Chapter Twelve: Harbor Lights

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Nyota hesitates outside her dorm room, the hard plastic key card in her hand. Down the hall she can hear someone murmuring—Jasper or Mico, most likely, the doors to their rooms left open the way they always are, so they can chat. She had spotted them walking ahead of her on the commons a few minutes ago but had hung back deliberately, not wanting to have to answer any questions.

She doesn't know either well—just that they are both second year cadets. Most of the people she knows—that she knew—were fourth years ready to graduate.

Almost an entire class gone.

With a decisive motion, she swipes her card through the reader and hears the door unlatch. It gives way when she pushes it; she hesitates a second time before stepping over the threshold.

She's been away less than a week but the room already smells stale, as if no one has lived here for years. The thought makes her angry and she smacks her hand on the light sensor with so much force that her knuckles sting.

As she knew it would, the room looks exactly as it had when she had been called to sudden duty with the rest of the graduating class. Two narrow beds—one neatly made, the other a tangled nest of sheets and pillows and piled up clothes. Nyota steps to the unmade bed and reaches out as if to touch it.

Before her fingers make contact, she curls them into her palm and steps away.

On her desk her computer is blinking, a queue of messages to be answered. They can wait. She's already spoken by subspace to her parents, insisted that they not come to San Francisco yet; the debriefing and medical evaluations will take up her time for another week or so.

Quickly she wonders if Spock has sent her a note but dismisses that idea. He knows she's too upset to respond if he does.

Beside her computer is a bottle of dark nail polish—Gaila's, like the myriad small bottles and compacts of exotic make-up and scents strewn across the dressers and desks. Picking up the nail polish with her right hand, Nyota unfurls the fingers of her left and holds them up as if she is inspecting them, as she had done a week ago when Gaila finished painting them.

"It's so dark!" Nyota had complained about the color, but Gaila had done what she always did, ignored the criticism and laughed, confident that she could charm anyone into good humor.

The memory blurs her vision and Nyota blinks it back fiercely. Think of something else.

Spock, then, and what he's doing now. Sitting alone in his apartment, in the dark or with his asenoi casting flickering shadows on his bedroom wall.

Or packing already, sorting through his possessions, deciding which things he will be able to transport to the colony, which ones he will discard.

That image, too, threatens to bring her to tears and she steels herself by calling up her frustration—and if she is honest, her fury—with him.

He had been so raw, so broken that first night after the battle that they had said almost nothing to each other. After her double shift—after her confession to Jim Kirk and the grace he conferred on her—she willed herself to her quarters but found herself, like a character led astray in a fairy tale, at Spock's door instead, unsure how she had known where it was, not even certain he was there.

But he had answered the chime immediately, stepping aside and wordlessly asking her in.

And she had stayed there, except for when she was on duty, for the five days it had taken the tugs to tow the Enterprise back to Spacedock. No one said a word or raised an eyebrow as she came and went—not even Sarek, who showed up one morning saying he needed to speak privately with his son.

If Spock was distant and quiet, she was neither surprised nor alarmed. Who wasn't feeling echoes of his grief, his loss?

Nor was she surprised or alarmed that he spent an increasing amount of time with the rescued Vulcan elders on board. That, too, was expected. He told her that he was establishing a database to catalogue survivors and was helping with the relocation efforts.

"What can I do?" she asked, but he shook his head and later she realized that he must have already known on the trip back from Vulcan that he would resign his commission and leave Starfleet.

And her.

He told her as soon as they got home. They were sitting sideways on the sofa in his apartment, knee to knee, and she had listened, her brows knit together, first in concentration and then in distress.

This was temporary, surely? But he said no, that the elders needed him for the foreseeable future. No matter how hospitable a world they relocated to, it would be bereft of infrastructure, culture, tradition. They were building from scratch.

But that will mean you and I—

She hadn't finished the sentence, realizing all at once what he was saying. She wasn't in his future.

"You lied to me," she said suddenly, and she could tell by the expression on his face that he understood the different layers of her meaning.

