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Only Human

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VI.

Spock of Vulcan dislikes Sol III, or Terra as it is colloquially termed, with an emphatically unVulcan revulsion.

He simply cannot fathom why any being in his, her or their correct mind would wish to inhabit such a frigid, watery world crammed full of beings who are totally incapable of controlling their emotions. Everywhere one looks, there are humans upon a few alien species upon yet more humans, jostling and shoving each other through the terminals and talking far too loudly for his sensitive hearing into various communication devices. Even the children of this distasteful planet are boisterous, raucously noisy as they dart through crowds intent upon knocking over luggage and other humans; or else they simply perch on whatever is at hand, heels banging upon the nearest object and noses buried superciliously in expensive handheld vid-games or communicators. It is these who are the most irksome, for they cast him rudely curious glances over said games when they apparently believe he is not aware of their staring.

Spock can, conversely, quite understand why his mother was perfectly happy to leave such a loathsome place and live on the much more orderly and peaceful planet of Vulcan. When he voices this logical opinion during their walk to the terminal, however, he is met with only that knowing smile and conciliatory nod which indicates his mother has a differing opinion which she will keep silent due to Vulcan propriety. Which is only to be expected, as they have been traveling under diplomatic escort out of New San Francisco. Now, they have made it through the primary transportation terminal which will transport them to their ambassadorial ship docked outside the secondary shipyard in Riverside, and are waiting for their party's electronic signature to be transmitted in order to finalize transport proceedings.

He stands quietly, hands folded neatly before him, and waits with admirable Vulcan patience for the last leg of their journey to be finalized. This earns him an approving nod from his father, when Sarek finishes speaking with his primary ambassadorial aide, and a quiet ruffling of his hair from his mother. He waits until she turns back to Sarek, of course, out of regard for human feelings, to hastily move the offending fringe back into place, using the highly reflective surface of the duranium pole next to him to aid in the proceedings.

He has not quite managed to return to his previously immaculate state, when something slams heavily into his back, causing him to stumble alarmingly close to the unforgiving support pole. Being Vulcan, he displays neither annoyance nor surprise, but turns to fix the offending object with the amount of Vulcan disdain that is appropriate in such circumstances.

A tiny little human child, at least five inches shorter than he and sporting two missing front teeth, stares wide-eyed up at him from under a mop of shockingly curly blond hair.

He is accustomed to being stared at, and therefore this is no hardship, especially when the child appears to be merely curious rather than intent upon using his appearance as a medium for personally combative mockery.

"Sorry," the child finally lisps with surprising politeness, after another (admittedly less polite) long look at Spock's pointed ears. Spock notes with scientific curiosity the difficulty of proper enunciation without the front teeth necessary for correct phonemes, as he was never without both teeth at the same time.

"No harm was done," he returns, with equal courtesy. "Are you not traveling with an adult caretaker, ax'nav?"

"Huh?" Hazel eyes blink at him in total confusion.

"You cannot be in such a place as this all alone," he responds, frowning; for what kind of parent, even an admittedly human parent, would permit such a youngling to roam the crowded terminal without escort?

"You talk weird," the child observes candidly, although the words are missing any trace of malice; simply an honest observation, then. It is a communicative difference which a scientific mind, accustomed to being the butt of jokes even in his own culture, can appreciate. Spock is about to comment on this, though it no doubt will be of little interest to such an immature mind as this child, when the little one thrusts out a chubby hand, thankfully free of dirt and at least visible germs. "I'm Jim," he offers with what appears to be an excess of enthusiasm.

Unsure of what to do with the child's hand, but not wishing to offend an innocent alien culture, Spock returns the gesture by offering the ta'al at the same level as the child's outstretched appendage. "I am Spock, son of Sarek," he responds.

"You ain't human," the child observes after a moment, though to Spock's relief he does not appear to be offended by their differences in greeting.

"Are not human," he corrects, for his mother has impressed upon him that to a scientific mind, it is always the proper time to learn.

“Tha's what I said," the child protests, the words whistling strangely through the gap in his teeth. "Where you from?"

"I am a Vulcan, from the planet of the same name," he replies, for now ignoring the child's total lack of concern for incorrect Standard verb tenses. "It is the closest Class M planet to your Earth."

The youngling’s eyes widen. "Issat why your ears look different?"

Spock is taken aback, pleasantly so, by the word choice; already today he has heard at least six children, far older than this tiny little scrap of human boy, laugh behind their hands and tell their parents to "look at his funny ears."

"It is," he finally answers, uncertain in this new sensation. "Our species are physically similar in many ways, yet different in certain aspects of our physiology."

The child tugs suddenly at his own rounded ears, half-hidden under the mop of hair, and then favors him with a blinding gap-toothed grin. "I like 'em," he chirps, still staring with evident fascination. "They're pretty cool, y'know."

Spock cannot accurately place the Terran slang, but judges from the intonation that it is a complimentary term rather than a derogatory. He spends a few moments mentally shuffling through his Terran linguistic banks for the proper reply to such sentiment, and settles on a simple expression of gratitude. Jim nods solemnly in response.

Then suddenly, the child flops down on the floor beside the pillar Spock nearly impacted earlier in their conversation, and a moment later is tugging at the edge of his traveling robe.

Jim looks up at him with another smile, waving a pocket gaming device dangerously close to his own eyes with his free hand. "I got the new Math Pirates game," he says, gesturing again with the device. "You wanna play? I bet you can win in, like, ten seconds! I can't do all the mul-ter-plu-cation problems yet."

Rather than continue to have his robe tugged on by over-eager human fingers, Spock refrains from visual expression of his mounting exasperation at the butchered mathematics terminology and instead seats himself gingerly at a safe distance from the little one's dangerously waving arms. "I have never played such a device," he admits, for there is no shame in the truth, and most of these Terran games seem to possess very little actual educational value.

Jim stares at him, this time with incredulity. "Are you for real?"

"Am I…affirmative?" he replies uncertainly.

"Duuuuude." Yet another expression Spock cannot reply to, as he has no idea what the intonation means. "Here, look." The vid-game lands in his lap unexpectedly, and he suddenly has a shoulder full of pointy human chin. "See, you hafta solve the math problems first, t'build up power in the phasers and torpedo banks. Then you get to go out an' shoot the pirate ships!"

Spock believes the educational content of the game is dubious at best, as he progressed past such basic mathematical problems two years ago in his own schooling, but there is something about the fast-paced challenge of strategy and coordination that makes the game appealing, he must admit, after ten minutes of playing.

"Duuuuude." That word again, but this time in a tone of awe rather than disbelief. Obviously the word is a multipurpose expression in Terran Standard. "You are so good!"

"Am I?" he inquires, eyebrows raised doubtfully.

"Yes! You sure you never played this before?" Hazel eyes squint suspiciously at him for a moment.

"We do not have such things on Vulcan," he responds quietly, staring down at the game. "They serve no logical purpose in childhood development."

Jim looks highly affronted. "Bull," he declares, eyes shining with indignation. "They're, like, totally part of bein' a kid! You ain't that old!"

"Are not that old."

"'S what I said!"

Spock represses a sigh of lament for the painfully dying verb tenses, and then glances up quickly as a shout reaches his keener hearing – another child, several years older than this, shouting Jim's name. He stands to his feet, Jim scrambling to follow.

"Someone is calling for you," he says unnecessarily, as the bellowing voice now can be heard throughout the terminal.

Jim scowls. "'S just Sam," he mutters, scuffing a toe along the floor with a cringe-worthy screeeek.

"And Sam is?"

"My big brother," the child grumbles, glaring at the approaching human boy with a ferocious glare that Spock thinks is fairly undeserved.

"Should you not have stayed with him?"

"Mayyyyybe," Jim hedges cautiously, shuffling a step closer to Spock as if in some show of solidarity.

Spock sighs, this time aloud, as the older boy approaches, looking thunderously at his tiny brother.

"Dude, you are in so much trouble when we get back," Sam declares, lightly cuffing the child on the back of the head. "Dad's threatening to have you chipped with a tracker like a puppy, you little squirt."

"Am not a puppy!"

"Well then, quit running away like one!"

"I didn’t run away! I walked. You coulda seen me."

While Spock cannot precisely fault the logic in the statement, he is quite certain a fault exists.

"Ughhhh." Sam turns to Spock, who has stood silently aloof from the family drama, and he braces himself for another shock-induced staring match. To his surprise, the older boy merely gives him a thorough glance and then nods, apparently satisfied. "Hope this little brat wasn't bugging you too much," the child offers, in a friendly enough tone.

"He was not…bugging me, at all," Spock replies, the unfamiliar word stumbling off his tongue.

"Sammmmm, stop it!" Small hands unsuccessfully try to pry the older boy's knuckles out of unruly hair. Jim kicks half-heartedly at his brother's ankle. "You're so mean!"

"Right. I'm mean," Sam drawls, grinning at the little one's flushed, scowling face. "So mean that I offered to come find you instead of letting dad be the first one to get his hands on you. You know that a starship captain can never be late, kiddo. Keep this up and you'll never even make it into Starfleet Academy someday 'cause some space trader will be snatching you up and flying awaaaaay with you!" The words are punctuated by the child's giggle as he is swung up into the air and around in a circle, little shoes flying madly.

Spock watches the interaction with fascination, for it is a strangely tactile, strangely alien culture, completely foreign to every sibling interaction he has ever seen on Vulcan.

Jim finally hiccups from his perch now atop Sam's shoulders, and smacks the older boy in the eye on accident, causing a yelp and a returning swat to the ankle. "Well, thanks for watching this one for me," Sam says, suddenly turning back to Spock. "Sorry for imposing on you; I imagine he's been quite a shock to a more logical species."

"It was no imposition." Spock looks up at the grinning child once more. "And your generosity in sharing your game was much appreciated, Jim," he says, quite sincerely.

"Sam, Spock says they got no vid-games on Vulcan!" Jim is still apparently quite horrified by this idea, judging from the tone. "Ain't that awful?"

"Sure is, kiddo. I'm glad you shared with him."

"Spock?" Jim leans dangerously over the side of his brother's shoulders, causing the older boy to mutter and shift his weight to a more stable position.

"Yes, Jim?"

"You…you wanna keep this one?" Spock stares at the gaming device, held out in mid-air by this strange little human, and then glances up at the reluctant but still sincere offering in the child's eyes. "I got more at home. You can…you can have this one if you want."

Sam opens his mouth, no doubt to protest the wisdom of the child offering a prized possession to a total stranger; Spock does not blame him for this, but apparently Jim does, for the child kicks him with a well-aimed sneaker toe and receives understanding silence in return.

But it is the thought behind the gesture, rather than the game itself, which has already changed the way in which Spock sees this human culture. He does not need the physical presence of a vid-game he has mentally outgrown years past to remember this moment.

"You are very kind, Jim," he replies, wishing there were appropriate Vulcan gestures to express what Vulcan words do not permit. "But you should keep your game. After all, you must learn those multiplication problems and you cannot do so if I have the game."

Apparently it is logic enough for a human toddler, and he sees the relief in both boys' eyes at his polite refusal. Oddly enough, it is that knowledge that warms him the most; that one child could be so unselfish, despite not truly wishing to part with a prized possession.

Perhaps, not all humans are as those he has up to now encountered on this, his first journey to Terra.

The loudspeaker sounds overhead, and the transport call number must be that of the two young humans, for Sam shuffles his brother to a better position and then turns to leave.

"Thanks, man," the older boy says over his shoulder, and gives him a companionable nod.

"Bye, Spock!" Jim calls, offering him one more enormous gap-toothed grin, and gives what looks like a bizarre crab-like approximation of the ta'al with both hands waving wildly in the air, as they disappear into the crowded terminal.

Spock fights down a twinge of amusement, reluctantly compartmentalizing it as yet another childhood failing of his Vulcan heritage.

A shadow falls over him, and he looks up to see his mother, smiling after the retreating figures in the crowd. "Who was your friend, Spock?" she asks, quietly enough that Sarek will not hear.

"Vulcans do not have friends, Mother; you are aware of this," he replies with perfect equanimity.

Amanda sighs, and rests a gentle hand on his head. "Of course, my son. I ask forgiveness."

He nods, watching as the bouncing little human finally disappears down the next terminal. His mother gives him a fond pat upon the shoulder, the only gesture of affection she will offer in public out of respect for his Vulcan upbringing, and then turns away to gather up their luggage and re-join Sarek and his aides.

"His name is Jim," Spock says softly, once she is out of earshot.

Chapter Text

V.

Spock of Vulcan has very little patience for the politics which drive certain members of the Federation and, in particular, those in the upper hierachy of Starfleet Command.

Perhaps this is due in part to his experience as son of the Vulcan ambassador to Terra and other Federation planets (and due to having broken ties with said ambassador over a disagreement on career choice), perhaps it is due to seeing the internal workings of Starfleet Command closely during that very brief internship his final year at Starfleet Academy. Perhaps it is simply yet another unpleasant effect of having a half-human ancestry, this inability to control his distaste for the process.

Whatever the reason, he has never considered a diplomatic career because the idea is distasteful to him – despite Sarek's firm belief that Spock refused to follow his patriarch's career choice simply to be belligerent in his rebellious adolescence. Spock is an exploratory scientist, not a diplomat; and while he is perfectly capable of diplomacy when the time warrants it, he has no interest in being involved in other species' ridiculous interplanetary disputes and petty quarrels with the Federation, nor does he find having to learn the ins and outs of dealing with corruption within Command or how to "play the game" to be at all appealing.

He therefore is understandably unenthusiastic about Captain Pike's latest assignment, which seems to his impartial eye to be nothing more than a Federation-driven coverup for some deep space disaster which the powers-that-be have no desire to see hit the galactic press. To add to this distasteful mission, Pike's Number One and their Chief Medical Officer have both been quarantined with the Altarian 'flu for two days, and will still be in strict quarantine by the time they reach the location of the disaster.

This means that command of the initial boarding party will fall to Spock, as ranking Science officer in the absence of a ranking Medical officer. The disaster, from the briefing which they received (sparse of detail, and sparser of instruction, which is in itself suspect), appears to be biohazardous in nature, as whatever happened to this starship was sufficient to kill over half the crew and leave the ship crippled and stranded, virtually dead in space.

Spock has no desire to command, and while his scientific curiosity is piqued about the entire lack of detail in the official briefing, that is overshadowed by the fact that he will not be able to take firsthand part in the observational proceedings; it will fall to him to interview survivors and send the first investigative report back to the Enterprise, before Captain Pike will risk beaming himself aboard. He will then work in tandem with Captain Pike to report back to Starfleet with his findings, meaning that he will most likely perform several days' worth of investigation and research, after which Command will curtly thank him and then promptly cover the reports with whatever cover story they devise to explain the tragedy.

However, he is a Starfleet officer, and as the politics do not interest him whatsoever he accepts his assignment with equanimity, and beams aboard the U.S.S. Farragut once they've approached and performed initial scans to verify no malevolent life-forms aboard.

Even he can feel a twinge of unease at the rampant death toll, which only mounts as they move through the corridors toward the Bridge, dividing into search and rescue parties with the precision of a well-trained flagship crew. After all, even a Vulcan is permitted revulsion at unnecessary and innocent death, and whatever killed these people – mostly humans, as most prominent exploratory starships are – was quick and ruthless in its selection. It appears that everyone who happened to be in an exposed area was killed before they could seek shelter, for bodies litter the corridors and open rec areas, though he can see from the tricorder scans that there are still life-signs buried further in the depths of the ship.

Spock speculates, as he moves through the corridors toward the Bridge, that survivors were ones who managed to barricade themselves in less open areas of the ship, behind force-fields or emergency bulkheads possibly; or else whatever massacred the crew found itself satisfied with the death toll and simply moved on to easier prey. He is curious, scientifically and medically, as to what precisely killed these beings, for those with naturally fair skin coloration are now almost translucently white, as if they have literally been drained of blood; yet there is no sign of bloodshed on the walls, floor, or upon the bodies themselves, and no other visible indication of what could be the manner of attack. The smell of death, sickly-sweet, comes clearly even through the filters in his biohazard suit.

