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Only Fools

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Only Fools
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Vulcan, 2254

"It is deceptively restrictive," Spock told his mother as she continued to fuss with his sweater.

"It is Vulcan," she said and kissed his cheek. Though he knew her action left no mark, he wiped it away when he knew her back was turned. She would not wait outside the chamber, as she had once waited for him as a child when he defended his actions against the youth that taunted his mixed heritage. She would wait at the house. A small part of Spock, the shameful, lurking part that cried for her touch, hoped she would prepare his favorite meal of soup and bread, for she could sense his unease despite his effort to shield it. They had picked a fresh crop of plomeek yesterday. He watched her shoulders, the scarf draped around her head and neck as she left. How often had he wished her Vulcan? And yet she had never wished him human. He felt an unpleasant sensation, a sour feeling, and willed it away.

The ceiling in the chamber was tall, arched, and austere despite the room's brightness. The high minister of the Vulcan Science Academy regarded him from his position above the room. Spock stood proud, still, determined.

"Your final record is flawless," the minister said, "with one exception: I see that you have applied to Starfleet as well."

Spock raised his chin slightly. "It was logical to cultivate multiple options."

"Logical, but unnecessary. You are hereby accepted to the Vulcan Science Academy. It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much, despite your disadvantage. All rise."

Above him, the council members stood in a quiet rustle of robes. Their faces were as stone, his father's among them. Spock's heart clenched in his side at the minister's words, but he would not flinch. He would not prove them correct. He was a Vulcan. His own voice filled the hall, strong, steady.

"If you would clarify, minister. To what disadvantage are you referring?"

"Your human mother."

Anger flared in him, the same anger that flared as a child before he brought his fists to a classmate's face. He took a long, slow inhale through his nose and checked his controls, flipping each one like a switch to reset it. The controls existed in two rows, evenly spaced, and they floated before him in his mind. He turned them off, one after the other, in a flurry of mental fingers: anger, irritation, annoyance, hurt, pride, lo—

He would not think the last one. It was not logical. What the minister declared was truth. Truth cannot be ignored. Genetically, Spock was half human. He lacked the level of control a full-blooded Vulcan achieved innately. His was a daily struggle to repress his human side, which muted as the last of his controls snapped into place. He entered a state of balance, ignoring the blood pounding in his ears, deaf to the muffled screams of his human conscience urging him to decline. No Vulcan had ever declined entrance to the Vulcan Science Academy, and Spock was Vulcan.

He smoothed the rough place in his mind where his human half crouched, cowering, silencing it.

"Council, ministers..." His voice was even. "I accept."

***

Earth, 2258

"They're going to find out, you know." Bones glared at Jim across the table at the little coffee shop a few blocks from campus. Jim unsnapped his collar and grinned, biting into a turkey sandwich.

"Christ," he swore, swiping the back of his hand over his mouth. "I've gotta introduce you to condiments."

"They're going to find out you cheated," Bones said again, "and you're going to catch hell."

"Maybe they'll be impressed," Jim said. "It's not like anyone's ever tried this before."

"No one else is this stupid."

"Or this brilliant. C'mon, you have to admit, it was pretty awesome to win the simulation. Wasn't that better than us all getting killed a third time?"

"I think getting killed is the point," Bones said and made a salad shish-kabob on his fork. "Your girlfriend's here," he said, pointing over Jim's shoulder. There were seven footsteps in rapid succession, and then Uhura slid into the chair beside Jim and rested her elbows on the table.

"You cheated," she said matter-of-factly, turning to look him in the eye. "How the hell did you manage that?"

"I—" Jim started.

"Actually, don't tell me. I have a feeling I can guess."

"Sorry for hiding under the bed."

"I don't know why you bothered," she said, signaling for a waitress. "Janaran tea and the chicken wrap," she said and the waitress nodded.

"And bring me some mayo," Jim added, shooting her a winning smile.

"They'll figure it out," Uhura said.

"So?"

"That's what I was just telling him," Bones said.

"They'll figure out what you did and how you did it, and then we'll all have to sit through an academic hearing and watch your brilliant mind get thrown out because of your equally huge ego."

"Or," Jim said, "they'll see what I did for what it is, a clever tactical move."

"You're kidding," Uhura deadpanned. Jim shook his head.

"No, listen! It's genius. I just looked at the situation differently. Most people go in expecting it to be a battle situation, right? I took it for what it literally is—a computer program, and those I can beat."

"How many hours did you spend 'beating' it, exactly?" Uhura asked, raising her eyebrows at him.

"You know, if you'd just taken the test like everyone else—"

"I'd taken it twice, Bones."

"— and not tried to beat it but understand the point —"

"The test itself is a cheat!"

"— you wouldn't have wasted god knows how many days trying to win something that is unwinnable."

"I don't believe in a—"

"Yes, we know," Uhura cut in. "You practically have that tattooed on your face."

"One day, you'll warm up to me," he said, nudging her.

"I'm never sleeping with you, Kirk."

"Hey, who said anything about sleeping with anyone?"

"I know how your brain works," Uhura said. The waitress returned with the mug of tea and a small dish of mayonnaise, which Jim slopped onto the sandwich while Bones scoffed.

"I suppose you've got a hypo for this," Jim said. He bit in with a satisfied look.

"Gary was asking about you again," Uhura said casually, sipping her tea.

"Do we have to talk about him?" Bones asked, looking up from the PADD he'd pulled out of...somewhere.

"No, we don't," Jim said sharply.

"He wants to see you," Uhura continued. "To apologize."

"Is he going to apologize to my hand? Because he nearly broke it," Bones said.

"No one told you to punch him," Uhura pointed out, looking at him over the rim of her mug. "Look, he cornered me outside of lecture again this morning. I said I'd mention it to you. I didn't make him any promises."

"Okay."

"I know you didn't like him," she said to Bones.

"That's the understatement of the year. Guy breaks Jim's heart—"

"He did not," Jim cut in.

"—then parades a multitude of sex partners in front of him—"

"It wasn't a multitude," Jim corrected.

"—and I'm the one who has to pick his ass up at every bar on campus because he's too annihilated on tequila to get himself home."

"I thought you didn't want to talk about him?" Jim said and turned to Uhura. "Do we need to do anything else for the Xeno Club party?"

Uhura shook her head.

"No," she said. "I think we nailed down all the critical details."

"Like what liquor to serve."

"We have differing opinions of what constitutes 'critical,' but I can't think of anything we forgot."

"I still think Andorian Mad Libs would be a riot."

"They'd be pornographic if you wrote them."

"Well, yeah," Jim said. "That'd be the point."

Uhura's sandwich arrived. She removed the tomato, borrowed a healthy scoop of Jim's mayo (he smirked at Bones), and ate in polite but large bites.

"Hungry?" Bones prompted.

"Starved," she said through a mouthful and signaled that she intended to keep speaking. She swallowed. "I was up late in the long-range sensor lab. Picked up a transmission from the Klingon prison planet."

"Oh, yeah, you were telling Gaila about that."

"Can we—" she said, holding up a hand to stop him talking. "Can we pretend we weren't both half naked last night, please? Thanks."

"Do I get to call you Nyota?"

"Don't press your luck," she said. "Anyway, forty-seven ships were destroyed. The oddest part, though, is that the ships were all destroyed by a single vessel, a massive ship."

"You sure you heard it right?" Jim asked.

She set down her sandwich and glared at him.

"How's your Klingon?" she asked. He shrugged.

"Rusty."

"Mine's flawless," she countered, grinning. "The translation is accurate. I recorded it, went back over the transmission for a couple hours. I even ran it through that program you wrote me that helps clean up static."

"That was worth you telling me your name, wasn't it?"

"It was," she admitted. "But you're still not allowed to use it."

"I'll wear you down."

"You know, I am sitting here," Bones said. "In case you both forgot."

"Sorry, Len," Uhura said. "It's the linguist in me. Sometimes I get caught up in it."

"Well, good for you. Maybe you'll get that fancy ship assignment you've been hoping for."

"You know they'll give it to someone with seniority," Uhura said. "I'll be lucky to get the Farragut."

"Don't sell yourself short," Jim said. "Your test scores are off the charts. No one translates Gorn like you do, baby."

"Don't call me baby."

"You don't like it?"

"She tells you this every week," Bones said. His comm chirped; so did Jim's. Uhura took hers from the small leather clutch she had set on the table and flipped it open. The smile died on her lips. A crease formed between her eyebrows as her eyes scanned down, and the playfulness that had lit her face seconds before was notably absent.

"What's it say?" Jim asked.

"There's been a distress call from Vulcan," she said, her voice tight. "We've got to go."

"What? Why?" Jim shoved the rest of the sandwich in his mouth. He reluctantly stood when she put a hand on his arm and pulled on his sleeve.

"The fleet's in the Laurentian system," she said. She kept her voice low. "I know you know that. Come on."

They ran back to campus, Bones grumbling behind them. A stream of cadets in red uniform migrated toward Hangar One. Bones tapped Jim on the shoulder and motioned toward the Starfleet medical insignia. Jim nodded and watched him hurry to gather with the rest of the fleet's medical crew. Uhura pointed to a lieutenant in Academy blacks reading names and ship assignments.

"Charlie," Uhura said when he'd finished, sidling up next to him. "Where am I?"

"Uhura, USS Enterprise."

"And Jim, too."

"Kirk, James T. USS Enterprise. Shuttles twelve through eighteen. Get going."

"Thanks," she said and once again grabbed Jim's sleeve.

"You don't have to drag me, you know."

"This must be pretty serious," she said, ignoring him, "for them to send out the Enterprise. It's not scheduled to launch for a few weeks. They haven't even had the shakedown cruise."

"At least you aren't on the Farragut."

Her grin flashed over her shoulder. "Can you believe it?"

They pushed through the crowd of cadets, navigated around carts of supplies and weapons being hastily loaded onto the shuttles for transports to the starships waiting in space dock. There was a buzz of nervousness among the crowd, fear on young faces as they accepted their assignments.

"Here," Uhura said, pointing to shuttle fourteen. She kept a hand on his back as he passed through the door and fell into the first open seat. Jim's comm chirped, and he read the message on screen.

>> Enterprise

"Bones is coming with us," he announced and wrote back confirming their ship assignment.

"Put on your seatbelt," Uhura reminded him as she clicked her own into the buckle.

"You sound like Bones. He about throws up on these things."

"Then I'm glad to be sitting next to you instead," Uhura said.

"Buckle up," someone called as the shuttle door closed. "We're on our way."

Jim hadn't seen the Enterprise since she'd been under construction at the Riverside Shipyard. As the shuttle rose and glided to the bay doors, he imagined her sleek duranium exterior, the clean lines of her nacelles, the way she would surge under him when they assumed warp speed. Uhura must have sensed his excitement, because she patted his knee.

"Cool off, cowboy," she said. "She's not yours yet."

***

The rumbling beneath his feet caused Spock to drop his focus momentarily, raising his head from where it was bent over the petrographic microscope. The rumbling was unfamiliar. The counter trembled beneath his hands. On the platform was the sandstone he examined. The sample vibrated. Above his head on the open shelving, containers of dark solution shook, the liquid's flat surface tilting back and forth as the bottles slid and clinked together. He frowned. His fingers gripped the edge of the counter, irrationally trying to still the movements with his own strength. The shaking continued. He felt it in his feet and legs, heard the building around him groan against the strain of the sideways force. He concluded that the building structure had not failed. This rumbling was sustained, moving the building itself, powerful enough to shake even the thick rock walls.

He rose from his stool and walked unsteadily to the window, pushing aside the heavy curtain that blocked the hot afternoon sun. Through the glass, it was immediately apparent what caused the disruption. From the sky, from a high point Spock could not see, a beam of fire bore down on the planet's surface. It was not technology he had seen before. The beam was strong; it was focused on a single point in the stretch of desert beyond the city limits. The beam triggered seismic activity. Therefore, it must have breached the rock. Why would someone do this? Surely it could not be intentional, unless...

This was a drill. Someone was drilling a hole into the planet.

Spock's comm sounded, and he answered without a glance at the screen.

"Spock," he said.

"This is your father," Sarek's voice was distorted across the connection. "Undoubtedly you are aware the planet is experiencing seismic activity."

"Indeed. The device responsible is visible from my laboratory."

"I see. The High Command has sent a distress call to the Federation for assistance. Planetwide evacuation may be imminent."

"I will return home immediately."

"No," Sarek said firmly. "Wait where you are. You must go to the nearest transport in the event an evacuation is ordered."

"What of you and mother?"

"We will be with the others in the Katric arc."

"You will evacuate?"

"Should it become necessary. Live long and prosper."

"Live long and prosper, father."

Spock returned the comm to the front pocket of his robes. From within the storage cabinet, Spock heard the sound of glass breaking. The quaking became stronger. The deeper the drill reached, he reasoned, the more excited the faults would remain. The science academy's buildings were not designed to withstand seismic activity over 5.8. The fault lines had been examined prior to the building's construction. Seismic events had never been stronger than 1.7 in all documentation since Surak's reformation. Further, Mount Tarhana, while active, had never caused ground disturbance. To waste resources designing a building to withstand an event with a statistically insignificant likelihood of occurrence was not logical.

Nor was it logical to remain. The building would not withstand continued seismic activity. It was necessary for Spock to vacate for his own safety. He thought of his mother at their home in ShiKahr, visible in the distance. Sarek would ensure her safety. Spock powered off the microscope. He tucked the PADD within his robes and touched the platinum emblem at his neck. The action provided him with a momentary sense of calm. He left the laboratory.

In the hallway, fellow scientists peered out from laboratory doorways and classrooms.

"We must leave," Spock said.

"Where?" Solek asked.

Spock had no answer. The building pitched, and he stumbled to the far wall, catching himself on a door handle.

"We must leave," he repeated and walked to the staircase.

Others followed wordlessly, a quiet shuffle of feet down the great stone steps that curved around a central pillar and deposited them in the entrance hall of the geology wing. Spock motioned to the exterior doors. Solek remained at the base of the stairs.

"Would it not be safer underground?"

"If the building collapses, you will be trapped."

Solek hesitated.

"Your fear serves no purpose," Spock said and pushed open the doors.

