A/N: Anyone out there familiar with the Animated Series? Anyone remember an Andorian character by the name of Thelin? …Yeah, I didn't think so. Anyway, this is a story with that guy! Enjoy!
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, (damnit), nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.
What Could Have Been
When he walked into the transporter room to meet his Captain and saw the look on his face, a look that held no light of recognition, only confused puzzlement, he knew what pain was.
He wouldn't have thought, not even so short a time as five years ago, that he could have grown close enough to anyone – let alone a human – that when faced with the dissolution of the relationship he would feel real pain. As a rule he was not a personable individual, and while those aboard the Enterprise no doubt respected him, he was not insensible to the fact that most still saw his alien blood before they saw him. Such was the case whenever he was where the population was mainly composed of humans. The Federation had made great strides in promoting acceptance between intelligent species, but tensions still existed, and likely always would. It was a set of circumstances that he had accepted long ago, so it ceased to trouble him in any way.
So the friendship that had sprung up between himself and the Captain had been surprising; first in its very existence, and second in its frank openness. He understood that such acceptance of an individual regardless of outward appearances was rare even among humans, who at least shared species. To find one who could do so with the member of a completely alien race, who shared a basic bipedal form, but whose skin, auditory organs, even the color of his blood was so radically different, was… special. James Kirk was a special individual, and he valued the bond he shared with the man greatly.
To see it so completely dissolved in a single look hurt him to the core.
And to see him standing so closely, so familiarly, with this alien that had beamed aboard with him, filled him with another sentiment he was unfamiliar with; two, in fact. First, jealousy that rose to clench at his heart, and then bitterness that misted over his senses like a fog. How could this alien no one knew be so close to the Captain, his Captain, standing in his place as though he belonged, and how was it the Captain didn't seem to recognize him at all?
Then, the slow realization that this unknown male seemed to be even closer to Kirk than he was…
Who was this alien who claimed to be the Enterprise's Science Officer and second-in-command? This, this… Vulcan, 'Commander Spock'?
As they worked through what could have possibly happened while Captain Kirk and the three historians had been planet-side with the Guardian of Forever for observations – along with Vulcan Spock, it would seem – the relationship between the Captain and his pointy-eared second only became more apparent. As did the absence of any friendship between Kirk and his real second-in-command, Commander Thelin of Andor. The Captain was not unfriendly, per se, but he was confused, unsettled and stuck close to the Vulcan as a result, obviously taking some encouragement from that quarter, who echoed the behavior – in a very austere kind of way.
Thelin did his best to feel nothing of the matter, to distance himself from the situation and only view it as a problem to be solved. He could not take the Captain's current behavior as a continuation of their relationship up to this point. The more they learned of what happened while the landing party was away, the more obvious it became that what was happening was out of everyone's control and not a reflection of anything previous. Still, it was difficult to remain neutral. Thelin suspected he was failing in that attempt.
It was gradually revealed what had happened, or what had most likely happened: The Enterprise had been ordered to bring three historians to the Guardian of Forever for some first person observations. They had chosen some time in the past in the Orion Empire; two historians remained behind to record what they could from the outside while the third went through to the past himself, accompanied by Captain Kirk – and Commander Spock. When they returned first the two historians and then everyone outside the Gate failed to recognize the Vulcan, despite knowing him for years – according to Kirk and Spock. And then they came aboard and found an Andorian – Thelin – in Spock's place. The Vulcan showed no sign of aggression towards Thelin, none of the animosity at finding what would appear to be an imposter in his rightful place that one could expect out of any other species. But then, Vulcans were notoriously cold-blooded for a species originating from a desert planet. More of a reaction could be read from Kirk, understandably, who looked at Thelin with a mix of puzzlement, curiosity, and… frustration. It made Thelin feel uncomfortable, and unaccountably guilty, as though it were his fault he was unknown to his Captain of many years!
At the impromptu conference held to hash out why this had happened, it was revealed that Commander Spock did not exist, at least not as a Commander aboard the Enterprise, nor a Commander in Starfleet, nor anyone in Starfleet. In fact, the only record of a 'Spock' that matched this one was that of a young half-Vulcan, half-human boy who died at age seven during some kind of rite of passage years before. That appeared to be the right record, and would explain why no one could remember him now if he was another version of a boy long dead. Next was the question of how this had happened, and how to set it right.
