I have forgotten your face, I no longer
Remember your hands; how did your lips
Feel on mine?
Love, Pablo Neruda
New ShiKahr, New Vulcan
It had been years since Spock woke from a nightmare. He jerked upright in bed, his hands trembling. He clutched at the sheets. The dream had not consisted of images, merely a feeling: a flare of intense, white-hot pain deep in his brain. It burned, but then the burn receded, and what remained was warm, familiar, and safe. It had terrified him.
Outside, the wind blew steadily, and he could hear the sand brushing up against the exterior walls. He was safely on New Vulcan, in his newly constructed dwelling, and he should be asleep. Once, he would have chastised himself for lack of emotional control, becoming excited over a dream, but in his older age he had learned to, as Jim would have said, give himself a break.
He felt for the pendant on his bedside table, holding it to his chest, aware his action was human in nature. He did not care. There was no one to observe him, and if Jim were here, he would not mind Spock reaching for him. He settled back against his pillow and began to recite a Terran poem he had long ago memorized, hoping it would slow the quickness of his heart.
It failed, and he soon rose from bed, laying the pendant back in its resting place, and went into the kitchen to prepare tea. There was no logic in lying awake when he could do something productive, he told himself. The sun would be up soon; he might as well set to work.
He took a mug from the cabinet and retrieved the canister of loose-leaf tea. He missed the blue-glazed mugs he had once owned. Though Spock knew it could not be true, Jim had always said the tea tasted better in them. Spock had appreciated their artistry and color: a deep blue, blue like the eyes of another Jim Kirk. He put a kettle of water to boil and turned on the flame. He could have used the replicator, but some tasks he appreciated for their calming routine.
He turned to the window, gazing up at the stars, which were bright over his garden wall. Their positions were not as they had been on Vulcan; the constellations were unfamiliar, as the Jim of this universe had noted when he visited the colony. They had yet to assign new names, still too fresh from the loss of Vulcan to spend time on such idle acts. New ShiKahr was mid-construction, with the most resources being allocated to the New Vulcan Science Academy. Spock was tasked with recalling what he could from his timeline, which given his eidetic memory was a great deal. Though providing his future knowledge to a culture one hundred and thirty years in his past, he was keenly aware that much which Vulcan would have provided in terms of scientific discovery would never come to be. It was his duty, he told himself, to preserve what he could of his culture.
He lost himself in his thoughts, roused from them by the hiss of the kettle, which he removed from the heat. He extinguished the flame and poured the hot water onto the leaves to steep, taking the mug with him to his makeshift office in what should have been the dining room.
His comm blinked with an unread message on the table beside a stack of PADDs. Opening it, he smiled at the sight of Jim's name, touching the screen fondly. For some reason, he recalled the dream, replayed the sensation of the pain followed by a soothing presence. It could not be; still, Spock could not help but recall standing palm to palm with his own Jim on the hot sands of Vulcan.
He shook off the feeling, tapping the screen to retrieve Jim's message. It was a note asking Spock to call.
>> haven't heard from you in a while. let's catch up
Now was as good a time as any, he reasoned. It was early evening on the Enterprise. Jim opened the connection almost instantly, grinning at him widely.
"Hey, you," he said. "You've been avoiding me."
"Hardly," Spock replied.
"It's late for you to call. What's up?"
"I received your message," Spock said. He paused, again recalling the pain in his head, the sensation of warmth. He had kept that part of him carefully shielded, but could it be that his younger self and Jim had finally bonded?
"Are you well?" Spock asked.
"I'm great. Love this deep-space-voyage stuff." Jim's voice was low. He motioned over his shoulder with a thumb. "You're meditating," he added
"I see," Spock said. "I trust everything is advancing satisfactorily?"
"If you mean did you finally pull your head out of your ass and agree we're awesome together, then yeah. Definitely satisfactory."
"I am pleased." Spock heard the tremor in his own voice, saw the barest wince on Jim's face. Jim leaned toward the screen and brought his hands up to rest on the desk in front of him.
"You know you mean the world to me," Jim whispered earnestly. "If there were any way..."
"I know," Spock said. "I am...happy for you."
"I don't suppose you guys perfected cloning at the VSA," Jim said with a laugh, swiping at his eyes.
"We did not," Spock murmured and looked at him with a mixture of resignation and longing.
Jim leaned a hip against the counter and popped open the beer with his left hand, drinking half the can in just three sips. He sighed in satisfaction, pressing his lips together to blot away the excess moisture, and took a deep breath.
