Jim could barely conceal his excitement as he leaped onto the transporter pad. His enthusiasm was met with a disapproving eyebrow as Spock sedately took his position.
"Energize," Jim called to Scotty.
He felt the familiar tingling sensation as the transporter beam rippled through him and stood still, waiting for the planet's surface to materialize. The transporter room started to flicker in and out of focus. Jim looked up at Scotty in alarm – it didn't usually take this long.
Suddenly, everything went black. There was a momentary pause in darkness, and then color started to filter back into the world. However, the shapes that appeared around him were only those of the transporter room.
How typical that the transporter would start playing up when he was heading off to spend an afternoon on a nice, quiet planet. Jim shot a scowl towards Scotty, and only then realized that something was very wrong.
This was not the transporter room he'd left behind. The basic layout was the same, but the colors were darker, the simple touchscreens of the console had been replaced by unwieldy buttons and dials, and Scotty seemed to have aged a decade in just a few short moments.
"What the…?" Jim stepped down from the transporter pad and looked around.
"Captain?" The older Scotty sounded as confused as Jim felt. "I dinnae know ye were on the planet… Ye look... Are ye all right, Cap'n? Mr Spock?"
Jim looked over at Spock, who was still standing on the transporter pad, his hands clasped behind his back. His eyebrows were drawn together, and his eyes were darting around the room. Jim actually felt relieved; at least he wasn't the only one who thought there was something wrong here.
"Doctor," Scotty said to the comm pickup. "I think ye'd better head down to the transporter room. The Captain and Mr Spock are actin' a wee bit strange, and they look..." he trailed off, shaking his head.
“Scotty…Jim's right here," came McCoy's response.
Jim felt the blood drain from his face. "Um…what?" he said weakly.
"Captain," said Spock, stepping down from the transporter pad at last and coming to stand beside him. "It would appear that we have been transported to a parallel dimension."
"Oh, crap," was Jim's succinct response.
Scotty was staring at them as though they were insane. "From a parallel dimension, ye say?" he repeated with a feeble laugh.
"Para-what?" came a weirdly familiar voice from the doorway. The speaker took one step into the transporter room and stopped dead, an expression of horror on his face.
Jim was sure that expression was replicated on his own face. Pretty exactly, he supposed, since this man appeared to be…him. Older than he was now – and a little heavier, too; perhaps he should listen to McCoy's nagging about his diet after all. But despite those differences, he had no doubt that he was staring, slack-jawed, at himself.
The certainty was solidified when, moments later, another familiar face appeared. The second figure was undoubtedly Spock. Again, he was older than the Spock Jim knew, though not nearly so old as the other Spock he'd met on Delta Vega – and really, how many Spocks did the universe need, anyway?
"Fascinating," both Spocks said in unison, then glared at each other.
Jim stifled a giggle, and realized that his alternate self was doing the same. They exchanged an amused glance.
"This is too weird," said Scotty, who was staring at them, an expression of horror on his face.
"You don't say," another voice drawled from the doorway. This universe's McCoy looked much older than the one Jim knew, but wore a surly expression that he would have recognized anywhere.
"Hey, Bones," Jim greeted him with a broad grin. McCoy's scowl only deepened.
The older Kirk looked around at the scene, apparently struggling to reign in his amusement. At length, he assumed his Captain pose (Jim made a mental note to check that his own Captain pose didn't look so...camp). "Scotty," the elder Kirk barked, "Why did this happen? And how do we fix it?"
"Gettin' right on it, Cap'n."
That was strange – Scotty's accent was markedly different in this universe. Jim wondered idly how his life had been different to that of the Scotty he knew.
That was when it occurred to him: was this the Scotty who had invented transwarp beaming? Jim's eyes darted over to the elder Spock, who was regarding his younger counterpart with something that looked remarkably like derision. Was that the same Spock who would eventually meet him in a cave on a world of ice?
"Jim?" The elder Kirk's voice interrupted Jim's thoughts. "Perhaps you two should come with us?"
Jim looked over at his Spock, who nodded his acknowledgement, and they followed Kirk out of the transporter room. Jim couldn't help but notice that the elder Spock walked close by Kirk's side, and was sure he saw their hands accidentally brush together. He wouldn't have considered that odd, except that he was all too aware of how weird Spock was about touching.
The Spock on Delta Vega had been all right with touching him, though, which lent credence to the idea that this was a younger version of the same Spock. Jim grinned, pleased; he'd liked that one, he was much less uptight than his own Spock.
"Captain," his Spock said in a low voice, apparently not wanting to be heard. "This does not appear to be the Enterprise."
Jim's brow furrowed as he took in their surroundings. The layout of the corridor was familiar, but it was gray and red where the Enterprise gleamed white.
"Or maybe this universe just doesn't have such good interior decorators?" Jim suggested.
"Gentlemen," Spock said, louder. "What is the name of this ship?"
The Kirk and Spock in front of them turned their heads slightly, and Jim realized only then that they had been having a hushed conversation of their own.
"This is the USS Enterprise," Kirk replied, beaming with pride.
Jim glanced at his Spock, who replied by raising an eyebrow. Jim was about to ask further questions, but their counterparts had come to a halt outside a briefing room. Kirk led them inside.
Jim couldn't help glancing around curiously. Again, the layout was familiar, but the décor quite different, a continuation of the grays and reds of the corridors. The center of the room was taken up by a large table, like their own briefing rooms, but upon the table sat a bulky computer terminal that Jim would have placed in a museum before his own ship.
"Well," said Kirk, gesturing for them to sit. "This is… sure to be interesting." His lips quirked in amusement. "I've never met another… me before."
"Indeed, this is quite unusual," the older Spock said. "In our previous experience with alternate dimensions, the persons concerned were exchanged with their counterparts. I had not thought it possible for one to meet one's counterpart in another universe."
Jim sniggered and fell into a chair. His Spock immediately took the seat beside him.
The other Spock looked confused by Jim's amusement. "This is not your experience?"
"Uh…" Jim self-consciously rubbed the back of his neck. "Not exactly. But that line, about not being able to meet your counterpart…. Remember that. You'll use it on me one day."
The other Kirk and Spock exchanged a bemused look.
"Jim," said his Spock softly, "This is not the same individual that you encountered on Delta Vega."
"Why not?" Jim eyed the other Spock carefully. He certainly looked the same, though it was hard to tell how that face would change with the passage of years.
"Hang on." Kirk finally sat down opposite them, and the other Spock slid into the seat beside him, shifting it closer to the captain, Jim noticed. Kirk leaned back, and seemed unconsciously to lean towards Spock. "You mean to say," Kirk continued, "that you've met another Spock?"
