The brush of something gently ghosting against his face was the first sensation that filtered through the calming mesh of nearly-completed healing, followed by another, hesitant pat.
Voices followed, one insistent and another defensive.
Both too nightmarishly familiar, and one somehow off, somehow wrong.
No, both were wrong, as neither had he heard in almost a century.
"Not like that, you idiot, or he'll never come out of it – haven't you had to do this at some point? You can't slap like a girl and expect the pain to be enough to wake him up!"
"Your bedside manner is as horrible as my Bones's was, you know that right?"
"And you're as mouthy as that kid pacing up and down outside there. Now move. Your. Hand."
A sudden jolt of pain shivered through his dormant nervous system, echoing outward from the sting against his face, and then another, awakening dampened nerves and telegraphing sensation from the brain to the body.
And yet he struggled reluctantly against the return to awareness, as he would only have to face these child-ghosts of his past yet again, baby versions of a life that had vanished prematurely so many years ago.
But to refuse to face reality was not logical, nor in fact possible, for the brain insisted upon awakening and he could do nothing but reluctantly follow.
"That's it." That voice…he could distinguish now between it and the one from memory's recesses. It was not right; the inflection, the tonality, the pitch were different despite the phrenology and accent being very like the well-loved tones of the Leonard McCoy he had known. "Once more should do it. Stubborn fella, isn't he?"
"Always has been."
His heart stuttered slightly at the newcomer's words, and an alarm blared from somewhere overhead, causing a flurried curse in the not-quite-McCoy's voice.
"What happened?" Worry, concern…but it was not possible…
"Same thing that kept happening when you wouldn't stay outta here for the last hour, his mind is recognizing you and freakin' itself out about hearin' a dead man!"
"Should I – maybe I should leave."
"You try it and I'll tie you to that chair. Just because this's gonna be awkward is no excuse for you to run away."
"Do you know how resentful I could be of being talked to in that tone by someone young enough to be my son?"
"Speakin' of awkward."
A short laugh, so familiar. Then words, closer this time, almost next to his ear. "Come on, Spock, wake up, will you?" Pleading, almost begging, forlorn in their concern, and he felt the compulsion to answer them. "Doctor, why isn't he coming out of it by now?"
But this was not possible. He had been keeping careful watch upon himself for the onset of Bendii Syndrome; it was entirely possible he would begin manifesting symptoms in the next ten years, though he had hardly expected them this early if at all. (1) But creating hallucinations of ghosts long dead, especially that ghost…it was the most logical explanation, but he had hoped to have a few more years before the onset of senility...
Another sharp slap, rougher this time, broke that train of thought into a hundred pieces which fell about him in scattered bits in response to the stimulus.
"He may be an old Vulcan, but he's still a Vulcan! Let me do my job!"
"Um, guys…everything okay in here?"
"Sheesh." Footsteps scurried away, and a small portion of his mind smiled; the young one was so like his deceased captain, and yet so not...
"Spock." Again, the voice he refused to acknowledge, knowing it to be no more than a figment of an old man's far too human imagination. It was impossible, and therefore should be ignored. "Bones, what's wrong with him?"
"Don't call me that."
"…Sorry, force of habit?" Sorrow, tinged with fondness; he could dissect this voice and its emotions far better than he could his own or ever had been able to.
"And I have no idea! All readings indicate he could wake up anytime but he just isn't comin' out of it! It's more like he doesn't want to, not that he's not capable of doin' it!"
Of course he did not desire to awaken and find that this had all been the onset of a truly vivid set of nightmarish hallucinations. That the brain could conjure up such things with such clarity after so long, was nothing short of terrifying.
A mutter sounded close by his head, though he could not distinguish the words, sounding of determination and worry and something else he could not readily identify; the few moments of silence which followed enabled him to again slow the process of returning to lucidity, falling back into the quiet solitude which was preferable for now to facing this harsh reality he had inadvertently created so long ago.
Then from the silence That Voice suddenly sliced through the mists, driving straight through his barriers with all the ease of long-practiced, deadly aim. "Spock, snap out of it this instant. That's an order from your captain, mister!"
