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Author's Note: Huge thanks to my betas Yahtzee, Lizbet, Rheanna, Rawles, Geekturnedvamp, and Transtempts for helping me turn this around incredibly quickly, and for going above and beyond the call of duty.
The doors to Transporter Room One slid open with a pneumatic hiss, and Spock strode through them, acting Captain Kirk at his side.
If their plan succeeded, then Nero would be stopped, the Romulan ship and its advanced weaponry destroyed, and Captain Pike would be rescued—or his body returned to Earth for burial.
If they failed—and there was a 95.7% chance that they would fail—Earth would suffer the same fate as Vulcan, and his mother and the Vulcan people might never be avenged. The thought weighed heavily on Spock, the cold dread coiling in his stomach. While he had programmed the Kobayashi Maru scenario many times, he had never faced death this way before. Putting into practice that which he had previously understood only in theory was more difficult than he had anticipated.
Many things had seemed straightforward in the abstract, and changed so much when faced in reality.
Spock stared for 2.6 seconds at the transporter pad, and then stepped onto it. Nyota had followed them from the bridge, ostensibly to fine-tune their universal translators to help them navigate the Romulan vessel. If Kirk thought it a pretence, he didn't show it, allowing her to turn her station over to Lt Hawkins.
They had ridden in the 'lift in silence, but now she stepped closer to him, her voice barely above a whisper.
"I wanted to apologise," she said quickly. "For my actions, earlier."
"I found your performance of your duties to be exemplary."
"That's not what I meant, and you know it." She frowned at him. "I kissed you."
"You have a remarkable facility to isolate and identify important details."
Nyota's eyes narrowed. "Are you teasing me?"
"You sought to provide comfort. I cannot fault you for your compassion. But now that the moment has passed, do you regret your actions?"
She glanced back at Kirk, but he was deep in conversation with Scott. "Do you?" she asked, and in that moment, he finally understood the source of her distress.
Their relationship, while deeply rewarding on many levels, had thus far remained platonic. He was aware that the extreme circumstances in which they had found themselves acted as catalyst to change it from something it had not been before, into something it could be in the future. It was understandable that she would have concerns that she alone had taken this step into the unknown.
If he were to die in this attempt, there would be no other opportunity to reassure her as to the depth of his affection for her, and that her actions had neither been unwise, nor unwelcome. Therefore, he could not remain silent.
"When we came out of warp and witnessed the devastation, I experienced profound relief that you were aboard the Enterprise, and did not perish about the Farragut," he said evenly, his voice betraying no hint of the turmoil he had felt. "While I regret my lapses in control, I do not regret what passed between us."
Deliberately, he took her hand and pulled her up onto the platform. One hand drifted to her waist and the other curled around nape of her neck. He could feel her pulse beating wildly beneath his thumb as he leaned forward and tentatively brushed her lips with his. Her lips parted beneath his and while their previous physical encounter had been almost chaste, he found his thoughts in that moment were anything but. He was dimly aware of Kirk ascending to stand on the platform next to him, and reluctantly broke the kiss.
"I will be back," he promised, resting his forehead against hers.
"You better be," she said softly, the kindest threat he had ever heard in her tone. "I'll be monitoring your frequency."
"Thank you, Nyota."
She pressed one last gentle kiss to his lips, and stepped down off the platform. There was an awkward moment as Spock and Kirk both watched her leave.
He was aware that his behaviour—first his vicious attack on Kirk on the bridge, and now this emotional display in public—would become "scuttlebutt", as Captain Pike had called it. Humans were constantly making the faulty assumption that Vulcans had no emotions. However, as his mother had constantly reminded him as a child, the teachings of Surak stressed time and time again that it was not the goal to purge oneself of all emotion, but to gain complete mastery over emotions.
If one were to feel nothing, then there would be nothing to be gained by seeking control through the pursuit of logic. What was key was that finely honed control. The bruises around Kirk's throat were a vivid reminder that for all that he endeavoured to adhere as closely to Surak's philosophies as possible, Spock's control was not complete.
But as he could still feel the ghost of her fingers on his cheek, he found he did not care.
"So her first name's Nyota?" Kirk finally said.
"I have no comment on the matter," Spock said tersely.