'How' appeared to be a combination of the two historians who remained outside the Gate, recording portions of Vulcan history, and Spock's presence in a completely different section of time and space while they were doing so. That made it impossible for the young Spock to be saved by an elder cousin called Selek, who looked remarkably like the Spock of now – who was the Spock of now. The error caused this alternate timeline where the Vulcan Commander never existed – but an Andorian one did. The plan to repair it all was to send the green blooded Commander back to save his younger self and set events on their 'correct' course, erasing Thelin from the Enterprise and putting Spock there instead.
Thelin could understand their desire to get back the reality they knew. This place, this time, was foreign to them, and they didn't belong. Still, it stung to see how quickly, how completely the Captain rejected this reality. Rejected him.
He could recall five years with Captain Kirk, yet when he called him 'Jim', he flinched. When the news of the death of Spock's mother came up, Kirk showed more response than the emotionless Vulcan, his gaze speaking volumes of concern even if his words had not. They kept close to one another, physically and behaviorally, and while the alien affected unconcern, the Captain was in a near fit, checking with everyone and anyone for a stray recollection of Thelin's doppelganger. None ever did, and the Captain's disappointment was clear. He never turned to Thelin, save when he had no choice. His presence seemed to make Kirk uncomfortable, and he seemed to prefer acting as though Thelin weren't even there, as though the act would convince the reality he remembered to impose itself.
When they went back down to the Guardian, Thelin accompanied them. When the plan to set everything back to 'the way it was' was made, he raised no objection. And when the Commander Spock moved to stand on his own for a moment, Thelin joined him, to speak with him before he was forever lost to this reality – or Thelin was. Little love was lost between Andorians and Vulcans, and Thelin had little reason to feel anything but animosity for Spock… but he found he could not hate him. Anyone whom Jim Kirk could become so close with… it would be hard to hate. And Thelin was curious what kind of man this Spock was that he could get so close to Jim. Closer, even, than Thelin had.
As Spock dove through the Gate to save himself, his mother by extension, and his future, Thelin stood beside his Captain in silent support, as he had done many times over the years of their mission. But if Kirk noticed, he gave no sign. He had eyes only for the Gate and the vanished Vulcan, awaiting his return, every line of his face and posture taut with worry. Before too long, Thelin drew away quietly, leaving Kirk to wait in privacy, and hailed Scotty to beam him aboard. He would prefer privacy for his thoughts as well, if quiet companionship were impossible.
It was an odd kind of predicament they found themselves in, now. One which was forcing the Andorian to take a close look at himself, his place aboard the Enterprise and his relationship with Captain Kirk in particular.
Thelin had thought the friendship that had sprung up between himself and the Captain was… unique… in its depth, in its dedication. He came from a race whose familial ties ran deep and strong, to the point of self-sacrifice to ensure the safety of another, but to anyone beyond that scope of 'family' the warmest kind of relationship one could expect was indifference. To have formed an alliance with one beyond the bounds of blood or mating, but which carried that same weight and commitment was rare among Andorians, nigh unheard of with an alien. He wondered, on occasion, what his family would have thought of him, linked so closely with this brash pink-skin of a Starfleet Captain. But there! What his family might think didn't matter, not since he had severed all ties with them. What mattered now was his duty to Starfleet, to the crew aboard the Enterprise, and to her Captain.
Trying to keep his thoughts businesslike as he waited for word from the planet, Thelin concentrated on his duties, on the running of the ship now that her Captain was absent and likely to remain so until the situation was resolved, one way or another. But the crew was well trained and experienced, the delay over the planet caused no alarm, no difficulties, and for once there wasn't a mountain of work to catch up on. The questionable refuge to be found in work wasn't to be his. He was left to brood, to try and sort through the confusing avalanche of thoughts crashing through his mind with no relief.
