Title: Second-Best Destiny
Series: Star Trek AOS/TOS/TNG, but set in the Rebootverse
Characters/Pairings: Spock, Kirk, Q, various. Background only Spock/Uhura
Word Count: (this chapter) 6900
Warnings: Brief (apparent) character death, movie-level language. Spoilers for various TOS episodes and movies, mainly The Wrath of Khan and Generations. Minor spoilers for various TNG episodes including Sarek and Unification. All references to any of the three universes has been footnoted.
Summary: "Whatever our lives might have been, our destinies have changed." – AOS Spock, ST:2009 With their universe threatened by the Q Continuum, AOS Kirk and Spock are forced to confront their place in it - with painfully personal results.
Title comes from the deleted voiceover scene from the original 2009 movie:
"You once said being a starship captain was my first, best destiny. And, if that's true, then yours is to be by my side." – TOS James Kirk in absentia, original reference to ST:II, The Wrath of Khan.
A/N: This story was written eight years ago for a BigBang fic exchange on LiveJournal, back when only one movie had aired and I still didn't quite understand the characters. I was happy with the result then, but as this is still one of my favorite stories and I do think I now understand the characters much better, I decided to pull it down and do a complete re-write.
The plot hasn't changed, but I hope my writing quality has. I have ended up rewriting basically the entire thing, and am nearly finished now. I've expanded the 'verse of the story to accommodate the timeline canon, as it was originally set one year into a then-prospective five-year mission, and added minor now-canon plot points such as Spock and Uhura's relationship, as at the time of the original only one movie had aired and most canon was only speculation. I hope to do the same to its very ill-thought-out and incomplete sequel at some point in the near future.
A sense of presence, followed by abrupt physical contact against his face is the first sensation which filters through the calming mesh of healing. Said sensation is soon followed by another, almost hesitant, pat, hardly enough to really register on his drowsing senses.
Voices follow; one insistent, another defensive.
Both too nightmarishly familiar, and one somehow wrong, despite the familiarity.
Negative; both are wrong, as neither has he heard in almost a century.
"Not like that, you idiot, or he'll never come out of it – haven't you had to do this at some point? You can't just give him one little smack and expect the pain to be enough to wake him up!"
"Your bedside manner is every bit as horrible as my McCoy's was, you know that right?"
"And you're quickly becoming as much a pain in my ass as that kid pacing up and down outside there. Now move. Your. Hand."
A sudden jolt of pain shivers through the dormant nervous system, echoing outward from the sting against his face; and then another, awakening dampened nerves and telegraphing sensation from the brain to the body.
And yet he struggles reluctantly against the return to awareness, as he will only have to face these child-ghosts of his past yet again, far too young versions of a life that had vanished prematurely so many years ago.
But to refuse to face reality is not logical, nor in fact possible; for the brain insists upon awakening and he can do nothing but reluctantly follow.
"That's it." That voice…he can distinguish now between it and the one from memory's recesses. It is not right; the inflection, the tonality, the pitch are vastly different despite the phrenology and accent being very like the well-loved tones of the Leonard McCoy he had known. "Once more should do it. Stubborn fella, isn't he?"
"Always has been."
His heart stutters slightly at the newcomer's words, and an alarm blares from somewhere overhead, causing a flurried curse in the not-quite-McCoy's voice.
"What happened?" Worry, concern…but it is not possible…
"Same thing that kept happening when you wouldn't stay outta here for the last few hours, his mind is recognizing you and having a fit about hearing a dead man!"
"Should I – maybe I should leave."
"You try it and I'll tie you to that chair. Just because this's bound to be awkward as hell is no excuse for you to run away."
"Do you know how resentful I could be of being talked to in that tone by someone young enough to be my son?"
"Speakin' of awkward."
A short laugh, so familiar. Then words, closer this time, almost next to his ear. "Come on, Spock, wake up, will you?" Pleading, almost begging, forlorn in their concern, and he feels the instinctive compulsion to answer them. "Doctor, why isn't he coming out of it by now?"
