One of his strongest memories occurs in temporary quarters. They are not in Spock's room. They are not in Jim's. They are not even aboard the Enterprise, having left her in drydock after their dealings with V'ger.
They are in San Francisco. Not at Starfleet, even though Jim has sizable Admiral's quarters there, but rather in an upscale hotel on the bay with a view of the vast gray ocean. They are in a bed which smells mostly of sterile cleaning products, to which they have added a new layer of themselves, together. The musky scent of sweat and sex permeates the air, settling him in a way that the smell of desert sands never could.
And Jim - older now, his hair fading and curling with age, his figure no longer the picture of physical fitness that it was in his youth - is wrapped around him, the familiarity resounding in Spock's mind as well as enveloping his body. They are both of them much changed from when they were last together.
He opens his eyes to gaze down at the head nestled against his shoulder, suppressing the urge to smile. He is still so unsure of how to express himself, even now. "Yes, Jim?"
"You awake enough to talk?"
Ah, yes. Jim has a tendency towards the philosophical after a satisfying sexual encounter. Spock stretches a bit, feeling irrationally pleased at the mild ache between his legs. "I am awake," he allows.
"I've been thinking about... well, missed opportunities. Regrets. Things I would have done differently if given the opportunity."
He doesn't like the melancholy undertone to Jim's voice. He attempts to divert the conversation. "Regrets are illogical. As it is impossible to change the past-"
"I know, Spock. I do. This is all rhetorical. But I can't help wondering how different our lives would have been if I had never accepted the promotion to Admiral."
"You would have been transferred to another ship, as the Enterprise was due for her refit at the end of our five year mission. You would therefore not have been on Earth when V'ger was discovered. You would not have been in a position to stop it."
Jim shrugs, shifting a little to get a better look at Spock's face. "All very possible," he agrees, his hands tracing along Spock's ear. "And I suppose I can't regret that decision when it got me where I am today. I just... wonder, that's all."
Spock remains silent, waiting for Jim to get to the point.
"What about you?"
Which is just too vague to be the point Spock was waiting for. "Explain."
Jim presses a soft kiss against his lips before he speaks again: a pleasant, if brief, diversion from the matter at hand. "Any regrets?"
"As I said, regrets are illo-"
And Spock tries, harder than he has ever tried before, to fuse his Vulcan and human halves into a whole. He cannot approach Jim from a dichotomous angle; it is what destroyed them before. He cannot take refuge in his dual heritage by separating it into distinct parts. His time at Gol taught him that much. He must be both Vulcan and human, logical and emotional. He must be who he is without ruthlessly suppressing his less desirable traits.
"I would wish that we had understood one another sooner," he murmurs, and despite the relative safety of the words, Spock still feels as if he's opened up his ribcage and exposed his insides to the elements.
As if sensing as much, Jim rests a protective hand over his side, pressing against his heart. "Meaning what?"
It is difficult to gather the energy necessary for the conversation. The sated, secure feeling that had washed over him as they reached their climax together is fast wearing off. Instead of feeling refreshed or renewed, he feels exhausted.
But this is Jim. And for Jim he will do anything.
"I should not have left for Gol," he confesses, his voice barely above a whisper. "I should not have attempted to repress what I am... or what I feel." It is a monumental effort to voice his final thought. "I should not have left you."
And baring himself to his very core is rewarded with a soft, sweet smile from Jim. "No," he agrees. "I understand why you did it. But I wish you hadn't."
Taking advantage of his superior strength, Spock wraps his arms around Jim and pulls him on top of his chest, staring into those green-gold eyes and their infinite patience, their endless affection. "As I said, regrets are illogical." He traces the curve of a rounded human ear with his thumb. "Let us take advantage of the present."
"An excellent plan, Mister Spock." And Jim drags him to the depths of ecstasy once more.
He pulled on one of his shabbier working robes, making his slow, shuffling way to the communication unit and pressing a switch to access the message.
'Urgent request from USS Enterprise.'
One of Spock eyebrows quirked skyward. No one on the Enterprise had contacted him since the Narada incident. "Access message," he ordered the unit.
A small holographic screen flickered to life. Jim's face - familiar and not familiar, beloved and yet strange to him - took up the majority of the image. "Elder Selek," Jim greeted him, using the name Spock had adopted for use among his fellow Vulcans. Best not to let on about his connections to his much-younger self.
"I am alone at present, Captain," Spock assured him. "You may use my given name if you wish." And oh, how Spock wished. This Jim was not his Jim, but the voice and the inflection and the brilliant mind piloting them both was painfully familiar at times.
"Spock," Jim corrected himself. Spock recognized the look of anxious concern too often worn by starship captains. "We have a... well, a situation here. I was hoping you could help us."
"Explain." As if he would ever turn him down.
