Nostalgia

After disembarking from the shuttle and speaking with his younger self, Ambassador Spock wandered the once-familiar grounds of Starfleet Headquarters and the Academy. They had changed over the course of his long life, and would change again, perhaps in different ways, but for now they were exactly as he remembered them from his youth.

He had already contacted Sarek and explained the situation to him. Strange as it was, he was now older than his father, with more knowledge as well as experience. His proposal for a new Vulcan colony had met with approval — it was logical, after all, that their remaining population re-build a center for their culture and be as self-sufficient as possible. A scouting contingent, including Spock, was scheduled to head out in two days. He was taking his leave of Earth… perhaps for the last time.

“Computer, what is the location of Dr. Leonard McCoy?” he asked at a terminal.

“Dr. McCoy is in the rehabilitation center of Starfleet Hospital.”

Spock smiled. “I should have known. Perhaps I can pay a visit to another old friend as well.”

***

The rehabilitation center was a glass-walled space that opened up to an atrium, where many patients were using the equipment to strengthen damaged muscle tissue, most of them injured during the Narada’s attack. When Spock arrived, he saw that McCoy was just finishing an examination of Captain Pike. He approached slowly, drinking in the sight of both men.

“…can’t believe you were Kirk’s roommate for all three years,” Pike was saying.

“Well, nobody else would take him, sir,” McCoy replied with a quirk of his mouth. “I was stuck with him.”

Pike laughed but his piercing eyes caught the Vulcan moving toward them, so Spock drew near swiftly and inclined his head in greeting.

“Captain Pike. I hope I’m not intruding.”

“Not at all, Mr….?”

Spock smiled but did not answer his question. “It is good to see you looking well. This condition is not permanent, I trust?”

Pike gave his wheelchair a rueful glance. “The doctor has just assured me that I’m healing on schedule and should be walking on my own in a few days.”

“I am pleased to hear that. Dr. McCoy is rarely incorrect in his medical diagnoses.”

“I’m sorry,” McCoy said, startled, “have we met?”

“Yes… and no,” Spock answered with an enigmatic smile. “But you are — and always shall be — my Ashayam.”

“Uh… I beg your pardon?” McCoy responded, furrowing his brows. “I don’t understand Vulcan.”

“Not yet… although if you decide to learn, you will find that you have a good ear for it,” Spock told him. Ignoring his confusion, Spock gazed into his eyes wistfully. There were so many things he wanted to say; so many things he wished to experience all over again, together. But he knew that this McCoy would live a different life from his Leonard. Even Spock’s own life, in this timeline, would be drastically different from what he had lived, which was now a world that existed only in his memory. The most he could do was nudge the two young men in the right direction and hope that fate — or love — would help them conquer their differences once more. “Forgive me,” he said aloud before he could change his mind. “I am an old man who has seen much… and indulges in nostalgia far too often. Please excuse my ramblings.”

With another courteous bow, Spock turned and left.

***

“The hell was that?” McCoy muttered as soon as Spock had exited the room. Then he remembered Pike’s presence. “Sorry, sir. It’s just… I don’t think he was one of the Vulcans we had on board the Enterprise… although they all have the same haircut, so it’s hard to tell….”

“Well, you did have a lot of patients there for a while,” Pike pointed out. “But there’s something… familiar about him. I must have met him somewhere before… although I can’t quite put my finger on it….”

McCoy typed into his PADD, asking, “What was that he said? ‘Ass-I-am’ or something? Maybe he was cussing me out….”

Pike chuckled. “Don’t ask me, McCoy — you’re the one with the ear for languages.”

***

The next day was the award ceremony for Kirk. Afterward, as their fellow cadets and crewmen crowded around to congratulate him, McCoy saw Spock hanging back at the edge of the room, looking as though he felt obligated to congratulate Kirk but also loath to do so. The throng of well-wishers were giving him a viable excuse right now.

McCoy sauntered up to him. “Say, is there an older Vulcan male, possibly suffering some form of dementia, wandering around and striking up conversations with random people?”