But this is not possible. He has been keeping careful watch upon himself for the onset of Bendii Syndrome, as it is entirely possible he could begin manifesting symptoms in the next ten years, though he had hardly expected them this early if at all. (1) But creating hallucinations of ghosts long dead, especially that ghost…early onset is the most logical explanation, but he had hoped to have a few more years before senility began.
Another sharp slap, rougher this time, shatters that line of thought into a hundred pieces which fall about him in scattered bits, responding to the stimulus.
"He may be an old Vulcan, but he's still a Vulcan! Let me do my job!"
"Um, guys…everything okay in here?"
"Sheesh." Footsteps scurry away, and a small portion of his mind smiles; the young one is so like his deceased captain, and yet so not...
"Spock." Again, the voice he refuses to acknowledge, knowing it to be no more than a figment of an old man's far too human imagination. It is impossible, and therefore should be ignored. "Bones, what's wrong with him?"
"Don't call me that."
"…Sorry. Force of habit?" Sorrow, tinged with fondness; he can and always has been able to dissect this voice and its emotions far better than he could his own.
"And I have no idea! All readings indicate he could wake up anytime but he just isn't coming out of it! It's more like he doesn't want to, not that he's not capable of doing it!"
Of course he does not desire to awaken and find that this had all been the onset of a truly vivid set of nightmarish hallucinations. That the brain could conjure up such things with such clarity after so very long, is nothing short of terrifying to an ordered mind.
A mutter, close by his head, though he cannot distinguish the words; sounding of determination and worry and something else he cannot readily identify. But it subsides momentarily, and the few moments of silence which follow enable him to again slow the process of returning to lucidity, falling back into the quiet solitude which is far preferable to facing this harsh reality he had inadvertently created so long ago.
Then from the silence That Voice suddenly slices through the mists, driving straight through his barriers with all the ease of long-practiced, deadly aim. "Spock, snap out of it this instant. That's an order from your captain, mister!"
Unfortunately, the heart remembers what the brain refuses to acknowledge, and he is no more able to disobey that tone and those words than he is to stop his own lungs from drawing in oxygen.
He surfaces, reluctantly opening weary eyes, and then promptly closes them again to shut out the ghosts which hover around him. Is it not enough that he has destroyed this other reality and its inhabitants due to his own miscalculation – must he be haunted by ghosts of his own scattered memories as well?
"Oh no you don't," the voice speaks again, much more gently this time. Something closes around his hand, warm pressure on cold fingers. "Don't shut me out, Spock."
He must, else that way lay madness, how could this figment of an aging mentality not see that?
"I know you're confused right now, but don't you dare retreat before learning all the facts, Science Officer." The tone has tightened into a familiar sternness, and he cannot refuse to acknowledge it.
Something pinches slightly at his neck, accompanied by a hissing noise, and he opens his eyes again to this young McCoy's smirk. "Well, you're as grumpy as my Spock when I do that," the young man observes sagely, looking far too pleased with himself.
"What did you just give him?" No, he will not look at the owner of The Voice just yet, for he cannot think of acknowledging whatever Truth that might force upon him. He keeps his eyes upon the young physician, one familiar unfamiliarity in this world.
"The Vulcan equivalent of our caffeine, basically," McCoy replies, gesturing vaguely his direction with the empty cartridge. "Just a mild stimulant mixed with a vitamin cocktail and an immunity booster; he should be more lucid in a few minutes. I don't want him droppin' back off for a few hours yet, not until I can get some decent readings from these scanners. Don't excite him. You may not be my Jim Kirk but I'll still kick your ass right out of here if you give me any grief, understood?"
A brief chuckle. "Understood, Doctor."
The hiss of pressurized doors closing signals the exit of this unique version of his own Leonard McCoy, and he closes his eyes again to assimilate the information which is filtering back through his brain at an alarming speed, filling in the gaps which had been muddled by a deep healing trance. His head is clearing, the uncertainty disappearing under the mild stimulant – he notes with absent amusement that at least in this universe Leonard McCoy is capable of concocting a drug which does not turn his stomach – and the remembrance of recent events falls into place with a startling clarity.