"We've had a run-in with a nasty telepathic race down on Celadon IV. Most of my landing party recovered pretty quickly, but..." Jim no longer looked anxious; he looked guilty, heartsick. "Spock's been in Sick Bay ever since. Whenever he's conscious he starts raving and thrashing around. We've had to keep him sedated or else he'd hurt himself. Bones says we need to get him to a Vulcan mind healer. I know you're involved in rebuilding there and I would never ask you to interrupt that under normal circumstances, but..." He took a deep breath, visibly steeling himself. "But he's you. And I didn't know if it would be better for you to have a look at him rather than having another Vulcan try to put him back together, considering he's half human and all. They might not understand the way his mind works - not the same way you do."
He knew should decline. He wasn't trained in the healing arts; he had been a scientist for half of his life and a diplomat all the rest. He had certainly exercised his telepathic abilities far more than he'd ever imagined during his time in Starfleet, but that hardly made him an expert in the ways of the Vulcan mind.
On the other hand, he had been trained as a kolinahr adept for several years despite failing at its ultimate goal. He had altered the minds of his crew to save their lives during the Melkotian incident. And who would better understand the workings of Spock's brain than Spock himself? No, he would never turn down Jim when he asked for Spock's assistance. It seemed that was a constant no matter which timeline he found himself in.
"How long will it take for the Enterprise to reach the colony?"
Jim's face lit up with relief. "We're riding the engines at warp eight; any higher and we'll wreck the engines. Shouldn't take us more than eighteen, maybe twenty hours to get there. Sorry I can't be more accurate, but my personal timepiece is in Sick Bay right now."
"I will inform the other elders of your arrival. Would you like me to arrange shore leave for your crew?"
"I don't want to intrude on your progress there. If you can accommodate us that would be great, but don't go to any great lengths on our account. I'm hoping this isn't serious enough to warrant a stay long enough for a decent shore leave." But Jim's expression told him how little he believed in what he was saying. The younger Spock was in poor shape if Jim was requesting healing assistance from other Vulcans.
"Very well. I will be waiting for you at the medical facility."
"Great. We'll be there as soon as we can. I'll comm you again when we arrive." Jim's professional bearing eased then, and he was so much like Spock's older Jim that his heart beat a bruising rhythm against his ribs. "And Spock? Thank you. I can't tell you what this means to me." Before Spock could react to that, Jim spoke again. "Kirk out." The screen faded to black, leaving Spock in the dark silence of his private quarters.
It was going to be a special kind of hell having Jim nearby once more, especially when Spock could make no claim to him. The severed half of his mating bond gave a throbbing ache at the thought of seeing him again. But there was no pain he would not endure just to be in his presence once more.
Spock shook his head at his own emotionalism, steeling himself as he left to speak with the other elders.
It's a guttural whisper, full of lust and awe and a treasure trove of other emotions that pour into him whenever Jim speaks. Spock has him laid out on the bed in the Admiral's quarters, their rich red uniforms strewn all over the floor. Jim is hot and hard in the palm of his hand, his flesh salty and cool under the roughness of Spock's tongue. He tastes the sweat forming over the loose, expanding stomach. He laps at the crease of Jim's thighs until his legs are spread wide across the sheets. He presses teasing kisses to the underside of the shaft, allowing himself a brief moment to reacquaint himself with Jim's flavor.
His mouth travels elsewhere, the soft suckling noises masked by the heartfelt groan escaping Jim's throat. He presses his nose to the perineum and inhales, savoring the musky scent of him. He fits long fingers around Jim's hips, tilting his pelvis upward for better access. And then he indulges himself in a long lick over Jim's puckered entrance, smothering his smile against the skin there when Jim's groan devolves into a high-pitched cry.
Calloused fingers clutch at his hair as he laves his tongue over the area again and again. They grasp at his ears momentarily, at the back of his neck, and then settle over his temples with a shaky moan. Jim is psi-null himself, but the brushing of fingers against Spock's psi-points makes the bond flare to life between them. Suddenly they are both swept up in the sensation of a hot, rough tongue against cool, twitching skin. When Spock spears his tongue into Jim, both of them moan at the intrusion. And as Jim climbs the peak to orgasm, he pulls Spock along with him. For long moments there is nothing but the sense of being spread wide open, of delicious penetration, of lust and overpowering arousal and such love and devotion infusing it all that Spock finds it impossible to breathe in the heartbeat before they're both launched over the edge.
It occurs to Spock in the aftermath that things could have been different between them. He could have been cradling a younger Jim in his arms. He might have known what it felt like to press all his lean, sinewy strength against the firm solidity of Jim's body. He could have had the opportunity to kiss a mouth not yet lined with age and experience. It will always be his greatest regret: that he did not admit his feelings sooner. That they lost so many years to insecurity and distance between them. That their time together is now limited by Jim's shorter human lifespan.
But it is enough. It will have to be enough, Spock thinks as he curls around his bondmate, because it is all he has. He will make it be enough.
As their bodies took form amongst the flickering lights, Spock recognized one of the extra two crew members. There was a tall, slim female figure situated next to Spock's mobile bio-bed: undoubtedly that was Uhura, so very different from his own. And on the other side of Jim another female figure came to life, curvier and thicker than Uhura's with a head full of curly hair.
