“ - and then we escaped the mountain and beamed back to the ship!” Kirk finished triumphantly, beaming at the elderly Vulcan on the screen. Though Old Spock’s facial expression revealed nothing, he had a decidedly amused air about him. The half-Vulcan’s eyes flicked towards the rest of the Bridge, and out of curiosity, Kirk followed his gaze.
The Bridge crew was watching their interaction with a fond amusement, and Kirk was rather embarrassed to realize that he’d been acting like a little kid going on and on about a trip to the zoo. Or something like that. Kirk wouldn’t really know, having never been to a zoo. Hmm, maybe he should visit one next time there was a shore leave . . .
“That sounds like a memorable experience.” Old Spock’s response drew Kirk’s attention back to the screen and away from his new train of thought. “It appears that you have had this encounter earlier than your counterpart, and seem to have come across multiple differences as well.” Kirk unconsciously leaned forward in interest.
“Really? Huh. I suppose I probably just bored you for the past several minutes, seeing as you have already lived through it. Sorry about that.” He gave a sheepish grin, and glanced up at the elderly Vulcan. Old Spock shook his head at the statement.
“There is no need to apologize, old friend. Your adventures with your crew show multiple differences to your counterpart’s with his. Some of that is due to the timeline being altered, causing events to happen in a different order, to some degree, however the differences between yourself and my reality’s James Kirk do play a significant part as well.” Kirk considered him for a moment. A thought visibly occurred to him, and there was a momentary hesitation before he began speaking.
“I don’t know if the answer to this will break reality or anything,” he began slowly, “or if you’re even okay with answering this, but what is the biggest change that you’ve seen in me? When compared to your version of myself, I mean.” The rest of the Bridge’s attention was caught by Kirk’s question, and they waited expectantly for an answer. Old Spock considered the captain for a long moment before responding.
“One thing that I have become aware of is that in this reality, you have been through much more hardship than the James Kirk of my own. However, it appears that from this hardship, you have grown stronger and more capable than he managed to in his lifetime. Therefore the logical conclusion to take is that you will manage to go further and achieve more than your counterpart was able to.”
Kirk had ducked his head, and the crew around him could see a light dusting of pink across his cheekbones. He looked almost shy at the assessment of himself. The elderly half-Vulcan on the screen tilted his head slightly, studying the man before him.
“Although the timeline has changed, that was only to be expected, given the circumstances. It was logical that your personality would be different as well, as it is the past which forms the people we are in the present. I believe, based on your question, you intended to ask not what was the biggest change, but what I find to be the most startling difference, yes?”
Kirk glanced up and blinked, slightly startled that the elderly half-Vulcan had read him so easily. He nodded, and Old Spock took a moment to observe him, seemingly deep in thought. There were several moments of expectant silence before he finally responded, looking pointedly at Kirk.
“Though many things are different here, even if it is only in the smallest of ways, I expected that result upon realizing what had happened. I had expected alternate versions of myself, my family, and my friends to exist as well. However, one thing I had not anticipated to affect me so strongly was turning to meet the gaze of a dear friend and finding eyes that were entirely different. That, I believe, is the most honest response I can give you for the time being.”
Everyone on the Bridge looked at Old Spock in surprise, Sulu and Chekov exchanging a glance as Uhura’s eyebrows rose and Spock blinked. Kirk frowned slightly, confusion overtaking his features as he mulled over his friend’s words.
“Wait, so out of everything that you’ve seen in this universe, the thing that is most shocking to you are my eyes?” Kirk’s tone was incredulous. “I don’t know if I should be disturbed or flattered that you find my eyes more shocking than everything that happened with Nero and all the other crazies we’ve had to deal with since he crossed over.” Old Spock raised an eyebrow, his tone slightly off as he responded.
“It is surprising how much of a difference eyes make when two individuals are otherwise so similar. Over the years I have become very aware of how changeable the appearances of humans are, due to age and personal alterations, and even to some degree how changeable their personalities and behaviors are. However, despite all of that, their eyes remained the same. That is not true in this scenario, and I must admit it made a much stronger impact than I had anticipated.”
Kirk and Old Spock studied each other in silence for a moment, an unreadable expression on the former’s face and a patient one on the latter’s. They almost seemed to be communicating silently, and the rest of the Bridge waited quietly to see the results of the unintentional stare-off.
“I see,” Kirk finally said, his expression lightening to his usual one as he tilted his head to the side curiously. “I’m guessing that my eyes were a different color where you came from. Let me guess, they were brown? Probably a dark brown?” Old Spock tipped his head forward in acknowledgment, and Kirk grinned broadly at being proven right.
“How did you know zhat, Keptin?” Chekov finally piped up, the first crew member to do so since the conversation between Kirk and the elderly half-Vulcan on screen had begun. Kirk flicked a bright-eyed glance at him, the blue suddenly more prominent than ever in the bright lights of the Bridge.
“Apart from brown being the most common eye color among humans,” he began in response, “I also know because I read my first medical records out of curiosity when I was ten. Apparently I was supposed to have had brown eyes and hair that was a slightly darker blond according to the genetic information that they gathered before I was born. Obviously that isn’t what ended up happening.”
“What caused the changes?” Uhura asked, no longer able to hold back her curiosity. “Do you know? Those genetic tests are very, very rarely wrong these days.” Kirk nodded, his look in his eyes both heavy and sparking in intrigued interest.