And then the inevitable conclusions are made, and the sensor over his head beeps angrily as it registers his growing awareness.
He remembers quite well the too-vivid, unbelievable reality of his last recollections.
He is not hallucinating.
This is reality.
His eyes fly open of their own accord to meet the amused, affectionate gaze that had probably never left him in the last few hours.
"There you are. Welcome back," Jim says softly.
The Voice washes over him like a calming wave of warm water on a parched desert, taking with its flood all the uncertainty of the last few minutes spent trying to grasp what is truly reality and what merely wishful thinking.
"I do not understand," he whispers, voice hoarse with disbelief. "How…how can you be here?"
"Long story, one that can wait until we have time to compare notes on all that's happened. The important thing is, that I am here – that we both are, thank the stars." That smile, the one he had never thought to see again in anything other than a tiny holo-image, suddenly shines brilliant sunlight into the room, banishing the shadows with a familiar unleashed power.
He feels his own lips curve just slightly in response, and from the dancing light answering from his former captain's eyes knows the man can still read him as clearly as one of those antique books he so loves.
Jim's hand tightens slightly. "God help me, but I was never so relieved in my life as I was when they told me somebody else was stranded here as well as I." The corners of the human's eyes crinkle, adding laugh wrinkles to the ones already present in the aging face. "They've told me all about it. You really couldn't stay out of trouble even without my influence, could you?"
What he had done, is no joking matter; and yet he feels a tiny spark of amusement just the same at the words. His captain had always been capable of generating humor and determined calm in any situation, no matter how dire.
And yet the fact remains; this universe's very existence, warped as it is, is due entirely to his error, his miscalculation. The fact that no one could have predicted the Romulan sun going supernova before its time makes no difference to two worlds now destroyed; blame by definition must be attributed to someone, and he is the most likely candidate. He destroyed his own dreams of uniting Romulus and Vulcan, and in the process destroyed these young ones' chances at the life he had led. Destroyed his home world in this universe, and half the universe's scientific knowledge with it.
"Spock." The word draws his attention back to the well-remembered face before him, and he obediently attends. Jim's smile has faded into a concerned frown as he leans closer. "I can't tell what you're thinking exactly, but whatever it is, you're wrong."
He no longer is surprised that this particular human can seem to sense his thoughts and – Surak forbid, but it is true – his emotions, without any innate telepathic abilities. Jim had always been special, unique; an individual unheard-of in Vulcan history, an outworlder who somehow, no one knew how, had wormed his way so deeply intertwined with Vulcan and her people that he was if not accepted, at least respected, by Vulcan and human alike. (2) Now, that perspicacity is obviously flaring as strongly after so many decades as it had the last they had met.
"I mean it, Spock," Jim reiterates sternly. "They've shown me the history books and let me analyze the reports. There was nothing more you could have done."
"You do not know this." No one does. Jim shakes his head, about to speak, but he continues with, "You are the one who stated that there is always an alternative. Never a true Kobayashi Maru which cannot be won."
"Not always," the human replies quietly, eyes downcast. "Not completely." And through the light touch on his hand he can instantly feel the swamping dread and grief of a cadet patrol gone badly wrong, a vengeance-bent super-man who succeeded where no one else had before in parting them, nearly making McCoy a casualty in the process of reunion. He is grateful that a parallel event in this universe, at least, had an easier ending than theirs. Jim meets his eyes again after a moment. "Sometimes you have to settle for a second chance instead, Spock."
He raises a calculating eyebrow. "Or a third?"
Jim laughs, a half-choked, relieved sound. "Or fourth, or fifth, or whatever we're on now," he agrees, smiling through hazy eyes. "Sometimes that's all we get, Spock. It'll have to be enough."
"You do not know what I have permitted to occur in this timeline," he protests, his self-guilt weakening under the influence of that smile.