"Elder Selek," Jim greeted him when the transport was complete.
Spock tried not to be shocked by the brilliant blue eyes. He also ruthlessly repressed the sentimental side of him that ached for hazel instead. "Captain Kirk," he responded in kind.
"You already know my CMO, Doctor McCoy. And my Communications Officer, Lieutenant Uhura. This is Lieutenant Gaila, one of my computer specialists. If you need any help with your networking system while you're here, she's volunteered her services."
Spock rather doubted that was the only reason the Orion female was with the party. She kept darting little glances at the back of Jim's head, and his body language around her was decidedly... different.
Ah. One of those, Spock thought to himself, and his heart bruised against his ribs again.
"I have established a private room on this floor for his recovery," Spock told them, not waiting for their response before turning and leading the way there. It was... difficult to see them, he realized. They were his friends. They were his dearest friends, the closest family he had ever known. And yet he was a stranger to them. They were not his family. They came from another time, another history, and they knew nothing of him.
He only half-listened as the doctor updated him on the younger Spock's status, giving him a more thorough report of what had happened with the race of telepaths and the attempts he'd made to help Spock's recovery. The elder Spock's attention was split; he kept focusing on Uhura instead. She looked... well, he would say she looked worried except she looked nothing like his own Uhura had when she was anxious about something. His Uhura had been softer than this one, more open and willing to tease her crewmates. This version had a steel to her gaze that was utterly unfamiliar. The worry in her expression was tempered with something else, and if he didn't know any better he would have assumed she was angry. Indeed, at one point he was sure he caught the tail end of a glare she was aiming in Jim's general direction.
Jim, for his part, was missing his professional Captain's demeanor. He looked guilty again, his posture falsely confident. His focus was fixed solely on Spock's sedated form in the bio-bed, never once wavering even when he interrupted the doctor's report with details from the landing party.
Spock spared only a passing glance at Gaila, having already mentally categorized her as one of Jim's temporary flings, but he was unsurprised when what little notice he took of her consisted mainly of watching her make doe eyes at Jim.
"How long will it take for the sedatives to wear off?" he heard himself ask.
"It'll take about a day to work its way out of his system completely, but he should start to come out of it in a few hours. Maybe less. The monitors on the bio-bed will let us know when he starts to regain consciousness." McCoy scowled at the younger Spock. "Or he'll break someone's nose again. Either way, we'll know pretty quick when the drugs wear off."
The elder Spock tried valiantly not to smile at the mental image of his younger self breaking McCoy's nose in a drug-induced delirium. "In that case, there are private visitors' quarters located across the hall. Please feel free to make use of them; there are beds should you require rest and a food replicator with limited human choices programmed into it. I will remain here."
All four of them mumbled their thanks. McCoy was the first one out the door; he looked badly in need of sleep. Gaila followed him, sending another meaningful glance Jim's way. Jim seemed hesitant to leave, throwing one last guilt-ridden look toward the bio-bed before taking her outstretched hand and following her out.
"Lieutenant," the elder Spock began, calling on his years of diplomatic service to keep his emotions in check, "he will not regain consciousness for some time yet. It is my understanding that he would not recognize you even if the sedatives were to wear off prematurely."
She moved closer to the bio-bed, her hand brushing against the younger Spock's. "I know. But I had hoped he could sense us. Sense me," she corrected herself, the steel returning to her eyes.
"Sedation often nullifies a Vulcan's telepathic abilities." He knew from experience. Painful experience. Disquieting to be sedated at all - made worse when he could not sense those he loved most through touch.
"I know," she said again. She made no move to leave.
"Lieutenant," he began again.
"It's N-" She cut herself off, shaking her head. "He calls me Nyota," she continued more quietly, gesturing toward his younger self. "I don't know what you should call me. I don't tell most people my first name."
It was another dividing line between this Uhura and the one he had known. His had been friendly, jovial, even cheeky at times. He wondered what had happened in this divergent timeline that had so hardened her, made her shy away from sharing herself with others. "During our off-duty hours, I referred to mine as Miss Uhura," he offered.
The steel melted a little bit, replaced by a worn smile. "That works." Finally she turned her gaze from the younger Spock to the elder. "What should I call you? It seems strange to call both of you Spock."
Jim does not find it strange, he thought to himself. Out loud he said, "Those in the colony refer to me as Elder Selek. You may call me Selek if it serves to mitigate confusion."
She nodded. "Thank you, Selek." He realized after a moment that she had said it in his native tongue. Before he could comment on that, she had given his younger self's hand a last, parting squeeze and exited the room.
He let out a breath he'd been unaware of holding, lowering himself to a chair next to the bio-bed to wait out the sedatives' effects.
Memory comes next. He is Spock of Vulcan. He is Vulcan, but also human. He is forty-three point one seven Terran years of age. He is the First- no, merely the Science Officer of this vessel, his first, best home. He has returned from his mission: to commune with V'ger, to learn what it needs.