"Yeah," Jim grinned. "This one, I think." He jerked his head towards the other Spock.
The older Spock raised his eyebrows. "I assure you we have not met," he said. "I have had occasion to meet only one other James Kirk, and you – thankfully – bear little resemblance to him."
"We haven't met," Jim said breezily. "Yet."
"Jim," his Spock prodded, "this is not the same reality from which the Ambassador originated."
Jim shrugged. "Let's see, shall we?" He turned to his counterpart. "Uh…this will sound like a strange question, "but in your world, do – did? – you know your dad? And is Vulcan still…you know, there?"
The elder Kirk and Spock exchanged another bemused look.
"What the Captain is asking," said his Spock, somewhat stiffly, "is whether, in this universe, a troubled future Romulan traveled back in time, attacked the USS Kelvin, killing your father, and then proceeded to destroy Vulcan in an artificially created black hole."
The other Kirk looked as though he didn't know whether to laugh or be horrified. "The planet Vulcan?"
Jim sneaked a glance at his Spock, whose gaze was fixed on the table.
"Yeah, the planet," Jim confirmed. "Where we come from, it's gone."
Their counterparts were both staring straight at them, but Kirk's hand strayed across the table to cover Spock's. Jim couldn't help but watch, curious and strangely mesmerized, as Kirk traced his fingers over Spock's. Even more unusual was that the Vulcan seemed to be permitting it.
There was a long silence, then, "The incident you describe has occurred in your timeline," the elder Spock stated flatly.
It was not phrased as a question, but Jim nodded, his gaze still riveted to his older self's hand as it traced Spock's.
"I'll take it that didn't happen here then," said Jim, feeling a peculiar lurch in his gut. “And your dad?” he addressed his other self.
“Is back in Iowa,” Kirk confirmed. Last I heard.”
"What about your mother, Spock? Um…how's she?"
When Spock did not immediately respond, Jim tore his gaze from their counterparts' entwined hands to look at him. His head was cocked to one side and his eyes were boring into Jim. "My mother is well," he replied at last.
At that, Jim felt rather than saw his Spock's head snap up. He instinctively reached out his own hand, but withdrew it at the last moment. He saw that the older Spock had caught the movement, and he hurriedly ploughed on. “See, Spock,” he said, keeping his tone as jovial as he could. “This is that other timeline, it has to be.”
“It is evidently similar,” Spock agreed. “Nonetheless, it is not the same one.”
“You mean it's not likely to be the same one,” Jim corrected. “But it is.”
“Negative, Captain, I did in fact mean that it is not.”
“What makes you so sure?” Jim squinted at the older Spock. “He kind of looks the same. You know, if you add a hundred years or so.”
“Indubitably. That is inevitable, given the shared genetics. Nonetheless, the law of causality dictates that the Ambassador cannot have originated from this timeline. Quite simply, our timeline did not come into existence until he and Nero traveled into the past. That event, if it occurs in this dimension, is still a long way in the future.”
“That makes no sense. He went into our past, so why can't we go into his?”
“No event can precede the one that caused it,” Spock stated. “It is possible that this timeline has been that same one up until now, but if so then our presence here has changed it, causing it to diverge – however slightly – from the one the Ambassador experienced.”
Jim scowled. “All this alternate reality stuff makes my head hurt.”
Jim realized then that their counterparts were staring at them, Kirk with barely-suppressed amusement and Spock with his eyebrow raised. That was interesting, Jim noticed suddenly; while his Spock expressed surprise, annoyance, condescension and pretty much everything else with his left eyebrow, the one in this universe used his right. He wondered if that meant anything, much like a left-handed human was supposedly more artistic.
“What's so funny?” Kirk asked, his eyes darting between Jim and the older Spock.
Jim opened his mouth to explain, but was interrupted when his Spock exclaimed, “Fascinating.” Both he and Kirk turned expectant expressions on the younger Vulcan.
“Well?” Jim prompted when Spock didn't immediately elaborate.
Spock shot his older counterpart a conspiratorial glance and said, “They have different colored eyes.”
The older Spock's eyebrows shot up and he inclined his head, regarding Jim carefully. “Indeed.”
Jim frowned and looked across the table at his other self's face. “Huh,” was all he could say. It was true; for some reason he had hazel eyes in this universe instead of his own blue ones. “Sucks to be you,” he added with a shrug. “The girls go crazy for the blue.”
The older Kirk smirked, and shot a sidelong glance towards the other Spock. “Mine have served me just fine,” he said.
A strange expression came over the other Spock's face at that, intense yet soft somehow. Jim was reminded again of the Spock on Delta Vega, but couldn't imagine his Spock looking at anyone like that. The thought saddened him, because despite their rocky start he'd grown to be fonder of Spock than he would have considered possible.
Shifting uncomfortably, Jim glanced over at his Spock, who was staring at their counterparts on the other side of the table. His eyebrows had disappeared under his hairline, and his hands gripped the edge of his seat so hard that his knuckles were white.
Frowning, Jim looked back across the table to the scene that had apparently perturbed Spock so much. Their counterparts were looking at each other, apparently conversing without words to judge by the expressions that passed across their faces. Jim looked down to where Spock's hand lay on the table, with Kirk's resting on top of it, still lightly tracing Spock's fingers with his own.
It was an innocent enough gesture, Jim thought with just a hint of indignation. He often found himself having to consciously refrain from touching Spock; it seemed this universe's Jim Kirk had a lot in common with him, only his Spock was more accommodating. Jim distinctly remembered one time when he had inadvertently touched Spock's hand and the Vulcan had whipped it away as though the touch burned.
Perhaps left-eyebrowed Vulcans were the more repressed ones, Jim mused. If that was the case, it was just his luck to get lumbered with a leftie.
“Engineering to Captain Kirk,” Scotty's voice interrupted Jim's thoughts.
Kirk released Spock's hand and moved to the nearest comm pickup. “Kirk here, Scotty.”
“Captain,” said Scotty, “I'm heading up to the bridge. I think I've identified the problem with the transporter...”
“Yes,” Kirk prompted when Scotty trailed off. “And can you fix it?”
“Not sure, Captain. I could use a wee bit o' help from Mr Spock, if ye can spare him.”
“I can do better than that, Scotty.” Kirk grinned at Jim. “I can lend you two Spocks. We'll meet you on the bridge. Kirk out.”
Kirk gestured towards the door, and they all rose. As Jim passed him, Kirk lowered his voice and confided, “I'm sort of looking forward to this.”