"You lied to me when you said you would come back," she told him.

What had that meant—"I will be back"—if it didn't also mean "I can't bear to leave you"?

He had started to stand up then but she darted out her hand and made him pause, had leaned into him and felt his breath on her face, had brushed his fingertips and felt his sorrow and regret and the beginnings of his arousal.

She was relieved, thinking he was turning back to her.

They had made love then, never leaving the sofa, hardly undressing in their haste. Later she would realize what she didn't want to see—that their headlong rush to each other was more a retreat from sorrow than a measure of their passion.

She felt the distance opening up between them soon enough.

"Why didn't you tell me you were thinking of leaving Starfleet?" she said as they lay together afterwards, their breaths slowing, their skin cooling. Her words sounded petulant, even to her, and Spock's reply was both blamelessly logical and amazingly hurtful: "To what purpose, Nyota? I could not ask you to give up what you have worked for."

They talked until the afternoon light faded, a futile series of questions and answers that went nowhere, and then she slipped her shoes on and left, walking across the commons like a sleepwalker, seeing Jasper and Mico a hundred feet ahead of her as she neared the dorm.

As she sits at the desk, the blinking light on the computer demands her attention. Perhaps Spock has changed his mind, has sent her a note asking her to return, to not spend her first night back on Earth surrounded by things that remind her of loss.

She flicks on the screen and calls up the message queue.

Nothing from Spock, but two official notices from the dean of students.

Her chest tightens and she takes a breath.

The first asks her to gather up Cadet Farlijah-Endef's personal belongings. Someone from Gaila's clan will arrive in the next day or two to pick them up.

Nyota taps out a reply. She'll have everything boxed up soon.

The second is a notice that the academic council is meeting to decide when classes will continue. Whether or not to have an actual graduation ceremony in the spring is also being discussed.

The note includes a survey asking for suggestions about a memorial service.

Nyota lets her hand hover for a moment over the keyboard before she hits the delete button.

That action deflates her, makes her feel defeated in a way she hasn't felt until now—not even when she watched in disbelief as Vulcan imploded, nor when she forced herself to track Spock's signal as he doubled back toward the Romulan ship, not even when he looked up at her, anguished, and told her he was resigning his commission.

With one keystroke she signals her refusal to deal with the future. What does it matter when classes resume? They will eventually, and when they do, she will go, finishing out her final semester with grudging doggedness.

Or perhaps the fourth year students will be excused, graduation moved up or waived entirely.

She's too numb to care.

In one corner of the room is a box her mother sent recently. Dumping out the sweater inside—"It's winter there," her mother had protested. "I'm sending you something to keep you warm!"—she sets it on her bed, the neatly made up one, and looks around the room.

She'll need a bigger box for Gaila's clothes, of course, many which are piled on the floor like archaeological layers where Gaila had stepped out them, letting them fall on each other until Nyota would from time to time, exasperated, carry an armload to the washer.

The dresser, then. Nyota lifts one of the tiny boxes of colored powders and flips it open, holds it to her nose, is startled that Gaila's distinctive scent wafts out.

If she weren't so tired, so dazed by all that has happened in a week, she would weep.

Instead, she closes the lid carefully and sets it in the box on her bed.

And so on, until the top of the dresser is clear.

When she gets to the bottle of dark nail polish, she holds it in her hand for a moment and considers keeping it—not as a memento, but as a protest against letting Gaila go completely. Surely no one in her clan would object, even if Nyota doesn't ask their permission.

She returns the bottle to her own desk.

Pulling her comm from her pocket, she glances down to see if anyone—if Spock—has tried to reach her.


What was it he said? I could not ask you to give up what you have worked for.

What if he had? Would she have gone with him to an unknown world, her own reason for being there uncertain? To live among people who might ignore any contributions she could offer? To step willingly off the path she chose long ago when she decided to apply to the Academy? What kind of person would offer her that dilemma, would ask that of her?

She feels her anger with him lessen.

