"Ye know, it's a funny thing," Scotty mused. "Back when Pike was Captain we'd ha' thought it a miracle to see Mr. Spock in the rec room of his own accord."

Uhura and Sulu followed the engineer's gaze across the room to where Spock and the captain were engaged in their usual game of chess. The two were a study in contrasts: Kirk laughing, relaxed but alert; Spock still and precise as he moved a piece down a level, but clearly enjoying himself as well.

"Times have changed, I guess," said Sulu, and smiling they turned back to their cards.

///

When they beam back, Kirk will head to his quarters. He will not stop for dinner, so McCoy will bring him something. Kirk will try to get rid of him; he will insist on staying. Kirk will say he's fine; McCoy will tell him that's bullshit. They will argue heatedly, but eventually Kirk will let himself feel everything and McCoy will be there for him.

And in the morning, when Spock comes in to find Kirk asleep and McCoy quietly working on his report at the desk, he will nod and cover Kirk's morning shift. And everything will be alright.

///

Kirk and McCoy had been planning this for ages, ever since the news came in that they would be getting shore leave on Earth. Upon arrival, they'd headed towards that dark China-town back street to find the bar where they'd first met years before the Enterprise; a dingy little place where they'd gotten maudlin and drunk on rice wine.

They found the bar, under new ownership. The lights were too bright and the music too loud, though the sake was still terrible.

"I guess you really can't go home," Bones muttered into his drink.

"Home is in orbit," Jim replied.

///

Kirk thinks this is wrong and he won't do it. There is no point in these experiments that he can see except the want to cause pain and he will not choose which of his best officers—best friends—to order to his death! They'll have to take him instead.

Spock thinks this is amoral and a perversion of science: he understands the idea but does not approve of the methods. The captain is not an option and the doctor will be needed. He will go. It is only logical.

McCoy thinks over my dead body and prepares two hyposprays.

///

Engineering is so white; their uniforms look like splotches of blood, bright against the background. He's having trouble concentrating because he doesn't want this to be happening, but it is, so he does his best to imprint every second on his mind. He can't forget, ever. He never thought he would become this close to anyone and yet here he is. Life without the man on the other side of the glass is unimaginable. He has never wanted so badly to touch someone, to hug him and hold him and never let go, as though that will prevent his leaving.

///

Looking down at the not-quite-dead body on the bio-bed, he can find no anger for his madness. If there is even the slightest possibility of bringing that man back, he knows he will do anything to carry it through. They've had their disagreements, true, but he still feels as though a big part of him died that day. He's loved and lost before, plenty of times, but he's never had the opportunity to fix what went wrong. Healing the sick and injured is the only calling he's ever had and he knows he'd give his life to work this miracle.

///

The years have mellowed him, with the help of a couple of passionate, overly-emotional humans, and he admits to his feelings and sometimes even lets them affect his judgment. He can give no reason for a Jim Kirk to command the Enterprise as she hurries to save the Earth, save perhaps a belief that the Spock on board will need him. Just as he will need a McCoy, if there is one. Just as they have always needed one another.

When he sees the three of them together at commencement, his eyes smile. Some things are constants.

"Thrusters on full."