"And I don't need to. Kaiidth, Spock." The Vulcan word slips as easily from the human's lips as it would from a Vulcan's, and the sound of his own language soothes the fractured mess of regret which has been his reality for years now. "You know this as well as I; we cannot change the past without changing our futures. To wish that we could is unproductive and…illogical."
He casts his eyes ceiling-ward in exasperation. Once this particular stubborn human has made up his mind on a matter, no amount of logic will convince him otherwise; this he well knows.
Jim laughs, a bubbling, joyful sound. "You've no idea how much I missed that."
"I might be capable of guessing," he counters quietly, still reeling from the sudden upending of nearly a century's accumulation of loss. "It has been…so long."
"I can't imagine," the human whispers. "Time had no meaning in the Nexus; it feels like it's only been a few weeks since the shakedown of the Enterprise-B. So for me it's only been a few weeks since we said goodbye that last time." Kirk's face pales slightly. "My gods, I hadn't really realized how much longer it's been for you. You've lived an average human's entire lifetime, haven't you."
He closes his eyes briefly. It has, indeed, been a lifetime. They have been apart now for over four times the amount of years they knew each other. And yet, through the decades, this one loss has never quite healed, never been forgotten. The pain may have diminished with time, but the ache remained. One does not so soon forget such a unique connection - one that happens but once in a lifetime to most, if they are so fortunate.
"Much has happened, much has changed, in these decades. I am not the same being I was when you last saw me, Jim."
"I understand that." The human's eyes glint briefly. "But I suspect I'll like the new just as much as the old, Spock. If you'll have me."
He glances meaningfully around them. "I suspect I have little choice in the matter." Jim easily picks up on his amusement and smiles, unoffended.
"That will be a change, for me at least. Neither of us has ever been a good passive bystander, have we?"
"What do you do, now? The kids out there said something about you being a research scientist?"
"Of sorts. Due to the complications resulting from the timeline distortion, we deemed it safest for me to only resume my ambassadorial duties if absolutely needed, as the documentation is somewhat hard to explain."
"I am a research scientist at present for the survivors' colony on New Vulcan." Curiosity sparks in the human's eyes. "Originally I fulfilled the role of a substitute mental healer, as the resulting deaths and illnesses from broken familial and marriage bonds threatened to decimate those few survivors after the destruction. Anyone with even minimal experience in empathic coping was needed for many months, until the survivors stabilized."
"You were always one of the best psychologists I knew, other than Bones," Jim remarks pensively. Then his eyes widen. "Oh, Bones…Spock, what – was he…?"
"He was in no pain when his time came," he reassures quietly, for he knew it to be true despite being on Romulus at the dear human's passing. "He lived a long and fulfilled life, Jim; a Starfleet Admiral and a respected figure in Vulcan scientific circles."
A choked laugh. "He swore he'd never become one!"
"Indeed. But time changes all of us."
"So it does." Kirk's eyes fill with tears. "I'm so sorry, Spock. Sorry I left you both, so soon."
"It was not an event which you could prevent, Jim. And though he grieved your loss, he, as I, was pleased that you had…gone out, as you would say, among the stars. Saving the ship you loved above all else. It was far more fitting, than failing of old age in retirement. Such was not your destiny, and he recognized that."
Tears shine still unshed in the golden eyes, as they flick toward the cubicle's exit and then back to the bio-bed. "I miss him so much, Spock," the human whispers brokenly. "Seeing these kids…especially that McCoy…and knowing that it just isn't him…"
His heart clenches, and his hand echoes the reflex with its own grip. "I know."
Jim looks up, realization dawning visibly over his expressive features. "You do, don't you. You've had to live it for what, three years now? You were thrown into it far more painfully than I was, if the reports are accurate."