“Hmm?” Jim glanced at Kirk as he fell into step beside him, the Spocks walking a pace behind.
“You don't want to see two Spocks working together?” said Kirk. He smiled and looked into the distance. “I hope they argue,” he added wistfully.
Jim looked over his shoulder, to where two Spocks were regarding them with evident amusement concealed in their neutral expressions.
“Wouldn't they just agree on everything?” he said.
Kirk's lips twitched. “No one finds fault in Spock as well as Spock does,” he said, somewhat cryptically in Jim's opinion.
“Can't say I've noticed that,” he replied honestly.
“Gentlemen,” the older Spock interrupted. “I feel obliged to remind you that lowering your voices is insufficient to conceal your words from Vulcan ears.”
“We know,” both Jim Kirks replied in unison. They smirked at each other.
They got into the turbolift. This, too, was different to the one he was used to; it seemed to be voice-activated, unlike their own, and Jim found it intriguing.
That was nothing, though, compared to the sight that greeted him when the doors opened. While Kirk explained who they were to the astounded crew, Jim could only stare. The bridge was laid out exactly like theirs, yet was nothing alike. There were lights everywhere, flashing in myriad colors, and the controls beeped all around them.
Jim thought it was the coolest thing he'd ever seen.
Sure, he loved the pristine bridge on his own ship, the simplistic computer interfaces and minimalist design. But one thing his Enterprise sadly lacked was buttons, things he could actually press and interact with. Jim's eyes widened. He could feel his fingers twitching with excitement.
“Fascinating,” said a voice beside his ear. Jim realized only then that his Spock had moved to stand close beside him. “It is curious that the layout is so consistent between the dimensions when the technology is so different.”
“Would it be so bad if we got stuck here?” Jim mused. At Spock's raised eyebrow, he elaborated, “Well why not? Vulcan's still there, you can see your mom, I'd get to meet my dad...”
“There is nothing to be gained by such contemplation,” Spock replied coolly. “We are required aboard our own Enterprise and are evidently superfluous here.”
With a tilt of his head, Spock indicated the other Kirk and Spock, who were on the other side of the bridge. Spock was leaning over the scanner and Kirk was standing close beside him, one hand braced against the console and the other on Spock's shoulder.
Jim felt his face flush and hurriedly looked away. He immediately wished he hadn't; everyone else on the bridge was staring at them. Uhura was trying, though failing, to be subtle. Sulu and Chekov, on the other hand, were staring unabashedly.
Jim subconsciously edged closer to Spock, until they were almost touching. He suddenly felt strangely warm, a combination of the intense scrutiny and the heretofore forbidden proximity to his first officer.
“Why do you suppose our ship ended up so different?” Jim mused, trying to distract himself.
“Unknown,” Spock responded. “I would surmise that the presence of an advanced twenty-fourth century ship in our timeline somehow altered the development of technology.”
“Huh.” So that was another thing Nero had to answer for; he'd deprived them of buttons.
The turbolift doors opened again and Scotty stepped out onto the bridge, a bemused-looking McCoy in his wake.
“Ah, Scotty.” The other Kirk stood up straight, though one hand remained on Spock's shoulder. “Care to fill us in?”
“Aye.” Scotty moved over to the science station, and Jim and his Spock followed. McCoy hovered behind them, muttering under his breath.
Scotty proceeded to babble about ion storms and transporter anomalies, but Jim found his attention drifting. He was strangely fixated by the way the other Kirk and Spock stood so close, always touching, and was suddenly hyperaware of the space between himself and his own Spock, who was standing rigidly by his side with his hands behind his back. The other Spock, by contrast, was leaning into his captain, their arms touching, and they both seemed utterly unaware of the contact. This Scotty and McCoy didn't seem to think it was odd, either; Jim could only imagine the look of terror on his McCoy's face if he and his Spock acted like that.
“That is illogical,” his Spock said, abruptly pulling Jim back into the conversation.
“Do elaborate,” the other Spock said, somewhat coolly.
“In an infinite universe, it is posited that there are infinite parallel dimensions in which every possible scenario exists.”
Yeah, including crazy ones where you're all touchy-feely, Jim thought, his eyes still on their counterparts.
“Affirmative,” said the older Spock.
“Then a significant number of these parallel dimensions bear a very close resemblance to each other. The same people, occupying the same positions on the same ship, for instance.” He looked around at the bridge to emphasize his point. “Such minor deviations would have no effect on the course of a star's lifecycle. If, as you suggest, the transporter malfunction was caused by identical solar flares in both universes at the same time, this occurrence would be so commonplace as to be a hindrance to the very operation of Starfleet.”
“Your logic is flawed,” the older Spock countered. For some reason, Jim bristled.
Kirk smiled. “Criticizing your own logic, Mr Spock?”
The older Spock's lips twitched in irritation, and Jim saw his hand reach for Kirk's. It rested there, not clasping, just with their fingers resting together, but the touch was so obviously deliberate that Jim felt himself look away, abashed.
“Do elaborate,” his Spock said.
Jim saw his hands flex behind his back, and felt the ridiculous urge to reach his hand over and mimic their other selves' gesture. He refrained by holding his own hands behind his back. Trying to distract himself as the Spocks got caught up in a heated argument, Jim looked away, and his eyes caught Kirk's, who grinned at him as if to say, What did I tell you?
Jim smiled back; he had to admit it was amusing, watching two Spocks try to out-logic each other, but he found it difficult to concentrate.
There was obviously something crazy-making in this universe, he decided. Something that made everyone act as though it was normal that the commanding officers couldn't keep their hands off each other – and one of them a Vulcan - and which was making his head swim for no reason he could fathom.
“Aye, I can about do it,” Scotty's voice pulled Jim back to the present.
“So we have a plan?” said Jim.
The older Spock looked at him with something that could only be termed a glare. His Spock moved closer to him, as though protectively, and Jim felt a frisson of heat as their arms brushed together. Spock tensed and jerked away.
“We have identified a set of conditions that can be artificially replicated,” his Spock explained hurriedly. “With some adjustment to the transporter, it is possible that we may be beamed back to our dimension. However, I estimate the probability of a successful outcome is no more than two point seven percent.”
“Your calculation is erroneous,” the other Spock countered. “The probability of success is seven point three percent.”
Jim fought not to laugh as he watched the two Spocks glare at each other, and realized that his counterpart was also stifling laughter.
“You'd better both be wrong,” McCoy said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Two of that pointy-eared hobgoblin in the same place for too long, the universe'll about implode.”
“Or you will, you mean,” Kirk remarked, evidently amused.
