Christmas Eve, 2259
The city looked strange, alien. Spock had lived in San Francisco for most of his adult life, and the fog, the way the light pierced it, the shadowy hulk of buildings obscured by it, should not have been unfamiliar. A little way down one road he could see the bright, dangling lanterns of Chinatown glowing crimson through the mist, swinging like pendulums on the breeze; down another the awning of an Italian restaurant was bedecked with pine boughs and small white Christmas lights. The notes of Silver Bells being pumped out of a speaker somewhere infiltrated the street, and the single bright headlamp of a trolley car emerged slowly from the foggy distance.
It was all exactly as it should be, as it had been for decades, possibly centuries. Spock had walked this particular path in all weather and all seasons for years, and objectively very little had changed. There was no logical reason to find it so achingly unfamiliar.
It is I who have changed, not the city, he reminded himself. It was as close as he would come to admitting a harsher truth. Loneliness was illogical, solitude a thing to be prized. But the laughter emanating from the festively-lit restaurant grated on him, and he found himself turning from the path.
Loneliness may not be logical, but if one had no other obligations, then checking on the welfare of a commanding officer, especially one who had recently been dead, was perfectly acceptable.
Starfleet had put Captain Kirk up in an apartment on the twenty-third floor of a secure high-rise, partly for his own recovery and comfort, and, Spock suspected, partly so they could keep an eye on him while they figured out just what to do with him. Out of purely professional interest—certainly not so illogical a motivation as curiosity—Spock had circumvented the security protocols to take a look at his captain's personnel file. It was three times the size of Spock's on the basis of attached supplementary information alone. What he had read had been unsurprising—Pike's wholehearted support of Jim, of course, but also the carefully-tempered evaluations of Starfleet admiralty who, for the most part, really liked him. The overwhelming sense was one of exhausted parents trying to steer a precocious but wayward child onto a productive course before he broke something that couldn't be repaired.
Judging from the little Spock knew about Jim's childhood, that was probably a recurring theme.
He reached the building—one of Starfleet's only nearby apartment blocks to have escaped having a plummetting starship crash into it, a smooth obelisk of black marble and dark one-way windows. He found the right floor, keyed in the code, and before he had a chance to think better of the whole visit, there came an answer:
“Captain,” Spock said stiffly. “It is Commander Spock.” He'd been asked to call the captain Jim, on multiple occasions. In his head, he did—in actual fact, it was strictly dependant on the occasion. He was not entirely sure just what kind of occasion this was. To simply be passing near someone's place of residence and pause for a social visit seemed so...human.
“Spock?” The tone of Jim's voice shifted from blank professionalism to hesitant curiosity. “I'll buzz you in, come on up.” The speaker clicked off, replaced by the gravelly buzz of the door mechanism.
The lobby and corridors of the building were as smooth and modern and impersonal as the outside. Had he been prone to expressing opinions on interior decoration, he would have approved. The only thing not perfectly in place, perfectly inconspicuous, perfectly neat was Kirk himself, leaning languidly against an open door to let Spock in. He was real, flesh-and-blood, imperfect and human. He looked exhausted, Spock thought – unshaven, a little too pale, with dark circles ringing his eyes, in a worn pair of jeans and a ratty Starfleet Academy sweatshirt. From a distance, he looked more like a student studying for exams than the captain of Starfleet's flagship. But up close, that changed – however youthful Jim's face, it held a weight of responsibility and experience only found on those who had held others' lives in their hands.
“Come on in,” he said, ushering Spock into a room as streamlined and smooth as the rest of the building. Even the fibre-optic Christmas tree shifting colours in the corner spoke more of corporate obligation than genuine holiday cheer. Here there were signs of life – a PADD tossed onto the leather sofa, a bag of empty glass bottles stacked next to the door, a jacket thrown over the back of a chair – but it all seemed incongruous, as if to highlight that this was a temporary residence, not a real home.
Jim didn't seem bothered by it, though, and tossed himself onto the corner of the couch, tucking the PADD out of the way and gesturing for Spock to sit. “Merry Christmas, by the way. Nowhere better to be?” He asked it with a lightness, a flicker of a grin, that suggested he knew the answer to that question already. Spock was not entirely certain how to take it.