If anything, he's more constrained than she is. What real option does he have?

She, at least, is facing a future she has always wanted, has, as Spock said, worked hard to bring it about with her own free will.

He isn't as free.

The idea saddens her but steadies her, too. She won't make life harder for him than it already is, won't let him leave thinking she is too wounded to carry on.

Because she's not. She's hurt, of course—no, not hurt, for that implies a possible recovery—but damaged.

As is everyone else. Holding her own pain up as something extraordinary suddenly strikes her as selfish beyond belief.

She will carry on. Finish her courses and graduate—with a formal ceremony or not—and head out to a career among the stars as she always intended.

Not the same person she was a week ago. None of them are.

But still standing. Still standing, despite everything.

That has to count for something.


"If you don't eat, McCoy will yell at me," Natalie says. As she hopes, Chris grimaces but picks up his spoon.

"I don't need a mother hen," he grouses, leaning forward awkwardly in his mobile chair over the dinner tray Natalie sets in front of him.

Tilting his plate forward slightly to help him scoop up some mashed potatoes, she says, "Apparently you do."

Natalie looks up in time to catch a frown darkening Chris' expression.

"Well," she says, "you do. Might as well face up to that fact right now and save us all a lot of time arguing about the obvious."

"When I get out of here—" Chris motions with his right hand—the one he has the best control over—to indicate the rehab room.

"I'm glad you brought that up," Natalie says, pulling her chair closer.

Chris' recovery is different depending on whom she asks. For Chris, it's far too slow. For his doctors, it's remarkable how much he's improved since the medical shuttle brought him home eight days ago. Natalie had pulled rank to get onboard that shuttle and has had nightmares ever since. The shock of seeing the Enterprise with huge blackened gaps in the hull—the young crew obviously tired but purposeful as they made what repairs they could. Sickbay overflowing, McCoy looking grimmer than usual.

And Chris, drawn and pale and under heavy sedation.

At least the alien parasite has been removed. Whether or not the neurological damage it inflicted is permanent is anyone's guess. When Natalie buttonholes the doctors in private, they shrug and say they're doing all they can.

That's undoubtedly true, but she's angry anyway. Not at the doctors exactly, and not even at the limitations of medicine, but at the situation. Chris doesn't deserve this.

"We need to talk about what to do," she says as Chris lets his spoon fall back onto his plate. He's clearly finished being badgered about eating and Natalie removes his tray.

"I just need to get out of here," he says, heaving backwards in his chair. Whoever shaved him this morning did a poor job, Natalie notices.

"When the doctors say you can," she says, and Chris harrumphs.

"I can now," he says, and she shakes her head.

"You can't even get yourself up without help," she points out. "You're going to need someone…for awhile."

She can tell that eating has wearied him. Leaning his head back against the chair, he closes his eyes briefly.

"Want me to leave?" Natalie asks, and Chris' eyes fly open.

"Of course not. I was just resting my eyes. You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get any sleep around here."

But Natalie knows. Her shoulder is stiff from sleeping on the sofa in the corner of Chris' room—as she has every night since he was moved out of the ICU.

A noise at the door catches her attention and she turns to see Dr. McCoy, PADD in hand, walking in.

"If you're here to see if I ate lunch," Chris says, tilting his head, "I did. Your watchdog made me."

"Be glad she did," McCoy says, pulling a chair across the floor and settling into it next to Natalie. "Otherwise you're never going to get out of here."

"I'm ready to go now," Chris says. "Say the word and spring me out."

McCoy crosses his arms and gives Chris an appraising stare, the kind Natalie has seen him give his staff right before he chews them out about something.

"Captain, I hate to tell you this, but you're not going anywhere," McCoy says. Chris opens his mouth to respond and McCoy hurries on. "At least for a few days. And only then if you have proper support."

"A watchdog."

"A rehabbed place to live, for starters. Someplace with doors big enough for that chair to get through, with sinks you can reach, bed rails."