Unfortunately, the heart remembers what the brain refuses to acknowledge, and he was no more able to disobey that tone and those words than he was to stop his own lungs from drawing in oxygen.
He surfaced, reluctantly opening his eyes, and then promptly closed them again to shut out the ghosts which hovered around him. Was it not enough that he had destroyed this other reality and its inhabitants due to his own miscalculation – must he be haunted by ghosts of his own as well?
"Oh no you don't," the voice spoke again, much more gently this time, and something closed around his hand, warm pressure on his cold fingers. "Don't shut me out, Spock."
He must, else that way lay madness, how could this figment of an aging mentality not see that?
"I know you're confused right now, but don't you dare retreat before learning all the facts, Science Officer." The tone had tightened into a familiar sternness, and he could not refuse to acknowledge it.
Something pinched slightly at his neck, accompanied by a hissing noise, and he opened his eyes again to this young McCoy's smirk. "Well, you're as grumpy as my Spock when I do that," the young man observed sagely, looking far too pleased with himself.
"What did you just give him?" No, he would not look at the owner of The Voice just yet, for he could not think of acknowledging whatever Truth that might force upon him. He kept his eyes upon the young physician.
"The Vulcan equivalent of our caffeine, basically," McCoy replied laconically, rolling his eyes. "Just a mild stimulant mixed with a vitamin cocktail and an immunity booster; he should be more lucid in a few minutes. I don't want him droppin' back off for a few hours yet, not until I can get some decent readings from these scanners. Don't excite him. You may not be my Jim Kirk but I'll still kick your butt outta here if you give me any grief, understood?"
A brief chuckle. "Understood, Doctor."
The hiss of pressurized doors closing signaled the exit of this unique version of his own Leonard McCoy, and he closed his eyes again to assimilate the information that was filtering back through his brain at an alarming speed, filling in the gaps which had been muddled by healing trance. His head was clearing, the uncertainty disappearing under the mild stimulant – he noted with some amusement that at least in this universe this McCoy was capable of concocting a drug which did not turn his stomach – and the remembrance of recent events fell into place with a startling clarity.
And then the inevitable conclusions were made, and his heart lurched again, the sensor over his head beeping angrily.
He remembered quite well the reality of his last recollections.
He was not hallucinating.
This was reality.
His eyes flew open of their own accord, and met the amused, affectionate gaze that had probably never left him in the last few hours.
"Welcome back," Jim said softly.
The Voice washed over him like a calming wave of warm water on a parched desert, taking with its flood all the uncertainty of the last few minutes spent trying to grasp what was truly reality.
"I do not understand," he whispered, voice hoarse with disuse and disbelief. "How…how can you be here?"
"Long story, one that can wait until we have time to compare notes on all that's happened. The important thing is, that I am here – that we both are, thank the stars." That smile, the one he had never thought to see again in anything other than a tiny holo-image, suddenly shot brilliant sunlight into the room, banishing the shadows with its unleashed power.
He felt his own lips curve slightly, and from the dancing light answering from in his former captain's eyes knew the man could still read him as clearly as one of those antique books he so loved.
Jim's hand tightened slightly. "I was never so relieved in my life as I was when they told me somebody else was stranded here as well." The corners of the human's eyes crinkled, adding laugh wrinkles to the ones already present in the aging face. "They've told me all about it. You really couldn't stay out of trouble even without my influence, could you?"
What he had done was no joking matter, and yet he felt the tiny spark of amusement just the same at the words; Jim had always been capable of generating humor and determined calmness in any situation, no matter how dire.
And yet the fact remained; this universe's very existence, warped as it was, was due entirely to his error, his miscalculation. The fact that no one could have predicted the Romulan sun going supernova before its time made no difference; blame by definition must be attributed to someone, and he was the most likely candidate. He had destroyed his own dreams of uniting Romulus and Vulcan, and in the process had destroyed these young ones' chances at the life he had led, destroyed his home world and half the universe's scientific knowledge while in the process.