His tongue feels thick and dry in his throat but it does nothing to prevent the weak chuckle from escaping. The emotions in the room shift - anxiety to confusion - and when he opens his eyes the first thing he sees is Jim, Jim, Jim.
He has little control over what he says at first, babbling in a manner most unbecoming for a Vulcan. But he is more than that - he understands that now. He must make Jim understand as well.
He holds out a hand, an almost unprecedented offer of friendship and love. He has touched his Captain many times. He has only once before offered his hand to him, when Jim was trapped in another's body. It was unconscious then. It isn't now.
"Jim," he whispers, his voice sounding coarse in his own ears. "This... simple feeling... is beyond V'ger's comprehension."
He sees the moment Jim hears what he is not saying, sees it in the way the hazel eyes soften around the edges, feels it in the way his hand is cradled between cooler, calloused ones, senses it in the sudden surge of emotion thrumming through him where flesh meets flesh.
This. This is what he was searching for during his time at Gol. At the time he believed the ultimate goal of that search was to destroy this, to cleanse himself of this fallible human feeling.
But now he knows. And in that new-found knowledge, he is reborn.
He was shaken from his reverie by the sound of a beloved - and yet somehow foreign - voice. "Come in, Jim," he said quietly. "He has shown few signs of consciousness. I have already attempted to meld with him once, but he is in a medicated stupor. There is little brain activity more complicated than that which powers his autonomic nervous system."
"Yeah. Bones told me the same thing every time I came to check on him in Sick Bay." Spock's heart felt a little less bruised at hearing that. Having Jim check on him when he was injured... apparently that was another constant in an entirely different universe.
He didn't realize how long the silence dragged on between them until Jim's voice broke it. "It's my fault."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "You are not the one who attacked him."
"No. But I'm the one who ordered scans of the planet, I'm the one who put together a landing party after the scans came back inconclusive, and I'm the one who requested he be there with me."
"I- He knew the risks when he joined Starfleet," Spock corrected himself.
Jim caught the correction, if the brief flash of amusement in his eyes was anything to go by. It passed quickly. "True. But it's more than that. He knows how to take care of himself. Hell, I've seen him take down a half dozen people in a fight with that Vulcan karate thing he does-"
"Suus mahna," Spock supplied.
"Yeah, that. He can handle himself. He only got hurt because he was trying to..." Jim trailed off, shaking his head. "I don't even know what he was trying to do. I've been in fights all my life; I can look after myself when things get messy. I'm psi-null, got no ESP rating at all; the Celadonians couldn't have done much damage to me. But he shoved me out of the way when one of them came at me. And he didn't have time to recover before one of them grabbed him."
"Jim," Spock began, his oft-repeated, well-rehearsed speech about First Officers and their duty to protect the Captain already on the tip of his tongue.
"He screamed," Jim continued as if he hadn't heard Spock speak. "I've never heard him scream before. I don't know exactly what his pain threshold is but I know it's a hell of a lot higher than mine. And I've never heard him..." He shuddered visibly, sitting next to the elder Spock and wrapping his arms around his own waist. "I never want to hear that again."
Spock drew upon his years at Gol, his years of solitude and self-control, to keep him from succumbing to the urge to reach out to him, to hold him, to take the fragile human hand in his own, to press fingers to his temple and impart all his love and support directly into Jim's mind. Instead he did something almost equally shocking. "I gave my life for you once."
Shocking blue eyes locked onto him. "What?" It was barely above a whisper.
Spock had never meant to reveal any of his own timeline to Jim - or at least nothing past the one shared mindmeld on Delta Vega. He more than anyone knew the dangers of time travel, of interfering with a time where he didn't rightly belong. There was no guarantee that this version of Jim would encounter the same things Spock had. It was a different universe. Perhaps the Botany Bay had been destroyed by an errant meteor shower. Perhaps another ship had discovered the craft. Perhaps it had never existed at all. It didn't matter; Jim needed to find his own way, blaze his own path.
But he could never remain silent when Jim was suffering.
"Through a long and complicated series of events, I elected to risk my life in order to save the ship." In order to save Jim, the more honest part of his brain clarified, but he didn't say it out loud. "Given the opportunity I gladly would have done so again."
"Why would you do that? Why would you tell me that?" Jim asked, the guilt and shame coming off of him in waves.
"Because I am him. His motives are my motives. He did not save you in order to cause you guilt or pain. He saved you because-"
"Because I'm the Captain."
It came out more bitter than Spock would have anticipated. He hesitated before answering. "Yes."
"And it's his duty." Even more bitterness on that last word.
"He acted out of loyalty to you," Spock said carefully.
"Loyalty," Jim echoed. Some of the bitterness was absent in his tone, replaced with... Spock wasn't sure, and his uncertainty was a sharp pain in his chest. A Jim he could not read, could not empathize with, could not understand was beyond his comprehension. Jim was t'hy'la, half of Spock's whole. And yet here he was, sitting not six inches from Spock and feeling more like a stranger than the lover he had known for so long.