“Excuse me?” Spock asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Well this guy — obviously Vulcan, although I don’t think he was one of the ones we beamed aboard the Enterprise — came by the hospital yesterday and began talking to Captain Pike. Admiral Pike,” McCoy corrected himself. “He also knew my name, somehow, and said some pretty weird stuff.”

“Such as?”

“Well, for starters, he said my diagnoses are rarely ever wrong — almost like he knew me or something — and then he said… let’s see… he said I was and always will be his ‘Ass-I-am’ or something like that.” Bones saw Spock start at the word. “What does that mean, anyway?”

“It… It may be mispronounced,” Spock replied, attempting to evade the question.

“According to him, I have a good ear for languages. If you wanna believe the word of a delusional man, anyway,” McCoy added. “But that’s what it sounded like, only maybe more sibilant… ‘Ash-aye-am.’ Yeah, that’s what it was: ‘Ashayam.’”

Spock gaped at him for a moment, then pursed his lips. “You said this was an older Vulcan male?”

“Yeah. Is he some crazy relative of yours?”

Spock swallowed hard before conceding, “In a manner of speaking.”

“So does he need medical treatment? I realize Vulcans are pretty private about their health issues, but if he needs to be referred to a specialist—”

“I do not believe that will be necessary,” Spock interrupted. “However, I will look into the matter.”

“All right. For what it’s worth, he seemed pretty harmless… very polite, although a lot of sociopaths have been known to be polite.”

Spock nodded. “If you will excuse me.” He strode off and climbed the stairs in obvious haste.

“Humph. I guess even Vulcans can have weird relatives,” McCoy mused. The crowd around Kirk was thinning so he went back toward him, planning on taking him out for a celebratory drink. Seeing Uhura nearby, talking to Nurse Chapel, gave him an idea.

“Hi,” he said when she looked up at his approach. “You speak Vulcan, right?”

“Yes,” she replied, somewhat suspiciously. She had been watching as he’d talked to Spock and was now wondering what he had said to send Spock rushing away.

“I was wondering if you could tell me what the word ‘Ashayam’ means.”

“What? That’s… that means ‘beloved,’” she answered. “It’s a term of endearment.”

McCoy stared at her blankly. “A what?”

“Like ‘darling’ or ‘honey’ or ‘sweetheart,’ it’s only used for somebody very close… a spouse or a lover.”

His jaw dropped and his mouth was suddenly as dry as the Vulcan desert.

“You didn’t say that to Spock, did you?” Uhura demanded with a frown. “What did you think it meant?”

“What? No! God, no! I was just telling him… there was this crazy old Vulcan guy who came by the hospital yesterday — Pike was there too — and started saying weird things. He’s the one who said it. He called me his… ‘Ashayam’….”

Uhura glanced behind her to where Pike was discussing something with two of the instructors. “Did the Admiral hear what the Vulcan said too?”

“Yeah. He sure did.” Bones still looked shell-shocked. “But why would he even… I mean, Vulcans don’t joke, do they? Not like that… unless he really is demented….”

Uhura waited until Pike was done and about to be wheeled out of the room before approaching him.

“Excuse me, sir.”

“Hello, cadet. Uhura, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. Do you happen to remember what the Vulcan gentleman said to Dr. McCoy yesterday?”

“Well, as close as I can recall, it sounded like ‘Ashayam.’ What does that mean, anyway?”

Uhura’s brows were knit with confusion as she answered, “It means ‘beloved,’ sir.”

‘Beloved’?” Pike echoed in surprise. “Dr. McCoy, I hope you’re not about to set off an interplanetary incident. Kirk might have been a bad influence on you.”

McCoy looked at him in consternation. “But, sir! I honestly never met that guy before….”

“Hm.” Pike’s raised brows did nothing to ease McCoy’s anxiety.

“What’s this, Bones?” Kirk came over, having heard the tail end of their discussion. “And sir, for the record, if anybody’s been a bad influence, it’s been Bones on me.”