He allows two Security men, moving somewhat awkwardly in their bulky suits, before him through the Bridge's Jefferies Tube entrance, but there is no sound of alarm from within and he follows within moments, tricorder at the ready and scanning for any signs of biohazards or airborne pathogens.

He receives no indications that aught is amiss with the air content of the Bridge (which bears out his conjecture that the attacker has long since left the ship), and after a second, equally thorough scan, he removes his headgear and gloves as they are impossibly bulky. Moving swiftly to the communications console, he shuts off the automated distress beacon and contacts the Enterprise, briefly updating Captain Pike as to his location. He then turns to survey the Bridge, minutely shaking his head at the devastation.

Captain Garrovick is certainly dead, still seated in his command chair and staring lifelessly at the ceiling with eyes almost invisibly pale as the rest of his skin. The communications officer is not in his seat, but is lying on the deck in an oddly restful position with his frozen hands folded over his chest; Spock suspects someone removed the man in order to send the distress call after the attacker had fled. The other members of the Bridge crew appear to simply have fallen where they were, as if they did not even have time to fight for their lives before being struck down.

The First Officer's chair is empty, but Spock sees a uniform sleeve with three braids protruding from the space behind the captain's chair, and upon closer inspection adds the First to the list of the deceased. The helmsman's and navigator's chairs are both empty (the navigation console has been taken apart, it appears in an attempt to rewire and bypass the dead navigation circuits), but the remaining stations each hold a crewman slumped over his console, all with the same lifeless coloration of tissue and dry skin.

Spock assigns his Medical team of two to begin biohazard tests upon the victims, while he sends Security back to help with the search and rescue of survivors, still indicated deep within the bowels of the ship. He then moves to the library console, finds nothing in the research logs to indicate what might have happened aboard, and is about to move to the captain's chair to retrieve the ship's logs when something thuds loudly against the starboard turbolift door. Spock and his team had come through the Jefferies tubes as a safety precaution, not knowing whether or not an enemy might still be lingering in the systems. Optimistic that he has found a survivor but still wary of a trap, Spock moves to the control panel next to the door and triggers the emergency door-open, as the controls are still inoperative.

He then is forced to duck as a phaser beam nearly takes his head off, and in the ensuing adrenaline rush belatedly adds a note to self for his next (hopefully far distant) command mission; to never dismiss security without securing a perimeter. His Medical team is behind him in an instant, though they are not needed. His attacker is disarmed with one Vulcan-quick reflex, and Spock exhales in relief as he sees a single and dotted row of braid on the scarlet sleeve.

"Report, Lieutenant," he barks in a clear, stern tone; and the command has the desired effect. The young man snaps out of his somewhat frenzied reactions into some semblance of military attention, and for the first time appears to actually see them. A medical tricorder whirrs off to Spock's left, but he keeps his eyes locked on the lieutenant, who is – to his credit, Spock admits with respect – carefully taking in his biohazard suit and peering below the bulky sleeves to see the Starfleet Science blue underneath.

"Lieutenant James Kirk, sir," the young man manages finally, scraping both hands – noticeably trembling – roughly over his eyes. "Alpha-shift navigator, recently promoted from Engineering. Someone heard our distress call, then."

"I am Lieutenant-Commander Spock, of the U.S.S. Enterprise," Spock returns in kind, though his mind is already leaps ahead, wondering how this man survived the massacre on the Bridge and to their knowledge thus far, no one else did. It is more than a little suspicious. "Lieutenant, report. We received only an automated distress beacon and very little particulars of the events leading up to it."

Kirk gives him a look which is equal parts irritated, incredulous, and exhausted. "You were lucky to get that much, with the comms board fried like it was," he retorts with less energy than attitude. "It was all I could do to get the automated life support systems functioning again, and the auto-pilot still isn't working no matter what I jury-rig in this thing. Nearly all our Engineering officers were killed and the Medical techs have had their hands full with survivors."

Spock shoots the nearest Medical technician a look, and she nods and darts to the Life Support console to verify that the lieutenant's so-called 'jury-rigging' is still keeping life support systems functioning; if they are in danger of collapse then they will need to begin evacuation procedures to the Enterprise soon. He turns his attention back to the young human, who is now leaning against the nearest console for support, quite pale and shaking.

"Are you in need of medical attention, Mr. Kirk?" he inquires coolly, still not having satisfied his suspicions of how this man survived when the senior command crew did not.

"That's an affirmative, sir," Price, his other medical technician, says curtly, moving the tricorder over the young man's body once more. "Severe hemoglobin and nutrient depletion, and when did you sleep last, Lieutenant?"

Kirk favors the nurse with a truly impressive glare. "Try watching your captain and command crew die inches from you, and see how well you sleep for the next few days." There is no real malice in the words, only a deep sense of what Spock picks up on as grief, regret…and guilt.

"What happened on this Bridge, Lieutenant?"

Kirk straightens up into a loose attempt at attention. "I don't know, sir."

Spock's eyebrow inches upward. "I find that difficult to believe, Mr. Kirk."

"And I'm finding it difficult to remain upright, Lieutenant-Commander, but we don't always get what we want, now do we?" Kirk fires back at him, eyes boring straight into Spock's head.

He blinks in surprise at the blatant insubordination, yet something in the young man's look appeals to him, somewhere on a less conscious level. The human is obviously in shock, ill, and no doubt traumatized from the recent massacre, as humans have no way of dealing with such things as Vulcans do. He is about to lessen his tone, when Kirk shakes his head and slumps half-against the wall.

"That was out of line, sir, and I apologize. But I honestly don't know what happened, Commander," he says quietly, eyes locked on the floor a few inches from Captain Garrovick's still body. "It didn't have a definite form, it was in a non-matter state, and whatever it was, it killed instantly. Our phasers had absolutely no effect on it. When it attacked the Captain, everything devolved into total chaos in less than ten seconds. I and Peterson –"

"We are compiling a survivor's list, Lieutenant. Rank and name?"

"Jacob, Jacob Peterson…Ensign, First-Class. He's down in Engineering, I think, trying to help with repairs." Kirk glances up, and at Spock's nod continues. "He's just a kid, Peterson, straight out of the Academy and on his first year in space of any kind, much less deep space. He was training at the helm with me – I dragged him and one of the Library Sciences ensigns over to the Jefferies tube and shoved them in before…I guess I collapsed on top of the entrance, I don't really remember. So yes, I suppose you can put in your report that the cowards who run away are the ones who survive," the young man finishes bitterly, rubbing a shaking hand across his eyes.

"Self-preservation against impossible odds is not cowardice, nor is it dereliction of duty to put the life of the trainees for whom you were responsible before your own," Spock answers readily, for by now something tells him that this young man is telling the truth, and that he requires mental comfort almost more than medical attention.

Kirk's eyes flicker up to his, and something like gratitude fills them before he glances back toward the body of the captain. "Captain Garrovick was my mentor, Commander," he whispers brokenly. "There was nothing we could do – nothing I could do. That much I swear. I did what I could? There just wasn't time to save anyone."

Spock privately thinks the human sounds more like he is trying to convince himself than the boarding party, but he has the grace to not comment upon the matter.

"Mr. Kirk, you will be required later for a full report," he says, not unkindly. "But only after you receive the necessary medical attention and counseling you require."

The young lieutenant nods almost mechanically, and turns to precede Ensign Price into the Jefferies tube.

"Ensign," Spock finds himself saying, as the nurse bends to enter the narrow passageway himself.

The nurse glances up from his tricorder. "Aye, sir?"

Spock glances around him again at the scene of death, and marvels that even three crewmen survived what looks to be an almost total massacre of a crew trapped with a killer in a small enclosed area. Three crewmen, two of them due to the quick action of the only man on the Bridge not apparently paralyzed by fear to the point of singular self-preservation. Very few Vulcans he knows would risk precious seconds in such chaos to save the young and inexperienced; to see a human do so restores some of his faith in the race as a whole. And for some odd reason, deep down inside in that strangely secluded place he hides his half-human side, some small voice tells him to be grateful that this young lieutenant has survived what was intended to be a total massacre.

"Take care of him, Ensign," he says quietly, and turns back to compiling his report.

Chapter Text

IV.

Spock of Vulcan has not yet fully assimilated the presence of a new being into his limited circle of acquaintances.

This is partly due to the fact that, though he oddly feels like he knows this man from somewhere, he has in actual fact only been serving under Captain Kirk for a little over four months. It is also due in part, no doubt, to the fact that every time Spock believes he has fully discovered just what drives this human, just who he truly is, Kirk goes and does something which upsets the entire equation and throws Spock's logically ordered mind into total imbalance once again.

He has never in his life met someone so distracting to his well-ordered senses, mind, and way of life. Kirk is that one hairline fracture in a finely-tuned tricorder screen, capable of driving the most logical of minds to madness. How Spock is supposed to find a way to work with the man, after eleven years of an amicably distant relationship with his previous captain, is a very good question, and one whose answer promises to be far different than Captain Pike's reign aboard has previously produced.

And to make matters worse? Spock finds that James Kirk's frustratingly innate ability to distract him to be…not entirely unwelcome.

He truly has lost the war, with not a single shot having been fired.

Captain Kirk is the pleasant antithesis of Captain Pike, who had been a brilliant, but ultimately withdrawn and aloof, commander, who believed in leaving his crew to their own expert devices and spending his free time with the very few people in his circle of close acquaintances. It had been a quite successful working relationship between Pike and his officers; and to have that atmosphere of cordial solitude upended with so little effort by their new captain has completely thrown Spock off his game.

Kirk appears to be an amiable enough commander: gregarious, sociable, and almost unreasonably charming, as evidenced by his crew's nearly overnight infatuation with the man. Spock is, of course, immune to such human charisma, although he has discovered his own reactions to the captain to be indulgent, more amused than annoyed than he would be toward any other human of his acquaintance.

He has no one to turn to, no mentor from whom to request advice, to help explain this phenomenon. No Vulcan would deign to answer such an inquiry, and he well knows his mother would be of little to no assistance in helping him understand how a human can project such power without psychic aid; and yet he knows better than any crewman aboard, that Kirk is completely and totally psi-null, an otherwise humorous flaw in such a successful personality. Kirk has little to no telepathic perception and apparently cannot be influenced by psychic force in any way, as evidenced by the fact that he has still not grasped the fact that Spock has been, gently but firmly, rebuffing his advances toward what the humans call "friendship."

No, somehow the captain has missed the point altogether. Spock's polite refusal to have dinner together in Officers' Mess was met the next morning with the man bellowing outside his door, asking if he was going to tour the Science Labs as planned this morning and would he like company. Spock's completion of paperwork three hours ahead of schedule did not earn him three hours of silent meditation; on the contrary, it gained him a far too cheerful human showing up through their adjoining bathroom with a tri-D chess board, asking if he wanted to play a game. Offering to perform a shuttle inspection during alpha shift in an effort to put some distance between them only resulted in being saddled with the same insatiably curious human, who apparently believes him to be the end-all of all things technical.

And when Spock resorts to hiding in out-of-the-way laboratories and computer rooms in an effort to remain apart from the small dynamo of human chaos which seems to be stalking him, he forgets that he is attempting to do from the only human – the only being – who received both a warning and a citation from Starfleet Command for re-programming a supposedly invincible computer in order to conquer a test long thought unbeatable.

Why did he ever think himself to be more able to withstand such a man?

Somehow, from the moment his new captain visited his quarters for the first time, exclaiming in surprise at the increased gravity and falling flat on his face in front of his new Science Officer, Spock has found himself curiously unable to resist the immoveable force which is Captain James Tiberius Kirk.

It must be the scientist within him that is subtly attracted to such an ever-changing presence; no doubt it is simply the allure of an unknown and therefore radical force in the constant world of cold, precise science.

Quite logical, really.

Kirk continues to surprise him at every turn, as if the man is making it his singular goal in life to destroy every logical construct Spock has ever formed regarding the human race as a whole. Spock tolerates this with as much equanimity as he can muster, until one day when a simple act leaves him nearly speechless with surprise.

They are checking in with one of the newer Federation members, the inhabitants of a planet simply called Beta 141-5 until the Federation can translate a Standard equivalent of the name from the barely-written language of its natives. Their universal translators ensure that they can communicate with no difficulty verbally, and it is their first mission of this kind since they left Terra four weeks ago, after recuperating from that disaster of a shakedown cruise.

Spock is settling slowly into his role as dual First and Chief Science Officer, at Kirk's own request, and he is the logical choice to lead a landing party of this sort. However, it does not surprise him by now that the captain insists upon leading the party himself. Spock suspects this will become the pattern for the duration of their five-year mission, and that in another few decades there will be new regulations on the books due solely to this human's ridiculous penchant for, as they say, getting his hands dirty.

But it is not for him to question his commander, and so the two of them and a diplomatic/medical party take one of the new shuttles down to the capitol to check in with the High Council. They board the Copernicus at the captain's insistence, and Spock is forced to agree with the human in that their transporters have been tested multiple times but their shuttles have not yet; and what better time to do so than on a non-urgent, peaceful mission? He is surprised once again when the captain takes the navigation controls himself, but slips easily into his role as co-pilot while they run through pre-flight checklists.

The look on the human's face as they prepare to take off is so utterly gleeful that Spock's eyebrows incline of their own accord.

"Dare I presume, Captain, that your insistence upon taking one of the refurbished shuttlecrafts today was not entirely due to a concern for its in-flight performance?" he inquires dryly.

Kirk's eyes glint in the starlight-reflection as the shuttle bay decompressurizes and they lift off. "You caught me, I'm afraid, Mr. Spock," he answers easily, grinning sideways at his co-pilot. "I've been wanting to fly one of these things for months."

Ten minutes later, when the captain easily maneuvers them in an increasingly tight spiral through some intense downdrafts in the upper stratosphere, he hears the unmistakable sounds of an unfortunate crewman's gag reflex vocalizing his preference to have taken the transporter. Spock can only hope that he never finds himself in any vehicle smaller than a shuttle with this human at the helm.

-0-

Having only been inducted into the Federation shortly before the Enterprise left on her shakedown, there has been no noticeable Federation presence in this sector as of yet, and so their arrival has been heralded with much excitement, or so said their pre-landing briefing.

And it looks to be so, for there is a smallish crowd gathered when they emerge from the Copernicus, the captain already bounding down the shuttle's four steps before the magnetic seals have even finished detaching. Spock refrains from expressing exasperation with the human, feeling oddly like he is attempting to control a small but extremely enthusiastic canine, and merely follows close at his captain's heels.

The natives are a humanoid race, their primary differences being in their internal physiology and in various atypical-to-human shades of hair and eye coloring. Having only just broken the warp barrier, they are eager to learn and even more eager to meet others like them in the universe; both traits which Spock highly respects. He therefore steels himself for the inevitable onrush of inquisitive minds and most likely physical touches (their briefing mentioned that they are a very tactile species) which will no doubt shortly ensue during formal and informal greetings. It is an unfortunate but necessary part of First Contacts.

Captain Kirk is already being vigorously shaken by both hands by the smiling woman who apparently is the High Councilor, if Spock reads the symbolism on her jewelry correctly.

"We are so pleased you have come, Captain!" Her voice is pleasant, with a lyrical quality to it that makes Spock suspect music plays a large part in their cultural heritage. The words are accompanied by a quick kiss to the check, still a greeting in many humanoid cultures. "We welcome you and your crew to --" The universal translator stutters with a chirp, which Spock guesses represents the closest Standard approximation to the native word for the capital city, or possibly the planet itself.

"We are in turn pleased to have been given the honor of meeting you and your people, Councilor," Kirk returns, smiling in response. "You will forgive, I hope, our inability to properly pronounce the name of your beautiful city?"

The Councilor merely laughs, still holding the captain's hands. "Of course, Captain Kirk. There will be no offense taken. And this is your crew?" Soft golden eyes flicker to the small group standing just behind their leader, and Kirk nods, smiling.

