Title: Second-Best Destiny
Series: Star Trek AOS/TOS/TNG, but set in the Rebootverse
Characters/Pairings: Spock, Kirk, Q, various. Background only Spock/Uhura
Word Count: (this chapter) 3500
Warnings: Brief (apparent) character death, movie-level language. Spoilers for various TOS episodes and movies, mainly The Wrath of Khan and Generations. Minor spoilers for various TNG episodes including Sarek and Unification. All references to any of the three universes has been footnoted.
Summary: "Whatever our lives might have been, our destinies have changed." – AOS Spock, ST:2009. With their universe threatened by the Q Continuum, AOS Kirk and Spock are forced to confront their place in it - with painfully personal results.
Title comes from the deleted voiceover scene from the original 2009 movie:
"You once said being a starship captain was my first, best destiny. And, if that's true, then yours is to be by my side." – TOS James Kirk in absentia, original reference to ST:II, The Wrath of Khan.
A/N: This story was written eight years ago for a BigBang fic exchange on LiveJournal, back when only one movie had aired and I still didn't quite understand the characters. I was happy with the result then, but as this is still one of my favorite stories and I do think I now understand the characters much better, I decided to pull it down and do a complete re-write.
The plot hasn't changed, but I hope my writing quality has. I have ended up rewriting basically the entire thing, and am nearly finished now. I've expanded the 'verse of the story to accommodate the timeline canon, as it was originally set one year into a then-prospective five-year mission, and added minor now-canon plot points such as Spock and Uhura's relationship, as at the time of the original only one movie had aired and most canon was only speculation. I hope to do the same to its very ill-thought-out and incomplete sequel at some point in the near future.
"I'm telling you, Spock, you two are just meant to be. Quit arguing with destiny and apologize. Gods."
One year into their five-year mission and only two after The Warp Core Incident, as everyone (a little hilariously) still calls it, he's still uneasy about traveling in the stupid, small, transparisteel-enclosed cages they call turbolifts for more than a few seconds. Spock knows this, bless his annoying heart, and invariably tries to talk his ear off whenever they're in them, sometimes about the most random topics.
It's a little adorable, a little weird, and a lot annoying, when he's not even awake yet at 0700 hours of a sleepy ship's morning.
And today, this habit apparently includes relationship advice. As if Jim's a paragon of that particular virtue.
"As a human possessing an intelligent quotient twenty-three and one-half points above the minimum threshold for genius qualification, you surely cannot subscribe to belief in such a transient ideal."
"What, destiny?" Yawn successfully stifled, he wonders if it's too sexist to ask his yeoman to grab him a coffee on her way up from Engineering.
"Wait, how do you know my IQ to the half-point?"
Spock honest-to-gods rolls his eyes, a totally human habit he has never bothered to break. "I have been aware of such since your Academy days, Captain."
He grins, totally without mercy. "Assessing a new threat, were we?"
The turbolift chimes cheerfully, announcing their arrival on the Bridge, and Spock gestures for him to exit, changing the subject so effortlessly he doesn't even realize all three of his questions remained unanswered until they're an hour into alpha shift. The guy's good, he'll give him that.
To all appearances, everything's situation normal on the Bridge; no one ever knows when Spock and Uhura are fighting, obviously they're better officers than that. But he can tell, after all this time, and it's that tension that makes him keep Spock on the Bridge while he takes the landing party down himself later that afternoon. Forcing his officers to communicate will at least, well, force them to communicate, because they have proven to be officers first.
It proves to be both the best, and worst, decision he's made in quite a long time. Best decision, because apparently the natives of Durinius Prime (which they were very much not told about by the initial survey team) believe blue-eyed humanoids to be blessed by their gods. And worst decision, because the banquet they were forcibly made to attend as a sign of goodwill was apparently filled with a half-dozen local fruits way too close to the Terran strawberry.
Thank goodness he'd had the foresight to put Bones on the landing party too.
"I thought I didn't have allergies anymore," is the first thing he manages to croak out, after opening his eyes to harsh overhead light that can only be a Sickbay cubicle.
"Think again, genius." He turns his head to the left, and yeow, it hurts to even move his neck. Did they intubate him at some point? Bones nods in answer to the unspoken question, and he winces. "Superblood does not guarantee you immunity to everything in the galaxy, you moron! How many times have I said do not touch things before scanning them – much less put them in your damn mouth!"