Jim felt no such amusement; he was dismayed that this universe's McCoy had made no more progress in getting along with Spock than had the one he knew, almost as though their friction was an inevitability. Neither Spock seemed at all perturbed by the remark, though, and that was sad in itself.
Jim realized he was leaning towards Spock again only when their arms touched and he automatically jumped away.
“It's a chance we'll have to take,” said Kirk. “How long will it take to complete the modifications to the transporter?”
“It's not a quick fix, Cap'n,” Scotty replied, shaking his head. “Even with every spare hand on the job, it'll take all night.”
“Get every spare hand working on it, then,” said Kirk.
“Aye, Cap'n.” Scotty spared one last incredulous look for the newcomers and then scurried off the bridge.
“Bones,” said Kirk. “Are you here for a reason, or just to satisfy your morbid curiosity?”
McCoy hesitated, then admitted, “I'm mostly here for the curiosity, Jim.”
Kirk gave him a wry smile, then said, “Then how about you study them over dinner, since we've got an evening to kill?”
“Captain,” the older Spock interjected. “If you recall, I was hoping to complete -”
“That can wait,” Kirk laid a hand on his shoulder, then winked at Jim. “I'm not done with my own curiosity.”
With that, he led them to the mess hall. The older Spock gave something of an indignant harrumph, but dutifully followed, falling into step alongside his captain. Jim and his Spock followed a step behind, and behind them came McCoy, who was shaking his head and muttering, “Madness.”
All the way to the mess hall, Jim found himself insanely conscious of Spock beside him, of the way he walked a half-pace behind but perfectly in step, the distance between them that was sometimes imperceptible yet always undeniably present. Whenever they passed crewmembers, they were met with unabashed stares. Kirk seemed to find it amusing to acknowledge them without attempting to explain, as though their situation was perfectly normal. Then again, perhaps it was – what was that the older Spock had said about their previous experience...?
“You said you've had experience with being switched with alternate universes,” Jim said as they took their seats in the mess hall, trying to ignore all the eyes fixed on them.
“Just the once,” said Kirk with a grin. Then he winked at Jim and added, “Spock looks good in a beard.”
“Gave him some character,” McCoy agreed.
Jim sniggered, then burst out laughing when he saw the Spocks exchange incredulous looks.
“I presume you were able to reverse the effects,” his Spock enquired.
“Affirmative,” the other Spock replied. “The cause in that instance was an ion storm occurring in both universes as the transporter was activated simultaneously in each.”
“Indeed?” his Spock inclined his head. “Factoring in that previous occurrence, I must revise my estimate of the likelihood of the scenario you suggested.”
“That your way of saying he's right?” said McCoy.
“I am merely acknowledging that he had access to information that I did not, Doctor.”
Something about the tension in Spock's voice made Jim smile fondly, but then he caught Kirk looking at the other Spock with an expression that was decidedly affectionate, and that brought him up short. He hoped to god he'd never be caught with that expression on his face.
Trying to tear his attention from Spock, Jim looked instead at McCoy. His lips were curled in a rueful smile as he looked at the other Kirk and Spock; Jim got the distinct impression he was accepting if not entirely understanding of whatever it was between the two of them.
“You know,” said Jim, “our Bones snarks at Spock too.”
“I suppose some things are just constant in any universe,” McCoy grouched.
Jim smiled at that, but suddenly he was reminded of the other, even older, Spock he'd met on Delta Vega. Some of the things he'd said about his Jim Kirk, and the way the two across the table were with each other...
Jim felt his insides tighten in a knot. It was completely and utterly absurd. And yet... Whichever universe they were in, it was undeniable that the Kirk and Spock here were close. Insanely close. Jim didn't want to think about what they may have gotten up to, but there was no denying that those were not merely friendly touches between them. And everyone else acted as though it was normal.
He rifled through his mind for the memory of Delta Vega, of a Spock who had looked at him as though he were the center of the universe, who had shared memories that had been laced with overwhelming affection for him. And then, the incontrovertible fact that that Spock had manipulated their timeline, even lied to him, in order to ensure that he and Spock ended up working together.
Surely, surely it could not be that there were two universes in which he and Spock were... together? Not only that, but these were the only other two universes with which he'd come into contact, which meant that as far as he knew, this was true of every universe.
Every one but his, anyway. And how was that for a kick to the ego; it seemed it wasn't Spock's Vulcan nature that caused him to rebuff Jim's touch after all. It was him, something about the way he'd turned out in their timeline that made him less appealing.
Jim realized he was staring at his Spock, and hurriedly looked away, hoping his despondency was not too evident.
“Is everything all right, Captain?” Spock asked in a low voice.
To his horror, Jim felt himself flush. Fortunately, though, he was spared from answering when the other Spock interjected, “Fascinating. You call him 'Captain.'”
His Spock's brow furrowed as he looked across the table. “That is his title.”
Jim swallowed nervously. He didn't want to know what the other Spock called his Jim. If he had some dreadful endearment he might finally go crazy.
“What's strange about that?” Kirk asked, echoing Jim's thoughts.
“Judging by their appearance,” Spock explained, “they are at least ten standard years younger than ourselves. We had not yet met at that age, and you were certainly not a captain.”
Kirk looked between Jim and his Spock, frowning. "Well, I suppose the other you looks a bit different, but,” he gestured towards Jim, “he looks exactly like me."
Jim smirked. He cast a quick glance sideways and saw that the two Spocks were raising their eyebrows at each other.
"Jim," said the older Spock softly, "while you remain, of course, most aesthetically pleasing, I can assure you that your appearance is of a human at least ten years older than the one sat opposite you."
Kirk's mouth fell open on an indignant sound, and he stared at Jim while touching his own face as though testing the contours. Jim wasn't paying attention, too distracted by the fact that Spock had referred to him – all right, an alternate him – as aesthetically pleasing. The older Spock was looking at Kirk now, his eyes glinting and his lips twitching in amusement.
And that, right there, was too much weirdness for one mission. There were lots of crazy things in space – some even as dangerous as McCoy claimed – and next to those, being spontaneously transported into an alternate dimension was almost routine. But the sight of Spock smiling – even if it did only really reach his eyes - was too much.
He cast a sidelong look at his Spock. His hands were firmly clasped in his lap, his lips pursed. So he saw it too.
“Indeed,” said his Spock after a long pause, “I concur with your estimate of our age differentials. However, circumstances in our timeline were such that many cadets were advanced quickly through the ranks of Starfleet due to an insufficient supply of officers.”
“How old are you?” Kirk eyed Jim nervously.
“Twenty-seven,” Jim replied with a shrug.