“Negative, C—Jim.” This was a purely personal social situation now; first names were appropriate. Spock sat stiffly on the other end of the couch; the leather squeaked as it moved. “I must admit I found myself without any immediate goal, or...obligation. Also, I had forgotten the significance of the date.” That was true, and ridiculous. Spock should not be so careless with the holidays of his adopted world and the only home he had left, but the days had slipped past him so quickly he hadn't noticed Christmas Eve approaching.
It had been what one of his human crewmates might call 'a rough few weeks.' Surely some absent-mindedness was justified.
“However,” he added belatedly, “if you have other plans, I will not take up much of your time.”
But Jim was shaking his head before the words had left Spock's mouth. “No, don't even worry about it. I'm glad you're here,” he said, with that un-self-conscious honesty that always made Spock feel like something had scraped his insides. “No plans, and I'm not all that attached to the whole Christmas thing.”
That surprised Spock, and his curiosity got the better of him before he could contain it. “You don't wish to share the occasion with your family? Reenact some obligatory tradition?”
Jim's smile was lazy, languid, but didn't reach his eyes. “Holidays weren't really a big deal in my family. Christmas – well, my grandma did the whole religious bit, but with my mom off-planet so much, we didn't really do big family things. Besides,” he added, and his face changed, “my crew is my family. You and Bones are my best friends, and you're right here, so what else could I ask for?”
Spock was never sure how to respond to such emotional declarations. He'd been hopeless at it with his mother, worse with Nyota, and showed no signs of improving with Jim. But he knew it was true. The events of the last few months had shown that with unflinching, undeniable clarity. He was still haunted by the memory – Jim's fingers, weakening, pressing with all their remaining strength against the glass as he struggled for the breath to ask, Do you know why I couldn't let you die?
He forced the image from his mind and managed a subdued, “Thank you.”
Jim stared at him for a moment, and sighed, and stood – or rather, flung himself from the couch, a bundle of barely-contained energy, fizzing, kept still too long. “What am I gonna do with you, Spock, huh?” he said fondly. “What about you, no Christmas traditions you want to keep up?”
Spock followed the movement, shook his head. “No. My mother was Jewish. She taught me the significance of the menorah and other festivals in her own calendar, but overt displays of Christmas would have...not been accepted by the community.” Not that his mother had let the community's disapproval bother her, unlike her son. But she'd known when to pick her battles, too. The Vulcans could accept and understand quiet symbols of religious devotion; an entire season devoted to promoting emotional frivolity was beyond them. “The celebrations I attended as part of Starfleet Academy were primarily obligatory.” He'd been to officers' Christmas parties, and exchanged gifts with Nyota, as conscious as any expatriate of the need to maintain good relations with his host culture and always slightly uncomfortable with the entire procedure. He had enjoyed the private gift-giving, though, and the challenge of locating something suitably intellectual and rare that it would be truly appreciated by the recipient. It was the ubiquitousness, the loudness of it all that made him cringe.
Jim grins easily. “Yeah, I know those. I don't mind them.” Of course he didn't, Spock thought. Jim was good at small talk, aggressively charming, and generally at ease in situations calling for light conversation. Spock was ill-suited to all of those things. “You want to stay for dinner?” Jim continued. “I don't have a lot around, I was going to order Chinese. The menu's on the PADD there.”
Spock reached for it, scanning the menu. Chinese food was generally acceptable; there was enough vegetarian selection to provide both nutritional and aesthetic variety, and he liked the tea. Which was a distracting way of justifying the growing wish to spend Christmas Eve with Jim.
They made their selections, submitted the order, and Jim returned to sprawling on the corner of the couch. Spock found himself watching his captain carefully, monitoring for signs that his recovery might not yet be entirely complete. Some of the vibrancy seemed to have faded from Jim's personality and movements, but the defiance – the determined urge to defeat all no-win scenarios, to wring a happy ending out of the very fabric of the universe – remained.
Jim had noticed him staring, waving an arm lazily in front of Spock's face. “I'm not growing horns or something, am I? Fading into thin air?”
Spock stiffened in embarrassment and shook his head curtly. “No, C – Jim. I am only concerned for any remaining effects of the Khan incident on your physical health.”