"Spock." The word drew his attention back to the well-remembered face before him, and he obediently attended. Jim's smile had faded into a concerned frown. He leaned closer, patting gently at the Vulcan's sleeve. "I can't tell what you're thinking exactly, but whatever it is, you're wrong."
He no longer was surprised that this particular human could seem to sense his thoughts and – Surak forbid, but it was true – his emotions, without any telepathic abilities. Jim had always been special, unique – an individual unheard-of in Vulcan history, an outworlder who somehow, no one knew how, had wormed his way so deeply intertwined with Vulcan and her people that he was accepted as an adopted blood-brother. (2) Now, that perspicacity was flaring as strongly after so many decades as it had the last they had met.
"I mean it, Spock," Jim reiterated sternly. "They've shown me the history books and the reports. There was nothing more you could have done."
"You do not know this." No one did. Jim shook his head, about to speak, but he continued with, "You are the one who stated that there is always an alternative. Never a true Kobayashi Maru. There is always a Corbomite Maneuver available to those who can find it." (3)
"Not always," the human whispered, eyes downcast. "Not completely." And through the light touch on his hand he could instantly feel the swamping dread and grief of a cadet patrol gone badly wrong, a vengeance-bent super-man who succeeded where no one else had before in parting them, nearly making McCoy a casualty in the process of reunion. Jim met his eyes. "Sometimes you have to settle for a second chance instead, Spock."
He raised a calculating eyebrow. "Or a third?"
Jim laughed, a half-choked, relieved sound. "Or fourth, or fifth, or whatever we're on now," he agreed, smiling through hazy eyes. "Sometimes that's all we get, Spock. It'll have to be enough."
"You do not know what I have permitted to occur in this timeline," he protested, his self-guilt weakening under the warm influence of that melting smile.
"And I don't need to. Kaiidth, Spock." (4) The Vulcan word slipped as easily from the human's lips as it would from a Vulcan's, and the sound of his own language soothed the fractured mess of regret which had been his reality for over a year now. "You know this as well as I; we cannot change the past without changing our futures. To wish that we could is unproductive and…illogical."
He glared as best he could, reclined and helpless before the onslaught of James T. Kirk's teasing.
Jim laughed, a bubbling, joyful sound. "You've no idea how much I missed that supercilious eyebrow."
"I might be capable of guessing," was his quiet reply, darkened with the accumulation of nearly a century of loss. "It has been…so long."
"I can't imagine," the human whispered. "Time had no meaning in the Nexus; it feels like it's only been a few weeks since the shakedown of the Enterprise-B…"
"Much has happened, changed, in ninety-five years. To acclimate to this time period and this universe will be a challenge for you."
"And it hasn't been for you?"
"It has," he was forced to admit. "To be given no chance to actively atone for how I have changed this universe…"
Jim nodded, understanding completely without needing to speak the words of affirmation. "Neither of us has ever been a good passive bystander, have we?"
"What do you do, now?"
"I am a research scientist at present for the survivors' colony on New Vulcan." Curiosity sparked in the human's eyes. "Originally I fulfilled the role of a minor mental healer, as the resulting deaths and illnesses from broken familial and marriage bonds threatened to decimate those few survivors. Anyone with even minimal experience in empathic coping was needed for many months, until the survivors stabilized."
"You were always one of the best psychologists I knew, other than Bones," Jim remarked, smiling. Then his eyes widened, grief filling them. "Bones…Spock, what – was he…?"
"He was in no pain when his time came," he reassured quietly, for he knew it to be true despite being on Romulus at the dear being's passing. "He lived a long and fulfilled life, Jim; a Starfleet Admiral and a respected figure in Vulcan scientific circles. Though he grieved your loss, he, as I, was pleased that you had…gone out, as you would say, among the stars, saving the ship you loved. It was far more fitting, than failing of old age in retirement. Such was not your destiny, and he recognized that."
Tears shone unshed in the golden eyes, as they flicked to the doors of the Sickbay and then back to the bio-bed. "I miss him so much, Spock," the human whispered brokenly. "Seeing these kids…especially that McCoy…and knowing that it just isn't him…"
His heart clenched, and his hand echoed the reflexive tightening with its own grip. "I know."