“In a pig’s eye!” McCoy shot back, causing Pike to burst out laughing.

“Well, maybe you should check your records, Doctor,” he suggested. “Perhaps you’d treated him sometime in the past and he’s just… extremely grateful to you. Who knows — maybe for Vulcans, if you save their life they owe you theirs or something.”

McCoy still looked frazzled. “I think I would remember if I’d ever treated a Vulcan….”

“You told Spock about him, right?” Uhura reminded. “So he’ll get to the bottom of it.”

“Bottom of what?” Kirk asked. “What exactly happened?”

McCoy groaned. “I’ll tell you over a drink. I sure as hell need one!”

***

Spock had spotted a familiar shadow disappearing from the upper levels of the council chambers. When he dashed up the stairs in pursuit, he saw his older self in the hallway.

“Ambassador,” he called out. The other Spock stopped and turned around, an indulgent smile on his lips as though he had been expecting this confrontation.

“Yes, Commander?” he replied with mild amusement.

Spock walked up to him, struggling to organize his thoughts. “I just spoke to Dr. McCoy,” he began.

“Ah, yes.” Ambassador Spock nodded.

“What… What did you say to him?”

“I believe you already know the answer to that.”

“Then why? For what purpose?”

“Because it is true. And… because it is probably the last time I will be able to say it to him.” Sadness crossed the older Vulcan’s face. “It has been a long time since I last said it to my own Leonard. I do not know if he could hear me then… but I’m sure he knew, regardless.”

“You… and… D—Dr. McCoy?” Spock stammered.

“Yes.” His eyes twinkled as he assured his younger self of the truth of that statement. “My only regret is that we did not admit what we felt for each other sooner. Once we did… well, the rest is history. Or, perhaps, the future.” Ambassador Spock chuckled, then turned to continue on his way.

Stunned, Spock stood rooted on the spot for a moment before hurrying to catch up with himself.

“Please… wait!” he implored. “I… I cannot… that is, I am already in a relationship… with Nyota….”

“Oh?” The upraised eyebrow showed genuine surprise. “Well, things are certainly different in this timeline…. As I recall, Uhura had dated a rather handsome engineer at the Academy, until he graduated and was assigned to… oh, what was that ship?”

“Ambassador,” Spock interrupted, “are you suggesting that I should… engage Dr. McCoy in a romantic relationship instead?”

“I am suggesting nothing,” he replied. “It is your life to live; I have already lived mine. You must discover your own destiny.” He stopped and turned to face his younger self. “All I know is… Leonard completed me. He made me happy. That does not mean that you could not be happy with anybody else you choose. The people in this world are different from mine — in both subtle and obvious ways — but they are each uniquely themselves. And, it is true, who you spend your time with will affect the kind of man you will become. But that is your choice to make, not mine.”

Spock looked so troubled that the Ambassador laughed and clapped him on the shoulder.

“Don’t worry too much about it. In my opinion, there is not a bad choice among the entire crew.”

Spock inclined his head in agreement, though his expression was still serious.

“If it is to be your destiny… you will know,” the older man stated, then continued on his way. Spock walked slowly back to the now-empty council chambers and looked out through the windows for a long while.

***

Once McCoy had downed a stiff drink, he described to Kirk what the old Vulcan had said to himself and Pike. Kirk looked unwontedly grave and rolled his glass between his palms.

“What is it?” McCoy demanded. “You’re too quiet. What aren’t you telling me?”

“Well… it’s all in my official report, although I don’t know how much of it is going to be classified. I don’t think Pike has looked it over yet….”

“You’re joking, right? Are you trying to say that that old looney Vulcan’s got something to do with a classified part of your report?”

Kirk looked McCoy dead in the eyes, obviously torn. “I’m trying to tell you that I don’t know if what I suspect is the truth, but if it is, it may only make things worse to tell you. And it also might become classified information once The Powers That Be review my report. So I don’t know what to do: whether I should just tell you and be done with it — and claim later that it wasn’t classified at this point in time — or not tell you and possibly be forbidden from ever telling you in the future. Plus I don’t know if I’m right or not to begin with.”