Jim sighed, his head falling back over the arm of the couch to stare up at the ceiling. “You won't see them,” he said, still fiercely honest. “Not by just looking, anyway, even if you do kinda look like you've acquired x-ray vision. But I promise I can handle hanging out and eating takeout, okay?”
That sparked Spock's curiosity again. Professional curiosity, of course. It was logical to be concerned, and also to enquire as to the previously unknown effects of being brought back to life. “Can you describe the effects I will not be able to see?”
For a moment, Jim was silent. It was such a rare thing that Spock wondered if he had misstepped. But then Jim looked up, his face furrowed in thought.
“It's mostly in my head. Psychosomatic, Bones says. I'm cold sometimes for no reason. Parts of my body feel like – like there are moments when they don't fit together right. Like my legs don't belong attached to the rest of me. It always goes away in a second or two. It could be a lot worse, considering.”
“Yes,” Spock acknowledged quietly. It could be much worse. It had been. So many things had gone wrong over that day, those weeks, that he wouldn't have known where to begin. He hadn't, when he'd sat down to write his report.
Echoes of his thoughts must have been showing on his face, because Jim was gazing at him quite intently. He would have to improve his ability to hide his expressions. It should have been easy, but especially where Jim Kirk was concerned, Spock continuously failed at it.
“I meant to tell you,” Jim said – leaning forward a little, elbows on his knees, watching Spock – “that whole thing with the torpedoes was well-done. Some good creative thinking there, Spock. I know we haven't had a chance to hash the whole thing out yet, probably even in our own heads, but that was a good one. Thanks.”
A stab of self-conscious guilt rubbed Spock's gut raw. “In the interest of complete disclosure, Jim, I must admit it was not entirely my idea.” Or maybe it was. How exactly to deal with the paradox of another version of him was something he still needed to meditate on. A lot.
But Jim looked curious. “Yeah? Well, give me the name of your co-conspirators and I'll put them down for a commendation.”
Spock shook his head, just the barest flicker of movement. “It is not that simple. The assistance – the inspiration – did not come from a member of the crew.”
He'd wondered, briefly, how to proceed with the inevitable questions that followed, but to both his consternation and secret relief, he watched Jim's face as the captain reached the correct conclusion surprisingly quickly.
“You know,” Jim murmured, “I wondered.” The little smile twitching about his lips grew. Spock wondered when he had become so familiar with the slightest degrees of variation in Jim's smiles. “Even at the time, I wondered if you knew.”
“ – Captain?” It was instinstive; surprise and curiosity pushed any concern over appropriate nomenclature to the back of Spock's mind. Jim's smile was now as enigmatic as the Mona Lisa, but any forthcoming explanation was interrupted by the beep of an incoming message on the PADD. Spock scowled at it, but Jim reached for it as he rose.
“That'll be the delivery drone. With all the security on this building it's easier just to go down and meet it. Back with food in two minutes.”
With that he strode from the room, and Spock was left trying to sort through the various threads of curiosity. One seemed to override the others. Even at the time, you thought I knew what?
He had formulated his line of inquiry by the time Jim returned, a white bioplastic bag dangling from each hand. He started laying the food containers onto the smooth glass coffee table, wincing as a blob of sweet-and-sour sauce dripped onto it. “I know it's easy to wipe off, I just feel like a kid every time something makes a mess in here.”
Spock did not care about the sauce or the table. “Jim,” he said, his words carefully rehearsed, “what did you wonder if I knew, the day you – that day on the Enterprise?” He had rehearsed the day you died, but couldn't say it after all.
Jim reached for a pair of chopsticks. “I wondered if you knew it had happened before. Or would have happened? Will happen?” He shrugged. “To the other versions of us. I know we're not supposed to talk about it, or take it into consideration, but sometimes it does seem like the universe is trying to make a point.”
Spock stared at him, his vegetable chow mein untouched. “You knew?” he asked, visibly baffled. Jim was already on the Vengeance by the time he had contacted his alternate self.
“Only the important parts.” Jim dove into a box of mushu chicken and explained, without looking up – “Emotional transferrance.”
