would, and decided that your feelings did not matter."

"Spock, I..." Kirk gave a heavy sigh, "I forgive you. That's what you need to hear, isn't it?"

Spock nodded, "Yes. Thank you, Jim."

He wanted to reach for Kirk's hand, but he hesitated. The reassurance of Kirk's feelings would have bolstered him through the rest of what was surely going to be a difficult conversation.

"I suppose now the question is... where do we go from here?" Kirk asked, his thoughts along the same lines as Spock's.

"Yes. I have been wondering that myself. You made your feelings for me quite clear, but I rejected you. Now I wish to reconsider, and I find myself in unfamiliar territory," he met Kirk's gaze, "You are more experienced in these matters than me. It is only logical to defer to you. What do you want, Jim?"

"I want..." Kirk hesitated, "Well, I still want what I wanted before. What we had before." He gave Spock a little smile. "I'd be lying if I said that I had never considered the possibility of romance between us. If someone had asked me four years ago I would have said I wanted nothing more, but now I know better."

"I believe I understand, Jim," Spock said, "Despite the depth of my regard for you, simply being your friend is far more important than any other relationship category."

Kirk laughed, "Relationship category. I guess that does describe it. Spock, I know how I feel about you. And more importantly, I know how I felt without you these past three years. I'm not sure that a romantic relationship between us really could work long term, and I'd rather be your friend for the rest of my life than your lover for a few years."

I completely agree.” He took Kirk's hand in his. Kirk gave his fingers a squeeze and smiled at him.

"This is enough," Kirk said.

"It is," Spock agreed.

And that, it seemed, was that. Spock and Kirk remained friends, but Spock felt that the talk had finally cleared the tension that had existed between them since shortly after they met. He finally knew exactly were they stood with each other. And if occasionally throughout the years, Spock found himself looking at Kirk and wondering if perhaps they should have tried anyway, he kept those doubts to himself.

He was happy.

~ ~ ~

It was very early in the morning when Spock awoke to the insistent buzz of an incoming call. The pinkish predawn light of New Vulcan was just starting to show, and Spock wondered who would have occasion to call him this early in the morning, especially considering that so few people called him at all. He had avoided taking roles of responsibility, trying to not interfere with the course of this new universe too much. He knew that if he allowed himself, he could become obsessed with the idea of "fixing" it, trying to make it more like his own.

He yawned and rose from his bed to answer the call. He face that greeted him was a familiar one.

"Jim," he said, "What a pleasant surprise."

Jim looked quite sheepish, "Sorry, I didn't think about the time difference. Did I wake you up?"

"I would have risen in another twenty-seven minutes," Spock said, "It is of no consequence. How have you been?"

"Well, uh... this actually isn't a social call," Jim said.

"No?"

"Well, you know how I said our next mission was to investigate an anomaly in space?”

Spock nodded, waiting to see what this was leading up to.

"So, we got up to it and scanned it from a safe distance, and when we did.... Well, we got a life sign from it."

"A life sign?"

Jim looked very perturbed, "We locked on, and, well, long story short, we pulled a person out of the anomaly. He's... from a different universe, similar to ours, but not quite the same, and since you're the only person I know of who can even confirm that parallel universes are real, not just a theory, you were obviously the one I thought to call."

Spock considered this for a while. Parallel universes. Perhaps they had run across that strange, darker universe he had encountered. It might certainly explain why Jim seemed so rattled, if he had seen a version of one of his crewmates as a cold, hardened killer. "I assume that since you called me, that simply returning this person to his original universe is somehow not an option?"

"Not really, no. It's... it's complicated. Look, we're going to be at Starbase 8 in about two days, and I know it's half a day from New Vulcan at warp 4 – can you come and meet us?" Jim asked.

"Very well," Spock agreed. "I will meet you, although I am not certain I can be of much assistance."

"Good," Jim said, "I'll see you then, thanks."