Natalie watches as Chris' expression falls. He hasn't thought that far ahead, she can tell—he's been so focused on getting out of the hospital that he hasn't had time to dwell on the difficulties he's facing. The mobile chair, for instance. She knows he hates it—resents how people judge him by it, even in the short time he's been in it.

It hasn't occurred to him that this might be how it always will be.

She takes a breath and tries to listen as McCoy goes on.

"And yes, a watchdog. Someone to help you get settled, at least for a little while."

Chris says nothing but his expression is sour.

"Look," McCoy says, leaning forward, "I know you want to get out of here. The neurospecialists say a couple more days and then we can talk about discharging you. You could make that go faster if you line up things ahead of time. The rehab director's coming by later this afternoon to talk about some options."

"How long—" Chris says, and then falls silent.

For a moment Natalie thinks that McCoy misunderstands what Chris is asking, that he will assume Chris is nailing down the details about his discharge.

But as she watches, she sees a shadow cross McCoy's face and she knows he knows.

How long until I can get back to the Enterprise?

That's the real question. To his credit, McCoy doesn't dodge it.

"We don't know. That may not be possible."

It's the first time anyone's said it out loud—what Natalie has suspected since she saw Chris in the medical shuttle, his face drained of color, contorted even under heavy sedation.

He's never going back—not to what he was physically, not to the Enterprise.

The idea settles like a weight in her chest.

"I see," Chris says.

McCoy bobs his head almost apologetically.

"Well, then," he says, "I'll be back later to check in on you."

In a flurry of motion he stands and exits the room, leaving behind a silence that Natalie finally breaks.

"I want you to come home with me."

Chris doesn't move but continues to stare into the middle distance, clearly seeing nothing.

"Did you hear me? I said I want you to come home with me. It won't be hard to fix the house—"


Chris shifts in his chair and meets Natalie's gaze.

"Didn't you hear McCoy? This might be as good as it gets," he says.


"I couldn't do that to you. To Eric."

"You aren't doing anything to us."

"I think we both know better than that."

He looks away then, and Natalie flushes.

Time for the truth.

"Eric was going to tell you later," she says, folding her hands in her lap, an uncharacteristic primness that catches Chris' attention. "He's taking an apartment in town. I'm staying in the house. I want you come home with me."

She watches the pieces of the puzzle slide together in Chris' expression—first confusion and then anger.

"What are you saying? That you and Eric are separating?"

"This isn't about you," she says quickly, wishing, like a child, that saying it will make it so, knowing he won't believe the lie.

"Natalie," Chris says, the grief in his voice pulling at the weight already in her chest, "you can't do this. I don't want this. You're not thinking this through, or Eric isn't."

She unfolds her hands and fidgets with the hem of her short jacket. How to explain to him that the decision was made long ago but she's been pretending otherwise, that she's been moving along this invisible line without realizing it? The path she thought she was taking—marriage, leaving Starfleet, children—was an illusion, receding from her like the shimmer of water on a hot road, no matter how hard she pursued it.

"I'm not doing this for you," she says at last. "I'm doing this because it's what I need to do for me."

That is the truth, and she feels relief in being able to say it.

"And what about Eric? What about what he needs?"

Chris' voice is almost accusatory—defensive on his brother's behalf. Natalie blinks and tries to steady her voice.

"He's not happy about it," she says. "But it's our decision. Not yours."

"Don't treat me like I'm some goddam invalid! Like I don't have a mind of my own!"

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean—"

"I'm tired," Chris says suddenly, his words clipped, angry.

He's dismissing her. Her heart races as she tries frantically to think of what to say. Everything that comes to her lips—"Don't push me away" or "I've always loved you"—sounds self-serving, banal.

She can't find the words to make him understand that what she's doing now—what she and Eric are choosing—is not as painful as continuing on as if nothing has changed. As if Chris' injury hasn't rebalanced the equation and forced her to admit that her silence has been unfair to both men.

Chris runs his right hand along a toggle on the arm of the mobile chair, setting the wheels in motion. He turns slowly away from her, saying, "Go home."

