Spock ought to have expected that the young man would seek him out.
The young man. Him. In the weeks since leaving Delta Vega, weeks when Spock has seen this face in 78 different news reports, he's lost the ability to think of him by name. Not Captain Kirk, not Jim.
But he is. He is James Kirk, and of course he is persistent.
"Enterprise leaves tomorrow," says the young man. He rubs at one eye, and for a moment the traces of stress and grief are visible. Then he smiles, the resilience of youth wiping out all shadows. There's something else to that smile, though, a brittleness that Jim's smiles never had. "There are a million things I should be doing, but I wanted to say goodbye."
Spock lets him in and offers him water in a delicate Vulcan ceremonial cup. All meeting rooms, offices, and bedrooms here in the Embassy have a set. Yet they're rarities now. Every object of Vulcan manufacture is a rarity, since there will be no more.
Without speaking, Spock's guest takes the cup between his fingertips and drinks the water correctly, in two swallows. He's been studying the ethnological database, perhaps. He wouldn't ask the younger Spock about Vulcan, not so soon. He returns the cup to Spock with a solemn nod that approximates the right gesture.
"Did you get my messages?" the young man asks as Spock gently returns the cups to their tray.
"Yes." Spock fusses with the water carafe, irrationally reluctant to turn around.
"You didn't answer."
"No." Spock masters himself and turns to face the young man. James. Perhaps Spock can think of him as James.
Courtesy dictates that he invite James to sit. But in this tiny room that's all the refugee-crowded Embassy can spare, there's nowhere to sit except the bed. And so they stand.
James is frowning very slightly. He's more brashly spoken than Jim, but his face shows much less. Observing that unexpected, and in a human somewhat disturbing, impassivity, Spock sees something he ought to have noticed sooner. "Your eyes are blue."
"Jim Kirk had brown eyes." Spock thinks, now, that he did notice it, but only subconsciously, lost in the distracting emotional static of an improbable reunion. Something about this young man has felt incongruous from the start. Could the changes in this universe have echoed backwards, somehow? This might truly be a different James Tiberius Kirk, conceived a little earlier or later. A brother to Jim, rather than his young self.
"Oh." James smiles one of his ingratiating, practiced-looking smiles. "I had mine changed when I was a dumbass sixteen-year-old. Thought I'd get laid more with blue eyes."
Ah. Spock has been forgetting Occam's razor and preferring explanations other than the simple. "I see. It was . . . disconcerting, for a moment. My apologies."
James shrugs. "No prob." The tilt of his head makes the light glint off his hair, which is paler than Jim's. The result, undoubtedly, of more tinkering. It spikes aggressively out; Jim's hair lay neatly smooth, never disarrayed unless he was preoccupied with some crisis. And James is taller. He was never on Tarsus IV, malnourished during a key period of adolescent growth.
When Spock met this young man in the ice and the darkness, all he could see was Jim. Now what arrests him is the not-Jim, the almost, the near-misses that make the hairs on his neck prickle in atavistic reaction.
After everything that has happened, it shouldn't be this that Spock finds hardest to bear.
"It was good of you to visit," Spock says, "when your time must be - "
"I miss you." James spreads his hands in a helpless gesture. "I've tried. With him, the other Spock. But it's not . . . he's really polite and he's a hell of a chess player when I nag him into a game. He spends most of his time with Nyota. They're in love."
Spock has always respected Commander Uhura's ability and her calm self-possession. He always liked her, even in the years when he couldn't acknowledge such emotions, let alone express them. He can't imagine a romantic relationship with her, especially not at an age when he hadn't learned how to love anyone.
He can't imagine how such a Spock came to be.
"Give it time," he says. "Be patient with him, as Jim was patient with me."
"He's in love." James lifts a hand and nearly touches his arm, then lowers it again. "With Nyota. I'm not gonna - I'm a dick sometimes, I think with my dick anyway, but I'm not that much of a dick."
"That is not what I meant," Spock says, unsure now what he did mean. Why should he assumes that this history will unroll the same way, find itself at the same end? He is a scientist. He does not believe in fate.
"Anyway, it isn't him that I . . . Spock, I've got all these memories now, ever since the mind thing. They're not mine, I know that, but they don't feel like stories. Things that happened to somebody else." James is standing too close, as close as Jim used to, and looking into Spock's face with a terrible, familiar warmth in his eyes. "They're like dreams, maybe. Really good dreams. About you."
James touches him, a couple of hesitant fingertips to Spock's heavy sleeve, just above the wrist.
"I am sorry." For one shamed moment, he closes his eyes. "So very sorry."
James's hand falls away. "Okay. It's okay." He smiles again, and Spock realizes what makes him uncomfortable in that smile. James is used to smiling when he's hurt. "That guy in your memories, he's not me."
It's a question. Spock shakes his head.
A deep breath, another smile. James is still standing awkwardly close, but stepping away from him would be a cruelty. "Okay. Well. Um, good luck, and stuff. With the colony. And - " He shrugs and laughs softly, one of those paradoxical human reactions that still confuse Spock a little. "Goodbye."
"Can I - " Without finishing the question, James kisses him lightly on the cheek. "Sorry."
"You are forgiven," Spock says. In his surprise, he moved back a little. He doesn't come closer again.
"I won't forget you." James turns and goes.
The door closes behind him, and Spock knows that he will never see James Kirk again. But they will not forget.
However much they may wish to.