"I need some fresh air," Jim announced suddenly, getting to his feet. "I'm going for a walk."
Spock nodded. "I will contact you if he regains consciousness."
Jim waved off the comment, either taking it for granted that someone would get him that information or simply not caring. The inability to tell the difference was another ache settling into Spock's badly bruised heart.
His brain supplies him with the clinical terms: his fingers penetrate Jim, prepare him for intercourse, stroke his prostate. He has never understood the human propensity to speak of these things as they occur, how Jim will narrate what Spock is doing to him in somewhat less precise anatomical terms than Spock prefers. He has also never understood why it is so enjoyable to interrupt the narration with jolts of distracting pleasure. But so it is.
Later they lay sated upon the bed, Jim's fond smile pressed into Spock's chest. "This could be our last time, you know," Jim informs him, the words muffled against his skin.
Even given Jim's tendency towards the philosophical after intercourse, Spock cannot discern his train of thought. "Explain," he murmurs softly, fingers brushing over Jim's graying hair.
"Starfleet's never going to give us another opportunity to get on a starship. We're lucky they extended the invitation at all since we're both retired now. This could be our last chance to stand on that bridge together."
Spock sighs. They've been over this before. "It is not the same Enterprise we served on. It is not even the second Enterprise we served on. The construction of the ship may be similar and it may share the same name, but it is not our ship."
The smile pressed into his chest grows wider, fonder somehow even though Spock cannot see it. "Our ship," he repeats. "How long has it taken for you to stoop to sentimental terms like that?"
"Too long," Spock answers, the honesty escaping his usual logical filters.
"Yes." Jim shifts, rising up on one elbow to look down at him. "I know it isn't our ship," he emphasizes with a hint of mischief in his eyes. "It won't be the same. And it shouldn't be; it's a new ship, a new era, a whole new crew of graduates. But it's our living legacy, Spock. Our chance to give it our blessing. Probably our last chance to do something like that together. We're not getting any younger."
Spock takes in Jim's face: the lines, the loose skin, the discolorations. It is the face he fell in love with years ago, no less beautiful now for what time has etched into it. "No," he whispers, fingers tracing over his jaw and settling at his temple. "We are not."
Jim presses a kiss to his palm. "Come with me. Share it with me."
He is tempted. But his logic remains valid even if his sentiments are begging him to concede defeat. "My father would prefer that I remain on Vulcan during his period of mourning."
Jim sighs, strokes his fingers over Spock's. "And yours as well."
"Mine will not be as extensive nor as painful as his. I have lost my mother. He has lost his bondmate." It is difficult to explain, even now. Even with all barriers dropped between them, even with Spock's ability to indulge in his sentimental side with this human, it is still difficult. "A broken mating bond is widely considered to be the most devastating event to a Vulcan's psyche. My father needs my support during this time."
Jim nods his understanding, leaning in for a brief kiss before he speaks. "I know. I understand. I just wish you were going to be there with me."
"If the Enterprise-B's launch had been scheduled at any other time, I would be."
Silence descends upon the room. Spock closes his eyes, lulled nearly to sleep by the sound of lanka-gar and shavokh calling to each other and hunting in the night.
"Is that what will happen to you?" Jim's voice is barely above a whisper. When Spock looks at him, his face seems luminously bright in the dark of the room, his expression pained.
He does not stall the conversation by asking him to be more specific. Jim's face tells him exactly what he means. "Barring unforeseen circumstances, it is likely that I shall outlive you," Spock says quietly, matching the volume of his voice to Jim's.
Jim's hand delves into Spock's hair, his thumb resting against the invisible psi-point at Spock's temple. "And you'll experience the breaking of our bond."
Jim's thumb strokes along the side of his face gently, Jim's body pressing closer to him. "I've seen how your father has been suffering through it. I wouldn't wish that on you."
Spock allows himself a moment to bask in the waves of concern and affection seeping through him wherever Jim's skin touches his own. "My mother lived to the age of eighty five. Many humans live to see the age of one hundred and beyond. We may have years yet ahead of us."
"True," Jim allows, but Spock can see that he isn't fully convinced.
Spock reaches out and pulls Jim closer to him, tangling their legs together, looping an arm over his waist and pressing his free hand against Jim's cheek. "Jim," he whispers, and then in a voice far more intimate, "T'hy'la. We may have decades stretched before us. We may have days. I am grateful for whatever time has been allotted to us. Whatever that time may be, it is well worth the pain I will experience when you are gone."
Jim shivers despite the Vulcan heat of the room. "Let us hope for decades, t'hy'la," he whispers in return, kissing a faint green mark on Spock's neck.
Days later, Spock is nothing less than shocked to be driven to his knees by the searing agony of a severed mating bond.
Spock looked up from his seat next to the biobed in mild surprise. He had not heard Gaila enter the room, had no idea how long she had been trying to get his attention. He had been lost in his memories, paying little attention to the outside world.