The weight in her chest is almost unbearable and he's looking away, but she stands and takes a step toward him before stopping herself. What did she expect? He's always been so protective of Eric—and proud to be so independent.

"No matter what you do," she says softly, "no matter what you say, that doesn't change how I feel. How I've always felt."

She leaves then, the first time in several days that she's been outdoors when the sun is still up. The light is almost startling and she stands for a moment on the steps of the hospital, blinking, blind, trying to see what lies ahead.


As he often does, Spock feels a paradoxical twinge of envy and annoyance at the imperturbable expression on his father's face. To be so controlled, so composed. Even as he aspires to it, Spock suspects he will never reach that level of equanimity.

These days, especially, his emotions roil just beneath the surface. The people who know him best—his cousins, Nyota—have looked at him with something akin to alarm, though even his crewmates and fellow faculty at the Academy have eyed him askance recently. He reminds himself to relax his jaw, to unfurrow his brow.

The deli where he and his father sit is the one he and Nyota frequented in the past, the one near the faculty apartments. Coming here was a mistake, Spock decides. Instead of focusing on his father's words, he finds himself remembering meals he shared with Nyota.

His throat is oddly constricted and he coughs when he tries to swallow a sip of his tea. Sarek says nothing but pauses in his recitation, watching him intently.

"The council," his father continues, "has made cataloguing the survivors the first priority. They are petitioning the Federation acquisition committee for more hardware resources."

Setting down his cup, Spock nods.

"Suvak says that he can redeploy at least one more technician if you need the assistance," Sarek says, and Spock nods again.

"As you wish."

"Of course, if you do not need the assistance, the technician can continue her work upgrading the medical database."

"I have no preference, Father."

Spock curls his fingers around the tea mug, warming them. In the distance he can see Arun at the counter, flipping idly through a magazine.

"You're the only person I know," Nyota had teased the last time they were here, "who still reads a printed paper," and Arun had laughed—the only time Spock had ever heard the normally taciturn man do so.

The memory is surprisingly painful. Such an innocuous image, too.

He feels another wave of envy at his father's composure.

Even now, even here, after the shock of feeling the ground give way under his feet, watching his wife swept away before him, Sarek betrays no obvious sorrow.

At least not on his face. Through their bond Spock feels an undercurrent of grief—like listening to a swollen river hidden by a screen of trees. As much as he can, Spock tamps down their connection, to afford his father his privacy.

"You seem…distracted," Sarek says, the slight hesitation in his voice an apology. The statement, after all, is almost an insult. Or would be, if Spock were paying closer attention. "We can continue this discussion at a later time if you prefer."

"There is no need."

"If you have things that need attending to?"

"I am almost through packing. The rest can wait."

And suddenly Spock knows what his father is referring to. Nyota.

On the trip back from Vulcan, Sarek had seen her in Spock's quarters on the Enterprise one morning and had surely surmised what that meant. He said nothing at the time—indeed, has said nothing about it since—but something in his demeanor softened.

Looking up, Spock says, "Shall we continue?"

The slightest shift in Sarek's posture—and then he takes Spock at his word and continues listing supplies they need to requisition and personnel who have offered to help once a relocation site is determined.

As his father talks, Spock becomes aware of a distant rushing noise, faint at first and gradually growing so loud that he struggles to hear over it. With the noise comes an increase in the temperature in the room, the air growing so hot and moist that he feels beads of water collecting on his brow.

Still, Sarek talks on, as if he is unaware of the intrusive sound, the oppressive heat.

A malfunction in the environmental controls? Spock looks up at the vents in the ceiling, turns his palm up and lifts his hand, feeling for a blast of air.


He's aware of his father's concern as he stands and tilts his head toward the ceiling vents. The sound pulses louder—and then with a shock he realizes that what he hears is the sound of his own heartbeat, that he's sweaty and hot with fury.