Spock had flung himself out of the pilot's chair on Kirk's signal, and had been braced for impact when the transporter beam took hold. The attending surge of adrenaline tore at the shreds of his control as Cadet Kirk—acting Captain Kirk—helped lower Pike from the transporter pad to McCoy's waiting arms.
Nyota was not waiting for him in the transporter room when he appeared. Logically, he knew she would be on the bridge at her station. But the last thought he'd had before the world around him exploded with light was that he promised to return to her. He wished to keep his promise.
Spock stumbled out into the corridor, and nearly collided with Uhura. Heedless of the other cadets and officers in the hallway, she took his hands in hers. He responded with gentle pressure of his fingers before releasing her.
"Get a room, you two," Kirk said with mock severity as he leaned on the intercom next to the Transporter Room doors. "Kirk to bridge. Captain Pike's aboard."
"Acknowledged," came Chekov's heavily accented voice as the medical team exited the transporter room. Spock could still hear Mr Scott gleefully explaining exactly how amazingly difficult it was to beam three people from two targets onto the same pad to the unfortunate junior officer still in the room with him.
"Dammit, Jim, you shoulda beamed him directly to the medical bay," McCoy barked at Kirk, who continued to grin ear to ear and bounce lightly on the balls of his feet.
"I thought you didn't trust that infernal contraption?" Kirk added with a half-smile. "Something about his kidneys ending up hanging around his neck like jewellery?"
"Who the hell is that manning my transporter room?" Pike said as he pushed away an attractive blonde nurse's hands impatiently while she tried to take readings. Pike's pallor was grey, and McCoy bore all of his weight across his shoulders as he was still too weak to stand.
"I picked up a new Chief Engineer. I think you'll like him," Kirk said conversationally. "Scotty!" he called back over his shoulder he strode toward the bridge, Spock and Uhura in his wake. "Get down to Engineering!"
Spock did not understand how—battered, bleeding, and having nearly died—Kirk could remain so jovial. However, his years of serving in Starfleet were beginning to show him that humans were paradoxical and quixotic in a way he had never encountered prior to leaving Vulcan.
As Enterprise struggled to break free of the collapsing black hole's gravity well, Spock locked eyes with Nyota across the bridge. The groaning and shrieking of the bulkheads protesting made it nearly impossible to speak and be heard. But he still heard her call his name as she held onto the edge of the communications console with white-knuckled fingers. She dared not move, and neither did he.
To have survived all this only to lose her now seemed unfair. But Spock had concentrated on the idea that if they were to die—his father, the Council, and all of Vulcan with them—at least it would be together. It was illogical and emotional, and nothing could change the fact that he still wished to reach out to her.
There was a moment of silence when Mr Scott detonated the warp core, and the resulting matter/antimatter explosion blossomed into a sphere of fire at the edge of the singularity. As the ship rode the wave of the explosion, Spock did not take his eyes from her. When the impulse engines roared to life and they began pulling away from the expanding singularity, he saw Nyota sag with relief. All around them, uniformed crewmembers were gasping, shaking with relief and adrenaline, and Kirk swivelled the command chair to meet his eyes. Spock inclined his head, and swallowed thickly.
They were alive.
Damage reports from all over the ship began pouring through the comms. Nyota's attention returned to her station as she began rattling off which decks had sustained damage, and the names of crewmembers being admitted to sickbay. But he could see her hands shaking as she scrolled through damage reports and flagged them to be re-routed.
"Mr Chekov, lay in a course for Earth," Kirk instructed navigation, and Sulu composed himself as Chekov stopped muttering in Russian beneath his breath to tap the commands into the helm.
"Aye-aye, sir. Course laid in."
"Mr Sulu—take us home, impulse engines on full." Kirk's voice was strong, commanding, and only slightly hysterical with relief as he came down from their narrow escape. "Uhura, inform Starfleet to send a transport to Delta Vega. There's someone stranded down there they need to pick up."
Nyota's fingers flew across the communications board as she apprised Starfleet of their situation. She did not meet Spock's eyes, but smiled as she removed the comm from her ear.
"Starfleet acknowledges, sir," she told Kirk, who nodded. "And they are awaiting your report."
"As acting captain, you will prepare the summary of the mission for review," Spock informed him.
Still shaking from adrenaline, Kirk made a face not unlike a Vulcan child refusing to eat boiled plomeek tubors for the first time. "We save the world, and I have to do paperwork?"