“Yeah, actually, they were able to figure it out. Do you know what happens when a warp core explodes?” The crew blinked at the question, hesitating just long enough that Kirk answered his own question. “It releases a wave of radiation in addition to the heat and force that accompanies all explosions. Turns out it has a pretty long range, so right when I was born, when I was at my most vulnerable, it hit our ship. It wouldn’t have had any effect normally, but our shielding wasn’t online yet, given that they were mainly focused on getting me born before anything else could go wrong. The doctors and my mother only had to go through a mild detox because we were at the edge of the radiation, but by the time that was possible for us, it had already slightly changed my DNA. The result is my slightly altered appearance, as well as my ever-growing list of discovered allergies; the radiation completely messed up my body’s threat-detection ability.”
“That’s why you’re allergic to everything under the sun?” Sulu exclaimed, looking like one of the big questions of humanity had just been answered. “Does Doctor McCoy know about that?”
“Well yeah,” Kirk said, as if it were obvious. “He’s my primary physician, about the only doctor I really trust, and I kind of forced myself on him as a roommate during our first year, so he kind of had questions about it early on after witnessing several allergy attacks.”
A sound of a commotion drew their attention suddenly to the screen again. Old Spock was looking off to the side at something off-screen, the Vulcan equivalent of a frown on his face. He was silent for several moments, observing what was happening, before he turned back to the group with a sigh.
“I apologize. I must cut our conversation short as there is a matter that appears to require my attention.” He glanced back at the commotion, which sounded like it was getting louder. “I will endeavor to call you again in the near future, my friend, but for now this is goodbye.”
Old Spock waited until Kirk had said goodbye as well before he disconnected, already standing to go handle whatever the problem was. Kirk looked at the now-blank screen, a small smile playing about his lips as he turned to look at his Spock.
“Hey, Spock, if older you turns out to be anything like Old You, then I think we’re going to have a lot of fun when we’re all creaky and wrinkled.” Spock blinked at his captain’s comment, and the other crew members tried, and failed, to smother their snickers. Brushing off his first officer’s lack of verbal response, Kirk turned his attention to the view outside, the wide stretch of darkness curving away from them like the inside of a balloon, interspersed with only pinpricks to let in the light.
“It’s been a while since I thought about that - the radiation I mean.” His voice was soft, his mood as changing as ever. “I can’t really picture myself the way I would have been, dark eyes and slightly darker hair, fewer allergies if any at all, joining Starfleet because of my dad and not because of a dare . . .”
In the background, Kirk thought he heard Sulu mutter something that sounded like ‘of course he joined on a dare’, but it was quiet enough that he couldn’t be sure. It was quiet for a moment as he stared out into the darkness, lost in thought. With a brief shake of his head, he turned back to the Bridge with a smile.
“Sorry, didn’t mean to get lost in thought,” he commented. “I was just thinking about my grandmother. She was always talking about my eyes too, and Old Spock just reminded me of it.”
“You have a grandmother?”
All eyes on the Bridge turned to Uhura at her question. She flushed, realizing how obvious the answer to her question was as Kirk raised his eyebrow in amusement.
“You know what I mean,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “Obviously you have a grandmother. I just meant that I didn’t realize that you knew her, because you’ve never mentioned her before.” Kirk tilted his head in response, considering her statement for a moment.
“Huh, I guess you’re right. That’s weird that it hasn’t come up before, she’s the one who raised me until I was ten while my mom was off planet on her missions. Once she died, mom came back, got remarried, and her husband watched me and my brother until I went off planet at thirteen.”
Off to one side, Kirk caught sight of Chekov murmuring to Sulu. When he strained his ears, it sounded kind of like he was saying something like ’ze Keptin has a brother?’. Further away, a different Bridge member (not one of his main friend group) was muttering ’great there’s two of them’. Kirk held back the urge to smirk at their words.
“Anyway,” he continued, regaining their attention and causing the hushed conversations to stop, “back when I was a kid, everyone who knew me knew that I hated space, Starfleet, and anything to do with either. Everyone believed it too – I was the kid who had lost his dad to space and his mother to Starfleet, among . . . other things. The only person who never did was my grandmother. She used to take me stargazing, despite my protests and reluctant enjoyment, and she would tell me stories about the constellations. She also used to insist that anyone with dilithium-blue eyes was destined for the stars, and that sooner or later I would see that she was right.”
Kirk made a wide gesture with his hands as is to say And look where I ended up, giving them a wry grin. The crew blinked at him for a moment, and more than a few held his gaze a little longer than they normally would, noticing for the first time the way the blue of his eyes was just a hint too blue, and the way they almost seemed to have the faintest of glows against the backdrop of space. As if reading their thoughts, the captain gave them a knowing look and turned his attention back to the PADD he’d been working on before Old Spock called, leaving the others to their thoughts.
It occurred to them, for the first time, how many coincidences had to have happened for all of them to end up back on the Enterprise, even after Nero had entered their version of the world and changed everything. Or, perhaps it wasn’t just coincidence. Most of the crew wasn’t superstitious, but even they had to admit that something bigger than them had to be at play for all of them to end up where they were, on a starship captained by a man with his soul steeped in space and eyes the color of a starship’s heart.
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