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Only Good For Legends, Part Five

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Four days after returning from Vulcan and settling Sybok into his new home, Spock comes back to his office at Starfleet. The first thing he notices is that the sofa Chapel typically sat at has disappeared, replaced by two stately armchairs with a small table in between. Chapel is sitting in one, Pike in the other; they are engaged in what Amanda would call a spirited exchange of ideas and what Jim would call a knock-down-drag-out.

"It's a ceremonial trip, for God's sake," Pike snaps. "We don't need every department to have every position filled by the most senior of all possible officers for a four-day pleasure cruise!"

"Nevertheless, you are proposing to launch the Enterprise with a complement of children, Captain," Chapel says. "Regardless of whether or not we expect to see action during this mission--"

"You're really calling it a mission," Pike says. "Really."

"Yes, Captain. I really am."

Spock clears his throat. "Hello."

Pike jumps in his seat; Chapel simply looks up at him. "It is pleasing to see you again, Spock," she says. "Is your brother readjusting to life on Earth suitably well?"

"Thank you, he is... better than he was when we first arrived," Spock says. He feels guilty for his prevarication, but at the same time he has grown so tired of questions shouted by strangers that he is reluctant to answer even the ones asked by friends.

"And Cadet Kirk, is he well?" Chapel asks.

"When last I saw him," Spock replies. He is now suspicious.

"And do you believe," she continues blithely, "That Cadet Kirk suitably prepared to act as beta-shift engineer for the secondary nacelle during the maiden voyage of the Enterprise?"

"Oh my God," Pike groans.

"I -- believe so," Spock answers. "Though I'm not privy to the details of his training."

"That is because he has not received any training on the secondary nacelle."

"He grew up underneath the Enterprise!" Pike yells at her. "He worked on her systems for a year -- he's the one who thought up that energy-boost for the comm systems when the shields are under attack, it's not like he doesn't know the ship backwards and forwards!"

"Nevertheless, you have him assigned in a part of engineering for which he is, technically, not qualified."

"Fine," Pike snaps, "I'll make him my first officer -- the only thing that position is responsible for is driving me crazy."

"I assure you, Captain," Chapel says, "That is only one of the many duties I execute."

Pike glares at her. "You know, this is why I got divorced."

"Linda divorced you because she fell in love with her orbital skydiving instructor," Chapel corrects him.

"Glad to have you back, Spock," Pike says, still glowering at his first officer, "If only for a temporary reprieve from the officer who reminded me why I've enjoyed these past three years so much, namely that I didn't have to deal with her insanity every waking moment."

"I will surmise that this strategic retreat is an admission that my concerns are legitimate and logical, Captain," Chapel says, standing up. "I will meet you for dinner at nineteen-hundred hours."

"Oh, I'm already giddy with anticipation," Pike mutters, and leaves.

Spock, who has been biting the inside of his cheek in an effort not to laugh, tries to hide his reaction with a cough -- but although he has seen his mother do it, he must admit that his technique is rudimentary at best. "I hope I did not interrupt anything very serious," he manages.

Chapel’s only reaction is to say, “There are a number of reports on your desk that require your attention.”

“Thank you,” Spock replies. “How did you manage during my absence?”

“With some difficulty,” she admits.

*

The rest of the week is consumed with paperwork -- Spock has come back just in time for Chapel's departure, since the Enterprise is, at long last, due to embark on its maiden voyage on Sunday. There is a short list of possible candidates to replace her as envoy to the IDD, and although Spock has no official vote, Chapel does, and she is matter-of-fact about soliciting his input. "If the envoy resigns the post within three months due to incompatibility, that will be an illogical waste of resources," she tells him.

"And of course, it is much faster to involve a partner in sorting through the various candidates, rather than doing it all oneself," Spock points out.

She does not respond to that particular observation.

But on Friday, Chapel comes into the office only for a few moments. "I have taken the liberty of recommending Commander Ishka for the post. She will not be available for several days, but I have no doubt she will work well with you."

"I see," Spock says. "Thank you."

She seems to sense his surprise. "I was obliged to put in my request earlier than anticipated -- the Enterprise will be launching today, in response to a distress call from Vulcan."

"A distress call? What happened?" Spock asks, getting to his feet.

"Some kind of seismic anomaly. There have been no reports of casualties, but they are requesting our aid."

"Is there anything I can do to be of assistance?" he asks.

Chapel is about to respond when Spock's console chirps. "Incoming transmission. Source: Vulcan. Sender: Cadet James T. Kirk. Will you accept the--"

"Computer, accept message," Spock interrupts.

"This is a message for Detective Spock, or the Admiralty of Starfleet Headquarters -- give this the highest priority," Jim is yelling, and it is clear that this is not a communication, but rather a message. “Spock! God, Spock, you’ve got to -- Vulcan’s reporting a seismic anomaly, I just heard it over the Emergency broadcast. The distress signal is false -- or it isn’t false, it’s wrong. It’s not a seismic anomaly, it’s the ship. The -- Pike called it the Great Romulan Ship, the one that destroyed the Kelvin. You’ve got to find someone in command and tell them -- Starfleet is flying into a trap. You have to--”

The message ends, cut off abruptly. Spock stares down at the console as though it will start up again, but it remains dark.

Chapel is the first to move. “I must inform the captain and the admiralty immediately,” she says. “Will you grant me permission to retransmit Kirk’s message?”

“Yes, of course,” Spock says, and the moment the words have left his lips she has pushed him out of the way, calling up Pike on the console.

“Pike here. Number One, are you getting your makeup kit together or what? We’re ten minutes out from boarding, we need--”

“Captain, Detective Spock just received a transmission from Cadet James Kirk, who is currently on Vulcan. We have information that this is not a natural phenomenon -- it is the Great Romulan Ship.”

There is a long silence. “Say again, Number One?”

“We must recall the fleet in the Laurentian System, Captain,” Chapel says. "This will require greater firepower than we have at our disposal with seven ships and fifteen hundred seventy-three officers and cadets."

After another silence. “Number One, you’re asking me to recall them from a mission that concerns our security on the border on your word that the GRS has returned. You trust this information?”

Chapel looks up at Spock; Spock nods at her. “I trust it absolutely, Captain.”

“Well, shit," Pike sighs. "All right. Pike out.”

Chapel disconnects the call and goes to the cabinet, retrieving her phaser as well as a command uniform. She strips off her jacket and shrugs on the yellow shirt; Spock averts his eyes hastily.

“Commander,” he says, unable to put into words what he wants. “I am aware that the protocol for transporting a civilian during a humanitarian mission is entirely different from allowing a civilian on board a ship that may face action--”

"You believe I would have allowed you to accompany us had this merely been a humanitarian mission?" Chapel asks. Spock says nothing, and Chapel continues. “This is most likely the beginning of a war with the Romulan Empire, Spock. Regardless of what might have happened, the presence of a civilian in the midst of battle would be illogical and dangerous.”

“Yes, I understand,” Spock says. Chapel nods her head and walks out the door.

Spock follows her. “However, in view of the fact that it was a transmission sent to me that allowed you to garner this intelligence in the first place, there is the argument to be made that--”

“That you are owed, Detective?” Chapel asks, not slowing down. She looks down at something on her PADD, tapping several buttons.

Spock casts about for a different way to make his case. “There is the possibility that I could make a heretofore unanticipated contribution to the proceedings,” he tries.

“That is sophistry,” Chapel says. “You may indeed make a contribution, but that is not your reason for requesting a place on the Enterprise.”

“It is not,” Spock admits.

Chapel stops abruptly in the middle of the hallway and turns to regard him thoughtfully. “Very well,” she says. “I advise you to arrest me immediately.”

Spock is prevented from asking why by the direct blow she lands to his face. It is mildly painful; human or not, Chapel is a trained soldier and has learned how to injure enemies of every possible species. Spock reaches up to his nose and feels the warm blood on his fingers.

Into his other hand, Chapel thrusts the PADD. “My apologies, but I was unable to think of any other method by which you might gain admittance onto the ship. Please sign off on this arrest warrant.”

“Commander Chapel,” Spock says, “You are under arrest for assault of an IDD officer. Thank you,” he adds, when she hands him a handkerchief.

“We should proceed,” she replies. They make their way to the nearest shuttle bay, a scene of tightly-controlled chaos. Hundreds of cadets are standing in various groups listening to their assignments; Chapel threads her way through them and directly to a shuttle labeled GILLIAM - NCC-1701.

A petty officer standing at the shuttle entry hatch waves a scanner in Spock's direction and frowns down at his PADD. "Uh, he's not cleared for duty aboard the Enterprise," he says. "In fact, he's not even a member of Starfleet--" he looks up and blinks, taking in Spock's civilian apparel. Spock realizes that he left his hat in his office; he feels strangely vulnerable without it.

"Section Seventeen point three four D dictates that if a commissioned officer is arrested but is still essential to the execution of a Federation-mandated mission, said officer will be placed under the custody of the arresting officer for the duration of the mission. At the moment, I am under arrest, and am also vital to the mission we are about to undertake. Therefore, Detective Spock is coming aboard."

"Commander, I'm not--"

"If you prefer that I not come aboard, I will order you to be the one who explains to Captain Christopher Pike why his newly-commissioned flagship went on the mission without its second in command." Chapel folds her hands serenely behind her back and waits.

She does not have to wait long.

"Of course, Commander. Sorry for holding you up," the petty officer says. Chapel nods gravely and climbs aboard. "You really arrested her?" he asks Spock in a loud whisper.

Spock pauses. "Yes," he says.

"You've got brass ones, man," the officer says, and turns to the next cadet in line before Spock can ask what brass objects he means.

*

Nyota, sitting at the communications console, is the first to notice him. “Spock? What are you doing--” she clears her throat when Chapel catches her eye.

“As you were, Lieutenant,” Chapel says, but Pike has already seen them. His expression turns thunderous.

“Spock, what the hell are you doing here?” he demands, rising to his feet. “Number One, what do you think you’re--”

“I am currently under arrest, Captain,” Chapel tells him. “Detective Spock has been kind enough, in lieu of the circumstances, to accompany me as custodial officer for the duration of the mission rather than hold me at the nearest detention facility.”

Pike looks as furious as Spock has ever seen him. “You -- all right. Number One, take your post. We’ll discuss this issue at length during transit."

"I have no doubt, Captain," Chapel replies, sitting down at a station. "Engineering reports we are ready for launch."

"All right," Pike says, and looks around the bridge crew. "The maiden voyage of our newest flagship deserves more pomp and circumstance than we can afford today, but her christening will have to be our reward for a safe return." He sits down in the center chair and presses a console button. "All decks, this is Captain Pike. Prepare for immediate departure. Helm, thrusters."

"Moorings retracted, Captain. Dock Control reports ready, thrusters fired, separating from space dock--" the young pilot at the helm is Hikaru, looking as lazily confident at his station as he has across the chess board. Spock tucks himself away in an inconspicuous position at the back of the bridge and does his best simply to stay out of everyone's way.

"Spock," Nyota says in a low voice, "What are you doing here?"

"It is somewhat difficult to explain," Spock whispers back. "Suffice it to say that Commander Chapel was able to secure my passage aboard."

She squints at him, then seems to make the connection. "Assault on an officer?" she guesses.

"It is a serious crime," Spock replies solemnly. Grinning, Nyota returns her gaze to her console. Spock watches her surreptitiously for a few moments; she seems comfortable here, at ease in a way he has never seen her before. Her long hair is pulled back in a ponytail, sleek and professional and severe. She is still beautiful to him, he realizes, but the appreciation now is purely aesthetic, related more to the way she handles her duties than to the grace of her frame. He wonders if Jim's motions will ever cease to stir him, will ever be less than mesmerizing.

Somehow he doubts it. But the thought of Jim leads back to concern over his present safety, and Spock forces his concentration back on the bridge.

"--Lungworm, Captain," Hikaru is explaining to Pike. "I'm Hikaru Sulu."

"And you are a pilot, right?" Pike asks, clearly skeptical.

Hikaru smiles, a nervous twitch. "Very much so, sir. I'm not sure what's wrong here," he continues, turning back to the console.

Pike huffs. "Is the parking break on?"

Spock notices Nyota wincing in sympathy; no doubt watching a fellow cadet get embarrassed is almost as bad as experiencing it oneself. For Spock's part, he is merely impressed that anyone could get a ship of this size to move at all; there seems something almost magical about it. He caught his first glimpse of the completed vessel on their shuttle ride, but even now he has trouble believing this is the same ship that brooded over the Riverside skyline during his tenure there.

"No, sir -- I'll figure it out, I just--"

Chapel turns from her post. "Have you disengaged the external inertial dampener?" she asks. Spock recognizes it as an impatient tone, but possibly Hikaru is not familiar enough with Chapel to notice it.

There is a leaden silence, before Hikaru says, "Ready for warp, sir."

"Punch it," Pike says. He blows out a breath, and leans forward. "Russian whizkid, what's your name again? Chanko? Cherpov?" he asks, as the navigator turns around in his chair.

"Chekov," says the young man -- Spock realizes it is Jim's old roommate. "Ensign Pavel Andreiovich."

"Very well then, Chekov, Ensign Pavel Andreiovich. Begin shipwide mission broadcast."

"Yes sir, happy to," Pavel chirps. His gaze flickers up to Spock, but with no more than a vague sense of recognition; Spock met him only twice, and both times the ensign was so involved in his studies (the first time was a hydrocollider model, the second time was a fellow cadet named KyLura) that they said no more than a half-dozen words to each other.

"And now,” Pike mutters, standing up, “I deal with mutiny within the ranks. Number One, Detective Spock, with me.”

*

“You arrested her?” Pike shouts the moment the doors to the ready room are closed.

“Captain, may I remind you that the doors are not soundproofed,” Chapel comments, folding her hands behind her back.

“No, you may not remind me. Unless I can remind you that as an apparent criminal mastermind, I can have you removed from the bridge at any time I see fit!”

“You already have that discretion, Captain,” Chapel says. “As I recall, during my first missions on board the Yorktown you had me removed for excessively reminding you of all the regulations you were violating at the time."

Pike waves a hand irritably at her. "What were you even arrested for?"

Chapel glances at Spock; he answers on her behalf: "Assault on an officer."

"Jesus Christ," Pike groans. He presses the palms of his hands into his eye sockets. "Fine. We're going to be arriving at Vulcan in less than ten."

"What are our orders, Captain?" Chapel asks.

Pike blows out a breath. "Our orders are to assist in the humanitarian mission as requested by Vulcan," he says.

"Captain?" Chapel says, with as much emotion as Spock has ever seen. "Was my report unclear in some way?"

"It was perfectly clear."

"And do you feel that Cadet Kirk is somehow given to wild fabrications?"

"No, I don't," he sighs, leaning against the desk and crossing his arms over his chest. He looks tired -- they haven't even begun, but he already looks defeated. "But Starfleet's got a different record on him than I do. Plus the fact that nobody's seen the GRS since it vanished into the void twenty-five years ago, and it just happens to show up at Vulcan, of all places? There's not a lot to corroborate his story, especially since we've lost all contact with Vulcan as of an hour ago."

"But Captain--"

"Those are our orders," Pike says, over Chapel's objections. "As to what our mission is, well -- our fleet is coming out of warp with shields raised and weapons loaded and ready to deploy. I agree with you that there's something more than seismic activity going on, and I even agree that Jim Kirk might be right, and that the GRS might be back. But this is what we've got."

"What we have, Captain," Chapel says, "Is a 'fleet' of seven ships, six of which are not even remotely equipped for battle. And the one that is has a pilot who could not remember to disengage the external inertial dampener."

"Well, I've got you, too, Commander," Pike says, smiling slightly. Then he looks up at Spock and frowns. "And Detective -- while I understand your duty, and I even appreciate the ingenuity that allowed you to pretty much stow away on my ship, you're going to have to stay out of the way. And if you don't, I have no problems throwing you in the brig for the duration of this shitshow, got it?"

Pike would find sizable problems with such a course of action, but Spock merely nods. "Understood, Captain."

"All right." Pike rubs the bridge of his nose for a moment. Chapel watches him, clearly wanting to offer comfort of some kind and just as clearly unsure of how to do so. Pike doesn't notice, and heads for the door. "We haven't been picking up anything from Vulcan since Kirk sent his message," he says to Chapel. "We're hoping that their signals are jammed or that they're just too busy fighting to pay attention."

"That is what you are hoping for?" Spock asks.

Chapel glances back at him. "The alternative is that the Great Romulan Ship has already somehow destroyed all life on Vulcan and that there is no one left to respond."

"Yeah," Pike says, taking his seat in the command chair. "So you can see why I'm aiming low, in terms of best-case scenarios."

"One way or the other, Captain," Chapel observes as she sits down at the science station, "We will know in seven point two-five minutes."

Spock has never before been on the bridge of a Starfleet vessel; he has only a vague notion of what goes on, space exploration and peacekeeping missions, humanitarian efforts and armed conflict. But he knows that the Enterprise is one of the first vessels designed specifically for combat and deep-space survival, crafted with the expectation that the long-simmering antagonism between the Romulan Empire, the Klingon Empire, and the Federation will come to a head sooner rather than later.

Moreover, he realizes as he studies the absurdly young cadets around him, these young officers-to-be are not trained purely in exploration and peacekeeping. There is tension, and even fear, but no panic; everyone is braced and prepared. Spock remembers the hard, unmoved faces of the Starfleet officers who retrieved him and his mother from Vulcan all those years ago, and wonders how much of their flat disinterest was merely waiting for the attack.

The other six ships come out of warp a scant thirty-seven seconds ahead of them, but the silence lasts only a few moments. "--back online, sir!" they hear through the comm; the officer sounds young, with the atonal, rapid-fire speech of an Andorian. "Farragut to Enterprise, the intel was correct, the GRS is here, send immediate transmission to Headquarters, we are under fire. Repeat, under fire, we are broadcasting a planetwide evacuation notice, the Romulan ship is--"

There is a tremendous noise, and for a moment Spock is convinced that the Farragut has been destroyed, but after a moment they hear the communications officer exhale loudly. "Fire-Mother's tits," she breathes. "Uh, Enterprise, repeat, we are under fire, the GRS is attempting to drill into the planet's core. There is also a lot of evacuation activity already -- the captain says, um. The captain says, don't hit anybody." There's another blast, but this time she talks right through it. "The -- the -- the Antares and the Wolcott have both been destroyed. Repeat, the Antares and the Wolcott are gone, our shields are at twenty percent but our phasers are still--"

"Coming out of warp in three, two, one," Hikaru announces, and they arrive in time to watch another ship buckle under the torpedoes fired by a massive ship that looks like something out of nightmares, black and reaching. There is an explosion high on the saucer, and Pavel says, "The Farragut... has just been destroyed, sir."

"Fire everything we've got, Mr. Sulu," Pike says. "Aim for their weapons banks, if you can figure out where the hell they are--"

Nyota interrupts, her gaze flicking over the readouts at her station. "Captain, the Endeavor's shields are down!"

But whatever they could have done to help them is too late -- the next volley from the Great Romulan Ship triggers a massive explosion in their warp nacelles, and they are so close that Spock can see the insides of the ship go ripping past the screen; he thinks, for a moment, he can see a body, twisted and bloody and he is horrified to hope that the person is dead already.

Just then, there is a blow like the hammer of some ancient god; the crewmembers who are standing are thrown to the side, and Spock has to grip the railing in order to keep his balance. "Damage report!" Pike snaps.

"Shields down to thirty-two percent. Their weapons are powerful, sir," Hikaru says, "We can't take another hit like that."

"Captain, I'm unable to raise either the Newton or the Odyssey--"

"Captain," Pavel chimes in, "The Newton is leaking atmosphere from the saucer section; it's--" He bites back a cry as both remaining ships are destroyed by one final assault, the fire snuffed out almost instantly in the vacuum of space. "The Newton and the Odyssey are gone, Captain," Pavel chokes out.

If this information impacts Pike at all, he does not show it. "Sulu, have we made any impact?"

"Negative, Captain," Hikaru says, "And -- the ship is preparing another volley, sir."

"Brace for impact," Pike says, calm and collected, his grip on the arms of his chair the only indication of his tension.

"Sir!" Nyota says, seemingly unaware that her voice is too loud in the silence. "We're being hailed--" She swallows, and continues. "We're being hailed by the Great Romulan Ship."

"Have they stopped firing?"

"Aye, Captain," Pavel says.