It was good to be home, surrounded by the comforting and familiar smells of the farm: freshly cut grass, the cloying sweetness of damp hay, the earthy odor of manure. He'd been...somewhere, though he couldn't place where or for how long. He only knew he'd been away, and that he was glad to be back. He had no idea what time it was, had woken on the plaid sofa only minutes before and shuffled to the refrigerator. A beer seemed appropriate. He drank the last of it and set the can beside the sink; he'd take it outside with the rest of the trash later.
The farmhouse was quiet except for the humming of the refrigerator and the dull ticking of the old-fashioned grandfather clock in his den. Concentrating, he discerned a horse's snort in the distance, the cackling of crows. Glancing out the window, he took in the pink and purple-streaked sky visible through the spindly tree branches that arched over the house. He estimated that he had a good half hour of daylight left, and from the looks of things, it was well into fall. He rubbed his arms without thinking, aware of a chill in the air, and scanned the room for his boots.
Tugging them on proved a challenge. He hopped on one foot unsuccessfully, then leaned heavily against the wall, finally resigning himself to pulling up a chair from the modest kitchen table. He leaned over his stomach to finish tying his boots. He clapped a hand to his gut—perhaps he would switch to light beer—and tried to recall the last time he'd eaten. He didn't feel particularly hungry or thirsty; in fact, he felt fine, just a little cold. Taking the jacket which hung on a peg beside the door, he slipped his arms into it, buttoned it to his throat, and went outside.
The coldness of the air hit him first, chilling his nose and cheeks and the front of his thighs even through his jeans. He inhaled, his nose prickling, and he ducked back inside for a pair of gloves. Ax in hand, he approached the wood pile a few paces out the back door and rolled his shoulders in anticipation. Chopping wood was such a primitive activity; the home had a central computer which controlled its environment. A simple voice command would be enough to raise the temperature to a more comfortable level, but Jim had always liked the crackle and hiss of a roaring fire while he stretched out with a book. He swung the ax overhead, satisfied when it struck the sweet spot, and the log fell into perfect halves.
"Excellent swing," a voice called: not one he recognized, but strong and somewhat amused. He turned his head to see a strange man approach him. He was human, or appeared to be, with serious eyes, a slightly sour mouth, and a tall forehead. The man wore jeans and a brown work jacket and continued to walk toward him. Frowning, Jim set down the ax and brushed his hands on his thighs, pulling off a glove and extending a hand.
"Jim Kirk," he said.
"I know who you are, Captain," the man said, shaking Jim's hand with a strong grip.
"Well, that makes one of us," Jim returned, stepping back.
"Ah," the man said. "We've never been introduced, but you've met an acquaintance of mine. It was many years ago."
"Oh?" Jim asked. "Was he a member of Starfleet?"
"No," the man replied, folding his arms over his chest. "You were a guest of his, you and several members of your crew."
"I'm sorry," Jim said, "but you'll have to be more specific. We visited a lot of worlds, over the years."
"Of course," the man said, inhaling deeply and tilting his face toward the sky. "Do you recall Gothos, Captain?"
Jim started, his eyes narrowing in disbelief. It was several seconds before he spoke. "Trelane?"
"Was a pupil of mine," the man said. "I thought you might recall him."
"So you're..." Jim waved his hand in the air. "One of them," he finished.
"I am called Q," the man continued. He motioned with two fingers, and at Jim's side appeared a stack of chopped wood. He stared at it mutely. "It's a bit brisk for stargazing, don't you agree?"
"Yes," he said lamely, transferring several pieces onto his sling and lifting it with one arm. His shoulder strained; damn, he hated getting older. Q maintained his distance, looking down at Jim with a curious expression.
"Should we continue this conversation inside?"
"Tell me, James—may I call you James?"
"What do you remember about your life before this point?"
Q was seated beside the fire, which Jim poked with a metal rod to encourage it to burn hotter. The logs glowed orange on their undersides in a scale-like pattern, smoke rising from where the wood was still damp. With each snap came a shower of sparks. Setting down the poker, Jim adjusted the screen in front of the hearth to contain them and took the chair opposite Q.
"I can't seem to remember anything before this evening," Jim answered after a minute. His eyes flickered to where Q was sitting, watching him with his fingers steepled and pressed to his lips. "Is this your doing?"
"In a manner of speaking," Q said. "Do you know where you are?"
"Of course I know where I am," Jim answered snappishly. "I'm at home. This is my house."
"And how long have you lived here?"
"Years," Jim said automatically. "Ever since..."
"Ever since I retired," he guessed.
"Does the name Soran hold any significance for you?"
Jim shook his head. "Should it?" he asked.
Q lowered his hands to his lap and looked out the darkened window. "When I was quite young," he began, clearing his throat. "I was undisciplined. I hadn't yet learned to channel my aggression. You're obviously familiar with my species when we are young, our lack of maturity."