The call cut out abruptly, leaving Spock rather bewildered and bemused. He was not entirely sure what to think about this. Another castaway from an alternate universe? Someone like him. It would certainly be interesting. And perhaps it might do something to assuage his loneliness, if there was someone else in this universe who simply did not quite fit.

It was an unworthy thought, and he pushed it away. He would not wish this kind of isolation on anyone else. He would simply have to wait and see what happened.

~ ~ ~

Like most Starbases, Starbase 8 was a commercial hub. Perversely, the destruction of Vulcan had benefitted the station financially, as it had become the main shopping place for the surviving Vulcan people, and the thousands of members of other species trying to offer relief and aid that Vulcan was reluctant to accept.

Spock took his lunch at a Vulcan-style restaurant while waiting for the Enterprise to arrive and contact him. The food was flavorful and nutritious, but the look the Andorian waitress gave him throughout the meal caused him to eat and leave quickly. Perhaps, he mused as he found a quiet place to sit in the hydroponic gardens, Vulcan would be more willing to accept foreign aid if the sympathy of other races did not feel so much like pity.

He relaxed for two hours and sixteen minutes longer before he received the message from the Enterprise.

"Enterprise to Spock of New Vulcan," it was Uhura's voice, still melodious as he remembered, but with a slightly sharper edge to it than he remembered. She seemed harsher in this timeline, jut as Jim was younger and more of a risk taker. Everyone had been slightly altered in this world.

"Spock here," he replied.

"We're ready to receive you," Uhura said.

"Very well, I will proceed to the base's transporter room," Spock said, getting to his feet, "My ETA is two minutes and twenty-four seconds."

"We'll be ready for you. Enterprise out."

Spock made his way to the transporter room and gave his destination to the tech on duty. He materialized on the transporter pad to see an Ensign he didn't recognize at the controls – either she was someone new to the Enterprise's crew in this universe, or he had never met her counterpart in his own. This ship certainly gave him an ache with its almost-familiar look and layout, with the young Jim standing there to greet him, looking nervous.

“Spock.” It was a very familiar voice. His heart clenched, and he turned slowly to see a very familiar face.

“Jim?” he asked. It didn't need to be a question. The man standing before him was his Jim Kirk, Spock was certain of it. He looked exactly as he had the last time Spock had seen him, in the recorded birthday message that Spock still kept round his neck.

He crossed the space between them without really registering it, disbelief mingled with joy and a slight fear that somehow this was a trick, but Kirk laughed and swept him into a tight hug and Spock knew there was no trick here. He touched Kirk's face, his fingers brushing against the meld-points and Kirk gave him the tiniest nod.

“Jim, oh, Jim...” for there was no mistaking Kirk's mind, bright, bold and dynamic. He didn't initiate a full meld, but had felt enough to be certain.

“I've missed you, Spock,” Kirk said softly, cupping his face in his hands.

“And I you,” Spock replied thickly, covering Kirk's hands with his own.

“Spock, are you crying?” Kirk asked, running his thumb over Spock's cheek.

They were joyful tears. Spock had never before understood how positive emotions could make a person weep, but he did now. His joy right now was so strong, so overpowering that there was no way to express it, and he was unable to control his reactions. He touched Kirk's hand, shaking his head, “I'm fine, Jim. How? You were killed on the Enterprise B. I felt you die.”

“It's a hell of a story, Spock,” Kirk said, “I'll tell you the whole thing, or at least as much as I can remember.”

Spock wrapped his arms around Kirk's body and buried his face in the crook of Kirk's neck. “It can wait,” he said. For the moment, all he wanted was to hold his friend until he could find something like emotional balance again.

“Okay,” Kirk said, squeezing him gently. “Okay. Whatever you want, Spock.” Just as he always had, he understood.

It was less than five minutes before Spock felt able to release Kirk and leave for the privacy of the guest quarters, but it must have felt like much longer, judging by how uncomfortable the young Jim looked. Humans were much more emotional than Vulcans, but Spock's display had been on a level that was uncomfortably demonstrative even by human standards. He couldn't feel embarrassed about it, though. The cause had certainly been sufficient.