"All right. On screen," Pike orders.

Immediately a face comes into view. "Hello!" it booms, curiously jovial -- smiling slightly, as though this were a meeting between friends.

Pike takes a deep breath. "I'm Christopher Pike, Captain of the USS Enterprise."

"Hi, Christopher," says the man. "I'm Nero."

"Your ship has fired upon Federation vessels -- an act of war on behalf of the Romulan Empire. Disengage, and--"

"We do not speak for the Empire. We stand apart," Nero says. He casts his gaze about the bridge; Spock can feel his hands tightening on the railing as Nero finds him. There is a strange recognition in his eyes; he smiles again. "As does your... Vulcan friend. Isn't that right, Spock?"

Spock takes a deep breath. "Pardon me," he says. "I do not believe you and I are acquainted."

"No, we're not," says Nero, nodding amiably. The exchange feels... unreal, and Spock cannot quite bring himself to believe that this is the same man who killed Jim's father, who has just destroyed six Starfleet ships. "Not yet. Spock, there's something I'd like you to see. Captain Pike!" he says, turning his attention away from Spock, "You will man a shuttle and come aboard the Narada for negotiations. That is all."

The communication winks out, and for a few seconds there is dead silence.

Pike stands up, and Chapel seems poised to speak when Nyota says, "Captain, we are being hailed -- by Jim Kirk."

"This ought to be good," Pike mutters. "Put him on."

"Kirk to Enterprise," Jim's voice is clear, although he's shouting above a loud noise. "I hope you got my message, Captain."

"Roger, Cadet. What can you tell us about the drill?"

"The drill emitted a frequency that blocks most comm systems," Jim yells, "And as I'm sure your sensors indicate, the drill itself has already gotten through a sizable chunk of the planet's crust. I'd guess they were trying to get to the planet's core."

"If the drill emits a frequency that blocks our communications," Chapel says, "Then how is it that we are communicating right now?"

"I said it emitted a frequency," Jim says, not sounding smug so much as impatient. "I've disabled the interference, but it's still drilling. Can you lock on and knock it out, Enterprise?"

Pike glances up at Hikaru, who is frowning at his console. "We could, Captain," he replies to Pike's unspoken question, "But if we don't know what it's doing or why--"

"Plus we've already got a cease-fire going with these guys," Pike sighs. "Dammit."

"Captain, for what it's worth, I'm not in a Starfleet shuttle at the moment," Jim chimes in. "A kamikaze run might disable this thing if I steer her right."

Pike snaps, "Not an option, Cadet."

But Pavel is already working on something at his console. "Captain, if Jim -- if Kirk is able to achieve suitable velocity, we may be able to knock out the drill."

"How fast does he need to be going?" Pike asks, seemingly against his will.

"Jim," Pavel says, "What is the mass of your shuttle?"

"Uh, it's about fifty-five hundred kilos. Hey Pavel," Jim adds. Spock can hear the curl of a smile in his voice.

"Fifty-five hundred -- what kind of shuttle are you piloting?" Pike demands.

"I'm, uh. I'm in a vee, actually. That's how I was able to get close enough to the drill to jam their interference."

Pike clenches his jaw. "You're in a sub-orbital vehicle right now?"

"She's vintage, Captain, I couldn't just leave her there."

"Captain," Pavel says, swinging around, "If Kirk is able to achieve three hundred kph, the impact will be sufficient."

"And we can beam him out before he hits?" Pike asks.

"The drill's lurching and swaying a lot -- I'll only get one run at this, you're going to need me piloting until the last possible second, Captain," Jim warns.

"Then we'll just have to hope the transporter team has finished all its test runs," Pike says, getting to his feet.

"So wait -- I'm the first transport of the new ship?" Jim asks, his voice pitched slightly higher than normal.

"Affirmative."

"Oh, boy," Jim mutters.

"Kirk, engage at will."

"Aye, Captain."

"Transporter room, lock onto Cadet Kirk's signal and prepare for beam out before he splatters himself all over the drill."

"Aye, Captain," says a woman's voice, though she sounds much less confident than did Jim.

"Captain," Pavel says, raising his hand as though he wants to be picked on to answer a question in class, "Request permission to go to the transporter room and assist in the beam-out of Cadet Kirk."

Pike blinks at Pavel. "We've got some pretty good engineers manning the pads, Ensign," he says mildly.

"Yes, Captain, I am sure." Pavel's tone makes it clear that he is not sure at all. "But they are not as good as me. I am the only cadet who has successfully beamed out the entire crew of the Kobyashi Maru during the test; additionally I am the direct pupil of Sergei--"

"Oh, for God's sake -- go. And remember if you don't get him back on board in one piece, there's someone on board who could rip your arms right out of your sockets."

Pavel carefully does not look at Spock. "Yes sir," he says, and darts out the door.

"Captain, I would not rip his arms out of his sockets," Spock protests.

"No, but you could," Pike says.

"Sir," Hikaru says, "The vee is commencing its run, due to collide with the drill in thirty seconds."

"Let's hope Chekov is a fast runner," Pike says. Spock stares at the viewscreen, where a tiny shape is hurtling toward the massive drill at what seems to be impossible speed.

"Fifteen seconds," Hikaru calls. "Ten. Nine. Eight. Seven. Six. Five. Four. Three. Two. One -- the shuttle has collided with the drill -- the drill's beam has stopped."

"Pike to transporter. Chekov, you got him?"

"Yes, sir!" Pavel sounds jubilant, and in the background Spock can hear Jim saying something. He closes his eyes and tries to push out the images he had not considered before now -- Jim crashing into the drill, not being rescued in time, dying amongst flame and twisted metal--

"Good work," Pike says, standing up. "Cadet Kirk!"

"Yes, Captain," Jim's voice is slightly too loud, full of adrenaline; it sounds as though he's just played a sporting game or gone for a run.

"Welcome aboard. I need you to report to Shuttle Bay Five immediately."

"On my way, Captain," Jim says. "Kirk out."

Pike heads for the bridge exit, jerking his chin at Chapel. "Number One, with me. You too, Spock; you've got to keep an eye on her anyway."

Once in the turbolift, Pike turns to Spock. "Okay, so what's going on? Did you recognize him, this Nero character?"

"No," Spock replies. "I have never before met any Romulans."

"He seemed to know you, though. You notice what he said?"

"Yes. That there is something he wishes for me to see."

"Right. And he called you our 'Vulcan friend' -- I think he plans to do something to the planet itself."

"That much is obvious," Chapel comments mildly. "Captain," she adds when Pike glares at her.

"You're a tough woman to impress, Number One," he complains.

The turbolift doors open and on the other side is Jim, breathless and dishevelled, wearing his jeans and leather jacket; he is holding the fuzzy dice in one hand. His gaze flicks from face to face and he steps back half a pace when he sees Spock. "Huh," he says, then narrows his eyes. "Who hit you in the face?"

"I did," Chapel says.

Jim frowns, then his expression clears. "Arresting Officer Spock, I presume? Sorry about your vee," he adds. "But hey, rescued this!" He flourishes the fuzzy dice.

"I was more concerned with the driver than the vehicle," Spock replies. They proceed down the walkway toward the shuttles. Jim falls into step beside Spock, and lets their fingers brush for a moment. Holy shit/I'm alive/bruised/glad/is it weird that I need to pee? Spock glances at Jim, who grins over at him.

"Now that the reunion's over with," Pike says, "Kirk -- tell me what you know."

"It's definitely the same ship that destroyed the Kelvin, sir."

"That's good news," Pike says.

Spock frowns. "Why is that good news?"

"Means there's probably not any other Great Romulan Ships floating around in space," Jim answers him, then turns back to Pike. "There's evidence of phaser and torpedo impacts on the hull, as well as an impact crater where the Kelvin collided with it. And there's no evidence that they've done any repairs whatsoever."

"That's not good news," Pike comments.

"No, sir -- I think the reason they didn't fix anything was that they didn't need to. That thing's almost nine kilometers long and it's got -- how many people on it?" Jim asks.

"Seventy-four," Chapel replies, "According to what scans we were able to run."

"Okay, seventy-four. They've got space to spare and whatever operation they're running, I don't think it calls for a lot of manpower. So we can't outgun them, even with torpedoes. And just speaking personally, sir, I'd rather we didn't try another kamikaze run."

"You going to get back to some good news for us, Cadet?" Pike demands.

Jim smiles slightly. "Good news is, their sensors aren't up to much -- I don't think they knew my vee was there at all, and there's been a lot of escape pods darting through and they haven't tried hitting them, which might mean they don't want to bother but might mean they can't see them. Plus, the phasers and torpedoes they're firing can do a lot of damage, but there's no aiming mechanism -- I think it's all being done manually. You weren't in a position to see it, and it's not -- it doesn't help much, but when the GRS was firing on our ships, it missed a lot more than it hit."

Spock frowns. "It is not a warship at all," he realizes.

Jim nods. "Nope. Your dissertation talked about that, sir," he tells Pike, "Your theory about it being a mining vessel -- I think you're right." He notices Chapel's raised eyebrow. "I do read, Commander."

"If it was primarily a mining vessel," Chapel says, ignoring the jibe, "Then that argues that the drill was not intended as a weapon at all."

"You think there is something more it can do?" Spock asks.

Pike glances at him, but it is Chapel who says, "Never assume the weapon you see is the weapon that will kill you."

"Stop quoting ancient Tellerite war doctrines, Number One," Pike chides. "We all know how smart you are."

"Captain," Jim says, "I think the Commander's right -- and if the drill isn't the weapon, then--"

"Then it's got something else up its sleeve," Pike finishes, and Jim nods. "All right. Number One, I'm advancing you to Acting Captain and promoting Kirk to First Officer."

"What?" Jim says, too surprised for courtesy.

"Don't act so excited, Kirk, it makes you look like a second-year cadet," Pike says. They arrive at the shuttle and Pike climbs in, starting up the launch sequence. He ducks back out and stands on the top stair, addressing Chapel and Jim. Spock stands to one side, out of the way; he is curiously aware that he is intruding here, though he does not know quite what it is he should not be seeing. "I'm going to try to stay alive as long as possible, Number One -- meanwhile you've got to find out what they're doing and stop them -- those are your orders, got it?"

"What about you, Captain?" Chapel says.

"I'm not the captain anymore," Pike tells her, "You are."

Chapel simply stands in front of him, her posture stiff. "Sir," she says.

Pike sighs loudly, then offers her a small smile. "I guess you're just going to have to come get me."

"Permission to use tactics similar to the ones used on Deep Space Six last year during your birthday celebration, sir," Chapel replies, and Pike laughs.

"Permission granted, Captain."

*

Once back on the bridge, Chapel takes the captain's seat after a momentary hesitation, glancing back at her science station. Spock resumes his former position at the back of the bridge; Jim drifts over to stand next to him. He has stuffed the fuzzy dice in his pocket, and has zipped up his jacket; he looks no more reputable, but his oil-stained t-shirt is at least no longer visible.

"So, hi," Jim murmurs.

"Hello."

Jim grins as though Spock had said something funny. "Looks like you missed me."

Spock ignores him.

"Dr. Puri, report," Chapel says, hitting a comm button.

"It's McCoy -- Puri was on deck six. He's dead." Dr. McCoy's voice sounds hoarse, as though he's been shouting.

"Bones is on board?" Jim mutters.

Spock leans toward him. "I had not been aware previously, but it would seem so."

"Christ," Jim sighs. "Better than the alternatives, I guess."

Chapel is saying, "Then you have just inherited his duties as Chief Medical Officer."

"Yeah, tell me something I don't know. Right now Deck Six is a mess -- seventeen dead -- but we've located everyone and those with injuries are being attended. Anything else, or can I go back to fixing people?"

"As you were," Chapel tells him.

"As you were," McCoy mutters just before the link is severed.

"Lieutenant Uhura, have you been able to establish communications with the fleet in the Laurentian System?"

"Well," Nyota starts, "That depends, Captain."

Chapel approaches Nyota's station and says, "It seems to be a straightforward question, Lieutenant. Either you are able to establish communications, or you are not able."

"I'm able to establish communications, sir," Nyota replies, "But the USS Truman is basically telling me to leave a message, they've got more important things to do right now."

"Isn't the Truman helmed by Commodore Komack these days?" Jim asks.

"Affirmative," Chapel replies. "What is the significance?"

Jim shrugs. "He doesn't like Pike much. Or you. He's probably trying to pass any emergency broadcast off as some kind of panic attack."

"I see," Chapel says. "Send all relevant information via databurst to the entire fleet in the Laurentian System."

"Aye, sir," Nyota says, sounding grim.

"Captain!" Hikaru says, "The enemy ship has launched another torpedo!"

"Just one?" Jim asks. Chapel glances at him but says nothing.

"Only one so far," Pavel chimes in. "Although -- it is not behaving like a torpedo, sir--"

"What is its target?" Chapel demands.

"I don't know, sir -- that is, it is headed for the planet, but it appears to be -- Captain, gravitational sensors are off the scale -- if my calculations are correct, the torpedo is creating a singularity that will... consume the planet." Pavel looks nauseated.

Chapel stares at him -- everyone on the bridge stares at him. "They're creating a black hole at the center of Vulcan?" Spock asks.

"Yes," he replies.

That seems to rouse Chapel. "How long does the planet have?"

"Minutes, sir," Pavel says. "Minutes."

Chapel's face betrays nothing, but her left hand is closed in a tight fist and when she speaks, there is a rasp in her voice. "Alert Vulcan Command Center to signal a planetwide evacuation-- all channels, all frequencies -- take all available requests for beam-up and notify the other ships to do the same. There is -- no time to send our own evacuation shuttles, I assume?" she asks.

"No, Captain," Hikaru answers. "The shuttles wouldn't have time to get even halfway there."

Chapel closes her eyes. "Prioritize requests from schools and hospitals," she says, "Per evacuation protocols."

And just like that, the bridge bursts into a flurry of activity; Jim dashes to the science console and begins identifying targets, Nyota and Pavel coordinate transporter queues. Spock stays where he is until he hears Pavel shouting at him: "Spock! Spock, we have the cargo transporter online, do you know where the Katric Ark and the central database are located? We can stow them in the cargo bay but we need the information now!"

Six billion people live on Vulcan; countless trillions of other life form have lived there for countless millennia. But in -- "seven minutes, Captain, estimates revised to seven minutes and counting--" the entire planet will cease to exist; anything that was ever there will be gone.

He meets Chapel's gaze; she lifts her chin, just slightly, and her eyes are dry. Spock blinks away the tears in his own eyes and gives Pavel the coordinates of the Katric Ark and the High Command's database.

They watch the planet consume itself on screen, the Narada itself almost forgotten in the horror. The black vacuum of space makes it appear silent, but Spock knows that on the surface, billions of lives are ending in noise and pain and fear. "Captain," Hikaru says, then clears his throat as though embarrassed to be breaking the silence. "Captain," he tries again, "The GRS -- sorry -- the Narada is engaging its warp engines. Initial trajectory path signals that it is heading for Earth."

"Set a course to pursue, Lieutenant," Chapel replies.

Hikaru nods. "Aye, Captain."

"Captain," Nyota says, "We are receiving a communication from Commodore Komack of the USS Truman."

"Open a channel," Chapel instructs. Spock feels a sinking in his stomach. Strange, that he can still feel dread -- if seems like the worst has already happened, but of course that is far from true.

"Pike," Komack snaps over the audio link, "What the hell's going on? I thought this was a humanitarian--"

"This is Acting Captain Chapel, Commodore," Chapel interrupts. "Captain Pike has surrendered himself to the Narada, previously known as the Great Romulan Ship, which has just destroyed the planet Vulcan."

There's a moment of silence. "Chapel?"

"Yes, Commodore."

"Did you say -- destroyed Vulcan?"

"Affirmative, Commodore. The planet has just been pulled into a micro-black hole." Chapel, to her credit, does not flinch. "I would recommend that you rendezvous with us immediately in order to balance the terms of the next engagement. I am sending relevant data to you now."

"I -- Chapel," and there seems to be a note of pleading in Komack's voice, "That's not possible. There's no way that a ship could do that -- your sensors must be off--"

"We witnessed Vulcan's destruction on the viewscreen, Captain," Chapel snaps. "However, if you would like independent verification, there were six other ships in our fleet. They have also been destroyed by the Narada, but I am sure that an investigation of their wreckage will corroborate my report. We are currently on a pursuit course with the enemy ship and will notify you when we need your assistance. Chapel out."

For a long moment there is silence, then Nyota says, "The Truman is hailing us again, Captain."

"I am sure it is." Chapel takes a deep breath and turns in a tight circle, addressing the entire bridge. "At this time I would like to open the floor to ideas. We are in a pursuit course, but it is unlikely we will receive any timely aid from another Federation vessel before they arrive at Earth -- are we certain of their next target?" she asks Nyota.

"Their trajectory suggests no other course, Captain."

Jim says, "They might be heading to Earth next, but we have to assume that every Federation planet is a target."

"I agree," Chapel says. "In light of the current evidence, that is the only logical conclusion."

"But if they could do... what they did," Pavel asks, "Why didn't they destroy us?"

"Why would they? Why waste a weapon?" Hikaru says. "We obviously weren't a threat."

"That is not it," Chapel counters. "Nero said that there was something he wanted Spock to see, the destruction of Vulcan. Somehow you are important to him. You are certain that you never before met this Romulan?"

"I would have remembered," Spock replies. From out of the corner of his eye, he sees Jim smile faintly.

"In any case, we may not have been formally introduced, but it's not like we don't know the guy," Jim says. "That ship -- it's the same one that destroyed the Kelvin twenty-five years ago."

"Technically, the Kelvin self-destructed," Chapel says. "But you are correct."

Nyota calls out, "Captain, I'm getting a communication from Outpost DV-1098--"

"Disregard all messages coming from the Fleet, Lieutenant--"

"Yes, sir, but this is coming from Delta Vega."

Chapel frowns. "From the prison facility?"

"Negative, sir. From the Starfleet outpost. Someone just sent us a message -- 'I'll be expecting a sandwich when I beam aboard.'" She squints at the console. "It's in Standard, sir, otherwise I'd think I was translating it incorrectly."

"We are currently moving at maximum warp," Chapel says, "How could anyone--"

"Captain!" Pavel suddenly says, "Security reports two unauthorized presences in turbine station three!"

"Onscreen," Chapel orders. Immediately there is an image of two people, muffled heavy winter coats, looking straight at the screen. The one with the hat waves at them cheerfully.

*

The two beings who come into the ready room, flanked by security guards, are markedly different from one another. One is an irritable human in his early thirties whom Spock instantly recognizes -- Montgomery Scott, the short-tempered enlisted officer who had stolen one of the Enterprise shuttles almost two and a half years ago. Scott blinks at him a few times, but glances up at the other man and says nothing.

The elderly Vulcan, who introduced himself as Ambassador Spock, is somewhere between one hundred and fifty and one hundred and seventy-five years old; he carries himself carefully, but not due to any obvious infirmity. He seems aware of his own consequence in a way reminiscent of T'Pau, or Spock's memory of his father. This is someone who has been used to respect, and accustomed to deference, for many years. But Spock has never heard of any ambassador who shares his name; indeed, there are only a half-dozen people on Vulcan named Spock.

He swallows against a wave of nausea when he realizes that that is not true any longer.

"Greetings," the ambassador says, raising his hand in the ta'al. "Number One, it is pleasing to see you." he says, with warmth in his voice.

Chapel blinks but says only, "Mr. Scott, we would be most appreciative of your assistance in Engineering -- a number of our more senior officers were casualties of our initial encounter with the Narada."

"Isn't that the ship we're chasing at the moment?" Scott asks, his gaze flicking between the ambassador and Chapel.

"Affirmative," Chapel replies.

"And it's already killed some hardworking engineers. Fantastic," Scott mutters, but makes a sloppy salute and disappears out the door.

Chapel nods at the security detail and they follow him. The ambassador watches them go, then turns back to Chapel with a raised eyebrow. "I take it you have some concerns," he says. "Concerns you would prefer to air in private?"

"Not concerns so much as -- questions. You seem to bear a marked resemblance to Detective Spock, and--"

"Detective Spock? You are not a Commander in Starfleet?" the ambassador asks him. The frown on his face draws attention to the fact that he had not been frowning before -- that this, somehow, is something unexpected.

"Should I be?" Spock asks.