Spock sat stiff and still, disguising his surprise as thoughtful contemplation. Although he knew that the other Spock had delivered a significant amount of information to Jim via mind-meld, perhaps he had not fully considered the implications. Just how much of their alternate history had been revealed to Jim in those few vital seconds? Certainly, things had changed between them once he had returned from Delta Vega. That was the turning point, where the bitter dislike a young Commander Kirk had held for the man who'd had him brought up on misconduct charges had changed to sympathy and a fierce kind of protectiveness. Spock had always assumed it was because of the destruction of Vulcan, but what if there was more? Factors he had yet to consider?
“It's okay, Spock.” Jim was watching him again, those bright blue eyes fixed, unblinking. “Whatever's running through that superbrain of yours, you can go ahead and ask it.”
There were many, many things running through Spock's brain, and he was uncertain precisely with which point to begin.
One pushed its way through. “Did you know who Khan was?” he demanded, finding himself a little angry over the possibility is. “And if so, why did you not share the information with your first officer?”
But Jim just accepted the question, shook his head, and answered. “No, I didn't know. If I did, I would have come up with a better plan. There was – when he said his name, there was a weird feeling about it. A familiarity I couldn't quite place. But that's all, I had no idea what he was going to do.”
“Then I do not understand,” Spock admitted, with some small frustration. “What were the 'important parts' to which you were alluding?”
“The warp core.” Jim's mushu was getting cold on the table, along with Spock's chow mein and everything else they'd ordered. “As soon as I knew what was happening, I was – afraid. Terrified. Not just because we were probably going to blow up, either, this was different. Almost like deja-vu – this deep-down, inside my heart kind of terrified.” He paused, steeling himself; it was a tightening of his face and a straightening of his shoulders with which Spock was well-acquainted. “So I went in, feeling the whole time like this was something that had happened before. I couldn't shake the feeling that you were in some terrible danger and I needed to do this to save you. I was moving too fast to stop and think about it, anyway. It was only at the end I started to understand what was going on, when I kept almost blacking out and my whole life was flashing before my eyes. Funny how they're right about that, whoever 'they' are.”
He stopped, a little breathless, and Spock wondered how hard it had been for Jim, who wore all his emotions on his sleeve, to keep such an important thing to himself. It had certainly not been part of the official report.
But all he said was, “I apologise, Jim. I do not completely understand. I was in no more danger than any other member of the crew.”
“No?” Jim's keen blue eyes were still disconcertinly locked onto Spock's face. “Why don't you tell me what you knew, and I'll...try to fill in the blanks.”
Spock nodded. “Logical,” he agreed, although he did not especially want to revisit that day any more than he already was. “When you were on the Vengeance with Khan and Mr Scott, and the Enterprise was under my command, I asked Lieutenant Uhura to contact the colony on New Vulcan. Despite our agreement to keep our own timeline distinct from that which occurred in another reality, I thought my older counterpart might shed insight onto the matter.”
Jim let out a sort of cough, but waved him on. “I bet. Go on.”
“He said,” Spock continued, “that Khan was one of the most challenging opponents the Enterprise had ever faced, and that you were in grave danger. He, Uhura, and Dr McCoy were equally as responsible for the deception with the torpedoes as I.”
“Of course they were,” Jim said, obvious pride breaking through the melancholy that now shadowed him. “Because you're all amazing. So he didn't tell you anything else?”
Spock shook his head. “Negative.” For a moment, Jim did not respond, and the silence stretched between them until Spock, who normally found pointless speech to fill a conversational void irritating and illogical, began to find it uncomfortable. He wanted answers. “Please, Jim. Tell me what it is you know.”
Jim nodded, but didn't speak again for what felt like a very long moment. Whatever he knew was not proving easy for him to say.
“It was you,” he said finally, his voice heavy. “Well – not you, obviously, but the other Spock.” His gaze finally dropped from Spock's and he reached for the chicken, though he didn't actually take a bite of it. “I know I wasn't meant to see it. The mind-meld was supposed to just be a fast way to show me what had happened with Nero and the red matter, not a crash course in the grand epic history of another James Kirk and another Spock. But I got the idea there were some things so tied up in his mind that he couldn't have split them even if he'd realised it was happening. And I realised – remembered – I don't know how to explain it. But lying there with my hand against the glass was so familiar. Because there was another time, and it was him, and that was in my head.”