The guest quarters had chairs, but by some unspoken agreement, he and Kirk sat next to each other on the bed instead, close enough to touch, the human's body making a line of warmth down his side. That was comfortable and familiar, the position in which they had sat or stood for most of the length of their friendship, but at the moment, it didn't seem sufficient. He reached for Kirk's hand and laced their fingers together - an intimate touch, but still familiar.

"I have missed you," Spock said, not caring if it was repetitive. He had certainly thought those words to Jim's memory enough times.

Kirk squeezed his hand, “It's good to be back.”

This was normally as much physical contact as they allowed themselves, but it simply wasn't enough right now. Spock leaned into him, and brought his other hand up to clasp Kirk's.

“It is illogical to doubt the evidence of my own senses, or to doubt your ability to defy probability in miraculous ways, yet I find it hard to believe that you are really here,” he met Kirk's eyes then, his gaze was just as warm and affectionate as it had ever been, “There are so many things that I regretted, Jim. So many things I wished that I had done and said. Now that I have the opportunity, I do not know where to begin.”

Kirk smiled softly, “Just start somewhere. If you forget anything, you can tell me later.”

Spock nodded. “Then I believe the most important thing would be... I love you. I do not believe I have ever said those words to you before. It is what I regretted most when I heard of your death.”

“I always knew that, Spock. If there's one thing I've always been sure of, it's that.”

“Nonetheless, I should have said it before. There were times I wanted to, but it never seemed... appropriate. We made the decision not to start a romantic relationship, so speaking about things such as love was incongruous with the way we had defined our relationship to one another,” he paused, took a deep breath, and leaned even closer, until their foreheads were touching, “But, Jim... Was our relationship any less of a romantic one because we only called each other friends?”

Kirk sighed softly, cupping the back of Spock's head and running his fingers through the Vulcan's hair. This was a new sensation, but it was a nice one. Spock resolved to be more receptive towards any affection that Kirk would give him. He no longer cared if it would scandalize Vulcan.

“I don't know,” Kirk answered, “It seemed like the right decision at the time. Just being friends was... easier.”

“Our commitment to Starfleet, the extreme disparity in our expected life spans, our different cultural backgrounds... all of these were good reasons to remain friends only.”

“It was... logical,” Kirk smiled ruefully.

“Yes,” Spock agreed, “It was the logical choice, but I do not believe it was the right one. I did not love you any less for the boundaries we made, and I believe I grieved for you even more than I might have because of my regrets.”

“And how long have you been dwelling on those regrets?” Kirk asked.

"I would not say that I dwelt on them, but I did have them,” Spock corrected, “It is difficult to accurately measure the differences in time across dimensions, but I have experienced nearly a century of time since your death.”

"Nearly a century?" Kirk echoed, grinning, "You must be getting old, Spock, I've never known you to be so imprecise."

Spock allowed himself a small smile in return, "96 years, 47 days, five hours and thirteen minutes since your apparent death aboard the Enterprise B."

Kirk sobered, "That's a long time."

"Yes."

"I'm sorry."

"Please do not apologize. Given our expected lifespans, it was highly likely that you would die before me. I grieved for you, but my life was immeasurably enriched by knowing you." He sighed, resting his forehead against Kirk's, "I carried on after your death, and this last century has been fulfilling in many ways. I have been content, if not often happy. However, I do not wish to live without you if the alternative is possible."

Kirk smiled, "Yeah. I definitely understand that."

Spock touched Kirk's face, tracing the line of his jaw, “May I share your thoughts, Jim? I have longed to touch your mind again.”

He moved his fingers to rest over the meld-points and felt a tantalizing hint of Kirk's mind. He hadn't expected Kirk to say no, but it was still gratifying to see his smile and the way he turned his face towards Spock's hand expectantly. "You don't even need to ask. I've missed it too."

