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Spock is weary, weary in a way that he has never been before. He has many times felt tired, exhausted, downtrodden, ill—and none of those compare to the bone deep weariness he currently lives with. Simply put, for the first time in his long life, he feels old.

The Vulcans who survived the destruction of their homeworld have settled on a desert planet at the edge of the Milky Way. Spock’s initial estimate was too generous; only eight thousand of his people survived Nero’s attack. That number has grown very slowly in the ten years Spock has spent in this universe.

The course of intergalactic history was largely shaped by the Vulcans in Spock’s timeline. They initiated first contact with humans, they shaped the statutes of the Federation and of Star Fleet, and they provided the superior technology that plotted the course for the next several centuries of Federation history. Spock cannot imagine the future that Jean Luc Picard will inherit with that presence so diminished. Spock has lost a mother (one that he’d lost before and under no less traumatic circumstances, for when is the loss of a parent anything but) and a planet and a people, but lately those losses pale in comparison to the time it takes him to rise from his bed to a sitting position, the difficulty a set of stairs pose, the tangents his thoughts often drift along.

He has spent ten long years attempting to reconstruct what was nearly destroyed, and now he is lucky if he can last from breakfast to lunch without nodding off. Spock will die before his father and that both comforts and terrifies him in ways he does not care to closely examine.

One day he sits on a ledge of stone and watches the wind stir complex patterns in the sands of New Vulcan. Spock knows who is on his way. He is nearly asleep when he hears the scuff of boots on rock, feels the visceral connection that he would know anywhere.

“Jim,” he says, without opening his eyes.

Jim smiles and Spock can feel it. He doesn’t need to see. “Hey, old man.”

Spock wants to laugh. He feels giddy with the urge and only composes himself with a Herculean effort. When he does open his eyes, Jim is leaned back against the rock face, his knees drawn to his chest. He is older than Spock last saw him, when his youth seemed so impossible that Spock thought it would break him.

“I’m dying,” Spock says, and the words seem to echo over the dunes.

Jim says, “Believe me. I know.”

“And for that, I apologize.” Spock shifts, a painstaking rearrangement of limbs that Jim quickly and easily takes over, moving Spock’s body until he is once again comfortable. Spock looks Jim full in the eyes; he owes the man that much at least. “I have been unforgivably, indefensibly selfish. I--”

Jim interrupts. “I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with my pillow soaked because you were dead, dead and your body shot into the sun of some world that doesn’t exist. I’ve laughed my ass off over things I’ve never heard you say, places I’ve never been before.” He pauses, sweeps the sweat damp hair off his brow. “I’ve closed my eyes and seen you naked a million times in the past ten years.”

In his whole long life, Spock has rarely felt small. His voice has been so often the one of reason, of logic, of truth, that now he cannot find the words to say what he means.

“Don’t worry,” Jim says, and smoothes Spock’s blanket over his knees. “I know.”

They sit for some time in companionable silence, Jim’s forgiveness—no, his acceptance--a benediction Spock doesn’t quite believe he deserves.

As the sun edges beneath the cliffs, Jim finally says what he traveled parsecs to say. “I never found it, what you and your Kirk had. Spock and I are friends, the best I think I’ve ever known, but nothing like what you showed me.”

“You’re young yet,” Spock says. “These things take time.”

Kirk laughs, a lonely sound that echoes through the gorge. “I don’t think so. Spock and Nyota are married now with two of the smartest, most obnoxious rugrats you’ve ever seen.” He thunks his head back against the ledge. “Spock is my friend and he would die for me if duty led him there, but only duty. Nothing more.”

Spock does not know what to say. He picks at the edge of his blanket, unravels a thread, watches the stars wink through the rosy streaks of the setting sun.

“You showed me something,” Jim says, “gave me something.” He breaks off and when he looks back at Spock, his eyes are shiny and impossibly blue. “I never thought that anyone could know me, could love me--.” Jim breaks down, and he is as beautiful in tears as Spock had remembered. Somehow, Spock’s old arms remember this song and dance and before long he holds Jim, that familiar heartbeat pressed to his chest.

Then Jim presses his lips to Spock’s, and the kiss is so dirty and sweet and full of longing that Spock sheds a few tears of his own. Jim holds his frail body to his, arms wrapped around a memory of what never was, and together they stay awake until the sun breaks over the distant mountains, until the sky washes over with pink and red and orange.