He'd believed that the bond between himself and the peculiar, dynamic human Jim Kirk to be one rarely found, either among members who shared species or between individuals from completely different worlds. He'd believed it something… precious. But to find Kirk in the transporter room and not know who he was, the Captain's eyes as empty as a stranger's when he looked at Thelin… that made him realize just how much he had come to value that friendship, how sorely it would be missed should it cease to be. And to see him with the strange Vulcan – Spock – whom only Kirk and a single historian could remember, was strange, surreal. To see how close they were, staying near one another, sharing glances, confirming each other's' presence with small leans or vocalizations, how their voices changed when they spoke to each other… it made Thelin ache in ways he would not have expected. He found himself resenting the angular Vulcan male, a ridiculous feeling of protective possessiveness sweeping through him, as though he were still an infant, hiding a toy from some other youngster to save the trouble of sharing.
He had to wonder just how the friendship between his Captain and the Vulcan had sprung up. Obviously it was the Fleet that had brought them together, just as it had for Kirk and Thelin, but for friendship to bloom? To befriend any member of that proud, computer-like species was notoriously difficult, their unbending reserve blending not at all well with the emotionalism of most other space going races. And yet here was just such a bond, and a very strong one, were Thelin any kind of judge. It was the friendliest he'd ever seen a Vulcan, and Thelin felt a small shot of pride that of all people to pull it off, it was his Captain that did it.
But it made him think. Was their friendship, the one Jim could not remember, not as special as he'd believed? It was apparent that it was not so rare that, given the opportunity, another much like it couldn't spring up in its place. Had he been reading too much into it all this time? Had the odd particulars involved in befriending and interacting with humans thrown off his perceptions, to attach significance where there was none?
More than anything else, though, the bond between Jim and – and Spock seemed almost desperate, painful in its honesty. Caught in a reality where one of them, much less the relationship between them didn't exist upset them. It upset them greatly.
It upset Jim greatly.
This in its turn upset Thelin. It was a discomfort he could do nothing to help, one where his presence, his very existence only served to exacerbate. Jim took his comfort from the Vulcan who stood in Thelin's place, and Thelin felt himself fill with bitterness.
But despite the resentment he bore the Vulcan for usurping his place, Thelin could not help wish him luck. If it would bring the light back into Jim's eyes, even if Thelin himself were to pop into non-being as a result…
Frustrated, Thelin paced the corridors of the ship aimlessly, having nowhere to go and nothing to do while he waited, but unable to sit still.
What would happen if the Vulcan succeeded? While the hope was that all would return to how Spock and Jim remembered reality to be – with Spock as First Officer and Thelin… somewhere else, it was also conceivable that Commander Spock, upon succeeding in his quest, would emerge from the Gate to yet another reality; one where all was as it was meant to be from his point of view, but this reality remained as it was now. A Jim Kirk who remembered a First Officer that did not exist, and who recalled nothing of the Andorian who had been his friend for five years, standing at his side through countless challenges? If he failed, then would Jim forget him, revert to how Thelin and the rest of the crew remembered him – would anyone remember the Vulcan Commander, then? Would Thelin truly cease to exist if Spock succeeded, or would his live a different life, end up on a different ship?
What was he meant to hope for out of all this?
The dazed Andorian's feet brought him to sickbay without any instruction from his mind. After a brief moment of consideration, Thelin walked in, deciding this was a better sanctuary then empty corridors.
Dr. Leonard McCoy, the Enterprise's CMO, was another one of those surprising friendships that had sprung between him and the pink-skins. Not as deep a one as with Kirk, but a revealing one in the study of that species known as 'human'. Gruff, abrasive and borderline xenophobic, it had taken Thelin quite some time to realize that what 'Bones' McCoy put out for others to see was not his true character. He wore his rough demeanor and sarcasm like a shield, keeping him safe from uncomfortable expectations. Beneath the growls and the barbs was a man whose honor and self-sacrifice could not be refuted – it had been displayed too many times and too well for any attempt to dispel it to be successful. Though it didn't stop him from trying.