"Excuse me, Father," he says, almost stumbling away from the small table in the back of the deli. As quickly as he can, he makes his way up a narrow aisle of canned and boxed convenience foods, Arun setting aside his magazine and eyeing him as he hurries to the door.

Although he doesn't look back, he's sure his father is watching him, perhaps betraying his concern with a quizzical expression.

The outside air is cold and wet, typical for late February. Ordinarily Spock finds such weather uncomfortable, but today he welcomes it. His face is flushed, his uniform too warm and binding. Without conscious thought, he takes off in a brisk walk across the commons toward the student dorms.

"Your Starfleet training will finally be put to good purpose," one of the Vulcan elders had said to him yesterday, and from across the room at the Vulcan consulate he felt his father react—one shoulder lifting slightly, his head turning a fraction as if wanting to better hear what Spock might say in response.

But Spock said nothing at all. The rushing noise in his ears had ticked up a notch then—and the warmth under his collar and across his cheeks.

Anger, he realizes now—how odd that he hadn't recognized it at the time.

Perhaps because he is angry all the time now, because rage has become his default since his mother slipped out of his reach, he has become used to it. Is that even possible? To be consumed by a single emotion?

Dimly he is aware that the few cadets he passes on the paved pathway detour widely as he approaches. Nyota's dorm looms up ahead and he slows, catching his breath.

She's there, he's certain, though they haven't communicated since that first day back in San Francisco. Yesterday he sent her a brief message—"I will be home after 1600. Can you come by?"—but he's heard nothing from her. If he could talk to her, explain in more detail why the elders have asked him to join them—make her understand that this is not what he wants.

If he could, then what? Would his own fury diminish? Would hers?

He steps off the path and slips his comm from his pocket. Going inside and asking to see her would rouse unwanted commentary. Suddenly the foolhardiness of approaching her here is obvious. He taps a message on his comm instead: "I will be home after 1800. Will you come by?" Hesitating, he changes it to read, "Will you please come by?"

From here he can see a hover bus making its way toward the stop near the dorm and he snaps his comm closed. He hurries forward and is glad that the bus is almost empty. Sliding into the front seat behind the autopilot, he watches the scenery slipping past, barely seeing it, surprised when Starfleet's hangar deck comes into view.

He's promised the elders that he would arrange transportation for a group of Vulcan scientists stranded on a research outpost in the Outer Ring. It's the sort of task that consumes his time—that will continue to demand his attention for the foreseeable future.

The sort of task that will put his Starfleet training to use.

He tamps down a wave of despair.

Not surprisingly, the hangar deck is relatively quiet. Except for several construction workers in the distance, Spock sees no one as he makes his way to the main transportation kiosk. Scanning the lists of military transports available, he flicks to the screen where the commercial flights are posted. An industrial barge is scheduled to leave Spacedock two days from now, its flight plan taking it within a parsec of the research facility in the Outer Ring. Within moments he books it for the Vulcan scientists.

If Nyota had responded to his message, his comm would have chimed—but he pulls it out of his pocket and glances at it anyway.


He doesn't blame her. What, really, is left to say?

Quite a lot, actually. Such as his feelings for her—never articulated, at least not with words.

The rushing noise in his ears threatens to overwhelm him and he takes a deep breath and parks his hands behind his back. A contingent of cadets marches in step past the line of shuttles being serviced.

There next to one of them is a shadowy figure, something about him strangely familiar.


That his father would be concerned about him enough to follow him here is not surprising. Spock knows he must have appeared irrational at the deli. He steps lightly across the tarmac.

The dark-robed man turns slowly.

And this time, Spock literally loses his breath.

Not his father—but—

A cascade of emotions and revelations. He hears himself on the bridge lecturing the crew about the possibility of time travel, hears McCoy's incredulous, "Are you actually suggesting they're from the future?"

Hears again the argument with Kirk about the disruption in the time continuum, hears Nyota's succinct "An alternate reality," summing up the ridiculous, impossible, unheard-of but logically inescapable conclusion.

A time traveler, here.