Ambassador Spock seems to consider this. "Number One, am I correct in assuming that this ship is under the command of Captain Christopher Pike at this time?"

"Until approximately thirty-seven minutes ago, your assumption was correct," Chapel replies. "However, he has advanced me to Acting Captain."

"He has?" The ambassador pauses. "He has gone over to the Narada?"

"I believe it is time for you to answer questions, Ambassador," Chapel says.

"There is very little time," Ambassador Spock corrects her. "If the Narada is headed for Earth--"

"It is," Chapel says. "How are you aware of the Narada?"

"The story is -- somewhat complicated. If I may?"

Chapel looks over at Spock, who says, "If you may what, Ambassador?"

The ambassador seems amused. "There are a great many differences between us, clearly, Detective. I wish to engage in a mind meld with the Captain. It will provide her with the information she requires at a faster rate--"

"I am aware of the advantages of a mind meld," Spock says. "As well as the dangers."

"The dangers to psi-null aliens are negligible," Chapel says. "The chief risk that Ambassador Spock runs is on his own behalf, is it not, Ambassador?"

"It is."

Chapel stands. "If you will allow us privacy, Detective?"

"No," Spock says firmly. He is unsure of what exactly is happening, but he does not trust this man who so closely resembles himself. "You are still under arrest, Captain, and as such under my custody. If you intend to undergo a mind meld, then I will accompany you." He asks the ambassador, "I presume you can undergo a mindmeld with more than one person at a time?"

Chapel raises an eyebrow.

Ambassador Spock folds his hands together. "Fascinating," he murmurs.

*

Spock has been subjected to only a few melds, and has learned to tolerate them if not enjoy them. Most had been at the hands of T'Pring, whose eventual respect and admiration for him had in no way made the experience any more pleasant. He is braced for the invasive thrust of another mind, the grating and alien presence of someone who has been invited but is not welcome.

Ambassador Spock, however, is clearly an adept -- rather than forcing his way inside, he seems to open a door and let Chapel and Spock come out to him. For a moment Spock is so caught up in the wonder of a meld that doesn't make his jaw clench that he cannot focus on the matter at hand. He can feel, distantly, Chapel's own bemusement and surprise.

But the reality of what Ambassador Spock conveys is too vast, too crushing, to ignore for long. From another time -- from the future -- old even beyond his years, having lost loved ones (loved beyond all measure) and trying to do what good he can in the time he has left -- a call, a plea, from Romulus -- a way to mend the ragged wounds of too many wars (a chance for peace, all he has ever wanted in his strident soldier's life) -- and he goes, makes the attempt and does what no one else can be entrusted to do -- but he is too late -- failure -- horror at the sight, horror at the task he still must complete, if he does not want another system to face the same fate -- a confrontation with a ship, an accusing face (a young face, so full of anger, the rage that only one with a future can feel) -- a black hole that swallows them both and renders the twenty-five years Nero spends in the past into only a few agonizing seconds for him -- capture and defeat (strange to be at his knees in front of a Romulan now) -- exile and punishment, punishment in the living, when all else has died.

As gently as the door was opened, it is slammed shut, and both Spock and Chapel pull back as though burned by the touch of the ambassador's fingers. Spock takes deep breaths, trying to control the losses echoing in his mind, from both the ambassador and from Chapel, whose grief has imprinted itself. It is only now, Spock realizes, that he feels that he truly understands the scope of the destruction of Vulcan. Before, he had ignored it, knowing there was nothing he could do and knowing he was needed whole and unbroken.

But T'Pring is most likely dead -- Stonn, and the other members of the High Council, and the small child he'd often passed at the transport station, and nearly every member of his father's race. He remembers that Delta Vega, home to twelve hundred dangerous Vulcan criminals, is untouched by this catastrophe. It seems such a strange thing.

Chapel is the first to recover. "You have changed history, Ambassador. You have changed the very fabric of our universe."

"I am aware," Ambassador Spock -- and he is Spock, all doubt obliterated now, even though he is a man Spock is glad to never be -- sounds hoarse, as though he has shouted these thoughts into their minds. "If there was a way to change it back, I would make every attempt -- but your universe is set on its path now. Our task must be to stop the destruction that Nero can still wreak."

"Thank you for your statement of the obvious," Chapel says, although there is not even the faint trace of contempt that Spock can usually discern from her level tone. She stands up and glances between them. "I believe I am needed on the bridge at this time. Since we already have Detective Spock on the bridge as an observer, I believe we have room for you as well, Ambassador. Particularly since you are more than qualified to man the science station."

Ambassador Spock rises to his feet. "It would be my honor, Captain."

Spock follows them both out of the ready room and resumes his position at the back of the bridge. The rest of the crew tracks the movements of Ambassador Spock, some with suspicion, some with concern. There is no sign of Jim, and Spock is about to ask after his whereabouts when he hears the unmistakable sound of Mr. Scott swearing.

"And that," Jim says, levering himself up from underneath Nyota's console, "Is how you fix the comm systems but good."

"That's the most ridiculous bit of jerry-built hedge-around slap-dash workmanship that I've ever seen," Mr. Scott says, clambering to his feet. "I couldn't be prouder if you were my own son."

"So you're not just a pretty face," Nyota says to Jim; she's grinning, leaning back in her chair. "I was wondering."

"You should try my blueberry muffins sometime," he tells her, and then notices Chapel frowning at him. "Captain, unfortunately it looks like our long-range communications are down at the moment. We received a hail from the Truman but weren't able to establish a link before the system crashed. It's just the darnedest thing."

"Indeed, that is most unfortunate," Chapel says, seating herself in the captain's chair. Spock turns to direct the ambassador to where they can be least obtrusive, but Ambassador Spock is too busy staring intently at Jim.

"James T. Kirk," he says, with a note of uncertainty in his voice.

Jim says, "Yes, sir?" Then he frowns, looking back and forth between Spock and the ambassador. "Huh," he says.

Chapel takes a deep breath. "In the interest of keeping everyone apprised and minimizing confusion, allow me to explain. This is Ambassador Spock, who is from Stardate two-three-eight-seven point two eight nine -- one hundred and twenty-seven years into the future. He is the inventor of the black hole device, which was originally created to prevent a supernova from consuming Romulus. The plan failed and the ambassador was confronted by Nero, and in the resulting battle they were both pulled through a space-time anomaly; as we know, the Narada emerged near the Klingon border approximately twenty-five years ago. Nero has evidently been waiting for Ambassador Spock ever since; he seized both the ambassador's ship and the black-hole device when the ambassador re-emerged from the anomaly yesterday."

Mr. Scott says, "I'm sorry, you said that was supposed to minimize confusion, correct, Captain?"

"So you're... Spock," Jim says. "Just -- from the future."

"Not quite," the ambassador says. "The Narada entered your reality on Stardate two-two-three-three point zero four zero; that is the initial point of departure between our two realities. Our lives and experiences no doubt distinguish us from each other."

"In addition," Spock observes, "You are a century and a half older than I am."

"There is that, as well," Ambassador Spock acknowledges.

"As interesting as this is to the entire crew," Chapel says, sounding very close to impatient, "The question remains, how best to intercept the Narada, disable it, and bring its crew to justice, without being destroyed in the process. We are technologically outmatched in every way, and they have a head start, as well as very little in the way of disincentive. I welcome all suggestions at this time," she says, and looks around expectantly.

For a long moment, there's silence. Mr. Scott clears his throat. "When you say technologically outmatched, what do you mean exactly?"

"Sabotaging them seems your best option," Spock says. The entire bridge crew turns to stare at him, and he wonders if he has just breached some kind of protocol. Even Mr. Scott looks scandalized.

"He's right," Jim says, coming to stand next to him, flashing a quick smile at him before addressing Chapel. "We're not as technologically outmatched as you think -- they don't have any kind of shielding, for one."

"They don't need it," Hikaru chimes in. "Even without shields, its sheer mass means we could spend all day throwing torpedoes at it and they could still shrug it all off."

"So then we use that against them," Jim says. "Our best chance is that black-hole device they've got on board -- if we can't blow them up, maybe we can get them to do it to themselves."

"Is there any remote activation of the device, sir?" Nyota asks Ambassador Spock. "Any frequency we can emit and have it go off?"

The ambassador is watching Jim closely, but he answers Nyota. "No, it was designed to detonate upon impact, not remotely," he says. "Something I now feel may have been an oversight on the part of the Vulcan Science Academy."

Jim seems unaware or unperturbed by the ambassador's scrutiny; instead he is chewing at his lower lip, lost in thought. "So someone's got to go over there, up close and personal. Plus, we've still got Captain Pike to get back. Which means we have to get within range. Or could we use that party trick that got you and Scotty here onboard?" Jim asks, looking up.

Ambassador Spock shakes his head. "Transwarp beaming is possible only with a trustworthy signal from the target. At this time you know only that the Narada is headed for Earth; since we do not have a specific location for the ship, a transwarp beam would be illogical at best, suicidal at worst."

"So it's all down to getting on board after the ship comes out of warp," Nyota says. "That... doesn't give us a lot of time."

"In addition," Pavel adds, "Our shields are still at thirty-two percent. We cannot take even one more of the enemy ship's torpedoes."

Jim straightens up. "Maybe we don't have to -- Sulu, how fast were the Narada's torpedoes?"

Hikaru looks startled, then swings around to his console. "They were -- um. About fifty, sixty meters a second."

"Why is that relevant?" Chapel asks.

"Because," Jim answers, looking jubilant, "Pavel's right, sir. We can't take the hits, so we have to make sure we don't. If you authorize a fire-at-will to Sulu, he can destroy the torpedoes themselves before they hit our shields. Or, you know, the hull."

"Aye, that might work," Mr. Scott says. "Also, Captain, request permission to light a fire under the asses of those down in Engineering -- if I can't get this beauty's shields up to at least sixty-five percent by the time we get to Earth--"

"Then we most likely will all be dead, Mr. Scott. Permission granted. Lieutenant," says Chapel, turning to Hikaru, "Do you believe you could accomplish this?"

"Well, I'm reigning champion of Target Droid Jedi Master at the Academy, Captain," Hikaru replies. "I'm pretty confident."

"That still leaves us S.O.L. in terms of how to get the black hole device back," Jim muses.

Spock frowns. "S.O.L.?" he asks.

Jim laughs -- it is a strange sound, in the midst of the loss of Vulcan and their current mission. But other crew members are smiling, too, and there is the feeling of a great breath of air being exhaled. "I'll tell you later," Jim promises him.

"In this, I believe I can be of assistance," Ambassador Spock says. "The Aluk-pi'harr is authorized to respond only to my commands; although Nero can obviously access the tehn-khrash-yel, he cannot fly the ship itself. If you can get me aboard, I can retrieve the ship and, if possible, bring back Captain Pike." He notices the puzzled expressions on most of the crew members. "Yes?" he asks.

"Ten crash yell?" Pavel asks.

"Ah. Forgive me. The material that is actually responsible for reversing the effects of a supernova. Loosely translated, in fact, it means 'anti-supernova.'"

"And the Aluk-pi'harr?" Jim asks. His accent is remarkably good.

The ambassador looks uncomfortable. "The Jellyfish. My goddaughter named it."

*

"I would like to repeat my objection to this plan," Spock says. He is standing at the base of the transport pad beside Chapel; on the pad itself stand Jim and Ambassador Spock, both armed with phasers and preparing to beam over to the Narada. For now, they are not in direct danger; Pavel has devised an ingenious method of concealing the Enterprise amongst Saturn's rings. But there is no question that very shortly, the Narada and the Enterprise will have to face off, and though Hikaru has spent the past three hours running through torpedo attack simulations, their best chance against Narada lies with these two men.

Jim sighs explosively, but Chapel says only, "Your objection is noted, Detective, as have the twenty-three previous objections. Ambassador, Kirk, the drill is already descending and we must assume that they have repaired not only the blasting function but the ability to jam our comms and transport systems. We will be unable to either communicate or assist you until we have successfully destroyed the drill -- you will have to conduct your mission without the possibility of backup."

"Understood, Captain," Ambassador Spock replies, as Jim says, "Aye, sir."

"Very well. Energize," Chapel tells the transporter technician.

Jim smiles at Spock, just as he dematerializes, and then he's gone.

"Detective, with me. I must confess," Chapel tells him as they make their way toward the bridge again, "I am finding your insistence on strict adherence to the custodial guidelines somewhat taxing."

"Are you implying that you find my constant presence irritating?" Spock asks.

"I was stating it outright," Chapel says.

"Nevertheless, Captain," Spock says, coming back to the same argument he has tried for several hours already, "This plan is extremely dangerous and not at all--"

"Not at all what Cadet Kirk should be expected to do," Chapel interrupts. Spock follows her onto the bridge as she continues, "I agree. But he volunteered, and I believe that he has a better chance than almost anyone on this ship of successfully locating Captain Pike." She folds her hands behind her. "While I understand your concern is of a more personal nature, it is that very lack of objectivity which leads me to give your disapproval less weight than it might otherwise carry."

"I disagree that my assessment of this plan is based on anything but a reasoned analysis," Spock replies. "We are relying on conjecture and -- guesses, in order to further this plan. We are not even sure where precisely we have beamed them to -- and to count on the ambassador, who is by his own admission almost two centuries old and--"

Chapel presses her comm link on the chair console. "Dr. McCoy, please report to the bridge. As I am sure you know, Detective, a Vulcan's age has little impact on their strength, endurance, or vitality. His meld revealed no weaknesses in his mind, either."

"And because he seems in good health, you are willing to risk the life of an untried cadet in order to--"

"In order to save Earth, yes," Chapel says. The doors hiss open and Dr. McCoy steps through.

"You rang?" he says, clearly irritated.

"Yes, Doctor," she says, and turns back to Spock. "Detective, while I appreciate all that you have done for us in terms of allowing us to reach this point, I must ask you to accompany Dr. McCoy and allow the bridge crew to operate with maximum efficacy."

"You are still in my custody," Spock points out. "I intend to remain here for the duration."

"The duration of what?" Dr. McCoy asks Nyota. She looks at him with raised eyebrows. "Hey, I've been neck-deep in traumas all day, I don't have time to listen to the gossip."

Spock turns to look out the viewscreen. There is still nothing but the gray-brown clouds of Saturn's rings visible, but somewhere out there is a ship that will destroy the entirety of the Federation unless a desperate and unbelievably stupid plan somehow works.

"Then you will not remove yourself from the bridge voluntarily?" Chapel asks from behind him.

"No," he says, firm in that at least.

"Then I regret that this has become necessary," he hears, before he feels a pinch high on his shoulder. After that, there is only darkness.

*

He wakes up to McCoy's face staring down at him irritably. "About damn time," Dr. McCoy snaps. "Rise and shine, Detective, and quit hogging the bed."

Spock sits up -- he is in a biobed in Sickbay, surrounded by a dozen or so hollow-eyed Vulcans and a handful of Starfleet crew. The crew members are all badly injured; he realizes that anyone who has suffered less than a life-threatening injury has been patched up as best they can and sent back on duty. He looks away from a young Tellarite woman who is unconscious in the next bed; she is missing her right arm and a good portion of her face.

McCoy notices. "Believe it or not," he says, "Ensign Yalunmi isn't bad off. Tellarites don't regenerate naturally, but they respond to regeneration protocols better than any other Federation species. By the time she's done, her mama might be able to tell that her face is different, but I wouldn't bet on it."

"How... fortunate. How long have I been unconscious?" asks Spock.

"Less than thirty minutes. Acting Captain Chapel had Security carry you down here like you were a sack of cornmeal, it was the highlight of my day."

"Has Jim returned?" Spock demands.

Just then there is a comm from the bridge. "Sickbay, report to Transporter Room, Code Red, immediate--"

"Everything's been Code Red today," McCoy mutters, but takes off at a run. Spock follows closely behind, knowing what he will see but hoping desperately that he is wrong.

Pike and the ambassador are standing alone on the transporter pad, and for a moment the world seems to stop, frozen in a crystal of horrible possibility. Then he sees -- a body, crumpled on the pad to Pike's right. Pike is already staggering, something wrong with his legs, but the ambassador catches him and Spock is able to get to Jim's side.

"Jesus," he hears McCoy breathe, then, "Nurse Armstrong! Get Pike to sickbay, find out what happened, I've got -- oh, God, Jimmy."

Jim seems to hear; he tries to roll over, and the blood pouring from his stomach is almost black. "Hey guys," he wheezes, then frowns at McCoy's scanner. "Bones, I'm not feeling so hot, what's--" he coughs, hard, blood trickling from the corner of his mouth down his cheek.

"Jim, be still," Spock says. "You will only aggravate your--" calling this a wound seems ridiculous. It is a phaser blast; there is an entire chunk of him that has been vaporized.

Spock wonders if these scars will overwrite the scars from the Ulnasian knife a year and a half ago, although of course Jim will not survive to wear scars. Of course he will die, in just a few moments, and Spock tries hard to concentrate, to remember every detail: the flare of freckles across Jim's nose and the odd scar on his chin, the way his eyes are the same blue color as the Iowa sky.

"Just -- like old times, huh?" Jim wheezes, grabbing tight hold of Spock's hand. if I die I swear to God I'm haunting your ass for the rest of your days/fuck this HURTS/I did it/I didn't do enough--

"Jim," Spock murmurs, smoothing Jim's hair with his free hand, "Be at rest."

"Sounds good," Jim says. "Ship out of danger?"

"Yes," Spock says, though he neither knows nor cares if this is the case.

"So I guess it's time for deathbed confessions--" Jim coughs again. McCoy barks an order in the background and someone is cutting Jim's shirt off, but Jim won't let go of Spock's hand.

"You are not on your deathbed," Spock lies, "Therefore there is no need for confessions."

"Besides," Jim says, grinning and glazed and so close to death, "You already know anyway. You know it all."

"Yes," Spock repeats.

*

It is not over.

The Narada has been destroyed; Nero and his crew have apparently all died, and Spock cannot find the compassion within himself to mourn them. But the Enterprise returns to Earth to find the Federation in crisis. There are urgent and contradictory orders sent to them every few minutes, and after the fifth countermanded order, Chapel pages Mr. Scott and asks him to re-engineer the communications "issue" that Jim and he had concocted before. The Enterprise docks at the Earth space station and Chapel reports to the captain manning the station that all orders from Headquarters will have to be brought through via carrier until the "issue" is resolved.

Chapel also has the injured crew members beamed down to Starfleet Medical; Spock is both relieved and offended to find that he is to be beamed down, as well. "I am not injured," he points out to McCoy, who is making sure every patient is appropriately tagged and giving detailed and derogatory instructions to the as-yet-unseen head of Medical down on the surface.

"Ask me how much I care," McCoy snaps, then returns to the console. "Next patient, two-seven-alpha-epsilon, Cadet Kirk, James T. Phaser blast to the midsection, portions of the left kidney and left lung missing, spleen's been vaporized, as well as the costal cartilage and some of the bone on his fifth, sixth, and seventh ribs. Stable in stasis for now, you're going to have to check his spinal cord and I've recorded some concerns about his--"

"Wait, there's no record of a Cadet Kirk on the ship's manifesto," protests the doctor down on the surface through the comm unit.

"Well, he didn't just appear out of thin air, Marcus, now quit staring at the paperwork and focus, all right? We're due to beam them down in five and we're leaving in six, so you'd damn well better have all of this down and dusted or else I'm suing you for professional negligence."

"You're leaving in six?" Spock asks, frowning. McCoy simply rolls his eyes, slaps a transport tag on his shoulder, and says, "Immediate beamdown for patient two-seven-beta-epsilon. Make sure he's got full visitor's rights to Cadet--"

The rest is swallowed up by the transporter, and Spock finds himself standing in a sterile-looking infirmary, blinking at a young human woman who has a PADD and an earnest expression.
"Hi!" she chirps. "You look like you're..." she looks down at her roster. "Detective Spook?"

"Spock," he corrects.

"Okay! According to Dr. McCoy, I'm supposed to treat you for any potential allergic reactions to the sedative," she says, and waves a scanner in his face.

Spock leans away. "That will not be necessary; I have not been sedated recently. Acting Captain Chapel somehow administered a Vulcan Nerve Pinch, rendering me temporarily unconscious, but that is all."

"Acting Captain Chapel?" the nurse repeats, frowning. "Is she -- um. She's the captain now?"

"Yes," Spock replies.