“My mind to your mind...” There was a brief, dizzying moment of anticipation and then the walls between them dropped. For a few seconds, they were not two separate people but one entity and then clarity returned and Spock could discern his own thoughts from Kirk's.

Memories came to him, of the Enterprise-B's maiden voyage, the energy ribbon ripping open the hull and Jim's sudden terror.

I should have been with you .

You know I wouldn't have done anything different.

He pressed onwards, seeing the memories of the nexus and the life it had created for him. The beautiful woman was not a surprise, but seemed like such a... small life for Jim Kirk.

Is this what you would have preferred?

No.

It was a forceful thought. Spock accepted it without question, as Jim pulled forward another memory to show him, this one of a different fantasy the nexus had given him, of a wedding to Carol Marcus, David standing there beaming.

I don't know for sure what the nexus is, but it didn't want me to leave. I must have been in dozens of dreams like that.

Images of women flickered by, a few of Kirk's lost loves that Spock recognized, and a few he did not. Edith Keeler was prominent in the fantasies, as was Carol Marcus.

Who was the first one I saw? Spock asked.

Antonia. She was... she was sweet. I dated her for a few months, and it was very domestic. It wasn't a great exciting romance, she was comfortable. I felt like I could be comfortable with her for years, and toyed with the idea of proposing. But I realized that we were really just playing house, and that I couldn't be content like that for long. So I went back to space.

Fascinating. The nexus appears to have drawn on your regrets.

Not exactly. All of these were dreams, paths I didn't take. And every time I would get close to waking up, the dream would change. But it's funny. All the dreams I had, and you were never in them.

He showed Spock another memory, of meeting Captain Picard and his decision to leave the nexus. And his last thought.... a fervent wish to see Spock once more.

Jim...

I'd much rather be here with you. Even if it's not the world I left. I love you.

He knew. He could feel it so clearly like this it was almost enough to make him weep. He had never thought he would feel this again. He reached out again; it had been ninety-seven years since he had last felt the mind of this beautiful, vibrant being, and he was greedy for more. He felt Kirk smile.

My turn. Show me what you've been up to while I was in Wonderland.

Then Kirk was pushing into his mind, and Spock yielded to him, letting Kirk explore his thoughts. There were a few memories Spock pushed forward first, things that he thought Kirk should know, but for the most part he let Kirk explore his mind as he chose. He was slightly concerned when the first memory Kirk settled on was of his funeral. There had been hundreds of people in attendence, all of whom had known Kirk personally. Kirk sifted through Spock's memories of greeting everyone as they arrived.

That seems somewhat morbid, Jim.

It's just strange to realize... I mean, I know that a lot of people cared about me, but to see them all in one room like that. I guess I touched more lives than I realized.

I believe most people do. Kirk had settled on Spock's memory of Doctor McCoy at the funeral, and Spock quickly pushed forward a memory of him as a very old man, He lived to be 144 years of age, and died shortly after the birth of his first great-great grandchild. I believe he was a very happy man. Spock selected a memory of McCoy complaining, because he knew it would make Kirk laugh.

I'm glad.

Kirk browsed through the memories of Spock's time as Ambassador on Romulus, and Spock felt that Kirk was quite proud of his accomplishments – You know, for someone who didn't want to follow in his father's footsteps, you did a good job out there. – And then, finally, he looked at the memories Spock had been most dreading. The supernova, the destruction of Romulus, Nero, the singularity throwing him back into this strange but familiar universe, and the destruction of Vulcan.

"Oh, Spock," Kirk said out loud, "I'm so sorry."

Spock responded by showing him the rest of the memory, of meeting the young Jim in that ice cave on Delta Vega, giving him the tools he would need to take command of the Enterprise, and returning him to the ship with this universe's Mr. Scott. The nervous period of waiting for news, until he discovered that Jim had been successful in stopping Nero's rampage, and his relief. He finally ended the meld, feeling himself tear up again. He had not let himself think about the loss of Vulcan in a long time.