"My medical team for the day, Nurse Anya and Ensign Li. Lieutenant Rivers, whose specialty is in Universal Translation technology. He will be working with Mr. Spock on bettering communication between our species and on forming a rudimentary algorithm to begin written translation of your language for our Federation Standard data banks."

The Councilor performs the same double-handed greeting and kiss on each crewman as she walks the line with their captain, pausing to briefly ask Lieutenant Rivers a question which unaccountably makes the man blush, for what reason Spock does not know.

"And lastly, my First Officer and Chief Science Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Spock," Kirk says, as they come to the end of the line. "Mr. Spock is the foremost Vulcan scientist in Starfleet, and he will be overseeing the majority of our interactions while in orbit."

Spock braces himself, mental shields locked down severely in place, for the far too tactile greeting of the planet's High Councilor – but to his surprise, Kirk shifts his weight just slightly so that he is standing partly between the woman and his second-in-command.

"Mr. Spock is a Vulcan, whose diverse culture is one of many respected and embraced by the Federation," the captain says without skipping a beat, in the same diplomatically pleasant tone. "His people are touch-telepaths, and therefore refrain from casual physical touch. Mr. Spock, may I present the High Councilor, with whom you will be communicating regarding the categorization of their scientific data bank."

Spock barely pulls himself out of his total shock in time to return the polite bow which the Councilor offers him in lieu of the more tactile greeting. "It is a pleasure to meet a new species, Mr. Spock," she offers with a smile, completely unoffended. "I look forward to collaborating together on our scientific achievements."

"The pleasure is ours, Madam Councilor," he answers, finally finding his voice again, and to his ears at least the universal translator had added the correct syllables to indicate added respect to the title; a compensation for avoiding the physical greeting. "We will learn much from such a peaceable culture as your own."

A few more moments of pleasantries, and they leave their landing party in the safe hands of the Councilor and her people. Anya, Li, and Rivers will be staying on the planet in the scientific facilities, and while Spock is returning with the captain to the Enterprise for an initial report to Starfleet, he will shortly beam back with a larger landing party to begin work on data categorization and translation.

It is not until the captain has once again lurched the shuttle sickeningly through the upper atmosphere and into the quieter vacuum of space, that Spock feels he can voice what still shocks him to his core.

Oddly enough (or perhaps not odd at all, given who this unusual human is), Kirk beats him to it, setting the re-docking controls on auto-pilot and then spinning his chair slightly toward his First, boot-toes squeaking on the new durasteel. "Well, spit it out, Commander. I daresay as a Vulcan you don't feel surprise very often, since it's plain on your face right now."

"I am…surprised, Captain." It is a reaction to a stimulus, not an emotion, and therefore permitted, though he does not bother to explain the difference, not to this human.

"And what have I done to warrant such an unusual reaction from a Vulcan, Mr. Spock?" The tone is light, teasing – Spock can finally identify the nuance, after months in this man's company.

"On the planet, sir. You prevented the High Councilor from delivering to me the standard diplomatic greeting in such circumstances."

Kirk raises a sandy eyebrow, appearing genuinely puzzled. "Of course I did. It's a completely inappropriate greeting for a touch-telepathic species. Why does this surprise you?"

Spock glances down at the controls, though his fingers make no move to change them.

The creak of shifting plasticene draws his attention back to his captain, who is now leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, frowning. "Are you saying this has never happened before, Mr. Spock?"

"Has what, sir?"

Kirk's voice has risen, a note of what sounds like genuine anger tingeing it. "Are you saying that in eleven years of Starfleet service, you have been expected to participate in alien rituals on landing parties, without any concession to your Vulcan way of life?"

"I have rarely been part of non-scientific landing parties, sir, and so the situation has rarely –"

"That was not an answer to my question, Commander." A note of steel threads through the voice now. "Answer it."

Spock glances back to the controls once more, a futile effort to avoid that piercing gaze. "Affirmative, sir."

A huff of breath as the captain leans back forcefully in his chair, glaring at the screen in front of him as if it is solely responsible for his irritation. "That is inexcusable, Spock."

"Sir, a core value of diplomacy is that of compromise –"

"Disregarding someone's cultural beliefs over a trivial difference of – of gesture, or greeting, is not compromising, it is a violation of civil rights!" Kirk's eyes flash angrily his direction. "When the Federation lands on planets whose natives communicate through telepathy, humans are not forced to submit to a telepathic probe when that is the standard form of greeting on that planet!"

"Nor should they," Spock interjects mildly.

"That's the point!"

"I do not see it, sir."

There is a loud clump as the captain's boots thud down to the ground, as he turns once more in the revolving chair to face his First. "I've long held that Starfleet needs a lesson on what bigotry and selectivism truly are, Commander," he says quietly, fire still burning in his eyes but no longer infusing his tone. "There are far too many all-human starships out there, and we both know that."

"Sir, there are all-Vulcan ships, and all-non-human ones as well, and for very good reasons; primarily that a starship's environment cannot be adapted to non-human species for extended periods of time, such as five years. Most species are not meant to be in deep space for that long, and to make adaptations to a starship in order to accommodate that would be far more time- and funds-consuming than they would be worth."

"And that makes it okay?"

Spock has no answer; up until now, no one has even asked this question.

"I just…" Kirk shakes his head, running a hand uneasily through his hair. "I can't believe you've been subjected to something like that on every landing party you've gone on."

Spock studies a smudge on the gleaming durasteel floor. "I was given to understand, Captain, that one, how do you humans say it. Puts up with, such things? For the sake of diplomacy, and the needs of the many. I am certain you yourself have been forced to endure things on landing parties which were not entirely voluntary."

"Spock, making myself look a reptilian species in the eyes despite a fear of snakes, is compromising for the sake of diplomacy," Kirk retorts dryly. "Having someone violate my core set of cultural beliefs and my physiology as a different species is not compromising, it is a violation of bodily autonomy. And it is highly disrespecting of both your culture and your office."

Spock chances a glance up, and sees no pity in the man's expression, only firm resolve. "You are the first human I have met who has vocalized that particular opinion, sir."

"Are you telling me that's what the Academy is teaching in those non-human diplomacy classes? That you're expected to set aside your own species' cultural differences if it disrupts the well-worded script of a landing party?"

Spock flinches, barely discernibly, but it is enough for this ridiculously perceptive human.

"You can't be serious!"

"Sir, the diplomatic premise is certainly reasonable, indeed logical –"

"Screw your logic, Commander! Er…I apologize for the emotional outburst, Mr. Spock, but there is never an excuse for permitting the majority to decide the minority's differences are to be overlooked instead of equally acknowledged, even celebrated. What are we teaching our officers!"

Spock's lips twitch suspiciously, and for the first time something warms him deep inside – something a human did, and that strange sensation is something he had never thought to feel.

"For one, we are apparently teaching them to overshoot their re-docking targets," he ventures mildly, indicating the Enterprise now disappearing over their port bow.

Kirk swivels back to the controls with a curse and much muttering about memorandums to Starfleet Academy, fingers flying to disengage the safety measures which had swung them around in a second approach run rather than auto-dock without verbal confirmation.

Spock merely leans back in his chair, content to watch this strange young human work. And if that day stands out in his mind for decades to come, well. Surely the novelty of the incident renders it worthy of a place even in a Vulcan's memory.

Chapter Text

III.

The Vulcan Way teaches that all beings are equals; all life is to be protected, all curiosity given equal opportunities to learn, all minds respected alike.

Spock of Vulcan has found that while this is true, most Vulcans quite readily believe that there do exist some life-forms more worthy of respect than others. However, those of his people who believe that among that number there exist non-Vulcan life-forms, outworlders – those are admittedly quite few indeed. It is this lack of narrow-mindedness which enabled him to so easily adapt into a nearly all-human starship, and that exact narrow-mindedness is why most Vulcans in Starfleet choose to serve aboard nearly all-Vulcan starships.

He is unhampered by such strictures, and as such does not grapple with the hostile idea that there might exist a non-Vulcan mind with the strength to rival his own.

Also, to deny that which exists is not logical; and as he has encountered such a mind (to use the human metaphor, has been bowled over by it) multiple times since the Enterprise's shakedown cruise it would be foolish to waste time or energy contemplating the ramifications of this non-Vulcan way of thinking.

Instead, he finds that he can only feel a deep sense of something akin to awe, when confronted with the passionately tranquil study in contradiction which is James Kirk's mind.

Humans have no set methods of dealing with any type of mental trauma as Vulcans do. Spock has seen the chaos which is wreaked in their lives by grief and loss, and how they cannot assimilate such as a Vulcan would with any sort of rapidity or even emotional healing. They cannot manage pain, mental or physical, as a Vulcan can through precise mental control. They have no safety measures in place against telepathic attack, nor are they able to heal the damage after such a violation has been committed. They cannot truly control their fear, their anger, their jealousy – nothing; these humans have no method but their own self-will to control these emotions that rule their lives so chaotically. In that sense, they are stronger than his own species, who has an entire societal stricture built upon methods by which to control these things. One does not need to rely on one’s own willpower, when there are easier methods to do so.

Spock truly and honestly does not know how they manage to survive; he has all the abilities of a Vulcan, all the control and all the mental shielding and training – and he still does not understand how a human can even function when under the kind of pain one would feel without Vulcan mental techniques.

He has watched in disbelief as humans put aside immense loss in order to fulfill their duties, overcome their worst fears in order to save lives, seen dying men reassure others through pain well above human tolerance, been part of rescue operations where crewmen went without proper nutritional or sleep breaks without a word of protest – none of which, the human mind and body is innately equipped to handle as a Vulcan's is.

Humans are a far stronger race than many in the galaxy give them credit for being; and his captain, James Tiberius Kirk, is one such extraordinary human.

Spock has rarely met a human so intent upon breaking down all cultural barriers left, right, and center with anyone and everyone he comes across – and certainly never, has Spock met anyone who took even the slightest effort to do so with a Vulcan. Captain Kirk is one of the most intriguing humans he has ever met, and not simply due to the fact that the man is like a gravitational well, drawing in everyone he meets until they realize too late there is no escaping the event horizon of his influence.

Kirk is also one of the strongest humans Spock has ever seen.

Not physically, though there is that as well; Jim can hold his own in a brawl better than most humans his size due to a comprehensive knowledge of various cultures' martial arts and a considerable penchant toward what most cultures consider dirty street tactics. The man simply does not know when to give up, for good or ill, and it has served him well over the years.

But it is the man's mind that so fascinates Spock more than anything. He has never seen a human who thinks quite like this one; within a year, he no longer wonders why the Federation promoted Kirk as youngest starship captain in history. Kirk's thought processes are creative, intuitive – logical, when necessary, but taking that extra step, sometimes leap, which no Vulcan could possibly ever do, of imagination and instinct which soon characterizes their missions one after the other. Spock soon learns that is partly why they slot neatly into place as a perfect command team; when presented with complete facts and the logical extrapolation, Kirk is able to take that and make a leap of brilliant intuition which in turn usually proves to be their key to success. This human can bluff his way out of nearly any situation, a skill to be lauded as no Vulcan could ever perfect it; Spock balances that by foreseeing any and all possibilities where that skill might be necessary and preparing accordingly.

It is an odd relationship, but it obviously works incredibly well. Jim Kirk is by far the strongest human Spock has ever met, and not just strategically, tactically: emotionally, as well. Very few starship commanders have encountered the painful obstacles his captain did even in the first eighteen months of their five-year mission, much less the years since. And despite them all, Kirk has handled them with a strength of mind which Spock does not understand. A Vulcan would be able to assimilate such things with ease and remain functional, but a mere human? Spock does not understand it, but he respects it.

However, even the strongest of beings cannot always remain so, and this unfortunately-timed mission so soon after one which would have grounded a lesser man, may prove to be Kirk's breaking point.

The environment is one with which Spock is totally unfamiliar, as there has never been reason nor opportunity to enter such a place. Given the advancements of modern medicine, large medical facilities which deal with the few remaining deadly ailments known to science are few in the more heavily settled star systems, and Spock has never before had reason to visit such a facility even for scientific purposes.

However, this particular facility comprises three-quarters of the entirety of Starbase Alpha Centauri VII, and they have been specifically rerouted to it by the Public Relations division of Starfleet for a very specific purpose, one which has since triggered every mental alarm both he and the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer possess regarding the health and mental state of their captain.

It has been barely three weeks since Spock led a small covert operations party to methodically tear apart an off-the-books Orion prison on a deserted moon, in a last-ditch, desperate attempt to locate and rescue their captain, who had been abducted while on shore leave without sufficient guards. It had taken them nearly six weeks to trace the slave traffickers across the galaxy, and it was only thanks to Kirk's political value as a hostage that they did not find the man in worse condition than he was. (1)

However, during those weeks of captivity, the captain had been completely deprived of sight and sound, by method of what is considered in Federation medical circles to be barbaric medical technology, illegal on most Federation planets. Neural sense inhibitors, which attach behind the ears of the patient (victim, in this case, and Spock still cannot think about the matter without feeling a distinctly unVulcan fury) to block certain neural inputs to the brain. Kirk has yet to speak to him about what else was done during that time, but McCoy believes there was a pain response programmed into the inhibitors to prevent speaking as well, and that they certainly were not installed in a proper medical facility.

They had successfully retrieved their captain with minimal casualty and even more minimal political repercussion, in thanks mostly to Spock's diplomacy and some well-doctored (pun intended) reports to Starfleet Command Central from the Enterprise's medical and psychological staff. A series of delicate neural surgeries successfully removed the implants, sight first and a few days later, after the captain's senses had had time to adjust, his hearing. Spock was aware through observation more than any overt signals, that the human was most likely suffering from touch deprivation as well, simply because Kirk was such a tactile human as a general rule and that easy physical camaraderie was highly conspicuous in its absence those first weeks back aboard.

However, a week of light duty later, James T. Kirk swaggered back onto his Bridge with all his usual confidence, amid pleased looks and grins from his normal alpha shift Bridge crew. The captain continued to perform to his usual standard, toured his ship to check up on all systems which had been modified since his disappearance two months before, and to all appearances was his usual, almost ridiculously charming self.

Spock alone saw the monitor reports, which indicated Kirk had begun sleeping with the lights at seventy percent in his cabin; only Spock, being a touch-telepath, noticed the conspicuous increase of distance by at least two-point-three centimeters between them while walking through the corridors; only he saw the occasional harsh lines of pain creasing around the human's eyes when the Officers' Mess grew too loud, only he noticed the imperceptible hesitation before the man began to reply to queries on the Bridge – and only he was present when the captain followed him into Sickbay one evening, caught sight of a minor surgical procedure taking place in the glassed-in operating room, and promptly turned as pale as death before fleeing the ward entirely. Before ten minutes had passed, Spock found that his captain had disappeared completely off the ship's sensors; Jim had disabled his bio-signature recognition in what Spock knew was a crystal-clear command to his First to be left alone.

How foolish both he and Dr. McCoy had been, to think that there would be no serious psychological repercussions from the captain's imprisonment and torture.

The isolated Sickbay incident Spock might have been able to ignore – but for the mission directive received just six hours later from Starfleet Command, the one upon which they are now embarking.

The Enterprise is an exploratory vessel: her crew, primarily scientists and researchers with military training. Nonetheless, as the most prominent starship in the galaxy, and having the most famous command team in said galaxy, the Enterprise occasionally has been called upon in the last four-odd years to perform a less scientific duty. Past incidents have included ferrying delegates to various peace conferences, such as the all-important Babel treaty discussion, as well as the occasional diplomatic attaché or scientist being transported on their way to various outposts. These more civilian missions are not greatly anticipated by the crew or her captain, because of their disruption to starship routine and due to the sometimes disquieting passengers involved.

