Distant echoing shouts within the cave of ice startle Spock out of his spiral of devastation.
He stands and fumbles for a torch, a rare display of uncoordinated movement, and holds its fiery light up as he travels towards the source of the noise.
There is a rumble of heavy footsteps and a shrill screech that resonates high above the cacophony. Spock moves faster. No doubt, the source of the noise is one of the brutal creatures that inhabit this planet.
There is another sensation joining the echoing noises. A sharp, familiar tug that Spock is afraid to linger on for too long, for fear it will make him hope for the impossible.
Spock storms into view of the scene and brandishes the torch at the beast, which raves and hisses and stomps, but it cannot overcome its innate fear of the firelight. The beast retreats, little by little, until it concedes defeat and slinks away.
Spock exhales and swivels around to face the victim of the chase. . . victims? They cower on the snow, huddled together, still clearly shaken.
And - and they all look like -
Spock’s mouth nearly falls open. “Jim?”
Three Jims stare back at him, lithe and young with bright, angry eyes. They scramble to their feet, helping each other up. Their responses are identical and simultaneous. “Yeah? What do you want?”
They glare at each other and start shoving.
“John, shut up! What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“It’s to protect you!”
“I don’t need protecting, Jake!”
“Do you know who this old man is, Jim?”
“Yeah, how does he know you?”
“What? No! Of course I don’t know him!”
A single body emerges from the entity, physically indistinguishable from the other two. And yet, Spock knows with devastating clarity. It’s him.
Jim steps closer, wary. “Who are you?”
Spock doesn’t trust his voice to be stable, but speaks regardless. “I am Spock.”
Jim turns to face the other two persons sharing his face and body, then back at Spock again. “No way. You saved us. Captain Spock would never do that.”
Spock blinks. “You mean you are not the captain?”
But the triplets do not hear him, lost in their own conversation.
“Vulcans don’t have emotions, my ass.”
“He didn’t have to maroon us on this hunk of ice!”
“Talk about extra. He could’ve just-”
“- put us in the brig. We would’ve escaped eventually, but this is -”
“- basically attempted murder! We would’ve died here!”
“Spock’s a big jerk.”
“Inconsiderate as hell.”
And then all three begin ranting about Acting Captain Spock aboard the Enterprise.
Spock wonders, not for the first time, how he got into this situation.
They sit around the campfire as the triplets rest from the stressful chase and talk continually amongst each other. Spock watches quietly.
He learns Jim is the youngest, Jake is the middle child and John the eldest. It would be logical to view each triplet as their own individual, their own person with independent thoughts and motivations.
Spock finds himself failing. The three brothers talk and breathe like a single entity with three corporeal bodies. As one starts a thought, another completes it. The only triplet that Spock can distinguish is Jim, and not for any reasons that are tangibly apparent.
Spock finally rises to his feet. “There is no time. We must go and stop Nero. I will show you the way to the Starfleet outpost.”
As they follow Spock, one of the brothers speaks up. “How do you know about Nero?”
The older Vulcan explains haltingly how he is Captain Spock’s counterpart from a future reality. He explains his shortcomings in assisting the Romulans. He speaks of red matter and supernovas and black holes. The grief increases tenfold as Spock is forced to relive these memories.
Two of the triplets begin rapidly discussing strategy, but Jim has fallen silent. When Spock makes eye contact with the younger human, he quickly looks away.
Spock very logically joins the triplets and Montgomery Scott on the transporter, very logically confronts his younger counterpart about his emotional compromise, and then watches Nero’s very logical defeat and self-destruction with Jim in command of the Enterprise, his brothers right behind him.
The easy part is concluded. The aftermath is what Spock fears most. Despite their victory, their casualties remain numerous and devastating.
Doctor McCoy stares at Spock again. “Good god. I still can’t believe there’s two of them.”