"At least I was able to prevent Nero from taking his vengeance on two planets, but Vulcan was already lost... There was nothing I could have done to prevent it," Spock said, "I have analyzed the situation and nothing had even a miniscule chance of success. I wondered if you might have found a solution if you had been there."

"I don't know. I don't think even I could have bluffed my way out of that one." Kirk hugged him tightly, "I'm so sorry for everything that's happened to you. I wish I had been here to help you somehow."

"You are here now," Spock said, "And that is miraculous enough. I cannot change the past, I can only try to help in the present."

"What sort of things are you doing?"

"Whatever I can to be useful. On some occasions I advise Sarek. Mostly I volunteer at the hospital. I am not a trained healer, but my telepathic abilities are strong, so I help to repair the broken links. Many of the surviving Vulcans are the only members of their families to survive."

Kirk gave a low whistle, "How many of them have gone insane? All their links severed at once like that."

"More than I care to think about. Four days ago I had to prevent a fourteen year old from committing suicide." He lifted his sleeve to show the large bruise on his arm, "She did not appreciate my efforts."

"God, Spock. So you enter a different universe, feel close to your entire species die, and then you proceed to surround yourself with the most damaged people you can find in the hopes of doing a little bit of good?" Kirk shook his head, "You're amazing. I don't know if I'd have the strength."

"I have found some enjoyment in my new life," Spock said. "I have found our young counterparts to be quite... entertaining.”

Kirk laughed against his shoulder, "Mr. Spock, have you been meddling ?"

"Of course not," Spock replied, "I've merely been following their careers with interest. I believe humans call it 'living vicariously'. It's interesting to see how their explorations have differed from ours. And how they have remained the same. Two months ago, they encountered one Harcourt Fenton Mudd."

Kirk laughed again, "Harry Mudd? How did that go?"

"Your younger self was not very forthcoming with the details."

"Oh, I hope it was the planet of androids. That was a fun one."

Spock arched an eyebrow at him, and Kirk grinned, "It was the most illogical that you ever got of your own free will. I remember that misadventure quite fondly, Spock."

"It does have more charm from a distance of many years," Spock admitted.

“I would say that's the case with most of our adventures. I think these days I could see a tribble and not want to kick it across the room.”

“Your younger self has made an effort to keep in frequent contact with me. I certainly appreciate that. It has made me feel less alone.”

“No wonder he made Captain even younger than I did,” Kirk said with a laugh, “He's got a Vulcan who knows the future to help him out of tight spots!”

Spock shook his head, “No. I have not told him any details about our mission. I interfered with this timeline enough with my actions to put Jim in charge of the Enterprise and stop Nero. Those actions were necessary to prevent the loos of a further nine billion lives. And I convinced my younger self to stay with Starfleet instead of coming to New Vulcan to help with the rebuilding efforts, which was a purely selfish action on my part. Other than that, I hold myself apart. I cannot allow myself to meddle.”

"Bullshit," Kirk said sharply, startling Spock. Kirk had been known to curse, but it was a fairly rare thing.

"Excuse me?"

"Bullshit," Kirk repeated, "You're not holding yourself apart from things because you don't want to meddle – you've already meddled plenty. You're staying separate because you blame yourself for the destruction of this timeline's Vulcan, and this is how you've decided to punish yourself."

"Jim, I know that Nero's actions were not my fault -"

"But you still feel like they are," Kirk cut in, "Right? That's how guilt works, it's not logical." He gave Spock a gentle smile, "I was in your head less than five minutes ago, Spock. You can't pull the wool over my eyes, your guilt was probably the strongest emotion in your head."

"Nero's actions were his own choice," Spock said, "I do not blame myself for them. But I do blame myself for not being able to save Romulus in time. There were three and a half billion Romulans who perished because I couldn't reach the supernova in time. And, because of my failure, Nero took his vengeance on my planet, who were guilty of no crime but sharing my race."