Kirk's eyes widened, but it was McCoy who choked on his food and said, “They made you a captain at twenty-seven?”
“Twenty-five, actually,” Jim corrected with a smirk. “We’re two years into our mission.”
“That's insane,” McCoy declared.
“While I too questioned the initial appointment,” Spock cut in, “there can be no disputing the results.”
Jim's face broke into an involuntary smile. “Thanks,” he said, placing a hand on Spock's arm before he could stop himself. Spock tensed slightly, and his eyes flickered briefly to Jim's, but this time he did not pull away.
Jim looked up, expecting to see them being watched, but the others' attentions were once again on each other. With a rueful smile, Jim carefully withdrew his hand from Spock.
Suddenly, Kirk's head snapped towards them, and he smiled in a way that was far too easygoing. “Well, long day,” he said. “Time we called it a night, don't you think?”
Though he tried not to think about it, Jim could guess why his other self was so keen to go to bed all of a sudden, and if he'd been in any doubt McCoy's heartfelt groan would have confirmed it.
“I'll get you guys set up in the guest quarters on Deck 2,” Kirk continued, but Spock's hand on his arm stopped him.
“Jim,” the other Spock said softly, “I think the guest quarters on Deck 6 would be more... comfortable.”
Kirk frowned and looked intently at Jim and his Spock, apparently scrutinizing them. “Really?”
“All right, then,” Kirk conceded warily. “Deck 6 it is.”
Jim tried to wrack his brain but couldn't recall the difference between the guest quarters; he wasn't even sure he'd ever seen them on his own Enterprise. His Spock seemed to know, though, to judge by the way his eyes widened.
Jim could feel Spock's tension as they rose from the table, sense the way he clenched his hands in that manner he did whenever he was uncomfortable. They walked close together, behind their counterparts, and Jim had to fight not to look at them, because the way they walked, with their arms and even their hands casually brushing, was so damn distracting.
He could hear his Spock's breathing. Was it always that loud, or was he suddenly weirdly tuned into it? He was sure his own breathing was heavier than usual, and he wondered if anyone else could hear the way his heartbeat was pounding in his ears.
By the time they were dropped off at their quarters, a spacious room with two bunks, Jim was holding his breath and trying to count backwards from twenty in his head. His goodnight to their counterparts consisted of only a curt nod, but they seemed too distracted to take note of his state anyway.
When the door hissed closed, leaving them alone, Jim turned to face Spock, meaning to release his discomfort with an irreverent remark (This universe is weird, or The other me's a bit of a poser isn't he?) but he was stopped short by the expression on Spock's face.
Spock's eyes were wide, and he had Jim fixed with a gaze so intense that it rooted him to the spot. Jim's breath caught in his throat as he was suddenly reminded of that power being unleashed upon him on the bridge back home. Was it anger that he saw in Spock's eyes now, he wondered? Did he feel that his dignity had been affronted by his other self's behavior? Or had he noticed Jim's inappropriate response to the situation?
Jim opened his mouth to say something, but could find no words. Inwardly cursing himself for his own cowardice, he turned away and flopped down onto a bed.
Spock remained standing; Jim could sense him, only a few feet away, and could feel the tension that radiated from him. It felt as though he was on the verge of speaking, only the words never came. The apprehension was almost unbearable. Jim lay rigidly upon the bed, eyes forcefully screwed shut while his heart hammered in his ears, until he sensed Spock move away. At last, Jim slowly exhaled.
They did not exchange a word all evening, as each prepared for sleep. Starfleet-issue pajamas were laid out for them in the adjoining bathroom, which presented Jim with something of a problem. He had seen Spock in any number of situations on away missions, whether imprisoned by or undergoing bizarre ceremonies for various alien races, yet he wasn’t sure he’d ever seen Spock dressed as casually as this. Somehow, he managed to look pristine even now, but his attire lacked the inaccessibility that held Jim’s fantasies at bay.
Shit, Jim gave an inward groan; he was fantasizing again. He thought he’d laid that ghost to rest long ago, that it had just been a phase, a few idle thoughts he’d once entertained, before he’d seen sense and realized that duty came first.
Not that there was actually any rule against fraternization, of course. Jim had always assumed it would be more frowned upon than it was, and if the reactions of others in this universe – or rather, the lack of any perceptible reaction – was any guide…
Fuck. Jim climbed into bed and lay facing away from Spock, grimacing in horror at his own mind. He could not use this universe as a guide of anything; it was only further, crushing proof that the universe he inhabited was the most hideously unfair.
The night was a restless one. Jim was all too conscious of Spock’s presence on just the other side of the cabin, and could not tear his thoughts away from the knowledge that somewhere else on this ship, another version of him lay entwined with his Vulcan lover.
Morning arrived slowly, and Jim greeted it with bleary eyes and a thundering headache. He had slept little and fitfully, not at all helped by the sound of Spock’s even breathing proving that he was the only one suffering.
Spock was already gone by the time Jim rose. He felt decidedly sullen by the time he ventured out of the cabin, and his mood was not improved by running into his counterpart. Kirk was grinning, revealing lines at the corners of his eyes. At least Jim had one thing, he supposed; he had been given his own ship earlier than this other Kirk. He tried to feel proud of that, but in truth it felt too much like an accident of circumstance to be a real accomplishment.
“The Spocks are arguing about temporal anomalies or something,” Kirk greeted him, his grin broadening. “Thought I’d leave them to it and find you.”
Jim didn’t return the smile. “Any progress on the transporter?”
“Scotty’s working on the Spocks’ adjustments now. Are you so anxious to leave?”
Yes, Jim thought, but, “’Course not,” he said aloud. “Just worried about my crew, you know?”
“Hmm.” Kirk looked concerned or puzzled, Jim couldn’t decide which. After a pause, he said, “How exactly did you become a captain so young?”
“I’m not that young,” Jim bristled. “I was one of the oldest in my class at the Academy.” To his annoyance, Kirk looked flat-out disbelieving at that. “If you want my life story,” Jim added, “the least you can do is offer breakfast.”
“Of course.” Kirk gave him a stiff smile and led him to the mess. Jim looked around for the Spocks, but they were nowhere to be seen. Probably off experimenting or something, while Jim was stuck with his pompous other self.
He was being petulant, he knew; yet coming face to face with such a perfect life that could have been his was a hard blow. This Kirk had not lost his father, had not suffered Frank or Nero, yet he had the Enterprise all the same – and had worked his way up the ranks properly, so that no one questioned it was his due. And, to top it all off, he had Spock.
