Title: Five Kinds of Crazy
Characters/Pairings: Primarily Kirk, Spock, Uhura, & McCoy, background Spock/Uhura
Rating: T for language
Word Count: 23,300ish total, this section 8000
Warnings/Spoilers: Spoilers for some plot points of Generations, although no knowledge of the movie is necessary to understand this section - and for those of you who are worried, NO CHARACTER DEATH. We've been there, done that enough times, people.
Various TOS references tossed in here and there; I couldn't footnote them all without really disrupting the flow so just kudos to you if you spot them. Vulcan words are taken or pieced together from the online Vulcan Language Dictionary (VLD). Warning for complete speculation as to the AOS equivalent of movie-era TOS time frame.
Summary: Five times some part of Spock's Vulcan nature annoyed James Kirk to no end, and one time he (literally) couldn't live without it.
A/N: I have to apologize for the tardiness of this posting; I had this section nearly completed when I began posting this story, and then decided it needed scrapped and re-written because I wasn't happy with it - and then proceeded to do the same thing again a third time with about half of it. My apologies, but I don't like posting something I can tell isn't right, or isn't at least what I wanted to come out of my head the way I wanted it. Also, apologies to Uhura fans, but she isn't in this chapter; I am at heart a Triumvirate writer and she simply didn't belong in this time frame, in this head canon I created.
I. His eidetic memory, even when it says to do things that are completely illogical
"You're joking, right."
"Do not joke, yes I know, you've said it a thousand times – but you can't be serious!" His former First sighs patiently, looking all too serious, and he blinks in disbelief. "You are! Spock, they are counting on us to be there!"
"I am aware."
"We promised them months ago. Cleared our schedules months ago, and that wasn't easy, at least for me."
Spock looks slightly peeved, which for him means he's majorly pissed off. "Contrary to your beliefs, Admiral, I do have multiple duties on New Vulcan and in a diplomatic capacity which are of as high priority to the Federation as any such you might have planetside in the Academy."
Jim holds both hands up in apology. "That's not what I meant, and you know it. I haven't seen you in weeks, Spock; cut me a little slack on my Vulcan-speak. Surely you know by now I respect your work more than that."
Spock's eyebrows draw down in a frown, though he does relax from his previously somewhat confrontational posture. They are both a little out of practice at this, drifting apart as they have in the last few months. Video communiques never have been their favorite form of communication (Spock dislikes the subspace transmission delay, and Jim has the attention span of a goldfish, by his own admission), and so the recent, extensive work Spock has done on New Vulcan, helping with the tech in the new wing of the Science Academy and mentoring a half-dozen aspiring young 'Fleet scientists, has done them no favors.
"I apologize, Admiral."
"I thought apologies were illogical?" Jim leans back on the bench, having been momentarily distracted by a figure he hopes is not another idiot reporter, approaching through the near-deserted Academy grounds. He looks back inquiringly. "You must really be upset about this."
"I am not upset. I merely am…ill at ease."
"For you, that's upset." The figure is easily recognizable now; maybe McCoy will be able to talk some sense into Spock, or at least make some sense out of Spock's particular brand of crazy right now. "Bones." He receives a half-asleep nod of acknowledgement in response.
"Good morning, Admiral."
"Y'can still call me doctor, Spock. Glad to see you got in okay. How's Sarek?"
"Sarek is quite well; he appears to have entirely recovered from your cardiac surgery despite any reservations either of us possessed as to your abilities."
"Love you too, Spock. Jim, tell me you are not drinkin' that entire thing?" A bony finger points accusatorily at his extra-large hot chocolate cup, courtesy of the Academy's west wing coffee shop. Perks of being the most famous starship captain in recent Starfleet history; he can pretty much weasel whatever he wants out of these starstruck cadets and not pay for it (not that he abuses that privilege, except when San Fran is chilly in the fall morning and he's going to have to sit outside and listen to Spock and Bones go at it for an hour).
Now, his hands curl protectively around the domed lid, guarding the whipped cream and sprinkles from possible intervention. "Uh, hello, what exactly do you think is in that precious 'sweet tea' your people drink? This can't possibly be any worse for you."
"Yeah, but I'm not sittin' on my ass six hours a day gradin' papers and reprogramming computer simulations in-between teaching classes." McCoy's crooked grin is pure evil. "Told you, you'd lose that crazy fast metabolism someday."
"I hate you so much."
"No you don't."
"Gentlemen," Spock remonstrates severely, and immediately the atmosphere plummets once again. He's a real joy this morning, Jim thinks with a bit of vindictiveness which he's instantly ashamed of. Separation has never been good for them; he needs closeness, constant companionship, to be able to really show people how much he cares. Distance, physically and emotionally, is a coping mechanism – one he falls back on far too easily.
"The hell's wrong with you, sunshine?"
"Doctor, I have no time nor desire to engage in verbal repartee with you this morning."
"Well, excuuuuse me." McCoy's eyeroll can probably be heard across campus, and Jim can already feel the migraine coming on. "What's wrong with him, Jim?"
"He says we need to cancel our attendance on the maiden voyage later."