Kirk sighed heavily, "Listen to me, Spock. You did the best you could. I know that during our first mission, it definitely felt like everything was possible if only we put forward enough personal effort. Maybe even after that, we've been incredibly lucky men, but we're not gods. And as hard as we try, sometimes we'll still fail. But what happened back then, and in this time, wasn't your fault. So where's the logic in punishing yourself for these things? You can't convince me that you're 'avoiding meddling', not when you're keeping in touch with the younger me and offering advice to Sarek and volunteering at the hospitals."

Spock had no response. Kirk was right. He leaned back with a self-satisfied look Spock remembered well, the expression he wore after checkmating him.

"You know I'm right, you just don't like it," Kirk said, "I remember that look."

"Very well. If you are correct about my mental state, then what do you propose I do about it?"

"I'm not saying it's going to be easy to stop feeling guilty," Kirk said, taking Spock's hand, "Heaven knows I'm still feeling guilty about a lot of things. But you've got to at least recognize it for what it is.”

Spock looked down at their clasped hands. "I do not believe I will ever be able to let go of my guilt completely," he admitted.

"No," Kirk said, "I can't either. And I'm not sure that I want to. It's part of who I am, even if it's a painful part. But we can at least try to do better." He smiled widely, "So I propose that the two of us go to New Vulcan and meddle to our hearts' content. Do everything we can in the rebuilding, and make some friends along the way. If we're stuck in this universe, I think doing our best to be a part of it would be better than remaining separate. We'll find a place we belong."

Spock thought he might have a truly embarrassing display of emotions if Kirk continued. He remained silent, looking into Kirk's earnest face until his expression changed to one of concern.

"Spock, are you alright?"

"I have missed you, Jim," Spock said, his voice thick with emotion, "I belong at your side, and I always have, even when you were apparently dead. And I do not know what I have done to earn you returning to me like this. I certainly don't feel that I deserve it."

"Maybe it's me who deserves you."

"Jim..." he lifted Kirk's hand to his mouth and kissed it, "Will you marry me?"

Kirk looked taken aback, "Is that the logical decision, Mr. Spock?"

"Please do not undermine my question by responding with humor," Spock said firmly, "I love you, and despite our decision that we wouldn't start a romantic relationship, we have been committed to each other for many years. This is far beyond our second chance, by now it must be at least our fourth. I don't intend to squander it and wait for a fifth. I do not care if it is the logical decision, it is what I want. Jim, will you marry me?"

Gobsmacked. That was the English word for Kirk's expression. Dr. McCoy had used the term a few times, and Spock had found it a ridiculous-sounding word. However, he could find no better description. Kirk's eyes were wide, and his jaw dropped a little. It was an oddly endearing expression, or perhaps Spock was simply predisposed to find any action Jim Kirk took endearing.

"I will not be offended if you need time to consider it," Spock said, "I understand that it is quite a lot to ask so suddenly."

"I... Well, I..." Kirk started. He cleared his throat, "I guess – it's kind of a big shift. A very different relationship category, you know? Going from strictly friends to engaged in one step is a little much."

"Indeed. And I understand that while I have had most of a century to consider this, it is quite different for you."

Kirk smiled at him, that warm and affectionate look he'd always seemed to reserve for Spock alone. "Hey, Spock?"

"Yes, Jim?"

Kirk dropped his voice to a low, conspiratorial whisper, "You're not the only one who feels like he doesn't deserve this."

"Then perhaps we ought to not worry about whether we have earned our good fortune, and simply accept it for what it is."

Kirk leaned in, and they shared their first kiss. It had been worth waiting for, Spock decided.

~ ~ ~

They shared the bed that night, just holding each other and enjoying the closeness. It was very comfortable, even with the awkward problem of figuring out where their limbs had to go to accommodate each other. Spock hadn't shared a bed with anyone in many years, and he had never done so as a regular occurrence, but he was more than willing to become accustomed to it.