But occasionally, they are called upon for something even more out of the ordinary for civilian or Federation – and this mission is one such instance. The United Federation of Planets has for decades partnered with its various members in efforts other than simply military or diplomatic, and as such alliances demand, certain constitution-class starships are occasionally called upon to merely show a presence when Federation endorsement is required. The Enterprise has been chosen for this particular mission, because it was specifically requested by the "client" involved.

"It is highly irregular, sir," is his single observation, for in truth the mission is a relatively simple one, and one whose goal is highly laudable.

"It is, Mr. Spock, but these requests are extremely rare, and therefore should be treated with dignity and every effort to accommodate," the captain answers, smiling slightly as the transmission ends. "It is certainly a worthy cause."

"You are accepting the request, then."

"I am. You are not required to attend, Commander, and yet I am sure your presence will only add to the…excitement," Kirk adds slyly, as he makes notes on a PADD for the briefing later.

Spock refrains from commenting, for they both know he will be accompanying the captain on this peculiar mission – primarily because if Jim had such a reaction to their own Sickbay, in completely familiar surroundings, Spock is not imprudent enough to hope that he will be entirely unaffected by such a large medical facility. (One sharp look from Kirk regarding his pointed silence is all it takes for that silence to remain; and despite the current tension they are not so unattuned that he would be foolish enough to voice such an observation.)

Now, an hour later, Spock remains behind after the official briefing – the captain had curtly dismissed them all even as he hurried from the room – after receiving a communicative nod from their CMO.

"You cannot certify him medically unfit to perform this particular mission, Doctor; as a diplomatic and charitable representative, non-compliance is simply not permissible," he begins, seeing the worried scowl beginning to form on the human's expressive face.

"No, I can't, and he'd court-martial me for even thinking about it," the doctor replies wearily, clicking the PADD's mission brief closed and setting the instrument on the table. "Y'know how he is with kids."

He does indeed know, as he has on multiple occasions observed this particular, quite fascinating, part of the captain's nature. Kirk would have made a fine parent had he the opportunity, although Spock knows most Vulcans would disagree, after the havoc wreaked in a Vulcan school they had visited last year during the 'Fleet's massive recruitment campaign. Spock still cringes at the remembrance, though the youngling Vulcans had merely regarded the outworlder and his completely illogical violation of about fifteen Vulcan doctrines with wide-eyed fascination.

But he pulls his thoughts back to the present, and their very present problem. The mission from the Federation is a uniquely charitable assignment, an unusual request for their particular branch of Starfleet but nonetheless equally important as an exploratory mission. The Federation has been contacted by an intra-galactic charitable organization which caters to the critically or terminally ill, primarily adolescents, who are afflicted with the few remaining serious diseases and ailments in their civilized worlds. Though many diseases and conditions which killed countless beings in decades past have now been eradicated through modern technology and medical discovery, there still exist far too many pockets of the galaxy where funds are simply not sufficient to entirely eradicate such things. It is an ever-growing need, and all of the scientific branches of Starfleet anticipate the day when such terrible scenarios will be things of the past.

Until then, there do still exist far too many beings of many species who fight what become lifelong battles against disease and rare mutations or abnormalities, which have been largely eradicated elsewhere. The charity which has organized this mission caters specifically to the young of all species, who are undergoing treatment for such conditions in the few specialized adolescent medical centers across the galaxy.

Apparently, one such child's greatest wish is to meet the captain of the 'Fleet's most famous starship – and anyone who knows Captain Kirk knows that this is actually one civilian mission he will wholeheartedly enjoy. Under other circumstances, at another time, Spock knows the captain would be beside himself with glee at the idea of making a child's dream come true; but the timing of this mission is most unfortunate.

Their captain is still pretending to be totally recovered from six weeks of captivity at the hands of Orion slave traders – who apparently utilized a very primitive medical operation to install the technology that would keep Kirk docile from lack of sensory input.

"Sensory deprivation is a classic torture technique, as every Starfleet officer knows, Mr. Spock," is McCoy's troubled response now, as they sit in the briefing room to discuss, strictly off-the-medical-record, the captain's reaction to Sickbay earlier this morning and the mission at hand. "I'm not surprised…well, I am, but only that it's taken him this long to crack. You know how he is, and how well he can fool psych evals, mine or anyone else's. I had no good excuse not to return him to duty, and I’ve had none good enough to pull him off it since."

"I do indeed, Doctor. That does not negate the fact that this mission could prove disastrous for his state of mind."

"And what, exactly, do you think should be done, Mr. Spock?" McCoy leaned back in his chair, hands scrubbing wearily across his face. "You know better than I do that forcing him to confront what we and a psychological scan can't prove, won't do any more good than ignoring the problem or canceling the mission. You know what a fit he'd pitch if I suggested he wasn't mentally capable to continue?"

"I do, Doctor, and he is by no means incapable of command; neither is there evidence to suggest he is compromised to the point of affecting the performance of his duties."

"I know that," the physician grumbles, shoving his chair back from the table and standing. It rocks precariously on its base, and Spock raises an inquiring eyebrow. "I just want to make sure you keep an eye on him when you get there, Spock. Is that so much to ask?"

"Not at all, Doctor," he answers easily, following the physician into the corridor, where they prepare to go their separate ways. "Your advice is as superfluous as it is obvious."

The rounded corner of a data-PADD pokes him sharply between the shoulder-blades. "Turn that energy into fixing Jim, not sniping at me, and we'll call it even, Commander," McCoy directs over his shoulder. "I'm counting on you, Spock."

Spock thinks he finally understands the expression of human sarcasm he has heard his Science lieutenants employ: No pressure.


A year is a scarcely notable period of time in a Vulcan's life-span; and yet, in these simple four of such, Spock's perception of humanity has been upended, singlehandedly and with perfected skill, by the human who now walks beside him through the sparkling transparent aluminium doors of the medical facility. In these short forty-eight months Jim Kirk has broken down more metaphorical Vulcan walls than any other being of Spock's acquaintance has in his entire lifetime thus far; a considerable feat for any entity, and much less for a mere human.

Spock is still somewhat reeling from the fact that his perfect eidetic memory cannot quite figure out when exactly he began caring about this particular human; but to ignore a fact is not logical, and care he does. It is not pleasant, it is not Vulcan – but it is unfortunately true, and it must be acted upon. Respect is merely a reaction to a stimulus, after all, and that much he can admit to without Vulcan censure; for only the strongest of humans – of any species – could face the events of today so soon after a trauma such as the captain experienced recently, and with such valiant equanimity to all but the closest of observers.

The inside of the stately medical facility greets them with a rush of warm, humid air, a drastic change from the dry chill of the Starbase's terraformed environment. Spock is aware that most species, not just his own, take comfort from warmth; but the heat seems to have no effect on the captain's state of mind. Jim has always been and remains the perfect diplomat, but Spock can see the human's stiffness only increases as they pass through the ornate double doors into the main entrance hall, escorted by officials from Starfleet's PR department until they are turned over to the facility's chief director. Spock can clearly sense the mounting tension, both physical and mental, even without physical contact; for the captain still, consciously or unconsciously, refuses all forms of touch (a clear indication in itself of his still disturbed state of mind, as Kirk is an extremely tactile human).

Ordinarily, under such circumstances, either he or their Chief Medical Officer would be able to diffuse said tension by one method or another, their silently mutual method of choice being a verbal sparring match; but now, hampered by solitude and the volatile and emotional nature of the unknown, Spock is helpless to do so. He can only utilize skillful diplomacy, his one remaining weapon, to make this visit as unproblematic as possible.

"We appreciate your rapid response in working with the Wish Foundation, Captain Kirk," the facility's chief director, a weary-looking Terran, says as they enter a spacious turbolift. Director Cabarra, Spock recalls the name from their briefing, has been in charge of this facility for over three decades, after losing an only daughter twenty-five years ago to choriocytosis. He is a good man, according to Dr. McCoy, which is high endorsement indeed. "We don't often get such unusual requests from children this young. Usually they want to meet a holovid or sports star, or spend a day as a – a ballerina or something."

Kirk's eyes light up for the first time in days. "You've got an aspiring 'Fleet cadet, then?"

Cabarra chuckles. "Higher even than that, Kirk. Kid wants to beat your record to starship captain, and break a few stereotypes about female captains while she's at it. Bound and determined that once she's out of here she's gonna enroll in an advanced prep academy, and nobody's going to convince her otherwise."

The turbolift slows around a sharply-angled corner, indicating they are approaching the pediatric wing. "What is the child's illness, Director?" Spock asks quietly.

"A very rare form of myeloma," Cabarra replies with a sigh, pinching his forehead. "About one in ten thousand humanoids are resistant to the universal cure for cancer as you most likely know, Commander, and this poor kid is not only resistant but already had a damaged immune system due to being exposed to high levels of radiation during the birthing process.

"Her family comes from a planet in the Delos system which is barely into warp civilization and as a result is still in the process of cleaning up their atmosphere from residual radioactivity left from nuclear wars. Because of all this, we're having an extremely hard time treating the myeloma, getting her cells to reproduce plasma, and even getting her immune system to just function like a child's needs to. Five years old, and already having so many health problems…I was just speaking with your Doctor McCoy, Captain, about what a crying shame it is, that even our advanced medicine still hasn't found a way to eradicate every medical condition in the galaxy yet."

The lift begins to slow, the computerized voice cheerfully announcing their destination and instructions. Approaching pediatric wing, isolation section B. Iso-decon procedures will be implemented upon disembarking.

"It was an unfortunate series of events that have culminated in a very sick little girl with basically no immune system. And nothing is worse for a child than having to keep them in isolation, you know? Humans, especially kids – they need people around. Touch, hearing, all those sensory perceptions, their development is so important at that age. I hate keeping a child deprived of that for a good part of the time, no matter how brave they are…"

The turbolift doors open onto a brightly-lit corridor, lined with sparkling tinted windows and walls hung with multicolored paintings. Cabarra exits, still talking, and as a result completely misses the fact that his primary guest is still frozen within the lift, staring after him, having paled considerably after hearing the description of the isolation ward – one which most likely hit far too close to home.

Spock closes his eyes for a moment, as this is even worse than he had thought. "Captain –"

"Don't." The order is snapped like a diamond shard through glass, and he in turn is left staring as his captain stalks angrily out of the lift after the facility director.

Well, Anger is at least progress from Denial.

He should perhaps be grateful that at least there has been progress made, as he has certainly been helpless so far to provoke even that much of a response?


The child is a sweet-tempered, spirited youngling of five years, a tiny offspring of the Delosian race, who resemble Terrans in most physical features save for bright, bold variations of hair and eye coloring. In this particular case, the harsh treatments for the child's cancer have unfortunately had the effect of depriving her of the former, but her eyes remain a brilliant shade of lavender, and even Spock feels a twinge of amusement at how large they grow when she sees who is standing in the doorway of her room.

A tall Delosian female whose violet features bear an obvious resemblance to the child looks up from where she sits beside the girl, helping to piece together a tri-D puzzle, and stands to greet them as Cabarra shows them in. She introduces herself as Cha'ren, the child's mother, and Spock then recalls where he recognizes the stately Delosian from; they met some years ago at a scientific conference on Delta III.

"Well, Ren'he? Come and meet our guests! I don't know how I can thank you enough for this, Captain Kirk," she says, smiling as the little one scrambles over a few cushions toward them. "I am aware this is far from your normal purview of enlisted duties."

"I assure you, Doctor Cha'ren, this is by far the most enjoyable, and most important, mission I've been assigned in a very long time," Kirk returns, with the first genuine smile Spock has seen in several days. "I believe my First Officer, Commander Spock, is more familiar with your work in the field of astrophysics than I. Commander?"

Spock returns the traditional Delosian greeting and accompanying bow with ambassadorial ease. He is about to engage in what both humans and diplomats refer to as "small talk" but is prevented from doing so by the simple fact that the child they have come to see has skidded to a stop in front of them and is staring up at them with wide eyes. The rest of her face remains half-hidden behind a plush toy vaguely resembling a Terran feline, around which both thin arms are firmly wrapped. A highly-sensitive medical bio-monitoring bracelet covers her left wrist.

"Ren'he, do you remember who you told the Wish people you wanted to see?" Cha'ren smiles as the child nods vigorously, face still half-hidden in the stuffed cat. "She is never this shy," the mother says apologetically. "Usually I can't stop her from talking anyone's ears off who visits. We don't get that many visitors, so this is a rather important event for her. I'm so sorry."

"Certainly no apologies are necessary, Doctor." Spock is rapidly growing uncomfortable with the situation, as he has never before been forced to take control of something of this nature; normally by now in a situation such as this, Captain Kirk would be long gone with the child, most likely deeply engrossed in whatever activity the youngling chose. The man adored children, and for some reason children loved him in return; he would have made an admirable father, had he the opportunity.

But now, this is, as the humans say, shaping up to be a disaster. Jim Kirk is not himself, and this was not a good idea, to ask him to perform this type of mission when the human has not yet dealt with his own demons. Spock has never seen him so awkward around a child; he is just smiling – genuinely enough, but only that – down at the little one, and encouraging her to talk from behind the stuffed animal.

The James Kirk which he knows so well, would by now be sitting at the tiny table in the corner with the child and her tea set, or eagerly rummaging through the stack of children's books on the low-slung couch.

But the Delosians are a highly perceptive people; not telepathic, and not truly empathic – but very slightly attuned toward the psionic abilities of the latter. Spock has never seen evidence of this in practice before, as they do not generally utilize the ability as a race, and indeed not all Delosians even possess the ability in any quantifiable capacity.

Evidently, however, this little one does.

Kirk startles as the child suddenly edges closer to him, and reaches out a small hand to tug insistently on the leg of his uniform. "Sit," she demands, pointing to the nearest cushion on the plush rug.

"Ren'he, our manners!"

The captain laughs, though only Spock can hear the thread of tension in it; he knows it is due to the sudden movement and grasp of the youngling rather than any childish demand.

Another tug. "Sit!"

This time, the grin is genuine, reaching to the captain's eyes. "Yes, ma'am," he replies solemnly, with a small military salute.

He sits comfortably on the cushion indicated, relaxing by degrees as the child edges closer, stuffed cat tucked under one arm. She then plops down with a small huff on the adjoining cushion, and grins up at him gap-toothlessly, not saying a word.

Spock's eyebrows incline, as while he is no expert on non-Vulcan adolescent behavior he does not believe this is quite characteristic for most energetic humanoid five-year-olds; and judging by the astonished look on the mother's face, nor is it typical for this particular one.

Cha'ren looks to him, slightly mystified. "She's not been able to keep quiet all morning long about meeting you both," she says, shaking her head. "Has a list of questions a kilometer long about Starfleet and starships and how do you get to be captain of one, and does Starfleet even have 'girl captains.' I don't understand why she's acting like this, Commander."

"I am no expert on adolescent behavior, I am afraid, Doctor, but I doubt it is cause for concern. Perhaps it is the element of surprise, merely a reaction to the novelty of our arrival."

"Perhaps." The stately Delosian looks doubtful, and Spock cannot blame her; for he is as unconvinced himself. It is far more likely that this skilsu-kan possesses some degree of basic empathy, and can tell that the exuberance of young childhood might not be best received at the present moment. (2)

A conjecture only, and one he would not voice to the child's mother as such a thing is far too personal an inquiry from an outworlder; but for the captain's sake…for Jim's sake, he can only indulge for a moment in the far too human action of hope. Hope that perhaps his supposition may be true.

He leaves the captain and child to become better acquainted with each other, as that is the real reason for their mission here, and turns his own attention to the diversion of several minutes' discussion with the child's mother regarding recent astrophysical discoveries in the secondary Delosian star systems.

From his peripheral senses, he perceives that Ren'he appears to be showing the captain her implanted medical bracelet; an uncomfortable, even painful accoutrement for a child to be forced to wear, but preferable to being imprisoned to a bio-bed for constant monitoring, as many of such patients have been in decades past. Spock is aware that McCoy hates the idea of such bracelets being implanted (one of the Enterprise's Medical departments’ ongoing bio-engineering projects is an endeavor to find a subcutaneous alternative which will be far less painful for children), but for long-term care there is currently no alternative; they cannot come off for the patient's safety.