"Bones, I haven't had an allergic reaction to anything in like, a year."
"Until now." The dry rejoinder comes from his other side, and he rolls his eyes, shifting back to look.
"The ship is currently still in orbit around Durinius, Captain," Spock looks fairly unruffled, so his spectacular collapse couldn't have derailed things too much. "The…residents of the colony which the landing party encountered have been conversing with Lieutenant Uhura and a contingent of Communications personnel in an effort to establish preliminary First Contact procedures."
"That should have already been done." He's pissed, and in pain, and Bones is worried for no reason now and has he said he's pissed?
"I am aware," Spock interrupts wryly. "Starfleet Command has already ordered an investigation into the previous survey team, and has dispatched a ship with the appropriate ambassadorial delegation to relieve the Enterprise since we were unprepared for this type of primitive encounter. Once relieved by the Lincoln, we may leave orbit and continue on our mission to chart the Phi Delta sector."
"And good riddance," is the grumpy mutter from the other side of his head. "How do you feel, Jim?"
"…Sleepy." His brain is a little fuzzy around the edges or something. A sudden, startling yawn makes him blink in surprise.
"I shall leave you to your rest, Captain," Spock says, and turns to leave.
He waves a floppy hand in dismissal. "You better, Bones'll drug you too."
"You're catching on. I'll have to remember that next time."
He lifts one finger from the blanket, and hears a quiet chuckle.
Suddenly his drowsing brain remembers the day and time. His eyes fly open on the instant as he jack-knifes upright on the bed, setting off every alarm possible in the monitors overhead. McCoy reacts instantly, slapping at the wailing klaxons with one hand and planting the other with force against his blanketed chest.
"Give a man a heart attack, why don't you? What is wrong with you?"
"Sorry. But I forgot – Spock!"
Spock had paused at the erupting melee, and now raises an eyebrow at him.
"We're going to miss our monthly call," he reminds his First, and not without disappointment because he does enjoy talking to their elderly Vulcan benefactor. Even if his own Spock seems to disavow the encounters quite vocally each time.
"I am certain the Ambassador would prefer you recuperate sufficiently, Captain."
"But I like talking to Old You!"
Spock actually twitches. "Is the Ambassador aware that you refer to him in that manner?"
"I'm pretty sure he thinks it's funny. Yeah, he looks exactly the opposite of you right now, so there you go."
Bones snorts, resets the bio-bed alarms and just wanders off in the direction of his office, knowing this is an old argument and obviously not wanting to hear it again.
"I have already contacted the Ambassador and informed him of your status," yup, there we go, definitely getting ignored regarding the whole Vulcans-don't-have-a-sense-of-humor-thing, "and he will postpone the call until such time as you are able to converse coherently." Spock's miffed, he can tell. "Unless you would prefer to simply wait until next month's scheduled communication."
He sighs, pinching his forehead. "When are you going to stop being so pissy about this?"
Spock has the grace to not feign ignorance of the expression. "I simply believe you are foolhardy to so tamper with the timestream as to make some of the inquiries you do, Captain. Despite the fact that the Ambassador refuses to answer many of them, I nonetheless question your wisdom in gaining knowledge we are not meant to have; nothing more."
He exhales slowly, feeling more than just physical exhaustion. "Our timestream's already been tampered with, Spock; you know that better than I do. I believe in using every resource available to beat unfair odds, and you believe that's cheating. We'll just have to agree to disagree." The last few words slur into a prolonged yawn, as the drugs start catching up to him.
Spock doesn't argue the point, because they've done it so often. They'll probably never agree, but he's found to his fascination that there are an awful lot of things that he and Spock just simply like to disagree on. As in, actually enjoy the intellectual debate. Uhura says it's one of the weirdest things she's ever seen, but it doesn't seem to bother her, so he counts it a genuine check in the plus column. There aren't many people who are willing to dig past his façade and actually find the person underneath, much less poke enough at it to make him want to retaliate.
He's unprepared for the lights to dim in his cubicle at Spock's voice command, and scowls sleepily up at his First, who pauses before the door. "I would be interested in finishing our aborted turbolift discussion, Captain, at a future date when you have fully recuperated from your ill-advised stint as a planetary pseudo-deity."
"Are we talking about the abstraction of universal destiny, or the fact that you were an idiot and asked Uhura if she'd ever considered cutting her hair?"
Finally, peace and quiet. He closes his eyes, and smiles in the darkness.
