A/N: Well, I did say that I would be doing more Spock Prime, right? I'm not entirely satisfied with how this came out… But it's a lot better than its first attempt. So I guess that's something. :)
Disclaimer: I do not own Star Trek, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.
Down the Stream
Jim Kirk, newly appointed Captain of Starfleet, dropped his armload of firewood with relief, brushing away the flakes of bark that clung to his sleeves. Looking at the small stack he had gathered and eyeing the fire, judging how much it had burned through already, he tried to decide if it was enough to last the night or if he should hunt through the dark for more fuel. He'd left it off too long, he knew, but this was his first time camping in these woods, the Yosemite National Park, and he'd had too much fun simply exploring. The mountain in particular drew him. He wanted to test himself against it, attempt scaling its sheer face without the aid of modern mountain climbing gear. It would have to wait for another time, but it was still a seductive draw.
The shadows had lengthened as he explored and daydreamed, and now he was paying for it, hunting up firewood in the dark.
He looked across the fire to his single companion on this little planet-side expedition, intending to ask his opinion on their stockpile, but decided against disturbing him for something so small.
In the flickering half-light cast by the fire, his companion was a dark pool of robes draped over shoulders and gathered at his lap and ankles. He sat as near to the dancing flames as he was able while keeping a safe distance from spitting embers, the flickering orange light casting his face into a puzzle of shadows and sharp planes, slightly softened by age. He stared into the fire, his dark eyes distant and aged fingers clasped together in his lap. He seemed far away, lost in thought, and Jim decided it best to leave him to his contemplative silence. He would assume they had enough wood until proven otherwise.
Jim sat down near the fire, across from Ambassador Spock, the elder copy of his own First Officer, and tried to reconcile – once again – this aged Vulcan with the young half-breed he knew. There were many years separating the two, and in those years there were countless experiences that would go to changing a man, even if that man were a stubborn Vulcan named Spock. But even so, it was hard to imagine his Spock, the young, volatile man that he was now, ever taking it to his head to camp in such a place as this. Or to camp recreationally at all. It was hard for Jim to accept even the elder doing so. He was a much calmer, comfortable Spock than his own, but he still seemed too… refined to voluntarily rough it in the woods. Of course, the first time they had met on Delta Vega he had been doing much more in terms of 'roughing it' than this, and over the course of his career there must have been much more, but it still seemed odd.
It had seemed odd when Jim had first heard he was going, initially intending to go by himself. It had been something of a slip of the tongue on Ambassador Spock's part, and even after questioning he wouldn't give his full reasons why he wanted to undertake the journey. When Jim, seeing he had some rare free time, invited himself along, Spock had almost refused him – had refused him, in fact, but then gave in after a single insistence. Jim was glad. Camping under the stars was right up his alley… and he didn't like the idea of the old Ambassador camping on his own. So sue him if he felt protective of the guy, it was a sentiment that applied to both versions of the Vulcan known as 'Spock,' and he felt zero awkwardness about it.
Of course there was little that Jim felt Spock would be unable to handle, even at his age, and most especially in a governmentally protected forest on Earth. Again, thinking to all of those adventures he must have had, dangers he had faced when it had been he holding the position of First Officer aboard the Enterprise, there was probably very little that was beyond his scope. Physically.
But looking at him now, the shadows that lurked in his eyes as he gazed into the fire, Jim was glad he came with. He knew all too well that some of the greatest enemies were the ones that lurked within you, in your memories and your heart, and it was never wise to face them alone. Jim suspected that the elder Spock carried more than his fair share with him. He may not be able to help him fight them directly, but he could be there with him to offer his support.
It was the least he could do for his old friend.
The night deepened around them and the stars brightened. Jim put fresh wood on the little fire and served himself some hot stew. It tasted different when actually cooked rather than being replicated, and he savored it. Spock made no move for the food, but stared long into the fire, then up into the stars. Neither of them said a word.
Jim eventually took to stargazing himself. It was a hobby he had enjoyed for as long as he could remember, staring up at those twinkling lights that beckoned him with the promise of adventure. So he would look up and dream, all one really could do in the fields of Iowa. Now he picked out those constellations he could see through the boughs of trees, and wondered just how many of them he would visit himself, how many different worlds he would feel under his feet? Then he wondered how many this older Spock had already seen, accompanied by the other Jim Kirk. What did the Ambassador think of when he turned his face to the stars?
When Jim looked back to his companion, he was surprised to see he had an instrument in his lap and was considering it silently. He hadn't even heard Spock pull it out. It was a Vulcan lyre, what they called a… a ka'athyra. It wasn't a simple instrument to play, most players began training with one very young. He wondered if his own Spock could play one, and determined to ask the next time he saw him.
Then Spock began to play simple, uncomplicated tunes to warm his fingers, and Jim let his head fall back to watch the stars once more, his mind carried away on the strangely alien melodies.
It wasn't until Spock had been playing for nearly an hour without pausing more than a moment or two that Jim began to wonder. More than why he was playing at all, he wondered why, with all his obvious experience with the instrument, he wasn't graduating up to something more complex? Was he just in a mood for simplicity, did he prefer the uncomplicated measures to the fancy, or was it that his fingers and joints were so aged he could no longer manage the quick, twisting chords?
Then there was a long pause in the Vulcan's playing, and Jim thought the music was over. He was considering unrolling his bag and snuggling down into the folds to sleep, when a new, wholly unexpected melody began.
Before the music had seemed alien to the place, though perfectly suited to the instrument. The ka'athyra was a thing of dry deserts worlds away, not of damp forests. Now the melody was suited to location, but such a tune as Jim never heard played on a Vulcan lyre before.
It was Row, Row, Row Your Boat.
Jim stared at Spock. The fire had died down some and the light was more sullen than revealing, but he could well see that the old Vulcan was leaning forward, a little hunched over the ka'athyra as he played, apparently watching his fingers closely as they danced over the strings.
Spock played through a single verse uninterrupted, but when the second began, something, some strange compulsion, had Jim humming the tune along with him.
It was a silly, simple Earth child's tune, but here, watched by the stars and sitting opposite a future he may or may not ever see, it felt more significant. It felt like something he should remember, a forgotten memory, or déjà vu gone awry. It felt intimate, yet foreign; comfortable and yet intrusive.
On the third verse Jim began to sing the lyrics. His voice wasn't the best, but how good did it have to be for Row, Row, Row Your Boat?
The music faded away into the night and silence crept back, shrouding them and muffling all save the occasional snap of the fire.
When Spock looked up at Jim, there was such a warmth and sadness in his eyes that any words he might have had died on his tongue. And when the gray Vulcan smiled at him, he knew that it was a smile meant for the other Kirk, the one he had lost years, decades before. It was why he had allowed Jim to come, he realized: to fight back those memories with him, an echo of his friend and Captain. He was a stand in for the friend and brother Spock had lost.
Jim smiled back, and held out his hand to the aged man. A little to his surprise, it was taken right away, skin dry as parchment but fingers still strong as they squeezed his own.
If this was how he could help, then Jim was happy to play the man he may become, that this honorable Vulcan had come to love.