"I am not our father," his future self says, and Spock knows, knows, that the next words will both honest and painful. "There are so few Vulcans left, we cannot afford to ignore each other."

The words say so many things.

We are both suffering.

We need each other.

His counterpart must have become trapped in this time when Nero and his ship came through the singularity. If knowledge of the future—or in this case, of his future self—can alter the present, then revealing himself to Spock is at best risky and at worst illogical. Why do so now? Why not earlier?

He asks.

The answer is frankly baffling. His future self alludes to what has gone on before in another timeline—a friendship with James Kirk, a career in Starfleet. A maddening statement that Spock cannot yet realize the pieces of the puzzle—yet.

But Kirk does, apparently. That idea is annoying.

"How did you persuade him to keep your secret?"

The intonation is intentional, almost accusatory. If revealing the future is dangerous—if Spock cannot understand the implications—then the same should be true for anyone.

His older self accepts the rebuke with more grace than Spock expects—the slightest shrug, a tone of voice bordering on sheepish, a skittering past responsibility: "He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue should he break his promise."

"You lied."

The words slip out before Spock can stop himself. His own lie—"I will be back"—has troubled him since he uttered it to Nyota on the transporter pad. That his words proved prescient has not absolved him of his intent when he said them.

I will be back.

Knowing that the odds were high that he would not be, he said them hoping they were true but knowing they were not—a lie, and an illogical hope bound up together.

"A gamble," he amends.

"An act of faith," his future self says, and for the first time in days Spock feels the heaviness in his side lighten just a bit.

Not a lie after all—not looked at this way.

But the heaviness returns as his counterpart speaks of Starfleet. Spock feels a wave of impatience. Surely he knows what the Vulcan elders have asked of the survivors.

"Spock, in this case, do yourself a favor. Put aside logic. Do what feels right."

And then, most illogically of all, a wish for good luck.

Before he can fully process what is happening, his counterpart is gone.

Do yourself a favor.

His mother's words, often.

Do yourself a favor and clean up your room before I get back from the market. Do yourself a favor and write your Aunt Cecilia a thank you note. Do yourself a favor and get some sleep before your exam tomorrow.

And the last time he remembers her saying it, "Do yourself a favor and talk to your father. Don't leave angry, Spock. You might not be home for some time."

That had proven truer than either of them had imagined. He had slipped out of the house early and made his way to Shi'Kahr alone to the transport station, taking a shuttle to Earth and his new life at Starfleet Academy.

Against his father's wishes. He can make up for that now, if he goes with the elders.

Do yourself a favor.

The rest of the advice is even more troubling—to abandon what defines him as a Vulcan? Is that what lies in his future?

Spock is not the same person as his counterpart; his destiny is not determined, no matter what the other Spock implies. On the other hand, as much as he wants to do himself a favor, the heavy weight of tradition and the expectations of his father and the elders make that seem…if not foolish, then at least selfish.

"You can be in two places at once," his counterpart had said, but that wasn't exactly the truth.

Spock stands for a few more moments beside the shuttle, his gaze on his reflection in the wet pavement.

He's never been one to seek out advice, to, as his mother said, lay out his cards on the table and ask someone to help him decide a course of action.

Now, however, might be the time to do that.

He turns and heads out the hangar deck.


"Help me get out of this monkey suit."

That's as much of an apology as Chris is going to give. As he fidgets with the snaps along his shoulder, he watches Natalie move smoothly across the room toward him.

Apology accepted.

They've known each other so long that much of what they say is unspoken. It's both comforting and troubling to be understood this well.

Natalie is attentive without being intrusive. She waits until he can't reach the last snaps before she reaches forward deftly and helps him out of his dress uniform jacket.

Thankfully the ceremony had been brief. Kirk was appropriately subdued, at least until the end when his crewmates and faculty members broke into applause. To his surprise, Chris had not been sad—had not even felt a ghost of regret.

At least, not for handing over the reins of the ship to Kirk. That hunch Chris followed three years ago in a bar in Riverside has played out well.