"It was…difficult." An immense, immeasurable understatement. The pain had been nearly unbearable, meeting a young version of this man just after watching his planet and all she represented disintegrate before his eyes. He still regrets the hasty, ill-prepared mind meld he had nearly forced upon the younger Jim Kirk, because he had not the time to prepare the young man nor to shield his own mind from spilling over the emotional turbulence he had not had time to control. While pi'Jim has reassured him he took no undue liberty and should not feel guilt at the poor decision, it had still been yet another mistake on his part. One more in a chain of horrific errors that had nearly cost them all everything. (3)
"Spock?" The question is tentative enough he realizes his mind has wandered. These ghosts have no place in the present; and only a fool wastes a second chance. He returns his gaze to the expectant face before him.
The title falls easily from his lips, even after so many years, and seeing the delighted smile that beams down at him he resolves to continue; after all, he doubts that the young man not-very-subtly eavesdropping outside will mind. And it would be illogical to break such a habit.
Jim leans forward, resting his arms on the thermal blanket. "Show me," he requests gently. "Show me why you still blame yourself. What you did, and think you should have done. You know I won't ask you to talk to me about it – but show me?"
He looks away, unprepared for this next step in assimilating this reality. He has not participated in a true, intimate mind-joining in decades, not since Captain Picard's news of his father's death. This is part of the reason he had performed so poorly with young Jim, and thankfully only a shallow meld was necessary; he had not in any way been prepared for such an intimate action. "You do not know what you ask."
"Spock." He never has been able to resist those eyes, that particular pleading expression. Even after nearly a century, this one man can still break all barriers with only a look. "I ask…that you let me help."
The words are purposeful, and they both know it; and he is powerless to resist. (4) The allure of permitting someone to at last absolve him of the guilt he has harbored silently for so long, is just too enticing. He knows Jim's mind promises no blame, only understanding; and he who had given such absolution to others as a healer on New Vulcan had never spared a thought for himself. To avail one's self of such assistance from a trusted source is only logical, is it not.
Jim completes the decision for him in true impetuous fashion, turning his head slightly to allow access and then guiding his own unsteady hand into position – a gesture of complete trust, foolish as it is to become so vulnerable before another being. Strangely enough, this one human has never been afraid of him, not from the first time a mission gone wrong had forced them to unexpectedly enter a shared mind-space. It had been the beginning of something so unheard-of, so unique, that even his own full-blooded Vulcan peers grudgingly acknowledged its validity.
"I am not properly prepared. What you see could be…painful."
"Not as painful as dealing with it alone. For once, just once, Spock – think of yourself, not everyone else."
"Captain, I –"
"Go on," the man whispers intensely, that familiar staccato delivery punctuating the words with urgency. The eyes above his fingers spark gold-green with intensity. "Show me."
He shifts his fingers slightly into the proper position. "My mind to your mind…"
Jim has probably never seen anything more…beautiful, is the word, in his entire life.
His own mental joining – mind dump, more like – with the Ambassador those years ago had been nothing like this. It had hurt; the sheer amount of grief and anger and heartbreak and urge to killhurtdestroy and sadness and loneliness had been enough to give him nightmares for weeks afterwards – and had opened up an entirely new perspective for him on the fact that hell yes, Vulcans do feel. More deeply than he'd ever imagine was possible.
The old man had had no intention of harming him, he knows that; but he had lost control of the meld, according to a couple discussions they've had on the subject. Jim isn't bitter about it, because for heaven's sake the poor guy has enough on his plate without having to worry about Jim Kirk's fragile human brain overloading with the galaxy at stake, but it's a little hard now to watch this.
This, being how it's supposed to be, evidently.
There's just something a little heartbreaking about watching two old men cry without knowing they are.
He isn't the only one, whose best destiny had been ruthlessly wrenched out of his control.
Halfway through the meld, his older counterpart's hands had reached out blindly, fumbling until one rested in a mirroring position on the old Vulcan's face, the other clenched trembling in the folds of the ambassador's robe. The open grief, the open sympathy, the open whatever-else-that-is that he dares not put a name to – he feels like he's committing an unpardonable violation of privacy, and yet he can't help but watch, his heart twisting.