Destiny it is, then.
"So, you don't believe in it, or Vulcans don't in general?"
"It is certainly not a tenet of Vulcan philosophy," Spock agrees, contemplating the board for a moment. "Though science itself continually strives to find order and pattern in the universe, nothing so esoteric as predestination can fall under such a category in any branch of science."
"You see it as a religious or philosophical belief, then?" He tilts his head, genuinely interested, and totally misses the fact that Spock's white rook was lurking on the second tier waiting to capture the black knight he just dropped on the third. Damn it. "Because it's illogical to believe in something so intangible?"
"You could term it so. As the universe tends naturally toward chaos, it is illogical to believe there are certain absolutes which exist in each universe, certain events and people whose existence is preordained by some unknown force such as you refer to – unless said belief is part of some faith-based system such as a religion. Check."
He's spectacularly losing this game, unfortunately. One way in which he evidently differs from the elderly ambassador's Jim Kirk is that he's really not that great at chess. It isn't that he's not smart enough; he's got a grandmaster rating, enough that his serious games with Spock either last about ten minutes or three hours. He just doesn't have the attention span for the long game, he's too restless. Their recreational pursuits usually take them more active routes, or more scholarly ones. But they do play once in a while, because he likes how it challenges his tactical and strategy skills, the challenge of keeping seven or eight strategies going at once in his head, discarding plays and reforming them on the spot. (1)
Except when he's distracted by something more interesting or more important; their discussion has been the former, this evening.
"Well, when you put it that way, it sounds a little stupid, of course," he mutters, pushing a pawn into play to temporarily block the check while he rethinks his strategy.
"No culture's religious beliefs are stupid, merely not to be enforced upon another's against their wishes. Such unscientific principles simply do not fit within the Vulcan Way, Captain, but that does not negate their importance to other worlds."
"Do I have to order you to call me Jim off the clock, Commander?"
The black queen moves to the third tier. "Check. Jim."
He snorts, not without amusement. "You become a better diplomat every day, Spock." He contemplates the board for a moment, fingers hovering over the white king. He can prolong this another six moves or put himself out of his misery in two. "That's a very kind way of saying you silly humans can believe whatever you want, but we know better."
Spock looks highly affronted as the white king slides backward a square. "Those are hardly my words, Captain."
"Mmhm. But I'm totally not a religious person, Spock, I don't even ascribe to Karma since we all know this ship is a total disaster magnet even though her crew's the best in the 'Fleet. So how does believing in Destiny make me religious?"
"And check." Spock sits back, a trace of impatience in his expression. "Perhaps the word is inadequate; I merely imply the fact that such a principle has no place in the scientific world."
"Then science and religion are opposite, in your view."
"A highly generalized view, but essentially correct in most cases."
"Interesting." He tips his king in acknowledgment that the next move will checkmate him, saving a little face. Very little. "There are not a few Federation worlds that have been founded on completely opposite principles, you know."
"I am aware. However, Vulcan was not one of them."
"I understand that Terra was formed in much the same manner. Your ancient Church was highly intolerant of the scientific world, was it not?"
"Oh good grief, yes. Even in the twenty-first century people were still denying science in favor of religion. People believe what they need to believe, Spock. And…maybe that goes for Destiny, too."
Spock pushes the board to one side, tilting his head in question. "One would think your opinion of such a force would be rather low, since a flaw in its original flow of time would seemingly be what killed your father."
"A flaw which could be considered mutual," he replies, pointedly but gently. Neither statement is the verbal volley it would have been years ago, simply a scientific observation. One is a scarred wound, one still healing, but time will continue to help both.
He receives a calculated nod.
"I never said it was perfect, Spock," he answers, with a small gesture of uncertainty between them. "But I have to believe there's some kind of destiny out there. I just do."
"But why?" That's genuine curiosity he can see in his First's eyes.
"Because…" He swallows, and looks down at his hands for a moment. Gives a sort of one-shouldered shrug. "Because I don't believe in luck, Commander. And I'm an incredibly, ridiculously lucky man." He half-smiles. "Who else gets a second life to live? And why did all our paths converge on the Enterprise – not just once, or twice, but three times now? How has random chance operated in our favor every single time, through every single crisis – including two of the biggest ones to ever hit the galaxy in our lifetimes.