Jim hummed his agreement, recalling Trelane seated at the harpsichord in his blue velvet jacket.
"As a result of my deficiencies," Q went on, "I caused a ripple, what you might call a temporal rift."
"A temporal rift?" Jim repeated.
"You mean, a disruption in space and time?"
"I do," Q replied. He turned back to face Jim, his face sober. "James, who is Spock?"
Jim blinked rapidly, chewing the inside of his lip. "Mr. Spock was my first officer and chief science officer on board the Enterprise," he said.
"And...he was a good friend," Jim concluded. "We served together for many years."
Q nodded slowly, bringing his hands back to his mouth. "And where is he?"
"He's...probably on Vulcan," Jim answered. The answer didn't feel right somehow. No, Spock shouldn't be on Vulcan. Spock was...Spock was an ambassador now. He travelled; he was almost certainly on a transport ship. Jim knew, because Spock always contacted him when he was traveling, to let Jim know when he would be home. Jim glanced to his right, expecting to see an empty chair which wasn't there.
"Captain?" Q prompted.
"I…" Jim began, curling his fingers into a fist and pressing it against his mouth. Why wasn't there a chair beside his? Spock always liked to sit with him in the evenings in front of the fire, meditating while Jim read. That's what he always did in their apartment in San Francisco. Jim gasped into his fist, his eyes watering, his hand beginning to tremble as the memories leached into him.
Spock. Where was Spock? Why wasn't he here? Had something happened to him? Jim combed his mind for anything, a sliver of information, but there was nothing.
"What did you do to him?" Jim asked, fixing his glare on Q, who sat forward in his chair.
"What did you do?" Q asked.
"What do you mean, what did I…" Jim began, racking his brain. He unfurled his fist and pressed his fingertips to his left temple. Oh god, he couldn't feel him. He couldn't feel Spock. From his throat came a choked sound, which he covered with a cough, standing abruptly and moving to the fireplace. He rested a hand on the mantle and took several deep breaths to steady himself.
Did we...do it? Did we make a difference?
He felt the weight of the bridge on his chest, the rough, cold metal under his hands, and recalled Picard's words.
"How?" he asked, whipping around to face Q, who stood only feet from him. "I was dead."
"Well," Q said with a graceful rise and fall of his shoulders. "I didn't care for that ending."
"You didn't...care for that ending?" Jim repeated.
"It was unnecessary," Q said. "And it frustrated someone close to me. You're dead as far as they're concerned, anyway."
"So I'm back here?" Jim asked.
"You've always been here," Q answered. "A copy of you never left. A copy of you will never leave, even if you choose to exit the Nexus. You've already left it once. If you want to leave again, I can drop you at the location of your choice."
"I wasn't born yesterday," Jim snapped.
"Nor was I," Q said with a laugh.
Jim frowned and crossed to the window, then paced back to the fireplace, finally falling back into the chair. He hung his head and caught it in his hands. Was he really being offered a second chance at life? He'd been here for so long, nearly half a lifetime, and it had preserved him. Could this be a part of the illusion?
"If you're truly offering," he said carefully, "then put me back where I belong, when I first fell in."
"You'd only fall back into the Nexus," Q explained.
Jim sighed. "What are my options?"
"The Nexus only comes into contact with your galaxy every 39 standard years. You fell in at 2293. You can do math as well as I. If you want to return during your lifetime, I'll let you return to 2254."
"But I wasn't even in the Nexus then!" Jim exclaimed. "Don't I have to go forward?"
"You humans have such a limited concept of time and space," Q said with a shake of his head. "We're outside of time here. You have only to turn this way or that, and you can exit at any point in the past or future where the rift connects."
"If I could have left at any time," Jim said, "why was I stuck in here so long before?"
Q shrugged. "You didn't realize that it was an illusion," he said.
"And now? I didn't know it was an illusion until you showed up."
"Perhaps I'm a romantic."
Jim pondered this, covering his mouth with both hands and inhaling. His palms smelled like the leather from the gloves, of coffee grounds, of Earth.
"I was barely 21 years old in '54," he said quietly. "Can you...are you able to tell me if certain people are still alive in the future, if I choose to exit there instead?"
"Able?" Q said with a sardonic laugh. "Yes. But the real question is whether I will, and the answer is no."
"I don't want to go forward only to find I'm alone," Jim said, not allowing himself to consider the possibility that Spock might not be alive.
"If I might make a suggestion," Q said, "I think you'll be rather pleased with the year I'm suggesting. Of course, there may be a bit of a wait before the surprise I have in mind presents itself, but I can assure you, you'll be satisfied."