"Ouch," Kirk voices in genuine sympathy, then pulls a silly face that makes the child giggle, before she playfully bats his hand away.

But then the little one pauses, head tilted curiously, looking up at him.

A sandy eyebrow inclines. "Something on my face, kiddo?"

The child clambers onto her knees and then scrambles to wobbly feet, to be eye level with the captain. Kirk's smile softens as he steadies her with one hand, curiously observing in silence as she grasps at his tunic for support. One thin hand still clenched in the soft gold fabric, the other reaches up to gently pat at his ear with tiny fingers.

"Ouch," she repeats sadly.

Two meters away and well within range of Vulcan hearing, Spock freezes mid-sentence.

Obviously, the child is more attuned empathically than even he had supposed; the location of her tiny hand is precisely where the neural implants had been forced upon the captain during his imprisonment at the hands of Orion slave traders not three weeks before.

Kirk gently catches the child's hand at the wrist and pulls it away from his head, the lines of tension between his eyebrows the only indication of how disturbing he finds the situation.

"Ren'he," he begins, and Spock is alarmed at how unsuccessful the human is at masking the vocal unsteadiness, "don't you…have some ques-"

The halting words stop suddenly, physically choked off by the effects of a determined five-year-old delivering an enthusiastically clinging version of what Spock has come to understand humans refer to as a hug.

To the uninitiated, it would appear a mere child's whim; the after-effects of hero-worship, and Kirk's somewhat lukewarm response the usual famous personage's aloof acceptance of such accolades.

But to him, who knows this human better than Jim knows himself –

Spock sees a miracle.

Only he knows that the shaking hand that curls around the child's back is the first physical contact Kirk has initiated since his imprisonment; only he sees the glint of a tear that finally falls unconsciously from the captain's eyes as they close for a moment. Only he knows that this small Delosian child has succeeded where his and McCoy's best efforts have not been able to, to heal when she cannot be healed herself.

The child's mother appears completely mystified, but Spock lifts a hand of entreaty when she moves to stop the child's odd behavior.

"Please, Doctor," Spock says quietly. "You said earlier that you did not know how you could thank Captain Kirk for this visit. I can assure you, that it is we who should be thanking you."


Four hours later finds them beaming back up to the Enterprise.

After that initial, somewhat heavy beginning, their conversation had lightened considerably, and within the hour Ren'he was chattering non-stop about Starfleet and Captain Kirk answering in kind. Between the two officers, along with the gift of a few tri-d holopadds and some visual logs, they had been able to recreate enough of the ship's main areas in holographic form that the child had been delighted with her 'virtual tour,' and altogether Spock believes that the visit itself has been a resounding success for all concerned. Certainly, the child's mother is more than pleased, as well as Director Cabarra; and of course, the valiant little Delosian herself.

Their captain, however, is another matter entirely.

Spock's surreptitious communique to the Enterprise's Sickbay for advice just prior to their beam-up had been met with odd concurrence; for once, he and their somewhat impetuous CMO are in agreement that they must delay no longer. Most likely Jim is going to threaten to court-martial them both, but this is, as McCoy said, the best time and possibly their only chance to provoke a reaction; while they have a window of vulnerability, and while most of the crew is on the Starbase below for well-deserved shore leave. Kirk will not appreciate being made vulnerable when there is even a chance a subordinate could see, and they likely will not get a better opportunity to make this last stand against his innate stubbornness.

They materialize amidst the familiar shimmer of particles in Transporter Room Three; the least used of their three transporter rooms. The Engineering lieutenant at the controls nods in greeting as they step down. "Welcome back, Captain, Commander Spock."

"Lieutenant Bowers," Kirk says absently, and Spock notes as testament to his state of mind that he has not noticed the 3 on the wall instead of the 1 as the decal should have been. Part of the human's uncanny adoration for his ship includes the ability to determine at all times precisely where he is aboard without having to move more than five feet in any direction. "Bones, you coming or going?"

"Coming, sort of." McCoy shrugs with practiced ease, blue eyes smiling innocently at his captain. "Just to see you back aboard, Jim. How's the kid doing? Cabarra told me she's a little doll, poor thing."

Spock meets Bowers's eyes over the transporter controls, and the young man nods and hastily scuttles out of the room behind McCoy's back. The doors close with a soft pneumatic hiss, and the sound finally draws the captain's distracted attention.

"What the…" Hazel eyes flick suspiciously to their CMO, and then, belatedly, to the number 3 on the wall. Kirk turns so sharply on his heel that the durasteel floor squeaks in painful protest, and fixes his First with a glare that could melt tritanium. "Mr. Spock?"

At the transporter controls, Spock calmly engages the lockdown sequence for the transporter room doors. The light above the door turns red, then orange, and then begins to flash rapidly, indicating a manual lockdown is in place.

"Now look, Jim," McCoy begins, both hands up placatingly in front of him.

"Gentlemen, I do not appreciate being ambushed on my own ship!" Spock raises an eyebrow, because while the words are harsh, no more than a familiar angry snarl, his superior hearing has caught the small edge of a tremor on the last word.

The captain is not as angry as he is trying, so very, very hard, to be.

McCoy obviously has not heard this, however, because in true impulsive human fashion he is still attempting to explain what does not need explanation. Jim has put his back to the wall, a defensive gesture one needs not be a psychologist to understand, and the doctor now pauses a safe distance away, finally throwing his hands in the air with a breathless noise Spock understands is a human expression of exasperation.

"Jim, I can't watch you do this anymore. You have got to talk to somebody! If you won't talk to me then talk to Spock or – or I'll get you somebody else, but you have got to start healing or this is going to kill you!"

"Doctor," Spock interjects quietly, for this outburst, true as it is, is not helping.

The captain's eyes flash fire, as if to further prove his point. "I passed your Starfleet-implemented and approved psychological evaluations, Doctor McCoy," he grits out harshly. "Are you accusing me of being unfit for duty?"

"Yes, I darn well am, because you aren’t giving me any choice now!"

"Doctor," Spock remonstrates, more firmly this time, as he rounds the console to present a united front. While he trusts McCoy's medical judgment, and while he knows if they cannot get the captain to finally respond in a way which will shatter that impenetrable wall the man has, consciously or unconsciously, build around himself as a defense against his memories, then they will lose this chance…while he is aware of this, Spock is not certain that attacking the man's command is the way to go about accomplishing their mutual goal. Certainly, such methods have never succeeded in the past.

"On what grounds then, Doctor McCoy," Kirk snaps icily, drawing himself up only an inch from his CMO's nose, "are you basing this accusation? Because to my knowledge, I just successfully completed a mission that, according to the conversations you and Spock have been having behind my back for the last seven days, you didn't think I was capable of completing without a mental breakdown!"

McCoy sags against the wall, scrubbing his hands slowly over his face. "Well, crap."

Spock inhales slowly, regretting not encoding the messages he has been exchanging with Sickbay over the past week. That was a mistake he should never have made, knowing the captain's state of mind as he did. Jim is a suspicious man, even paranoid in certain circumstances, by nature; this is both a strength and a weakness, in a leader. Unfortunately, neither he nor McCoy had been careful enough, and there is nothing either of them can do about that oversight at this juncture.

Sensing a minor victory, the captain presses his advantage with immediate, ruthless efficiency; Spock well knows this tactic from multiple chess games. He also knows that it is usually to mask the fact that the human is aware he is about to lose spectacularly, and is trying to stave off a checkmate for as long as possible. The humans call it ‘saving face,’ he believes.

"As I successfully completed the mission, Doctor, your reservations were obviously unfounded but duly noted. And I'll overlook this…unpleasant confrontation, in light of your recent concerns for my well-being. Provided it doesn't happen again. Now, gentlemen." The captain stalks past them toward the door of the transporter room, radiating powerful command in every cell. "If you'll disengage the lockdown of this transporter room, I have a report to write for Starfleet Command, due in less than three hours."

"Jim…"

"That was an order, Doctor."

"Captain."

"Mr. Spock, I believe I gave you an order."

"You did, sir. As I have not yet had opportunity to speak over the doctor's incessant and completely emotional outburst, permission to make one point before carrying out that order?"

Kirk turns on one heel, the corners of his lips twitching despite the situation at the barb aimed toward McCoy; and that had been his intention. For Spock too, is a Chessmaster, and one whose strongest strategy involves inviting one's opponent to lower defenses, believing the enemy to have retreated, when in reality they have only regrouped for a final attack.

"You have a point, Mr. Spock, and you have not had a chance to put your two cents' worth in, although don't think I didn't notice it was you who booted Bowers out of here earlier." Spock has the grace to incline his head in frank admission of guilt. The captain finally turns around with a sigh. "Go ahead, Mr. Spock. Do you too believe I am not fit for command?"

"Not necessarily, sir."

A tinge of anger flushes the human's face. "Specify."

"Merely that under normal conditions, you are as impeccable a leader as ever, Captain. That much has been proven in the intervening weeks. However, there are certain circumstances, in which I do not believe you should be in command of this vessel; as Doctor McCoy said, at least until you have fully dealt with the repercussions of your torture at the hands of the Orions three weeks ago."

His bluntness receives a physical reaction, a reeling stagger-step backward, but to his credit the captain stands his ground, hazel eyes blazing angrily to match the livid color in his face. "I do not believe such judgments of character fall within your purview as First Officer of this ship, Commander," Kirk says quietly, deadly.

Spock silently gives vent to a very human sigh. At his look, McCoy moves a few meters to stand beside him at the transporter controls, which he is powering down into total outage including the lockdown light at the door.

"Do not make a sound, Doctor, no matter what you hear," he murmurs, and when he has received a puzzled nod he continues at a normal volume. "It is not a matter of character judgment, sir; rather that of simple fact." He feels rather nauseated at what he is about to do, but it must be done. For every action, there is a reaction; and when those reactions are but subconscious, one must use more drastic action to bring them to the forefront.

"Fact? What fact?"

"This fact, captain," he says quietly. "Lights and sound dampeners to zero percent."

The room plunges instantly into total darkness, total silence.

Beside him, he feels McCoy tense, but the man remains silent, true to his word. Spock almost wishes he were not; because then –

Then he would not have to listen to the muffled half-sobs of the strongest human he knows trying desperately to not betray the fact that he is completely terrified.

Lesson or not, after only a few seconds he cannot bear to listen any longer, and he is about to raise the lighting when from out of the darkness he hears his name.

"Spock? Spock, I'm sorry, can you please turn them back on –"

The Vulcan curse he breathes at the same time McCoy bellows for the lights and then darts around the console is so vehement his ancestors would be thoroughly aghast, but the outburst has sufficient cause. This was not what he intended; he has made a grave miscalculation. He was by no means trying to elicit an apology, not produce a surrender; only to provoke a call to action – or at the least, elicit an acceptable stalemate, a simple admittance of what the situation currently is.

Said situation is certainly not what he wished to produce with his actions. He kneels behind the huddled figures across the room, trying to convince himself that regret is a reaction to an action, not an emotion – with only limited success, for it certainly produces a physical sensation, a feeling, of illness at the knowledge of what he has done, however unintentionally.

It appears as though the captain had instinctively wedged himself into the corner between the transporter steps and the wall, the most strategically protected spot in the room, during the few seconds of complete blackout. He is currently still seated, back propped against the steps, completely blocked by McCoy's protective arm. All Spock can see is a wall of blue, hear the whir of a med-scanner.

McCoy finally turns around and fixes him with a fierce blue glare. "I should kill you," he hisses furiously.

Spock winces visibly; there is no hiding the reaction. "I should allow you to do so, Doctor."

A shaking hand comes out of nowhere and smacks the physician gently on the back of the head. "Leave him alone, Bones," is the whispered admonishment. "You know he did the right thing."

Spock edges warily around the angry physician and perches on the first step of the transporter platform, the feeling of nausea still churning inside at what he has done. Jim is deathly pale, still trembling slightly even propped solidly against the wall, arms wrapped tightly around himself in an oddly self-protective gesture.

"This was not the outcome I had intended, Captain," he says quietly, head bowed. "I…had not considered this possibility in my reasoning..."

"Spock." Icy fingers hesitantly brush his for the fraction of a second. "I'm – I'm well aware of your reasoning." He looks up, and sees Kirk sit back, swallowing hard as his voice finally steadies. "You never locked my voice commands out, did you?" the human asks knowingly.

He relaxes a fraction; he should have known the man was quite intelligent enough to grasp his intention, traumatic though the outcome might have been. "Negative, Captain."

"It shouldn’t have been an issue. I could have ordered the lights back up at any time, Bones," the captain continues, looking pointedly at the still furious physician. "But I…panicked. And didn't. Didn't even remember I could bring them back up. All I could think about was –" The sentence is broken off abruptly, and the man shakes his head, eyes closing for a moment.

McCoy sets the medical scanner aside with a pained sigh, sits back on his heels with a grimace of anger, directed Spock knows not where – most likely half at him, half at the absent Orions. "Jim, I've known Starfleet officers that take months to recover from the kind of sensory deprivation you were subjected to. Months. That's nothing to be ashamed of."

"You’ve made your point, Doctor," is the quiet, still shaky, reply.

The captain scrubs a trembling hand over his face before it is caught gently and held at the wrist; taking the pulse rate in the archaic way is a procedure Spock has noted in times past the doctor employs not out of a desire for personal accuracy, but more for human comfort when he feels it necessary.

"I wouldn't admit it to myself, what I’ve been ignoring for weeks. Had I been mentally capable of command as I told you I was, we would not be sitting here now."

"Yes, well, there were better ways of making you admit that," the doctor snarls, and if looks could kill Spock is well aware he would have been eviscerated long before now in this conversation. "Of all the inhuman, cold-blooded –"

"Enough," Jim interjects with surprising force, some color returning to his face in the wake of his agitation. "There's a reason he's First Officer, Bones. And it's because I'm too stubborn to see past my pride sometimes and I. need. him!"

Spock blinks.

McCoy sputters for a moment like a dying hovercraft, glaring at both of them in equal measure. Despite the fact that apparently the captain seems to understand his actions, the feeling of nausea at what he has done yet remains, and judging from the look of barely-veiled death McCoy shoots him as he gets to his feet, the doctor is not likely to soon forgive him either. Jim shivers again, eyes closed, and Spock keeps his eyes fastened on the floor. What has this cost them?

"Jim, you're still way too shocky for my liking. Now I can drag you down to Sickbay and you can spend twenty-four hours there, or I can treat you in your quarters and you can spend three days off-duty in there. Tryin' to be a little more reasonable and offer you a choice here, don't make me regret it."

"My quarters. If you're okay with running the ship for a few days, Mr. Spock," the captain inquires quietly.

"As you wish, sir."

"And you are gonna talk to someone, promise me that much, Jim."

The captain's eyes soften. "You have my word as an officer, Doctor, that’s not an option any longer," he answers sincerely, if somewhat unsteadily. "If you can give me time to decide to whom."

McCoy's worried face relaxes in a tiny smile. "Deal, Jim. Now you stay put, while I go get a couple blankets and an anti-grav gurney and clear the corridors," the physician growls, stabbing a finger in Kirk's direction. "And you, Mr. Spock."

"Yes, Doctor."

"We're not done here."

Spock exhales through his nose and nods curtly. "Understood."

The door closes behind the doctor, who is still clearly plotting Spock's demise under his breath, and Kirk chuckles. "He's all bark, Spock. And he's probably pretty ticked off that you're the one who finally got me to crack and not him. That’s quite an accomplishment."

Spock barely keeps himself from cringing, clenching his hands so tightly before him that the knuckles turn ivory. "Not a laudable one," he murmurs, head bowed, eyes closed in an attempt to marshal his thoughts into some sense of order.

Shuffling movement makes them open again, and he lifts an eyebrow to see that the captain has squirreled his way into a position beside him on the steps of the transporter platform, legs tucked up close to him and one arm wrapped around them.