"Oh. Well, that's great. I guess. Um, if you could just sit on this bed, here, I'll be done--"

"Nurse, I assure you, I am not under the influence of any sedative."

"According to your charts," she replies, still smiling helpfully at him, "You are."

Spock sighs, and says, "Can you comm Dr. McCoy for me?"

The smile dims a bit, but she leads him to a console and a moment later, McCoy snaps, "I swear, Christine, the transporter better've lost one of Spock's damn legs in transit for you to be paging me right now."

"Actually, he wants to talk to you," the nurse says.

"Will you please tell Nurse--" Spock pauses.

"Oh, you can just call me Christine."

"Would you please inform her that Acting Captain Chapel somehow performed a Vulcan Nerve Pinch on me, therefor--"

"Don't be an idiot," McCoy scoffs. "Of course she didn't."

Spock frowns. "I am certain that she, in fact, did."

"A Vulcan Nerve Pinch is called a Vulcan Nerve Pinch not because it sounds better than Really Strong Grip Nerve Pinch -- you've got to have some psy-touch ability, and while we can all agree that the good Acting Captain is more Vulcan than any human should be, genetically she's just like one of us. Well, one of me," he amends. "She made me give her one of my hypos and she got you right in the neck. There're about a dozen witnesses, we all laughed a lot. Are we done?"

Christine blinks up at Spock. "Um, yes Doctor. I think so."

"Good. And Christine? You let him near a comm console again, I'm hunting you down, I don't care what kind of blatant nepotism got you into Starfleet Medical." The console goes dark, and Christine lets out a breath.

"He's a charmer, isn't he?" she says.

A few minutes later the last of the injured crew beam down, Jim among them. Spock finds out later that, with Starfleet unable to issue any comprehensible orders, Chapel has simply taken the Enterprise back to Vulcan to help with the rescue of the thousands of shuttles and escape pods still orbiting the micro-black hole where the planet once was.

For lack of anything better to do, Spock sits and waits while doctors begin the task of rebuilding his torso. He folds himself into a chair in the corner of the room and allows things to happen around him -- it is beginning to be a very familiar feeling.

Amanda and Sybok have both sent messages, but they are at the Vulcan Embassy, trying to keep forty distraught diplomats from losing control, and cannot come to see him any time soon. "I've been doing a lot of word-eating today," Sybok says in one message, his voice raw; Spock wonders if he has been crying. "I thought that if something like this happened -- oh, hell. Anyway, I'll see you when I can. Be well." Amanda is more frank: "They're destroyed, Spock. I'm not sure what I can do -- I've called in every favor I can think of and we've got all the telepathic counselors in Starfleet here, but I don't know if it'll be enough. This loss -- there's something terrifying about it." Spock thinks back to the sight of Vulcan, tearing itself up as it imploded. And he thinks of the mindlinks that most Vulcans have, links to their bondmates but also to their children, parents, cousins, friends. It is one thing to know that nearly everyone you have ever known is dead, but to feel their loss in your mind as well as your heart would wreak havoc on the most disciplined of Vulcans.

"There are reports that some of them are just pointing their ships back into the black hole, letting themselves get swallowed up," the nurse -- Christine -- tells him that evening. Spock is still sitting in the corner, watching Jim. Pike, still unconscious, has been placed in the other bed in the room; the medical equipment surrounding them makes a reassuring hum.

"I think she wants to grab the rest before it becomes a mass suicide," Christine continues. She swallows and says, "I meant the Enterprise. Not she--"

"Your last name is Chapel, is it not?" Spock asks. Christine flinches, which is answer enough. "Your sister was proud when you enrolled in Starfleet."

It's true -- Chapel had told him that her sister would no doubt be a shining example to everyone in Starfleet Medical, that her records were flawless, even if she was somewhat needlessly emotional.

"That's nice," Christine says. "So, Cadet Kirk's vitals are strong, and his spleen should grow back in the next few days or so, although it's still a tricky business and he'll have to stay in a medical coma for most of it--"

"Why are you telling me this?" Spock asks. "His mother--"

Christine looks confused. "Well, you're... Spock, right? He's got you listed as his medical proxy." She flips her PADD around so that Spock can read it. "See?"

Spock leans forward -- she is correct. "I see." The meaning behind this is too much to consider, and he tries to push it aside. All at once he remembers that Jim is probably still listed as his proxy, from the time in Iowa when Jim had hacked into Spock's records.

Christine is watching him, but when he catches her eye she flushes and looks back down at her PADD. Spock leans forward. "You seemed not to recognize me before," he says. "Did your sister never mention me? We have worked together for over a year--"

"We're not close," she replies shortly. "I knew she was assigned to the Enterprise, I mean, everybody does. Captain Pike and Commander Chapel, going boldly where no one has gone before. But I don't -- anyway, Kirk will be fine, it's just a question of time and rest."

"Thank you," Spock says.

She nods and turns away, but she pauses for a moment. "Is she all right?"

"She is... affected by the destruction of Vulcan," Spock says. "But physically she is well."

"Physically she is well," Christine repeats. "Then she's fine. Whenever I asked how she was doing, she'd always say that she was in optimum health."

Spock feels at a loss. "It must be difficult, to have a sister so different from oneself," he says. He thinks of his brother, and wonders if his words sound half as foolish to Christine as they do to himself.

Christine laughs -- although it has no humor in it. "You know, if there was anyone in the galaxy who could know how it feels to have a sibling who's neither human nor Vulcan, I guess it'd be you," she says. "I'm on call if you need me."

*

To say that the Admiralty is disgruntled when the Enterprise departs without official authorization would be to vastly understate the case. Spock watches from his seat as high-ranking officers pace the halls of the infirmary, scowling inside various rooms every once in a while, only to be rebuffed by whatever nurse or doctor or relative is standing guard.

He knows that the bulk of the fleet has returned from the Laurentian System when Commodore Komack comes striding into the room. "You," he growls at Spock, narrowing his eyes. "Should've guessed. You're coming with me -- we're not supposed to debrief civilians, but this whole thing's got your sticky little fingerprints all over it. You've got some explaining to do."

"No," Spock replies, surprised. "I am not leaving this room until either Captain Pike or Cadet Kirk regains consciousness."

"Like hell you're not," Komack starts, but is interrupted by a voice behind him.

"Like hell he is. Medical Code states that the treatment of a patient is to be determined at the discretion of his attending physician, which is me. And I say that Detective Spock is vital to the well-being of my patient, so if you don't mind getting the hell out of my infirmary, I'd be much obliged."

Komack turns, and Spock is able to see McCoy, arms folded over his chest. He is dirty and streaked with blood, on his uniform and his hands and his face -- much of it, Spock realizes, not the red of a human's or the dark yellow of a Tellerite's, but the vivid green of a Vulcan's. All at once Spock remembers that he still has no idea if T'Pring is alive.

He pushes the thought down as Komack matches McCoy glare for glare. "Who the hell are you?" he snaps.

"I'm the doctor kicking you out, and as for who you are, I don't give a damn. I've got reports that you've been menacing seriously wounded Starfleet officers who are goddamn heroes as of today, and don't you think for a second I won't tell every sentient with a reporter's credential all about it."

This seems to have an impact, which is disappointing but not surprising; Komack glances back at Spock and tells him, "You'd better be in my office within the hour, Spock. Somehow I doubt anybody's going to call you a hero."

McCoy follows him out the door and, presumably, out of the building, but he comes back immediately. "Much as I like thwarting the will of pansy little snotrags like that," he says, hitting a button on his PADD and frowning at the data he reads there, "He's probably got enough pull to make your life hell if you don't show. Who was he, anyway?"

"Commodore Komack," Spock answers.

"Huh. Ugly little pissant, isn't he?" McCoy moves to Jim's bed, glancing over the PADD and nodding absently to himself.

After a few minutes, Spock ventures, "So I take it the Enterprise has returned?"

"You know," McCoy says, "Those finely-honed observational skills of yours, Spock -- call me crazy, but I think you'd make a halfway-decent detective."

Spock ignores that and persists, "Were you able to assist in the rescue operation?"

This seems to drain the sarcasm out of McCoy; he heaves a deep sigh and says, "Kinda sorta. We got there and -- there was a lot to do," he says. "We did what we could, and then all of a sudden three dozen of Starfleet's finest show up from out of the clear blue sky and say they've got orders to take over and that we've got to double-time it back to Earth. From what I can tell, Captain Chapel didn't much appreciate it, but there's not a whole lot she could do. So here we are. I should get frequent-flyer miles, all the trips I'm logging back and forth."

"And is there any information about the survivors yet?" Spock asks. "I wanted to know--"

"If any of your buddies made it off?" McCoy asks shrewdly. "There's a database already, although we're having trouble getting a lot of them to talk -- something about psychic stress, I don't know. For now they're all en route here, although hell if I know how Starfleet's going to accommodate fifteen thousand Vulcans on ten hours' notice."

"Fifteen thousand?" Spock asks. "That -- that is all that survived?"

"That's optimistic," McCoy sighs.

Spock tries to understand it, and finds he cannot. He doesn't have that kind of mind -- the things he imagines are the intricacies of a crime, the small moves of individuals. To comprehend the scope of six billion lives lost is impossible. "What will they do?" he asks. "After they convene here?"

Dr. McCoy shrugs, checking the monitors above Jim's bed. "Above my paygrade. I heard something about a colony on some empty planet, but who knows. It hasn't even been a day, you know. Feels like it's been a month, but--" he shrugs, looking helpless and somehow much older.

Spock nods, and stands. "I will be back shortly. Please inform me immediately if there is any--"

"Oh, for God's sake," Dr. McCoy sighs, then thrusts the PADD at Spock. "See this list? This is the list of everyone that I'm supposed to inform immediately if either of these idiots ever decides to wake up."

Spock frowns. "I am not at the top of this list," he protests.

"Hey, you're on it. Be thankful."

*

Spock finds Ambassador Spock waiting for him outside the infirmary doors. "I understand he will recover," he says.

There is no need to ask whom the ambassador means. "Yes, although he will remain in a medical coma for several days. Forgive me, ambassador, but I am on my way to see--"

"Commodore Komack, I believe, the young man who strides so purposefully through the hallways," Ambassador Spock finishes. "I would guess that he has ordered you to report to him immediately for debriefing."

"Yes," Spock says. Commodore Komack is in his late forties -- hardly young by any human standard. But then the ambassador is hardly human.

"Well, since I am also you, it is logical that we go together," the ambassador says.

Spock restrains himself from sighing and says, "Right this way, Ambassador."

Commodore Komack is only the first of a revolving door of officers, bureaucrats, and politicians who cross-examine them over the next few hours. At some point, there is an attempt to separate him from the ambassador, but his protests die in his throat when Ambassador Spock says, "That would be unwise." There is no further discussion about separating them, and Spock cannot help but wonder what made the ambassador into the kind of man who can so easily intimidate a roomful of officials he has never met before, on an alien planet in an alternate universe.

His Jim must have died a hundred years ago, Spock thinks. A century of being alone (and he was alone; his memories showed nothing of lovers or spouses, only good friends and colleagues and duty, always duty) must have honed his sense of his own strengths to a weapon.

Around mid-afternoon they are released, albeit reluctantly. Spock leaves the office rather faster than courtesy dictates, but the ambassador falls into easy step with him. "An interesting phenomenon," he says conversationally. "I somehow expect alternate realities to have a... different approach to paperwork. But it appears that some things are not just universal."

"It appears so," Spock replies.

"I am relieved to hear that Jim's injuries were not so severe that they cost him his life," the ambassador says, after a few moments of silent walking. "His actions on the Narada were very brave."

Spock resists the impulse to ask for specifics; he does not know exactly what transpired onboard the Narada, and does not care to. "You could have come in to see him for yourself," he says instead.

"I was unsure of my welcome," Ambassador Spock says. "Dr. McCoy and I were often at odds even at the best of times, and as I recall he was often verbally abusive to anyone who interfered with the prompt recovery of his patients."

"You knew Dr. McCoy?" Spock asks. "In your reality?"

"Most of the crew on the Enterprise are in positions similar or identical to the roles held in my timeline," he replies. "With a few notable exceptions."

"Your own counterpart being perhaps the most notable of all," Spock says. "You were an officer of Starfleet -- on the Enterprise, I assume, at one point -- while I have spent the majority of my life on Earth as a policeman. There are no doubt several very interesting points of departure in our timelines."

"Indeed." The ambassador watches him thoughtfully. "I gathered, from our meld, some of those points of departure. I am sorry that Sarek died when you were so young."

Spock inclines his head in acknowledgment. "I take it your father was not killed."

"No. He died of Bindii Syndrome in his late second century." Ambassador Spock is in many ways a strange halfway-point between Spock himself and the Vulcans he has known; the reserve is there, although tempered by a sly amusement. But right now he seems utterly Vulcan, stating the fact flatly and with no trace of the pain Spock still feels at his own father's death.

"He accomplished a great deal in the hours of his day," Spock says, the traditional Vulcan words for the passing of an elderly relative.

The ambassador nods in his turn. "He was an exceptional man. But he also was very different from the father you knew. And no doubt your life on Earth must have done much to shape who you are today."

"No doubt," Spock agrees.

"But even with all of that," the Ambassador notes, "You were able to find Jim Kirk. I find that fascinating."

Spock cannot reply to that. He knows what James Kirk was to the ambassador; something both more and less than what his own Jim is to him, a friendship long and complex and diamond-bright. "You knew him well," Spock says.

If the ambassador finds it overly coy, he says only, "Yes, I did. I served beside him for the best of my years. He was..." Ambassador Spock seems lost for words.

"An exceptional man?" Spock hazards.

This time, Ambassador Spock does smile. "Indeed."

"How long did the Jim Kirk you knew live?" Spock asks. It is not asked for form's sake -- although the meld showed the gaping loss, the unhealed tearing wound that Jim's death brought, the details are confusing and contradictory, filled with false hope and real hope and bitter disappointment.

"He was fifty-nine when he died," is the reply.

The traditional words that came so easily for another Sarek in another time will not come now. Fifty-nine is no great age, even for a human. "I am sorry," he says in Standard.

"It was unfortunate," the ambassador agrees, "Although in hindsight, the only surprising factor was why he had survived as long as he had."

"Pardon me?"

"Jim had a certain... disregard for his own welfare," Ambassador Spock says. "Whether from curiosity or duty or simple recklessness, I was never able to determine. But he was a great enthusiast for games of chance."

"A gambler?"

"An adventurer," is the response. "He lived a very large life -- he died too young, but he accomplished more in sixty years than most could hope to in six hundred." He smiles, very slightly, at Spock. "It seems your Jim is destined to do the same."

Spock swallows down the strange tenseness in his throat and does not reply.

*

Jim is still unconscious when Spock returns to the infirmary after bidding the ambassador farewell. Pike is not; he is sitting up and talking to Winona, who has made herself comfortable in a visitor's chair situated equidistant between Pike's and Jim's bed.

"And here's someone else I can blame for all this," Pike greets Spock. Winona turns and smiles, extending a hand toward him; Spock takes it after a moment to adjust his shielding. "I was just telling Commander Kirk--"

"Winona, please," she says. "I know I used to scare you shitless, but that was about five hundred years ago."

Pike huffs. "Fine, I was telling Winnie here about yours and Kirk's various acts of jaw-dropping stupidity during this whole fiasco."

"I was not aware that I myself had committed any such acts," Spock says. "I stayed on the ship the entire time."

"Which was in itself an act of jaw-dropping stupidity," Pike reminds him. "Or don't you remember that we were heading off to go shoot at people?"

"Your orders were to assist with a humanitarian effort," Spock replies.

"Which you knew was bullshit -- you're the one who got the message from Jim!"

Spock cocks his head, enjoying Pike's irritation more than he probably should. "He could have been wrong. Jim is given to gross exaggeration--"

"Hey now, remember I'm his mother," Winona laughs.

"Have I said anything untrue?" Spock asks her.

She ignores that and asks him, "How are you? Are the suits done chewing you up and spitting you out?"

Spock says, "Most likely they are just beginning. But I believe I have answered all their questions accurately."

Pike blows out a huff of air. "That's good," he says, though he sounds distracted. He fumbles for the PADD next to his bedside and frowns at the information he reads there.

"Did they ask about Jimmy?" Winona asks in a low voice.

"Only insofar as what he was ordered to do by both Captain Pike and Acting Captain Chapel," Spock says. "Whatever happens, I doubt he will be impacted."

"Only insofar as he has to grow new organs," Winona says, although she sounds more resigned than resentful. "I heard he ran your vee right into the enemy ship?"

"Yes," Spock answers.

Winona sighs. "He's his father's son, all right."

"His father's son?" Spock asks. He watches Jim's face, the scars and bruises still fresh on his face. There is blood coming through the bandage on his right shoulder.

"Don't get me wrong," Winona says, "Jimmy's still got a ways to go -- his father flew an entire damn starship into that thing. But he's made a good start."

"Not a start I'd like to see him continue," Pike says, looking up from his PADD. He frowns and squints at Spock. "Christ, Detective, you look like hell."

Spock lifts an eyebrow at him, and Winona laughs. "I've got everything under control here," she assures him. "Go home, take a shower. Take a nap. Or three."

Spock does not want to go, but he knows an order when he hears it.

He does go back to his apartment, though when he turns on the shower he makes the mistake of looking into the mirror. Pike's description is hyperbolic but, sadly, somewhat accurate; he tries to remember the last time he slept and finds that he cannot.

Instead of resting after his shower, he dons a clean suit and makes his way to the Vulcan Embassy; his mother and Sybok are still there, according to their last message, and although he is at a loss to think of what he can do, there may be some news there of T'Pring, of the High Council. He has hope, which amuses him.

The property line around the embassy is demarcated not by a fence or a forcefield, but by a shrill, shouting wall of reporter, all their attention trained on the front door with the fixed expressions of hungry pack animals. Spock manages to get about halfway through before he is recognized -- after that, he simply lowers his head and makes his way, step by step, ignoring the questions shouted in his ears.

A guard sees him a few meters from his goal, and wades into the crowd to retrieve him. "Spock, son of Sarek," she says, her voice almost a shout to be overheard in the din but somehow still controlled and quiet. Spock nods, and the guard says, "We have been given instructions to allow you admittance."

Once they are on the grounds of the embassy, however, the noise level drops considerably; Spock glances back and his expression must be quizzical, because the guard says, "Sound reduction. Originally installed because the pounding of the sea proved unsuitable to proper meditative technique. However," she says blandly, "We are finding it useful today for other reasons."

"No doubt," Spock says. The guard opens the door and ushers him inside.

The last time -- the only time -- he was here before, the rooms were echoingly empty, devoid of furniture or character or people. The decor has not improved, but now there are people everywhere, sitting and standing and in many cases kneeling on the floor. Some turn toward the door as it opens, but most seem to have no interest in whoever could be arriving.

"It is because they are already aware of whom they have lost," a familiar voice speaks from behind his left shoulder. Spock turns.

It is T'Pring -- her hair out of place and dark green bruises under her eyes, but alive and whole. She even tilts her head slightly, the way Jim swears she does when she is amused by him but is well-trained enough not to show it. "You, however, seem quite surprised to see me."

"I did not know," he says, putting his hands behind him; for a wild moment he wants to embrace her, pull her close and tell her of his gladness. But even amongst family, such a display to a Vulcan would be deeply inappropriate.

"It appears I taught you not at all well regarding the intricacies of the mind," T'Pring says. "We have a link -- not strong, but it was forged at our betrothal and strengthened during lessons together. Had I died, you most certainly would have felt the loss." She seems to consider this for a moment. "However, since I did not die, perhaps you were not aware of the link in the first place."

"No," Spock says. It is more than slightly unsettling to think that he has some mental connection to T'Pring, but instead he says, "The fault for my ignorance lies entirely with me."

"I have no doubt of that," she says. "I am sure you would like to see your family."

The embassy is an impressively large building, but T'Pring makes her way with no hesitations. They pass through rooms full of people -- Vulcans, mostly, though there are a number of Betazoids and other telepathic races, as well as Starfleet officers who Spock would guess are counselors. No one looks up, no one shows any awareness of their passage.

They enter a large room, lit brightly, but with no windows. Amanda and Sybok are both there, sitting with Vulcans; Amanda with a young man and Sybok with a very, very old man, his hands shaking but his voice steady as he speaks. There are a few other pairs in the room, one person speaking and the other recording their words. Most people use a PADD, although Sybok seems to be using a pen and paper.