Jim looked up, realization dawning visibly over his expressive features. "You do, don't you…you've had to live it for a year now, were thrown into it more painfully than I was."
"It was…difficult." An immense, immeasurable understatement. The pain had been nearly unbearable, meeting a young version of this man just after watching his planet and all she represented and housed disintegrate before his eyes. He regretted the hasty, ill-prepared mind meld he had nearly forced upon the young Jim Kirk, because he had not the time to prepare the young man nor to shield his own mind from spilling over the emotional turbulence he had not had time to control. It was no wonder the young man reported still feeling occasional flashbacks to events he knew nothing of; it had been yet another mistake on Spock's part, one more in a chain of horrific errors that had nearly cost them all everything. (5)
"Spock," and he gathered from the questioning concern that his mind had wandered for a moment.
The title fell easily from his lips, even after so many years, and seeing the delighted smile that beamed down at him he resolved to continue. After all, it would be illogical to break such a habit.
Jim leaned forward, resting his arms on the thermal blanket. "Show me," he requested gently. "Show me why you still blame yourself. What you did, and think you could have done. What you feel. You know I won't ask you to talk to me about it – but show me?"
He looked away, unprepared for this next step in assimilating this reality. He had not participated in a true, intimate mind-joining in decades, not since Captain Picard's news of his father's death; this was part of the reason he had performed so poorly with young Jim last year – he had not been prepared nor in practice for such an intimate action. "You do not know what you ask."
"Spock," and he had never really been able to resist those eyes, that pleading expression. "I ask…that you let me help." (6)
The words were said purposely, and they both knew it; and he was powerless to resist the beckoning plea to permit someone to at last absolve him of the guilt he had harbored silently for so long. Jim's mind promised no blame, only aid – and he who had given such absolution to others as a healer on New Vulcan had never spared a thought for himself. To avail one's self of such help from a trusted source was only logical.
Jim completed the decision for him, turning his head slightly to allow access and then guiding the aging hand into position – a gesture of complete trust, one that did not go unnoticed by him.
"I am not properly prepared…What you see could be painful."
"It doesn't matter, Spock. After all this, it doesn't matter."
"Captain, I –"
"Go on," the man whispered intensely, that familiar staccato delivery punctuating the words with urgency. The eyes above his fingers sparked gold-green with intensity and trust. "Show me."
He shifted his fingers slightly, into the proper position. "My mind…to your mind," he began slowly, almost reverently, and Jim's face, relaxed and at peace, was his last sight just before his eyes closed in concentration.
For the next fifteen minutes, neither of them noticed the hunched figure standing at the glass observation window, watching.
He'd never seen anything more…beautiful, was the word, in his entire life.
His mental joining – mind dump – with the Ambassador had been nothing like this; it had hurt, the sheer amount of grief and anger and heartbreak and urgetokillhurtdestroy and sadness and loneliness had been enough to give him nightmares from sheer terror for weeks afterwards. The old man had no intention of harming him, but had lost control of the meld from what he'd been able to understand. He wasn't bitter about it, because for heaven's sake the poor guy had had enough on his plate without having to worry about Jim Kirk's fragile human brain overloading with the galaxy at stake, but it was hard to watch this.
This, being how it was supposed to be, evidently.
There was just something heartbreaking about watching two old men cry without knowing they were.
He wasn't the only one whose best destiny had been ruthlessly wrenched out of his control.
Halfway through, his older counterpart's hands had reached out blindly, fumbling until one rested in a mirroring position on the old Vulcan's face, the other clenched trembling in the front-folds of the ambassador's robe. The open grief, the open sympathy, the open whatever-else-that-was that he dared not put a name to but it was obvious they were sharing – he felt like a peeping Tom, and yet he couldn't help but watch, his heart twisting.