The drill blazed bright, even against the double suns, which beat down their own harsh light. The sound of the drill was apparent now, gurgling fire, a tremendous thundering. The magnitude of the shaking increased; it would continue to increase exponentially, he decided. If the drill reached too deeply, penetrated the planet's core, Vulcan could become unstable. It would be necessary to abandon the planet. Spock raised his eyes to the sky and saw transports rising into the air, disappearing into the clouded orange atmosphere. All around him, comms chirped simultaneously. He did not need to look at his own to know what the message read.

"Come," he said to the group of Vulcans assembled behind him. "We must go to the evacuation point."

With the threat of a war with Romulus ever present, evacuation points were strategically located at all major cities on Vulcan. Locations had been selected so that the greatest number of survivors could escape in the event of an attack. The science academy had its own evacuation point and emergency shuttle, which seated seventy-five passengers. There was enough room for Spock and the remaining faculty and students to board. He stood at the shuttle's entrance, waiting for Solek. He did not come.

"We must leave," the pilot said, and Spock stood back as the shuttle door closed. He sat quietly with his hands folded on his lap as the shuttle began to rise. Spock had ridden in a shuttle eight times. He had traveled to Earth once as a child with his parents, and he had accompanied three explorations to nearby planets to collect ice core samples and study exotic minerals. His eyes remained closed as the shuttle rose. He had no desire to look out the small windows. He knew the orange sky of Vulcan was disappearing, becoming darker and darker until it was swallowed by the black of space, its stars beyond. Beside him, T'Leia spoke quietly to herself.

"In my haste, I did not follow protocol to shut off the gas valve."

"It is inconsequential," Spock said, and he gripped the armrest tightly when the shuttle began to shake as they breached the atmosphere. "I estimate the building's structure will fail if the seismic event continues at its current magnitude."

There was muffled speaking among the other passengers and the shuttle crew. The pilot's voice filled the tight space through an overhead speaker.

"We are unable to communicate with the remaining shuttles. There is a Federation starship on our sensors, but we are unable to hail the ship. It is possible that what is affecting Vulcan may also be affecting our communication. Remain seated."

Spock focused on his breathing, inhaling slowly and counting the time of each exhale, slowing down his breaths until he was in a semi-meditative state. Briefly, just as a precaution, he felt for his mother's familial bond. It hummed steadily in his mind. He touched it and pulled back, waiting.

***

Jim rocked back on his heels, staring up at the speaker overhead. Had he just heard...? It couldn't be, but something Uhura said at lunch stuck in his head. A massive ship. His stomach twisted. He wiped the sweat from his forehead and nudged Olson.

"Hey," he said. "Take over for me for a second. I've gotta check something."

"Now's not the best time, Kirk," Olson said but took the wrench from Jim's hand and ducked his head into the console. Jim's legs were stiff from kneeling. He kicked them out and went to the nearest console, tapping the controls until the ship-wide message replayed.

"...twenty-two hundred hours, telemetry detected an anomaly in the neutral zone, what appeared to be a lightning storm in space..."

"Shit," Jim swore. Olson stared up at him but Jim ignored the questioning look. "Computer, locate crew member Uhura."

"Where are you going?" Olson said, rising.

"I'll be back," Jim said and ran out of Engineering. He slapped his communicator.

"Kirk to language lab three."

"Uhura here."

"Uhura!" Jim exclaimed, palming the corridor wall to keep upright as he avoided a head-on collision with a member of the security team. "The ship that destroyed the warbirds. The one from the transmission last night. Was the ship Romulan?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Just answer me. Was it Romulan?"

"Yes."

"Meet me on the bridge. There's no time to explain. Go now."

He flipped open his communicator again as he neared the turbolift. He knew his conclusion would sound far fetched, but of all people, Pike just might believe him.

***

A red glow filled the bridge as the alarm began to sound, and Jim, who stood at Captain Pike's shoulder, took a deep breath.

"Arrival in Vulcan in five seconds..." Sulu said. "Four... three... two..."

The ship lurched as they avoided the field of debris before them, huge hulking sections of ships blown apart and floating as satellites around Vulcan.

"Emergency evasive," Pike called as Sulu steadied his hands on the controls and guided the ship on a clear path. The Enterprise shuddered as a wrecked piece of saucer struck her hull. "Damage report."

"Deflector shields are holding."

"Full reverse," Pike said, "come about starboard ninety degrees, drop us underneath..."

There was a collective gasp as the great ship filled the viewscreen, dwarfing their own. Its black hull was stark against the red of Vulcan, long spidery fingers extended behind it. Jim felt a chill run through his body.

"Captain," Chekov said, "they're locking torpedoes."

"Avert auxiliary power from port nacelles to forward shields."

The torpedo's force shook the bridge sideways; Jim stumbled and caught himself on the navigator's chair.

"Sulu," Pike said. "Status report."

"Shields at thirty-two percent. Their weapons are powerful, sir. We can't take another hit like that."

"Get me Starfleet Command."

"Captain," Chekov said, "the ship has lowered a device into Vulcan's atmosphere. It is blocking our communications and transport abilities."

"All power to forward shields. Prepare to fire all weapons."

"Captain," Uhura called. "We're being hailed."

The screen flickered, and an unfamiliar face filled the viewport. The man was bald, with a tribal tattoo across his face, and pointed ears like a Vulcan. His eyes were expressive, however, unlike Jim's Vulcan language professor. So that's what a Romulan looks like, Jim thought. He frowned and curled his hand tightly over the back of Pike's chair.

"Hello."

"I'm Captain Christopher Pike. To whom am I speaking?"

"Hi, Christopher," the Romulan spoke. "I'm Nero."

"You've declared war against the Federation," Pike said, sitting tall in his chair. "Withdraw. I'll agree to arrange a conference with Romulan leadership at a neutral location."

"I do not speak for the Empire," Nero spat. "We stand apart, as does your Vulcan crewmember, isn't that right, Spock?"

"Spock?" Pike said. "Who the hell is Spock?"

"I am familiar with Earth's history," Nero retorted. "Commander Spock served as science officer aboard the USS Enterprise. Why isn't Spock on your bridge?"

Jim looked back over his shoulder at Chekov, bent over the science station. He shrugged.

"No one by the name of Spock is assigned to this ship," Pike said flatly. "It seems you are mistaken."

Nero's eyes flashed before fading into an eerily jovial expression.

"Captain Pike," Nero said, "your transporter has been disabled. As you can see by the rest of your armada, you have no choice. You will man a shuttle, come aboard the Narada for negotiations. That is all."

The viewscreen again filled with the huge red planet, the strange Romulan craft, pieces of wreckage drifting past slowly. Pike sighed, leaning forward over his knees.

"He'll kill you, you know that," Jim said quietly. "We gain nothing by diplomacy."

Pike patted Jim's hand where it rested on the command chair and rose. "Sulu, walk with me. Kirk, you come too. I've seen you in a bar fight; I've got a job for you and Olson. Chekov, you have the conn."

***

The minutes passed quickly within his trance, and T'Leia was speaking rapidly close to his ear.

"Spock," she said. "The shuttle bay must be cleared. We must exit now."

He blinked and looked up at the window, which was not black but bright, reflecting the interior of a starship. How long had he been in meditation? He found he had no sense of time. He nodded and rose, following T'Leia out of the shuttle and down the ramp. Starfleet personnel in their colorful uniforms urgently motioned them to move toward the front of the bay, where other Vulcans stood awaiting them.

"C'mon, pick up the pace," a young human ensign—a cadet by her uniform—shouted. "We've gotta clear the deck."

When they were safely behind closed doors, the shuttle bay chief slapped a large red button, which undoubtedly signaled the bridge to lower the rear shields momentarily. A wave of shuttles entered and set down, and a buzzing told Spock the shields were back in place.

"You are all to report to sickbay," another officer called, this one male, and they followed wordlessly.

The ship's corridors were filled with smoke that curled into Spock's lungs as the Vulcans herded silently through the damaged ship. His eyes stung in the acrid air, and he coughed to hide his discomfort. Arms stiffly at his side, eyes focused on the back of T'Leia's head, he concentrated on controlling his body's instinct to breathe. From deep within the ship, he could hear the sounds of human mourning, of cries and raised voices, of metal screaming under a fire's heat. The corridor was bathed in a dim red light that vacillated—an emergency light, Spock deduced, what Starfleet termed a Red Alert — and he wondered for a moment if the surface evacuation had been in vain. His father had not contacted him, yet Spock reasoned that any force capable of disabling shuttle-to-ship communications would surely disrupt personal communicators. Sarek would ensure his own safety and that of Spock's mother. She lingered, quietly, in the back of his mind. He touched only briefly. They entered a turbolift in groups of fifteen. While he waited for the car to return, Spock's eyes lingered on a section of wall blown apart, a mess of wire and metal fragments, and fear stabbed him. He tamped it down. He had not taken air for seventy-three standard seconds.

The turbolift's smooth movements caused Spock to close his eyes as his stomach dropped from the speed, and he indulged the fantasy of what it would have been like to serve on a starship. It had been his greatest desire as a child, a fact his mother knew and encouraged. He had never confided in his father, mentioning Starfleet as an option in the event the Science Academy did not accept his application. He imagined himself in the fitted uniforms, an insignia badge on his chest, respected by his peers. He would hold a science position, perhaps. The fantasy ended as the lift halted and doors slid open. Ridiculous, he chastised, to wonder at something that would not be.

Sickbay, indicated by a hastily scrawled plaque, had been relocated, likely as a result of damage to the ship. Perhaps the main sickbay had been destroyed or was unsafe. Another possibility was that the ship's casualties were too great for sickbay to hold crewmembers and the rescued Vulcans. Perhaps out of respect for Vulcan culture and privacy, they were being granted a temporary sickbay. But no, there was a human with blood on his cheek standing among them, pressing a rag to his face as a scowling doctor waved them inside. It was most likely the number of injuries were great. This appeared to be a surgical wing, hastily converted with portable scanners and stacks of bandages. Nurses and volunteers—they must be, from the lack of detachment in their eyes—darted between surgical tables where critical patients lay moaning and rows of chairs for those with less severe injuries. The room was dark and loud with the whirring of machines, the groans of the dying, the confusion in the corridor beyond.

"If you have an injury that requires immediate attention," a human male shouted over the din, "step to your left. This includes anyone who is actively bleeding, has hit his head, or is experiencing severe pain. The rest of you, stay to your right to be scanned."

Spock remained quiet, resuming his regular breathing now that the air was free of smoke. A nurse with light hair called the Vulcans forward one by one, scanning each and directing them to biobeds, to chairs, to the adjoining room to wait. She moved the scanner over Spock and pursed her lips as she made sense of his readings. Smiling at him faintly, she looked down and blushed, and waved him to the waiting area. Curious.

The waiting area was small, but Spock was grateful for the room's confined space. The combined body heat of so many crammed together helped ward against the cold from the ship's human-standard temperature. Vulcan hearing was sharper, more acute than a human's. Spock overheard rushed conversations from the injured humans having their wounds dressed, from the medical staff whispering among themselves. The first officer—he'd only been a lieutenant in Engineering this morning—was trying to dismantle the drill. Vulcan's destruction was imminent. They had only minutes.

Spock attempted to meditate where he stood. There he would find clarity. He descended easily into his subconsciousness, the room around him becoming muffled, the human cries all but mute to his ears. Inhale. Exhale. Spock focused on a single bright point in his mind and drew closer to it. Inhale. Exhale. The bright point intensified, and Spock turned his mental eyes away from it momentarily as he felt for it with hands extended. He wrapped fingers around it, capturing the brilliance in his palms. He stood centered in the blackness, the light trapped, and saw what he must do.

***

Jim had never been so glad to feel his body slam into the ground as he was when he opened his eyes on the transporter pad, shoulder aching, Olson wrapped around him. They'd had a second, maybe less, before being crushed against the jagged red rocks.

"So much for Starfleet issue 'chutes, huh?" he joked and rolled over onto his back. Olson coughed hard and sat up. Jim's chest heaved, and he was glad for the cool recycled air of the ship. The chute pack pressed into his shoulder blades, but he couldn't move just yet. His hand stung; he must have cut it on something. He could feel the blood slowly oozing from his skin where it parted, a warm wet feeling that made his stomach turn. Beside him, Olson chuckled and shook his head. He stood and dusted his legs, offering a hand to Jim and pulling him to his feet as Sulu rushed into the transporter room.

"Status?"

"The drill is destroyed," Jim said. "What's that thing they dropped in?"

"No idea," Sulu said. "Chekov says they're creating a singularity. The planet's going to implode any minute."

"Fuck," Jim swore. "We've got to get out of here. We've got to go after that ship."

"Olson," Sulu said. "Get back to Engineering. We've got to get that warp core stablized and running cool before the planet implodes. I need every man at his station."

"I'll go with him, captain," Jim offered, starting off after Olson who was already half-running out the door.

"Kirk, with your hand in that state, you'll get blood all over the controls," Sulu said, clapping him on the shoulder. "Get yourself to sickbay and then report to the bridge."

***

"You must allow me to beam down to the planet's surface," Spock said, eying the cadet who blocked the way to the corridor. He could easily overpower him. A simple pinch to his neck would take him down long enough for Spock to get past him, get to the transporter room without the cadet alerting security.

"No one is beaming anywhere," the cadet said but not unkindly. "We're seconds from warping out of here."

"The elders," Spock said, and he attempted to keep desperation out of his voice. "They must be evacuated."

"I'm sorry," the cadet said. "I have my orders."

"They safeguard the essence of our culture." Surely that was something any being could understand. The cadet appeared sympathetic but shook his head.

"My mother—" Spock implored, but his effort was in vain. The ship shifted beneath his feet and launched into warp. In the back of his mind, he felt the bond with his mother tighten uncomfortably, as though it were being stretched. He reached out toward it and—

It severed, the broken end swinging back and forth, back and forth in his mind. He gasped. What had just happened? Why was there a deadening silence in his mind? He combed his mind over and over, searching for her presence. His mind was blank where her touch belonged. The frayed rope swung heavy, like a pendulum from one of the Terran clocks she collected. He could not stand it and pulled back from his own mind. Instinct made him raise a hand to his temple, to touch his own meld points. Spock recoiled, unable to bear the pressure of his own fingers. A second rope snapped, a third. All around him, he heard similar gasps, noted ashen faces, mouths dropped open and abruptly covered.