Disregarding his promise of a life story, Jim ate breakfast in sullen silence, while Kirk watched him with evident curiosity. An interminable silence stretched between them, leaving Jim nothing to focus on but that the synthesized food here was even worse than in his own universe.
Eventually, it was Kirk who broke the silence. “If you don’t mind my asking,” he said, hesitant, “if you lost your father so young… What I mean is, did you ever… Did you go to Tarsus?”
Jim wracked his brain. He’d had any number of missions in the last two years, and couldn’t recall every planet’s name offhand. “Doesn’t ring any bells.”
Kirk looked strangely sad. “You’d remember if you had. It was when I – we were fourteen.”
“Oh. Then no. Didn’t go off-planet ‘til I joined Starfleet.” Kirk looked surprised at that, so Jim added, “Wasn’t keen on the space travel, what with… you know.”
Kirk nodded his understanding, but did not explain further what the significance of this planet was, so Jim dismissed it and changed the subject. “So how long have you been doing your first officer?”
Kirk looked taken aback but offered no denial. “Hard to say. A year, I suppose? It depends how you…” he shrugged.
Jim choked on his coffee. “A year?” he spluttered. That settled it; this guy might share his name and a part of his past, but they sure weren’t the same person.
“I know.” Kirk gave him a wry smile. “Doesn’t seem likely, does it? But Spock… he doesn’t do casual.”
Jim frowned. “How long was he with Uhura, here?”
“How long was he what?”
Jim was saved from having to explain when Scotty’s voice came over the intercom. “Captain Kirk to transporter room.”
Jim and Kirk exchanged a worried glance, then leapt up as one and ran to the transporter room. Jim had no idea what he was expecting to find, and his heart leapt to his throat when the doors slid open to reveal a heap of blue and black.
Jim was by his side in an instant; it was his Spock, unconscious though he had no visible injuries. “What the hell happened?” Jim demanded. “And get Bones!”
“The doctor is on his way,” the elder Spock said, eerily calm.
“I cannae say what happened,” Scotty added fretfully. “We were just testing –”
“What the -?” McCoy dashed into the transporter room, pushed Jim aside and began running his tricorder over Spock’s lifeless form. “What have I said about messing with these damn fool things?”
Bizarrely, that eased Jim’s mind somewhat; this Bones was uncomfortably similar to the one he knew, yet with none of their shared history, so it was comforting to hear something so familiar. McCoy’s frown was not comforting, though, nor the way he muttered to himself under his breath. Jim felt himself instinctively edge towards the elder Spock, but he could find no reassurance in this other, unknown Vulcan who apparently loved the more mature, successful version of him.
Suddenly feeling utterly alone, Jim could only watch, utterly helpless, as Spock was lifted onto an anti-grav gurney and led out of the transporter room.
“He’ll be fine, y’know.”
At the sound of McCoy’s gruff tone, Jim guiltily dropped Spock’s hand and fought back a blush. Bones rolled his eyes. “Don’t bother yourself over that, I’ve seen you fret over the Elf a hundred times. He does the same when you’re injured an’ all, though he thinks I don’t notice.”
“That’s the other us you’re talking about,” Jim sighed. “We’re not… like that.”
“P’raps not yet,” Bones said with a shrug.
“No,” Jim insisted. “I mean at all.”
McCoy looked unconvinced. “Y’know, I don’t rightly know how it happened with those two either, but they were a darn sight older’n you, and there were years of them dancing around it before they finally gave in.”
Jim looked at Spock’s unconscious form and wondered what it would be like to give in. In his fantasies, Spock alternated between gentle and rough, between shy and dominant. Every combination excited him, but right now he would settle for a mere game of chess.
“It doesn’t matter,” he declared, meeting McCoy’s gaze with determination. “I don’t care if it never happens in our world. He’s a good friend, and I wouldn’t trade him for anyone, even a more… cooperative version of himself.”
McCoy screwed up his face in distaste, but Jim recognized the lack of sincerity in the expression. “Y’won’t need to,” McCoy said gruffly. “He’s fine. Just a shock, and he’s doing that Vulcan repair thing.”
Jim had no idea what that Vulcan repair thing was, and wasn’t sure he wanted to. In a small voice, he asked, “How do you know?”
A smile tugged at the corners of McCoy’s mouth as he glanced up at the display above the biobed. “You’ll see,” was all he said.
Jim tried to read what McCoy was looking at, but the equipment in this universe’s Sickbay was unintelligible to him, all dials and slides. He missed the clean, intuitive displays of his Enterprise.
Just then, Spock began to stir. Jim instinctively clutched his hand, relief swelling over him, but then McCoy roughly shoved him out of the way and began to slap Spock hard across the face.
“What the hell, Bones?” Jim tried to push him away, but then a firm hand closed around his upper arm; he turned on his heel and found the elder Spock watching the scene impassively.
“Do not be concerned,” Spock assured him. “Doctor McCoy is merely returning him to consciousness.”
Jim watched, speechless, as McCoy continued to slap Spock, harder and harder, until at last the Vulcan’s hand shot up and caught McCoy’s arm mid-strike. McCoy looked up at Jim then, a broad grin across his face. “That’s my favorite part,” he said with a wink.
The look of deranged glee on McCoy’s face was so comical that Jim quite forgot himself and let out a bark of laughter, but he immediately sobered when Spock began to sit up. The hand that was not gripping McCoy’s arm reached out and grabbed the closest thing to him, which happened to be the elder Kirk’s arm. In a hoarse voice, Spock said, “Jim?”
Kirk smiled and moved closer, but Jim felt as though his blood had run cold. He watched in silence as McCoy ran his scans muttering good-natured jibes about Vulcan physiology. The whole time, Kirk held onto Spock’s hand, and Spock allowed it.
Unable to watch any more, Jim quietly slipped out of Sickbay. He was halfway back to his quarters when he heard brisk footsteps behind him. The elder Spock drew up alongside him, and for a while they walked in step, neither speaking.
As they rounded a corner, Spock led them into an empty rec room and stood, impassively, silently. Jim avoided his gaze, feeling awkwardly like an errant schoolboy. Spock had a way of doing that to him, subordinate or no.
When the tension overrode Jim’s discomfort, he looked Spock square in the eye and seethed, “It’s not enough that he’s had all the breaks and all the luck, he can just sweep in and…” He trailed off and threw his hands in the air in disgust.
Spock’s eyebrow shot up. “Fascinating,” he declared. “You are envious.”
“Yeah, fine. He’s had,” Jim waved his hand in a vague gesture to encompass the unfairness of the universe, “everything.”