"This is the room of dvel-tevik-kisevtra," T'Pring explains. "Those who will kill themselves are ensuring that their wills are documented properly."

"Kill themselves?" Spock repeats, at a louder volume than he meant to; Amanda looks around and sees him, but both Sybok and the old man continue to speak to each other in low tones. Amanda does not get up, but half-raises her hand in acknowledgment before turning back to the young man.

"Yes," T'Pring says. "For many, this is too much -- every bond they have ever forged in life has been severed. There is, literally, no one in the galaxy that they know left alive. This sometimes happens -- happened," she corrects herself, "With very old Vulcans; their contemporaries died and they did not forge new links with younger people. But now -- now it is different," she finishes.

"Will every Vulcan with no remaining bonds do this?" Spock asks.

T'Pring, of course, does not shrug, but her gesture is one of both ignorance and disinterest. "Many shall. Many will forge bonds with other refugees, though that cannot be a logical choice in such emotionally compromised circumstances. Fortunately I do not have to concern myself directly with such questions; I have one surviving bond and that has proven more than sufficient to maintain my mental stability."

Spock frowns. "You have," he says.

"As I said before," she tells him, very slowly and clearly, "You and I share a link. And from what I can see, you have not yet died."

Whatever the young man had to say to Amanda, he is evidently finished; Amanda stands and bows her head to him, then makes her way over to where Spock and T'Pring are standing by the door. "Oh, darling," she says, hugging him and sniffing in the way she does after she has cried a great deal and her nose is running. "I'm so glad you're all right." She lets him go and smiles up at him. Her eyes are bloodshot. "I think I've aged twenty years since I heard you were on the Enterprise."

"Indeed," T'Pring says, "You appear much older and less attractive than you were when you taught at the Academy last year."

Amanda blinks at her, then smiles. "You are unchanged, T'Pring," she responds, in High Vulcan. "I grieve with thee."

T'Pring closes her eyes briefly. "If it were possible to be irritated, I would state the I was experiencing such an emotion at the constant repetition of that phrase," she says. "I believe that every alien who has come to see us has tried to say the words correctly. At least your accent is not objectionable."

"But her sentiment is?" Spock asks. Amanda prods him in the side with her elbow, but T'Pring seems unaffected by either the question or its tone.

Instead, she considers her response. "It is inaccurate," she says at last. "What you have lost is almost entirely abstract, or material: you have lost colleagues and your house and a planet where you were held in great honor. I believe you do grieve -- but you grieve for me, Dr. Grayson. For us. Not with us."

Spock feels the anger in him, offense on behalf of his mother who is doing whatever she can to help these people. But Amanda says, "Fair enough," and he knows that she means it.

T'Pring seems to sense that she has said something wrong, and adds, "Your presence has been useful, however. As has your son's."

"In what way have I been useful?" Spock asks.

T'Pring frowns at him. "You seem unusually dense today, Spock," she says. "I was not referring to you."

"Ah," Spock says. Amanda puts a hand over her mouth.

"Your brother has been surprisingly useful in aiding those most traumatized by the death of Vulcan," T'Pring tells them.

The death of Vulcan. It makes sense to call it that. "I would not have expected him to be entirely welcome here."

"Your brother is famous," T'Pring says, "And therefore familiar. In such a time, anything familiar is welcome. There have been some concerns voiced about his influence on vulnerable minds, but I have recommended that he continue to work with the dvel-tevik."

The implication that people are doing as T'Pring tells them to do is not lost on Spock. But he does not mention it; rather he asks "Why did you recommend that?"

"Because thus far, all those who have spoken with him have afterward decided in favor of life, instead."

Even Amanda looks surprised. "All of them?"

"Thus far," T'Pring answers. "We are fortunate that he is here."

"Thank you," Amanda says. "That's... he'll be glad to hear that."

"There is no thanks necessary. I state a fact. Sybok may only save a few lives, but each life is precious." She looks down at her folded hands. "Vulcan owed him a debt before, and now we owe him another. Perhaps neither can ever be repaid, but there is a difference, I think."

*

The next few days are full of activity but no significance; Spock fills out forms at IDD, swears to testimony at Starfleet Headquarters, tries to do what T'Pring and Amanda tell him to do at the Embassy. In between, he sits at Jim's bedside and watches the fall and rise of Jim's newly-mended chest.

It is approaching two in the morning on the fifth day when Spock manages to get to the infirmary, after a day spent with paperwork. The hallways are darkened, and he does not see McCoy as he makes his way to Jim's room -- just as well, since the last time he was caught, McCoy tried to make him go home to "get some goddamn sleep, you vampire, it ain't natural to be up at this hour." He finds Jim's room and slips through the door before a nurse can spot him.

"Beginning to think you'd decided to trade me in," Jim says as Spock shuts the door.

Spock spins on his heel; Jim is watching him from the bed, smiling and sleepy and just as though there was nothing wrong with him. "I have not," Spock tells him.

"Not yet, anyway," Jim retorts. His speech is still slurred, and when he blinks, it takes a second for his eyelids to open again.

"When did you regain consciousness?"

Jim looks confused. "Mmm. Dunno. There was a nurse here? Blond hair. Very--" he makes a strange motion with his hand. "I promised to go right back to sleep if she didn't rat me out."

"And did you?" Spock asks. Despite himself, he's drawn closer, until he is standing by Jim's side.

"Oh, you know me," Jim says, reaching out for Spock's hand. There is a contented curl to his thoughts, although his mind is still very clouded from the drugs in his system. "Always doing what I'm told." He tugs on their joined hands, pulling at Spock until he sits down on the side of the bed. "So fill me in. What's been going on? What day is it?"

"The Narada was destroyed, with no survivors. You, Ambassador Spock, and Captain Pike all survived. Earth is safe. It is Thursday."

Jim's mouth quirks in a small smile. "And -- we're back home? It feels like home."

"We are at Starfleet Medical, in San Francisco."

"Good." He closes his eyes, then opens them again. "Wait. What about Vulcan? And the other ships?"

"The survivors of Vulcan have not all been counted," Spock says. He knows he is prevaricating, but he cannot help himself; he does not want this moment to be marred by the reminders of their failure, the realities of a people decimated. It is probably selfish. He does not care.

"Spock," Jim chides gently.

"We should not talk about this while you--"

"Spock."

"At this time, there are approximately seventeen thousand Vulcans accounted for."

Jim's horror is like a sharp sickness in his stomach, and Spock finds himself clenching his teeth against it. "Out of what, six billion?" Jim croaks.

Spock continues. "Seventy-nine cadets and officers died aboard the Enterprise; twelve hundred and seventy-three cadets and officers were killed aboard the other six ships."

"God," Jim whispers. "I can't -- what about T'Pring? Did she--"

"She is alive," Spock tells him. "She is at the Vulcan Embassy, helping others."

"I should go find Captain Pike," Jim says, making weak, confused motions to get up.

Spock puts a hand on his shoulder and waits until Jim stills beneath him. "Sleep," he says. "There is time for that later."

Jim seems to consider it for a long moment. "Stay here?" he asks, keeping his fingers tangled with Spock's.

Spock nods. "Of course." He smooths his free hand over Jim's brow and feels him slip away back into unconsciousness. He should feel glad -- he is glad -- Jim is recovering and safe and here. But he thinks of Ambassador Spock's pride in the accomplishments of that long-dead Jim, and wonders how long any of this can last.

*

It's Captain Pike who finds them the following morning; Spock wakes to the sound of low voices. When he opens his eyes, Pike is watching him thoughtfully from his new wheelchair. "I'd never have thought you could actually fit two people on one of those," he observes.

Spock tries to get his bearings; he is curled around Jim's back, balanced precariously on the edge of the biobed. "I would've woken you up," Jim says, smiling at him over his shoulder, "But if I'd prodded you any, you probably would've fallen off."

"So do all Vulcans purr or whatever when they're asleep?" Pike asks him.

Spock manages to get himself upright and off the bed with a minimum of difficulty. "I will see if I can locate a nurse."

He locates McCoy instead, who is evidently irritated that Jim's recovery is going so well. "What the hell are you doing awake, Jimmy?" he bellows as they walk into the room. "It's called induced coma for a reason."

Jim and Pike both look up at Bones with identical wide-eyed expressions. "Uh, good morning to you, too, Bones," Jim says.

"I give you A for honesty, but your bedside manner could use a little work, Doc," Pike says.

"You gonna put that in your report?" McCoy snaps. "Because you should also mention how I managed to keep you alive even though you'd been munching on alien bugs while visiting those find Romulan folks."

"And on that note," Pike says, "I've got a hearing that I'm already fifteen minutes late for. Kirk, as soon as you're cleared for it, report to Number -- to Acting Captain Chapel, you understand? She needs to read you in before you get put on the rack."

"Getting our stories straight, sir?" Jim asks, though there's no bite to it.

Pike shrugs. "Getting our ducks in a row, is the term I prefer," he says, heading for the door. "Have Chapel comm me when you see her."

"Yes, sir," Jim calls, just as McCoy yells, "Nurse! Where the hell is the attending--"

"You shrieked?" Christine says from the doorway.

McCoy glowers at her, but just says, "What the hell is this man doing awake? I specifically ordered him to receive a six-day dose of--"

"He's allergic to the inducement medication," Christine says, holding a PADD up to him. "Which you would've known if you'd done the reading before the yelling."

"Goddamn you and your stupid allergy to everything under the sun," McCoy snarls at Jim, grabbing for the PADD.

Christine points at something on the PADD. "We had to give him hydrozomine, and if you wanted him in a long-term induced, no problem, but anything under a week and the dosages get tricky. We monitored him as closely as we could but as you might have noticed, we're a little overbooked at the moment."

"All right, all right, I guess that's fine."

"Thank you," Christine says flatly. "Your support means so much to me. Can I go?"

McCoy waves irritably at her, before turning to address Jim. "You can stay conscious for now -- everything's either been fully replaced or above the ninety-eighth percentile of growth. Just don't try making a break for the exit for another four days."

"Aw, come on, Bones," Jim says.

"I'm not kidding around, Jim, you've got to keep your heart rate below one hundred bpm until I say so." He swings around to glare at Spock. "And that goes for you, too."

Spock frowns. "Pardon me?"

"Oh, don't you Vulcan me," McCoy says, while Jim starts laughing behind him. "What I mean is that if I hear of any stories about you sneaking in here in the middle of the night and--"

They are interrupted by the arrival of Amanda and Sybok, Amanda holding an impressive floral display. "Here's the conquering hero," she says, beaming at Jim from behind a nodding sunflower.

"Mandy, don't you come an inch closer -- God only knows which of those he's allergic to," McCoy says, a hand gentle on her arm.

"I'm not allergic to nature," Jim protests. "You think I'd've survived Iowa if I was?"

"Oh for -- fine. I'm going to go get an epi just in case," McCoy mutters, and strides out the door.

Jim reaches out for the flowers. "Thank you, Amanda, they're really -- big. Wow."

"I know, I just threw credits at the florist until he broke down and gave me the most ridiculous arrangement he could think of," Amanda says, taking back the vase and placing it carefully on a corner table. She fusses at it for a few moments, and it occurs to Spock that she is waiting for something. And that Sybok is still leaning in the doorframe, examining Jim with interest.

Jim notices him and his eyebrows draw together for a moment. "Oh," he exhales, and tries to sit up. "Uh. This is--" he glances up at Spock, then back to Sybok. "I was hoping at least to be wearing pants when I met you, but--"

"Well, Manda had her own ideas," Sybok says, pushing away from the doorframe. "Besides, you've got a history of meeting my family under stressful circumstances, or so I hear."

Jim laughs. "You could say that. The first time I met Spock, he arrested me."

"Did you really con Spock into believing that cow-tipping was a crime?" Sybok says, snagging one of the visitor's chairs and sitting down by Jim's bedside.

Spock frowns. "It is a crime," he says.

"Oh, come on, Spock," Sybok says, "You were always the most gullible kid. I once convinced him that his pet sehlat had poisonous fangs," he adds, addressing Jim. "You really have no idea how easy it is to screw with this guy. I can give you tips."

"I'm all ears," Jim assures him.

Amanda looks alarmed; while Sybok and Jim continue to trade stories, she leans into Spock and whispers, "I thought this would be a good idea."

"Why would you think that?" Spock asks, honestly baffled.

"I don't know! Sybok and Leonard get along so beautifully," she says, evidently not noticing the way McCoy has disappeared from the room. "And so do they," she admits, as Sybok laughs at something Jim has just said. "But I never thought about what kind of havoc they could wreak if--"

"Perhaps it would be best if you--"

"Yes," Amanda agrees, and raises her voice. "Sybok, darling, we should go -- I just wanted to drop off these flowers and make sure Jim was all in one piece."

Sybok makes a skeptical face, but he gets to his feet. "I look forward to hearing a lot more, Jim," he says.

"Oh, me too," Jim replies.

Spock waits until his mother and brother have left before he settles himself on the chair that Sybok just vacated.

"I like him," Jim announces, leaning back against his pillows.

"I gathered that," Spock says.

Jim laughs, and is about to respond when a few shy-looking cadets peer around the corner of the door, wanting to talk with the hero of the Narada for just a few moments.

*

This sets the tone for the next few days of Jim's convalescence; although Spock is recalled to his other duties and cannot be there the entire time, he gets reports from Winona and from Jim himself, listing all the people who have come to see him -- most of the crew of the Enterprise, Chapel (who has retained her new rank of Captain for the moment), Admiral Barnett, Commodore Komack ("he is hands-down the ugliest human I've ever seen," Jim says, with a kind of awe in his voice), even Ambassador Spock, although Jim doesn't talk a great deal about that visit and Spock cannot bring himself to ask.

He does mention, casually, when they leave the infirmary to go back to their apartment, "I hear that there's talk of establishing a colony in the Abraxin system."

"That would be a logical choice," Spock replies, helping Jim into the wheelchair.

Jim makes some grumbling sounds -- he has repeatedly voiced his indignation at Starfleet Medical's policy that all discharged patients exit via wheelchair -- but submits to Spock's careful arrangement of his limbs with minimal resentment. "It's the best choice out of a lot of bad ones," he points out. "Although it might cause problems with the Andorians; they tried to colonize it a few centuries ago, and even with the Federation accord and the Andorian Empire releasing claim to those planets, Vulcan and Andoria were never the coziest of neighbors. But there's already a pledge of aid from them, plus the Tellerites, the Coridans, a few others. It looks like everyone's determined to help Vulcan get back on its feet."

"You seem well-apprised of the situation," Spock observes. He hasn't tried to keep himself informed; there is enough to do at present without worrying about abstractions.

"Yeah," Jim says, but doesn't elaborate. "Um, there might be a ceremony. Or something. For the people of Vulcan or Starfleet or whatever."

Spock resists the urge to sigh as he maneuvers Jim's wheelchair. "I am unsure why you imagine I am so inept at reading you that I would fail to note your excitement at the prospect."

"Hey, hey, I'm still on medication," Jim whines. "No fair giving a man Gordian knot sentences while he's down."

Spock smiles and navigates them down the hallway. "And you think such a ceremony might spare a moment to recognize your contributions to the Narada's defeat?"

Jim shrugs. "I don't know. It's just -- when Komack came and tried ripping me a new one, I thought... I don't know what I thought. I guess I figured it was just more of the same. Like Riverside, you know? But if they're giving us all promotions and awards, then maybe it's different."

Spock says, "I know."

"Besides," Jim continues, "It's not like Starfleet won't use any excuse to pull out the pomp and the circumstance."

Jim is correct -- of course there is a ceremony. At first the Federation makes plans to hold a galaxy-wide Day of Remembrance, but that is quickly scrapped. Only three members of the Vulcan High Council survived, but they make clear that they will not condone anything so illogical as an arbitrary unit of time so that aliens can remember what no Vulcan can ever forget.

"Plus, they're not exactly ready to stand in a roomful of sad-looking people who're going to make boring speeches about how their planet is gone and their lives are ruined," Sybok points out.

Instead, the Federation announces a ceremony to award the brave men and women who defeated the Narada. Chapel, who will be permanently promoted to Captain, receives the bulk of the attention, although Pike and Jim are also put forward as sterling examples of all that Starfleet can be. Pike and Chapel both seem mortified, but Jim readily admits that it is a refreshing change of pace for him; after twenty-five years of failure to live up the impossible ideal of George Kirk, he has surpassed him in the span of a few days.

"Do you think I'm getting a swelled head?" Jim asks one night, running his hand slowly up and down Spock's thigh. Spock twists around to face him.

"That," he says, "Is what might be termed 'a loaded question.'"

Jim huffs. "I mean it, it's been kind of--" he shrugs helplessly, but Spock understands what he means even without the physical contact between them.

"You are afraid that you have not earned the praise that you are being given," he asks, "That you are taking attention away from what is important."

"You've got to stop walking in and out of my head like that," Jim says, but his thoughts are amused, teasing.

"I do not need any telepathic ability to understand you, Jim," Spock says. "And I do not believe your head has swelled to any greater size than it was previously. You grant interviews reluctantly and only when directly ordered to do so, and thus far every answer you give to questions about your favorite color or what you like to do to relax has brought the subject back to the rebuilding of Vulcan or the bravery of those who perished, both on the planet and in the Starfleet ships."

"Well, I did tell that kid from Nickelodeon News that my favorite color was blue," Jim corrects. He drags his nails up Spock's thigh and across his hip. "So if I've really been that good," he murmurs, "Maybe you should give me some kind of reward?"

Spock catches Jim's wrist. "You will be amply rewarded at the ceremony," he reminds him.

"Yeah, but the kind of reward I'm thinking about doesn't really need an audience." Jim grins, leans forward and nips at Spock's jaw. "Unless you're into that, which, hey, you could've said before."

"You are still recovering," Spock says. He is not sure why he is so reluctant to indulge Jim in this -- although it would hardly be an indulgence, since he misses the intimacy of sex between them.

Jim rolls his eyes and tries to twist loose. "I'm fine. Plus Bones says that gentle sexual activity won't be detrimental to my health."

Spock frowns, distracted for a moment. "'Gentle sexual activity'?"

That earns him another grin. "I tried to get clarification, but he blushed and muttered something about trauma to his mind's eye."

"Well, without clarification, I cannot see how we will be able to--" Spock is interrupted by Jim's mouth on his, and he allows himself to be persuaded.

*

On the morning of the ceremony, Spock arrives at the Vulcan embassy expecting to be greeted by T'Pring and her long list of tasks. But her hands are empty; instead she says, "We are to report to the High Council at our earliest opportunity."

Spock frowns, taking off his jacket and hat. "To what purpose?"

T'Pring seems irritated, though not at him. "They did not elucidate," she says, and gestures for Spock to follow her.

As they enter the High Council chambers, he realizes that there is no better analogy to the reduced circumstances Vulcan now finds itself in; where the Chambers in ShiKahr were huge to a scale almost unheard-of on Earth, this room is barely large enough for the long table that holds a dozen ordinary wooden chairs. The Councilors seated at one end of the table also look different -- smaller, duller. Spock glances over at T'Pring, wondering if he has grown so used to her appearance that such fatigue had escaped his notice. But she is standing straight in front of the High Council, her expression clear; if anything, she appears stronger than she did on Vulcan, more at ease with herself than he can remember.

Spock returns his gaze to the assembly in front of him and is surprised to see Ambassador Spock, smiling slightly as Spock and T'Pring stand at the foot of the table. He nods his head incrementally but says nothing; from the corner of his eye, Spock can see T'Pring frown at the ambassador, then turn to stare at Spock's face.

"Spock, son of Sarek," says the Councilor at the head -- Councilor Torven, Spock recalls. "T'Pring, daughter T'Hauth. We have called you here on a matter of some urgency. Please be seated."

Spock pulls out the chair for T'Pring before seating himself. T'Pring leans forward, her elbows propped on the table and her hands clasped together. "I assume that this is in reference to the criminal proceedings against T'Pau and Srogal?" she asks.

That seems to take Torven aback, although she does barely more than blink in response. "It -- is related to their situation, yes," she says slowly.

"Then you should be aware that regardless of the current status of the High Council, we will not agree to assist in any measure that will result in their premature release," T'Pring declares. "Their crimes are not ones whose scope diminishes with circumstance; indeed in this time of turmoil it would be illogical to allow them to reassume positions of authority. Furthermore, I am formally voicing my concern that this possibility has been raised amongst the ranks of the High Council; although your numbers are admittedly diminished, such a drastic course of action seems--"

"Very illogical indeed," Ambassador Spock interrupts. The Councilors do not smile, but when Councilor Torven leans forward, she does not seem quite so imposing.