"When I think about how easily one thing going wrong – more wrong – could have wrecked everything, for all of us…" He firmly swallows a cracking voice, putting away recent and less recent pains. "We should be space debris right now, Spock, many times over. But all of us are here. We were all here, during the Battle of Vulcan – not on the Farragut, or the Reliant, or anywhere else. You were all safely on the Bridge or in Engineering when the Vengeance tore the ship apart at the seams. You all pulled a freaking miracle out of thin air and saved my ass twelve hours later. Since then, every road we take leads us back here.
"I have to believe in it, Spock," he finishes, gesturing vaguely with one hand to the rest of the ship. "There has to be some kind of destiny in the universe, even if it's warped and changed from what we'd think would be the perfect version of it. Otherwise, think of how many variables would have had to become massive coincidence to bring us to where we are today? If you'd jettisoned me on any planet other than Delta Vega way back when. If you'd left Uhura on the Farragut, and not transferred her onto the Enterprise when you did. If we hadn't been able to get you out of that volcano on Nibiru in time. If I'd been three degrees off landing on the Vengeance without a working visor screen. If –"
"Enough, Jim," Spock interjects, and the very rare interruption shows clearly how disturbing he finds this conversation. "I see your reasoning for belief in such a system of destiny, but I do not believe our entire lives are guided by some such all-governing force as you describe. To place belief in such would entirely negate the freedom of choice and free will afforded to every sentient being in the galaxy."
"I'm not saying Destiny decided my favorite color would be green and that I'd have a blueberry bagel for breakfast this morning, Commander," he replies, purposely lightheartedly. Spock's tension visibly fades a little at his tone. "But there are certain, somewhat more important, things in our lives – things that the Ambassador has corroborated happened in his timeline too – that you can't explain as just monstrous coincidences. Can you?"
Spock's eyebrows knit. "I cannot," he admits slowly. "But the majority of the events you describe were simply the logical progression of thought processes and intelligent decisions – human or otherwise – set in motion by participants in that same chain of events. A certain element of random chance must be factored into the equation, in addition to the will power of the participants involved."
"You're just sticking a different label on it and calling it 'logical decision-making,'" he protests. "Tomato, to-mah-to. I call it Destiny, you call it logical decisions and an element of random chance operating in our favor."
"Perhaps there are more instances than we realize, in which one culture's abstract terminology may have a scientific extrapolation in another. This would be an interesting xenolinguistic topic to bring up to Nyota."
And this is why he loves talking nerdy with Spock.
His inter-comm whistles, effectively ending the pleasantries. Always on-call, the captain is. He reaches over, chair tipping precariously on its back supports, and slaps haphazardly at the desk switch. "Kirk here."
"Sir, deflector shields have picked up an anomaly in space that is not on our charts," Chekov's voice filters through, accent heavily pronounced due to excitement. "I belief you had better bring up the Commander and see for yourself, Keptin."
"Greater scientific detail than 'an anomaly,' would be appreciated, Mr. Chekov." Spock's voice intones behind him, and he resists the urge to grin at the sudden squirming he's sure is happening on the other end of the communication.
"Aye, sir, right away, sir…it appears to be a…fluctuation of energy, sir."
"Type of energy, Ensign?"
"…Unknown, Meester Spock. Sir."
Fantastic. He tries not to laugh as Spock looks ceiling-ward in that hilarious gods-help-me-I-live-amongst-idiots expression he gets when one of his proteges isn't up to Vulcan standard.
"But the sensors say there is nothing there, Commander," Chekov adds quickly, and then he rattles off a series of numbers and statistics from the refraction scanners that are apparently enough to prove that to his CSO.
"Sensor malfunction, Spock?"
"Very likely. I will run full diagnostics when we reach the Bridge to determine the source."
"Mr. Chekov, continue monitoring," he instructs, wishing for something a little more exciting than a sensor malfunction to happen. "We'll be up there shortly. And –"
"Keptin! The energy reading is speeding toward us! It's –"
"INTRUDER ALERT," the generic female tones of the computer warn cheerfully. "Repeat, Intruder Alert. All hands, General Quarters. Alert status."
The back supports of his chair thud on durasteel flooring, sending it rocking crazily in an empty room.
(1) A common misconception among TOS-ers is that James Kirk beat Spock all the time at chess. We only see him actually beat Spock once, in Charlie X, and we see him on the odd occasion giving Spock a run for his money. I don't see AOS Kirk as having quite the same personality, however, preferring more active recreation, and that's a personality trait difference I've chosen to adopt here.