"What for?" The incredulous look is directed at both of them, this time. "You've been looking forward to this shindig for months – you'd think you were goin' on a honeymoon or something, the way you've talked about nothing else, Jim. And you're not foolin' anyone, Spock, you wanted to go too. Why?"
Spock is silent.
"Oh, so you'll expect me to just take your word for it but you won't tell him? He says he has a 'sense of foreboding' about it, Bones."
"That's it." He finishes the hot chocolate, burns his tongue in the rush, and swears under his breath as McCoy turns an incredulous look at their companion.
"When am I not, Doctor. Apparently, however, my instincts are not sufficient to prompt a course of action any longer, as previously was the case aboard the Enterprise."
"That's a cheap shot, Ambassador." He spits the title with more than a little bite, because it was a cheap shot and they both know it. Neither of them were happy when Starfleet decided they didn't want to keep the crew together for a fifth mission, but it was Spock's deciding not to stay Terra-based or indeed even officially stay in Starfleet which really rankled him at the time. That's water under a long-burned bridge now, but obviously Spock still remembers perfectly where the weak spots are in his walls.
Spock is pulling out all the stops, because he doesn't even look regretful about the words – he just continues to stare them both down as he has been since the conversation started.
Jim takes a deep breath; he's not going to further bury them in this hole, he knows better than that. "I am not discounting your instincts, Spock; god knows you've been proven right more times than I can count. But we can't just bail on such a huge commitment. Do you have any idea the hell there would be to pay with Starfleet Command?"
"I am certain they will soon find other matters of importance to occupy their attention."
"Easy for you to say," McCoy mutters. "You can go scootin' back to New Vulcan whenever the urge hits you. We have to stay and deal with the fallout."
"Jim." Spock's eyes are dark with foreboding, as he completely ignores the doctor in favor of trying to take over his entire attention. "You are aware I do not, and never have, made such statements lightly. I have an exceedingly bad…feeling, about this expedition."
The unusual word, never before used in such an official context, stops both him and McCoy cold, because for Spock to say that…
A sudden dark cloud of unease descends upon him as well, the chill having nothing to do with the brisk California air.
"Did you just say you have a bad feeling about it, Spock?"
Spock nods solemnly. "Yes, Doctor. As I said, I do not make such statements lightly."
"You 'do not make such statements' at all," Jim points out.
"Then take my request seriously, Admiral!"
The sudden vehemence in the words, almost desperate in its earnestness, appears to startle them all equally, and again the ominous chill seems to settle over his soul.
"Spock…look, I wish I could just call it off, but I can't bail on them at the last second like this. It's a huge publicity stunt, I gave them my word…I'll tell them you had something come up, a diplomatic mission or something, but I for one still have to go."
Spock's eyes are dark with foreboding. "I ask you to reconsider, Admiral."
He shivers at the ice in the tone, and wonders if it's anger or fear – or both. Even after all these decades, he can't always tell.
"Spock, I can't. We'll be careful, I promise."
"What could possibly happen, anyway?" McCoy interjects, clearly more concerned with Spock's state of mind now than anything else. "The thing's been lauded for months as the safest ship in the 'Fleet, even if they're cutting the deadline close. Are you afraid construction's not quite finished or something? I can pull some strings and get Scotty aboard to look at it if that's what's worrying you. Harriman's CMO and I go way back."
"I have no concrete reasons for my statement, Doctor. Believe me, if I did, I would already have cared for the issue."
Jim sighs, fiddles with the lid of his empty cup. He's so out of his depth now, it's really kind of sad. He wishes not for the first time, for simpler days – but life moves on, and they must move with it, making way for the next generation of starry-eyed young hopefuls to reach for their dreams in the stars.
"I know we're skirting really close to Romulan space but they haven't made a move against us in almost a decade; we'll be fine."
Spock regards him for a moment, posture stiff and expression carefully blank. "In the twelve hours remaining until the departure, I ask that you reconsider."
"You are really starting to scare me a little, Spock. Did you, like, have some weird vision or something?"
"Negative. I cannot explain the…feeling. Merely that it exists. We must not go. You must not go."
"I can't believe I'm saying this to a Vulcan, but you're going to have to give me more to go on than just a bad feeling," he replies, not unkindly.
Spock's lips tighten, but he turns to leave without another word. For a moment, the stately dark robes seem to twist about him, shimmering for a moment into familiar and yet so distant Science blue – a color he never realized he would miss until life moved on quietly without them a few years ago. Then the vision vanishes as quickly as it had appeared, and Spock disappears around the corner.
Jim watches him go, strangely uneasy in the solitude of the deserted Academy grounds. The bench creaks as McCoy slowly lowers himself to sit beside him with a small grunt.
"That was beyond weird, wasn't it? It's not just me?" he asks, running an uneasy hand through his hair.
"Not just you. If I didn't know he was completely healthy, I'd suspect early-onset Bendii syndrome or something. And if he wasn't Vulcan, I'd think you were getting pranked."