It was Spock's turn to be silent. The silence stretched but never broke, settling into something heavy and almost comfortable. Jim reached for his chicken. “I know,” he said, though Spock hadn't actually spoken. “It takes some getting used to.”
There were many things Spock wanted to know, things he felt he should ask, points he would like to have clarified. He didn't know where to begin, and all the swirling thoughts ended up back in one place.
“I assumed,” he said, slowly and as uncertain as a Vulcan could sound, “that your actions were a result of characteristic reckless courage. And that your primary motivation was the safety of the crew.”
“Spock,” Jim said gently, “my primary motivation is always the safety of the crew. It's my family, and Enterprise is my home, and if it comes down to it, I'll go down with the ship. But Christ, Spock.” He reached out, covering Spock's hand with his own. His fingers were warm, rough in places, almost damp. Even gentle, the touch was startling. “How many times do I have to keep telling you I won't let you go?”
How many times indeed? Before that awful day, watching Jim slowly fade out of consciousness and life on the other side of the glass, Spock had held a completely different understanding of the human idea of friendship. He had seen Jim with Dr McCoy, laughing, teasing; even knowing how staunchly they stood by each other he had never quite comprehended the intensity of the devotion that was friendship from Jim Kirk. He'd been on the receiving end of it, more than once, and had seen Jim frustrated by his inability to respond in the desired fashion. He remained unsure what the appropriate response was even now. And there was Jim's hand, warm and human against his, a touch too intimate in its casual affection.
In the absence of a familiar protocol, Spock defaulted to telling the truth. “I will not abandon you, either,” he said quietly, sitting very still. There were too many thoughts, too many feelings. It felt for a moment like he was drowning.
“Jim,” he said, because there was a question he needed to ask, even if he already anticipated the answer. “If my counterpart did perish in the first encounter with Khan – what happened? He has obviously recovered from the experience.”
Jim's forehead furrowed, thoughtful. “To be honest, it's hard for me to make sense of too. It's just flickers of things, when I try to think about it.” He set down the Chinese food carton, still nearly full, and leaned forward to suggest – “Why don't you look and see if it makes sense to you?”
It was a reckless propositon, Spock thought, but also a logical one. In other words, exactly the sort of thing he should expect from James T. Kirk. He was not entirely certain it was a wise idea, but it was logical.
He was less worried about what he might see in Jim's mind than what he might share of his own.
But Jim was staring at him, intense and open and thoughtful, and Spock wanted more than anything to understand what was happening. He raised his hand, hesitated for a moment, and rested his fingers against Jim's face.
Jim's face was as warm as his hands, and his pulse beat solidly beneath Spock's fingertips. He blinked slowly, and Spock's vision blurred as he was pulled into the depths of Jim Kirk's memory. He could tell that Jim, despite having no expertise in mind-melds, was trying desperately to keep the chaos of his mind in order, and push to the forefront the things that had to with the other Spock. But there was a sense as well, beneath the solidness of memory, that he was offering so much more.
Spock began sorting carefully through the memories – what was Jim's, what was not. The lingering images of old Spock were faded, like finding a box of keepsakes in an attic, untouched and covered in dust. Some of them Jim had clearly examined himself; there was an echo about them, a brightness, that showed his path. Spock could feel Jim's consciousness solidify, as if Jim were standing next to him, inside his own head. We'll look together.
Spock was not surprised the leftover images hadn't made sense to Jim. They were faded, and full of Vulcan contexts no human would likely have understood. The Katric arc. Fal-tor-pan. Jim. Your name is Jim.
And there were feelings, which even long-buried were so intense Spock felt blinded even with his eyes closed. No wonder Jim had stopped hating him after Delta Vega. Even allowing for distance, time, and differences of identity, it would be impossible to hate in the face of such a desperate, defiant affection.
They sorted through the memories together, as if they were children who had just discovered the love letters written long ago by their grandparents. They were vague, only flashes of emotion and unconnected images, but they put together the picture as best they could. This other Kirk and Spock, who had lost and found each other so many times, had moved heaven and earth and stars to keep the universe from pulling them apart. It was t'hy'la, in all senses of the word as Spock had ever known it.