She was leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the bed, arms crossed over her chest. She jutted her chin forward, gesturing toward the door. "Jim. How long have you been in love with him?"
One of Spock's eyebrows arched involuntarily upward. "I am not in love with him." Which was technically the truth; the Jim in this timeline was not his Jim. Would never be his Jim.
She gave a sigh, blowing an errant red curl out of her face before taking a seat on a stool across from him. "Look, sir," she added hastily, as if she'd realized how tactless she was being, "I'm an Orion. I read body language the way most people read text. You Vulcans might think you're all properly repressed, but I know what a broken heart looks like."
"I was not aware you had medical expertise as well as computer-"
"How long?" she interrupted him.
He found himself at a loss, staring at her without the first idea of what he could say. He was not, most emphatically not in love with the Jim she knew. He felt a certain fondness for him, certainly. He was pleased when they were able to share company. He was more at ease with him than with any other individual. He was also more than a hundred years Spock's junior and he was not the man Spock had fallen in love with a lifetime ago. But how could he explain himself without divulging who he was and where he was from?
"I know who you are, you know," Gaila continued as if she had read his mind. "You're him." She gestured toward the bed where the younger Spock was still sleeping soundly. "But not him at the same time. Some other version of him who's stuck with us in our time."
"How high were you rated on ESP?" Spock heard himself ask, too thrown to address her more important questions just yet.
"Not that high. I'm a level one, but even that was mostly body language stuff. Level one is pretty low for an Orion, actually. I'm not really psychic, if that's what you're asking. I just knew you wouldn't be able to explain it unless you knew I was aware of who you are. Jim told me about you ages ago."
Spock weighed his response carefully. "May I ask what prompted your curiosity? You do not appear to be jealous."
"I'm not." She apparently realized what he was suggesting. "Oh. Oh! Jim and I, we're just friends. I mean, which is not to say we haven't fooled around before, but we're friends now. Good friends. We kind of use each other as sounding boards for personal problems when our other friends get tired of hearing it. And I know he's..." She shrugged, glancing at the younger Spock. "The way he acts around the Commander... well, it's a lot like I've seen you act around the Captain. Like you're bleeding out from the inside."
It was an apt description, if fanciful and metaphorical in nature. "I am not in love with Jim," he told her. "I am, and always shall be, his friend. Nothing more."
Her eyebrows knitted together. "Then why... why do I get the impression that there's something more to it than that? I'm not used to reading people wrong."
Spock's desire for privacy waged war with his desire to be honest. The other Vulcans in the colony would never know who he truly was: a decision he had made for his own benefit as well as for Sarek's. He worked with his father upon occasion, trying not to dwell too long upon the fact that Spock was chronologically older than Sarek was, and he did not wish to complicate their interactions. He had had a tumultuous relationship with his father in his own timeline; he did not wish to relive the experience in this one.
But here, sitting in front of him, was someone in whom he might be able to confide. He considered it at length. "Your impression was flawed, but not entirely incorrect," he finally admitted. "The relationship between myself and Jim was different in my own time."
Gaila gave a small, amused little snort. "So you didn't try to strangle the life out of him on your first mission?"
"I did not." He had to ask Jim about that someday.
"Hmm." She looked down at the younger Spock again, considering. "Jim's in love with him," she said, and the look on her face suggested that she didn't feel the younger Spock deserved those affections. "Did that happen to you?"
Spock raised an eyebrow again. "You are fishing for information."
"I do that a lot. Jim says I'm the biggest snoop on the entire ship. I'm just curious is all. I'm not malicious about it. I just feel like humans - and maybe Vulcans, too - can be so stupid around each other, so why not go digging for a little information that might help them out?"
"In what way could I be helpful? Too much has changed for me to give you any meaningful insight," Spock pointed out.
"I don't know about that. Some things are constant, aren't they? You're both Spock. You're both half Vulcan and half human. You were both First Officer of the Enterprise. I assume there was another Jim Kirk back in your timeline since you said he was your friend."
He began to feel as if the conversation could go in circles for hours if he let it. He tried to focus. "What specifically do you wish to know?"
Gaila went silent for a moment, looking at the younger Spock on the bed and then turning to eye the elder Spock critically. "How come I still get the sense that your heart's been broken? And does it have to do with the Jim from your timeline?"
"Yes." He found it was the only answer he could give, all he could possibly confide. He would not divulge his entire history to the woman; it was his to treasure, his memories to cherish. He did not wish to share them.
But rather than continue interrogating him, she got up from her seat and stood next to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. "Broken bond?" she asked quietly, and there was more sympathy in her expression than rampant curiosity.
It was that more than anything that prompted his response. "Yes."
And to his utter shock, she bent over him and wrapped him in a firm embrace. It was the first time he had been offered such a blatantly human gesture of affection since... Well, since Jim. Since his Jim. He fought down the urge to cry, the urge to stiffen or break contact with her. He had needed this, he realized, and he allowed himself to relax minutely against her.