Kirk moved quite a bit in his sleep, and when Spock woke in the morning, he was sprawled across most of the bed and Spock, a warm weight that helped Spock to believe that he wasn't dreaming. He bent his head and pressed a kiss into the human's curly hair.

Kirk hummed in appreciation and looked up at him, “Good morning.”

Spock responded with a gentle, somewhat hesitant kiss. This was still so new, he wasn't sure where the new boundaries to their relationship lay, but Kirk responded eagerly.

“This is going to take a little getting used to,” Kirk said when they parted, “Not that it's not great, mind you.”

Spock pulled him a little closer in response, “I believe I will enjoy getting used to it.”

Kirk's reply was interrupted by a knock at the door. He frowned.

"Want to pretend we're not here?"

"Highly illogical, as there is nowhere else we would have gone. And ungracious, as we are guests on the ship."

Kirk laughed ruefully, dropping his head to Spock's shoulder, "Alright, alright. I'm getting up."

Spock noticed that it took a further nine seconds before he actually did so, but he didn't mind too much. Once Kirk had rolled off him, Spock rose from the bed and straightened his robes before answering the door.

It was the young Jim.

"Good morning," Spock said.

"Morning," Jim replied, "Sorry, I was all for letting you sleep in, but I need to talk to you two."

"How convenient, I wanted to talk to you, too," Kirk said brightly, coming up behind Spock and putting his hand on his shoulder. Spock reached up to touch Kirk's hand – a gesture which Jim apparently recognized the significance of, judging by his expression.

"Yeah?"

"As a captain, you can perform marriages, correct?" Kirk asked.

Spock turned to Kirk with a smile. He was really going to have to get his emotions back under control before he returned to New Vulcan, but for now, letting Kirk see his pleasure seemed much more important than Vulcan. "I assume this means your answer to my question is yes?"

Kirk grinned at him, "Did you ever really think I'd say no?”

"You two are..." Jim trailed off, he shook himself and looked at Spock, "I mean, you told me that you two were friends."

"We are friends," Kirk said, "We've always been friends, and we still are, but now we've decided to include another relationship category."

"Well, uh... congratulations, I guess,” Jim said, “I'm not going to lie, this is a little weird for me. And can I actually legally marry you? I'm pretty sure you don't exist to any government in this universe right now."

Kirk frowned, "Yeah, sorting that mess out is going to be a real headache. But even if it's not legal, I don't think anything would feel more right than getting married on this ship."

That made Jim smile, and he nodded, “Now that I can understand. Okay. If it's that important, I'll do it for you.”

~ ~ ~

For something that had been such a long time in coming, the ceremony itself was very brief, and happened with a minimum of fuss or preparation. Jim wrangled Dr. McCoy to act as a witness, saying that he would do it the right way and they could sort out the actual legalities later on. They exchanged the traditional vows, and Spock had to appreciate the irony in the promise of "'til death do us part." Death had parted them twice already, and both times they had been reunited.

Kirk twined his fingers with Spock's, and beamed when Jim pronounced them married. It was so simple, and so right. Spock only wished that they had done it years before.

~ ~ ~

They had only two and a half hours to themselves before the young Jim interrupted them once again. The Enterprise had received new orders to observe a developing culture on a planet called Nibiru. Kirk asked for permission to spend the trip on the bridge, since he didn't know when he might get a chance to be back on the Enterprise again. His younger self granted his request; Spock was not surprised by it at all. Though they were two very different versions of James T. Kirk, their love of the Enterprise was the same.

Spock took the opportunity to wander the ship. The Enterprise was very different in this universe, but when he touched the walls the hum of the ship's warp drive still had the same resonance... He shook his head slightly. Of course it had the same resonance, all properly-functioning warp drives had the same vibrational pattern. Kirk had always believed the Enterprise was special, not just any starship – she's a beautiful lady and we love her – and his thinking had affected Spock as well. It was illogical, nostalgic and sentimental, but he gave the wall nearest to him a pat. The Enterprise had reunited him with Kirk once again, and he was grateful to the ship for it.