McCoy scowled. “You’re making my head hurt.”

“Mine already does,” Kirk declared with a sigh. “But like Uhura said, you told Spock, right? So he’ll figure it out. If he thinks it’s important enough to let you know, he will.” As he spoke, Kirk seemed to grow resolved. “I’m gonna leave it up to him for now. It’s not my story to tell, anyway.”

“Gee. Thanks for nothing,” McCoy quipped before taking a long drink.

“Trust me, Bones… some things you’re better off not knowing,” Kirk told him before ordering another round for both of them.

***

Spock watched as the shuttle disappeared into the sky. On it were both Ambassador Spock and his father. Sarek had insisted it was logical for him to go along to investigate the candidate planet for New Vulcan, even though he was still grieving the loss of his wife and homeworld, because he firmly believed that making himself useful was the best way to cope with the compounded tragedy. Spock hoped that his future self would be able to relate to his father better than his current and past selves.

He was having trouble relating to everybody right now, it seemed. The previous evening, he had told Uhura about his future self coming back in time, which had shocked her to begin with. Then he had mentioned in passing that he had initially planned to go to New Vulcan himself — although he had decided to remain with Starfleet, taking his own advice — and she was further upset by the realization that he had been prepared to break off their relationship. No matter how much he tried to explain that he had not come by that decision easily, that it would have cost him great pain to be parted from her, she was hurt by the fact that he had been prepared to do so.

Then the final straw was when he had confirmed her growing suspicion that the old Vulcan who had spoken to McCoy was none other than the future Spock. Learning that he had made a declaration of eternal love to the doctor, she had burst into tears and asked if Spock would now choose to pursue a relationship with McCoy instead. Spock’s repeated denials did not suffice; she had left his room, her dinner almost untouched, in a decidedly emotional state. Spock had tried to meditate to calm his own emotions but was forced to give up after a fruitless hour. His mind was so consumed by his dilemma that he had to think it through and come to a logical conclusion in order to regain his equilibrium.

The first fact was obvious: Uhura was an emotional Human. It was also clear that her fluctuating feelings had adverse effects on Spock’s own serenity. He now wondered if his rigid suppression of emotions were detrimental to her mental health as well — if she would not benefit from being in a relationship with another, equally emotional Human instead of a Vulcan, albeit a half-blooded one.

There was a separate issue which he had avoided confronting or even admitting to himself until now: that his mother, along with countless others, had died on the planet because Uhura had felt it necessary to ask him about his plans. She had only taken a few seconds to speak to him — not even a minute — but they had been precious seconds that might have made the difference between life and death. If he had been those few seconds earlier, his mother might have been beamed to safety. If Uhura had warned Vulcan of the impending disaster those few seconds sooner, many more might have been able to evacuate. He knew it was illogical to hold her accountable for those deaths — and yet his Human half rankled with accusations and anger.

Of course he had not so much as hinted at these thoughts, let alone told her; he knew her grief for his loss was genuine and also, if she ever reflected on her own actions in that light, how mortified and unbearably guilt-ridden she would be. He did not wish to saddle her with such an awful burden. However, he had to face the fact that, as a Human, she would continue to require reassurances, confirmations, and encouragement even at times when dispassionate action and adherence to protocol were absolutely vital. He was not sure he could countenance any future infractions without losing his respect for her as a fellow officer, which would in turn affect their romantic relationship as well.

He also wondered — and this was painful to admit — if he himself might be the cause of her need for such reassurances; if he had been lacking in his communications with her and thereby formed the very void which she needed him to fill in other ways and, in this instance at least, at the most inopportune time; whether she might have followed his orders immediately if he had, like a Human, been more emotionally supportive of her the rest of the time.