"God, I wish I could read him like I used to, Bones." He blows out a frustrated breath, vapor whirling about in a cloud before him before vanishing like ghosts in the dawn. "I hate change."
"We all do, Jim. Problem is, life goes on. With or without us."
"Got no plans to go anywhere except to bed," the doctor declares with a yawn, well understanding the meaning behind his words and reassuring in an equally lighthearted fashion – they know each other too well, after all this time. "Workin' the overnight shift isn't as fun as it used to be. These kids make it look way too easy."
Jim smiles briefly, claps his friend on the knee as he stands. "Why don't you crash at my apartment, it's closer. I'll swing by later to pick up my luggage, we can grab lunch before she takes off."
"Ain't gonna turn down that offer." McCoy stands, slightly stiff, and stretches before turning to leave. "I'll see if I can figure out what's eatin' Spock too, Jim."
"Thanks," he says quietly, already lost in thought.
It's strange, being here on these grounds when they're so abandoned – usually they're so chaotic, bustling with excited young men and women and everything in-between. But this weekend, most of the cadets are off-site for the week-long holiday, having beamed home or off to stay with friends in the city. They'll return tonight, filling the place back up with life and light and hope for the future. He won't be here to welcome his students back, but they'll have plenty to occupy their attention with the broadcast party in the main quadrangle for anyone who wants to watch.
The maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B is, after all, the launch event of the decade.
Spock doesn't answer his comm the rest of the day and into the afternoon, a concerning event in itself, but he has to finally put their disagreement behind him and prepare for the voyage; two weeks in deep space, something he hasn't done in several years. He's more excited than he admitted even to Spock and McCoy – he belongs here, among the stars, and while he is far beyond desiring command of this beautiful vessel, he is thrilled beyond belief that he was asked to attend the first voyage she makes.
Why Spock refuses to come with him just because of a strange vibe he's getting, is completely beyond him; but he can't let that dampen his enthusiasm. Spock's been weird ever since he and Uhura decided to legally separate a few years ago. Spock's diplomatic duties and her pursuing a career as a senior translator aboard a ship headed for a ten-year mission in uncharted deep space had put too much friction on their relationship, and they'd decided they would be better off as friends again, rather than attempting to keep a romantic component in their relationship when they were only in physical proximity once every six to twelve months or so, if that. While they had only been married for a decade, they'd been together for over two, and though Spock expressed no lasting regrets over the amicable separation Jim knew it had been rough on both of them, the first few months. Last they spoke, Uhura was excelling in her new position, and they were heading ever deeper past the point where any Federation ship had gone in that particular sector of space – she was loving it, and that made both him and Spock very happy.
But it's times like this he wishes they were still together; he could talk to her then and try to figure out what in the name of all that's logical is going on with Spock. Now, he has to figure it out on his own – and he just doesn't have the time for that today. He may not even have the skill, after all these years, and the thought makes him unaccountably sad.
But no one, least of all he, can stay melancholy for long with this sight before them. The Enterprise-B lights up the sky for miles around as she hovers in a purposely low dry-dock over New San Francisco, glittering with a pristine brilliance that makes his heart skip a beat. Rumor has it that she's full of brand-new technology waiting to be tested, cutting-edge stuff that Scotty, bless his heart, would kill to get his hands on. Jim hopes he'll get to tour the engine rooms during the shakedown; surely nobody will deny one of the original Enterprise captains access to anything, right? Plus, the crew hasn't all been chosen yet so this shakedown is operating on only a skeleton; there probably won't be enough people to really stop him. He grins at the thought.
His bag has already been beamed aboard, and after greeting a few people on the ground and answering some questions for the eager press with the ease that comes of decades of practice, he follows suit in one of the smoothest transports he's ever had; already, he's much impressed with the technology.
His guest quarters are easily located from the ship's computer, and he's amused to see a lighted pathway blink cheerfully into existence along the floors after his destination is specified. Fancy.
"Computer, what is the time?" he inquires, as he exits the turbolift onto the guest quarters deck.
"The current Federation Standard Time is nineteen hundred hours, thirty-six minutes. Twenty-four minutes remain until launch."
"Thank you, computer."
"You are welcome, Admiral Kirk." He raises an eyebrow at the personalized response, slightly weirded out by the cheerfulness of the automaton.
He enters his quarters and immediately tries to comm Spock again, with no success. The communicator simply chimes and chimes and finally goes to a recorded message. Frustrated, he decides against comm-ing McCoy to rant about it, and instead sets about unpacking the few things he brought with him and then wanders out into the ship, exploring the closest passageways. He happens upon a private observation deck, which currently looks out on Terra. The ship hangs dangerously low in the atmosphere on purpose due to the publicity of the launch, never to do so again since without the supporting anti-gravity fields of the extended dry dock she would be pulled in by Terra's gravity – this is the only time he will get a view like this from a starship this size, and it's breathtaking.
His communicator chirps. He glances at the caller identification and flips it open on the instant.
"Where the hell have you been! I've been trying to comm you all afternoon!"