“Perhaps,” said Spock in a measured tone, “it might assist you to know that he is envious of you.”
“He – what?”
“In our universe, he is the youngest captain in Starfleet history. I have attempted to highlight the illogic of resenting being usurped by himself; however…” he trailed off, a lift of his eyebrow conveying his opinion of both Kirks’ adherence to logic.
Jim knew that Spock was making a valid point, but he was too energized by his own frustration to care. “Maybe I should just leave my Spock here,” he vented.
“I doubt your Spock would agree to those terms.”
Only when Spock repeated Jim’s use of the possessive did he realize what he’d said, and in his fleeting embarrassment his anger faltered. “I am jealous,” he conceded. “Because he has you in a way that I’ll never…” he shrugged. “I’m not like him. And my Spock isn’t like you, either.”
“In many respects, no,” Spock agreed. “Yet he is not so dissimilar as you might think.”
Jim frowned, wondering if Spock could possibly be referring to… but no, that wasn’t possible. “We need to go home,” he sighed. “This place is driving me crazy. Also,” he frowned at a strange, button-covered food synthesizer set into the bulkhead, “this ship is weird. Buttons are overrated.”
Spock raised an eyebrow at the last remark but elected not to pursue the matter. All he said was, “Agreed. I believe we found the solution this morning, but our power calculation was amiss.” Spock sounded decidedly put out by that admission. Jim gave him an affectionate smile. “Nonetheless,” Spock continued, “I believe that you should be able to return in the morning.”
“That’s a relief.” Jim raked a hand through his hair and heaved a sigh. “This has been… enlightening.”
Spock inclined his head and favored Jim with a thoughtful look. “I hope that is the case,” he said, somewhat cryptically in Jim’s opinion.
Jim considered returning to Sickbay, but decided instead to wander back to their guest quarters. The moment the door opened, Jim could tell that Spock had beaten him to it; there was a dark energy in the air that he sensed even before he saw Spock in the corner of the cabin, watching him with fierce intensity.
“Hey,” Jim greeted him warily, unnerved by the discord of their temperaments. “How are you feeling?”
“Quite well.” Spock took a step towards him. “You were with him.”
“Yes,” Jim admitted. Defensively, he added, “You seemed happy with the other Kirk.”
Spock’s brow creased into a frown. “He feels…his…emotions,” he stumbled over the word, “feel almost like yours.”
Jim’s brain short-circuited as he replayed the image in his head, of Spock reaching for the other Kirk’s hand. He had always wondered, but never quite dared to ask, how much Spock could read through a touch. Perhaps, he realized, that was how they could make sense of whatever was going on here.
Suddenly seized by daring, he took a step towards Spock, and then another. Spock tensed but did not back away. Jim felt lightheaded, and his heart raced as he slowly lifted one hand. He kept a wary eye on Spock, as though expecting him to bolt at any moment, but Spock was watching his hand, riveted.
Jim waited, holding his breath, half expecting to be pushed aside. For a moment Spock was as still as a statue, but gradually he raised his hand and touched their fingers together. A shiver coursed through both their bodies, and Spock’s free hand grasped at Jim's arm, pulling him closer.
“Do I feel like him?” Jim asked, his voice hoarse.
“No,” Spock replied in barely more than a whisper. “And yet… more so than I thought possible.”
His eyes flicked to meet Jim’s, and startling passion glinted in them. Jim's free hand snaked around Spock's neck, drawing him down. The hammering in Jim's ears intensified, but he paused, his lips mere fractions of an inch from Spock's. His eyes closed, and for a moment he just breathed in Spock's scent, relishing the precarious balance.
"Do you…?" he murmured.
Spock's eyes fluttered closed and he took a deep breath before he whispered, "Yes," the word a mere ghost of air over Jim's lips.
Jim shuddered, and then he let himself fall into Spock. Their lips met gently at first, testing, but then they became fierce and demanding, crushing together and then parting as tongues met. Jim's head swam, heat coursed through his veins and his fingers tangled in Spock's hair.
"Whoa," Jim broke off the kiss abruptly, panting.
"You wish to desist?"
A barking, disbelieving laugh escaped from Jim then, because Spock had no right sounding so calm and collected when Jim could barely see straight, and because at that moment he felt he'd rather die than stop. "Hell no," he said.
And then that Vulcan power was unleashed. With one hand, Spock lifted him and all but threw him against the bulkhead. Jim gasped in momentary pain, but then Spock was pressing against him and he groaned in pleasure. He hooked a leg around Spock's waist, drawing him closer, and gasped into a ferocious kiss. All the while, Spock moved his fingers against Jim's, which was odd but Jim supposed it must be a Vulcan thing and let him have at it, because anything that turned his cool, composed first officer into this raging inferno was quite all right by him.
Spock's mouth drew away, his lips tracing Jim's jaw and then his neck. Jim groaned and threw his head back, exposing his throat and gasping when he felt teeth at his collarbone. He was rocking his hips, his free hand grabbing at Spock's shirt as he murmured incoherent sounds of encouragement.
"You are quite vocal," Spock observed.
Jim could only manage a strangled sound in response. Spock raised their joined hands then, and pressed his lips to the back of Jim's hand. Jim just watched, a little dazed, as Spock's tongue sneaked out and ran along the same fingers he had been caressing. Jim jerked, surprised by the intensity of the sensation. Then that tongue probed between his fingers, exploring every crease of his hand, circling each of his fingertips. Jim brought Spock's hand to his mouth and tried to reciprocate, only foggily understanding now something about Vulcan hands.
It was strange, though; his own hands were no more erogenous zones than those of any other human, yet something about Spock's tongue set every one of his nerves alight. He could feel every motion as a lance of heat all the way up his arm. He shuddered with every swipe over his palm, moaned when each of his fingers was drawn into a hot mouth. When teeth grazed his fingertips, a shudder wracked his body and he grasped blindly at Spock's shirt, pulling him up hard against him.
He heard a sound from Spock's throat that was almost a feral growl, then he felt teeth nip at his jaw and then close on his earlobe. Jim gasped and jerked against him. Spock made a satisfied sound and bit down again, then laved the area with his tongue. Jim grabbed Spock's hips with both hands and slammed them against his, writhing as he sought friction.
Spock's tongue traced the outline of his ear, lingering on the rounded shape that was foreign to him, and then teased with his teeth again. Jim squirmed, desperate for more contact, and forced his hand in between them, fumbling with the fastening of Spock's pants. He shoved them roughly down over Spock's hips, then the underwear after them, then he grabbed at Spock's ass and pulled it toward him.