There was only one possibility. Vulcan was gone, and his mother was dead, Sarek too.

In Spock's mind, the collective moaning over billions of lost lives rose to a crescendo as the grief overtook the stand of Vulcans just outside of sickbay. The pain was so immediate it was palpable without physical contact. His own shields were failing, his breathing shallow and rapid, uncontrolled. He bent at the waist, breathing hard through his mouth. He covered his face with his hands and slumped against the wall. So many lives lost. The sickness rose in his throat, and he pushed his way to a waste receptacle, emptying the contents of his stomach. A firm hand came to rest on his shoulder. He flinched away from it.

"Sorry," a voice said. "You okay?"

"Obviously not," Spock answered, pressing a fist to his mouth.

"You want to sit down?"

"That...that would be wise."

The voice guided him to a fresher, to the edge of a counter and closed the door behind them, muffling the chaos. Spock was grateful for the intervention, lest his lapse in control be witnessed by his peers. Spock focused his attention on the source of the voice. He was human, new to the service from the looks of him. He bore no stripes on his uniform, yet there was an air of command about him. He regarded Spock with a frown and his arms crossed over his chest. Spock wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

"Do you want a mint or something?"

Spock shook his head.

"I was just down here to get my hand bandaged," the human continued, and Spock supposed he was attempting to fill the silence.

"What happened to Vulcan?" Spock asked.

The human shifted in what Spock interpreted as discomfort. "They, uh, they created a black hole. At the center of the planet."

"I see."

"I'm so sorry."

Spock's mother had often expressed regret unnecessarily over events and circumstances which were not her doing. It was a way humans had, she had always explained, of expressing sympathy. Spock did not acknowledge the man's statement, but he did not dismiss it. He found the human's presence oddly soothing, if only because it prevented Spock from focusing on the broken bonds in his head while he reconstructed his shields.

The scientist in Spock took over, and it studied the human. His uniform was dusty and torn in places. His fingers were long and even in diameter from where they began at the knuckle to where they ended in well-shaped fingernails. He wore a bandage on his left hand, and his face was swollen. No doubt he had been engaged in a struggle. He was Spock's age, perhaps younger, with lighter hair and intense blue eyes. Spock felt a jolt of something looking at him, and his cheeks warmed. He looked away.

"You're sure I can't get you anything?" the man asked.

"I do not require anything at this time."

"As long as you're okay, I'm gonna leave you here. I've got to get back to the bridge. Sulu can't run this thing by himself."

Spock nodded once in understanding. The human raised his hand as though he might touch Spock again but raked it through his hair instead and left.

***

It hadn't taken long to convince Sulu that the best course of action was to pursue Nero and get Pike back. Sulu agreed that regrouping with the rest of the fleet would lose them too much time. Jim expected to be sent down to Engineering to help with repairs, but Sulu ordered him to stay on bridge, so Jim hovered around the captain's seat. They hashed out possibilities for gaining access to the Romulan ship.

"We could beam on board," Jim suggested.

"We have no idea as to the internal layout of that ship," Sulu said. "We could beam into the core."

"Well, we don't have our shuttle, but we could borrow one of the Vulcan ones."

"How many do we have?"

"Five, sir."

"That's it?"

"There were others that got away from the planet before..." Jim said, trailing off. "They can't move at warp, but they'll be picked up, or they might make it to Delta Vega. There's a base there. I'm sure the Federation already has ships on the way."

"Have we re-established communication with Starfleet yet?" Sulu called over his shoulder.

"Not yet," Uhura replied, flicking switches and squinting as she listened to her headset.

"Keep trying."

"Sir," Chekov called. "Detecting unauthorized access to water turbine control board. Someone just beamed onto the ship."

"We're at warp," Sulu said, dumbfounded. "Seal the engineering deck. Kirk, go find out what's going on."

"I'm on it," Jim said and headed for the turbolift.

Jim wasn't sure what to expect when he arrived in Engineering, but it certainly wasn't an older Vulcan and a pale human shivering beneath a thin Federation-issue towel. Cupcake had his phaser raised, set to stun.

"Lower your weapon," Jim said quietly, knocking him on the shoulder. "Between the two of us, I don't think they're going anywhere."

He turned and scrutinized the two of them. The Vulcan was older than he'd first appeared, with light gray hair and wrinkled hands. The man's lips were slightly blue. He wore a Starfleet uniform, though an older style, and was soaking wet.

"You get one chance to tell me the truth," Jim said. "How did you manage to beam aboard this ship? It's moving at warp."

The Vulcan's eyes sparkled.

"James Tiberius Kirk," he said fondly. Jim started.

"Who the hell are you?" he asked. "And how do you know my name?"

"I am Spock," the Vulcan said, looking at Jim expectantly. Jim raised both hands in frustration.

"That's the second time I've heard that name today!"

Spock's face went slack. He blinked, eyes widening slightly, and swept his gaze around the immediate area.

"You do not know who I am, Captain?" Spock asked.

"Commander," Jim corrected.

Spock raised an eyebrow in what looked to be genuine surprise. "You are not the captain?"

"Pretty sure that's what I just said. I'm acting Commander James T. Kirk, USS Enterprise. You beamed illegally onto a Federation starship. Do you have anything to say before I throw your asses in the brig?"

"Nero was successful in destroying Vulcan," Spock said. "We must stop him before he can reach Earth."

Jim's eyes narrowed. "What do you know about him?"

"He is a particularly troubled Romulan."

"And you," Jim said, turning to the man, who had a bit of pink on his cheeks now. "Who are you?"

"Montgomery Scott," the man replied, his teeth still chattering. "I realize my timing is a wee bit off, but is there anything to eat on this ship?"

Jim narrowed his eyes and huffed. "If I get you food, do you agree to tell me how you beamed onto this ship?"

Mr. Scott cast a nervous glance to Spock. "Uh," he said. "Yes."

Jim motioned to Cupcake, and the four of them headed out of Engineering. Instead of taking Spock and Mr. Scott to the brig, Jim decided one of the science labs would suffice, since they weren't being actively manned. He sat across a high counter on a stool, drumming his fingers on the surface while Mr. Scott devoured a plate of replicated sandwiches. Spock was still looking at him with a too-familiar expression, and Jim felt the strange urge to open up to him, like he knew Spock somehow. Looking at him, Jim felt, well, like Jim. It wasn't the way he felt when Pike looked at him, like he was filling the role his father should have, or even the way Bones looked at him, like a friend who wondered if you were half off your rocker. Spock looked proud, almost reverent. He looked happy. Jim ran a finger beneath his collar.

"So are you going to tell me how you knew my name back there?" he asked.

"Forgive my presumption," Spock said. "I was merely pleased to see you again, old friend."

"What," Jim chuckled, "are you from the future or something?"

"He is," Mr. Scott said through a full mouth. "I'm not."

"It is true," Spock agreed.

"You're kidding," Jim said.

"Vulcans do not kid," Spock assured him. "I am from your future, or rather, what would have become your future had it not been for Nero."

"Come again?"

"If you will permit it," Spock said, rising from his seat to walk around the counter to Jim. Cupcake fingered his phaser, but Jim shook his head as Spock reached out a hand to his face.

"What are you going to do?" Jim asked.

"Our minds," Spock said. "One and together."

Jim jerked back, putting a hand up between them. "You're gonna read my mind?"

"No, Jim. I wish to join our minds, so I might impart my journey to you. It is easier this way."

"Commander," Cupcake said. Jim shook him off. He stared Spock down, but Spock didn't flinch.

"Okay," he said after a long pause. "Do it. But just remember I have no problem throwing an old man in the brig. Don't test me."

"I have no desire to."

"Good."

Wrinkled fingers pressed to his face and the next thing Jim knew, he was warping one hundred twenty-nine years forward.

***

It was during the journey back to Earth that Spock realized the third bond, the thin broken filament swaying gently but surprisingly without pain, belonged to T'Pring. It had been many years since he thought of her. He had agreed to their bonding when he was seven; indeed, he had been proud to do so. His clan was an important one, the house of Sarek honorable, and Spock would be bonded to a full-blooded Vulcan of equal standing. Even at seven years of age, he understood the significance of the pairing, why his father had insisted upon it, despite his mother's quiet protests. He understood she wished him to marry for love, but Spock did not see the logic in basing a lifetime partnership on such an unsteady emotion.

He had often wondered why Sarek married his mother. Sarek had always told him it was done logically. He had never asked his mother her motivation. Now he could not. He wondered what her answer would have been.

Spock had soon learned that T'Pring's investment in their future was less than his. He could feel her indifference toward him, at times a slight disdain. Once, he felt a flare of affection through the bond they shared. Theirs was never strong like the connection he shared with his mother, more like spider's silk he had once observed on Earth, invisible until the wind caught it, becoming visible as a reflection of sunlight for a moment. He rejoiced in it until it became clear the affection was not intended for him, and from that day forward he shielded from her, dreading the day the burning of The Time would take him and bond him to one that did not, could not want him.

Perhaps his mother had been right.

Severing was not painful. Having shielded from her for so long, he felt no different with her imminent loss. He allowed himself to mourn her once. Rom-halan, he thought in parting.

He sat on the observation deck, which had been laid out with blankets and emergency rations. The ship had left Earth so quickly, it did not hold its regular stock of supplies. Even fully equipped, they would not have anticipated an additional four hundred passengers.

Spock first noticed the Vulcan after he took his evening meal. He ate little and only out of obligation. As he chewed, disconnected from what he ate—he did not taste or smell it—his eyes fell to where the Vulcan stood. He stood beside the window, looking out toward the stars. He was the only one looking outside of the ship, and Spock took note of this. He recognized the curve of the Vulcan's shoulders, the angle of his head. For one glorious moment, he believed himself to have been wrong, the pain in his head, the broken bond to be the result of his planet's loss. He rose from the bench, walking forward, maneuvering around children clinging to adult legs. The height was correct, yes, and the build of his body. It must be. It had to be.

"Father," he called out. The Vulcan turned, and Spock realized his error. The man was elderly, clearly older than his father by half a century. Spock did not know him, and yet there was a familiarity to his face, a sign of recognition in the way his eyes widened. An elder clan member, perhaps?

"Forgive me," Spock said. "I am Spock, son of Sarek. I mistook you for my father."

There was a glint—would Spock term it amusement?—in his eyes. He shook his head and opened his mouth to speak, his voice sending a chill through Spock's skin.

"I am not our father."

Spock stared at him, repeating the five simple words in his head. Was it possible? Time travel was no longer a theory. It was possible, he knew, to travel between gaps in time. The Romulan ship, he had heard whispered among Enterprise crewmembers, had come from the future. Could a version of himself have travelled with it? Spock recognized the raise of his own eyebrows, the point of his ear—it had always rounded just more than he liked, an echo of his humanity. Yes, he reasoned. It was possible. He stared at his own aged face.

"You are not a member of Starfleet," his elder self observed, casting a glance at his robes.

"I am not," Spock said. "I attended the Vulcan Science Academy."

"I see." There was a tightening in his face, an expression Spock recognized. He was deciding whether to speak his mind.

Spock found he was curious about the question. If this was indeed a future version of himself, he would have the same background and education as Spock. Yet this older version had asked, as though he was surprised by Spock's profession. He frowned. The facts did not align.

"You attended Starfleet," he stated.

"Yes," his elder self confirmed. "It is curious that you did not."

"I desired it," Spock confessed, though he did not know why.

"And yet you accepted admission to the Vulcan Science Academy?"

"I graduated at the top of my class."

"I would expect us to perform at nothing less than our full ability. May I inquire as to what changed your mind?"

"My— our mother," Spock said quickly. "The council considered her to be a disadvantage. I wished to prove them wrong."

"And she is the reason I chose Starfleet," his elder self said. "How is it possible that you have chosen this path?"

Spock shook his head.

"I wonder," his elder self continued, "if Nero's presence in this universe has caused more disruptions than I anticipated. I have become aware of the Kelvin's destruction, the loss of Jim's father."

"Jim?" Spock asked, cocking his head because the name had been uttered in a tone that suggested he should not only know this Jim but feel a shared grief for his loss.

"Jim was my captain," he said quietly. Spock was surprised by the blatant emotion in his voice, the softness. "He was also my friend."

The word startled Spock, who had never considered any being by this term except I-Chaya, perhaps. I-Chaya had never seen Spock as anything more or less than what he was. Theirs had been a mutual liking. His elder self must have sensed his confusion, because he said, "I, too, considered the concept to be unnecessary, even shameful when I was your age. I met Jim when I was thirty-six, and I served under him for many years. We relied on one another. Over time, I came to consider him my friend."

"He was human?"

"Yes. He is human, in fact."

"He is with you?"

"No," the elder Spock said. "My Jim, my captain, is gone. The James Kirk of this universe lives."

"How do you know this?" Spock asked as the answer came to him. "He is on this ship?"

"As I had hoped you would be. Nothing is as it should be. In my reality, Jim was the captain, but it seems he is the first officer on this Enterprise."

Something in Spock started at the mention of the first officer, recalling what he had heard in sickbay, that the first officer had space-jumped onto the drill platform. He had been responsible for disabling it. For a terrible pause, Spock wondered if this person, this man he did not know who had become an integral part of him in another lifetime, had also perished? Illogical, he told himself, to ponder such things. Spock had not attended Starfleet Academy, and he would not serve under James Kirk.

"My presence here has altered your reality."

"Do you hold yourself responsible for the destruction of our planet?" Spock asked, clasping his arms behind his back.

"Were it not for my actions," the elder Spock said, "Vulcan would not have been destroyed."

"Show me," Spock said, stepping closer. He motioned to his older self's hand, which came to rest alongside his face. The touch of his mind was instant, and he attempted to shield from Spock all but the information leading to his presence in this universe. He imparted Nero's madness, the truth of the red matter, the reality that this universe had been forever altered and the elder Spock had no way of returning to his own timeline. Spock found he could push against the shields, lower them easily. They were his own, after all.