Spock's voice, oddly tinny through the instrument, is flat with a lack of emotion that betrays only too well how very much he is controlling that emotion - something which is in itself a little alarming. "I was meditating the majority of the afternoon, Admiral. During such times I am unaware of my surroundings. I regret having caused you unease regarding my whereabouts."
He leans against the bulkhead with a dismissive gesture he knows won't be seen. "I wish you would come with me."
"And I wish you would decline the invitation altogether."
"Everyone's so disappointed you're not here too."
"I am certain they will have other things to think about, sir."
He vents a long, weary sigh. "Seriously, though. Why couldn't you just come?"
"My work here is not yet done, Admiral."
He snorts. "It's two weeks, Spock. Important as your work is, I think New Vulcan could survive for that long without you."
There's a weirdly long pause.
"I thought maybe the connection broke or something."
"Negative." He starts slightly as the ship's intra-comm blares loudly, informing everyone with intense mechanical cheerfulness that launch time is now exactly fifteen minutes away.
"I'd better get going, they want me on the Bridge during the launch sequence," he says quietly. "Where are you, anyway?"
There's another long pause. "At your apartment in New San Francisco," is the hesitant reply. "You did say I was welcome to –"
"Yes, of course, Spock, that's why you have the codes to it," he interrupts gently. "Be my guest. There's probably nothing edible in there though, I haven't made a grocery run in over a week. And I told Bones he could stay there today, hope he didn't disturb your meditation. We were supposed to go to lunch but I got stuck at the Academy with last-minute lesson plan changes, never made it back."
"While I am not hungry, the warning is appreciated and I will relay it to Doctor McCoy. He was not intrusive."
"Okay…well, I'll get going. You guys make yourselves at home, Spock. I'll see you when I get back."
"See you." He snaps the communicator shut, shaking his head in bemusement, and heads toward the bridge. He has a ship to watch launch.
"Initiate pre-launch checklist."
Ten minutes before countdown begins, the Enterprise-B bridge crew – was he ever really that young? – eagerly begins the pre-launch checklist, leaving him free to amble about the place, careful to stay out of the new crew's way but eagerly looking at anything he can get close enough to inspect with hard-earned curiosity. The new bridge is beautiful; he's still partial to the layout of his own Enterprise but this one is a beauty all her own, the colors a little darker, a little sleeker – but still easily recognizable by feel alone as his Silver Lady, just a different incarnation of her.
Several minutes go by as the checklist is run through, and he meanders aimlessly back toward the turbolift, which seems to be the best place to stand out of the way of the rushing crew. He smiles as a young Vulcan in science blues, headed for the Library station, nearly trips over his own feet staring at him in unabashed curiosity.
Spock. He still can't shake that ominous feeling, and it's only gotten worse since they talked a few minutes ago. He doesn't believe in premonitions, per se, but he's seen weirder things than telepathic or predictive instinct; however, Spock hadn't given him any such more concrete reason, merely said he had a bad feeling about the cruise. Why then is it sticking so much in his head? Is Spock's paranoia rubbing off on him? What is he missing here?
"Checklist complete, Captain."
"Excellent work, Ensign. Notify Spacedock that we are Go for launch."
And that last conversation, had just gotten progressively weirder. Why would Spock be staying at Jim's apartment in San Francisco when he had his own quarters reserved at the Vulcan Embassy, in addition to Sarek's old family home there in the central city itself? From start to finish, the conversation had gotten more and more strange, all the way to that unusually Vulcan version of au revoir...
He freezes, time seemingly slowing to a stop around him.
His Vulcan is pretty rusty after not having any occasion to use it for several months, but now it's coming back to him. Vulcan is a remarkably specific language, and that particular half-Vulcan has always been remarkably specific, even when he isn't trying to be.
Abi'yi is the Vulcan word for until next time.
Rom-halan…is the Vulcan word for goodbye.
Spock was telling him goodbye.
"Captain Harriman," he blurts, grasping for his communicator with shaking hands.
"Yes, Admiral?" The smiling young man swivels the central seat toward him, and then leans forward, smile disappearing at the sight of his pale face. "Are you all right, sir?"
"I must apologize, Harriman, but I've just received some extremely bad news from home which necessitates my return to Terra immediately," he says, half-truth and half-slightly-truth. "I have no doubt that you will perform admirably on this shakedown cruise, and you have my best wishes and every confidence."
Harriman is a good captain, and a kind man; he is obviously disappointed, but is more than courteous to the last, and even sends one of his bridge crew to escort Jim to the transporter room, expressing his concern and well-wishes for the 'family emergency.' The beam-down is swift, and he doesn't even care if his bag makes it back with him before the launch, which is actually already being counted down by the time his feet hit terra firma in San Francisco just outside the main transport station.
He pulls out his communicator and comms Spock again, watching the numbers count down from ten on the huge vid-screen publicly broadcasting the launch in the terminal's outdoor square.
"Admiral?" Spock's voice is obviously, almost painfully, confused.
"I'm not on it," he says breathlessly.
"I'm not on it, I said – the Enterprise, I just beamed back to San Francisco. I decided not to go."