Even a glimpse into half-veiled thought-memories in a hasty mind-joining on Delta Vega couldn't have prepared him for the sheer magnitude of emotion that illuminates the small room with something he may never have, probably can't even have, because of how screwed up his own reality already has been. Their symbiosis holds a fluid grace of gentility and deference that only serves to make him self-conscious, awkward, aware all too clearly of his own brittle camaraderie with his own First Officer. He is a peasant in the company of gentle beings, a court jester in the midst of nobility, a child before respected elders, a lucky nobody thrown awkwardly into the place of another universe's most famous Starfleet hero.
A struggling, pathetic captain in the presence of history's greatest starship command team.
And to top it all off,++ who can compete with immortality? These two are the stuff that legends and dreams are made of, and unfortunately such magic has no place in this harsher reality.
It's just too painful a reminder of how twisted his own destiny is, and the open sting of the wound finally becomes too raw.
He flees Sickbay like the coward he is, not even seeing Spock as he brushes past the Vulcan in the corridor outside.
He isn't sure how long he's been on the Observation Deck, but it's long enough that his legs are starting to fall asleep from the pressure of his elbows as he sits, elbows on knees and fists propped under his chin, staring out at the stars.
Ever since that one time at a precocious four years old, when his mother had actually been home long enough to take him on a trip to the Des Moines Planetarium, he had fallen in love with the stars. They had beckoned him for years, though the siren song had been muted, distorted through more heartache than he would even admit to himself or anyone else – but still, they had remained his sole constant through all those who had failed before. They promise adventure, exploration, opportunity, and in return only demand his undying loyalty and affection.
The stars are unchanging, beautiful and distant, constant and true guides through life - or so poetry always said. You can order your life and steer your ship by them, in any century. Their cycles govern personalities, and their allure evokes passion and dreams. Their ethereal beauty filters through billions of light-years to produce a sense of calm, of peace, and every child knows to wish upon their twinkling brilliance.
But somewhere out there, there is a light missing; a haunting, stark reminder of the fate that had befallen the greatest, most revered planet in the Federation. The shining light of Vulcan's sun can still be seen from Earth, from the Sol system and others nearby – for the dying shadows of an imploding nova have not yet traveled the many lightyears' distance to those regions. If he knew where to look, he could see the light of a vanished planet still here, in this space; in another fifty years that will be gone, swallowed by the black hole that had taken Vulcan and its orbital star - and the reminders of what they had lost will truly be no more.
Q was right in one thing, he reflects bitterly, as his eyes scan the twinkling heavens for the thousandth time. Destiny has irretrievably botched this timeline.
He is glad for the Ambassador's sake that things turned out as they did; he isn't that selfish, thank you very much. But he has to feel just a little bitterness over the fact that it had, ultimately, been the elderly Vulcan's doing that started the ball of chaos rolling through their universe. Though Spock of course wasn't to blame for Nero or for Romulus's sun going nova, the vestiges of blame still hover over him – for they have to blame someone, that is human nature. He's spent more than enough time blaming himself, and it's a little bit of a relief to be able to, however briefly, direct that at someone else.
But he had seen the soft light of pure joy that had appeared in the old Vulcan's eyes when he caught sight of a man he believed long dead, and he can't begrudge either Old Spock or his own counterpart what little remnants of comfort they have right now in each other. They are all each other has, now…so why in the universe is he so hopelessly, horribly jealous of them?
He isn't really surprised when the doors to the Observation Deck open behind him – only one person aboard can override a locking clearance that high – and a moment later a body settles silently beside him on the bench before the largest of the transparent aluminum windows.
They sit in silence for a good three or four minutes, give or take. Then he sighs, and glances over at Spock's impassive face, now softened and outlined in bluish-purple halos from the starlight.
"This whole thing is just…strange, you know?" he asks, quite seriously.
"Indeed," is the quiet reply, though Spock's eyes are elsewhere, looking into the distance in a direction Jim sadly suspects is the way Vulcan had lain. "You appear to have become…melancholy, rather than maintaining your former excitement, regarding the outcome of this mission," Spock adds, not without gentleness, but with an audible note of hesitancy.