All this led to only one conclusion: it was inadvisable to continue a romantic involvement with Uhura. It did not necessarily mean that Dr. McCoy was a better choice for him; simply that Uhura was not the best choice for Spock and Spock was not the best choice for Uhura. Since she had fled his room and refused to talk further, he wondered if perhaps she had already come to the same conclusion. He dreaded finding out, then chided himself that dread and fear were illogical. Nevertheless, the feelings remained with him as he left the shuttle launch pad and braced himself for what would no doubt prove to be another emotional and uncomfortable conversation with her.

***

McCoy was glad he had the day off after drinking and carousing with Kirk the previous evening. They had barely managed to avoid getting in a bar fight, then Kirk had waltzed off with the girl they’d almost gotten into the altercation over. At that point McCoy had finished his drink and called it a night. His pounding headache this morning was a sure sign that he had overindulged as it was, so he mentally thanked his friend for breaking up their private party when he had.

The miracles of modern medicine included a reversal drug for hangovers, so McCoy hyposprayed himself before eating a late breakfast of fruit and oatmeal. He mulled over what to do for the day. February in San Francisco was a rather bleak prospect — it was rainy and too cold for the beach, although he would have dearly loved a swim followed by some time just lying in the sun. However, he had access to the Academy’s pool as long as it wasn’t being used for any competitions or events. McCoy checked and found that it was available, then packed some things he would need for a relaxing day poolside.

There were only a few other Starfleet personnel using the pool — mostly diehard swimmers doing their laps to stay in shape. McCoy swam at a more leisurely pace, wishing there were a wave-maker to simulate the ocean, and wondered if there were any indoor waterparks nearby that did. He napped for a while in a lounge chair, getting some sunlight from the tinted windows but not enough to tan in. When he woke he ate a protein bar before swimming a few more laps. One of the other swimmers, a young man who looked to be a new cadet, was setting a grueling pace in the center lane. McCoy started swimming next to him just to see if he could keep up with the kid. He was only a few seconds behind him at the end of the lap.

“Not bad for an old guy,” he mumbled contentedly to himself as he pushed his wet hair up out of his eyes.

***

Spock had walked into the pool area just before McCoy began pushing himself to match the cadet’s pace. The Vulcan watched in amazement as the older and bigger McCoy surged in speed, churning the water with powerful strokes of the front crawl. Since swimming was not a necessary survival skill on Vulcan, Spock had not learned it until he had come to the Academy. He could not help but be impressed with McCoy’s form.

After McCoy touched the wall, not far behind the younger swimmer, Spock’s sensitive ears picked up McCoy congratulating himself, although he wondered that the doctor considered himself an “old guy.”

“Indeed not,” he answered from the poolside. McCoy looked up in surprise.

“Spock! What’re you doin’ here?”

“I wish to speak with you regarding a personal matter, if you are available.”

“Sure, just a sec,” McCoy answered.

While McCoy swam to the ladder, Spock walked beside him on the concrete, hands clasped behind his back in his usual stance, then he followed McCoy as he padded over to a chair and sat down. Spock sat stiffly in the chair beside it.

“Is this about that Vulcan guy?” McCoy asked without preamble while drying himself with a towel.

“Yes.” Spock struggled with what to say next. The doctor spared him the trouble.

“Is he all right or does he need medical attention?”

“I do not believe he is in any danger at the moment.”

“Yeah? Then why did he call me his ‘beloved’?” McCoy asked pointedly. “And it’s not like he thought I was someone else, either, since he knew my name.”

Spock opened his mouth, paused, then stated, “Kirk has not revealed his identity to you.”

“No. He said you would tell me if I needed to know.” McCoy focused a hard stare on Spock. “What’s with all the secrecy? Jim even said it might involve the classified part of his report, but… who the hell is that guy?”

Spock licked his lips before replying, “He is… Ambassador Spock… my future self.”

“What?”

“He was drawn into the same temporal anomaly that caused the Narada to come back in time… only he emerged more recently and was captured by Nero. He was also marooned on Delta Vega — where he met Kirk — so that he could witness the destruction of Vulcan. Nero held him responsible for his failure to save Romulus… which was why Nero singled me out as well. He wanted me to see my homeworld destroyed… to know the same loss as he had in his time.”