"I’m cold," accompanied by an innocent smile, is the sole (and highly inadequate) explanation he receives for why the human is nearly sitting on top of him.

As the captain is suffering from touch deprivation, however, he will tolerate the contact for a little time at least. It is the least he can do, given the circumstances.

It is a full two minutes, seventeen seconds of silence later before the captain sighs, and looks at him sideways. "How do you always know, Spock?"

"Know what, sir?"

He receives a gentle elbow in the upper arm. "You heard me, didn't you."

He raises an eyebrow. "At which time?"

A small smile softens the man's eyes. "When we beamed up. You somehow heard me – that I didn't want to be trapped in here, but at the same time I needed someone to make me talk, make me let it go, even if I didn’t know how that could even happen." Kirk shakes his head, eyes soft with distant emotion. "How do you always know, Spock?"

"I know you, Jim."

"Better than I know myself," is the whispered reply.

One more wave of sickness runs through him at the thought of what he had inadvertently activated tonight, meaning nothing more than to force the captain into using his command functions to overcome a triggering situation. "Apparently not, as my actions tonight proved," he contends with regret. "Captain, I did not intend –"

A golden head slumps onto his shoulder. "Spock, shut up."

"Sir, I –"

"That was an order, Commander. Surely you can manage to obey one of them from me today?"

"…Really, Captain."

"Turn about is fair play, Mr. Spock."

"Touché, sir."

"Now seriously, shut up."

"Aye, sir."

Chapter Text

II.

Their first few hours back planetside are a veritable whirlwind of newscasts and official reports, given amid and after a hurried jumble of medical checkups and barely-adequate aftercare, to stave off the effects of an impromptu plunge into the choppy waters of the San Francisco Bay. But not even adrenaline can fully banish the chill from his extremities now, four hours after the fact; and it will be a very long time before he feels the need to visit an aqueous environment again, for any purpose.

Doctor McCoy appears to be coming down with a slight rhinovirus, or else is simply using that as an excuse to supplement his hot tea with a truly impressive amount of imported alcohol, but from the reports they have received the rest of the crew is faring none the worse for their adventure. Admiral Kirk and the doctor have been given a suite in the most secure portion of Starfleet Headquarters, after being delicately warned there would be consequences for their leaving the city before the tribunal tomorrow, and the others of the former Enterprise alpha Bridge crew have scattered throughout the complex to their own quarters after gathering somewhere on the campus for an evening meal, the invitation to which the admiral and the doctor declined simply because they were still in debriefings at the time.

Spock himself, had also been part of those debriefings, though his opinions and indeed his reports on the events are not being taken into much consideration by the powers that be, as he is still under medical evaluation and as such is considered medically relieved of duty until proven competent to resume his posting. The fact that the Vulcan Science Academy Board of Medicine and Doctor McCoy have both certified him perfectly fit, seems to have mollified the skeptical admiralty somewhat, and he has been permitted free reign of the inner complex as well as that of the Vulcan Embassy, though he too has been 'requested' to not leave the city until the fate of the Enterprise crew – former Enterprise crew – has been decided.

As if he would do so, and leave them to face a tribunal for supposed crimes around which center his personal well-being. Even a Vulcan is not so cold, as Sarek's presence here on Terra proves beyond doubt.

But these are more sobering thoughts best left until tomorrow's hearing, and ones which frankly rank second in his mind to this: a much more important, and much more distressing, train of thought, and the reason for his remaining behind after Sarek had bid Admiral Kirk good-night and retired to the Embassy, only raising an eyebrow when Spock had informed him he had a matter to discuss with Kirk alone.

Doctor McCoy had muttered something about needing more alcohol for the conversation, despite not being invited to it, and had puttered off into the suite's kitchen only a moment ago, finally leaving them alone in the small sitting area. Impersonally furnished and sparse of color or texture, the bland room is not a conducive setting for this intimate discussion, but it will have to suffice.

Kirk does not appear to pick up on his tension, though that is likely because the man seems to be utterly exhausted, to the point of swaying on his feet with a near-loss of consciousness after turning around too quickly from seeing Sarek to the outer door. Alarmed, Spock moves toward the human for support but halts when an upraised hand stops him, a curt gesture which is as unfamiliar as it is strangely hurtful.

"Make yourself comfortable, Mr. Spock," Kirk says, gesturing instead to the nearby couch and armchairs. "You have something you wish to discuss with me?"

Only now, does he realize how unfamiliar this formality is, so painfully awkward the tension between them. But sit he does, and waits patiently until the admiral settles with obvious reluctance on the couch opposite his chair, stiff and uncomfortable – almost at military attention, as if awaiting yet more bad news this human does not deserve, the last in a series of terrible blows. He has yet to see Kirk grieve for his son, his ship, his career – and that is only the topmost layer of what likely is an unhealed wound which was received months ago with Spock's own death.

Kirk clears his throat after another moment of silence. "Well?" he asks, with a trace of controlled impatience.

"I have an inquiry to make of you, Admiral." If this is how Kirk wishes to play the matter, then Spock is well capable, now, of doing so. He is – was – can be again, a chessmaster, and against this human, an even more creative one of necessity.

A line of tension forms between the human's eyebrows, the only indication of the man's discomfort. Kirk's voice is perfectly calm as he responds. "I will do what I can to answer it, of course, Spock. What do you wish to know?"

He leans forward, elbows upon his knees, and looks down for a moment at his steepled fingers in thought. Then, glancing up at the human's tense face, he tilts his head in question. "I wish to know, the reasoning behind your ill-guided attempt to conceal from me the depth of emotional attachment previously shared between us."

His bluntness has always been an unexpected advantage when employed, as his preferred method of attack has never been a frontal assault – and this unusually worded volley is no exception. Kirk's face pales suddenly, and he had already been ashen from exhaustion as it stands. But to his credit, the man pulls himself together with an almost Vulcan control, and adopts a bland, blank expression which fools no one.

"Upon what facts, are you basing this…quite unVulcanly emotional hypothesis, Mr. Spock?" The calm tone has just enough edge to indicate its uncertainty, though none but he would notice – and he, would not have noticed, even forty-eight hours ago.

"That which exists is fact in itself, Admiral, and as such is no mere hypothesis." Kirk's incredulous look is not lost upon him, and he lifts an eyebrow in the equivalent of a shrug. "Vulcan in nature or not, sir, to deny that which exists is certainly illogical."

"You'll forgive me for disbelieving a scientist who is basing his conclusions upon hearsay evidence rather than his own senses and research." And there it is, the clear bitterness in the tone tells him more than any words could – how had he not heard it before? The sheer hurt trembling beneath the surface is almost palpable, enough that he can sense it even without physical contact, something which theoretically should not be possible unless Jim is truly hurting so deeply that it is translating into a sensation vaguely physical enough to brush a touch-telepath's mental shields.

Damage has been done here. How much, he does not know; perhaps, may never know. Some of it, he can never heal, for one does not with impunity remove the pain of death, of loss. But some of it, perhaps he can mitigate, and he must at least make the attempt.

"Jim." The word earns him a quick glance up, one filled with barely-hidden pain, and he presses onward before the human can look away. "You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I am in possession of an incomplete memory."

"Aren't you?" is the soft reply, delivered with no condemnation, only sadness. "The Vulcan healers pronounced you completely whole and fit for duty, but…"

"They were hardly in position to judge the condition of that human portion of my heritage, Admiral. Obviously, their diagnosis was incomplete."

Kirk's eyebrows rise slightly. "Specify."

"Quite simply, I was and am, a fully functioning Vulcan adult – I possess all the knowledge I previously did, including the entire memory banks of previous personal events. However, eidetic memory is at its core merely a flawless recollection of fact, not dissimilar to a computer's producing of a report upon request."

"Meaning, your memory is intact, but the…feelings, and everything else, associated with your memories, aren't."

"That was the conclusion Doctor McCoy drew after much discussion with the Scientific Council upon the subject, yes." He inclines his head at the admiral's surprised look. "The matter was somewhat concerning to him, much more so than to the Council, as you can imagine."

"I would think so." Kirk shakes his head, passes a hand over his eyes. "What does this have to do with your inquiry, Spock?"

"As I said, Admiral: you are under the impression that I am still in that mental state – which is incorrect."

Kirk's hand falls from his face slowly, eyes flickering with the first actual warmth he has shown in many days – and, for the first time since Spock's drowsing half-human mind made a small connection to a wakening memory many weeks ago, the human emotion of hope, flickering deep within. "Meaning what, exactly?"

"As of this afternoon, Admiral, I am in possession of my memory in its entirety, as well as all aspects of my…you humans would call it, personality, I believe."

The human sits up straighter, eyes wide. "You mean –"

"Meaning I am now well aware, that for reasons known only to yourself, you permitted me to continue under the delusion that our…relationship, was that of a former captain and first officer, nothing more." Kirk's eyes widen, almost panicked, as he continues with calm ruthlessness. "I believe the example used when questioned regarding your actions of retrieving my body for the fal-tor-pan was equating them to that of my mutiny for Captain Pike – you likened your actions to mine, citing the need for a display of loyalty due to a sense of previous debt owed, nothing more personal."

"I…" The words trail off helplessly, painfully, and Kirk stands from his chair, striding with purpose to the large bay windows which overlook the city. For a moment he stares out at the glittering lights of a twilight under the stars, unseeing, and then turns, silhouetted against the setting sun. "What do you want me to say, Spock?" he asks quietly, utter weariness in every inch of his posture.

"The truth, Jim." He stands as well, though he knows better than to corner this man physically when he is doing so verbally; he simply leans against the wall a few feet away, waiting. "I am familiar with your tactical strategies, and remember each of them in clarity, now – and yet I fail to see the logic in this one."

A bitter laugh sounds in the stillness of the room. "There is no strategy or logic in emotion, Spock, you should know that better than any human," is the answer, brittle with a tinge of anger. "I was trying to do what was best for you."

This, in turn angers him – he can identify the human emotion now for what it is, and he is actually grateful for the ability. Anger, not directed at Jim specifically, because the man had been in an untenable position, but anger nonetheless.

"You believed it best that I never be made aware of such a vital missing portion of my past?" he demands, not without a trace of that ire betrayed in his tone.

"Vital, my eye, Spock – you didn't say more than ten words to me that entire first week we were on Vulcan!" Hurt, now, along with the anger, directed not at him but at the situation as well. Were the circumstances not so serious, he might be elated at the fact that after so long adrift, he is able to recognize the emotion for what it is. "What conclusions was I to draw from that, Science Officer?"

He closes his eyes for a moment to regain control, noting with scientific interest that his mental shields will need more adjustment now that he is aware of these volatile parts of his dual nature. It will prove a most fascinating study, when he has the time to undertake the venture. But for now, a more important study. With a silent expulsion of breath, he opens his eyes again, to see that James Kirk has turned to face the window again, and is blinking rapidly – too rapidly – in the glass-reflection.

"That is why you continually pushed me to confide in Doctor McCoy." A statement, not an inquiry. He had thought at the time that it was simply because as the katra-carrier, the odd human physician was obviously a crucial part of his previous life and held more answers than any other; now, he knows that was only partly true. Kirk had seen their intimate mental attunement due to residual katric transfer and had, what was the human phrase – bowed out?

A sound from behind causes him to turn his head, and he sees the human in question standing in the kitchen doorway, a steaming mug of tea in his hand and a look of stricken dismay upon his kind face. Given the doctor's proven habit of shameless eavesdropping, added to his uncanny ability to hone in on his peers' issues without need for much questioning, it is no great feat of logic to see the physician has heard enough to grasp the situation.

Spock well knows, because they held more than one conversation upon the subject while he was attempting to make sense of memories with no emotions to explain their presence, that McCoy's primary difficulty with the entire process had not been the telepathic aspect, as he had previously supposed. No, the physician explained after one evening of reluctant and at times volatile argument, it was the simple fact that McCoy would never, under any circumstances, have willingly driven a wedge between the two of them, Spock and Kirk – and yet, through no fault of his own, or intention of his own, he had.

By unwittingly becoming the integral bridge between Spock's old life and his new, McCoy had forged an entirely new dimension to their relationship which had always been intended for Kirk; and while Spock could not find it in himself to regret this, now, they both were aware that the admiral was struggling to find the balance between acceptance and jealousy, gratitude and despair, and neither could blame the man for it.

The doctor opens his mouth as if to interject – but Spock stops him with a slightly upraised hand, out of sight of the man at the window. Their eyes meet and hold for a moment, and Spock shakes his head slightly. Not now, the message is telegraphed clearly over the intervening space, and while McCoy has never been the most cooperative of humans, in this one respect, for this one man, they have always both been in complete agreement. With one last concerned look, the doctor disappears back into the dining area, as silently as he had entered.

Spock only realizes that this noiseless exchange may have done more harm than good, when he sees that the admiral has been watching the entire thing in the reflection of the window-glass.

"Jim –"

"Don't. Just…don't," the man sighs, as he turns from the window with a look of pained resignation. His eyes are sad, aged a decade at least from what Spock remembers, that last morning before it all went wrong, bittersweet memories of a birthday gift given before an ill-fated cadet voyage those months ago. "I was trying to do the right thing, Spock, giving you the opportunity to make your own decisions about your future, unhampered by any ties to your past. Why does this upset you?"

He does not waste precious time in foolish protestations against that state of being; he is, and they both are aware of it. And, if memory serves, before this debacle began, he had begun to find a balance between such human emotions and Vulcan logic; there is little harm in acknowledging such a state of being. He is disquieted, and there is little logic in denying that which exists.

"Because, Admiral, I might have made decisions regarding that future with no regard to a past I did not fully comprehend – drawing conclusions without complete data." Kirk does not appear to be overly concerned with this, and so he continues, taking a step forward in his earnestness, citing the most recent, and most disturbing, example which comes to mind. "When I mentioned that the Vulcan Science Academy had offered me captaincy of a science vessel, you recommended I take the position!"

Kirk's lips tighten, a thin line of tension. "You are, or were, a Starfleet captain already, Spock, and one of the best. You would have excelled even more as captain of a Vulcan ship."

"That is irrelevant."

"It is accurate. You asked for my advice as a colleague, and I gave it."

This insufferable human. Why he never strangled the man at some point in their five-year mission is a small scientific miracle.

"I asked for your advice as a friend, Jim," he says quietly. "Despite not fully understanding why that state existed, I was at least aware of its existence."

For a moment, he thinks he might have broken through that shield so carefully erected around the human's heart – but then he sees the façade go up once more, the Starfleet mask so carefully settled into place as to be diplomatically impersonal. Now that he remembers, with painful clarity, that it can be otherwise? The change is…frightening.

"Then I'm sorry I didn't give you the answer you wanted, Mr. Spock," is the calm response he hears, as Kirk turns back to the window. The admiral stares out at the city, now blanketed in glittering darkness, and rests a hand on the window, fingertips barely tracing the lights which outline the distant orbital dry-dock.

"I did not ask for apologies; I asked for an explanation."

"I have given you one. Your destiny is your own, Spock."

Two steps brings him directly behind the man, voice sharp with intensity. "My destiny lies with you, Admiral." Kirk's eyes dart upward in shock, widening fever-bright against the glass-reflection. "Wherever that may be, in whatever capacity, my place is here. That much I understood, even before my re-education was complete."

He sees the human's hands clench into fists, a clear signal of the struggle for control within. Good; perhaps now he will be able to break through this last wall.

"What I could not understand, was why you did not feel the same, Jim."

"You don't know what you're saying," the human whispers, unsteady breath fogging the glass in front of him.

"I am saying, that you are my captain. You are also my friend. I have been, and always shall be, yours. And no amount of unfortunate circumstance can, or ever will, change those incontrovertible facts."

Had he known years ago that utilizing such blatant emotional statements would be sufficient to rob this man of speech entirely, he might have sacrificed Vulcan dignity more often in order to accomplish that end, for it is oddly satisfying.

His faint amusement turns to alarm, however, when the admiral's legs seem to give out without warning, and he is forced to catch Kirk's elbow as he reels a step backward, passing a shaking hand over his eyes.