No wonder his counterpart had told Spock that his place was on the Enterprise with Jim.
When his hand finally fell from Jim's cheek, almost of its own accord, he found his pulse racing, his breathing faster. Jim, too, was out of breath, his head bowed and his shoulders hunched. Spock was uncertain if the posture was meant to hide him, or keep hold of the memories as long as he could.
“That was what you knew?” he asked, though he knew the answer, now. It was illogical to ask questions to which he already knew the answer.
But Jim nodded. “You gotta admit, there wasn't ever a good way for me to tell you.”
Spock wanted to deny that, but couldn't. Considering the difficulty he'd had accepting the overtures of friendship Jim actually had managed, anything deeper would have likely been uncomprehensible.
“Besides,” Jim continued, “if I'd tried, it would have ended up leading to some really uncomfortable discussions. The kind I wasn't going to have with my communication officer's boyfriend – my friend's boyfriend. There are places you just don't go.”
“No,” Spock agreed, without being entirely certain what he was agreeing too. His head was still spinning, his thoughts half-lost in someone else's memories. Two other men's memories. He felt obliged to offer up an amendment. “That is...no longer a relevant situation.”
Jim rested a hand on Spock's shoulder. It felt heavy and much too warm. “I know. She told me. Not the details, just professional disclosure. Probably none of my business.”
Except, Spock thought, in light of recent information, it may in fact be Jim's business, and not as Captain. His relationship with Nyota had ended on fairly amenable terms. There were differences that had not seemed so important while at the academy that had become genuine obstacles in deep space, when death was possible for one or both of them at any moment. This was, she had explained, simply how human relationships sometimes evolved. And logically, he had understood. His lack of display of emotion had been difficult enough. When it became apparent that it was Jim Kirk, rather than her, who was capable of breaking through that control, she had made a perfectly logical decision.
Spock thought he might need more time to consider all the evidence before explaining any of this to Jim, who after all, didn't generally worry about making logical decisions when it came to people he cared about.
And Jim was still watching him, though his hand had slid from Spock's shoulder. “You okay?” Spock levelled him with a look, and he laughed. “Yeah, I know, logical lack of emotion and so on, but since I know Vulcans feel things, and I know you feel things, and I know we've both just been down a hell of a roller coaster ride, I'm asking anyway. You okay?”
Spock nodded. “This new information will require additional meditation, but I am not in distress.”
“Good,” Jim said, and grinned at him, and with that simple expression, so much of the tension dissipated that it seemed to affect the gravity. Certainly Spock felt lighter. “Because I don't need to go freaking you out on Christmas Eve.”
Spock tried to frown, but couldn't seem to make his facial muscles obey him. “I do not think you could, Jim. I am confident that I am sufficiantly accustomed to your eccentricities that I am capable of maintaining equilibrium despite any unexpected situation you might offer.”
Jim's eyes narrowed, twinkling merrily. “Sounds like a challenge,” he said, and Spock felt a rush of fond exasperation.
And then Jim kissed him.
It was over in seconds. Jim's mouth was warmer than the rest of him, pliant and surprisingly restrained, with a lingering aftertaste of ginger. By the time Spock had recovered his wits enough to begin to respond, Jim had stopped, and was looking at him with a wicked, self-satisfied grin.
Spock said dumbly, “I stand corrected.”
Jim shrugged impishly. “You know me, I can't resist a challenge like that.” The smile softened, then; Spock watched it dim by degrees. “Besides, you looked like I might get away with it.”
Spock was sure that if he were a little more human, he would have laughed. Instead he said, “I have come to expect reckless behaviour from you, Captain.”
Jim looked at him hard, as if he was trying to figure out exactly how serious Spock was. At last he grinned, flopping back into his chair, and gestured to the now-tepid feast set out before them.
“Good. We'll see how well you're expecting it next time. In the meantime...merry Christmas, Spock.”
There was really no logical purpose to attempting to rise to the first part of that statement. “Merry Christmas, Jim,” Spock said, and outside, the bells from Old St Mary's began to ring in Christmas Eve.