"I guess I'm lucky that anyone believes me," he said ruefully, picking at the plate of pseudo-pasta that the replicator had graced him with (even Scotty's not-legal-by-a-long-shot engineering magic couldn't make it taste like anything but cheese-flavored silly string).
"We don't, we believe the hobgoblin," was the dry reply from his left. "Only you would be able to drag him along with you into the screwed-up playground that is Jim Kirk's mind."
He elbowed Bones, causing the doctor to slosh the contents of his water cup over his scrubs.
"Children," Spock added sternly in perfect sync, before the bickering could escalate.
Across the table, the older version of himself laughed, and Ambassador Spock regarded them with entirely unVulcan glee. Jim shook off the feeling that someone had just walked over his grave - flown over it? - and grinned ruefully.
"'Sides, that nice sexy tan Spock is sportin' is a dead giveaway you weren't aboard ship for a while," Bones added with a wicked smirk, munching loudly on a carrot stick. "Chapel's been eyein' you across the Mess, y'know."
Said suntan took on a greenish tint as Spock choked on his tea.
The elderly Ambassador glanced fondly at his younger self before rescuing the conversation with a question of his own. "I am at a loss, Jim, to know why you never once suspected myself and Admiral Kirk of being the instigators of the Enterprise's self-destruct activation. If your story is correct, the idea never occurred to you that there were indeed those remaining on board who could voice-override the safety precautions."
Jim snorted. "It didn't occur to me because I know better," he retorted. "There's nothing in the world that would ever be important enough to me to destroy this ship. Nothing. Nada. I'd just never be able to do it."
Kirk opened his mouth to reply, oddly enough looking like he was going to contradict this, but then shut it abruptly with a strangled yelp, suspiciously as if someone had just kicked him under the table.
But the aging ambassador only blinked innocently at the look of irritation. "Be that as it may, Jim, I suspect you have not heard the last of this Q individual," he quietly changed the subject. "Such beings tend to develop particular fixations, and I should be on my guard against becoming one such fixation."
"Like I can prevent it," he grumbled, darting a glance at Spock, who only gave him an eyebrow-shrug. Jim spread both arms with affected drama, narrowly missing Bones's water glass. "Can I help it if everybody in the universes wants a piece of this?" he asked plaintively.
His friend looked sourly across the table at an amused-and-not-bothering-to-hide-it-because-at-one-hundred-plus-years-old-who-cares Ambassador Spock. "Does he tone it down at all as he gets older?"
An indignant sputter. "I do too!"
"I believe the expression is, not for lack of trying," the elderly Vulcan replied serenely.
Jim grinned and elbowed Spock - his Spock - companionably, receiving a tolerant Vulcan not-quite-eyeroll in return. "You're gonna have your hands full with me, you know that?" he said.
"Unfortunately, I am quite aware," was the dry reply. "My mental health greatly anticipates the day you grow disillusioned with your own popularity."
"Or the day you push Starfleet's buttons one too many times and they slap you into a teaching chair at the Academy," Bones interjected with a scowl.
Jim shuddered, and peripherally saw his older self doing the same, for whatever reason. Weird. "Well, at least I can't be any worse than the last Kobayashi Maru instructor," he said slyly, leaning back in his chair. "Now that guy, was the biggest pain in the -"
"Finish that sentence at your peril. Sir."
"Oh, come on, what're you gonna do to me with three witnesses in the room?"
"Annnnd that's our cue. Would you care for a game of chess, Spock?" his older self said loudly.
"Indeed," the ambassador replied, dark eyes twinkling. "Preferably in a recreation room several decks away?"
Kirk grinned. "You read my mind, my Vulcan friend. Doctor McCoy, would you like to referee us or them?"
The doctor's glare could peel paint. "Some choice," he growled, shoving his tray into the wall recycling chute and stalking away. "As if one set of you isn't bad enough on an old man's blood pressure. Who did I tick off in a previous life to deserve you idiots in surround-sound?" he yelled over one shoulder, sending both remaining humans into a fit of laughter.
Once their older counterparts had left, Jim shoved his half-eaten tray away and half-turned in his chair toward his First, who was still calmly picking the replicated mango chunks out of a dismal-looking fruit cup.
"In all seriousness, Commander," he said quietly, and his tone got Spock's instant and undivided attention. He bit his lip for a moment, and then continued recklessly, "I wish you hadn't turned down the Excelsior captaincy."
One eyebrow inclined slightly. "May I ask why, Captain?"
"Because you…well, you probably just shot any chance you'll ever have of getting a command of your own," he replied. Twisting a disposable napkin between his fingers, he sighed. "Starfleet Command is still pretty prejudiced against non-human starship commanders, we both know that. And you turning down that kind of promotion…they're liable to never ask you again."
"Would that be such a tragedy?"
"Not for the Enterprise, no," he replied with a half-smile. "But it would have been a great chance for you to show your own people what you're capable of…"
The tension between Spock's eyebrows relaxed suddenly. "My people, Captain," he repeated.
Jim shrugged. "I know it's been years now, but you can't tell me you don't still get flak sometimes about not 'doing your part' on New Vulcan. Choosing to stay in Starfleet when even your vrekasht people returned to rebuild your culture (1) - I never told you, did I, during that first mission, that I know what a sacrifice that was?"
"You did not, because it was not necessary." Spock gave a minute half-shrug with one shoulder, before studiously examining his fruit cup. "As to my people, Captain…one might say that I have the rare privilege of holding allegiance to two worlds."
"Or the rare curse," Jim replied with gentle tact.
The dark head inclined in gracious acceptance. "Whatever label one affixes to it," the Vulcan answered dismissively. "Rest assured, Captain, that I am where I wish to be, with the ship, the crew, and the captain I have chosen. I believe that nothing can, or will, ever give me cause to regret that…admittedly illogical action."
Spock might as well have been wearing an I Heart Humans t-shirt, so drastic was such a sentiment for a Vulcan to say. Jim dropped his eyes in recognition of the huge sacrifice.
"Well," he said softly, smiling up at his First. "Never let it be said again that I argued with my First Officer."
"I do not believe it could be said. Not successfully, at any rate."
"You know you love it."
"To appropriate Dr. McCoy's unique grasp of Standard, in your dreams."
Several universes away, a certain member of the Q continuum paused as a ripple of splintered Time brushed against his omniscient consciousness.
"Now there's a novel idea," he murmured, rubbing his hands gleefully. "À bientôt, mon capitaine." (1)
(or is it?)
(1) Vrekasht is the Vulcan word for outcast. I suspect that in the XI universe, even excommunicated Vulcans (like Sybok was in TOS movie continuum, for example) would have been let back into society, for practical reasons if nothing else.
(2) Fr., Until next time