Spock's only reply was to lift a brow.
"Sulu, what's our ETA to Earth?"
"One point six hours, sir."
"Mr Chekov, please make a ship-side broadcast to that effect."
"Captain, request permission to be relieved?" Spock asked, and it was Kirk's turn to raise a brow. "I wish to inform Ambassador Sarek and the other members of the High Council of the outcome of our mission personally."
"Of course." Kirk's eyes strayed to Uhura. "Lieutenant, would you like to accompany him?"
"As the lieutenant's assigned duty shift will end in 41.6 minutes, I am certain she would prefer to finish out her shift here on the bridge, Captain."
"Damn straight," Uhura said beneath her breath, and Spock felt a glimmer of amusement at her indignation at Kirk's presumption.
"Okay then," Kirk said with a knowing look. "Mr Spock, you are relieved."
Spock had no opportunity to address Nyota in private until 16.8 hours after their return to San Francisco.
Following his debrief, he had accompanied his father and the remaining members of the Vulcan High Council to the guest quarters on campus. There had been private mourning rituals for the Vulcan people followed by public memorial services for the crews of the Farragut, Hood, Antares, Walcott, Exeter, Centaurus, and Truman. Over two thousand officers, crewmen, and Academy cadets had died in what they were beginning to refer to as "The Battle of Vulcan". The cadets who had survived aboard Enterprise had turned out en masse. Spock had sat with his father and T'Pau, and he had glimpsed Nyota with Kirk and McCoy near the rear of the auditorium, but lost sight of her once the ceremony had finished.
Spock had chosen to retire to his own quarters to meditate. He had been under considerable mental strain since they arrived at Vulcan, and he hoped meditation would help him find a measure of the control he had lost in the aftermath of Vulcan's destruction.
However, despite several attempts, the flame flickered and his thoughts with it.
While his father had not questioned him as to his plans for the future, there was a general assumption among the remaining Vulcans that all who had survived the Cataclysm would devote the remainder of their lives to the rebuilding of their society.
Spock had always been one to challenge assumption wherever he found it. But in this case, he was not yet convinced that was the logical path to take. With their number so severely reduced, putting himself in a position where he faced danger or even death as members of Starfleet crews assigned to deep space so often did would be illogical. Perhaps even reprehensible, if one were to think of the rebuilding of their species as morally obligatory. Logic clearly dictated the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.
In short, he feared he was making a selfish choice to remain in Starfleet, based purely on emotion.
Extinguishing the flame, he stepped over to a comm panel mounted on the smooth wall, he pressed down on the information button and spoke into the grill. "Computer."
"Locate Lt Uhura."
The late afternoon sunlight did little to warm him as he walked from the Golden Gate Park transporter pad toward the Arboretum. While humans rushed past him in shirtsleeves, he had donned a heavy silk jacket to ward off what, to him, was a chill—though his heritage meant he felt its effects less strongly than his father. He had programmed the environmental controls in his father's suite of rooms for Vulcan Normal without thinking, when he had left him to meditate.
He did not need to consult the holographic interactive map at the edge of the historic park—he knew every inch of the grounds, having explored them his first year as a cadet. Despite his father's duties as Vulcan's Ambassador to Earth, Spock had never been to the Presidio until he arranged to take the Starfleet Entrance Exam. The air carried the salt tang of the sea, and was so different from the parched dry heat of Shi'Kahr. The proliferation of flowering plants had seemed chaotic to him at first. Later, after spending many months revisiting the same sites, he came to realise the garden had been planned meticulously so that different plants and shrubs would be in flower and full leaf during different seasons. His mother had sent him several books regarding the historic Japanese tea garden in particular, wisely surmising that the Japanese gardens would appeal to his Vulcan appreciation of order and balance.
Walking through the park, Spock saw a handful of cadets—alone and in pairs. His eyes swept over them, casually dismissing them, until he found the one he was looking for.
Nyota sat on a curved wooden bench, her back to him. Her long dark hair hung down her back loose, and even from this distance he could see she had replaced the colour-changing teardrop earrings she usually wore with gold hoops. They caught the light as she moved her head to gaze out over the elaborate tea garden. Despite the park being a popular tourist destination for both out-worlders and Terrans, the spot where she had chosen to sit was nearly deserted. Therefore there was no-one to express surprise when he sat down on the bench next to her, barely twenty centimetres between them.