Jim narrowed his eyes. Q raised both hands, holding them upright so his thumbs touched. He swiped them outwards, as if he were opening a door, and in front of them swirled to life images of Earth, of space. Some, Jim recognized—mere flashes, concepts. One grew closer, an image of a farmhouse in rural Iowa, miles of cornfields surrounding it. He reached out a hand, surprised to feel suction, as if the image intended to pull him within it.
"You're welcome to stay here," Q offered at Jim's hesitation.
"No," Jim said emphatically, unable to remove his eyes from the sight before him. He reached out again, brushing it with the tips of his fingers. "I...I'd like to go back."
"Mind you, you did take a serious fall. You'll have internal injuries, probably do some hospital time."
Jim took a step toward the vortex of light, toward its center, which was unmoving and illuminated. It pulled at his very soul.
"Why would you do this?" he murmured as the room around him dimmed and he began to break apart.
"Because I can," came the answer, floating to him from somewhere far away.
Iowa City, Iowa
The overhead lights stabbed Jim's eyes as soon as he opened them, and he groaned against the sharp pain which shot through his head. It was consuming, a throbbing ache deep within his brain where he couldn't reach it. He pressed a hand to his forehead and pushed, but it did nothing to alleviate the sensation of loss.
"My head," he moaned. A nurse came to his bedside and spoke quietly to the computer. There was a clicking sound, the whoosh of something being released, and in a matter of seconds the discomfort in his eyes began to fade.
"Better?" the nurse asked, his mouth covered by a mask. Jim did not recognize the voice, but there was something familiar in his eyes.
"Do I know you?" Jim asked groggily. The nurse winked at him.
"Where am I?"
"Iowa," the nurse replied.
"What's wrong...with me?" Jim asked.
"Your bond is broken," the nurse explained, "but I can help with that." He snapped his fingers, and the pain flickered and went out.
"Broken?" Jim said, bringing a hand to his temple. His movements were slow, as if suspended in water. "It doesn't hurt any longer."
"Are you...a Vulcan?" Jim asked. The nurse shook his head.
"No, but I'm able to create mental shields all the same. You have only to think of the shield dropping," the nurse said, "and it will dissolve, though I urge you to leave it in place for now."
"Okay," Jim agreed, settling back against the pillow. He was too tired to argue. Nothing felt quite real.
"You'll find what you need in this bag next to the bed."
"What I need?"
"Your identification," the nurse replied. "Credit chip."
"I...thank you." Jim tried to sit up and groaned when his muscles refused to cooperate. The stiffness in his neck hit him then, as though both sides were locked tight. "What happened to me?"
"You had a small accident," the nurse said, "but don't worry. You'll live."
Jim tried and failed to nod.
"Get some rest," the nurse told him. Jim blinked, and he was gone.
As the days passed, Jim began to feel more like himself, despite the tasteless hospital food. He was up and out of bed inside a week, pacing the room. Whoever the nurse had been, he didn't return. Must have been a part-timer, Jim mused. He rifled through his possessions, carefully tucked on the chair next to the bed, just as the nurse had informed him they would be. He pulled out the ID chip and studied it.
The information was correct except for his birth year, which read 2194. He scowled, running a thumb over it. It must be malfunctioning again, like the time a glitch in the ID system had altered his name to Jane for a week. Even Spock had been amused.
The nurse had said his bond was broken. Did that mean—
He scrambled through his bag for a comm device and was surprised when his hand closed around a thick, heavy piece of technology.
"What the hell?" he muttered, taking it out. It was even older than the tech they'd had on the Enterprise, probably not even capable of interplanetary calls. What in blazes happened to the new model Scotty had coerced him into carrying? He flipped it open and ordered it to connect with Spock's ID, frowning when it did not respond. On a whim, he touched a finger to the screen and it reacted. How old is this thing? he wondered. He hadn't owned a touchscreen comm since he was a boy.
The list of contacts contained only two entries: a cab company Jim recognized as the one he often used to travel between Riverside and the Iowa City spaceport, and the Motel Nacelle. He grimaced at the recollection of old-fashioned neon lights and space-themed interiors. Well, that settled it. This obviously wasn't his comm device. He'd never had occasion to contact that motel a day in his life. He had decided to ring for an orderly when he noted an icon in the upper left corner, which appeared to indicate a message. He tapped it and gaped at what it said.
Motel reservation for Jim Kirk confirmed for January 6, 2254.
Burying the comm in his bag, he turned his back to it as the panic rose in his chest. He turned to his Starfleet training and tried to focus on the task at hand, briefing himself on just what he knew:
- He was in the hospital and had sustained injuries, though he had no recollection of an accident.