He longed for more evidence of himself in this second mind. He glanced about the memory stores, organized and compartmentalized exactly as his were, only the stores were greater in number. His elder self was in his own mind, so Spock pushed forward, accessing memories that were not his own. He felt his elder self struggle to sever the connection as Spock pushed in deep, but Spock grasped his wrist and held tightly. He forced the connection to continue. He saw himself attending Starfleet Academy, serving with a Captain Christopher Pike, being assigned to the USS Enterprise, and Jim. Somehow, Spock recognized his face. Jim. Jim. Jim was ubiquitous, filling block after block of the carefully structured memories. He was a handsome human in his early thirties when he first appeared, and aged gradually as the memories compiled. Spock was disgusted by how casually and frequently Jim had touched him. Surely a starship captain would be culturally sensitive. There was memory after memory of Jim's hand on Spock's arm, of Jim helping him to stand during an away mission, of T'Pring's rejection, of Jim rolled onto his back on the hot sands of Vulcan.

Vulcan. He had brought an outworlder to the kal-i-fee.

Spock accessed the next memory. His elder self tried to pull his hand free, but Spock held firm to his wrist and the hand trembled against his face.

You must not do this, a voice said, his own and yet not. You do not understand.

The memories began to shift, becoming increasingly tender and erotic. Jim's hand on his face, the feeling of his breath against Spock's skin as he slept, the smell and texture of his hair. No. Failure on the steps at Gol. Jim's consciousness mingled with his. Jim's hand within his. No. His own death and resurrection. Jim's eyes, rich golden-brown and blurred with tears. Jim's name on his lips. No. No! He would not do this.

Something welled up within Spock, a fear, the realization that he was capable of so much humanity, that so much of his life energy could be devoted to one man. Anger boiled within him, and he released the old Vulcan's wrist. The hand came away, and Spock clapped his own over the place where it had touched him.

"Are you human," he rasped, "or are you Vulcan?"

"I am Spock," his elder self replied, pale and stumbling. He slumped against the window.

"I am Vulcan," Spock said sharply. "My fate is not yours."

"You should not..." he gasped, "you should not have seen what you did. It is too soon. I beg you, do not give up such a friendship—"

Spock's anger coiled low in his belly, crouching like a le-matya preparing for a strike. His hands balled to fists—he felt his fingernails press against his skin—but before he could reach out and lock them around his own throat, he excused himself and headed for the nearest fresher. Once inside, he secured the door and leaned against the counter, observing his own face. He took four deep breaths. The anger skimmed over, an awareness, yes, but not capable of controlling him. It was wrong, what he had done. To invade the mind, to forcibly take another's thoughts, to remain where he was unwanted was tantamount to a crime. He had violated the mind of another.

His stomach twisted, and for the second time that day he was doubled over sick, glad for the solitude.

***

Jim was surprised to receive the message from Gary while the Enterprise was docking. It took a minute for him to recognize the ID number. They hadn't talked in a couple years except for the occasional "Hey," if they saw each other around campus. The last time Gary had reached out to him, Bones had hidden Jim's comm for a day and a half, making him promise not to write back under threat of inoculation. The message was short, with a frankness that made Jim's heart beat faster. He stared at it openly.

>> Tell me you're okay.

Uhura gave him a questioning look, and he realized she'd been speaking to him.

"It's my mom," he lied, tilting the screen so she couldn't read it. "Just making sure I'm alive."

"That reminds me..." she said and pulled her own comm out.

Jim's eyes returned to the message. Was it a good idea to write back? If it had been Gary in Jim's position, wouldn't Jim want to know that Gary was alive? Even if they had truly hated each other, Jim reasoned, Gary deserved to know. This was so much bigger than the two of them. He wrote a quick reply.

>> Just a few scratches.

His finger hovered over the "send" key, and he pushed it with his eyes closed. A queasy feeling settled in his stomach, but Gary wrote back almost instantly.

>> Thank god.

Jim didn't know what to say to that, so he didn't write back again. He holed up in the apartment for a full twenty-four hours, refusing to go outside until Bones barked at him to get his uniform to the cleaner's. The first thing Starfleet wanted to do was organize a ceremony to honor Sulu and Jim for their valiant efforts in the assistance with the incident on Vulcan, which was what they called the last two days. Not a word about a crazy time-traveling Romulan and wormholes and the Klingon prison planet, or the fact that Vulcan imploded and everyone stranded on the surface was dead. And then there were the cadets.

Jim thought the ceremony was bullshit, but he attended because Sulu attended, and because Pike said he had to under threat of disinheritance. Jim didn't want to begin the search for Father Figure #4. There had been his own dad, of course, who was a ghost Jim was somehow supposed to live up to (and the funny thing about ghosts is they're incapable of error); Frank, who hadn't been a bad guy but didn't understand (or didn't want to understand, which was worse) that all of Jim's shenanigans and run-ins with Riverside P.D. were because he was genius-grade and bored as hell in Iowa; and Pike, who'd never taken any of Jim's shit, liked him in spite of it (maybe because of it) and was the first person, the first man, who'd ever challenged him. Jim could do a lot worse than Chris Pike as his mentor, plus he had the feeling Number One would be up his ass if he pissed Chris off right now, what with the wheelchair and the whole temporary paralysis thing.

Pike nudged him when his name was called, Bones elbowing his other side. Jim's hand had healed to the point he didn't need the bandage any more thanks to the handheld dermal regenerator Bones kept at their apartment. He shook Admiral Barnett's hand and proudly accepted his new position as official First Officer of the USS Enterprise, with Sulu as captain. Not bad for three years in the academy. As he and Sulu turned about face to acknowledge the applause, something made Jim glance up at the balcony to where Spock stood. He raised his chin slightly to the old man in acknowledgement. Gary was seated three rows in, and he smiled at Jim, who found himself smiling back.

Jim lingered after the ceremony concluded. He wasn't waiting for Gary, he told himself. If Gary happened to walk by and they happened to talk, that was just a coincidence. Bones had gone back to the apartment, so Jim stood with his arms folded over his chest and watched as cadets and officers exited the auditorium. Gary never walked past him. He must have used another exit. Jim tried to convince himself the unwelcome feeling in his stomach wasn't disappointment.

Pike caught him in the hallway outside the auditorium once the crowd had thinned and people he didn't know stopped slapping him on the back and saying congratulations.

"Kirk," Pike said, wheeling up to him. "You busy?"

"No, sir."

"Good," Pike said. "Come with me."

Jim thought maybe they were headed to a pizza place a few blocks away and was surprised when Number One stopped the aircar outside the Vulcan Embassy with a "Here you go, boys" and left them curbside.

"You like Vulcans, right?" Pike said, steering toward the entrance. He flashed his Starfleet ID, and Jim did the same. The door scanner beeped and the light turned red; they were granted access.

"Funny how their stop and go colors are backwards," Jim quipped.

"Well, when you have copper-based blood, tell me if the color green still makes you think go," Pike teased.

"Hadn't thought of that," Jim mused, and they went inside the building.

It was minimalist, clean lines and sparse decor but beautiful in a way that caught Jim's breath. He stared up at the high ceilings, the tall, arched windows, and inhaled air that was sickeningly sweet with incense.

"This way," Pike motioned, making a right down a brightly lit hallway with vaulted ceilings like a cathedral. Jim jogged to catch up, aware how loud his boots sounded in this alien, quiet environment. There were no voices, just the trickling of a fountain somewhere Jim couldn't see.

"This is where the evacuees are being kept," Pike explained. "The problem is, there's not enough room for all of them. The embassy has asked that we help locate temporary housing for as many as possible."

"So you want me to adopt a few of them?"

"Not a few, just one. Starfleet asked me to compare the list of survivors against a list of Starfleet applicants filed in the last five years, and there is one Vulcan whose scores were incredible, but he turned us down."

"And, what, Starfleet thinks I'll take this guy in for a few days, and talk him into enlisting out of, what, some kind of revenge?"

"Something like that." Pike sighed. "Look, I don't like this any more than you do, but we all have to do our part. Whether you convince this guy to enlist or not is your business—I won't even ask you about it—but please consider taking him in, just for a while, until we can get more temporary housing in place."

"Fine," Jim said, rolling his eyes. "What's his name?"

Pike pulled out his PADD and tapped the screen twice. "Spock. I can't pronounce the rest."

"You're shitting me."

"I am not," Pike said.

"What is it with that name? That's the third time in three days. Was everyone on Vulcan named Spock?"

"You're right," Pike said, rubbing his forehead. "I'd forgotten about that. I'm not exactly running on full dilithium crystals."

"Does this guy know he's coming with me? Better yet, did you mention anything to Bones?"

"You control your own roommate, kiddo."

"I'd better comm him," Jim said, covering his right ear on instinct even though the building was quiet. He held the comm up to his left. Bones didn't answer—probably on the couch with Christine—so Jim left him a brief voice message. "So I'm bringing home a Vulcan, apparently. Guess that means no steak for a while," and hung up.

The multi-purpose room had been converted into a shelter that housed at least 200, from Jim's quick estimate, mostly families with small children who clung to the Federation-issue gray blankets and looked at Jim with widened eyes. His eyebrows knit together, but he remembered something he'd learned in his Vulcan language class and shifted to the most neutral face possible. The children clutched at their parents' legs and some openly cried. One Vulcan woman turned her crying child away from Jim's eyes; he felt guilty and focused on the back of Pike's chair.

Standing along the wall were a large number of young Vulcans, some with their eyes closed, the others quiet and contemplative. Pike wheeled up to a Vulcan he obviously knew, because he smiled at him sadly and offered the traditional Vulcan greeting. Jim struggled to get his hand in the right configuration, but the Vulcan didn't acknowledge him anyway, so he gave up.

"I'm sorrier than you can imagine. This is Jim Kirk. Kirk, this is Solen. He served with me and Number One many years ago."

"Good to meet you," Jim said and Solen nodded to him.

"He's agreed to take Mr. Spock."

"You have our gratitude," Solen said. "Follow me." He walked past Jim in a swish of robes.

What struck Jim first was the quiet of the room, despite its many occupants. What struck him second was the young Vulcan man that Solen indicated to be Spock, whom Jim recognized right away as the one who'd gotten sick right after Vulcan imploded, and who regarded him blankly.

Now that they weren't in the middle of a crisis, he could really look at him. Spock wasn't much older than Jim. He had a severe look to him that made him appear more mature, but he couldn't be thirty. He looked like all of the other Vulcans Jim had ever seen, with dark hair in a short bowl cut and lack of expression. He was...good looking. Scary, but good looking, with a green flush high in his cheeks. He held a comm device and a PADD, and Jim noted the way his knuckles strained white from gripping them so tightly. He'd heard Vulcans had three times the strength of a human, and Jim had no desire to test that number.

"Uh," he said, looking nervously to Solen and then Pike and back to Spock. "I'm Jim. I guess you're staying with me for a few days."

"Indeed," Spock said.

"I don't know if you remember me," Jim continued, "but I actually met you in sickbay, just after..."

Spock's gaze fell to Jim's hands, then back to his face. "Of course," he said.

"You had a lot going on just then," Jim said. "I wouldn't remember me either."

He waited for Spock to say something else, raising both eyebrows in anticipation, but Spock's mouth formed a tight line.

"Well, okay," Jim said finally and turned to Pike. "Are you driving us or am I getting a cab?"

***

Spock was irrationally angry at the young man—Jim, he corrected himself—in the passenger seat. The embassy had no right to assign him alternate housing against his will. He was a Vulcan citizen; he had a right to remain at the compound with the other survivors. Surely with their race nearly extinct, staying together was logical? It was necessary to regroup and rebuild. But he knew that supplies were low, that there was little space for families who must and should remain together.

When Jim had first approached, Spock felt a sinking in his stomach, a stab of recognition. This face, though younger, was similar to the one from his elder self's memories. The man introduced himself as Jim. The facial structure was correct, the curve of his ear, the thickness of his neck. Was his elder self responsible for this? He had not seen him since they disembarked. Jim had stared at him, waiting for Spock to speak. Spock had been prepared to object, to insist on remaining at the compound, but he looked into Jim's eyes.

They were blue.

Had Spock's paranoia got the better of him, or had he fallen victim to the idiom that humans were so similar in appearance that distinguishing between them was difficult? Perhaps he was biased or more compromised by Vulcan's loss than he wished to admit. He went without protest.

Spock was silent except when answering direct questions during the ride to Jim's apartment, which took eleven standard minutes and forty-three seconds. The building was old, constructed of brick and four stories in height. It was not a practical use of space. Buildings on Vulcan extended high in the air, to make the most of the vertical space available. This was not Vulcan, Spock reminded himself. Vulcan no longer existed. He exited the car when Jim did, pausing to address Admiral Pike.

"Your assistance is appreciated," he said and stepped out.

It was cold on Earth. The air was damp, and Spock found himself shivering as he followed Jim in the front door and up two flights of stairs to apartment 3B. Jim pressed a thumb against a scanner over the doorknob, and there was a click which Spock presumed was the door unlocking.

"I'll get you programmed into the system," Jim said as he opened the door. The apartment had a strange odor. Spock noted dirty dishes in the sink, the pile of clothes strewn in the front hall. Jim bent over, picking up a pair of socks and shoving them into a small washing machine and pressing a button that began the cleaning cycle. "Sorry I didn't have time to clean up in here. I didn't realize we'd be having company."

"Think nothing of it," Spock said.

"So you'll be on the couch," Jim said, placing his hands on his waist, "unless that's too weird for you. I don't know how you are privacy wise. If that would bother you, I guess you can have my room while you're here."

"I have no wish to trouble you."

"It'll only be for a few days, right? Or I can throw an air mattress on the floor in my room if you don't mind sharing. At least that way it'll be quieter. We get a lot of foot traffic since we're by the staircase, and sometimes it's pretty loud in the living room."

"That would be acceptable," Spock decided, weighing the two options.

"I'll dig it out," Jim said. "It's in the closet somewhere. Uh, so anyway, the bathroom's through there. You can share with me. Kitchen's that way. We have a replicator, pretty standard. That's Bones's room. He's not here right now, probably at his girlfriend's, but you'll meet him later. Do you need any clothes? Do you want me to wash those for you?"

Spock looked down at his robes, still dusty from running across the desert to the evacuation point. Clinging to the fabric was the last remnants of his home world. The dust and sand particles were all that remained of Vulcan. He could not bear to see them washed away.