"I think there may be a misunderstanding," she says.

T'Pring stills. "Oh," she says. Spock clears his throat and hopes it conceals the laugh.

"The High Council does not need to rehabilitate its former members," says Councilor Voranis. "We need to replace them."

For a moment, Spock cannot make sense out of the words -- there seems to be no context for them, no way to interpret what is happening. But T'Pring says, "If you would... clarify?" with a slightly desperate note in her voice, and he can feel understanding dawn.

*

Hours pass before Spock can escape; he makes directly for the nearest exit, only dimly sensing T'Pring's presence behind him. The cool air hits him like a wave as he pushes the door open, and he steps into darkness. It is almost eight o'clock, he realizes. He has missed Jim's ceremony.

"You seem to be in a hurry," T'Pring observes. "Are you going to vomit?"

Spock feels the pressure of a headache just behind his eyes. "What makes you think that?" he asks.

"Your mother vomited on my shoes when I first arrived here," she replies. "The pilot of our evacuation shuttle was attempting to recount our... journey, and in his distress he initiated a mind-meld without realizing that your mother was human. It smelled very unpleasant. I had to dispose of the shoes."

In spite of everything, or perhaps because of it, he laughs. "I am not going to vomit," he assures her, although he is not entirely confident.

"That is pleasing to hear." She cocks her head at him. "Then why was it necessary for you to come out here at such speed?"

"I find that being inside can sometimes feel somewhat... confining," he explains. "The outdoors is more conducive to clear thought."

T'Pring frowns. "That must be very inconvenient," she says.

It is as close to commiseration as he is likely to get. "I found the meeting to be troubling," he tries.

"Why?" T'Pring asks. "Offering us seats on the High Council was logical."

Spock tries to imagine hearing people discuss the nature of logic and illogic for the foreseeable future and the headache mounts. "I cannot agree with you," he says.

For some reason, this seems to offend her. "I am from one of the High Families," she says, and Spock realizes that she assumed his disbelief was regarding her candidacy, not his. "I have proved myself able to put aside familial bonds when it comes to matters of law and justice, and furthermore I have been of great assistance during this crisis. Additionally, I was raised my entire life on Vulcan, and closely follow the teachings of Surak."

"Unlike me," Spock says mildly.

T'Pring says, "Exactly. But you are a very intelligent person, and are also the son of a respected Councilor," she says. She sounds almost grudging. "You would no doubt be... adequate to the task."

"Thank you for that endorsement," he says. "But if they are simply looking for people with blood ties to late Councilors, my brother would be a more suitable choice." As he says it, he winces, knowing how cowardly it sounds.

"Sybok is still a criminal by Vulcan law, even with the reduced charge," T'Pring dismisses. "He would never be offered such a position."

It's true, which makes the situation worse. Spock sits on a bench overlooking the cliffs. "You will accept?" he asks.

"I assume the question is rhetorical," she says, sitting next to him. "It is an opportunity to lead our people during our darkest time. I am unsure if refusal is even possible."

Spock listens to the waves for a few minutes, trying to clear his mind. He should contact Jim, he thinks, but the thought of trying to communicate all of this without the comfort of touch is difficult to face.

Something in his memory catches his attention. "What was it that your pilot was trying to tell my mother?" he asks. "The death of Vulcan?"

"No," T'Pring answers. There is a sudden tension in her. "No, he had a more... specific task in the evacuation of Vulcan, and he was required to inform someone of his failure to complete it."

"What was his task?" Spock asks.

"He was assigned to rescue Councilor Stonn," she says.

Spock sits, and waits, and wants to ask the next question. T'Pring falls silent, and for a few moments he is afraid he will have to ask her. But she takes a deep breath and continues.

"We were together -- Councilor Stonn and I -- walking in a park in ShiKahr, when the alarms sounded. Once we knew that it was not a seismic anomaly, evacuation protocol dictated that members of the High Council be evacuated at the highest priority. A shuttle came and landed only a few meters away from us. Empty -- it held only the pilot, though it was equipped to accommodate thirty-six occupants. A woman and her son came up to him and asked that he be permitted passage; there was no time to find another shuttle, and his weight would be negligible. Stonn allowed the son aboard, and the mother. More people came, and he listened to their requests and granted them until there was no room left. He turned to me and apologized and--" she pauses. "That was the last I remember for approximately one hour. My fellow passengers tell me that he applied a Nerve Pinch and rendered me unconscious. When I awoke, I was on the shuttle and Vulcan was dead."

"He ended his life with bravery," Spock recites. In the past few weeks he has relearned and remembered almost every mourning phrase he learned as a child, but he doesn't think he's used this before.

"He ended his life illogically," T'Pring says, although there is no heat to it; when Spock glances over at her, she is smiling very slightly. "Or so I thought. Now, I believe I understand better why he sacrificed himself. But knowing does not overcome feeling -- I confess that I find myself in need of more time to meditate than is currently available. Perhaps I will undertake Kolinhar. I understand it is even better than the outdoors for clearing the mind."

Spock has to smile at that. "I will speak to you tomorrow," he says.

"Yes," she says as he gets to his feet. "I am curious to know what you and Jim decide."

"So am I," Spock tells her, and takes his leave.

*

His communicator chirps at him only a few minutes after he leaves the embassy; when he answers the call, Sybok is already saying, "--ompany?"

"I believe we have told you several times about waiting for the communication to be established before you start speaking," Spock says.

"Dammit," Sybok mutters, "These new gadgets are impossible. So, what I said was, would you like some company?"

Spock stops, and says, "How much do you know about what transpired today?"

Sybok laughs, and Spock realizes he can hear the laughter through the communicator and also behind him and to his left. "Enough to come and find you once I felt you leaving," he says.

Spock shuts his communicator and waits for his brother to catch up. Sybok is no longer wearing the jeans and loose t-shirts that he had worn for the first week of his return; he is clothed in something that looks... "Is that a meditation robe?" Spock asks, surprised, as he resumes walking.

"Yes, and it's difficult to walk in, so slow down," Sybok says.

"Why are you wearing it?"

Sybok shrugs. "It seems to make people feel a little more comfortable. You'd be amazed by how little anyone cares that I'm a convicted felon, but they're greatly perturbed by my sneakers. So Manda found this for me. It itches," he adds, a whine in his voice that is mostly self-deprecating.

"You seem remarkably willing to cater to the needs of a population you despise," Spock observes. He does not ask the more direct question, but Sybok was always far too good at understanding him.

"It's very easy to be kind right now," Sybok says. "We'll see how willing I am to put this on in a year or so. But believe it or not, I didn't chase you down the streets so we could discuss my sartorial choices."

"You know about the High Council's offer," Spock guesses.

"It's not easy keeping things private when there's an older and possibly insane version of yourself running around," is the response. "Besides, Manda's a wonderful person but she's a terrible keeper of secrets. And she's a mother -- the only thing better than a High Councilor in the family is a doctor." When Spock only smiles briefly at this, Sybok prompts, "So?"

"Yes?"

"It saddens me that you haven't really changed all that much since you were twelve," Sybok sighs. "'So' in this context is meant to indicate that I would like to know what your thoughts are regarding this offer."

"My thoughts are... muddled. I am surprised that they made the offer at all, even in light of their present circumstances."

"Well," Sybok says, "Present circumstances aside, I'm not surprised. They need you -- not for your charming personality or your natural leadership ability--"

"Thank you," Spock says dryly.

"--but for more pragmatic reasons. Did you know the two professions hardest-hit by Vulcan's death? Medical experts and law enforcement. There's hardly anyone left -- a half-dozen law students, perhaps, but no one who can maintain any kind of police force. And a colony full of traumatized, emotional, and young Vulcans will need someone who can keep the peace. Such as it will be."

Spock had not considered that. "I assumed their request was somehow a formality," he admits.

"It wasn't. Isn't."

"You sound as though you want me to accept," Spock observes.

"I want you to take it seriously," says Sybok. "But of course, perhaps you can't accept. You have responsibilities here, a career. And Jim, of course."

"It concerns me that my thoughts are so transparent," Spock says.

Sybok laughs. "I'm just taking all sides of your argument, so that I can more easily knock them down. Your acceptance of the seat doesn't need to be for life -- and a few years organizing and overseeing the entirety of a colony's police force won't do anything harmful to your career. I believe they might even give you a promotion or two upon your return," he teases. "Possibly to Senior Detective?"

"And Jim?" Spock asks.

Sybok makes a considering noise. "Jim is the only one who can answer that. But he has, what, another year remaining at the Academy? And then he will have his choice of commissions -- a gifted engineer who played a heroic role in trying to save Vulcan and in successfully saving Earth will be welcome on the colony. I think you could spare each other for one year."

That is true, although it seems strange to think of Jim as some kind of glorified mechanic. Spock wonders how much Ambassador Spock's revelations have altered his view of Jim. "It would be a difficult year," he says.

"That's because you're sickeningly in love," Sybok laughs.

"He is not the only one I would be leaving," Spock points out. "What of you, and Mother?"

Sybok raises his eyebrows. "Worried about leaving your mama?" he says. "I always knew those apron strings were--" he breaks off, laughing again at Spock's glare, and lifts his hands in mock surrender. "I believe she has already been appointed as special envoy; she'll be shuttling back and forth so often you'll most likely become very tired of her."

"And you?" Spock persists.

"Well," Sybok says, but doesn't continue. They walk in silence for a few blocks, then Sybok says, "I've decided to go with them."

That news stops Spock in his tracks. "With the colonists?" he asks, certain that he must have somehow misunderstood. Sybok simply gives him a look. "If I recall correctly, the Vulcan ambassador made it clear that you were banished from Vulcan."

"Ah, but Vulcan is no more," Sybok says. "And the High Council, in its ineffable wisdom, decided that said banishment applied only to the planet of Vulcan. So I'm free to go where I wish. And at this moment, I wish to go with them."

"But why?" Spock asks.

"I told you, it's easy to be kind right now," Sybok replies. "And they need me, too -- I have some talent for mind-healing, T'Pring says. She's going to train me, see if we can find a way to duplicate my successes with the dvel-tevik." He says it without pride, and Spock is reminded of how he was as a very young man, studying with a kind of ferocious concentration that dwelt not on his accomplishments but on all the things he had left to do.

"Oh," Spock says, unable to think of anything more suitable to say in response.

"So it seems that I have trounced all your arguments," Sybok says, "And therefore you have no choice. I'm glad I could help you come to this important decision."

Spock says only, "I will walk you home, if you like."

"Manda always said you were a perfect little gentleman," Sybok laughs.

*

Spock walks the short distance from Amanda's house to his apartment, pulling his jacket collar up against the chill, aware that the hour has grown late. Even so, when he opens the door to the apartment there is no one there to greet him. The console blinks with a message -- <mtg w/ Chapel & Pike, back soonish, J> -- sent a few hours ago.

He makes some tea for himself and sits at the kitchen table, trying to keep his mind blank. If he begins to think, it will all come crashing down on his head, like a house built on an unsteady foundation. So instead he takes careful sips from his tea and listens to the ticking of the clock.

The front door opens an hour later. "Hey," Jim says, slightly out of breath. He is still wearing his dress uniform, a medal pinned to his chest.

"Dr. McCoy told you to use the elevator, Jim," Spock admonishes.

Jim rolls his eyes. "It's three flights of stairs, not the Academy Run," he says, and leans over the table for a kiss. Spock expects a peck on the cheek, but when they touch he can feel Jim's excitement and desire, and he opens his mouth, surprised, and Jim runs his tongue along the inside of Spock's lower lip, bites down gently. Spock reaches up and cards his fingers through Jim's hair, and he can feel Jim's pleasure and amusement at how Spock likes to get his hands on him, especially after all the fascinating things Jim's learned about Vulcan hand sensitivity.

Jim pulls away after a few moments, but he edges around the table and deposits himself in Spock's lap. "You," he says, voice low and probably meant to sound stern, "Weren't at the ceremony. I got a medal."

"It is a very attractive accessory," Spock agrees.

"Accessory nothing, this thing is for inspirational valor and supreme dedication to my comrades. Apparently it's in keeping with the highest standards of service." He has his eyes closed as he says it, reciting from memory. When he looks back down at Spock he is grinning, delighted; he rests his arms on Spock's shoulders and runs his thumbs up and down Spock's ears. "So," he chirps, "Guess who's got some big news?"

The answer floods through Spock like cold water; he cannot do more than sit there. "Captain Chapel offered you second in command of the Enterprise," he says, numb.

"Dammit," Jim says, and snatches his hands away. "That's cheating. I was all excited about telling you, too -- they're slated for a five-year deep space mission--"

"Yes, I am aware, but -- you are not qualified for such a position," Spock protests, trying to get up, suddenly desperate for distance. "You have not even graduated yet."

"Well, that's not the response I was looking for," Jim says, allowing himself to be pushed off.

"What response were you seeking?" Spock asks. The headache that had receded during his conversation with Sybok now comes roaring back, and he pinches the bridge of his nose. It was so foolish, so stupid of him to think, even for a moment, that they might settle down into some kind of--

"Maybe a 'congratulations' or a 'that's great, buddy,' or something?" Jim says, louder than his normal voice.

"'Buddy'?" Spock repeats.

That surprises a laugh from Jim. "Okay, maybe -- just, I thought you'd think it was a good thing."

"It is well-deserved," Spock compromises. "But you are not in command, Jim. Your department is Engineering."

"I know, I know," Jim sighs, waving his hands. "I'm not even sure how it'll work, but Captain Pike -- Admiral Pike said he could pull some strings and Captain Chapel said it's how she got recruited -- Pike took her fresh out of the Academy, trained her up. She'll do the same for me, and -- it's a once-in-a-lifetime chance. The XO of the Federation flagship, Spock, it's incredible."

"It would be -- very impressive," Spock manages.

Jim is too intelligent not to see through that. "You're not happy."

"I am," Spock says, but he cannot lie and says, "I am gratified that you have been recognized for your achievements and your potential."

"Bullshit," Jim says. "Come on, Spock, what is it?"

Spock tries to put together his thoughts. "We have spoken of our future together, not often, but I have told you what I want."

"Right. You want our partings to be of short duration, and our reunions sweeter for the absence, or something like that," Jim says, half-teasing, but his eyes are serious.

"I do. I did," he amends.

"You did?"

"A Starfleet engineer can work where he chooses -- on board a ship or on a Federation planet. You would be free to decide where you go. But a First Officer has only one place -- it is not a life that lends itself so easily to domestic tranquility."

"Spock, you're talking in Gordian sentences again," Jim says. He leans back against the table, his knuckles white as he grips the edge. "You're saying you don't want to be with someone who's not around all the time?"

"I am saying that I have concerns about whether you will be around at all."

"So you're worried about a long-distance relationship?" Jim asks, and Spock grits his teeth against the way Jim seems determined to turn everything into a joke. "I promise, I'll write to you every day, I'll--"

"What did Ambassador Spock tell you about your counterpart?" he asks.

The guess is a good one; Jim flushes as though with guilt, and takes too long before saying, "Nothing. Much," he adds reluctantly. "Just, you know, that he did a lot with his life. That I -- my counterpart was the best captain he'd ever served with."

"I see," Spock says.

"What, you think I just want to go and grab a chance at glory or something?" Jim demands. "I'm not... it's not like that. He said I could do some good out there, and I don't know if you've noticed but there's a lot of good that needs to get done."

"Yes," Spock replies. "I know. And your reasons are sound, Jim. I cannot fault them. I am simply... concerned."

"Concerned about what? That I'll meet some alien princess, that I might get hurt, or--"

"'Might'?" Spock asks, honestly bewildered. "'Might'? The odds of a first officer dying in the course of a five-year deep-space exploration mission are fifteen percent. The odds of contracting a crippling and life-long disease are twenty-eight percent -- you are the one who will beam down to those strange new worlds, Jim -- and the odds of being shot in an altercation between your ship and the new life and new civilizations that you wish to seek out are thirty-three percent."

"So I've got a one-in-four shot of being perfectly fine, and besides," he says, speaking quickly, "Besides, I asked Captain Chapel and she said that the Enterprise needs an IDD officer. You can come with me, Spock. Keep me out of trouble."

"Go with you?" The idea is almost as shocking as Jim's promotion, and even more terrifying.

"Ambassador Spock said -- okay, maybe he's the wrong person to talk about right now -- but he said that if my destiny was to be, whatever, a captain roaming the galaxy, then yours was to be by my side. That's what they did, both of them, for years -- they were together, Spock. We could be, too."

And there is that sick feeling again, fear and anger and a revulsion that's almost visceral. "No, I--" He takes a deep breath. "The Vulcan High Council has asked me to assist them in the colonization of Abraxin Four," he says. It feels like a defense against Jim, a shield.

Jim inhales sharply. "And you -- what, you said yes already?"

"No," Spock says. "But I will."

"Then who's going to have my back?" Jim asks, smiling. It is a serious question, and Spock does not return the smile.

"I can no longer be responsible for the answer to that question, Jim."

This has the intended effect of needling Jim into irritation, and he pushes himself off the table. "So you think I'm going to get killed jumping in front of a bullet for some hot alien princess?" he asks, incredulous and disbelieving. "You think I'll fling myself into any dangerous situation--"

"Yes!" Spock says, furious and frustrated and wanting nothing more than to shake Jim until he understands. "Yes -- of course you will -- you are a Starfleet officer, and more than that, you are James T. Kirk, destined to be written in Earth's history. But history is for the dead, Jim. Not for the living."

Jim just stands there for a moment, searching Spock's face. "I can't -- I'm not suicidal, Spock."

"You are James T. Kirk," Spock repeats. "There seems to be a fine line between the two."

"So you what, want me to quit Starfleet? Just follow you around and be safe my whole life?"

"No," Spock says, and wonders when he can stop saying that, when he can stop rejecting everything that Jim says. "You cannot do that."

"You're asking me to do that," Jim snaps, getting in close. Spock wants to step back, keep the distance between them, but even more he wants to breathe Jim in, feel the warmth of his skin. "You're telling me I have a choice between you and--"

"And your destiny?" Spock finishes. He sounds bitter -- he is bitter. "No. I am making the choice. I will go with the Vulcan colonists. And I will wish you good luck."

"Spock," Jim starts, but he cannot seem to think of anything further to say, and when he kisses Spock, there is no consolation in his sorrow, no comfort in his regret.

"Is it better to be a man or a legend, Jim?" Spock asks softly, lips grazing against Jim's cheek.

Jim swallows. "I don't know," he says.

That is answer enough.

Chapter Text

The Enterprise's mission is announced with a great deal of careful fanfare and choreography; Spock watches a handful of the reports and wonders if Chapel thinks she is concealing her annoyance at the spectacle. When she formally recites the five-year mission "--to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before--" Jim is standing to her right, staring out past the cameras. Spock wonders what it is he is looking at, before turning off the console to resume packing.

The first leg of the Enterprise's mission is a symbolic journey to Abraxin Four, where the Vulcan colony will be established; Spock declines Chapel's offer to take passage on the flagship with the rest of the High Council and instead travels with his family aboard the Hood, an elderly vessel that Starfleet has donated to the Vulcan people. Amanda spends most of the trip asking leading questions about Jim, and Sybok spends it trying to deflect her. Spock busies himself with work and ignores both of them.

For all the ceremony devoted to the departure of the Vulcans from Earth, there is no special event that marks their disembarkation onto Abraxin Four. The Enterprise beams down the last of the passengers and Councilor Torven says, "All are accounted for. Live long and prosper, Captain."

"Peace and long life, Councilor," Spock can hear Chapel reply, and the silence is the only indication that the Enterprise has gone. Nevertheless, Spock stares up at the sky and imagines he can see something, a glint against the bright sunlight. He cannot bring himself to look away.

*

Spock was right, that the first year is the most difficult -- or at least, at the end of it, Spock tells himself that it was, and repeats it to himself often.