The numbers read zero, and the broadcast switches to live feed of the drydock far above them. The ship begins to move, shivers regally as her powerful engines ignite, and moves beyond the drydock doors into open space. She shudders again, he well knows the feel of powerful warp engines firing up under one's feet, lights shiver and twinkle slightly in preparation to leap into warp –
And the sky erupts above them in a fireball that shorts out the primary video feed. He vaguely registers horrified exclamations from the live reporters on the scene in addition to every spectator standing around him in the crowded terminal. The screen fills with static before flipping to the filler graphic with Federation insignia, which indicates signal has been irretrievably lost.
For a moment, he can only stare at the sky, on fire far above them, a hand over his mouth. "Oh, my God."
Spock's voice over the communicator, pained and just…sad. "The doctor and I are watching from your balcony, Admiral." There's the sound of a brief scuffle, and from further away through the connection, he hears McCoy's raised voice, obviously panicking.
"Tell Bones I'm fine before he has a heart attack. I'm outside at the transport terminal – the sky's on fire, Spock, the warp engines must have just blown completely, I'm guessing a matter/antimatter leak due to gravity strain – they'll have to put up a radiation forcefield around the whole city…oh God." His free hand grasps his hair in a helpless gesture. "There's zero chance of survivors. Jesus. Spock…"
"I did not know this would happen, Admiral." Spock's voice was pained. "Had I even imagined something of this severity would occur, I would have warned Starfleet Command."
"You can't feel guilty over this. They wouldn't have believed your 'bad feeling' any more than I did, probably. I'm sorry, Spock."
"Apologies are illogical, Admiral."
"Yeah, well. It's not been the most logical day for either of us, has it." He looks up, curses softly. Ducking his head to avoid recognition, he begins slipping through the crowd toward the crowded streets a short distance away. "Look, you have some explaining to do, but I need to get out of here, reporters are already out looking for witnesses. Stay there and I'll see you in ten, yeah?"
There's a brief pause, and Spock's voice returns. "The doctor requests you bring an evening meal, something other than, and I quote, 'the heart disease in a box' and frozen pizza you have in the apartment currently."
"Dude, tell him to stay out of my Twinkies. I'll stop at that vegetarian restaurant on the corner on my way, call the order ahead for me. Then you'd better start thinking about an explanation, Mister, because I want one. And it had better be good."
The hovercab is automated, which is just as well because the last thing he wants is to have to chat with a driver, but that means it won't dart through traffic or speed like a living person would. It's more than a half hour before he stumbles through his front door with three takeout bags and a six-pack, only to be literally grabbed before the door even slides shut behind him.
"Jim!" Bones is flipping. The hell. Out. "Are y'all right? Why aren't you on that ship? I mean, 's a good thing you're not but why the –"
"Bones, calm down." He wriggles out from under the clawing grip and deposits the food wearily onto the kitchen counter. Beer bottles clink as they follow suit soon after. "I got off her right before she launched. If you can call that a launch. God, those poor kids – I've never seen an explosion like that. I don't know if it was technical or human error or just bad engineering, but there's not been an air accident that bad since the Intrepid…"
"But why weren't you on it?" the physician demands, pale as a sheet. "Don't tell me you actually went along with Spock's weird feeling?"
"Where is he, anyway?"
"Out there, talking to Nyota on the long-distance comm," McCoy replies, jerking a thumb toward the balcony doors. "Seriously, you got off that thing because of his whatever-it-was, premonition?"
The Vulcan in question re-enters, leaving the sliding doors open to permit the sea breeze, and Jim meets his eyes for the first time. Spock looks so openly relieved, so humanly glad to see him, that his anger born of fright and horror drain away for the most part.
"Not because of his weird feeling, but because – what the hell were you doing, just telling me goodbye like that?" he demands, gesticulating wildly with the beer bottle he'd been in the process of opening. "You were just going to let me leave, knowing I wasn't coming back, and not say anything else?"
Spock turns a whole different shade of white. "I – that was not my intention, Admiral." He swallows visibly. "I did not know what was going to happen."
"And you lie as well now as you did thirty years ago – tell me the truth, Spock. And drop the titles, would you?" He collapses into his favorite armchair, not caring that a little beer sloshes over the side of the bottle.
"I did not know what would happen, Jim; had I, I would have told you, indeed I would have prevented the ship from departing at all. As I said, I had only a foreboding that something unfortunate would occur at some point during the voyage." Spock sits opposite him, on the couch, and looks unaccountably weary.
"A foreboding strong enough that you weren't about to get on the thing yourself," he says pointedly.
"As I said, Jim – my work is not yet done and there are young lives dependent upon my return to New Vulcan. I could not simply leave, knowing the strong likelihood I would not be returning, since I would do everything in my power to see that you did."
Yeah, okay, he can't stay angry with Spock when he says things like that, but that doesn't mean he isn't still freaked out as hell. He drains the rest of the bottle in one go and leans forward, elbows on his knees. His headache is increasing, not decreasing, and he thinks absently it's probably time he takes Bones's advice and starts using reading glasses, that will probably help.