"Yeah," he agrees softly, but offers no explanation.
None is needed, at least for now, and he is grateful for that. For a long time they sit, looking out at the stars, and saying nothing.
"I can't stop thinking about it," he finally blurts, not even knowing why he is talking or if he should shut up before he embarrasses himself to a Vulcan, of all beings.
Spock's voice, when he finally gives his full attention, is at least sincerely curious. "About what, Captain?"
"About…everything," he mutters, leaning more weight on his elbows and keeping his eyes on the floor, hands clasped before him. "How messed up our timeline is. How that maybe Q was right when he said we probably should just not exist in the first place. It's just…so unfair, Spock." His voice is almost a whisper at the end, and at that point he doesn't care if he is probably broadcasting a full spectrum of emotions at his poor Vulcan friend. "If only things had been different…if I'd been one minute quicker on that drill! We –"
"Enough, Jim." Spock's voice slices through the unhappy muddle that is his brain, but so gently that it feels more like a cleansing than an admonishment. "What is, is, and it cannot be changed. We could continue wishing otherwise for eternity, but that will not change that which exists."
"I know," he whispers. The cold chill that had sifted through his whole body has settled somewhere near his heart, and now it contracts painfully. "Believe me, I know. But I don't think I'll ever be able to stop thinking about what could have been different, if only I'd acted sooner, or made better decisions." He sighs, and closes his eyes for a moment over his clasped hands.
Spock is silent, neither condemning nor excusing nor absolving, which is only what he had expected.
What he had not expected, was for his XO to move slightly closer to him on the bench, so close he can feel the presence of the body next to his own.
He doesn't look up, and so when Spock speaks it startles him, just a little.
"One meter, fifteen-point-five centimeters."
His head jerks up so quickly a vertebra snaps satisfyingly in his neck. "Come again?" he asks incredulously, lost at the non sequitur.
Spock is staring at some non-existent spot on the durasteel flooring, his eyes filled only with star-reflection and pain. "One meter, fifteen-point-five centimeters, Captain. Had I been able to span that distance with my arm and hand, or had I taken two paces forward before Ensign Chekov activated the transporter lock…"
He has to swallow on a fist of sick nausea that has just punched him in the stomach, before he nods in mute, silent sympathy.
Spock's eyes slide over to meet his, deep and dark in the painful understanding that only comes of shared survival. "Not a day passes that I do not consider what might have been, Jim," he says quietly. "But to linger on such thoughts is neither healthy nor productive. What is past, must remain so, else it is a disservice to the present."
"I know," he agrees, sighing. "But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach, does it?"
"It does not." Spock shakes his head, and they fall silent for a moment.
Then – "We're not them, you know," he suddenly and almost painfully changes the subject, not really knowing where the words are coming from.
The ironic eyebrow flits upward just a fraction. "I am well aware, Captain."
"It was rhetorical, geez. But seriously," he continues, half-turning toward his First, "I've never seen anything like that. I mean you could, like, almost feel the…" he gestures helplessly, trying to formulate a description.
Spock arches an eyebrow. "The trust, between them?"
He winces; you can always count on a Vulcan to knife into the heart of the matter, twisting the blade as he goes. "Yeah. I...I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a very trusting individual, Spock."
"That is also rhetorical, I presume."
"Shut up," he chuckles, secretly delighted that in this area his Spock at least has no objection to meeting fire with fire. "Nobody's perfect, Spock."
"Including the individuals from our parent universe, despite your seeming belief that they are."
Okay, that's just rude. And true. He snorts, shaking his head. "Do you ever get tired of being right, Spock?"
A brittle laugh. "Well one of us has to be." He swallows, staring out at the stars. "Gods know I have no idea what I'm doing sometimes. Most of the time."
"That is inaccurate."
"No, it's realistic. Humans are capable of that sometimes, you know."
"It is not realism when the statement is based upon an incorrect conjecture. Your temporary self-doubt does not negate your ability to command, Captain."