Even a glimpse into half-veiled thought-memories in a hasty mind-joining on Delta Vega couldn't have prepared him for the sheer magnitude of loyalty and love that illuminated the small room with something he'd never have, never could have, because of how screwed up his own reality already had been. Their symbiosis held a fluid grace of gentility and deference that made him self-conscious, awkward, aware all too clearly of his own coarse and brittle camaraderie with his own First. He was a boor in the company of gentle beings, a court jester in the midst of nobility, a child before respected elders, a lucky nobody thrown awkwardly into the place of another universe's most famous hero.
A puppet captain in the presence of history's greatest starship command team.
And besides, who could compete with – literally, thanks to Q and Destiny – immortality?
These two were the stuff that legends and dreams were made of, and unfortunately such magic had no place in this harsher reality.
It was just too painful a reminder of how twisted his own destiny was, and the open sting of the wound was too raw.
He fled, not even seeing Spock as he brushed past the Vulcan in the corridor outside.
He wasn't sure how long he had been on the Observation Deck, but it was long enough that his legs were starting to fall asleep from the pressure of his elbows as he sat, elbows on knees and fists propped under his chin, staring out at the stars.
Ever since that one time at a precocious four years old, when his mother had actually been home long enough to take him on a trip to the Des Moines Planetarium, he had fallen in love with the stars. They had beckoned him for years, though the siren song had been muted, distorted through more heartache than he would even admit to himself or anyone else – but still they had remained his sole constant love through all those who had failed before.
The stars were unchanging, beautiful and distant, constant and true guides through life, or so poetry always said. You could order your life and steer your ship by them, in any century. Their cycles governed personalities, and their allure evoked passion and dreams. Their ethereal beauty filtered through billions of light-years to produce a sense of calm, of peace, and every child knew to wish upon their twinkling brilliance.
But somewhere out there, there was one missing; a haunting, stark reminder of the fate that had befallen the greatest, most revered planet in the Federation. The shining light of Vulcan could still be seen from Earth, from the Sol system and others – for the dying shadows of an imploding planet had not yet traveled the many lightyears' distance to those regions. If he knew where to look, he could have seen the light of a vanished planet still here, in this space; in another fifty years that would be gone, and the reminders of what they had lost would truly be no more.
Q had been right in one thing, he reflected bitterly, as his eyes scanned the twinkling heavens for the thousandth time. Destiny had majorly botched this timeline.
He was glad for the Ambassador, that things had at least worked out a little for the poor guy; he wasn't selfish enough to wish for anything else – but he had to feel a little bitterness over the fact that it had, ultimately, been the elderly Vulcan's doing that started the ball of chaos rolling. Though Spock wasn't to blame for Nero or Romulus's sun going nova, the vestiges of blame still hovered over him – for they had to blame someone, that was human nature.
But he had seen the soft light of pure joy that had appeared in the old Vulcan's eyes when he had caught sight of a man he believed long dead in his own universe, and he couldn't begrudge either Old Spock or his own counterpart what little remnants of comfort they had right now in each other. They were all each other had, now…so why in the universe was he so hopelessly, horribly jealous of them?
He wasn't really surprised when the doors to the Observation Deck opened behind him, and a moment later a body settled silently beside him on the bench before the largest of the transparent poly-aluminum windows.
They sat in silence for a good three or four minutes, give or take. Then, he sighed, and glanced over at Spock's impassive face, as it was softened and outlined in bluish-purple halos from the starlight.
"This whole thing is really awkward, you know?" he asked, quite seriously.
"Indeed," was the quiet reply, though Spock's eyes were elsewhere, looking into the distance in a direction Jim sadly suspected was the way Vulcan had lain. "You appear to have become…melancholy, rather than maintaining your former excitement, regarding the outcome of this mission," Spock added, not without gentleness, but with an audible note of hesitancy.
"Yeah," he agreed softly, but offered no explanation.
None was needed, at least for now, and he was grateful for that. For a long time they sat, looking out at the stars, and saying nothing.
"I can't stop thinking about it," he finally blurted, not even knowing why he was talking or if he should shut the heck up before he embarrassed himself to a Vulcan, of all beings.