"Y'all are scarin' me," McCoy interjects, plopping down beside Spock with a grunt. He fishes out a cushion from behind him and dumps it on the floor in irritation, before turning to fix both of them with a glare. "There's something you're not telling us, Spock. More to it than just your weird little feeling, isn't there?"
"There is, Doctor."
"Well, spit it out." A carton of vegetable sushi is shoved unceremoniously into his hands, and McCoy sits back with his own, looking expectant.
Spock sighs. "I have nothing especially esoteric I can give you, Doctor; merely something my elder self once told me, soon before he died."
Jim sits up in interest. "You both were always crazy careful to not pollute the timestreams, I thought."
"Indeed; even in this, he gave me only one very general piece of advice, which I at the time discarded as a product of a failing mind, since it was exceedingly illogical in nature and it was shortly before his passing."
"That if there were to come a time, in our later years, where you were asked to attend but not command a mission, for purely recreational or propaganda purposes – if such a time came, and I were to feel a strange foreboding regarding it, that I was under no circumstances to permit you to go, as you would likely not return from it. That I must follow my instincts, however illogical the feeling might be, because he did not; and he regretted it for the remainder of his life."
Jim blinks, trying to absorb this. "You mean that's how his Jim Kirk died?"
"Apparently. I can only speculate."
"You couldn't have just told me this?!"
McCoy snorts into his lo mein.
"Your destiny is your own, Admiral. I could not."
"My destiny hasn't been my own since the day I was born, Spock!"
"Jim. Leave him alone, you know you both were instructed not to distort the timestream. Which we've already done way too many times, Captain Back-from-the-Dead, probably shouldn't add another one to it. Much as I hate to think of what almost happened, you did the right thing, Spock."
"Unfortunately for the crew of the Enterprise-B, I never imagined that the event which would occur would be a wholesale loss of crew and ship – such an air accident has not happened in many years. We are personally very fortunate, Doctor, that the admiral chose to leave the ship when he did."
"I can't believe you even remembered that bit of advice, all these years later. Must be handy, havin' an eidetic memory." Jim is well aware that Bones is nowhere near as calm as he's pretending to be, he's putting up a front of normality for all their sakes – and while he appreciates the effort it's a little pointless when they can all see the man's hands shaking too badly to keep the rice on his plasticene fork.
He's not in much better shape, honestly; and Spock has obviously given up any pretense of picking at his own meal.
Behind him, his apartment comm-system begins ringing insistently.
"Yeah, I probably should let someone at Headquarters know I wasn't aboard after all," he mutters, heaving himself out of the chair with a weary reluctance. He feels ten years older than he did this morning; their lives seem to do that.
"It's enough to make a man want to retire," he hears McCoy say from behind him, during a pause when he's on hold with Admiral Decker's secretary. He half-turns, frowning, to look at the two on his couch.
"That would be a great loss to Starfleet, given that you have at least four decades of active service left," Spock replies quietly.
"Says the one who bailed on us years ago?" The sharp retort produces a look of clear guilt, to which the physician slumps back on the couch, running a hand over his face. "Sorry, that was uncalled-for."
"Your feelings are human, and therefore justified."
McCoy's response is too quiet for him to hear, since Admiral Decker comes on the line just then and the next few minutes are spent in making up excuses for not being aboard the Enterprise-B, agreeing to meetings the following day for damage control, etc., etc. This is the part of the job he hates the most, the paperwork and bureaucracy.
After speaking with Decker, he's transferred back to his teaching aide, because he needs the curriculum for the next two weeks sent to him asap, since he'll be here teaching after all and because the poor kid is probably losing his mind at this point.
He has to leave a voice message, and when that's done he shuts off the communicator for the night, because he knows after years of experience that probably it will be ringing off the hook the rest of the evening if he doesn't.
When he's finished, he pauses for a moment, unaccountably tired, and leans against the counter, eyes closed. The images of an hour before still replay in vivid detail against his eyelids, and he still can't quite grasp the fact that were it not for him recognizing Spock's farewell for what it really was, he would have been aboard the ship when it left drydock. He's had close calls before – closer than this, technically, though that's really not funny right now – but this one shakes him to the core, in a way he hasn't felt in years.
They're too old for this.
"No, dammit - I'm a doctor, not a diplomat!" Whatever Spock just said, it evidently was enough to set McCoy off on a whole new rant. Jim turns around, lips twitching in amusement despite the seriousness of the evening's events.
Spock looks boredly over the top of his sushi container. "That I was quite aware of, I assure you, Doctor. Your irascible bedside manner at the best of times, and complete lack of tact at the worst of times, more than inform all around you of that fact."
"You make another crack like that, and you'll be a victim of that 'irascible bedside manner'! Remember, I got clearance to all kinds of classified bio-weapons now, and you're dead to the world when you do that meditatin' voodoo. I could've drawn a mustache on you earlier this afternoon and you never would have known."
"You would have deeply regretted such a course of action."
McCoy's eyes flash with pure evil incarnate. "Wanna bet?"
Jim resists the urge to slam his head against the wall. Repeatedly. Dialing up his replicator's beverage scripts, he selects the one for strong black coffee and presses it; he wonders if he should go ahead and just make popcorn at this point and settle back to watch.