"I often come here. I find the gardens aesthetically pleasing."
Her lips twitched. "I know. I've seen you here."
"You have? Why did you not approach me?"
"I didn't want to intrude on your privacy."
"I assure you, I would not consider it an intrusion." He was rewarded, then, with a true smile that almost made his breath catch. He was hesitant to broach the subject he had sought her out to discuss, as he was concerned her easy smile might be lost to him. But he had no choice.
"Nyota, I do not know if I will remain in Starfleet."
He watched her expressive, very human face as she realised what he was saying and within seconds appeared to have resigned herself to the potential outcome of such a decision. He had no illusions. If she remained in Starfleet and he did not, it was unlikely that they would continue to have any sort of relationship—professional or otherwise. They would be relegated to subspace transmissions, seeing one another only when she was permitted leave, and only then if he could travel to meet her. While once he had believed such an arrangement would suit him, now that Nyota was the partner from whom he would be parted, he was no longer so certain.
"Where would you go?" she finally asked.
"The High Council have requested all expatriate Vulcans come to Earth in order to discuss the formation of a Vulcan colony. They have appointed former Admiral T'Pol to lead the project, and my father will assist her."
He paused, unsure of how to continue. However, frank and open communication had worked for them up to this point. He saw no reason not to continue, even if he had never spoken of his family with anyone save his mother, in their weekly correspondence.
"My father and I have not spoken since I turned down a place at the Vulcan Science Academy, and pursued a career in Starfleet instead. It was my mother's greatest desire that we reconcile, and... I believe it would be what she would have wished."
Uhura tucked her hair behind her ear as the wind stirred it. Like most communications officers, her nails were kept clipped short, although she often lacquered hers in various shades. Today they were blue. He remembered how her fingers had felt, buried in the hair at the nape of his neck.
Carefully, she laid her hand atop his, stroking the back of his hand with her two fingers. "I understand."
"You do? I myself have not yet come to such an understanding."
"I wanted to be assigned to Enterprise because it's the best," she said. "But I also wanted to continue to work with you. It... it won't be the same, without you."
He inclined his head, accepting both the obvious truth and the one she chose not to voice. "If you wish to terminate our liaison—"
"Oh no, this is not how this is gonna work."
He raised a brow.
"How long have you known me?"
"Three years, seven months, and twenty-one days," he replied without pause. "Since I completed my assignment aboard the Yorktown and took a position at the Academy, awaiting completion of construction of the Enterprise. You were in my first lecture course."
She blinked. "There were over two thousand students in that lecture course."
"2083, in fact," he said, not sure why she found that significant. She was still smiling, however.
"And in all the time we've known each other, have I ever abandoned a project still in the preliminary stages, based solely on inclusive data as to any potential outcome?"
"You perceive our involvement with one another as a project?"
"A long-term, very rewarding project, with substantial projected benefits to both parties." The promise in her choice of words warmed him despite the chill of the air. "And I'm not giving that up without a fight. So you are just gonna be stuck with me for however long we do have together. You got that?"
"I believe I understand the nuances, yes."
"Good. Just so that's clear."
"So, where do you propose we begin?"
Uhura collapsed against him, soft whimpers of pleasure muffled by his shoulder. His hands roamed her sweat-slicked back, long fingers tracing the curve of her spine languidly as shudders ran through her. When at last her ragged breathing resumed something close to a normal pace, he smoothed her damp hair back from her cheek tenderly.
He lay on his back diagonally across his sleeping surface, the sheets tangled around their entwined legs. The lights were dimmed, and the flame burning in the shrine across from his low bed cast flickering shadows to dance across the walls. She stretched out to sprawl across the length of his body, her skin feeling cool and slippery with perspiration against his.
"Do you wish me to adjust the environmental controls?" He had, when they first arrived, been concerned about his quarters being unsuitable, due to the temperature at which he usually kept them. However, that quickly proved to be no deterrent. Particularly as she had begun removing his clothing almost before he had been able to engage the privacy lock.
"I grew up in Kenya, remember? I can stand a little heat. And anyway—this is what my grandmother would call 'an honest sweat'." She traced the contours of his ear with her tongue. "From exertion."