Spock's voice, when he finally turned his full attention to his captain, was at least sincerely curious. "About what, Captain?"
"About…everything," he muttered, leaning more weight on his elbows and keeping his eyes on the floor, hands clasped before him. "How messed up our timeline is…how that maybe Q was right when he said we probably should just not exist in the first place. It's just…so unfair, Spock." His voice was almost a whisper at the end, and at that point he didn't care if he was probably broadcasting a full spectrum of emotions at his poor Vulcan friend. "If only things had been different…if I'd been one minute quicker on that drill! We –"
"Enough, Jim." Spock's voice sliced through the unhappy muddle that was his brain, but so gently that it felt more like a cleansing than a dissection. "What is, is, and it cannot be changed. We could continue wishing otherwise for eternity, but that will not change that which exists."
"I know," he whispered. The cold chill that had sifted through his whole body had settled somewhere near his heart, and now it contracted painfully. "Believe me, I know. But I don't think I'll ever be able to stop thinking about what could have been different, if only I'd acted sooner, or done something differently." He sighed, and closed his eyes for a moment over his clasped hands.
Spock was silent, neither condemning nor excusing nor absolving, which was only what he had expected.
What he had not expected, was for the Vulcan to move slightly closer to him on the bench, so close he could feel the presence of the body next to his own.
He didn't look up, and so when Spock spoke it startled him.
"One meter, fifteen-point-five centimeters."
His head jerked up so quickly a vertebra snapped satisfyingly in his neck. "Come again?" he asked incredulously.
Spock was staring at some non-existent spot on the durasteel flooring, his eyes filled only with star-reflection and pain. "One meter, fifteen-point-five centimeters, Captain. Had I been able to span that distance with my arm and hand, or had I taken two paces forward before Ensign Chekov activated the Transporter lock…"
He had to swallow on a fist of sick nausea that had just punched him in the stomach, before he nodded in mute, silent sympathy.
Spock's eyes slid over to meet his, deep and dark in the painful understanding that only comes of shared survival. "Not a day passes that I do not consider what might have been, Jim," he said quietly. "But to linger on such thoughts is neither healthy nor productive. What is past, must remain so, else it is a disservice to the present."
"Yeah," he agreed, sighing. "But that doesn't make it any easier to stomach, does it?"
"It does not," Spock agreed, and they fell silent for a moment.
Then – "We're not them, you know," he suddenly and almost painfully changed the subject, not really knowing where the words were coming from.
The ironic eyebrow flitted upward just a fraction. "I was aware, Captain."
"Wise guy. But seriously," he continued, half-turning toward his First, "I've never seen anything like that. I mean you could, like, almost feel the…" he gestured helplessly, trying to formulate a description of the aura that surrounded their older counterparts like a ceremonial shroud of mystic power.
Spock arched an eyebrow. "The trust, between them?"
He winced; you could always count on a Vulcan to knife into the heart of the matter, twisting the blade as he went. "Yeah. I...I'll be the first to admit that I'm not a very trusting individual, Spock."
"This, from the human whose sole piece of wisdom that his arrogant plan to destroy the drill, the Narada, and recover Captain Pike would succeed was simply 'It'll work.'"
"Again with the snark," he chuckled, secretly delighted that in this area at least his Spock had no objection to meeting fire with fire in the area of verbal fencing. "I knew you'd get the drill and then the Narada."
"And may I ask, how?"
He halted, brows furrowed…because he honestly had no idea, other than the fact that he knew Spock would find a way to get the job done. He'd had no doubt that if he'd failed to get Pike out of the Narada, Spock would have kamikazed the Ambassador's ship into the Romulan vessel and sent the whole quadrant into the enormous singularity that resulted.
But he couldn't really pinpoint how he knew their highly unlikely plan would work.
"I just…" He gulped, and wished he had chosen a better hiding place than this so that this ridiculously nosy Vulcan couldn't have found him so easily. "…Okay, look, this is going to sound really stupid and sappy," he warned, and saw a twitch of amusement perk up the corner of Spock's lips in response. "But it's just that…whenever I feel you behind me, I…I believe I can do anything in the universe, no matter what Starfleet or anyone else says," he muttered, face burning with embarrassment at the sentiment.