"No," he said firmly, but he softened his tone at the startled look on Jim's face. "It is unnecessary for you to perform such a task on my behalf. I am capable of washing my own clothing."

"Well, you're welcome to anything in my closet," Jim said, waving at it. "I think we're about the same size."

Spock did not wish to wear Terran clothing, but there were no immediate alternatives. Kaiidth. He nodded in understanding.

"You probably want to grab a shower," Jim said. "I'll get you a towel."

Spock did not, but he knew he should. It had been three standard days since he left home, but he found he had no drive to meet his basic needs. He had taken food only once, had consumed water only when his throat became dry and he could no longer swallow without difficulty. He had not slept. He had no desire to read, to speak with those around him. He wished only to sit quietly and sink into a meditative state, remaining there indefinitely.

Jim was kneeling on the floor, examining the contents of the small closet beside the adjoining bath.

"Here we go," he said, pulling out a towel and a stack of mis-matched sheets. "I'll find that air mattress while you're cleaning up, and then I'll get out of your hair."

"Clarify," Spock said.

"Huh? Oh, it means I'll leave you alone, let you have some peace and quiet."

Spock accepted the towel and went into the bath, closing the door behind him and engaging the privacy lock. He did not look in the mirror, turning toward the shower and studying the controls, adjusting the water to 101 degrees Fahrenheit, heavy pressure. It was not often he bathed with water. It was a rarer substance on Vulcan than Earth, so its conservation had been necessary. His father had ordered a deep soaking tub to be constructed for Spock's mother, and she had allowed Spock to swim in it as a child.

He took the emblem from his neck and laid it on the counter. The robe he slipped from his shoulders, folding it carefully, smoothing his hands over the fabric. Grains of sand fell from it onto the towel, and he stared at them. The sand on Vulcan was largely silicon dioxide, no different from sand's composition on Earth, but he felt he must preserve these particles, if only for posterity, to document what Vulcan had been. With the shower running, he looked to the counter, in the wall-mounted cabinet for something in which he could store the sand. He did not wish to ask his host for assistance. In the trash receptacle, he spotted a round orange vial with a white cap. A label had been torn from it. The cap fit snugly. It would do. Spock carefully rinsed it to remove any particles, dried it with a piece of tissue, and began the laborious task of easing the sand particles from the towel loops to his hand, carefully guiding them into the vial. He took the robe, held it two inches above the towel which he spread along the floor, and began to brush downward, watching the grains tumble free. They were concentrated at the hem though not numerous. He estimated there was just under a gram in total. He salvaged what he could, secured the vial tightly, and placed it on the counter.

Logical. It was logical to preserve any part of Vulcan possible.

Spock felt oddly exposed standing naked in another person's shower. His chest felt heavy as he lathered his hair and body. The soap that slithered down his legs to the white shower floor was tinged faintly red. He closed his eyes against the sight.

By the time Spock emerged from the bathroom, Jim had made up the bed. It was situated beneath the window and low to the ground. Spock tucked the vial next to his PADD, concealing them both with his folded robe. He would wash it tomorrow, perhaps. He found himself suddenly tired and crawled onto the bed, noting the way it sunk beneath the pressure from his elbow but evened out as he lay prone. He pulled the sheet and blanket to his chest. The room was warmer than when he had gone into the shower. Jim had raised the temperature at least five degrees.

Spock was asleep within twelve seconds and did not dream.

***

Bones got back to the apartment just before 2300 hours. The sound of the front door opening roused Jim from his doze on the couch. He'd been reading documentation about the Enterprise's repairs and responding to multiple communications from Sulu about preparations for departure, even though they were at least a month out with no firm date. There was time to go home and visit, if he wanted, but his mother was off planet. That was the problem with being a Starfleet brat; his mom understood the challenges Jim faced, but she was never around to talk about them. She'd sent a vid that he had received that evening, just before his head dropped to his chest. She was, as he'd thought, wrenching for the USS Tereshkova in the Laurentian system.

"You look beat," Bones observed as he collapsed onto the arm chair adjacent to the couch where Jim was sprawled. Jim stretched his arms over his head and yawned.

"It's been a long day," he said. "Did you get my message earlier?"

"No," Bones said, pulling out his comm. "I was distracted."

"Is that what you're calling her now?"

"Not everything is about sex, Jim."

"Okay, not everything."

McCoy scowled at him. "I just spent the last six hours with Christine..."

"Told you."

"...at the clinic looking for signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in a species that thinks smiling could kill you."

"You know," Jim said, "it's funny you mention that species."

"Why?"

"There's one asleep in my bedroom."

"My god, you could at least try to keep it in your pants for twenty-four hours."

"It's not like that," Jim said, powering off the PADD and placing it on the coffee table. He sat up and rested his elbows on his knees. "Pike asked me to give him a place to stay for a few days while they find more housing."

"Oh," Bones said. "Why didn't you stick him on the couch?"

"Thought he might prefer the privacy," Jim said. "I found that air mattress you used to let me crash on."

"So you're going to play roommates with a Vulcan," Bones said with a smirk. "I hope you realize this means you can't go bringing back the flavor of the hour. Maybe this will be a positive influence on you."

"You know, I don't get laid half as often as you think. Probably not even a quarter. Do you want a beer?"

"I'm turning in," Bones said, shaking his head and standing up. "And so should you."

"In a minute," Jim said, yawning again.

"I don't want to find you out here in the morning," Bones said, wagging a finger at him over his shoulder as he crossed the room. He closed the bedroom door behind him.

Jim chewed on his lip. He was hungry. He could go replicate something, or he could go to bed, try to sleep, and have a big breakfast in the morning. Actually, he wasn't sure if it was hunger he was feeling or apprehension. Maybe it would be better if he stayed out here on the couch. Spock had been asleep (or at least really darn quiet) for six hours. Jim didn't want to disturb him, but he needed sleep too. He'd just be as quiet as possible.

He switched off the lights in the living room, checked the lock on the front door, and tiptoed back to his bedroom. The door squeaked more than he'd ever noticed as he pushed it inward, inhaling through clenched teeth as though that would keep the sound to a minimum. He opened it only as wide as he needed to slip inside, then shut it gently. The room was dark. He stubbed his toe on the foot of his bed and hobbled to the left side, swearing under his breath. He kicked off his pants and shirt and crawled under the sheet, throwing the comforter to the end of the bed. He wouldn't need that as long as his bedroom was converted to a sauna.

He expected to fall asleep once his head touched the pillow, but he found himself staring at the ceiling, eyes half closed but mind wide awake. Spock's breathing was steady and slow. It wasn't often that Jim had another person in his bedroom. Not for sleeping, anyway. They usually left by now. Maybe they stuck around for a beer or glass of wine, but they didn't stay over. It was surreal to hear someone else in his room and stranger still that this was someone he'd spoken to for all of ten minutes. Even growing up he and Sam hadn't shared a room.

This wasn't permanent, he told himself. This was just until the Enterprise launched, and then he'd have his own cabin and semi-private bath. He'd heard the regulation beds were more narrow than a twin. He'd gotten spoiled by the king-size he bought when Bones told him to move in already and get out of Gary's apartment. He'd been tempted to buy a double out of practicality, but Uhura said to screw it, get the biggest one possible and celebrate your independence. She'd refused to cuddle with him after, but Gaila made herself available a few times. Jim's thoughts drifted to her and he wondered which of the ships she had been assigned. It hadn't been the Enterprise.

In his sleep, Spock shifted. Jim held his breath, but Spock only muttered something and turned his head away. Jim counted rows of corn until he was so bored, his brain finally agreed to switch off.

Bones roused them with pancakes in the morning because Bones was an awesome best friend. Sure, he did things like threaten to give Jim exotic diseases when he put his shoes up on the coffee table, but he would also prepare a tall stack with chocolate chips and blueberries and hot syrup (the real stuff, not replicated or "that corn syrup nonsense," as Bones called it). Spock was still sleeping when the smell of pancakes wafted under the door. Jim brushed his teeth as quietly as possible and went out to meet Bones in the kitchen.

"I love you, man. Do I tell you that enough?" Jim asked, taking the proffered cup of coffee and drinking eagerly.

"Did your Vulcan get scanned yet?" Bones asked. "It's not like them to sleep this much."

"Well, he has been through a lot. Do you think I should wake him up?"

"No," Bones said, taking a seat at the round table and motioning Jim to sit. "Might as well let him rest. I don't suppose any of them really slept these past few days."

"Probably not," Jim said. He took four pancakes from the stack and doused them liberally with syrup. "Anyway, I don't know if he got scanned or not. All Pike told me was that he'd applied to Starfleet a few years ago but chose the VSA instead."

"And now Starfleet wants him to enlist. Typical," Bones spit.

"That's our military for you," Jim said, cramming an entire pancake into his mouth and leaning on an elbow.

"Where I come from, we have a little thing called manners," Bones said, shaking out a napkin and placing it on his lap before serving himself.

"Oh," Jim said through a mouthful of pancake. "Thanks for cooking breakfast."

Bones rolled his eyes. "What do they think you'll be able to do, exactly? Charm a Vulcan to death with your baby blues?"

Jim shrugged and swallowed. "I have no idea. Do you work today?"

"In a half hour," Bones said, checking his watch. "A doctor is never off duty. Are you going to be okay alone with him?"

"I think I can handle one Vulcan."

"Yeah, well..." Bones said. "Don't piss him off. They might seem stoic, but they can be mean bastards."

"I'll go easy on him," Jim said with a grin. Bones's comm chirped, and he swore under his breath.

"Christine's outside with the car," he said, spearing three bites and shoveling them into his mouth. He rose and set his plate down next to the sink. "You can clean up since I cooked."

"Sure, mom."

"Behave," Bones said and was out the door.

The second Bones was gone and Jim was sitting by himself in the kitchen, he was all too aware of how much noise every movement made. He could put on a vid, but he'd have to watch it with the volume low, which defeated the purpose of watching a classic with a great screenplay. He'd be better entertained trying to recite Casablanca from memory over a second cup of coffee. He could go out for a while, but he honestly felt apprehension over leaving a stranger alone in his apartment. It wasn't like he and Bones had anything worth stealing, but the idea left a bad taste in his mouth. And what would Spock do if he woke up in Jim's apartment alone? He'd just lost his planet and his family. The least Jim could do was to sit quietly in the kitchen and wait, see if Spock needed anything when he finally woke up. Jim wanted to take a shower, but his shower head made a squealing noise when the pressure was turned to full. Jim didn't feel like scrubbing Bones's shower after borrowing it. ("It's not the germs, Jim. It's other people's hair. I can't stand it.")

Jim ate the rest of the pancakes, drumming his fingers on the table and staring at the kitchen wall. They really needed to hang artwork or a photo or something. What a bachelor pad. Living with Gary hadn't been a picnic, but his place had been...cool, Jim decided. Confident. It had suited him.

Dammit, he thought as his mind drifted in Gary's direction. This was usually when Bones whacked him over the head or Jim turned up the music to an uncomfortably loud level. He couldn't do that now, and Gary consumed him. He wondered what Uhura had meant when she told him Gary wanted to apologize. Strictly speaking, Gary didn't owe him an apology. They'd been friends. Friends who fucked, yes, but no more than that, no matter what Gary had implied with the soft looks he'd give Jim in the morning. They'd been friends, and Gary had lots of friends. Jim had thought that was enough until the day it just...wasn't. That was the first time Jim ever had to patch Bones up, holding the dermal regenerator over his knuckles.

"Um, thanks," he'd muttered.

"Yeah, well," Bones had grumbled, "we can pick up the rest of your stuff tomorrow."

Everything since Gary had been casual and, with the exception of a drunken night at the Shipyard when he'd accompanied Pike with a shuttle of first years, all female. (The guy was a townie. No one was the wiser.) Why did Gary have to do this now? Jim knew the answer to that, too. He pulled out his comm and set it on the table. Glancing to the door — Bones was definitely gone, right?—he composed a message mentally.

>> So I hear you want to see me.

No.

>> Uhura said you said hi.

What was he, twelve? Why was this so difficult? Why did Gary always reduce him to feeling like he was teetering on the edge of something? Fuck it. Gary would be lucky to have him again.

>> hey

He typed it and pressed "send." He held the mug of coffee to his lips in an act of nonchalance and waited. He hated that he stared at the comm and actually counted the seconds. Eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve—

>> Hey. Did Uhura mention I asked about you?

It was just like Gary to put Jim on the spot. Of course she'd told him. Gary probably knew that. So this was a test. The ball was in Jim's court for once. He decided not to write back right away, washing his plate and Bones's first, wiping down the counter. He waited three and a half minutes, then picked up his comm.

>> yeah

Gary's reply was almost instant.

>> So do you want to see me or not?

Jim's stomach twisted.

>> Sure

>> Today? Lunch?

Jim started to write "what time?" then swore to himself when he remembered his house guest.

>> actually today's not great. raincheck?

Jim set down his comm and pushed it a few inches away. The screen lit up.

>> OK

And again a few seconds later,

>> I really want to see you.

Jim's chest absolutely did not clench when he read those words. Spock woke up forty-three minutes after Gary's last message. Jim heard the bathroom door open and close, the quiet murmur of the tap while Spock presumably brushed his teeth. Had he even brought a toothbrush? Jim made a mental note to ask if he needed anything. They could walk to the store together, get whatever Spock needed and then do a liquor run. Synthehol wasn't going to cut it tonight.

***

Spock walked quietly along the sidewalk beside Jim with his arms loosely at his sides. He was uncertain why he had agreed to accompany him. Jim had a preoccupation with Spock's oral hygiene and had insisted on escorting Spock to a nearby store to procure a Terran-style toothbrush. Spock had one from the embassy in the small sack he carried. For some reason, Spock had not told him, merely nodded and followed Jim out of the apartment after Jim located his keys beneath a dish towel. This man would serve as first officer on a Federation starship?

"So I've lived in San Francisco for three years, but I'm originally from Iowa," Jim offered as they walked past a restaurant which was cooking some type of meat. Spock turned his nose up at the offending odor. Spock supposed Jim's words were an effort to fill the silence, what his mother had called "small talk." It was an apt name, for its value was indeed negligible. Beside him, Jim cleared his throat. "What about you?"