Spock closed his eyes, concentrating on the effect her ministrations had on his pulse-rate. He could feel blood pumping through him, and wondered if she could feel his heart beating wildly against her side. "In the Forge, outside Shi'Kahr, temperatures at mid-day could rise to well above 40 degrees centigrade," he said softly as she pressed her lips to his jaw, surprised he could speak of the city of his birth so easily. "The main level of our home was subterranean. My father erected a UV shield over the garden, to protect my mother's skin while she worked on her roses from dawn until the early morning, before the heat became too oppressive. He was considered most odd for doing so."
She was quiet as he spoke, barely breathing. Slowly, she began to trace circles on his bicep with a fingertip.
"Mandera, where my sister lives, is in the high plains. It's dry there, but I grew up in Mombasa, where it's sticky-hot from all the humidity. In high summer, I used to sleep naked."
The mental image she presented was... appealing. But more than that, Spock recognised that she was choosing to share with him a part of herself. For all that they had spent hundreds of hours in each other's company the last three years, he knew little about her life before the Academy.
During his time at the Academy, he had rarely socialised. Even between terms, when most of the student body went off-world to visit their families, he remained behind, choosing to stay in his Academy apartments. Captain Pike had even gone so far as to extend an invitation to his ranch in Mojave last year. But he preferred to remain aloof and apart from both his colleagues and his students, retiring in the evenings to meditate, or play kal-toh in his rooms. He rarely saw Nyota outside of class that first year. It wasn't until they began working together in his Advanced Phonology course that they began to spend significant amounts of time together.
Nyota had always kept their interactions within the context of work. When she had first become his aide, she had made a brief effort to meet with him socially—inviting him to group gatherings, lecture series. But he had always politely declined, concerned that their relationship might be seen by the Academic Board as more than it was—which could affect not just her career, but his as well. While there were no hard-and-fast rules regarding fraternisation between teacher and student once the student was no longer enrolled in the instructors' courses, he did not wish anyone to believe she had achieved what she had achieved by any means other than her own extraordinary abilities.
After a time, she had ceased her attempts to draw him out socially—instead, they spent more and more time in his offices on campus. They even shared meals—most often soba noodles from a hovercart near the entrance to the linguistics lab. She had taught him to use chopsticks, and even convinced him to try her favourite dish of sweet potato maki with liberal amounts of wasabi. It had been a unique experience, albeit not one he had repeated since, due to his Vulcan palate disagreeing with the spicy Japanese horseradish. His eyes had watered, and burned with tears—something to which he was unaccustomed.
It had been the first time she'd touched him, as she'd pressed her cup of honeydew bubble tea into his hand and told him to sip it slowly. Humans were always touching him—clasping his shoulder or hands by way of greeting, something disconcerting and even disturbing for touch telepaths. Only Nyota had never offered him her hand, or even inadvertently brushed up against him, even when they were walking side-by-side in the narrow stacks of the campus library. She always carefully maintained her distance.
But that afternoon her fingers had remained wrapped around his around the flimsy cup as he'd sipped through the drinking straw that still bore traces of her lipgloss. It had tasted unappetisingly of glycerine, but also pomegranate, a fruit he had eaten while growing up due to his mother's fondness for it.
Afterwards, when his colour had returned to normal, he had thanked her, only to see she too had been blushing as she took the cup back from him.
"The first year at the Academy," she continued her reverie, "I used to pile my bed with duvets because I had an Andorian roommate and she kept the EC turned down as low to Earth-normal as she could stand. Then when they assigned Gaila as my roommate, it was such a relief."
Considering what he knew of her relationship with her roommate, Gaila, a freeborn Orion, he was surprised. While Vulcans were immune to the pheromones secreted by Orions which allowed them to influence humans and other races, he recalled that Uhura had mentioned her roommate chose to take suppressants which would inhibit the production of the pheromones while she attended Starfleet Academy. This information had been imparted rather offhandedly to a fellow student as Nyota had complained of said roommate's considerable sexual appetites which often left her struggling to maintain adequate rest hours due to male visitors in their quarters.
Some of his surprise must have shown on his face, because she laughed, and draped her arm across his chest.
"Okay, yeah, she drives me crazy bringing guys back to the room. And some of her choices have been..."