"Doctor!"

A crash and heavily-accented colorful metaphor from the kitchen.

"I think I need to sit down…"

"Obviously," he replies tersely. "I find your overconfidence in your own human stamina to be equally annoying now as in decades past."

"Spock, for pity's sake." The disgruntled mutter reaches him as he deposits Kirk neatly back on the couch and pushes his head toward his knees. "You'd be dizzy too if you hadn't really slept in three days."

A rattling clink of dishware and shooing hands herald McCoy's flurried return to the room, whereupon Spock is relegated to the adjoining seat cushion rather than become collateral damage under friendly fire.

"Bones," Kirk warns, swatting away the hand which attempts to take his pulse the old-fashioned way.

"You hush. Don't think that just because I've been stuck babysittin' this one over here that I haven't been monitoring you the last two weeks." McCoy ducks deftly under the elbow and injects a tri-ox hypospray into the admiral's neck before just as expertly darting back out of reach, ignoring the glare he receives. "You haven't been taking care of yourself, Jim."

Kirk mutters something under his breath which even Spock's Vulcan hearing doesn't quite catch, but which apparently makes no difference to a tired and cranky Georgia physician, because it only earns him a swat upside the head.

"Bones!"

"Save it." Another hypospray. "That's for not eating anything for the last two days other than that imported swill Sarek calls coffee. Here, I made you soup, drink it. Now."

"I swear, if the tribunal doesn't tomorrow, I will bust you back to ensign if you hit me with another one of those."

"Very funny," the physician says sourly, though he does put away the medikit, seemingly satisfied that between the two of them, they have sufficiently snapped Kirk out of his melancholy. McCoy nods in approval as the admiral takes a tentative sip from the almost overflowing mug, blowing briefly across the curls of steam. "Anyway, if they do throw the book at us, I’m headin’ straight back to Vulcan and my fan club there, just so you know."

Kirk chokes on a noodle, nearly spraying soup all over his borrowed civilian clothing in the process.

Spock sighs through his nose and picks up his own soup mug, which is only half-full (apparently his had been the casualty of haste which had produced the crash of earlier). At least it is a passable vegetable blend; the replicators here in this suite are obviously superior to those normally in guest quarters typical of the Starfleet complexes.

"What, I'm a big deal there now. Aren't I, Spock."

Spock's pointed eyebrow over his soup mug clearly informs them both he refuses to bother answering that one.

"You’re no fun. What do you think they're gonna do to us anyway, Jim?" The change of subject is fairly unsubtle, but Spock knows it is the best thing right now for them all, especially Kirk; a return to business will enable them all to fall back into more familiar channels.

Kirk's face is lined with tension as he sets the mug down, nearly finished. "Sarek seems to think he can get the charges dropped against the crew at least, and have them only charge me with insubordination, destruction of a starship, and heaven knows what else they've cooked up. I hope he's right."

"What?" McCoy's bellow is loud enough to rattle the spoon in his own soup mug. "I distinctly remember Sulu destroying ‘Fleet property when you busted me out, and Uhura holdin’ officers at phaser-point. We’re all in this deep, not just you. Since when were you the only one responsible?"

"Since I said so, Doctor," is the sharp reply, delivered in that particular tone Spock fully remembers can back down an entire room full of belligerent diplomats. "I will not have the rest of you fall along with me if I have any say in the matter. It is not up for debate."

"That's not fair, Jim."

"I frankly don't care, Bones. It's done." Kirk ignores the dismayed glare and picks the mug back up, draining the remainder of the soup in one long gulp.

"Spock?"

Spock can only return the look helplessly; he has no say in the matter either, for he was more the victim than a participant in the series of events. While he fully intends to stand with his shipmates tomorrow, it will be more a show for the council than anything else, as legally he cannot be charged even were the admiralty desiring to do so.

"Jim…"

"I am not going to argue this with you, Bones." The words are punctuated by a very sudden, and very enormous, yawn, which seems to surprise the admiral as much as it surprises Spock, who knows that when mentally exhausted, Jim Kirk fights physical sleep with every fiber of his stubborn soul.

"You're a self-sacrificin' idiot, you know that?"

Kirk waves a careless hand in the doctor's direction, and Spock's eyes narrow – the gesture is sloppy, almost too sloppy. McCoy's eyes glint with a predatory gleam as he raises an eyebrow in question, and said question is answered only a moment later when the admiral's eyelids flutter closed and he falls asleep mid-sentence, slumped amid the corner couch cushions.

"He will not be happy when he awakens, Doctor," he warns, as the human fusses with an afghan pulled from a drawer nearby.

"Yeah, well, he'll thank me when he's not passing out during the sentencing tomorrow," McCoy retorts, tucking the blanket carefully around the sleeping man. Kirk mumbles something unintelligible and then curls up under it like a child, never waking. The sight is oddly warming, and it allows some of the tension to fade from his mind and body.

Spock blinks, somewhat drowsy himself, as he is tossed another afghan, and slowly unfolds it.

"I was not censuring your actions, Doctor."

"No?"

"Negative."

"Quite sure 'bout that?"

"…Affirmative?"

"Gooood." The doctor's grin is slightly hazy at this point, for some reason.

"Doctor?"

"Because I gotta hand it to your mom, she knows her natural Vulcan remedies. Apparently even half a cup of that stuff is enough to knock out a half-Vulcan."

Ever since their ill-fated Babel voyage during the second year of their original five-year mission, these incorrigible humans of his acquaintance (this one in particular) have been on a mission to corrupt his passably-Vulcanian mother, much to her amusement and Sarek's horrified dismay.

"Go to sleep, I already told Sarek you were spending the night here."

"Doctor," he begins, far too slowly. "My father and I have matters to discuss –"

"And if Jim has a nightmare he's gonna need you a lot more than Sarek will, so too bad." The glare accompanying the words is more than enough to stop any further protests, and Spock subsides meekly into his afghan. "Go. To. Sleep."

"You are a most annoying human."

"So I've been told. Recently, even, by better Vulcans than you. Now shush."

Why he had ever entertained the idea that this human's mind might be a suitable receptacle for his katric consciousness is a fanciful delusion which evades all logic.

It is truly fortunate that, by Fate or Destiny or some other force in the universe, he has fully regained his memories and the accompanying feelings which intertwine the three of them; for they are that, and he does not wish to contemplate what might have been had they drifted apart from James Kirk in this unfortunate series of events. Jim has always been the bond which holds them together – the constant in both their universes, the magnetic pole which keeps them both anchored, tethered to each other and to him by something more powerful and at the same time more fragile than mere companionship. They will always return to him, in this or any other universe. The man himself has no idea the power he holds; and perhaps that is for the best.

He once heard Montgomery Scott call them the heart, mind, and soul of the Enterprise; and he realizes only now, after so long, that it does not much matter which of them is which; for the whole cannot exist without any one of those components.

And it is a strangely pleasant feeling, being whole.

Chapter Text

I.

It has been many decades since Spock remembered such quaint human phrases so readily, beloved human voices having long since vanished over space and time. The one blessing, and simultaneously the one curse, of an eidetic memory, is that of precise memory and sensory recall – and while no Vulcan of his acquaintance now, or any Romulan of his acquaintance in decades long gone, has ever used the phrase, he well remembers more than once, his human shipmates and cadets using it on occasion, so many years ago.

Déjà vu, the humans call it – the sudden feeling that one has already lived this particular moment, or experienced this particular sensation.

For a Vulcan, who does not believe in such things as fate or karma as humans do, it is a most disquieting feeling; but for one who has already become victim of a severely distorted timestream, that disconcerting unease is multiplied tenfold. Tampering with the universal constants is not a sin easily forgiven by Destiny, this he well knows; and he suspects he has long ago fallen out of favor with the Universe and is now being punished for his crimes. Unfortunate indeed, that so many of the beings he knows from another lifetime, have been pulled down with him into this terribly dark, warped version of what should be the reality he remembers with nostalgic fondness. While he could not have acted differently, the fact remains that blame must rest with someone; and that someone, must be he.

Guilt is a familiar friend now, a burden he will bear until the day he dies: alone, unknown and unremembered, in this twisted timestream.

But those are melancholy thoughts for another day. For now, he has a far more worrisome one to occupy his attention. Since the hurried transmission from the Enterprise earlier today, there has been no further word, from Spock or from anyone else – and all his attempts to contact the ship have failed. More concerning, is the fact that they are not simply being ignored; they have not been received, as if communications have been cut off completely from the ship. He well knows, the few possibilities which could produce a complete communications blackout, at this short range and on a starship with such capable backup systems; and none of the scenarios, are anything less than terrifying.

As soon as his younger self – he still cannot quite believe he was ever so young, at the helm of a starship when his captain left him in command – had cut the transmission upon gaining the information he sought, Spock had immediately left his quarters on New Vulcan and commandeered a transport to Terra. Instinct told him the debacle would end where it began, and the crew might need an ally with knowledge of Khan's mentality if they succeeded in chasing him back toward Earth. At the least, should matters go awry, they might need a Vulcan intermediary with the Federation Council, and there was none on Earth at present. He had in the last year built a small reputation as an ambassador, borrowing the name of a distant relative of this Sarek's, one who had died on Vulcan, as only a few in the upper eschelons of Command knew his true identity.

But now? His small transport ship is mere moments out from Terra, and he still has been unable to raise the Enterprise, either on official channels or on any private one, including the ones he uses to communicate with both his younger self and this young, impetuous James Kirk. In fact, his transport's communications officer is having difficulty even raising Starfleet Command, something which should be impossible – but as they drop out of warp near the orbiting dry-dock and checkpoint, he sees the reason why.

A mushroom cloud is already forming over New San Francisco, a firestorm of epic proportions raging through the downtown area large enough to send ever sensor even his small transport has into immediate red alert. For a moment his heart actually stops – this is not the first indication of possible hereditary cardiac trouble, he really should have that checked with the healers when he returns to New Vulcan – because the unmistakably massive shape of a starship juts like a deadly skyscraper out of the ground, tipped on its nose in the middle of the city, a swathe of destruction from the Bay showing where it had literally dropped out of the sky.

But no, he can breathe a moment later as he examines the scans: for it is far too large, and the nacelles are the wrong shape – it is not the Enterprise.

Where then, is she?

They have already been hailed by now by the blockade which has been put up around the planet courtesy of a Starfleet on Red Alert status, and it is some time before he is able to beam down to the city; and that, thanks only to his diplomatic clearance. Said clearance, is not enough for him to gain any information, however, as to the fate of the Enterprise; no one will tell him any news, classified or otherwise, and no one seems to even know where the ship is, much less her crew. Surely, if that ship half-buried in the foundations of the city itself is Khan's, then the Enterprise could not have been far behind, and surely, she is the reason that Khan's ship has been brought down – but then, why the secrecy, and why has Spock not contacted him once more? Something is not right.

Added to this, the horrible, sinking feeling of dread which seems to be seeping into his very heart, a sensation which he has only felt perhaps twice before in his very long life. Like a fist of ice deep within, he cannot shake the feeling that something is very, very wrong.

The feeling of déjà vu, as the humans say. He has been here before, felt this terrible loss before; and the finality of it, the horrible pain of that void was what sent him back to Romulus for good so many decades ago, to bury himself in the unification efforts until his own death, his intent never to return to Terra. If what he suspects has truly happened, then he knows the reasons why he has heard nothing from the Enterprise – and nothing from her two senior officers.

Spock for many years did not believe in Destiny, for the concept contradicts Vulcan philosophy; but he has since been forced to rethink that philosophy, and this is one of the reasons for that reconsideration. The inexplicable ties which bind certain beings together across space and time cannot be simply explained away, through science or any other logical means – and to deny that which exists, when the feelings are only too real, only too painful, is foolishness.

He barely realizes he has been sitting, all alone, in the ambassadorial quarters of the Vulcan Embassy, for almost six hours, dreading the communique which he is now almost certain will come, when the door-chime sounds, startlingly and horrifyingly cheerful in the deathly silence.

Schooling his features back to an appropriately Vulcan expression of nothingness, for it could easily be the pilot of his transport or a representative of Starfleet, he opens the door – and his heart sinks like a stone in water.

He finds himself looking into a face so many years younger, and yet now seeming so much older, than his own. Eyes dark with blatantly unhidden grief and pain, nu'ri-Spock looks as if he just stumbled off the Bridge in the middle of a firefight. A horrible charred stench of radiation hangs about him, and it is that more than anything else which clenches that icy fist of dread tighter in his chest.

"Please," the young officer whispers helplessly, as if not even knowing himself what he is asking for, and in that moment Spock knows – feels – exactly what has happened.

Oh, Jim. What have you done?


Were he not certain that this world's Leonard McCoy is likely in an even worse state, he might be furious with the human for permitting his young self to stumble out of a Starfleet Medical facility still in obvious shock and with injuries barely triaged, for it is a full eighteen-point-seven minutes before he can even get more than a few words out of Spock, and that is only after forcing a change of clothing and two cups of Vulcan spice tea, heavily laced with an anti-nausea medication and enough alcohol to affect even a Vulcan, upon his young tomasu. A cursory medical scan shows multiple contusions and hairline fractures only barely healed, but he better than most knows how futile it is to attempt keeping a Vulcan in a medical facility against his will, so about these he says nothing, for the moment at least.

He listens in silence, allowing the only half-intelligible, rambling story to take its course, firmly refusing to permit himself the liberty of impatient questions. This is not his world, and this is not his Jim Kirk; the pain is not his to reveal before he is ready.

But he is unprepared for the sudden swing from grief to bitter accusation, when upon finishing what is a tale disturbingly sparse of details, he finds himself pinned under the suddenly horrified look of a man whose shock-slowed mind has only just made a set of crucial mental connections.

"You knew, not only what Khan was capable of, but what scenarios were the most probable to result, based upon their parallel events in your own universe," nu'ri-Spock says flatly, eyes burning with a sudden flare of what looks like entirely human anger – so uncontrolled and so very unstable that it is actually alarming. "We spoke, not an hour be-before the core fell from alignment. And you said nothing?"

He sighs, and finally allows himself the human gesture of briefly covering his eyes with one shaking hand – it will look to the sa-kan as if he is merely staving off a headache, not ridding his expression of tears.

"I have already altered your destiny enough, young one," he finally manages to speak, the words shattering the quiet with almost painful finality. "I cannot continue to do so. This, we both know."

Spock fairly rockets to his feet in a gesture that is almost threatening, and turns away for a moment, clearly fighting to regain control – a futile gesture, as they both know this day has produced events, one event in particular, which have spiraled far out of their control, emotional and physical. "I believe," his young counterpart finally enunciates through a clenched jaw, "that this would qualify as a permissible exception."

"Pi'shal, do you really suppose that had I known what would happen, I would not have warned you? Timelines or no, I am not so without compassion."

Spock half-turns at the endearment, but says nothing.

"In my universe, it was I who saved the Enterprise in precisely the fashion you describe, though many decades later – not my captain. Given the many differences in your story, I did not anticipate the conclusion being the same, and I was not about to implant the suggestion in your mind while you were in command of the Bridge under battle conditions, Spock. Unfortunately," he adds, with a grief-filled fondness, "I apparently made the same mistake as Khan Noonien Singh – in underestimating James Kirk."

"I should have known," Spock says suddenly, the anger wilting from his posture like a dying flower. He collapses more than sits back into his chair, staring at the floor. "Had I known the full situation below decks, I would have foreseen it. Nothing is more important – was, more important, to him than his ship."

"And had you foreseen the situation, you would have done exactly what I did, in another lifetime," he replies. "I can assure you, that Jim would not have preferred that state of affairs."

A bitter, slightly choked sound of vague dissent.

"It is true, young one. Granted, it is vastly unfair, being the one left behind. An unfortunate effect of humanity, loneliness. One never quite grows accustomed to the feeling."