"This, from the man who got commanded to kill himself for the sake of the ship," he says ironically, though still feeling the sick knot of dread inside from that awful day. "I really think you might have issues, Commander."
"If so, I believe I am in appropriate company."
"Touché." He has to laugh, because it's true. "We're a couple of head cases, got it." He glances sideways for a moment. "Speaking of which…how are you doing, with the whole, you know. Resurrecting thing."
His First shifts slightly, one of his tells. Jim raises an eyebrow. "I am…as expected," Spock replies at last, lifting one eyebrow in a self-deprecating shrug. "I believe you are aware, more than most might be, that these things…take time."
"Gods, yes. I was a wreck, you know that."
"And yet it is possible, to successfully cope with such a thing."
"I had pretty awesome help, Spock."
"And I have access to the same."
He shakes his head, staring aimlessly out at the stars. "I wish I had your confidence, Spock. I really do."
There is silence to his right for a very so very awkward few moments, during which he calculates absently how quickly he can get to the sliding doors before his First starts logically freaking out at his illogical insecurities. And then Spock's calm voice, dark with intensity, interrupts his trajectory computations.
"Whatever our lives might have been before the distortion of Time, our destinies have changed, Jim. Do you still believe yours to be to command a Federation starship, specifically the Enterprise?"
He doesn't even need to think about it; even if he isn't ever going to be a legend, this ship and her amazing people belong to him, thanks very much. "Without question."
"I cannot profess to foresee the entirety of what is now this universe's Destiny. But, I have it on good authority that mine, at least, is to be by your side. Captain."
He looks up, and grins through the warmth wrapping around him despite the chill of the star-strewn glass before them. For a moment their reflections peer hazily back at them, side by side beneath the galaxy's vast expanse. Both equally defiant in the face of an unfair Destiny.
"I can live with that," he whispers at last, and Spock's reflection smiles.
(1) Bendii Syndrome is what Ambassador Sarek finally died of as we see in the ST:TNG episodes in which he appears, Sarek and Unification (Part I). I see it as a kind of Vulcan emotional Alzheimer's disease; a terminal degenerative neurological condition which causes an inability to control emotion. Nothing is said about it being hereditary, but again I'm trying to draw some continuity here.
(2) This may sound melodramatic, but if you truly research and read between the lines of the original Star Trek trilogy (II, III, and IV), you'll find that it is true. From Amok Time to Journey to Babel to The Search for Spock to The Voyage Home, James Kirk's destiny has been intertwined with the planet Vulcan. Ambassador Sarek's attitude underwent drastic changes toward him from JtB to TVH, and I for one love exploring the transformation.
(3) For a long time, that scene in ST:XI bothered me so badly; one, as being highly out of character for Spock, but two, because a properly-controlled mind meld should not produce such emotional transference. The closest we see to such a thing is in ST:III, when Sarek basically coerces Kirk into a meld in order to view Spock's death. I believe from what is shown on screen that Sarek was grieving and therefore not prepared to be gentle with Kirk's mind, and the resulting grief was his fault. Understandably, Ambassador Spock was emotionally compromised beyond belief, and, when one understands that – other than the meld with Captain Picard at the end of Unification, Part II (TNG) – Spock had not performed a mind-joining that we know of in many decades, it seems a bit less drastic that he lost control of it in XI. Just my opinion; you're free to disagree.
(4) Non-TOS geeks may not recognize the significance of the phrase, if they have not seen the episode City on the Edge of Forever. In that episode, a stranded-in-the-1930s Kirk tells a woman named Edith Keeler that someday in her future, someone will write a novel about that phrase, and will recommend Let me help over any other words in the spoken language, including I love you. (It's an interesting point that the next time we hear the phrase is in the very next episode, Operation Annihilate; Spock to Kirk after Kirk's brother is killed by the Denevan neurological parasites).
And so it ends. I thank TOS and AOS fans alike for coming along on this rewrite journey, and my deepest gratitude to those of you kind enough to comment again a second time around. I hope you enjoyed.