He watches as Natalie hangs up his uniform and slides it into a transparent bag for carrying. His other things—a few clothes, his toiletries—are already packed in a small duffel on the bed.

As glad as he is to be leaving the hospital, he's anxious about it, too.

Not characteristic of him. He's more a look before you leap kind of guy—or at least that's what Natalie has told him more than once.

What was he telling Spock just a few minutes ago outside headquarters? Trust your instincts?

He hadn't expected to see Spock again. The last time he had seen him, he had told Chris that he was resigning his commission and joining the Vulcan relocation project. At the time Chris had said little—not that he hadn't thought Spock was making a mistake, because he did, but because he couldn't bring himself to say anything negative to someone who had already lost so much.

As much as Chris has lost, he hasn't lost as much as Spock has. Chris, at least, still has his world. His family. Even his career, though his promotion to the admiralty feels like an unwanted sinecure compared to the daily running of a starship.

"In light of—recent events—I feel compelled to do as the elders have asked," Spock said, and Chris waved his hand impatiently.

"But what about what you want? What you've worked for?"

"My personal preference is immaterial. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one."

"Most of the time, maybe," Chris said, and Spock had tilted his head. "But maybe this is that one time when it isn't right. There are exceptions to every rule."

Spock had blinked—in surprise?—and had said slowly, "But my father—"

"You and your father are different people," Chris said. "Sure, he might be disappointed in what you decide, but you're family. You'll always be family. He'll understand, eventually."

Spock had inclined his head. Chris had the impression that the young man would have said more but Natalie came up then.

"Need a ride?" she said, and Chris had looked up at Spock quizzically.

"Anything else?"

"No, admiral," Spock said, and for the first time since his promotion, Chris didn't miss being called captain.

"Wish I could have been more help," Chris said as Natalie disengaged the mobile chair brake.

"You have, admiral," Spock said before he turned and headed stiffly away.

"I'm not going to be a burden," Chris says now as he pulls the duffel from the bed to his lap. "I won't have you being my nursemaid."

"I'm not signing up for that," Natalie says, and Chris catches her eye.

"Then what exactly are you signing up for?"

His words sound harsher than he intends, but they have to be said.

Just as the awkwardness with Eric has to be faced, is being faced. He hasn't seen him in a week but they've spoken twice by comm. Finding their way forward is going to take some time. Some distance. But they've faced other losses before and weathered them. They are, after all, family.

"I'm not sure," Natalie says. "Lots of things have changed lately. I'm still feeling a little…unsettled."

"We don't have to do this," Chris says, and Natalie sighs and sits on the bed, facing him.

"Yes, we do."

He starts to answer and she raises her hand to hush him.

"I have to. Because this is what I should have done a long time ago. What we should have done. Maybe it's a mistake, and maybe in a couple of weeks we'll both hate each other and be sorry. But we'll know. We won't just wonder about what might have been."

It's a confessional speech for her and it seems to tire her. Chris reaches out his right hand and turns his fingers up, an invitation. She slides her hand into his.

"Then we'll leap together."

She laughs, and he smiles at this beginning. And at this end.

Goodbye, he thinks, imagining the Enterprise in orbit above them, Kirk on the bridge, his crew around him, making ready for their first real voyage.

This life here—it's not the voyage he imagined for himself, but it's the one in front of him.

"Let's go home," he says, and Natalie gets up and sets his chair in motion.


A/N: If you are interested in reading about the trip home from the Battle of Vulcan in more detail, my first fanfic, "Truth and Lies," tells that story from the POVs of Nyota, Spock, and Sarek.

Much thanks to all the readers who stuck with this story, even though an OC was a significant presence. Your reviews were helpful and kept me going! To everyone who took the time to send words my way, a tip of the hat to you!

Thanks, too, to StarTrekFanWriter for her continued support. Check out some of her many stories listed in my faves.

Finally, I'm off for a bit while RL gets complicated…but in the meantime, I'll be thinking about what stories to tell next. If you have suggestions or comments, I'd love to see them!