"I have never lived in San Francisco," Spock replied.

"No, I mean..." Jim began. "I meant to ask about where you lived..." His voice trailed off, and his face looked pinched. Spock wondered if he had stepped on something sharp. "So you went to the Vulcan Science Academy, huh?"

"I did."

"Yeah, they didn't try to recruit me," Jim said and gave an aborted laugh. Spock raised an eyebrow.

"I would not have expected them to do so."

"Sorry," Jim said, shaking his head. "Just my attempt at humor. Admiral Pike found me in a bar and talked me into enlisting in Starfleet. I heard you applied a few years ago?"

"Yes," Spock confirmed. "It was my intention to attend Starfleet in the event the Vulcan Science Academy did not accept my application."

He wasn't certain why he had given this information to Jim. He understood from his mother and from his limited interaction with humans through his father's ambassadorial work that they often recounted shared experiences. It was how they forged interpersonal relationships. Spock supposed his human half was stimulated, surrounded by his mother's planet, her customs, her people.

He wished to remain on Earth for the shortest duration possible. Surely a colony would be selected, and the surviving Vulcans given the opportunity to rebuild. It was their duty, as the surviving members of the race, to preserve what remained of Vulcan culture, history, science, and logic; to aid in the repopulation of the species. Likely sterile due to his mixed heritage, Spock could provide little assistance on that front. He had yet to be tested for reproductive viability. It would not have been an issue for many years yet, not until the Time and challenge. He could certainly contribute to child rearing, perhaps take on the parental responsibilities for an orphaned Vulcan youth. He suspected there were many who had been placed in transports when the planet had only moments remaining, with Surak's blessings upon them.

He allowed his mind to touch on his own parents, on the empty place where their presence once lingered. He had all but fully shielded that part of himself.

"I didn't have a back-up plan," Jim admitted. Spock noted he thrust his hands into the pockets of his denim pants. "You ever been to Earth before?"

"Yes," Spock said, because it was true, and Jim had asked a binary question. It did not require further explanation. The sidewalk became uneven, and Jim reached out a hand as if to steady Spock, who stepped away from it.

"Sorry," Jim said, "I wasn't sure if you saw the cracks back there."

Spock wondered why Jim doubted his observational skills. He was about to say as much when something in Jim's pocket made an electronic chirping sound, and Jim pulled out a communicator.

"Shit," Jim cursed. Spock did not care for Jim's word choice but did not say so. From Jim's tone of voice, Spock inferred he was upset. As Spock had no interest in what upset Jim, he did not inquire as to the reason for his ill manners. Jim sighed and tucked the communicator away in his pocket without placing a call or responding to a message. "I don't suppose you wanna grab lunch with me and a friend of mine."

"I do not," Spock said.

"I can't decide if your honesty is refreshing or irritating," Jim muttered.

Spock was oddly compelled to reply. "It would be illogical to conceal the truth," he said.

"This is the only day he can meet up for a while."

"You are unable to meet with him?"

"Well, I've got..." Jim motioned to Spock.

"You are not obligated to provide me with your company," Spock said. "If your concern is based on the concept of a stranger alone in your residence, I will return to the embassy until such a time as you are able to return."

"No," Jim said. "That's unnecessary. I'd feel like an asshole if you did that. I just feel bad leaving you alone."

"I prefer solitude," Spock said.

"Oh."

"It is conducive to meditation."

"Is that what you were doing all morning? Meditating?"

"In part," Spock replied.

"You really wouldn't mind if I left you by yourself? It would just be for a couple hours."

"I would not."

In the store, Jim purchased a toothbrush and a package of what Spock identified as prophylactics.

"I must apologize," Spock said when they were once again outdoors. "It is customary for a house guest to prepare the morning meal for his host, yet I did not offer to do so."

"It's cool. Besides, Bones likes to cook. He doesn't like people messing with his kitchen. I'm restricted to replicator only after setting off the smoke alarms making toast."

"You are unfamiliar with how to prepare food?"

"Nah," Jim said, "but I'll let Bones think that as long as he keeps making me blueberry pancakes."

***

Gary was six minutes late.

Jim stared down at his hands, shaking around the cup of coffee. More caffeine wasn't what he needed right now. A shot of tequila would probably serve him better, calm his nerves. He tried to steel himself against the trembling but found he couldn't control it or the way his heart raced, the nervous flush of blood on his neck and face.

This is just lunch, he told himself.

How long had it been since they last saw each other—a year? It couldn't be that long. Hadn't they run into each other outside Jim's Ethics in Inter-Planetary Diplomacy seminar? Seven minutes. Maybe Gary wasn't coming. Maybe he'd been stuck in traffic. Maybe he forgot. Jim could message him, but he should probably wait a full ten minutes before that, he reasoned.

Jim still felt like an ass leaving Spock alone in the apartment (he wouldn't tell Bones about that, he decided, unless it came up), but Spock had merely nodded at Jim when he handed him the toothbrush and retreated to the bedroom. He shut the door, and Jim supposed he was meditating. He hadn't bothered to say goodbye when he left.

Jim turned his head every time the door chimes to the coffee shop sounded, and the eighth time Gary passed through the entrance. He still looked the same, seductive and glowing, with his eyes narrowed in a smile as he approached Jim and pulled him up and into a hug. He'd filled out since Jim last held him; his cheek was rough with stubble.

"Hey," he said against Jim's ear.

"Hey," Jim said, patting his back and hating the smile he could feel appropriating his own face.

"I'm so glad you're okay," Gary said, squeezing him tighter so their chests pressed together. Gary wore a leather jacket. It was the one item Jim had left behind, because Gary had borrowed it so often. He wondered if Gary wore it on purpose.

"You too," Jim said, pulling away and settling back in his chair, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table. "How come you weren't out there with us?"

"I was on medical leave," Gary explained. "Some kind of stomach bug. I threw up so much they had to admit me and pump me full of fluids. I was in a hospital bed when they were giving out ship assignments."

"Bet you're glad in retrospect."

"What," Gary chided, "you don't think I would have made it onto the Enterprise?" He must have realized the brashness of his remark, because he frowned and wiped his hands on his pants. "I just can't believe..." he said and didn't finish.

"Me either," Jim said in reply.

"So, this is a nice place," Gary said, shrugging off his coat. "They've got a fireplace and everything."

"Bones and I come here a lot."

"You two are still friends?"

Jim laughed through his closed mouth. "Yeah," he said. "We still share an apartment."

"Just friends?"

Jim raised his eyes and wondered for the first time if Gary had actually been jealous over Bones at some point. Toward the end of their first year at the academy, Jim had been spending more and more time at Bones's apartment, because it had been easier than finding yet another red academy jacket on the living room floor that wasn't his and wasn't Gary's. Sometimes the jacket wasn't red. Sometimes it had been a pair of high heels.

Gary seemed to sense what he was thinking, because he touched Jim's arm. "I was an asshole to you," he said.

Jim shrugged. "Water under the bridge, right?"

Gary's hand on his arm tightened, and then he pulled it away just as quickly as he'd reached out. He fingered the edge of the table. "So, are you seeing anyone?"

"Not really," Jim said.

"Good," Gary said, breaking into a familiar grin. Jim cleared his throat and looked away. "I'm going to grab a cup of coffee. Do you want another?"

"Sure," Jim said, "as long as you're buying."

They moved to the table beside the fireplace, the furthest they could get from the baristas, and Gary settled in across from Jim. He began to recount the last year, how his new roommate was a shut-in and never left the apartment unless an alarm sounded, how impressed he was with Uhura's ability to learn Vulcan. Jim told him about beating the Kobayashi Maru.

"Don't tell me you cheated," Gary said, picking a raisin from a scone and popping it into his mouth.

"Okay," Jim said. "I won't."

"Oh, my god," Gary said. "You did. You actually cheated on the Kobayashi freaking Maru. Are you nuts?"

Jim shrugged.

"That's ballsy."

"Thanks."

"You know, I've missed you," Gary said finally. Jim coughed to cover a laugh and shook his head.

"Yeah, right."

"I'm serious. I really missed you. We always had fun, just like this."

Gary frowned, and then he got up from the table and came around to sit next to Jim. He set down his coffee and pulled his chair up in front of the fireplace, leaning so his forearms rested on his knees. Even in the daylight, the fire illuminated his face, caught on his high cheekbones, the veins in his forearms. Jim had forgotten Gary's magnetism, his intensity, the way it was hard to look away from him. Jim swallowed hard and did his best.

Gary was looking at a spot on the floor between his knees, his hands folded together.

"When I heard what happened, realized you were out there," he said slowly, "I hacked the system. Looked up the ship assignments. I tried messaging you. I probably sent you twenty messages, even though I knew you wouldn't be able to receive them."

"Thanks, I guess?" Jim said.

"I want to do this the right way," Gary said, glancing to his right and catching Jim's eyes for a second. He dropped them again. "No bullshit. You and me, for real."

Jim's mouth was dry. He didn't know what to say. A part of him wanted this badly, but the other reminded him of what it had been like when things between him and Gary had gone sour. Was it worth risking that again? Things were going right for him. He had an assignment on a Constitution-class starship, was a decorated hero, and had a few friends who genuinely cared for him. Not bad for twenty-five.

Gary squeezed his thigh. "What do you say?"

***

The voices broke through Spock's meditation, and he tried to block them out, but they were loud and agitated. He closed his eyes and imagined great walls growing up around him, imagined them choking the sound of two men conversing. The voices remained steady, and he recognized them as belonging to Jim and a male he could not identify. He deduced the voice likely belonged to Jim's roommate.

"No."

"Bones..."

"No! You've got to be kidding me."

"Listen, I swear when he first got back in touch with me—"

"Are you forgetting what happened last time?"

"Of course not."

Spock shifted from a kneeling position to sitting cross-legged on the floor beside the air mattress. He inhaled deeply and allowed his heart to beat eleven times before he exhaled. He repeated this, waiting thirteen beats this time, and fifteen on the next breath. It worked to refocus his mind away from the conversation, which grew louder and became harder to block the more Spock tried.

"I thought you finally had it through your head that he's not good for you."

"It's been a couple years," Jim said. "You don't think people can change?"

"Inherently, no," Bones said. "Oh, you can amend behavior, sure, but personality wise we're the same throughout life."

"I thought you weren't a psychiatrist."

Human conversation was inane. Spock had never before failed to tune out his surroundings. Again, he focused on a single point in his mind, honing his concentration. The voices dulled. Spock concentrated harder, everything in his mind winking out until his consciousness was the lone bright spot, Vulcan's star, Alam'ak. The thought caused him to stumble mentally. The star's light grew, and it was joined by Behr'ak, its sister star. Spock's hands began to shake, so he clasped them together more tightly and attempted to will the suns away. He felt the ragged edge of his mother's bond—his shields had slipped without his knowledge—and from deep within him boiled a rage that rose to his throat. He clapped a hand over his mouth to cover the moan which escaped.

"Why can't you just be happy for me?" Jim's voice cut through Spock's misery, and then he was on his feet, moving swiftly to the door and pushing it open. He stood in the doorway and regarded Jim and a member of Starfleet in a blue tunic with a medical insignia pin on his chest. He was a medical doctor, Spock deduced. Jim's arms were crossed over his chest, and he was scowling. So was the doctor. It was twenty-two seconds before Jim noticed him watching them, and his expression changed. It fell, was perhaps the only word Spock could think to describe the way the anger abated and morphed into an expression he had seen his own mother wear when Sarek left for a diplomatic mission and she remained behind on Vulcan.

"Sorry," Jim said, dropping his arms and hooking his thumbs through his belt loops. "You were probably trying to meditate."

Spock did not say anything in reply, but he glanced to the doctor and back and Jim with a raised eyebrow.

"Oh," Jim said, his eyes widening. "This is Leonard McCoy. Bones, this is Spock. He's staying with us for a while."

"Pleased to meet you," McCoy said. Spock glanced at him.

"Greetings," he said but did not come into the room further.

"Are you hungry?" Jim asked. "I was thinking of ordering a pizza."

"We're not done talking about this," McCoy said and pointed a finger in Jim's direction. Jim looked back at Spock.

"Pizza?" he repeated.

"I am unfamiliar with that food," Spock said.

"It's bread and tomato sauce with cheese on top," Jim said. He paused and cocked his head. "Do you eat cheese?"

"Not with regularity."

"And usually I get pepperoni or sausage on top, but we could order vegetables or mushrooms or something."

Spock found himself nodding. "That is acceptable."

"You're welcome to sit out here, by the way," Jim said. "I promise we're done fighting."

"For now," McCoy said, indicating Jim with a jerk of his thumb. "Can you believe they're making this one first officer on a starship?"

"I made a similar observation earlier today," Spock admitted.

"Hey!" Jim frowned, though Spock noted a curve to his lips. "I was going to eat vegetables for you."

"It is unnecessary for you to alter your eating habits for my benefit. I shall replicate a suitable meal."

"You shall sit on the couch," Jim said, and Spock detected his tone to be mocking yet not unkind. "And I'm ordering two pizzas."

It would be ungracious to disregard such a request from his host, so Spock sat on the couch beside Dr. McCoy and folded his hands politely on his knees. Jim went into the kitchen, and Spock could hear him speaking with someone, presumably the person who would be responsible for preparing their meal.

"Jim thinks I worry too much, but I have to ask—have you been scanned for shock?" McCoy asked.

"I have," Spock replied.

"I'm a medical doctor, so if you find yourself in need of advice, medical advice that is, come talk to me."

"Are you familiar with Vulcan biology?"

"It's limited," McCoy said, "but I have a good amount of experience treating patients after a disaster."

"I am in control of my emotions," Spock said.

"Well...the offer stands."

"Your assistance is appreciated."

"So," McCoy said, and Spock noted the way his body language changed as the subject of his conversation did, leaning back on the couch and allowing his knees to drop apart slightly. Spock straightened. "What line of work are you in?"

"I am a geologist," Spock replied.

"Earth science," McCoy said knowingly.

"A narrow-minded definition," Spock retorted, "as I study the composition of many planets in addition to Earth."

"Of course," McCoy said. "My apologies. What's your primary focus?"