"What's the Vulcan expression?" she asked him quietly. "I grieve with you?"
"Thee," he corrected softly. "I grieve with thee." He had not heard the words since his father helped him through his own mourning period. So few people had known.
"I grieve with thee," she repeated, holding him for a long time before she straightened and let her hands fall to her side. "I know it's a different time. And I know he's not exactly like you." She gestured toward the bed. "But I don't think I'm ready to give up on the two of them yet."
Spock couldn't help asking, "He is romantically involved with Miss Uhura, is he not?"
She hesitated before answering. "He is. But who knows how long that will last." It was a statement rather than a question, punctuated with a shrug. "I'm going to go check on Jim. Thank you for sharing what you did with me. I promise I'll keep it to myself until the time is right."
He nodded. "I would appreciate that."
She left the room with one last gentle squeeze to his shoulder.
Only on rare occasions does he play the message hidden inside.
As a Vulcan he has an eidetic memory. He can remember Jim's face from the first day they met to the last time he ever saw him. He can remember their first meld, their first kiss, the first time they made love. He remembers too their last meld, last kiss, their last sharing of themselves on Vulcan. He remembers the missions, the adventures, the hardships. He remembers the women and the resulting jealousy. He remembers hands on his skin and lips over his heart.
But sometimes he needs more than just the memory.
It had been given to him weeks before the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B and just six days before Amanda had passed away. Jim had been trying to convince him of the logic of, "Just one more trip, Spock. Just one more." As a result, it was less a birthday message and more of a plea.
It takes on new meaning now that he is gone. Spock fast-forwards through the bulk of the pleading, closing his eyes and basking in his favorite part.
"You once said that being a starship Captain was my first, best destiny. If that's true, then yours is to be by my side. If there's any true logic to the universe, we'll end up on that bridge again someday. Admit it, Spock. For people like us, the journey itself... is home."
He plays it just once on Delta Vega, needing the familiarity after the crushing grief of Vulcan's destruction and the part he unwillingly played in it.
He longs for the journey. For home.
Spock nodded his understanding. "My mind to your mind," he murmured, using his native language rather than Standard. "My thoughts to your thoughts."
He had expected to be launched into a sea of confusion and warped neural connections, had anticipated an experience similar to when V'Ger had overloaded his brain and nearly short-circuited his entire nervous system. Instead he found Spock's mind to be foggy, clouded, feeling as if it might suffocate him in a cloying haze. After the day he had been through - the long hours punctuated by visits from people he had known a hundred years ago, from friends who were more strangers than anything - the meld was something of an anticlimax.
It took less than an hour to help the younger Spock find his mental controls, and only a few minutes to test them in order to ensure their strength. Together they explored the quagmire of emotion the younger Spock struggled to keep under wraps; his anger surprised the elder Spock with its intensity. His grief... well, that was something they shared. The younger Spock grieved for his mother, for his people, for the planet he couldn't save.
The elder Spock grieved with him and tried desperately to keep his other, deeper loss to himself.
He left them all to their own devices when the younger Spock regained consciousness, excusing himself to a small courtyard just outside the medical facility. He needed time to himself, time to meditate and put himself back together before he had to say his goodbyes. Their presence was welcome, and yet it shook him to his core. He knew these people, loved them dearly, but he could not shake the feeling that they were strangers wearing only vaguely familiar faces.
"You will always be a child of two worlds," Sarek had said deep in the recesses of the younger Spock's memory, a brief whisper of history the elder Spock had tasted before his younger counterpart's controls were fully in place. It was something his own father had implied upon occasion but never spoken out loud. The words chilled him rather than brought him any comfort; he was now not only a child of divided heritage, but of divided time. He had seen their lives played out once before, was watching them play out again. He was an observer of two timelines, unable to return to one and unable to participate in the other.
For a man who had spent nearly a century outliving his friends, he now felt more alone than ever before.
He wasn't so much meditating as closing his eyes and letting his thought processes run away with him. As a result, he wasn't any more composed than before when he felt a sudden solid presence sitting next to him.
"I wish to speak with you."
Spock wondered how long it had been since he had left the room. He had told his younger counterpart to rest but had lost track of time since sitting in the courtyard. It was unlike him to have let time slip away from him like that. "Very well."
"I will leave if I am interrupting your meditation."
"You more than anyone should be able to tell that I am not doing so," Spock pointed out, opening his eyes and taking in the form of his younger counterpart. He was no longer clad in the regulation Sick Bay clothing, but in the black trousers and undershirt of his uniform. His face had lost its slackness from the sedation; he was once again the calm, aloof First Officer of the Enterprise.
It occurred to Spock in that moment that in some ways, they looked nothing alike.
"You have seen some of my memories as a result of the meld." It wasn't posed as a question.
"I attempted to protect your privacy as much as possible when we were linked." But the younger Spock was correct: he had seen things he should not have. He should not have seen Sarek comforting him after Amanda's death. He should not have seen the Jellyfish obliterated as he beamed away from the destruction.