There was silence to his right for a very so very awkward few moments, during which he calculated how quickly he could get to the sliding doors before his First started laughing (inside of course) at his illogical insecurities, and then Spock's calm voice, vibrating with intensity, interrupted his trajectory computations.
"Whatever our lives might have been before the distortion of Time, our destinies have changed, Jim. Do you still believe yours to be to command a Federation starship, the flagship of the 'Fleet?"
He did not even need to think about it; even if he wasn't ever going to be a legend, he was dead sure of what he was supposed to be, and Enterprise belonged to him, thanks very much. "Without question."
"I cannot profess to foresee the entirety of what is now this universe's Destiny. But, I…have it on good authority that mine, at least, is to be by your side. Captain."
He looked up, and grinned through the warmth wrapping around him despite the chill of the star-strewn glass before them. For a moment their reflections looked hazily back at them, side by side beneath the galaxy's vast expanse and both defiant in the face of an unfair Destiny.
"I can live with that," he whispered at last, and Spock's reflection smiled.
(1) Bendii Syndrome is what Ambassador Sarek finally died of as we see in the ST:TNG episodes in which he appears, Sarek and Unification (Part I). I see it as a kind of Vulcan emotional Alzheimer's disease; a terminal degenerative neurological condition which causes them to lose their ability to control emotion. Nothing is said about it being hereditary, but again I'm trying to draw some continuity here and I don't think it's a stretch to consider it might be hereditary.
(2) This may sound melodramatic, but if you truly research and read between the lines of the Star Trek trilogy (II, III, and IV), you'll find that it is true. From Amok Time to Journey to Babel to The Search for Spock to The Voyage Home, James Kirk's destiny has been intertwined with the planet Vulcan and not just due to his First Officer's being native to it. Ambassador Sarek's attitude underwent drastic changes toward him from JtB to TVH, and I for one love studying the transformation.
(3) Reference to the episode The Corbomite Maneuver. In my own personal canon, that term in the Trek world came to become a household word meaning a brilliant, desperate gamble for high stakes.
(4) Kaiidth is the Vulcan proverb what is, is.
(5) For a long time, that scene in ST:XI bothered me so badly; one, as being highly out of character for Spock (which I still contend it was, to not ask permission first, but that's not my issue here) but two, because a properly-controlled mind meld should not produce such emotional transference. The closest we see to such a thing is in ST:III, when Sarek basically coerces Kirk into a meld to view Spock's death and what happened to his katra; I believe from what I see that Sarek was grieving and was not prepared to be gentle with Kirk's mind, and the resulting grief was his fault. Understandably, Ambassador Spock was emotionally compromised beyond belief, but it was a drastic measure. However, when one understands that – other than the meld with Captain Picard at the end of Unification (TNG, and Part II) – Spock had not performed a mind-joining that we know of in many decades, it seems a bit less drastic that he lost control of it in XI. Just my opinion of explanation.
(6) Non-TOS geeks may not recognize the significance of the phrase, if they have not seen the episode City on the Edge of Forever. In that episode, Kirk tells Edith Keeler that someday into the future, someone will write a novel about that phrase, and will recommend Let me help over any other words in the spoken language, including I love you. (It's an interesting point that the next time we hear the phrase is in the very next episode, Operation Annihilate; Spock to Kirk after Kirk's brother is killed by the Denevan neurological parasites).
And so it ends, everyone. I do have quite a bit of material from the scrap pile that I was wanting to put into this universe and didn't, simply because that's not what this fic was about. The more that I wrote, the more I realized this wasn't an XI/TOS crossover; this was an XI story, through and through, a character study. If there's interest, I may do a series of oneshots set in this 'verse. So, interest, y/n?
This story will undergo a rewrite at some point, as it was written in a one-month period of time and is still quite rough (plot? what plot?); you may see minor edits here and there upon re-reading in the future.
Thank you so much for reading it now, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did writing it!