Spock let out a faint moan against his ear, and that slight, breathy sound was possibly the hottest thing Jim had ever heard. He turned his head and captured Spock's lips, then reached down and unfastened his own pants. His hand grazed Spock's erection as he did so, eliciting a shudder.
He felt Spock's hand cover his, and together they pulled him out of his pants. A shiver tore up Jim's spine, then both of their hands gathered their erections together and squeezed. Jim felt his knees buckle, and his free hand wrapped around Spock for support. Spock's arm slid around his waist, then lower, and then Jim felt himself being hoisted up against the wall. He wrapped his legs around Spock's waist and gasped, "Spock."
Spock broke off the kiss to raise an eyebrow in question. Jim clenched his legs around Spock's waist and leaned forward to reclaim Spock's mouth, panting, "Don't stop."
Spock kissed him back, forceful and demanding, and wrapped long fingers around them both.
It was rough, lacking in any real rhythm or finesse. Their hands moved out of sync, alternately moving, pulling and squeezing. Their hips thrust into their joined hands, becoming more and more urgent. Spock was hot everywhere Jim touched, the power of the grip against him intoxicating, the force of it driving him out of his mind. He burned, his body thrumming with pleasure, his head pounding.
Then Spock's hand withdrew. Jim broke off the kiss to groan his protest, but then Spock pressed against him hard along the entire length of their bodies, and Jim's groan came out as, "Yes."
With one hand still holding Jim up, Spock used his other to reclaim Jim's hand in that Vulcan gesture. Spock dropped his head against Jim's shoulder, panting, murmurs of "Jim" muffled against his shirt.
Jim bucked his hips forcefully, and the friction was a burn that surged through his body. His head fell back against the wall, his hand tangled in Spock's hair, then grasped at his shirt, then slipped underneath to grapple at the smooth skin of his back. As Jim dug his fingers into Spock's back, Spock lifted his head to kiss him, hard, then dropped his hand and placed his fingers on Jim's face.
Spock murmured something into the kiss, perhaps a question, and Jim frantically said, “Do it.”
Spock flooded into his mind, all raging fire and wild passion. Jim was overwhelmed with sensation; he was being pressed against the bulkhead but was also pressing another against it, and he could no longer tell Spock's pleasure from his own. He rocked his hips and spikes shot up his spine, he scraped nails across Spock's back and felt the tingling burn himself.
Then he gasped and pulled back from the kiss, pressed their foreheads together and held Spock close in his mind as their bodies shuddered to mutual completion.
For a moment they just stayed like that, breathing heavily and sharing the wonder in their joined minds as their skin prickled with lingering heat. Then, gradually, he felt Spock withdraw from his head, and he sagged against the wall. He unwrapped his legs from Spock's waist, wincing as the bloodflow returned to them, and Spock gently lowered him back to the ground and took a small step back.
Jim's mouth moved silently as he sought something to say. In the end, all that came out was, “Well.”
Spock's neutral demeanor was belied by the swollen lips, tousled hair and rumpled clothing. Jim let out a breathy chuckle. “God, you look good when you're debauched.”
That earned him the eyebrow, and Jim was intensely, almost painfully glad that he'd landed the one with the left eyebrow.
Somehow they staggered over to one of the beds, Jim leaving a trail of clothing while Spock collected his together into a neat pile. They collapsed onto the bed in a tangle of limbs, and Jim was drifting off to sleep before he could insist to himself that this absolutely did not count as snuggling.
When dawn broke – at least, the false dawn of a ship in deep space – they were met at the door by their alternate selves.
“Good news,” Kirk greeted them, “Scotty reckons the transporter's ready to go.”
“Excellent,” said Jim, tugging his shirt over his head. Beside him, Spock looked immaculate, of course, but Jim had made no effort to hide his disheveled appearance or the new bruises that were forming on his neck and wrists.
Kirk evidently took in his appearance, because his eyes darted over to the bunks, one of which had clearly not been slept in. His face broke into a beaming grin. “See,” he nudged the older Spock. “Told you we should have put them on Deck 2.”
Jim decided then and there to check, once they got home, whether there were double bunks on Deck 2, and if so, whether he could have one relocated.
The older Spock looked confused. He regarded them both thoughtfully as they made their way to the transporter room, and only when they were about to step onto the transporter pad did he say, “I would surmise this is a new development.”
“Yeah,” Jim grinned and moved his fingers against Spock's with a wink at the elder Spock. “Turns out we just needed a nudge.”
“I do not know what you are referring to,” the elder Spock said in a perfect impression of innocence.
Jim turned a wicked grin on Kirk. “You should've told me he was that good.” He felt Spock's fingers go still under his.
“It's fun finding out, isn't it?” Kirk replied. Both Spocks tensed at that and turned disbelieving gazes on him.
“Hell yeah,” said Jim, enjoying this far too much. “Hey, does yours do that thing with his tongue?”
“Jim!” his Spock barked, suddenly grabbing his arm and pulling him towards the transporter pad.
Jim held up his hands and assumed his most innocent expression. “You sure you want to try this again?” he said to his Spock.
Spock assumed his position on the transporter pad and gave him a stern look. “I believe an expedited departure would be in everyone’s best interests at this juncture.”
Jim shrugged. “Don’t know what you mean; I think it’s been quite a successful mission.”
Jim saw their counterparts exchange a glance, while Scotty glared at them all in confusion.
“Are ye ready?” Scotty called.
Jim nodded. “Energize.”
As the haze of the transporter beam enveloped him, Jim distinctly saw Kirk giving him the thumbs up.
The figures before them flickered and faded, blending back into the familiar gleaming white of their transporter room. Jim stepped cautiously down from the pad, inspecting his surroundings. It certainly looked the same, but he wasn't ready to be sure.
“I'm not sure what happened there,” Scotty muttered, fiddling with the controls.
“Scotty,” Jim interrupted, “what do you most want to know about the future?”
Scotty looked at him as though he had grown a second head. “What?”
“Just answer. I'm making sure it's you.”
Scotty grinned, though he still looked wary. “Aye. That'd be the sandwiches then. Ye'll never let me forget that, will ye sir?”
“Nope,” Jim replied happily. “So how long were we gone?”
“Just a wee second,” Scotty replied. “Ye flickered out, then back in, and that was that. I'll have to check the circuits.”
“Not to worry,” Jim said breezily, hopping down from the pad. “See if you can get it fixed, we're in no hurry. Mr Spock, perhaps we should look over those mission reports in my quarters?”
Spock took a step towards him, the heat returning to his eyes, but he kept his voice entirely neutral as he said, “Very well, Captain.”