"Most recently," Spock said. "I have been analyzing ancient sandstone deposits from the Shival Flats, to determine patterns in my planet's history, in order to document how it must have looked in the past. Record keeping was nonexistent prior to the reformation."

"Reformation?"

Spock eyed him narrowly. "Humans comprise the bulk of Starfleet and consider yourselves to be explorers, so it is curious that you are largely ignorant of the histories of those alien races with whom you interact."

"Well, you don't know what pizza is."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Indeed," he said and wondered if continuing the conversation was wise. He decided to press forward. "Vulcans were once a savage race ruled by emotion. Under Surak's guidance, we became a people of logic."

"Oh, that reformation."

"You are aware of it?"

"Sure," McCoy said. "Surak's name is in the history books. I didn't realize you meant back that far."

When Jim reentered the room, he held a glass bottle in his right hand and sprawled on the armchair.

"Anyone else want a beer?" he offered.

"Nice of you to ask, now that you're already sitting," McCoy replied.

"Well, I figured you'd say it's still a little early in the day, and I know Vulcans don't drink."

"We do not consume alcohol," Spock confirmed. "However, I do consume liquids."

Jim's face shifted, and he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth. "Shit," he said. "Did you want some water? Or juice? I can replicate you something."

"I am not thirsty," Spock said. "I merely sought to clarify your statement."

Jim regarded him for a moment, then smiled and laughed. "I like you," he said. "You're funny."

"My statement was not intended to be humorous."

"Spock was just telling me he's a geologist," McCoy said to Jim.

"Oh, yeah?" Jim stretched out again, his knees falling open obscenely. Spock looked away. "That's cool. I went spelunking once. Scared the shit out of me, actually, having a hundred and fifty feet of rock over my head and only one way out."

"Says the man who plans to spend the next several years in the vacuum of space," McCoy quipped.

"You're coming with me, you know," Jim said with a grin.

"Oh," McCoy replied. "Believe me, I remember."

"You are both assigned to the USS Enterprise?" Spock inquired.

"Yeah," Jim said and his grin was the brightest Spock had seen since they met. Humans were free with their emotions, and it made him uncomfortable, because Jim was clearly at ease with this. "Bones here is my chief medical officer."

"I'm Sulu's chief medical officer," McCoy corrected.

"And I'm Sulu's number one, so in a sense, you're mine."

"You are young to serve as an officer," Spock observed. Jim shrugged.

"I guess they felt I proved myself," he said. "My dad was an officer too, first officer, though he was a few years older than me when he got promoted. My mom's chief engineer on the USS Tereshkova. Guess you can say it runs in my blood. Anyway, pizza will be another twenty minutes or so. Since there's three of us, I guess chess is out...vid?"

"Jim has a fondness for old-fashioned Terran cinema," McCoy explained to Spock, who nodded though he was unfamiliar with this type of entertainment. He made a note of Jim's mention of chess but said nothing.

"I'm thinking something funny," Jim mused.

"Agreed," McCoy said. "I've seen enough action and adventure for a while. Do you have a preference?"

Spock realized McCoy was addressing him, and he shook his head. "We do not watch videos for entertainment," he said.

"You're in for a treat," McCoy drawled.

Spock did not consider watching a pre-recorded dramatization of human interactions to be, as McCoy had phrased it, a "treat." Rather, he found it tedious and trite, time that would have been better spent in meditation or intellectual pursuits. McCoy snored lightly. Spock stared greedily at the chess set on a shelf beside the vid screen. He did not voice his displeasure, sitting quietly and refusing the bowl of popped corn kernels when Jim extended it to him.

This was, he allowed, perhaps preferable to remaining at the embassy, in the communal grief of his people. It was not an experience he desired to repeat, but he wondered if his mother had ever watched a video in this manner, if she had requested Sarek sit beside her while she did so, if she had offered the same strange food choice, if Sarek had accepted her offering. The next time Jim held the bowl out to him, Spock took a single piece—the two humans need not know that Vulcans did not handle their food—and ate it while imagining his mother's laugh.

***

"You're serious?" Jim asked, shoving a t-shirt in his black duffel bag and shouldering his comm. "You really got assigned the Enterprise? You swear you aren't just fucking with me?"

"I swear to god," Gary said. "Navigator. They guy who had been assigned ended up with some parasite he picked up at a pretty unsavory establishment, and it can't be treated in time for the launch. I was on a waiting list. Are you happy?"

"Are you kidding? I'm freaking ecstatic," Jim said, sitting down on the edge of the mattress. "The only problem now are the tiny Federation-issue mattresses."

"Well, you're the commanding officer. Maybe you can swing an upgrade."

Jim laughed. "Maybe," he said. "God, I can't believe you're really coming with us."

"I told you, I want to do this right. That doesn't mean twiddling my thumbs back here on Earth or getting assigned to another mission and wondering when the hell I'm going to see you next."

"So, I'll see you at Hangar One in the morning?"

"You bet," Gary said, "and then we can christen your new quarters."

"Sounds awesome," Jim said. "We just can't christen them too loudly. Sulu's just through the shared bath."

"I'll try to keep it in check," Gary said, dropping his voice into the low, seductive tone he knew drove Jim wild. "But that'll be hard after seeing your ass all day in those black pants."

"Don't make me regret this."

"I'll probably rip them off of you with my teeth."

"I don't think Starfleet would be thrilled with me if I destroy my uniform less than a full day out of space dock."

"Probably not. What's happening with that Vulcan?"

"The colony transports are leaving in a couple weeks. I guess he'll stay here until then."

"I'm surprised you managed to co-exist this long."

"I'm a pretty tolerant guy," Jim defended.

"You're also a pretty emotive guy," Gary said. "I'd think that's pretty hard for a Vulcan to be around."

"He seems to be doing okay."

"I don't need to be jealous?"

"Ha," Jim said. "Yeah, I don't think so."

"Look," Gary said. "I've still got a lot of packing and laundry to do...see you in the morning?"

"Definitely," Jim said and the line went dead. He closed his comm, yawned and went into the living room.

Spock was seated in a chair beside the window with his eyes closed, but he opened them as Jim approached.

"Almost forgot to pack this," Jim said, taking the chess set from the shelf and holding it in front of him. "Don't know what I'd do in the evenings if I couldn't kick back with a good game. I'll have to comm you on the colony. Maybe we can play each other across the galaxy."

"That could prove an adequate diversion," Spock agreed. He held his comm out to Jim. "Enter your ID."

"Think you'll have service out there?" Jim said, taking the comm from Spock's hand. Spock's eyes lingered on Jim's hand momentarily, and then he glanced to his lap.

"If it has not already been established, surely doing so will be a priority to ensure optimal communication among those assisting in establishing the colony," Spock said. Jim slid the comm back to Spock across the table.

"What do you say to one last game before I pack this thing?" he asked, settling on the couch.

"I would appreciate another opportunity to beat you," Spock said.

Jim set the board down on the coffee table and began to arrange the pieces. "You take white," he told Spock, who rose from his place at the window and came to sit in the arm chair. "Maybe that'll give you a tactical advantage."

"Your method of play is illogical," Spock said as Jim set the last rook in place. "I am unused to such an undisciplined approach."

"Which makes it pretty damned effective," Jim laughed and folded his arms behind his head. "You'll be bored playing other Vulcans now. Hey, send a message to my comm before we get started, would you? I want to make sure I have your number, just in case you forget to let me know how you're doing."

"I will not," Spock insisted.

"Do it anyway," Jim said. Spock nodded and tapped the screen, scrolling down. He frowned when he reached the entry containing Jim's information.

"What is it?" Jim asked, leaning forward. "Don't you see it in there? I swear I saved it right."

"You are James Kirk," Spock said slowly.

"Um, yeah," Jim said. "Was there some question about that?"

"I was unaware of your surname."

"Oh," Jim said, scratching the back of his neck and shrugging. "Sorry. I didn't realize it was something you wanted to know. I mean, I don't know yours either."

Spock hesitated, fingering the edge of his robe and rolling it between his fingers. He opened his mouth as though he would speak, then closed it, pressing his lips together firmly. He clenched and unclenched his left hand, propped up on his thigh. Jim felt uneasy in his presence for the first time since Spock walked through the front door almost two weeks ago. Bones had made a point to emphasize Vulcan strength several times since Spock first came to stay with them. Jim had a vision, a flicker of Spock's hands locked around his neck, holding him down roughly on the table until Jim's vision blurred and faded to black.

Spock set his jaw and he frowned, casting the most severe facial expression Jim had seen him make. Spock looked down at his lap, and he was silent for almost a full minute. Jim listened to the clock ticking in the kitchen, forty eight, forty nine...

"It is late," Spock said, and he rose from the table in a fluid motion. He would not meet Jim's eyes. "I did not realize the hour. You require rest."

"I'm so excited, I don't know if I'll be able to sleep tonight," Jim admitted, surprised by Spock's sudden decision to end their game before it started. "I'd feel a lot better if you'd sit down so I can beat you properly." He stared at Spock. The uneasy feeling persisted.

Spock did not answer, staring at the chess board from where he stood beside the table. Jim studied his hands, Spock's long pale fingers, balled into fists.

"I must take a walk," Spock said finally.

"Okay," Jim said, blinking in surprise as the apartment door opened and closed.

Disappointed, he began to disassemble the chess board, tucking the pieces into a box he'd take with him to the ship. A part of Jim considered going after Spock, to ask what the hell just happened. Spock didn't know the neighborhood. He'd only left the apartment on foot when Jim did, and twice an aircar from the embassy had come to collect him on official business. He was the Vulcan ambassador's son, Jim had come to understand, and the embassy had seen fit to ask Spock to go through his father's office and claim his personal possessions. Jim noted the meager pile beside Spock's bed had grown by several items. He'd dug an extra tote bag out of his closet and was planning to offer it to Spock to make carrying everything easier.

As he'd told Spock, Jim wasn't able to sleep, too wired on adrenaline to settle down. He sat at the kitchen table drinking decaf coffee and re-reading ship assignments, scanning over a memo that Admiral Pike had composed for Sulu and him. "This is not an easy job," it read. "Trust in and work with one another, and be careful with my ship. She's brand new."

***

Spock could still trace the outline of where Jim's skin had come into contact with his own. The heel of his hand had pressed against the tip of Spock's fourth and fifth fingers and grazed the fingernail of his third. Jim's own third finger, which was longer than his second by six millimeters, connected for three tenths of a second with Spock's palm. He struggled against the unwelcome curiosity that touch had sparked in his human half. He buried it, smoothing his hand on his robe as he walked away from Jim's apartment building.

It had been accidental, momentary, but Spock felt a jolt of Jim's excitement over tomorrow's launch. He had pulled his hand back, but Jim's head was already bent, fingers tapping at the screen as he entered his information into Spock's comm. It had been residually warm when Jim slid it back to him. Spock's hands had not been touched by another being for one hundred and twelve days. Then, it had become necessary. He had sliced his hand on a broken glass vial and sought medical attention. The healer had worn gloves and touched him only as long as the procedure had required.

How curious to touch hands and think nothing of it. He supposed Jim was not even aware that it had happened, yet Spock had never been touched so intimately.

Earth, Spock found, was intolerable for one who had spent his life on a desert planet. He should have worn an extra layer beneath his robes, but he had not, so he accepted the shivering his body produced in response to the cold night air. Jim would have, undoubtedly, loaned him a jacket. To request one would have been logical, but the thought of his own body being wrapped in an article that recently covered Jim's person made Spock uneasy.

Why had he not trusted his instincts? Spock had not desired to leave the compound, and yet he had been certain—the young man's eyes had given him that certainty—that he was not in danger of repeating what he had seen in his elder self's mind. He knew without doubt, from image after image that had burned into his own memory, every aspect of Jim Kirk's face. He had relived every glance, received every touch, every slow burning kiss that another Jim Kirk had bestowed upon another Spock. This Jim was not, could not be that man, with his eyes blue like Earth's atmosphere. It was not possible, and yet Spock's comm had revealed the identity clearly. Jim had confirmed it.

It did not matter. Jim would leave tomorrow on his starship, and Spock would go to the Vulcan colony. He need not repeat the mistakes of his elder self, to fall victim to the lechery of his human half.

He crossed the street, passing into a poorly lit park with metal structures he supposed were intended for children as playthings. He sat on a plastic seat suspended from two chains; it began to swing backward under his weight. He lifted his feet on instinct, and it swung forward gently, then back again. It was a curious sensation. He wrapped his right hand around the chain and felt the cold metal against his palm. He sat that way for nineteen minutes, until his hands were so cold they quaked, as Vulcan had shifted and quaked beneath him. He felt anger well up in him, an anger that could not be controlled, like the anger that had consumed him as a child but intensified. Nero had taken his mother, and Spock wished to avenge her. Nero's destruction would not return his mother to life; it would only satisfy Spock's desire for revenge. It was illogical, yet Spock desired it.

A full-blooded Vulcan would not act in this manner. He must focus. To think on this any longer would be unwise. He put it out of his mind and began the soothing ritual of reciting the chemical composition for the most common of Vulcan's minerals: iron ore, copper, silica...

A breeze had picked up, and it stirred the tree branches overhead. He returned to the apartment, hoping to find that Jim had gone to bed, but he was sitting at the kitchen table when Spock entered, spinning a coffee mug in his hands.

"So that was weird," Jim said, keeping his eyes focused on the table. He did not look up at Spock. "You know that, right?"

Spock stared at the back of his neck, at the fine hairs that grew there, shaved closed to his skin in the Terran military fashion.

"Or is it a Vulcan thing to end a chess game with a guy before it starts?"

"I did not realize—" Spock began.

"The time," Jim cut him off. "Yeah, you said that. Look, I won't pretend I didn't notice that you freaked out when you learned my last name. I'm guessing you've heard something about me."

There was no benefit in denying truth.

"On the Enterprise," Spock said, remaining in the entrance to the kitchen, "shortly after Vulcan was destroyed, I became acquainted with an elder version of myself who arrived through the black hole with Nero."

"Oh, that guy," Jim said. Spock's eyebrows lifted, though Jim could not see.

"You are aware of him?"

"He beamed aboard the ship while we were at warp," Jim said. "I had to interrogate him. For all I knew, Spock was a common name on your planet. I didn't realize...I mean, he's a lot older, and I didn't want to assume just because you sort of look like him..." He swallowed. "What did he say to you?"