He should not have seen Uhura's arms around him, her lips upon his, the sympathy in her expression and the devotion in her eyes. He wished he had not seen those things.
"Were you aware that the reverse is also true?"
Spock let out a long sigh. "I was not aware," he said, his voice quiet. "But I cannot claim to be surprised."
"You have been withholding information," the younger Spock continued, and while his tone was mostly neutral, the elder Spock could hear just a hint of accusation in it.
"Explain." But he already knew what was coming.
"You told me that my... friendship," and there was telltale hesitation framing the word, "with Jim would define us both."
"You failed to explain the nature of that friendship." Spock realized they were no longer speaking in Standard. The younger Spock had switched to their native tongue. He had not used the term ne ki'ne - a warrior's friendship with a brother in arms - nor had he used the term telan - the term for the bond between comrades.
"T'hy'la," Spock repeated, allowing the term to carry the full emotional weight of what he had felt for his Jim.
"You loved him." Once again, it wasn't a question.
"He was k'hat'n'dlawa," Spock admitted. Half of my heart, half of my soul.
"How is this possible?"
Fresh pain blossomed in his chest at the astonishment in his younger counterpart's eyes. Spock could not think of a proper answer to that. It seemed utterly impossible for Jim to not be t'hy'la, beloved and cherished above all things. It seemed wrong to be in a timeline where Jim clearly felt that way about Spock, but Spock did not return those feelings. All of existence felt warped at a critical point, everything off-balance and shifted.
Spock was relieved when his younger counterpart spoke again, sparing him from answering his previous query. "Jim is ne ki'ne," he explained. "We trust each other. We spend time in each other's company. We are efficient colleagues and... friends beyond that." The telltale hesitation still framed the word. "But he is a most illogical being, even for a human: he is stubborn, strong-willed, and too self-assured given that he has only been Captain for two point five eight years."
"In short, he is similar to yourself." He couldn't smother the smile at Spock's dumbfounded expression. "You are also quite stubborn and often too much convinced of your intellectual superiority. You do not back down easily from a fight. Jim's personality frustrates you because it is more similar to your own than you are willing to admit."
The younger Spock was quiet for a moment. "I am romantically involved with Nyota Uhura," he said, and there was a hint of defensiveness in his tone.
"Is she k'hat'n'dlawa? T'hy'la?" He should not prod like this. He didn't know what possessed him to do so.
"She is..." More hesitation, and that more than anything told Spock what he wished to know about their relationship. "She is taluhk." Precious. Cherished.
Spock took in a lungful of searing desert air, his age settling over his shoulders like an unbearable weight. "Your life will not be like mine. Your choices, your circumstances have already set your path apart from mine. I do not expect you to make the same choices I did. However, I have seen enough from this timeline to know that some things remain constant. Your Jim is friends with your McCoy. Your Scott has become the Chief Engineer on the Enterprise. Your Uhura is drawn to you as both a mentor and a friend - and perhaps more, in your case. Having observed these things, I knew you were capable of developing a bond with your Jim similar to the one I had with my own. It may not be the same." And there was the bruising beat of his heart against his ribs again. "I do not expect it to be the same. But I would not deprive you of that experience regardless of the differences between us."
His younger counterpart got to his feet, taking in the aesthetics of the courtyard for a few minutes before turning his attention to the elder Spock. "After we returned to the Academy following the Narada incident, you encouraged me to set aside the logic of rebuilding the colony. You told me to do what feels right."
Spock remained silent, waiting for him to come to his point.
"The Enterprise feels right." And Spock knew enough of himself to understand that the Enterprise stood for so much more: for family, for understanding, for colleagues who respected and liked him for who he was rather than judging him for what he should have been.
It would have to be enough.
The complexity of their interrelationships remained fixed in his thoughts as he returned to his private quarters. He did not know what their futures might hold: perhaps Spock would end up bonding with Uhura. Perhaps he would discover the full potential of what he might have with his own Jim. Perhaps they would stumble upon a space anomaly that would render all possibilities null by destroying the ship. Impossible to know and illogical to expend so much time and energy thinking about their future.
He fingered the locket around his neck as he settled into bed. He had not played the message since his temporary stay on Delta Vega. He had not wanted to dwell on a time he no longer had access to. He had not wanted to cloud his judgment of the Jim in this timeline by dwelling on the memory of his own. But he had discovered over the past century of his life that he was a more emotional being than he often gave himself credit for.
He activated the switch on the back of the locket, closing his eyes against the deluge of feeling produced by the sound of that much-loved voice.
"They tell me your first mission may take you away from me for awhile, so I'll be the first to wish you luck. And to say..."
Spock's breath caught in the back of his throat, the anticipation of the next phrase enough to move him to an emotional display before they were even said. He allowed himself to feel the ache in his heart, the sting in his eyes. He allowed himself to feel.
"... I miss you, old friend."
"T'hy'la," Spock whispered in the darkness.