Are they really that stupid, to think he has no idea exactly what they're doing? He loves them for the distraction, both of them, but right now it's just grating on his already raw nerves.
The replicator pings cheerfully, offering him his coffee with a mechanical flourish, and he takes it with a sigh, slipping through the balcony doors while they're still engrossed in their therapeutic catfight.
He should have known it wouldn't take very long before hesitant footsteps draw near behind him, pause a few centimeters away and to his right. He hides a smile in his cup, because even after so many years (decades), the habit is apparently hard to break – wherever their location, Spock still tends to hover right at his elbow, just as he always has.
For a moment they both just watch in silence as the sun sinks low in the fiery sky, still ablaze with the reflective angry hues of radiation. A tiny fireball explodes somewhere over the Bay, debris falling from the atmosphere, and his heart hurts, plummeting with it.
He nudges the still figure beside him with a gentle elbow. "You two done with the hair-pulling, then?"
Spock actually rolls his eyes, a human gesture he's never really been great at suppressing as well as his parallel-universal counterpart. "No such activity occurred, Admiral."
"Can you not –"
"Thank you." He sighs, sets the cup down on the railing and then follows, leaning on it with both forearms. "Is he okay, you think?"
"I believe so." Neither of them have to further explain. Silence falls again, broken only by the picking up of a more brisk sea breeze.
Spock retreats further into his meditation robe, and Jim glances sideways at him. "And you?"
"And I what."
"Don't play stupid with me, Spock. Are you okay?"
"Annnnd yeah, you still can't look me in the eye when you're lying, can you." He shakes his head fondly, returning his gaze to the skies. "I don't mind telling you I'm pretty damn freaked out, myself. It's been way too long since we stared death in the face like that, Spock."
"I concur." A soft rustling as his former XO moves up to the railing beside him, also gazing morosely out over the city. "I would be quite content to not do so again for many years."
"Well, you got any other weird pieces of 'advice' from the other you still floating around up in there that you haven't used yet in this timeline?"
Spock's eyebrows furrow, a clear sign of irritation. Jim grins unrepentantly. "Negative," Spock says finally, with what he can only assume is relief. "This was the only incident which had not yet been resolved."
Jim turns, leans his elbows backward on the railing so he can face his former First instead of looking sideways at him. "Why'd you sit on that piece of knowledge for so long without at least telling someone, anyway?"
"I could not disclose the information, to you or anyone else; to do so would distort the timeline. I had no way of knowing when the incident would occur, or if it was preventable in any way, as I had no specifics by which to base those hypotheses."
Jim has to agree; had he known at any point, really, that he was 'scheduled' to die so early, it would definitely have had an effect on his decisions throughout his recent life. But to think that Spock's been sitting on that, for so many years, not knowing when the sword would drop –
He looks up with newfound realization, and sees the answer in Spock's still-pained eyes.
"That's why you left, isn't it?" he asks quietly. If he needed any confirmation, Spock's look of surprise, chased quickly by guilt, is enough to prove him right. "You were distancing yourself on purpose, so it wouldn't be as painful. God knows you've lost enough for one lifetime."
"My intention was never to…abandon either my duties to the 'Fleet or you – either of you," Spock amends, glancing back toward the open doors. "But…your conjecture is correct. I saw no logical alternative to surviving a similar fate as that of my counterpart."
"My god, Spock. I'm so sorry."
He can't imagine; were their positions reversed, he probably would have corrupted the timestream to stop it from happening long before the instance occurred, and who knows what would have resulted. He's not sure he could be strong enough to live knowing someday the other shoe was going to drop like that – if he ever loses one of these two he knows the void will probably kill him. He can't imagine knowing that he would lose them and have to live another eighty-plus years afterwards with that void. It makes him sick just to think about it.
Spock tilts his head slightly, a familiar gesture that sends a fond warmth through him, banishing some of the chill from the evening's events. "I had anticipated being in a completely different mental state tonight. I am…pleased, that somehow, you circumvented what was to happen."
"I tend to do that."
"Indeed." And this really is a day for miracles, because that's actually a teeny tiny little smile he's seeing. He returns it, feeling at peace again for the first time in a very, very long time. For a moment they simply stand there, letting the silence heal a rift that he hadn't even realized had started to form over the last few years, and then he turns back to the city, now twinkling with a sea of tiny lights.
"There's talk of beginning a student exchange program with the New Vulcan Science Academy."
"I am aware. I am one of the few Vulcans over age fifty who is a proponent of such a program," Spock replies dryly.
He snorts to cover up a laugh, at the thought of what a radical Spock must seem to the younger, much less staid Vulcan generation which has developed as a result of much of Vulcan's culture being lost with the planet.
"Starfleet's proposing a series of mid-space missions, run mostly by cadets from one or both academies. They would give cadets on the command, engineering, or science tracks a full year's worth of credits in only two trimesters, like a short-term internship."
"I was also aware of that." Spock looks slightly amused. "Admiral, one of my duties as a Federation ambassador is that of proposing new ventures to various cultures who might not at first be amenable to the idea. My own is no exception."
