Summary: "You can't be real," he says to the ghost of everything he could have been.
Disclaimer –
I don't own Star Trek, any of the canon characters, settings or situations.

Every now and then, it happens: from the corner of his eye he sees a blur, a flash of gold, and then James T. Kirk of Ambassador Spock's memory shimmers into existence. At first it was just a fleeting vision, the flash of a quicksilver smile; later, the apparition became increasingly real. Now, some twelve months after the mind meld on Delta Vega, Jim can't understand why no one else can see him.

"You can't be real," he says to the ghost of everything he could have been. It's late at night, and Jim's alone in his cabin; there's no one around to see the captain talking to himself.

Captain Kirk – a stocky, handsome man in his prime, surrounded by a golden glow – gifts him with a warm, charming smile. Jim knows that chameleon smile. He's manufactured it himself, more than once. "Of course I'm not real," the figment of his imagination says. "What did you expect? You're the one who let a grief-crazed Vulcan into your mind."

"Then what are you? How can I talk to you – how can you talk to me?"

"I suspect – though I'm not entirely au fait with Vulcan mysticism – that I am composed of fragments of the original Kirk's katra. Spock loved him rather dearly, you know."

Jim remembers the fleeting glimpses he'd caught, things the Ambassador had never meant him to see. "Yeah, I gathered that. But you – he – have been dead for more than eighty years. Surely –"

"Not Vulcans. They claim to be logical and dispassionate, but – well, you have first-hand experience." Captain Kirk grins. "So to speak."

Jim finds the thought of Ambassador Spock carrying around the last fragments of a dead man's soul for more than eight decades terribly sad. "You're not real," he says again. "But the Ambassador still couldn't let you go."

For the first time, the (ghost? katra? figment?) drops the high-voltage smile, and Jim sees through to the man underneath. "It's easy to despise false Edens when you're young and in your prime. When you're old and you have nothing left, it's not so clear-cut."

There's a whole lifetime of experience in that statement: grief and joy and hard-earned wisdom.

"Do you manifest to him like this?" Jim asks, before he can stop himself.

But the shrill, grating whistle of the intercom interrupts them, the duty communications officer's voice summoning the captain to the bridge. The ghost of his future-past fades away, leaving only half-forgotten glimpses of a past he'll never see.

Jim squares his shoulders, draws on his own charming smile, and focuses squarely on the here-and-now.