McCoy gaped at Spock like a fish out of water, trying to absorb all this information. “All right… so… that guy is actually you… back from the future….”

“Yes. One hundred twenty-nine years in the future, to be exact,” Spock agreed. “In his timeline, he… or rather, I… became an ambassador with Starfleet. Following in my father’s footsteps,” he added, almost to himself.

“Okay.” McCoy took a deep breath. “Then… why the hell did he say… did he call me… what he did?”

Spock swallowed and glanced down at his hands that were tightly clasped on his knees. “It seems… in his timeline… he and you… we… had become lovers.”

McCoy stared at him for a long moment before exploding, “Horse shit!”

“I confess I was incredulous as well, Doctor,” Spock said placatingly. “Nevertheless, I must accept his statement as true. He claimed he wanted to tell you… how much you meant to him… one last time. He left early this morning on a scouting mission to investigate the viability of a planet to be settled by the remaining Vulcan population — a planet that may become New Vulcan. At his advanced age, it is unlikely that he would have the opportunity to meet you again, and so… in a moment of nostalgia, perhaps… he wished to see you and speak to you as… as he must have with your counterpart in his own timeline.”

McCoy was gripping the ends of his towel, stunned by this revelation. “So… you… and me? Us?

Spock nodded, observing the Human’s changing expressions. “Apparently.”

“But… what about… Uhura?”

“In his timeline… it seems we had never… connected.” Spock inclined his head as he recalled what the older Vulcan had said. “He also mentioned that the people in our timeline are different from their counterparts in his, in both subtle and obvious ways, but that essentially they are the same people. No doubt the events that Nero triggered in our timeline, starting with the destruction of the Kelvin, have caused the two realities to diverge… in some cases without much difference, but—”

“In others, like Jim’s dad being killed, in very significant ways,” McCoy finished, his face grim.

“Precisely.” Spock hesitated, then plunged into the crux of the matter. “I asked him whether he were suggesting that I pursue a relationship with you instead, but he answered that I must choose my own destiny in this timeline. He also stated his belief that there are no bad choices among the crew of the Enterprise… that there was no reason why I could not be happy with anyone I might choose.”

“Well, he’s probably right.” McCoy smiled for the first time. “We’ve got a great crew.”

“I concur. However, considering what a… close bond… my counterpart must have formed with yours, I was hoping you would be amenable to… becoming friends.”

“Friends?” McCoy echoed, an eyebrow raised askance. Spock nodded once in assent. “Okay… but how is Lieutenant Uhura in this timeline gonna like that?”

“Ah… that is… perhaps… no longer a concern,” Spock hedged.

“Whaddaya mean?”

“I disclosed some of this information to her last evening, and… suffice it to say, she was not pleased.”

McCoy winced. “Of course not.”

“Yes, well… it seems I had not considered sufficiently how the news might affect her,” Spock admitted with chagrin. “I attempted to reconcile with her this morning, but… combined with some other matters in which I had also been insensitive, she has decided to discontinue our relationship.”

“Oh, God!” McCoy gasped, then demanded, “You didn’t break up over me, did you?”

“Not… exclusively,” Spock answered, trying not to add to McCoy’s distress but unable to be untruthful.

“Goddammit,” the Human muttered, burying his face in his hands. “I’m sorry, Spock — I shouldn’t have asked her to translate that word.”

“Please… do not feel remorse over such a trivial thing. Had I told you immediately what it meant, you would not have needed to… but I wished to confirm with the Ambassador first whether that were truly what he had said.” Spock swayed his head in his equivalent of a shrug. “Doctor, please… there were many other reasons why she chose as she did — all of them of my own making… including my assumption that she would come to the same conclusion as I.” A small sigh escaped him before he confessed, “I had decided, for various reasons, that continuing our relationship was not the optimal choice, and based on her reactions last night, I was fairly confident that she had realized the logic of the situation as well.”