The ghost of the scowling doctor echoes in the recesses of Spock’s memory, and the old Vulcan heart in his side aches. “Then you can imagine, Doctor, my surprise when I encountered the triplets, having been accustomed to a captain with no siblings in my universe.”
The doctor snorts. “Yeah. Well, I’ve gotten used to having three of them underfoot, so I can’t imagine what it’d be like with only one of these primadonnas.”
“Excuse you, Bones -”
“- I take offense to that!”
Spock lets his amusement leak into his expression. “They appear particularly drawn towards you, Doctor.”
One of the brothers wraps an arm around the doctor’s neck. “How could we not love him?”
“He’s like a disgruntled kitten -”
“- the first thing he did when we met was offer us alcohol, like -”
“- that’s the kinda guy we gotta keep around. Forever.”
McCoy rolls his eyes. “You don’t stay vigilant, next thing you know they’ve imprinted on you like ducklings.”
This of course leads to the triplets discussing with utter seriousness if it would be preferable to be referenced to as divas with an inflated view of their own importance, or as young impressionable waterfowl.
Spock sits in the guest quarters attempting to meditate when he hears the doorbell.
He is already aware of the identity of the visitor.
“You may enter,” he calls.
Jim peeks into the room. “Ambassador? Are you busy?”
Spock gestures for Jim to come in. The young man removes his shoes and joins Spock in sitting on the meditation mat, effortlessly cross-legged and facing him.
Spock still is in awe that this is Jim within reach, right in front of him.
Jim’s thoughts mirror his own. “I still can’t believe we ran into you on Delta Vega.”
“I would surmise it is the universe’s attempt to mend the rifts in our universes that I have caused.”
Jim’s hesitation is visible and unsubtle. “You blame yourself, don’t you?”
Spock feels exhausted. “How could I not? Logically, I am the sole cause of all this destruction in your universe.”
“It was completely out of your control.”
Spock smiles faintly. “Even in this universe, you endlessly engage in attempting to console me, old friend.”
Jim tilts his head. “You seemed close to my counterpart of your universe.”
“We were.” Spock pauses. “We would often play chess together in the mess hall.”
“Mm, that’s more John’s thing than mine.”
“Oh. Then perhaps are you interested in sparring?”
“I don’t like fighting. Jake does, though. Or maybe John?” Jim holds up his fingers, ticking them off. “But we all like getting into trouble, piloting starships, meeting new people and seeing new places, and classical music, among a billion other things.”
“I see,” Spock says, slightly dizzy.
Jim fiddles with his hands. “John and Jake are the competent ones, really. I’m not really great at anything specific. I don’t know how I ended up as Acting Captain. I’m - I’m afraid of letting everyone down.”
The quiet, vulnerable confession makes Spock’s heart ache. “Do your siblings know of your inner conflict?”
“Usually I tell them everything. This feels different.”
“Being in a position of authority does not equate to isolation, Captain. Communicate with them. I assure you, you are capable of whatever you endeavor to achieve.”
Jim shrugs and grins. “So, old man, wanna teach me what you’re doing here? Sitting completely still and just breathing? Maybe I’ll like it.”
Unsurprisingly, Jim does not find enjoyment in meditation.
Jim grins widely in front of Spock, his dress uniform flawless. “Pike got promoted.”
“As did you and your siblings.” Jake is now Lieutenant, and John is Lieutenant Commander. They will be working together on the Enterprise.
Jim looks behind him, where his brothers talk excitedly with Doctor McCoy and Admiral Pike. “Didn’t see you during the ceremony. I thought you weren’t there, old man.”
“Of course I was present. I offer my congratulations.”
Jim pinches Spock’s sleeve and drags him over to the others. “All three of us in command together. It’s gonna be awesome.”
Pike says flatly, “With great power comes paperwork, which I’m expecting by next week. Don’t think you can escape it, alright? You all are not exempt.”
Jim smirks. “Y’all ain’t.”
Pike sighs. “I’ve just been promoted and I want to retire.”