"I believe I understand."
"Really?" She quirked a brow in a manner which he assumed was gently aping his.
"Upon reviewing the server logs to discover how Cadet Kirk was able to alter the parameters of the Kobayashi Maru simulation, I discovered Cadet Gaila's security code had been used to access the database several times. The implication being he was in a position to access her comm system."
"He was hiding naked under the bed, the night before he re-took the test. Gaila is going to kill him when she finds out." Uhura buried her face in his neck, shoulders shaking with laughter.
He did not laugh with her, but the corner of his mouth lifted in the ghost of a smile.
"That seems like so long ago, but it was only three days ago, wasn't it." Her smile faded.
"Yes." He grew quiet once more.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
"There is no need to apologise. As I said when we first discovered Nero's advanced technology, whatever our destinies might have been, they have changed."
Welcome back, Ambassador Spock, the onboard computer of the craft in the Romulan hangar bay had greeted him. A craft built by a Vulcan Science Academy in 2387 which no longer existed, in his universe. It seemed the path he might have chosen would have someday led to following in his father's footsteps.
"I am on a different path, now, and I do not know where it might lead. I only know that I am gratified you are sharing my journey."
Her dark eyes softened, and he felt curiously light as he gave in to the desire to kiss her again. Every time he bent his head to hers, it felt more natural. He could feel the rightness of it, something he would never have believed possible days before.
"Do you really remember me from that first day of classes?" she asked, and while her line of questioning seemed odd, he indulged her.
"You identified the province of an Andorian's birth based on a seven second sample, and the aspiration of the 'p' of the Andorii familiar personal pronoun."
"I was trying to impress you."
She seemed simultaneously flustered and pleased at his admission, which was illogical as he did not consider it unearned praise, but a simple statement of fact.
Over the last three years, he had come to rely on her—first as one of his brightest students, then as an aide in Advanced Phonology after he specifically requested she be assigned to him upon completing her preliminary course of studies. He had never before had a cadet under his tutelage grasp the concepts of phonology and morphology as quickly, or with as much accuracy and skill as Nyota.
Had she not chosen Starfleet with the eventual goal of serving as comm officer aboard a ship, she could have had an astounding career in the diplomatic corps. He had said as much to his mother in their last communiqué, and she had replied that she wished Sarek had a linguist half as clever, as diplomatic relations with Legara IV looked as if they would continue for a hundred years at least, before he could even rate a face-to-face. Or face-to-oooze, as Lady Amanda had put it.
Spock's weekly communiqués with his mother would be what he would miss most. While he had little or no contact with his father, she had never let a week go by without contacting him via subspace to inquire as to his well-being. She had made it clear to both her husband and her son that she would not take sides, and not abandon either of them—even if they were too damned pig-headed to see how foolish they were being.
His mother had been a very illogical woman. And Spock had adored her for that, even as he had been unable to express to her how much she had meant to him. Losing her had made him regret his choices, to follow Vulcan disciplines to the extent he did. He wished to believe she knew of the depth of his feeling for her, had known it without it ever being voiced. But he would never be certain. He could never undo the past.
He realised he had grown still and quiet by the tiny line that appeared between Nyota's brows as she studied him. He did not think he had betrayed too much of his thoughts—but of all the humans he had ever encountered, Nyota seemed to be able to see past what he chose to show her, and see him. It should have made him feel vulnerable. Instead, he found it comforting.
"Did you..." she began after a long moment, chewing on her bottom lip for a moment before continuing. "Did you have someone? On Vulcan?"
"I was betrothed. She perished on Vulcan."
Her breath caught in her throat at this revelation, and her body stilled next to his. He worried for a moment that he had hurt her by not sharing the knowledge of his bond-mate with her before they entered into a relationship. Then after a moment, she curled protectively around him. There was no anger in her eyes—only empathy at his perceived loss. "I'm so sorry."
"Although we were bonded as children, T'Pring and I had never been... close." In truth, the loss of Vulcan had been so devastating that it eclipsed the snapping of the mating bond. He felt the absence of her mind like a child losing a milk-tooth. He had probed the empty space where she had been, but he did not feel hollowed by her death, the way he had felt after his mother's death. The way it still made him feel as if a part of him was missing. The loss of his wife had affected Sarek deeply—much more than dissolution of the fragile thread binding him to T'Pring had affected Spock.