“Good God, Spock,” McCoy interjected, looking horrified, “matters of the heart are never logical.”

“So it would seem,” Spock agreed. “But if she had not considered parting ways before, she certainly was persuaded to my point of view very quickly.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Thank you. However, I believe it is for the best.”

McCoy slowly nodded, as though attempting to wrap his mind around everything, then finished drying himself off. “So… you want to try… being friends.”

“I believe it would be… mutually beneficial. It would seem I have yet to master the subtle nuances of Human emotions that must seem obvious to you; I would appreciate your insights and advice on interpersonal matters. In return, should you be interested, I can help you learn some Vulcan techniques for mastering one’s emotions — rising above them when necessary — which I believe would be helpful in your profession.”

“Huh. Yeah, I suppose… although if I ever stop caring about my patients, I wouldn’t be half the doctor I am now.”

“Not to cease caring for them, of course,” Spock hastily amended, “but to continue functioning at peak efficiency when their lives are at stake. As you have seen firsthand, it is a common misconception that Vulcans do not feel; it is precisely because our emotions are so powerful, sometimes violent, that we needed to learn how to control them.”

“All right… I guess I can buy that,” McCoy conceded.

“Then you agree?”

“What, to be friends? Of course.” He scoffed. “We’d have to learn how to get along, anyway, if we’re gonna be serving on the same ship. And now that I know you actually do have feelings — you just manage to bury them deeper than the rest of us — I can appreciate what you’re bringing to the table.”

Spock inclined his head again in acknowledgement, his body visibly relaxing.

“But my question for you is,” McCoy continued, “are you interested in something… a little more than friendship?”

“I… beg your pardon?” Spock asked faintly.

“You know damn well what I mean. Since you’re a free agent now… and seeing’s how our ‘counterparts’ in the other timeline seem to have got along so famously… you wanna give it a shot?”

Spock’s mouth hung open in an undignified manner while he stared at McCoy, who stared back with his own piercing, searching gaze. Spock’s lips twitched as he tried to formulate a response.

“I… I suppose… that is a… viable option… that is, if you are so inclined?”

A wry grin curved McCoy’s lips. “I might be. Or at least, I might be persuaded.”

“Oh.” Spock could not think of anything more to say. His mind, which he had always prized above all other of his endowments, suddenly failed him.

“All right, then,” McCoy said at last with an air of determination. “Are you on duty today?”

“No,” Spock managed to reply.

“You wanna go for a swim?”

“I… am not adept at swimming. My heavier body mass makes it difficult to float.”

“Ah! You’re a sinker. I’m sure we could get you a life jacket around here somewhere. Unless, of course, you don’t like being in the water?”

“I have passed the required proficiency tests,” Spock said, more defensively than he had intended.

“So you don’t enjoy it,” McCoy correctly inferred. “Okay, maybe some other time we can go snorkeling or diving off a coral reef or something — someplace where it’s nice and warm. But for now, I’d like to take you out to lunch. You’re vegetarian, right?”

“Yes. All Vulcans are.”

“Right…. I’ve got just the place in mind.” McCoy stood up and grabbed his bag. “Meet me at the main entrance in ten minutes?”

“Ah….” Spock realized that his answer would change the course of his timeline — perhaps even his history.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

He saw McCoy standing there, an attractive specimen of Human male anatomy, waiting for his answer with a nonchalance that was too casual to be unaffected. Spock realized that McCoy had made a leap of faith… something his future self had encouraged him to take more often.

“Yes,” Spock replied. “Yes, of course. Shall I arrange for transportation?”

“It’s not that far if you don’t mind walking.”

“Then… I shall look for you in approximately ten minutes.”

“Likewise,” was all McCoy said, but his grin spoke volumes.

While he watched McCoy head to the shower room, Spock realized that his heart was beating more rapidly than usual. “Fascinating,” he mumbled to himself as he stood to leave the building.

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