Spock's eyes flicker briefly in sympathetic – empathetic, now – understanding. "How…" He stops, as if attempting to marshal his thoughts, then continues. "Death is nothing new to us – to me," he says quietly, hands clasped before him, staring at the interlocked fingers. "And yet I find myself far more compromised than I was even at the death of my mother, two years ago."

"And?" The elder prompts gently, when it is obvious that more is forthcoming, but only reluctantly.

"And this fact was so evident, that the entire alpha shift crew realized what had happened before the news reached the Bridge from Sickbay after I had beamed down to Terra. I destroyed any command image I might have had prior to this day in behaving in a manner most unVulcan."

"One might say the cause was sufficient, pi'shal."

"My own…possible future bond-mate, is afraid of me, Ambassador. That is how far I have crossed that line today."

"Unfortunately for us, child, I have found that this particular human has an uncanny ability to cross all lines and break all boundaries, including those which are self-imposed by our own wills," he answers gently. "This should not surprise you, Spock."

His young counterpart shakes his head, still staring at the ground.

"You cannot quantify and explain emotions as if they were mathematical equations, Spock," he adds after a silent moment. "And as to your crew – "

"They are not my crew!"

It is too sharp and too desperate to be anything but a painful reminder of the well-loved chair that now sits forever empty on a starship bridge; he should have been more careful. But he must be stronger than he feels like being, right now; for this grieving sa-kan is attempting for the first time since the Battle of Vulcan, to assimilate a loss almost incomprehensible, and equally unexpected.

"As to the Enterprise crew," he continues, as if he has not been interrupted, "you do them a disservice. Have more faith in them, and in their regard for both you and your captain." He glances up in some surprise as his intra-city network comm chimes. "Speaking of; I daresay one of them has managed to trace your presence here."

"Unlikely. My communicator in not in my possession at the moment and I told no one of my intended whereabouts. I did not wish to be located."

Spock refrains from rolling his eyes, an appalling human habit that is still oddly satisfying, and moves to the small office area in the next room to answer the call. The view-screen flickers to life mid-chime.

"Dif-tor heh smusma, Ambassador. I apologize for disturbing you so late in the evening."

"Lieutenant, you are no disturbance, I assure you." This woman's relationship with Spock had been one of the more puzzling differences between their universes; but after many months of viewing their interactions, and hearing how Spock spoke of her, he has begun to understand what a remarkable woman Nyota Uhura is. And he has wondered, many times, about what might have been.

But now, she does not look the competent communications chief of the Enterprise; her beautiful features are drawn and her eyes betray the fact that she has obviously been crying. While still in a somewhat bedraggled uniform, she has apparently been relieved of duty, because she is calling from a small room which looks to be a standard Starfleet dormitory, most likely set up in haste for a displaced Enterprise crew somewhere in the city.

"Ambassador –"

"He is here, Lieutenant," he interrupts with kind finesse, and he sees the tension in her brow lessen immediately. "May I apologize on behalf of myself, in a fashion, for alarming you."

A half-hysterical laugh which sounds suspiciously like a sob filters through the channel. "I can't even, with this tonight," she murmurs. "Please, just…can you help him?"

"I do not know," he replies honestly, and sees her face fall. "I will do what I can."

"You have my gratitude." She looks up for a moment, eyes glinting with unshed tears. "McCoy thinks he may have a breakthrough tonight, but don't tell him, okay? We don't want to get anyone's hopes up yet."

Though considerably in the dark as to what exactly she is referencing, he only nods; she looks absolutely exhausted, both physically and emotionally, and he is not about to keep her on the line speaking of painful events. Besides, they will tell him all if and when they are ready. While he is on speaking terms with the senior members of this crew, and while these all-important four know his true identity, he is yet an outsider; and he will not force his way into being more than that to them.

"Okay, I'm going to crash for a while then. Thank you, Ambassador. I…I didn't know how to help him, he was starting to scare me a little." Dark eyes look sadly to the side for a moment. "I think he scared himself, too."

"I have always found Jim Kirk to be a…polarizing influence, Lieutenant."

She snorts, but he receives a faint smile. "He is…was, that, Ambassador. He was that."

"I will not keep you further, Lieutenant. Rest assured, I will see to Spock."

"Th'i-oxalra, Ambassador. Tushah nash-veh k'odu."

He almost smiles at the perfectly enunciated High Vulcan; such a remarkable human, this woman. Worthy of the grieving young officer currently slumped half-dozing on his couch.

Spock blinks slowly when he returns. He appears listless now, almost bonelessly slumped on the sofa and staring into space at nothing in particular until finally an eyebrow inches upward in barely-polite inquiry.

"Your…girlfriend? Is that the proper human term, in these days? Is concerned for you."

Spock's ears flush a light green. "She should be resting. It has been a trying day, for all of us."

"Sound advice, which you should heed as well, young one. No, do not get up; you are in no condition to be navigating chaotic San Francisco streets, distracted as you are. I will not explain to Lieutenant Uhura tomorrow why I permitted her future bond-mate to be struck by a hoverbus on his way back to Starfleet Headquarters."

Were the sa-kan any less exhausted, Spock suspects he might have put up more of a fight; but he does not, only slumps back, looking far older than his few decades.

"I must return to Headquarters. I have not yet filed the final damage reports for the Enterprise's initial structural assessment, nor have I given my statements to the Admiralty. Mr. Scott and I have yet to ensure that the ship is even capable of maintaining orbit after sustaining such damage to Main Engineering, specifically the plasma ventilation systems and the – the warp core. If she is unable to remain in orbit, then we must make arrangements with Starfleet Command to be placed in orbital dry-dock for the remainder of our grounding. And I must make certain the entirety of the crew complement has been seen to sufficiently regarding lodgings and immediate medical and psychological attention, that the death toll has been tallied and the family members notified…"

Spock sees the moment the sheer enormity of the command burden the First Officer has inherited actually hits, because the young man's eyes widen under what looks like a deluge of pure, unadulterated human panic.

"Spock, calm yourself. I am certain Doctor McCoy will by now have placed you on medical leave due to emotional compromise; during which you not only are not required to, but not permitted to, do any of those things. They will keep until tomorrow, pi'shal. For now, you must rest."

"I…"

"You have done enough, Spock. And you will do Jim Kirk's crew no good, by destroying yourself in an effort to fill his shoes when that is impossible."

He sees the shuddering breath which follows his gentle proclamation, before Spock's eyes close in what looks like silent, lonely grief. After a few moments, his breathing evens, and it is evident that exhaustion has succeeded in at least temporarily overpowering an emotionally turbulent mind.

Then, and only then, does he retreat to his own chambers, and permit himself to feel the heart-wrenching agony of a second loss, almost as terrible as the first time such a thing has happened – as if the multiverse itself is mocking his pain, and the life he will never see again.

No amount of meditation will ever return the dead, and miracles come but once a lifetime. Unfortunately for his poor younger counterpart, he has seen far more than his share already.


It is well into Terran nightfall when a small crash alerts him from an only vaguely successful attempt at meditation, and he hurries from the sleeping chamber to see that Spock has apparently knocked over a potted plant in his half-asleep efforts to reach the intra-city comm before it awakens the entire household. Now, the young one scrambles up with an impressive dexterity and leans over the kitchen counter to press the button for reception.

The pale, exhausted features of the Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer fill the screen, and Spock feels the ghost of fond nostalgia hovering nearby, well-hidden in the doorway as he is. Sterile, white walls frame the doctor's head and shoulders, and there is a distant noise of voices, machinery, and various electronic sounds which clearly indicate he is in a medical facility – most likely, a wing at Starfleet Headquarters.

"Spock, y'look like hell," McCoy says bluntly, as nu'ri-Spock leans on the counter and turns the screen slightly.

The fact that his young counterpart does not summon the energy for repartee seems to indicate to both of them far more than anything else, the gravity of the situation, for the physician does not waste further words in verbal volleying.

"Sorry to wake you up, but I got something for you, Commander," the human says, and his keener hearing picks up the hint of cautious excitement which threads through the tone. Curious, he would have thought grief to be the primary emotion from McCoy right now. Perhaps he and this Jim Kirk had not been as close as he had first supposed.

Spock's eyes are still dull, void of interest in either this conversation or its continuance. "And what is that, Doctor."

"Just this." The physician reaches over and smacks a button on something out of sight of the vid-screen, and an amplified sound suddenly filters over the connection – steady, slow, and rhythmic, strangely familiar, almost musically soothing. For a moment he cannot quite place the noise, and wonders where he has heard it before – and then it occurs to him.

It is the sound of a bio-bed monitor, specifically the sensor which monitors a heartbeat.

Spock's dark eyes fly fully open, looking equal parts desperate and hopeful.

McCoy grins crookedly at the screen, though he looks about to fall over from exhaustion. "I dunno how, and I ain't makin' any promises, but he's a stubborn bastard, I’ll tell you that," he says, with almost reverent tenderness.

"Doctor," the word is almost shaking in its hesitance. "Are you quite certain –"

"He's alive, Spock. Heartbeat, breathing, brainwaves, the big three all check out. Now they're all really, really low, but they're there. And that's a sight more than there was twelve hours ago. Which you would have known, if you hadn’t freaked out on all of us and disappeared for half the day and night."

"Doctor…"

"Sit down before you fall down, Spock. And tell the old man to stop lurking in the background, 's creepy as hell."

Spock cannot help but feel human amusement, as he moves from the shadows and pushes a kitchen chair in the younger man's general direction. "Doctor McCoy, you are as charming as ever."

"Back atcha," is the slurred retort, accent thick with exhaustion, though the physician gives him a companionable nod over a perfectly enormous yawn. "You been caught up on the situation, I'm guessing?"

"Somewhat, though this new development is a total surprise to me," he replies, his mind still whirling with the revelation, not quite yet grasping its enormous universal implications. "Not an unwelcome one, by any means. I assume you are not able to reveal how this medical miracle was accomplished?"

“Yeah, no. Plausible deniability for everyone. And like I said, I can’t make any promises. It could be weeks before he wakes up, and I don’t even know if he’s going to wake up, well. Him, you know?”

Something beeps to one side, and McCoy leans over, obviously reading something, then returns to the screen, looking pained but resolute. "I need you to pull it together, Spock – my Spock, no offense – 'cause there's no way in hell I can fend off the entire Admiralty and still destroy all the evidence without a trace before the debriefings tomorrow. You got to suck it up, and get your ass over here and help me, or we are all gonna be somewhere in a 'Fleet work colony when Jim actually does wake up. I am not relyin' on an eighteen-year-old kid with a cute accent to talk our way out of this. I can alter a medical report to say you didn't really break every bone in Khan's face before I refroze him but there's only so much of the ship's logs I can get a crack at. With Pike out of the picture there’s no one to have our backs on this, we got to figure out a game plan on our own that won’t get all of us sectioned."

Spock raises an eyebrow at the blunt words, as his younger self nods slowly. The change in the young officer is quite astounding; he can fairly see life seeping back into the younger man's demeanor, now that hope has returned and with it, purpose. Obviously, these two have already mastered that quasi-professional love/hate relationship which had taken he and his Doctor McCoy several years to perfect.

"I take it Section 31 has already attempted inquiries as to your…alternative medicine?"

"Attempted, but I've been able to keep 'em away until now under cover of medical quarantine. I won't be able to keep them out much longer and if they find out that Jim was ever actually dead instead of just gravely injured –"

"I will contact Mr. Chekov immediately and have him edit the ship’s reports to hold only indirect references to the severity of the…Engineering incident. Mr. Scott will be able to give him appropriate direction should he have questions but it will need to be his signature on reports as he was technically in command when the situations occurred."

"Good. We – we can't let them get hold of this stuff."

"I am aware, Doctor." Spock's features show regret clearly. "Beneficial as it might be to science, the risks are too great of this knowledge falling into hands such as that of Admiral Marcus."

"No kidding. We got real damn lucky, Spock. No telling what the next person will do who tries to play God with this. I'm still not convinced I'm not gonna upset some universal karmic balance with – hang tight a second." Beside him, the monitor has suddenly begun beeping insistently. McCoy glances over at it, then stands. "I gotta go, his blood pressure just spiked and you know he's a special snowflake when it comes to medication. Kid's gonna need constant monitoring for the next couple weeks until he comes out of it. No, you do not need to come by the ward, he won't be aware enough to hear anything in the coma for at least another three days, that's how long it'll take for his sensory cortex's pathways to regenerate completely. So you chilleat something, and then get with Scotty up at HQ and save our asses while I save his, you got me?"

"I have you," Spock replies with almost adorable solemnity. "And, Doctor…"

"Uh-huh. Y'all can thank me when he's cussin' me out for not letting him out of my sight for the next, oh, decade or so. Talk to you tomorrow, Spock. Spocks? Whatever. McCoy out.”

His lips twitch at the quaint human's abrupt departure, feeling a nostalgic longing for days gone by. His young counterpart stays still for a moment, staring at the blank screen as if he cannot quite believe he is really awake. Finally he turns, and his eyes fairly light up the apartment.

"As you said earlier, Ambassador," he ventures with what looks like entirely human wonder, "we have an unfortunate habit of underestimating James Kirk."

He permits himself a small shrug. "I believe he always called it a strategic advantage, young one."

He raises an eyebrow when a quite human snort accompanies Spock's move toward the door. "Another fanciful term for cheating."

"Perhaps. But then again, pi'shal…are you really so annoyed that he has cheated one more time?"

Spock pauses, in the act of tripping the door sensor, and favors him with an incredulous look he had once heard the younger Kirk refer to under influence of both blood loss and partial sedation as a 'spectacular Vulcan bitch-face.'

He carefully hides his amusement. "Ah. I take it you will be informing him of his error at the earliest possible opportunity, then."

"Naturally." Also, of his incredibly stupid self-sacrificing idiocy, goes loudly unspoken between them.

"Then I wish you the best of luck, Spock. Have pity on an old man's heart, and take care in crossing the city this time of evening while distracted?"

Spock's dark eyes soften, and he nods. "I shall contact you tomorrow if there is further news."

"That would be appreciated, young one. I would not willingly intrude, but I will admit to…unease, regarding the situation."

"Understood. We will keep you apprised."

Strangely enough, Spock really thinks he is, now, understood; for shared grief makes friends of enemies, family of rivals, and while they have never been on bad terms, he and this fiery young version of himself…nor have they been the best of companions either. Their possessiveness of this strangely compelling version of James Kirk has served as a point of contention between them, and Jim had hated it, which of necessity had forced them to work apart more than together out of respect for peace – but now? Now they share a common pain, a common grief, and a budding common hope. The universe, and Spock himself, are not yet ready to do without James Kirk.

He watches, half-smiling, as Spock nearly bounces off an automated hovercab in the street before it registers his presence and stops, the door sliding open automatically. Once the young officer is safely inside, he closes the curtains and turns off the lights, one by one, until he is in companionable darkness once more.

Destiny is rarely so generous a second time. They are fortunate indeed – the humans call it lucky, and he is not inclined to disagree – to have been given a miracle.

Perhaps someday, not too far in the future if what he suspects of his failing health is correct, he may hope for his own kind of miracle. Not just yet, for he is needed still; but he can sense that something has changed, now. This event, will have brought this crew together like never before, and they will go on to bigger things than they ever could dream.

Now, his suspects his Destiny lies elsewhere, and perhaps he can ask one more miracle of the universe.


A starship bridge, warm and bright and awash in almost blinding color, blues and golds and scarlets and light silvery grays. A planet disappearing off the port edge of their viewscreen, the hiss of machinery and hum of engines far beneath them. The sensations of life, teeming everywhere aboard, thriving and growing and exploring.

Eyes glinting mischief tinged with affection up at him – hazel, not that shocking, startlingly icy blue – and a familiar smile that ghosts the edges of his dreams still, even decades later.

This simple feeling, of coming home.

"Sometimes a feeling, Mr. Spock, is all we humans have to go on."

"Captain, you almost make me believe in luck."

"Why, Mr. Spock. You almost make me believe in miracles." (1)


(1) Last three lines are the closing lines from the episode A Taste of Armageddon