He was displaying some of his worthier traits even now, in his attempts to alleviate the shadow that had fallen over the First Officer. He pointed out much of what Thelin had already gone over and over in his mind, though with more emphasis on the closeness he'd seen grow between Kirk and Thelin, rather than what may be there between he and the unknown Spock. The Andorian was grateful, and after a few minutes, allowed himself to relax and shared his thoughts with the good doctor. Thelin did not share everything with McCoy, not his more confused feelings on the matter, or his worries over the outcome of the Vulcan's quest, but the human seemed to pluck those straight from the air regardless. Bones had a rather worrying knack for that sort of thing.
When he left sickbay for his own quarters he still felt unsettled, but better able to calm himself, to sit still. He did so in his own quarters, and attempted to organize his thoughts.
The presence of the Vulcan unsettled him, firstly because he was, simply, an anomaly, but more pointedly because his appearance was a threat to the relationship he had worked to build with Captain Kirk.
He felt threatened, he was jealous of the relationship between Jim and the Vulcan, he realized with a jolt. Seeing them so close, himself cut off and an outsider, made him see just how much he valued his friendship with Kirk, and made it seem somehow less when compared to what had been forged in an alternate reality.
He was jealous, perhaps envious of what the Captain and Spock had shaped between them. Did that mean he desired the same? Was what they already had seem too little in comparison to what he had seen between him and Spock?
Thelin, wrapped in his thoughts, rubbed his eyes tiredly. Recalling an ancient saying of his home world, he murmured into the silence, "One cannot be whole… Their lives are yours, my life is theirs."
An amused chuckle drifted to him from his door, making Thelin spin. Leaning in the frame of his doorway was Captain Kirk, an easy smile on his lips, his eyes shining. And in his look – Thelin's throat constricted – there was the old, comfortable familiarity. Jim recognized him, he knew him again! "That's not quite how I remember that particular intonation going, Mr. Thelin."
"Jim!" he exclaimed, coming to his feet with a small, unconscious smile. "What happened? Do you remember…?"
The smile became wry. "I remember the Vulcan Spock, but only as you do," he said. "He was there, he went into the Gate, but did not come back out. After a while… the life I remembered living that included him faded." He shook his head. "It's a little odd, I can remember remembering, but all of the direct memories, those are gone. What I recall more clearly," he said pointedly, "is your behavior, First Officer."
Thelin paused, the swell of relief dissipating a little under the apparent reprimand. He drew himself up into a properly straight, at attention posture as he faced his Captain. "My behavior, sir?"
"Indeed," Kirk said, pushing himself away from the door. "While at the time I found myself preoccupied with other considerations, I did observe you, Thelin, and in retrospect am able to draw some interesting conclusions. A certain trend to look at our brief visitor with hostile expressions, for one. Is there something I should know, Thelin, some sort of bigotry towards Vulcans I am unaware of?"
Thelin shook his head. "No, sir. No more than is commonly experienced by any Andorian, and I may say that in general I am more accepting than the majority of my race."
"Is that right? Then, Mr. Thelin, I must conclude that your apparent dislike of Mr. Spock had to do with him personally, if not his species. Seeing as how we knew him so briefly, this severely limits what could have brought on such animosity." He looked at Thelin, as though expecting him to fill in the blank for him.
Thelin shifted uncomfortably, finding it hard to hold the human's hazel stare. Thankfully Kirk didn't feel the need to let the silence hang too long.
"I'm also interested with your liberties with the First Truth of Andor just now, Thelin."
He frowned, trying to recall. "I did omit the central bulk of the phrase, but I would not classify that as a 'liberty'…"
"I was referring more to the rewording, Thelin," Kirk interrupted. "'Their lives are yours, my life is his'?"
Thelin felt his cheeks heat up, his face stiffening. Had he said that? He'd restructured the phrase? If he had, he'd been unconscious of it at the time. What it might signify if he had, he'd rather not contemplate. At least not this moment. He brushed past his Captain, a breach of etiquette and protocol, but one Kirk allowed as he strode out into the corridor. "We are a little behind schedule now, sir. We should work on correcting that as soon as possible."
Kirk's chuckle followed him down the hall, and Thelin allowed himself a small smile. Things were as they were meant to be again.