"I feel her loss as the loss of one of six billion. A terrible, terrible waste of lives and potential. But our marriage was arranged by our parents—it is common practice among my people. In truth, I had not seen her since before I left Vulcan for Earth, seven years ago. She had her lands and family and pursuits, and had no interest in my life in Starfleet."
"It's hard for me to picture. There haven't been arranged marriages on Earth for centuries."
"It is not always the case. My father was unbonded, when he met and married my mother. It is... unusual for Vulcans to marry out-worlders. Or even to enter into close personal relationships, particularly with humans. Vulcans do not enter into such arrangements lightly. I myself have never... put into practice before that which I was familiar only in theory."
She propped herself up on one elbow, her eyes almost comically wide as her lips parted in surprise. "You've never had a lover?"
Spock could feel a faint green flush creeping up his neck, and making the tips of his ears burn. "The Vulcan mating drive is… complex."
"You know, for somebody who's never done this before, you're really good at it."
"I took the liberty of familiarising myself with human physiology, in the event you wished to enter into a physical relationship."
"So... now I'm the project?"
"Long-term, with substantial projected benefits to both parties," he replied.
The remaining weeks until end of term passed too quickly for Spock's liking. While he knew objectively that time did not alter the rate at which it passed based on perception, knowing that once Nyota had received her commission and her orders were cut, he would have to make his choice made time seem fleeting. Although they had not spoken of it since that first evening, they had come to an implicit understanding that once his current obligation to the Academy was completed, he would resign his commission and join the surviving Vulcans.
Knowing he was to be parted from Nyota made him wish to savour every moment they were together. They continued to work side-by-side in the Linguistics department, and no-one observing them would have discerned any alteration in their routine. In class he was cool, efficient, at times almost brusque with her. She in turn never overly-familiar or disrespectful—well, no more so than before, Spock often noted—as she taught the labs following each of his lectures. Cadets in the lecture hall, frantically scribbling notes on their PADDs would never have guessed that beneath his heavy charcoal grey instructor's uniform, his back bore the marks of her blunt nails. Or that as he took her hand to reposition it on the holographic model of a Tellarite throat, the way he dragged two fingers over the pulsepoint in her wrist made her pupils dilate, and subtly changed her scent.
As commencement neared, they began spending less time at their work, and more time together speaking of personal things. She told him stories of studying in Paris as a young girl, and how long it had taken her to master Old High Vulcan with only out-of-date language tapes at her disposal. He began teaching her to play the Vulcan lyre. She sang for him—sometimes folks songs she had learned in her childhood. Sometimes off-colour ballads humans and other space-faring races sang after consuming excessive quantities of alcohol. They made love as often as they could, trying—as she put it—to cram a lifetime into 23 days.
But the morning of graduation came—they could not stop it. They had lain awake all night, as if they could keep the sun from rising in the East by never closing their eyes. But eventually the sky had lightened to pearl grey, the Golden Gate Bridge shrouded in mist beyond campus. As she had changed into her dress uniform for the ceremony, he had taken her hands and solemnly promised he would be there to see her realise her dream of a posting aboard Enterprise.
"I dream bigger dreams now, you know." Her dark eyes had been shining with unshed tears, and as she blinked, one slipped down her cheek. He smoothed it away with the pad of his thumb.
"You shall dream them for me, as well."
Not caring who saw them, he kept her hand in his as they navigated the wide sweeping hallways from the staff apartments to the student barracks. They finally parted at the door to her quarters, and she had pressed one last kiss to his lips before disappearing inside.
As he strode across the hangar bay towards the shuttle that would take him to the Intrepid in orbit later that afternoon, his thoughts were on what he was leaving behind more than where he was going. Still, the sight of a lone Vulcan in sombre grey robes gave him pause. The set of his shoulders and lines of his back were instantly familiar, and Spock was surprised to see him as he and Sarek had already accompanied T'Pol and the High Council to the ship in orbit.
"Father," Spock called out, and was shocked when the Vulcan turned.
"I am not our father."
Spock was frozen in place. Scattered pieces he had not realised he possessed finally clicked into place, forming a picture he could no longer deny. The strange vessel in the hangar bay, a paradox he had driven straight into the heart of the Romulan mining craft.