That first year is mostly spent in a kind of overlarge tent city they call Va'Shen, located in a natural harbor on the edge of one of the twelve continents of Abraxin Four. The planet keeps that name for several months, until by a kind of unspoken agreement the colonists begin to call it Uzh'Vulcan: Young Vulcan. It is well-named; more than half the population is under the age of twenty-five. Schools become a need more pressing than hospitals, and there is an immediate controversy over inviting alien teachers into the colony. Spock listens to endless arguments and tries not to snort in derision as concerns over "dilution" and "undue influence" are discussed with apparent seriousness. In the end the High Council permits the teachers, as well as doctors and scientists and engineers.

The capitulations do not come easily; the colony is relentlessly insistent on self-sufficiency. From the first day meticulous records are kept about what assistance is given by what planet, with plans drawn up immediately to organize the eventual repayment. The planet is much richer in natural resources than Vulcan was, and by the second year many people have elected to become farmers of one kind or another, agricultural pursuits that seem strange from a people with such a long intellectual history.

"It is logical to use every resource at our disposal," T'Pring tells him once, when he remarks on it. "And I believe there may be a certain... satisfaction drawn from it."

"Working the land?" he guesses.

"Repaying our debts," she corrects.

Spock says, "It seems illogical to focus on repayment when there is so much left to rebuild--"

"That is because your are still learning the path of logic," T'Pring chides, which devolves into their more-or-less unending debate over the merits and drawbacks of pure logic when it comes to leadership.

Despite that, Spock's attentions are mostly focused not on the rebuilding of its society or its infrastructure, but on its safety. Uzh'Vulcan still has its criminals, and as a new member of the High Council, he is granted enormous power and responsibility when it comes to keeping the peace. He would be honored by the trust implied, but he knows it comes less from respect for his ability and more from desperation. Nevertheless, he sets out to do what he can as the first chief constable of the new colony.

Later, he will be surprised by what they accomplish, considering their numbers; himself and three officers, for that first hard year. V'natka, who retired decades ago, becomes his deputy and liaison with the court system. Haleris, an officer-in-training who had broken her foot and was in a hospital that had been beamed out just before the Collapse, works the violent cases along with Spock. Sotav received all her training in the Vulcan equivalent of Vice, but learns to spot fraud and embezzlement out of necessity.

"In tev'Shikahr," she tells him, using the prefix that most Vulcans now use when discussing anything on the homeworld, "I investigated those who had strayed from the path of logic, or those who misinterpreted the teaching of Surak. I find this work to be more straightforward."

With this small collection, Spock tries to keep the peace. Starfleet informs him at one point that a population of twenty thousand would normally have over two hundred police officers. "We can send you security personnel," an admiral -- his face is unremarkable, his name forgettable -- tells him once. "It's the least we can do."

"No," Spock says. "Thank you." He does not altogether understand the single-minded determination to succeed without outside help, but it seems he has absorbed it nonetheless.

As consuming as his work is, Spock's private life soon settles into a quiet routine. He and Sybok share one of the first houses to be built, a prefabricated colonization cube that Starfleet drops off along with the metric tons of food packages and water purification systems. It is small and imperfectly suited to the climate of Va'Shen, but Sybok builds windowboxes and paints them bright colors and pronounces himself well-satisfied.

It is surprising to see how easily Sybok finds his footing -- within a few days, he begins his training with T'Pring and starts to work with traumatized Vulcans. "I'm able to take away some pain," he tells Spock one night. "I don't know how, I don't really understand it at all. But it's... it makes me feel better."

Spock does not ask better than what; he knows already.

Amanda is their most frequent guest, staying with them during her visits to the colony. When she comes, they do not speak of work; they discuss literature and media -- Sybok having decided to devote all his spare hours to "catching up" on anything he might have missed in the past decade and a half -- and about the past. They go over memories that are no longer sharp and painful with the loss, speaking of Sarek, of Vulcan, of home. It is almost right, almost enough.

"Do you miss him?" Amanda asks him once.

"Do you?" Spock asks.

The Enterprise has taken both Jim and McCoy, although from what his mother has disclosed, her parting with the doctor was more amicable than Spock's with Jim, with tentative plans for reunion at the end of the mission. But now she sighs, and says, "Standard is a hard language to use, to answer that question."

"Would Vulcan be a preferable venue to express your--" Spock frowns, realizing that he does not know the word for "feelings" in Vulcan, or even if there is one, and his mother laughs. They do not discuss it any further.

Spock does not need to discuss it at all. Jim's absence seems to grow, rather than fade, in importance. Reports of the Enterprise come in regularly; Spock hoards them, feeling furtive and guilty as he does so, but unable to keep himself away from this little bit of Jim that he can still see. Nyota sends him regular messages, bright and cheerful and friendly, but it seems as though he can read the places where Jim ought to be in the story and has been left out. He cannot bring himself to confront Nyota over it, but he does take comfort in McCoy's less frequent but far longer messages, almost always written while sitting at Jim's bedside while Jim is recovering from one catastrophic mission or another. "He's fine, just stupid," is the way McCoy ends almost every missive, and it is easy to sense the affection in such callous words.

*

The second year sees the colony growing at an incredible rate; Vulcans from all over the galaxy have answered the call to come and rebuild, and the colony doubles in population within six months. Forty-one thousand people are now navigating the brand-new streets of Va'Shen. Spock recruits seven new officers and keeps a close eye on their training, in between his duties as high councilor and chief constable.

Ambassador Spock comes to the colony as well, after spending over a year working with Starfleet Intelligence. He makes no effort to involve himself in the political sphere, even though he is held in high esteem. Instead he adopts the name Selek and works with the remains of the Vulcan Science Academy to establish a new center of higher learning.

Spock does his best to avoid encounters with Selek. He does not feel animosity toward him -- or at least, not a great deal. But there seems always to be a certain weight in Selek's gaze; Spock is reminded, powerfully and preposterously, of his father. Sybok calls him a terrible little brother and his mother reminds him that the poor man is, in a sense, family; they take pains to visit Selek regularly. Nevertheless, Spock keeps his distance and takes care not to attend any events where Selek might make an appearance.

Selek is not so easy to dodge, however; he corners Spock at the gathering to mark the reopening of the Vulcan Science Academy, several years ahead of schedule. It is a great occasion and all members of the High Council are required to attend, as T'Pring reminds him. He agrees to go only if she accompanies him, and together they stand in one corner of the hall and argue over the latest case before the High Council. Spock almost forgets about Selek's presence until T'Pring breaks off her latest argument and looks at something over Spock's shoulder. He turns and finds Selek standing behind him.

"Greetings," Selek says. "It is pleasing to see you again, Councilor. And you too, Councilor," he adds, bowing his head slightly to T'Pring. Spock notices the faint flush of green at the tips of T'Pring's ears.

"Ambassador," she says. "It is likewise pleasing to see you."

"An ambassador no longer," Selek corrects. "If I am permitted any honorific, perhaps 'Professor' is most appropriate." He looks around the room. "An impressive array of scholars -- it is fortunate that so many of our brightest minds were able to escape the collapse."

"Indeed," T'Pring agrees readily.

Spock says, "That is a point of view, certainly."

"You have another?" Selek asks.

Spock watches Selek closely, but there seems to be nothing besides honest curiosity. T'Pring's expression is less welcoming, but then she is very familiar with his position. "I am troubled by the exclusion of bright minds from other planets. The former Science Academy had very few professors or scholars who were not Vulcan; I had thought perhaps that Uzh'Vulcan would be different."

Selek nods. "You thought that with so many aliens among us, we would recognize their contributions in a more... ostentatious way?"

Put like that, it sounds foolish, and Spock is unsure whether to be annoyed with Selek or with himself. "I simply thought there would be some change, but--"

"But you are learning what everyone else is learning, including myself," Selek says, "That if you take away everything that we have, you still cannot take away everything that we are."

"Then you are proud of this," Spock says. "Proud that they still want to remain apart from the galaxy, even while every planet in the Federation sends them aid?"

Selek lifts an eyebrow. "Fascinating. Are you not a part of 'they'?"

Spock cannot find an easy response to this. T'Pring, in a rare display of cowardice, says, "Excuse me," and disappears into the crowd. Spock watches her go and feels a sinking in his stomach.

"I wondered if you truly were present at the colony," Selek remarks. "I have heard numerous reports of your activities, but I have had yet to see you for myself."

"I was not aware that you had wished to see me," Spock says. "You have not tried to make any communication, as far as I am aware."

Selek ignores this and says, "I received a message from Commander Kirk several days ago. He is in good health. He asked about the colony, and how it is developing. He asked about you."

Spock cannot find any response, easy or not. "If you will excuse me," he says, and makes to leave before he can say something regrettable.

"Spock," Selek says. Spock forces himself to still. "He may yet return."

Spock does not turn around; there would be no point in glaring at this ancient version of himself, romantic and foolish. "I wonder how often you told yourself that," he says. "When you were young."

There is a long silence, and Spock tries not to find triumph in the idea that he has made an impact. "I was right," Selek says. "Almost every time."

"Every time but the last," Spock agrees.

*

As the colonists settle into their new lives, Spock's sense of unease grows. The bans against illogical conduct and "conduct in discord with the teachings of Surak" have been lifted with the understanding that it will be a temporary reprieve only, and every few months a conservative bloc of the High Council puts forward a measure to reinstate them. Spock, along with T'Pring and several others, defeat the motion each time, but the margin of victory steadily shrinks.

Sybok publishes his research midway through the third year, after a great deal of additional work made even more difficult by the destruction of Vulcan. "It seems like such a petty thing to complain about," Sybok observes. But he presents the finished paper to the new Academy board, and after several weeks of deliberation, they agree to allow its publication.

The controversy is immediate and overwhelming. Sybok gains instant notoriety as the Vulcan who would destroy his people, and a week after its publication the High Council finally reinstates the laws against illogical conduct.

"So, just in time," Sybok decides, unconcerned.

"They cannot prosecute you for doing something that they have only now decided is illegal," Spock says. "However--"

"Spock, leaving aside the fact that it's a hideous law that will be impossible to enforce -- the law doesn't apply to me for several reasons. First of all, I'm a citizen of Earth, and I'm subject only to the laws of interplanetary concordance. If you don't think I double-checked before I published, then you're not nearly as intelligent as you've made people believe." Sybok collapses onto the couch next to Spock, and props his head on his hand. "Nyota sent me a message asking if I was out of my mind, or if I just was getting bored."

"Nyota sent you a message?" Spock asks. He finds this -- interesting.

Even more interesting is Sybok's response, which is part nonchalance, part embarrassment. "Well, she and Manda are very close, and with all the work she's doing out on the mission, meeting new species, she and I have been working very closely on improving translation matrices for the new languages."

"I see," says Spock.

"What do you see?" Sybok asks, worried. "Never mind, please don't answer that -- Manda used the same tone of voice on me earlier, and I found it even more disturbing. Whatever you two are thinking, you should stop. Immediately."

"Very well."

"As I was saying," Sybok says, aggrieved, "My research does not run afoul of the reinstated laws. I do not misrepresent any of the historical documents, I display no breach of logic in my argument. And I make no case for the rejection of Surak's teachings."

"That," Spock says, "Is what I find most surprising, I must admit."

"That I didn't include a thirty-page rant on the dangers of living a life of pure logic and no emotion?" Sybok shrugs. "I thought about it. But living here... it's changed me. Changed what I want to accomplish. When I was younger I wanted to rub their faces in it -- I didn't want to start a debate, I wanted to start a fight. Even before my imprisonment, I was so angry at them, for their control, for their rejection of everything I had become. For the idea that Vulcan had an ideal, and anyone not fitting that ideal was not just wrong but flawed."

"And now?" Spock asks.

"Now..." Sybok makes a prevaricating gesture with his hand. "Now I'd rather turn the other cheek, I suppose. If I can help Vulcan become everything it once was, I can resent it again with a clear conscience."

It makes sense, disturbingly enough, but Spock cannot share even that sentiment. For every step the colony takes in bringing itself closer to its former self, he feels himself being pushed a step back. There are too many differences, too many things he sees that could be done in another way, a new way; he does not have the reverence for tradition that Vulcans seem to share, and it chafes at him.

T'Pring remains loyal to him in High Council meetings, and he to her, but even she seems to be pulling away. When he broaches the subject of resignation one day, as they are meeting in her office, she nods as though she has expected it for some time.

"That is because I have," she tells him when he remarks on it. "You have always been a policeman, Spock; your work as a councilor has been commendable but you are not... happy," she finishes, switching to Standard for the last word.

"I simply feel as though I am no longer needed," he says. "The constabulary is stable and maintaining the peace, there are new officers in training; I have done what I came here to do."

"Yes," T'Pring says, "But in spite of that I had considered that perhaps you would stay here for longer than was strictly necessary. That you might choose to make your home here." She arranges some papers in front of her; despite numerous attempts, the colony has yet to have a reliable mainframe database, and many official edicts are instead recorded manually before being entered into the computer. T'Pring squares the papers and puts them to one side. "I have not taken a bondmate," she says, "Though my pon farr will be upon me shortly."

The implication is obvious, but Spock cannot respond out of sheer surprise. "I -- am flattered, T'Pring."

"My intent was not to flatter, Spock," she says. "You have shown yourself to be an admirable person, if not always an orthodox Vulcan. Although I do not believe we would ever be ashayam, our union would probably not be the disaster I had once assumed." She waits for his response; there is of course no expression on her face, but moreover there seems to be no expression in her offer. Spock realizes she is proposing more out of politeness than anything else.

"I offer you thanks," he says, "But I cannot accept."

"I did not think you would," T'Pring says, "But I thought it appropriate to ask you first, considering our relationship."

"First?" Spock asks. "You have others in mind?"

"Of course," T'Pring replies, surprised. "It was logical to cultivate multiple options."

Spock takes his leave before he can ask what options T'Pring has cultivated.

The conversation sticks in his mind, however. He cannot put the feeling into words, but he is aware of a sense of anticipation, a feeling that he is freer now than he has been in almost three years.

When Spock gets the message that Deputy Chief Murray Johnson would like him to speak with him several months later, at first Spock does not remember the name. He is staring down at various applications and counter-applications regarding in a case before the High Council; the circumstances of the crime are straightforward, but the chief witness for the defense is an Andorian, and the legal protocols are proving difficult to navigate. He blinks a few times and says, "Who?"

His assistant, a very young man named T'Meni, repeats in a slightly louder voice, "Deputy Chief Murray Johnson. I believe he is human," he adds helpfully. "The message is from the Midwest General--"

"Ah," Spock says. "Yes. Establish a link with him immediately."

T'Meni lifts an eyebrow but goes back to his office; a few moments later Spock's console switches on, revealing Chief Johnson. "Huh," Johnson says. "You don't much look like a High Councilor."

Despite himself, Spock smiles. "The orb and scepter are in the other room, if you would like me to retrieve them," he offers.

Johnson snorts, as though unwilling to be amused. "So, I won't waste your time asking about how things are going -- if I wanted to know I could just look it up in the paper -- I called to ask you something."

Spock laces his fingers together and rests them on the table as he leans forward. "I am listening," he says.

*

He expects something different than what he finds, when he arrives at Riverside at the beginning of the fourth year to take over as deputy police chief of Midwest General. What he expects is a town changed by the events of the past few years, aware of its place in history, concious of the tourists who now come to gape at the Shipyards and take pictures of Jim's empty house. What he finds is a town that still calls Commander Kirk "Jimmy" and is amused, not proud, to call him one of their own. The Shipyards have a new silhouette, a new ship that has been under construction for more than three years and is about to launch. The tourists are stolidly ignored; Officer Curie tells him about the one and only high-class hotel that opened here to cater to the influx of visitors. "It closed within six months," she says, pleased.

The townspeople remember Spock and are surprisingly welcoming, although they usually call him "Detective" instead of "Chief" and complain that Johnson had never been this much of a hard-ass when he was in charge.

"He has been promoted to regional sherriff," Spock always reminds them, "Therefore in a sense he is still in charge."

"You mean there's someone out there trying to tell you what to do?" is the inevitable response. "I'd sure like to see that. You and Jimmy, you were just the pair, weren't you?"

At least he is spared the prospect of seeing Winona in town; she has become a consultant with Starfleet and now works at a starbase near the Neutral Zone to swear at system engines and no doubt bang on them with hammers. A young man takes over the repair shop and, it is generally agreed, is terrible at repairing anything that's supposed to move under its own power.

The Kirk homestead has stood empty for the past three years, but one morning a FOR SALE hologram is placed at the front of the driveway. The current owner, Spock discovers, has no plans to return to Earth and is selling the house as-is. "It's a steal, a genuine wood-built house, almost three hundred years old," the agent assures him. "The only issue is, no garage -- the former owner converted it into a media room or something. But I can give you the contact information for some top-of-the-line construction companies, they can revert it in just a few days!"

Spock says, "That will not be necessary."

When he moves into the house, he makes his bedroom in the guest room, the two large windows facing the fields rather than the road. He spends a great deal of time in Jim's library, reading not only the books that surround him but also the messages sent to him from his far-away friends. McCoy and Nyota continue to correspond, and once or twice he even gets a brief message from Captain Chapel, who tells him that she is in good health and hopes he is the same.

One night he hears a noise coming from the barn; he goes out to investigate and in the glare of the flashlight sees two glowing eyes staring back at him from the beam of a rafter. He is about to turn on the lights when he hears, "Prrt?"

Watson follows him back to the house and twists around his ankles while he rummages for milk in the fridger, hopping onto the counter and trying to stick his nose into the stream as Spock pours some out into a shallow bowl. Spock pets him and feels the rumbling contentment that he always felt from Watson, unchanged.

*

The fifth year is punctuated at irregular intervals by visitors. Chief Sideman -- now Commander Sideman, though she laughs at the honorary title and vows that if Starfleet ever tries to draft her, she'll defect -- visits in the early spring and is the first to see his new home. She makes suitably appreciative noises throughout the tour, though she seems most fascinated by the fridger. "I've seen old vids with these things, but you know, I don't think I've ever actually -- it's cold," she says, as though affronted. She shuts the fridger door and blows on her fingers. "That's just not natural."

She claims to be there for purely social reasons, but every topic of conversation seems to lead back to the IDD, and to how grateful she would be if he considered another change in his career.

"I am well satisfied here, Commander," Spock demurs.

Sideman grumps to herself, leaning back on the old couch on the back porch. "The worst part is, I believe you," she says.

"You sound disappointed," Spock says.

"I am, a little," she replies. "Or more like -- you were pretty ambitious, five years ago. Then again, after you've been High Councilor for an entire race, maybe fancy titles start to lose their allure," she says reflectively.

"It seems the fancier the title, the harder it is be effective," Spock says.

Sideman winces theatrically. "Touche, kiddo." They do not discuss it further, and when she leaves the following morning, she simply says, "Call me if you ever find that ambition again."


Sybok and Amanda make the trip several times, often together and always full of news and excitement. The colony occupies them in a way that it never did Spock, and they tell him about new developments whether he asks them or not.

Only one item catches his interest, however: the news of T'Pring's bonding. Amanda tells him during one visit in late spring. "It just happened a few days ago. It was a lovely ceremony," she says, rocking gently back and forth in her chair.

"You attended?" Spock asks.

His mother blinks at him guilelessly. "Well, in a sense, he is my son," she says.

"Selek is more than a century older than you, Mother," Spock says, "And thus is no more your son than -- than--"

"Than an alternate-reality version of you, torn away from his universe and everyone he has ever cared for?"

"But--" Spock tries to find a polite way to voice his concerns. "Are you certain this is a logical bond?"

"It's as logical as any bond can be expected to be," Amanda says. "After all, she was quite fond of you."

"But Selek is nothing like me," Spock protests.

Amanda does not respond to that, only coughs slightly. "I'm surprised she hasn't contacted you about it," she says. "It's obvious that you would have reacted very well."

The irony is that T'Pring had in fact sent him a message less than a week previously, discussing various motions before the High Council and requests for advice regarding some constabulary matters. But there had been no mention anywhere of her pon farr, or her bonding.

When he sends a query to T'Pring, she answers him promptly.

Spock,

Since you had declined my offer to renew our bond, I logically assumed that you would not be interested in hearing further. My husband has since informed me that such assumptions, though logical, were based on false data; namely applying Vulcan standards to a being who is, as a half-human, sometimes needlessly emotional and overly-concerned with personal details. Selek, though genetically identical to yourself, has curbed these tendencies admirably.