Jim half-turns to glare at him. "Are you the reason the proposal was stalled in the NVSA for three weeks?"
Spock's lips twitch. "I am the reason it was not stalled for longer than that. Sir."
The sass is so real. He laughs then, like he hasn't all day, maybe not in a long time. "I should have known. Ambassador." The title is fondly teasing this time, not the accusation it had been earlier. "If all the plans go through, they'll be implementing the curricula for the upcoming fall trimester."
Spock's eyebrow is a clear indication for him to continue. "It's been suggested among the Admiralty that I instruct the module, at least for the first eight trimesters. None of the other instructing admirals really want to go back into space for two years straight, and they don't want to throw a current captain into the mix just yet."
"You are by far the best choice at any rate, Admiral."
He can't help but brighten, as Spock's praise is exceedingly rare, and not given lightly. It never fails to make him stupidly warm and happy inside.
"That being said, should I accept the position, I will find myself in need of an experienced senior command crew, as none of the ranking positions will be held by cadets," he says slowly, watching his former First carefully.
Spock blinks at him impassively for a moment, before Jim picks up on the clear mischief glinting in the back of his eyes.
"You're going to make me say it, aren't you?"
He smiles, but his expression is serious when he continues, hoping Spock can see his earnestness. "I don't want you to think I'm dismissing your current work, Spock. And lord knows you have every right to follow your own destiny, wherever that takes you."
Spock raises an eyebrow. "I am not sanguine about the concept of destiny. However, should such a universal force exist, I have no doubt that yours is, first and always, to command a starship."
"And yours, Mr. Spock?"
"I heard once, long ago, from an…undeniable authority on the subject, that mine is to be by your side. Captain."
His smile lights up the night, and he's probably about ten seconds from doing something that will make Spock thoroughly uncomfortable like hugging him, when a throat clears from behind them. They both turn, to see McCoy leaning against the open door-jamb, hands in his pockets.
"Y'owe me fifty credits, Spock," he drawls with a smirk. "I told you there's no way he was going back up there with a bunch of smartass kids and not dragging you along to chaperone."
Spock doesn't even bother to pretend ignorance of the metaphor, and completely ignores that he apparently just lost a bet. "Dragging us along, Doctor."
Jim turns an incredulous eye toward the sheepish figure in his doorway. "And when exactly were you going to tell me that, Doctor? Last I heard, you said in no uncertain terms that you were not interested in, I think the exact wording you used was 'galactic babysitting.'"
"Yeah, well." McCoy shuffles out of their way as they re-enter the apartment, flopping back down on Jim's couch with a grumpy huff and putting his arms behind his head. "Like I'm letting the two of you out of my sight for two years with some young idiot straight out of med school for your Chief Medical Officer, mid-space only or no."
"Medical is not part of this new module, Doctor; no medical personnel except the precautionary minimum are required for the program, as the missions undertaken should only rarely enter deep space."
McCoy doesn't even bother to open his eyes, just waves a sleepy hand in the air to punctuate his statement. "And you two are the most danger-prone morons I've ever met in my entire life, so your point is…?"
"Point taken," Jim interrupts what promises to be another dual hissy-fit with practiced ease. "I'm…glad you're in, Bones. Thank you."
"Uh-huh. Thank me again when you see your meal card restrictions aboard ship."
He scowls, and stealthily goes to check in the pantry to make sure McCoy didn't toss his snack cakes down the disposal chute before he got home. When he comes back, it's to see Spock fussing with the afghan which had been bunched up at the end of the couch, obviously trying to cover the doctor's legs with it without waking him. It's kind of adorable, and he carefully hides a smile as Spock finally gives up the endeavor and moves back across the room to the kitchen area, where Jim is sitting on one of the bar stools, chin resting in one hand.
"He worries me, sometimes," he says softly. Spock's head inclines in silent agreement as he slides silently into position on the other stool. "I'm glad you talked him into coming on the program missions."
Spock's lips curve gently upward. "Whatever would give you that idea, Admiral?"
"Yes, of course, my mistake," he answers solemnly.
"I find it difficult to believe that even after such extensive experience with our temperaments, you would still labor under the impression that it is possible to convince the doctor to do anything which he does not wish to do."
"Or vice-versa, I suppose."
He smiles, and sends out one last prayer of gratitude to the elder Spock, wherever his spirit may be in the universes, for bending the timeline rules enough to give his Spock a hint of what would happen today, just enough to save his life. How his Spock managed to pull him back without endangering the timestream only proves just how closely intertwined their destinies truly are; and it doesn't take any great logic to deduce that in the wake of tonight's sudden events and the realization that they've now dodged a bullet, they've all realized they need to take advantage of whatever time destiny has decided they have left, however long that may be and however exciting that time may be.
Who knows? With their luck, while they're on these training missions some kind of weird alien probe or something could threaten to destroy Earth's ecology, for instance, and they'd have to freaking time travel or something to fix it because the whole on-world 'Fleet is out of commission.
Wouldn't that be hilarious?