“Thank you,” he murmured.

He encountered his younger counterpart in the corridor outside of the botany lab. Though he spoke with young Jim frequently, he hadn't had a conversation with his younger self since the day he had convinced him to stay with Starfleet. He nodded to the boy, unsure if he should speak or not.

"The captain told me about your request," the younger him said, "I suppose congratulations are in order."

"Thank you," Spock said politely, and moved to continue on his way.

"Were you being deliberately misleading?" his younger self asked.

Spock stopped and looked at him, "About what?"

"When you convinced me to remain with Starfleet, you spoke of Jim Kirk. You said that it would be a friendship which would define us both. Yet your relationship with your James Kirk is clearly romantic in nature." His eyes narrowed slightly, but Spock could easily read his expression. He was quite angry.

"My intention was not to deceive. My relationship with the Jim Kirk of my universe was one of friendship, and since I had believed him to be dead until he resurfaced in this universe, I certainly had no reason to expect it would change."

"One does not simply decide to marry a friend after one day. The romantic nature of your friendship must have been there before."

"You seem angry with me."

"I do not appreciate being lied to. Was it your intention to matchmake me with him?"

Spock was taken aback. "Matchmake? Certainly not. You are in a relationship with Miss Uhura, are you not? She seems to be good for you, and even if she were not, I would not take it upon myself to make that decision for you."

His younger self seemed to deflate a little, righteous indignation replaced by confusion. "Then, why would you go to such effort, if you were not trying to recreate the universe as it was in your timeline?"

"I have encountered alternate universes more than once," Spock said, "And in every one of them, James Kirk and Spock of Vulcan are friends and allies. The idea that the two of you could hate each other seemed to me as unnatural a concept as discovering a universe wherein there was no gravity."

"And encouraging me to stay in Starfleet?"

"Your talents and skills would be stifled on New Vulcan. You are not the same as I am, and you will not be the same even when you have lived as long as I have – our lives and experiences will be quite different. But I believe I do know enough about you to know that exploration and science with Starfleet is where you will find fulfillment." He didn't use the word happiness. His younger self wasn't yet ready to hear such emotionalism.

"And as for my choices," Spock continued, "Jim and I re-evaluated our relationship to each other, and came to the conclusion that marriage was the logical decision."

As he was speaking, the door to the nearest lift opened and Kirk stepped out with a smile, "Ah, I see you're having the same conversation that I had with my counterpart. I feel like I should be offended that he seems so disturbed by the idea."

"Jim," Spock admonished.

"I'm only joking," Kirk said brightly. He held out two fingers to Spock, who touched them with his own fingers, pleased that Kirk was initiating a Vulcan form of affection of his own volition.

"But really," he said, looking at Spock's younger self, "The two of you aren't us. We're two people that you might have grown up to be. You've got your own lives, you'll make your own choices, have your own victories and failures, and the two of us? We'll follow your career with interest, and live vicariously through your adventures like the pair of embarrassing old grandpas that we are.”

He looked back to Spock, “We're about to drop out of warp at New Vulcan.”

“Then we had best make our way to the transporter room,” Spock said, “It is time for us to go home.”

“You don't have to carry me across the threshold,” Kirk joked. He offered his hand to Spock, “Shall we?”

Spock gave him a small smile, and twined his fingers with Kirk's. There was still much more work to be done, and Spock knew it wouldn't be finished in his lifetime. There were still grieving, mentally-unbalanced young Vulcans to be cared for, and the threat of extinction still loomed large for his race. At least now he wouldn't be facing those challenges alone, but instead with the greatest friend and ally he could have ever hoped for. With Kirk, the challenges he had to face no longer seemed insurmountable.

Together, they headed for home.