"He showed me," Spock clarified, prepared for the questions that would likely arise from his statement. Jim surprised him by turning around in his chair and tapping his forehead.

"Same," Jim said, "though he wouldn't show me anything from my future, just how he got here. I only got a little bit out of him. What the heck did you find out about me that's got you so pissed off? Do I turn out to be an asshole or something?"

"No."

"Good," Jim said, and he appeared satisfied. "This had better be a damned good reason."

Jim stared up at him, and it was a minute before Spock could respond.

"Your eyes are blue," Spock said.

"Yeah," Jim said, pushing a hand through his hair and averting his gaze. "There's a funny story behind that, actually."

"Oh?"

"I look like my dad. I mean, I look just like my dad. People like to comment on it, you know?" He took a sip of his coffee and leaned back into the chair. "It gets old after a while. The older I got, the more I looked like him. I think that was hard on my mom." He frowned and smoothed the fabric over his right knee. "When I was fifteen, I swiped a friend's ID and had this cosmetic procedure just to fuck with everyone. It only took a few seconds, but my eyes were sore for a goddamned week."

Spock stared at him.

"Anyway, my mom never said anything about it, but she could look me in the eye after that. I'm guessing I didn't do that...in my other life."

"No."

"That's what's got you confused?"

"The revelation of your surname was unexpected, given that your physical characteristics did not match those I received from my elder self. Had I known your identity..." He was uncertain what he meant to say.

"I got the impression we were pretty good friends," Jim said, but Spock did not answer him. He did not desire to continue this conversation. He wished to leave the room and for Jim to cease asking questions. Spock was not tired, but it would not be a lie to say that he required sleep. As a living thing, he did, in fact, require it. It was a matter of semantics. It did not matter that sleep was not required in this moment, only that it was necessary for his cognitive processes and physical well being.

He said as much, and Jim looked at him with a blank expression.

"Okay," he said. "I guess I'll see you in the morning before I take off."

Spock retreated to the dark heat of the bedroom and meditated for two point two eight three hours. If he lay unable to sleep the entire night, listening to Jim's breathing instead, to the rustle of sheets, to footsteps in the hallway when McCoy returned home, no one need be the wiser.

***

The alarm blared long before the sun came up, but Jim threw an arm across his eyes out of habit. It was 0500 hours, and he was due at Hangar One in an hour. Why did ship launches have to be so early in the morning? He understood it had to do with the amount of time it took to transport the crew into space, and the rest of the supplies, and then get everyone on board and settled. Hell, half of the crew was on board already, having been transported with their belongings yesterday. Mr. Scott, Jim learned, had been on board with Olson for the last week overseeing the last of the repairs and upgrades. There had been disagreements about the housing for the dilithium reactor but no fistfighting yet.

Jim sent a message to Gary to make sure he was awake, then rolled out of bed. Spock was still asleep when Jim got out of the shower, but he appeared in the kitchen when Jim was nose-deep in a mug of coffee and yawning himself awake. He could hear Bones's shower running.

"I wish you a successful mission," Spock said.

"Thanks."

"I will return to the embassy this morning," he continued. "I have already gathered my belongings."

"You don't have to do that," Jim said. "You're welcome to stay here until you leave for the colony. It'll just be you. You'll probably like that better, right?"

"That would be inappropriate."

Jim rolled his eyes. "Bones doesn't believe in subletting, and I'm pretty sure you're not gonna steal my shit," he said. "You're welcome to stay as long as you want."

"I understand."

Bones's shower shut off, and in a few minutes he joined them in the kitchen in full uniform, taking the mug Jim held out to him.

"No pancakes this morning?" Jim asked.

"No pancakes for a few years," Bones said. "I'm not waking up at the crack of dawn to cook for you when there's a fleet of replicators on the ship."

"But I like your cooking," Jim pointed out.

"Someone ought to benefit from it," Bones said wryly. "Are you packed?"

"Packed and ready."

"You should put on pants," Bones pointed out. Jim looked down at his bare chest and legs.

"These are regulation briefs," he said in mock sincerity.

"Surely Starfleet does not permit a commanding officer to go about unclothed," Spock said, raising his eyebrows. "In addition to possible sexual stimulation, which would undoubtedly decrease productivity, it would also be impractical, as doing so would require the ship's ambient temperature to be raised significantly in order to maintain ideal human body temperature, thus requiring a greater strain on the ship's environmental controls."

Jim and Bones stared at him for a few seconds, then Jim burst out laughing and bent at the waist, setting down his mug and putting both hands on his hips. "Oh," he said when his voice returned to him. "I think I'm gonna miss you."

Spock gave him a bewildered expression. Jim went to pat Spock on his shoulder, but at the last minute he just pointed at him and shook his finger.

"I go in search of pants," he called, and he could feel Bones's eye roll on the back of his neck as he walked to the bedroom.

***

The old Vulcan was waiting for him outside the hangar, standing with his arms behind his back beneath a spotlight. The sky was still dark. He gave Jim a light smile and raised a hand in greeting. Jim patted Bones on the back.

"I'll catch up to you," he said, and Bones ducked inside the hangar doors. Jim shifted the duffel bag on his shoulder and approached Spock, who looked well rested and, in Jim's opinion, happy to see him.

"It's you," Jim said. "You know, you've been rooming with me for the last couple weeks."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"

"Well, I didn't realize it was you until last night."

"I knew my younger counterpart had been placed in a local residence," Spock said, "but I did not inquire as to whose it was."

"Starfleet was hoping I'd recruit you," Jim said. "Is that what happened where you're from? I convinced you to enlist?"

"No, Jim," Spock said in a too-familiar way that made Jim shift on his feet. "I joined Starfleet of my own accord."

"Man, you really screwed up our lives when you came through that black hole," Jim laughed, though he was only half joking.

"I fail to see how my presence in this universe led to my younger counterpart's decision to attend the Vulcan Science Academy," Spock admitted. "I see no connection between the events."

"Maybe it's the butterfly effect."

"I am unfamiliar with that term."

"Chaos theory, you know?" Jim said. "A butterfly flaps its wings on the Kelvin, and the Kelvin blows up, and somehow across the universe a Vulcan changes his mind. Something like that."

"You are speaking figuratively," Spock said after a moment, "but I suppose that is possible. Will he enlist?"

"I didn't ask him, but I'm pretty sure he's going with you to the colony."

"I see."

"Kind of a shame," Jim said. "I like you guys."

Spock gave him a sad look, almost haunted. Jim glanced to the hanger and bit the inside of his lip.

"I should get going," he said, looking back at Spock. "Wouldn't look great if the first officer is the last one there."

"It would not," Spock agreed.

"Take care of yourself," Jim said. "And...call me sometime. If you want. Let me know how you guys are doing."

"I shall."

"Cool," Jim said. "I know you don't shake hands, but I can't do that salute of yours justice."

"I am not opposed to shaking your hand, Jim."

"Oh," Jim said and thrust his out. Spock's palms were smooth as he took Jim's hand within his own and held it.

"Goodbye, my old friend," Spock said warmly.

"I'll see you," Jim said, smiling, and then he pulled his hand back. Spock drew his arms together behind his back, and he remained motionless as Jim nodded at him and turned to walk away.

***

It was well that Jim was gone. The Enterprise departed space dock three point four hours ago. Spock had turned on Jim's vid screen and watched the news coverage. The broadcast had emphasized Jim's role in both the Vulcan evacuation and in saving Earth. It was fraught with opinion which was far from objective, but Spock found himself fascinated by the information provided about Jim's life. He was a Tarsus IV survivor, son of the late George Samuel Kirk, and earned one of the highest aptitude scores Starfleet Academy had seen in recent years. In addition, he had recently been awarded a commendation for original thinking, for the implementation of a subroutine which allowed him to beat a battle simulation necessary for one who desired a captaincy.

To do such a thing was the equivalent of cheating, Spock decided, and yet he found himself impressed by Jim's tactics. Original thinking, indeed. He watched the broadcast until Jim and his captain boarded the shuttle which would take them to the space dock. He left it on in the background as he read a report about volcanic activity on Rigel VII. He looked once more when the broadcaster announced the Enterprise had retracted her moorings and had separated from space dock. There was a strange feeling in his stomach, something he might label envy, if he were capable of such an emotion. When she achieved warp and was no longer in visual range of the reporters, he powered off the vid screen.

The apartment had a different quality to it with its two human residents absent. Spock stood in the living room and looked at the square break in the dust on the shelf which the chess set had occupied.

This atmosphere would certainly be conducive to meditation, and Spock found he needed to meditate.

A message came through to his comm from Solen asking if he required an aircar. Negative, he wrote back and settled onto the floor with his legs crossed, closing his eyes.

***

Jim came with his legs around Gary's waist, biting his lower lip and laughing through the moan that escaped him.

"I told you it'd be hotter with the uniforms on, Commander," Gary whispered in his ear and licked the shell as he pulled out and tied off the condom.

"Fuck," Jim said, lying back and pulling a sheet over his legs. "Why'd we ever stop doing this?"

"Cause I was an idiot," Gary said, stretching out beside Jim and kissing him. "You're amazing."

"You're not so bad yourself," Jim said, his chest still heaving. "Too bad we couldn't get adjoining quarters."

"Maybe on the next assignment," Gary said. "At least you get to arrange our schedules. Shower?"

"In a minute," Jim said. "I can't feel my legs."

"Then I'm doing it right," Gary said and rose with a kiss to Jim's shoulder.

A chirp indicated Jim had a new message, which he assumed was from Olson telling him to come to engineering and try out the new batch he and Scotty brewed in celebration of the ship's launch. He was, he had to admit, completely surprised that it was Spock's name on his message screen.

>> Pawn D2 to D4

"Holy shit," he muttered under his breath and glanced to the bathroom. Gary was mid-sonic, humming something off tune. Jim pulled the box containing his chess board from his duffel bag and set it up on the small round table against the wall. He made Spock's opening move, and then he sent back one of his own.

>> pawn b7 to b5

He laughed, smugly satisfied, and went to join Gary in the shower.

***

Spock traveled to the Vulcan Embassy the morning the transports were scheduled to depart for the new colony. He should have arrived sooner, to assist with cataloging and loading the transports with supplies, but he found himself unwilling to leave the apartment. His shields were firmly back in place, his meditation routine rigorous, and he engaged in calisthenics twice each day. His control had returned. He found himself able to think of his planet and his parents with a rational mind.

Vulcan might be destroyed, but the essence of his people thrived within him. Spock was, and he believed it his duty to be, Vulcan.

The grief which clung to the remaining Vulcans was still present. It was apparent in the heaviness of each consciousness which brushed against his in passing—too many remained poorly shielded—but it was greatly diminished compared to the last time he visited the embassy, when they had asked that he oversee the clearing of his father's office. As Sarek's son, he had been honored to do so. He felt pride that he, a half-Vulcan, could exhibit more control than those who were full blooded. Indeed, one who had tormented him as a child had been rescued among with Spock, a fellow scientist. Spock felt fear roll off of him and experienced satisfaction.

Most of his people were out of doors, gathered near the transports on the launch area or huddled within the open hangar. The transports would make several trips. The Federation ship that would deliver them to the colony had returned from a scientific exploration. The craft was Vulcan in origin, with a largely Vulcan crew. Spock was gratified to learn he would not be further exposed to human emotions.

He expected to see his elder self. He had steeled himself for the possibility, adding an extra hour to his morning's meditation. He supposed they would acknowledge each other, exchange a few words out of obligation. He had not expected his elder self to approach him, to offer him the Vulcan greeting, and speak.

"There are so few Vulcans left, we cannot afford to ignore each other."

To do so would be illogical, Spock reasoned. "No," he agreed. "We cannot."

"You will travel with us to the new colony?"

"Yes. It is logical I go to the colony with the others and help rebuild our race."

"And yet you can be in two places at once," the elder spoke. "It was my hope that you would remain on Earth."

"To what end?" Spock inquired.

"A career in Starfleet is an honorable path."

"It is not the path I have chosen," Spock answered.

"You have chosen the path of logic," his elder self continued. "It too is an honorable path. It is one I also followed, but I urge you to consider this, to consider choosing not only what is logical but what feels right."

Feeling.

Spock stared at his older counterpart but had nothing to say in reply. His comm sounded, and he took it from his pocket, turning it over in his hand. He read Jim's name, and in his mind conjured their chess game, the imaginary board on which he plotted every move he constructed, every move Jim sent. If it were Spock's decision, he would order Jim's king to another space. Jim's moves were without a discernable pattern, which Spock found equally frustrating and intriguing. However, the message was not a chess move.

Heard the transports are leaving today. Safe travels, it read. Spock stared at it dumbly.

"My transport is leaving," his elder self spoke. "Since my customary farewell would be oddly self serving, I shall simply say good luck."

Spock raised a hand in farewell, but his eyes again dropped to the screen as his counterpart walked away. He cared not for the opinion of his elder self. He felt no compulsion to follow it, and yet, staring at the words Jim had sent him, Spock detected a sense of unease growing within him. If he went with the others to the colony, would he see Jim Kirk again? Why would he wish to see Jim Kirk again? Was he choosing the colony because he was so staunchly set against following the elder Spock's path? Clearly his judgment was compromised because of what he had seen during the mind meld, yet he could not escape the thought what if which circled his brain like a lanka-gar in flight.

It would not do to make a decision while emotionally compromised. Spock required meditation. He would return for the evening transport to the ship. Undoubtedly, regular ships would be available for those Vulcans who lived elsewhere in the galaxy or on Earth, and desired to join the others at a later date. Another was already scheduled to depart the following week. Families who had been living at the compound surely deserved preference.

It was necessary to think on the matter, Spock told himself as the aircar took him back into San Francisco, over the sloping streets and past Starfleet headquarters to the neighborhood where Jim's apartment building stood. Spock's mother had always advised considering one's options before making a decision, even if one choice seemed at first infinitely preferable compared to the other.

Jim had told Spock that he was welcome to stay in the apartment as long as necessary. He had not specified an expiration to this offer, thus Spock reasoned he was permitted to reside there as long as he desired. He would remain a few hours longer, perhaps a day or two, until he was certain the choice he made was his own.