In response to your question: my decision was deliberate and well-thought out. Contrary to your theory it was not, in fact, an involuntary bond precipitated by an unexpected onset of pon farr, whereupon one of us was the only available recourse for the other. My husband admits that he is amused by your theory. I am merely puzzled; Selek is still fertile and likely to survive well into his third century, and moreover his mind is compatible with mine despite his disadvantages. We anticipate a highly successful bond, considering his declared intention to remain at the Science Academy and my own resolution to remain on the High Council.

I am further instructed by my husband to ask upon your personal well-being, though I do not see the relevance. Did you receive my earlier transmission regarding the reinterpretations of property laws as pertaining to the colonization efforts?


Winona returns to Earth for several days during the summer, and Spock invites her to dinner. She comes up the driveway in a very familiar vehicle and for a moment Spock cannot breathe, imagining someone else behind the wheel, an easy grin and a suntanned arm hanging out the window. But Winona is the one who climbs out, her grey-blonde hair blowing around her face.

One of the things Spock appreciates about Winona is how much she despises small talk; no sooner have they sat down at the dinner table then she asks, "So why'd you buy it?"

Spock cannot pretend to be ignorant of her meaning. "Why did Jim sell it?" he asks.

"You're asking me?" She takes a bite of her baked potato and chews for a few moments. "He's always been good at letting go. A real prodigy, you could say. I guess he figures if he loves something, he probably shouldn't be the one taking care of it. Not if he wants it to last." She takes another bite. "Pretty good cooking, Detective."

"Deputy Sheriff," Spock corrects mildly.

"Deputy Sheriff," she repeats. "So, Deputy Sheriff, I answered your question. You gonna answer mine?"

Spock thinks it over. "I do not have his gift for giving up things that I love," he says.

"Could've fooled me," Winona comments. Spock winces at the words, but there is little anger behind them; when he looks at her, she's leaning back in her chair, watching him thoughtfully. "Or maybe you figure that the things you love'll just take care of themselves," she says.

"Perhaps," Spock says.

The rest of their dinner is spent discussing her adventures as a Starfleet consultant, or Spock's new position. He shakes her hand goodbye and cannot say he is not relieved when he hears she has left Riverside, and Earth, once more.


In late autumn Spock gets his most unexpected visitor -- Admiral Pike, walking into the precinct on two unsteady legs and a cane. "I'm here to do the bottle-bashing," he says obscurely.

Officer Curie seems to understand, and when Spock lifts an eyebrow at her she explains, "The Reliant's launching ceremony tomorrow -- traditionally someone breaks a bottle of champagne over the nose of the ship."

"Ah," Spock says.

"And I thought I'd see how the new deputy chief was behaving himself," Pike adds. "Arrested any cow-tippers lately?"

Spock sighs, but invites Pike for drinks after the ceremony the following day.

He arrives at the house just after dark with a large bottle of bourbon, still wearing his dress uniform. "One advantage of outdoor ceremonies in cold weather," he says, navigating up the porch stairs. "Shorter speeches."

Spock makes to show Pike around the house, but Pike surprises him by walking straight into the library. "I've already seen it," Pike explains. "Few years back, when the Enterprise was getting its prelaunch inspection. Just after that Ulnasian tried to take a chunk out of Jim."

"You came to visit Jim?" Spock asks, and remembers Jim once making some vague reference to it.

Pike makes himself comfortable on the couch and sets to unwrapping the bottle. "He was the ship's first casualty, I figured it was the least I could do. You got any glasses?" Spock retrieves some from the kitchen. "Thanks. So," Pike says, still wrestling with the foil, "Heard anything from them lately?"

Spock sits down in an armchair and says, "Lieutenant Uhura sends me messages often. I understand they recently had to deal with an infestation of Tribbles."

Pike lets out a bark of laughter. "I hadn't heard about that one," he says. "I met up with them about a year or so ago on Deep Space Two, and I've read the logs, but it sounds like Number One might be leaving out a few things."

Spock bites back his first impulse to ask after the crew, to ask after Jim. Instead he watches silently as Pike finally frees the bottle of its wrapping and pours them both a generous measure.

"To they who also serve," Pike says, and knocks back the entire glass.

Even though it will not affect him one way or another, Spock drinks his share at a more measured pace. The faintly unpleasant taste is as he remembered it, but he takes care not to grimace. Pike does not seem to notice.

"They'll be back in a few months." Pike holds his glass in his hand, tapping his thumb absently against the rim. "Well. Probably. The mission ends then, anyway."

Spock drinks the remainder of his glass and puts it down on the table. He wonders if he should start a fire in the fireplace; despite the heating system in the house, he can feel a faint chill in the air, possibly a draft coming in from somewhere.

"Spock," Pike says, "At some point you're going to have to contribute to the conversation again. You know that, right?"

"Forgive me," Spock says, trying to focus. "The Enterprise has had a successful mission, from what I gather."

"Over three hundred new life-sustaining planets explored, a few dozen new civilizations encountered, and a war or two prevented. Not bad for a new ship, new captain, brand new crew."

"Indeed."

"This isn't really contributing," Pike says. "Just for the record."

"Then what would constitute 'contributing,' Admiral?" Spock asks.

Rather than answer his question, Pike says, "There's been some discussion about promoting Kirk to captain. Youngest captain in Starfleet. He'd probably get a commission on something closer to home; they don't like sending people out on too many deep-space missions. He might get the new Farragut, once it's finished. Or hell, maybe even the Reliant."

"I hope nothing but the best for him," Spock says.

Pike sighs heavily. "And here I was, thinking I'd at least get some sympathy from you, waiting all this time for the Enterprise to come home."

"I am not waiting," Spock corrects him.

That earns him a snort of disbelief. "So when Jim comes back, you're not expecting him to come find you and--"

"I am expecting nothing, Admiral," Spock says firmly. "I do not know on what terms you and Captain Chapel parted ways, but Jim and I -- I do not expect to see him."

Pike seems to accept this; he nods and pours them both another drink. "Well, then," he says, lifting his glass. "To low expectations."

This time Spock drinks the entire glass, though afterward his throat still feels dry and constricted.

*

And then Spock hears the news -- the Enterprise is coming home at last, trailing clouds of glory. The day the flagship enters Earth's orbit, Spock takes his first unscheduled day off in five years and reads in Jim's library. He picks books randomly off the shelf and focuses on each page, each word, and does not think of himself as waiting, because waiting would imply expectation.

When the long shadows fade into darkness, he gets up, and feeds Watson, and locks the front door.

Perhaps it was worse to hope.

*

He wakes up in the middle of the night a week later, the way he often does, reaching out for something that is not there. But this time, he realizes, he was woken by something else -- the sound of swearing in a language he does not immediately recognize, and the rattle of the front door. For a moment he is tense, but then he hears a friendly chirrup from Watson and a "hey, buddy, what're you doing outside?" and the voice slides through him like a knife to the stomach.

He walks softly down the stairs and through the hallway. The door is still closed, but the knob rattles again, impatiently; it is not a question of if, but when, it will open. Spock comes to a halt in front of the door and places one hand on it, feeling the movements on the other side.

He grasps the knob and pulls the door open and it's Jim, kneeling down with some kind of device in his hand, his shoulder holding the screen door open. Jim scrambles to his feet. Five years have worn well on him; his hair is shorter, light brown now rather than dark blond. He is wearing nondescript civilian clothes and his old jacket; the smell of the leather as much of a shock as the sound of his voice or the sight of his face. "Hi," Jim says.

"You are trespassing," Spock says, the first thing that comes to mind.

It makes Jim laugh for some reason. "Okay. So, no hello, how've you been--"

"I know how you have been," Spock says. "I have followed the reports."

"And Uhura's pen-pal letters, I'll bet," Jim says.

"And Dr. McCoy's," Spock corrects. "He updated me regularly on events, as well."

"That suave southern bastard," Jim mutters. He takes a step back and holds the screen door open. "So, in the interests of not adding B and E to my list of crimes, I'll stay out here on the porch. You want to join me?"

Spock comes outside, the wood cold against his bare feet, and leans against the wall of the house near the door. Jim seems too awake for five-thirty in the morning, restless and energetic. "Captain Chapel had us stop by Uzh'Vulcan on our way back," he says, settling his weight against the porch railing. "It's looking pretty good -- I'd never've guessed it's been five years since you set up shop."

"They have worked hard to establish themselves."

"I kind of expected to find you there, High Counciling over everything."

"I resigned my position," Spock says.

"I noticed that. We dropped Bones off there; last I heard from him he and Amanda were--" he cuts himself off with a laugh. "Well. It looks like those two crazy kids might make it work out after all."

Spock nods. His mother had sent him a message a few days ago, smiling and wiping tears from her eyes as she talked about Leonard and what stories he had to tell her and what plans they were making. Spock had listened and replied as well as he could. Neither of them had mentioned Jim.

Jim, for his part, swings around to stare out at the front lawn. Watson hops onto the railing and bumps against his chest, rumbling approvingly as Jim starts to stroke his back. "I see you and Watson found each other," he says. "Mom told me he'd run off a few years ago."

"He ran back one day," Spock answers.

Jim exhales sharply. "Isn't that a metaphor you want to punch in the face," he mutters.

Spock notices the faint trilling of birdsong; it must be near dawn, although he sees no sign of light in the east just yet. Sunrise in Iowa happens quickly, as though eager for the day to begin. But at the moment, the only thing illuminating Jim's face is the moon and the stars. "Will you stay here?" he asks, then realizes what he has said. "I meant, how long will you stay here?"

Jim swallows, clears his throat. "I think," he says, stepping a bit closer, "I think that depends on you."

"But your commission--"

"I resigned my commission," Jim says, all in a rush, like he's ripped of a bandage. "I quit. I'm done."

It sounds wrong, sounds impossible. "I do not understand," he says. He forces himself to relax, but Jim is creeping ever closer.

"Ambassador Spock -- Selek," Jim corrects himself, and the grin he flashes at Spock indicates he is aware of the clench of jealousy Spock feels in his gut, "He told me once about how his James T. Kirk joined up -- he went into Starfleet when he was seventeen, got his first shipboard assignment when he was twenty-two. The first time James T. Kirk saw the stars, he fell in love."

Spock says nothing; he did not know the story, but it doesn't surprise him.

"And he met Spock, or Selek, or whatever, for the first time -- well, there's apparently some confusion, but he was probably about thirty or so, when he got his captaincy. Selek says -- he said they were close, that they shared a bond that he's never had with anyone else. But that James T. Kirk loved the stars before everything." He sounds like he is quoting; he probably is.

"Then why did you resign?" Spock forces himself to ask. "If it is your--"

"My first love?" Jim laughs, of all improbable things. "Because it's not, Spock, I -- when I was twenty-two, you know what I saw for the first time?"

Spock frowns, and shakes his head.

"You, you moron." Jim stands directly in front of him, close enough to touch; Spock can feel the warmth of his skin from a few inches away. "You got in first -- space was never going to compete with this." He takes a deep breath and says, "Look, I just came here to tell you -- I'm here. That I've come back, and maybe if you wanted to -- I don't want to push you, okay? I don't expect anything. But I guess I was -- hoping, a little bit."

Spock places a hand carefully on Jim's cheek, brushing his thumb across the laugh lines that fan out from his eyes, deeper now than they were five years ago. He feels Jim, anxious and amused and alive, his thoughts a tangle the way they always are, but still so easy for Spock to see. "What were you hoping for, Jim?" he asks softly, knowing the answer but needing the words.

"I was hoping for you," he says, simply. "You asked me if I'd rather be a legend or a man, and I told you I didn't know. But I do, now, I know -- I want both."

"Do you?" Spock says, trying to hold back his smile. He drops his hand and tries to step away, but there is nowhere for him to go and Jim is surrounding him, the way he always has. "I had never considered you greedy before."

"Hey," Jim protests, "You never said I couldn't have both, so I want both." He settles his hands carefully at Spock's hips, then grips in a way that is not at all careful, tugging at Spock until they are flush together. "I've had my legend," he murmurs against the tip of Spock's ear, "Now I want my man."

*

They manage to get inside the house without breaking any public indecency laws.

"This wasn't the plan," Jim complains, breathlessly, rolling his hips against Spock's as they stumble into the hallway. "You're supposed to -- fuck -- I had a plan, I was going to hang around Riverside, get you used to having me around again, take a job at the repair shop -- I, God, yes -- maybe after a while we could have a game of chess and I could let you win--"

"I've been practicing." Spock pushes Jim's leather jacket off of his shoulders, impatient for more of him.

"Sure, we'll go with that," Jim says, and gasps as Spock tugs at his belt. "Then a few weeks later I could take you out for a drink at the bar, we could hold hands or -- Jesus, I missed you, wanted this so much -- it would've taken months or years but I would've gotten you back--"

"Your plan presupposes that you had lost me in the first place," Spock says, and Jim laughs and groans in the same breath. He finally succeeds in unbuttoning Spock's pajama top and lets it fall to the floor. Jim's hands wander all over Spock's bare skin, fingers leaving bruises even while his mouth is gentle and teasing along Spock's neck.

Spock wants -- he wants, desires and longs for and needs, feelings he had long since forgotten, but Jim answers them all. I'm here/I'm with you/mine/yours/mine, and it is all he can do to concentrate long enough to pull Jim up the stairs and into his bedroom.

"Nice view," Jim murmurs against Spock's cheek.

"Your eyes are closed," Spock retorts.

"I grew up here, I know the view, just take off your damn pants, would you?" Jim laughs, pushing him down onto the bed and crawling after him before he has a chance to comply. "So," Jim says between kisses and nips at Spock's neck and collarbone and jaw, "I'm willing to bet last year's entire paycheck that you don't have lube." He sits back on his heels, grinning like all the temptations of sin. "Am I right, or am I right?"

Spock props himself up on his elbows. "We have talked about this before," he says, aware that he sounds irritated but also aware that Jim doesn't care in the slightest. "If I am not engaging in sexual activity with someone, then--"

"And by the way, let me take a moment to mention how happy I am to hear that," Jim says, shoving one hand into the pocket of his jeans. He pulls something out and waves it at Spock. "See?"

"I thought you said the plan was to take things slow," Spock says, reaching out for the lubricant.

Jim holds it up and away from him. "Yeah, but a good officer is always prepared for every possible contingency," Jim says. He catches Spock's eye and laughs, "Yes, Spock, that was a joke, and no, Spock, I didn't bring lube with me on away missions or anything."

"Then evidently you were not a good officer, if your claim that--"

"God, you've gotten chatty," Jim moans, scrambling to his feet and taking off his jeans and briefs. Spock simply watches as Jim pulls off his shirt in one clean motion, the movements graceful and beautiful and shockingly -- ordinary. It is as though they have spent every night together these past five years, familiar but still exciting somehow.

"And even when you're not talking," Jim says, looking up at him from under his eyelashes, "You're still thinking pretty loud. I thought I asked you to take off your pants."

"They're pajamas," Spock replies. Jim laughs again and grabs the cuffs of Spock's pajamas, yanking until they slide off.

"And you're so obnoxious, too," Jim says, clambering back onto the bed. "What ever happened to the meek and mild Detective Spock from San Francisco?"

"When did I give you the impression of being meek or mild?" Spock asks, trying to take the lubricant from Jim again. Again, Jim bats his hand away.

"Let me," he says, leaning down to kiss him again as he fumbles with the tube, spilling it onto his fingers.

Spock cups Jim's head with his hands -- Jim's hair is too short, now, to tangle his fingers in, but as he scratches his fingernails across Jim's scalp Jim squirms delightfully, breaking away with a gasp.

"You," he pants, and then he's sitting up slightly, his thighs splayed wide and obscene across Spock's hips. He arches his spine and reaches behind himself, and Spock can feel every touch as Jim breaches himself with the tip of one finger, testing, teasing, his mind already anticipating the pleasures to come. Spock slides his hands down the planes of Jim's chest, his stomach, and wraps his fingers around Jim's cock, squeezing just a little too hard the way Jim always loved. Jim makes a broken, keening sound, hips jerking forward even as he presses a second finger inside. "Yes, God, so good," he says, "Spock, I need--"

"Please," Spock says, desperate now, needing more and now and now. Jim balances himself with his free hand on Spock's shoulder and Spock can feel the slide of Jim's fingers as he pulls them out. Then there is nothing but the feeling of Jim himself, as he slowly pushes down until Spock is inside him, barely, too little and too much and perfect. "Jim," he sighs, and the answering sound is everything he's stopped himself from imagining for five long years.

Above him, Jim's eyes are closed, his lower lip caught between his teeth and biting down hard. He relaxes between breaths, between the slow beats of his heart, and Spock fists his hands in the sheets to keep himself still. When Jim opens his eyes and stares down at Spock, the ice blue iris is barely perceptible.

"Oh," Jim whispers as he shifts his hips, pressing himself further down, trapping his own cock between their bodies. Spock rocks his hips to meet him, and whatever gentleness they were capable of is lost -- Jim pushes himself back against Spock, setting a pace that ensures this will be over very quickly. Jim's head falls and he rests his forehead on Spock's shoulder as he mutters something incoherent. Spock can feel him, however, more/more/so good/more/don't stop.

When Jim comes, it is silent, his mouth open but no sound emerging. Spock slows his pace as Jim heaves for breath, willing to give him time, but Jim says, "Don't stop, come on." Spock rolls them over and lifts Jim's legs, slipping out as he arranges Jim's suddenly-boneless body. Jim grins lazily up at him and lifts his hips, looking debauched and filthy and gorgeous. He pushes inside again, wanting nothing more than to lose himself in his need and Jim's pleasure.

"Come on," Jim is saying as he pulls Spock close. His voice is low and hoarse, his mouth brushing against the shell of Spock's ear. "Come on, I want it," and when he bites down, Spock lets go.

He comes back to himself slowly; first he can feel Jim's warm body underneath him, then he can hear the sounds of their breathing, still harsh and loud in the quiet house. Finally he opens his eyes and blinks a few times down at Jim. Jim chuckles and says, "You're so heavy, do you have any idea what it feels like to get covered in a two-ton Vulcan blanket?"

"I do not recall you ever complaining before," Spock says, too content with his position to move. Jim's chuckle grows to a laugh and he wraps his arms around Spock's waist, burying his head in the join of Spock's neck and shoulder.

"That's because I was too busy with all the cracked ribs you gave me from crushing me," he whines. Spock manages to get to his hands and knees, withdrawing from Jim carefully. Jim winces slightly as he stretches out.

"Are you--"

"I'm fine," Jim assures him. He nudges at Spock until they are both on their sides, Jim curled up behind Spock. "It's just been a while."

Spock is struck by the sudden impulse to ask precisely how long it has been, but he stops himself -- there is nothing to be gained by knowing what partners Jim has entertained in their time apart.

But Jim snorts as though Spock has asked and says, "Five years. Well," he corrects himself, "Four years and eleven and a half months. The first week or two of the mission I thought I..." he pauses, and Spock can feel the exhale of his breath as he sighs. "I don't know. It didn't work." He slides his arm under Spock's elbow, splaying his hand against Spock's heart.

Spock places his hand over Jim's, sees the blurry form of a sweet-faced woman, who went on to fall in love with Sulu in the middle of their third year. Then there's another, disconcerting picture just as Jim bursts out laughing -- Spock twists in Jim's grip in order to face him and say, "You had sexual intercourse with Ensign Chekov?"

"Oh, God, okay, so that thing about always bringing lube on away missions?" Jim explains, laughing so hard that it's hard for him to get the words out. "It -- God, it was terrible -- there was this planet where sex was basically the way you sealed an agreement, but the Lwoxons were toxic to the touch -- literally -- so we had to do this proxy thing in order not to get killed, I think it was the worst day of Pavel's life."

"That seems highly irregular."

"Trust me, it happens more often than you'd think. But I promise, no more forced alien ritual sex with Starfleet officers. Pinky swear," he adds, waggling his little finger.

Spock settles again, this time facing Jim and tangling their legs together. "I would prefer to secure a more general promise of fidelity," he says, "If you are agreeable."

Jim rolls his eyes theatrically. "God, you're already trying to tie me down," he teases.

"If you think I am incapable of tying you down order to secure you, you are mistaken," Spock informs him solemnly.

"Jeez, leave for five years and people get all kinky on you," Jim says, shaking his head. "Scary to think what else I might've missed." He trails off, eyes traveling across Spock's face. "You lived five years without me," he says, almost accusing. "Five years."

The reply is obvious -- Jim lived those same five years without him -- but Spock says only, "I would rather not do it again."

Jim's smile is warm. "You got it," he murmurs.