His self from a future that now no longer existed. Ambassador Spock.
"There are so few Vulcans left we cannot afford to ignore each other," he said as he closed the distance between them.
"Then why did you send Kirk aboard, when you alone could have explained the truth?" Spock asked, the first of many questions that boiled in his brain as he struggled to comprehend.
"Because you needed each other," the ambassador said simply. "I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together. Of a friendship that would define you both, in ways you could not yet realise."
It was difficult for Spock to imagine a future where he might call Jim Kirk "friend". Difficult, but not—he conceded—impossible.
"How did you persuade him to keep your secret?"
"He inferred that universe-ending paradoxes would ensue, should he break his promise."
Spock was shocked. "You lied."
"I... I implied."
"A gamble." Spock could not keep the wonder from his voice.
"An act of faith," he amended, "one I hope that you will repeat in the future in Starfleet."
Spock squared his shoulders, the familiar weight of loss, survivor's guilt, and duty once more weighing on him. "In the face of extinction, it is only logical that I resign my Starfleet commission and help rebuild our race."
"And yet you can be in two places at once." There was a spark in the nearly ancient Vulcan's eyes, and his mouth curved in the ghost of a smile. "I urge you to remain in Starfleet. I have already located a suitable planet on which to establish a Vulcan colony."
Suddenly, Spock understood how the distant cousin Spock had met but once in his childhood—whom he had known to have been a poet and not an astrophysicist—had been assigned to the Vulcan colony project. T'Pol herself had made the appointment, and Spock while curious, had not questioned it. With their numbers so diminished, every hand was welcome.
"Spock, in this case, do yourself a favour: put aside logic. Do what feels right."
His emphasis was unmistakable. Spock was stunned by the implication. This man whom he would now never become was giving him permission—he was giving himself permission—to have what he had tried to convince himself he had no right to keep. Did not deserve.
Nyota. The stars. Friendship. Peace.
He wanted to ask him a thousand questions. Know what choices this other Spock had made, what courses of action this man had taken, and what their outcomes had been. Know what life he had lead, and who had stood by his side. But whatever the answers he might gain, they still would have merely been shadows of a life he no longer led. Paths that were closed to him, because of all that had changed.
His destiny had changed. And as painful as it was, he knew whatever he chose to be... Amanda was proud of him. It was enough.
As if he could read his younger self's thoughts, the elder Spock smiled. They regarded each other for a moment, before the elder raised his right hand in salute.
"Since my customary farewell would feel oddly self-serving, I shall simply say 'Good luck'."
Standing at the rear of the assembly hall, Spock betrayed no hint of emotion as he watched Nyota rise as her name was called, and accept the Lieutenants braids to affix to the sleeves of her dress tunic. As she shook Admiral Barnett's hand and turned to return to her seat her eyes met his.
Spock had been apprehensive as he had raised the Intrepid on comms to inform Sarek of his choice. Not as distressed as he had been the day he had stood before the Vulcan Science Academy. That day he has been gripped with so much apprehension of his father's disapproval that, while his mother had waited for him in the antechamber, he had spent 17 minutes in the sanitary cubicle, concerned he might violently rid himself of his breakfast. But he was aware his choice would sorely test the fragile understanding he and Sarek had come to in the wake of all they had lost.
The thought of losing one more thing filled him with dread.
Instead, his father had fingered the IDIC pin affixed to his high collar. The tenet of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combination" had been one Spock had always embraced, even if not all Vulcans shared his thirst for outward exploration rather than inward.
"When you were a child," Sarek finally said, looking older than Spock had ever seen him, "you would disappear into the mountains for days. It would worry your mother. When you returned, I would punish you, and you always endured it. But it did not prevent you from returning to the mountains."
On the small viewscreen, Spock was still able to discern a softening of Sarek's mouth, and something in his dark eyes he had never seen before.
"Your stubbornness you learned from her. It is a part of her I cherished. And I admire that part of you which refuses to yield."
Spock had had no words. Instead, he had simply inclined his head.
"You who are my son," Sarek had addressed him for the first time in eight years, "Live long, and prosper."
Anticipating the touch of Nyota's fingers against his, Spock knew he would.
Sic Itur Ad Astra - "Thus you shall go to the stars"; Virgil, Aeneid book IX, line 641
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