- His birth year displayed as 2194.
- It was 2254.
- His bond was broken, which meant Spock was either—
No, he wouldn't think about that right now.
Pushing the last thought aside, Jim went into the adjoining bath and showered, then changed into the stack of clothes which had been left for him. After some back and forth with the physician on duty, he signed his own release and stood just inside the lobby to keep warm, awaiting the cab.
It arrived promptly, an automated model. Jim climbed inside and spoke to the console. "The Motel Nacelle," he said. He thought better of it. "Actually, take me to the Shipyard Bar in Riverside."
"Destination: Shipyard Bar, Riverside Iowa. Approximate transit time fourteen minutes. Please insert your credit chip."
"Fine," Jim said and did, resting his head back against the seat as the aircar lifted a few feet off of the ground and began to glide toward his destination.
He had always liked Iowa in the winter, the desolate stretches of farmland which spoke of summers to come. It was only with the loss of color, the sense of isolation, that summertime held so much draw. The fields lay resting underneath a light dusting of snow as the aircar sped past. Jim touched his fingers to the glass, wondering how many times in his life he had been on this road, looking out at these same fields.
There were few aircars parked outside the Shipyard Bar, and being no later than noon, its outdoor sign wasn't on. Still, the jolt of recognition shot through him, and he smiled faintly at the sight. He'd eaten here once or twice when he'd been home to visit his mother, or when he'd been requested to show his stripes at the Riverside Shipyard. His presence seemed to magically hasten construction. The bar was a dive, but he recalled the food being passable and the beer cold. Anything was preferable to the nutritional nonsense he'd been given at the hospital. No doubt Bones would have approved of it; he could already feel he was down a pound or two.
The door opened and closed with a creak of hinges, and Jim settled himself at the bar, resting his forearms on its edge and taking up a menu. He perused it, settling on an old favorite: a cheeseburger with all the toppings, and was scanning the drink list when the bartender approached.
"Hey, man," he said. "What can I get you?"
Jim looked up to reply, but the words died in his throat. There, gazing back at him from across the bar, stood a very young version of himself. Yes, it had to be him. He recognized his own face. He was early twenties, perhaps? Yes, he must be. The young man stared back at Jim with an expectant look, raising both eyebrows. What was going on? Jim had never worked at the Shipyard. By the time he was this age, he was already enrolled in Starfleet Academy. Where was he?
"You okay?" the bartender—Jim—asked, taking up a cloth and wiping the bar in front of him. He balled it up and left it beside his hand.
"Fine," Jim said quickly. "Just tired. I'll have the Shipyard burger with everything and a Bud classic."
"A man after my own heart..." He grinned as he punched in the order. "...though I can't have raw tomatoes."
"No?" Jim asked, leaning on his left elbow.
"Allergies," the younger Jim replied, bending to take a beer from the cooler. He removed the cap and set it in front of Jim on an animated coaster. "You name it, and I'll probably go into shock just looking at it. Thank god I can have beef and beer, though."
That wasn't right. Jim wasn't allergic to anything! Certainly, there had been a few times where alien cuisine didn't sit right in his stomach, and Bones had given him a remedy for the upset. But Jim fondly recalled slicing fresh tomatoes his mother had grown and eating them on the front porch. Was it possible that this was all an illusion?
"That's...a shame," Jim told his younger self, taking a sip of his beer. He swallowed and cleared his throat. "It's been a few years since I've been out this way. Do you know anything about what's being built at the shipyard?"
"Yeah." Taking up the towel again, Jim cleaned the length of the bar as he chatted. "I've got a couple friends who work at the yard. There's nothing going on right now, but rumor is we might be getting Starfleet's new flagship. All the latest tech, sick warp core."
"How come you aren't in Starfleet?" Jim asked. "You look to be the right age."
"Yeah, well," the younger Jim replied, his hand stilling. "It's not for me."
"No," Jim said quickly, though there was a lump forming in his throat. "No, I guess it's not for everyone."
"Both my parents were officers, though," the younger Jim continued. "The shipyard's actually named after my dad, as a memorial."
"A memorial?" Jim shivered at the word.
"Sorry," the younger Jim said, raking a hand through his hair. "Most people who come in here already know. George Kirk was my father."
Jim's breath caught. Was? He pursed his lips to cover his shock.
"I'm so sorry," he offered.
"It's okay. I don't remember it."
Jim watched his younger self shrug and take out a beer for himself, glancing over his shoulder to the kitchen before popping it open. Curious, Jim raised an eyebrow at him.
"Lew doesn't care if I drink as long as there's no fighting on my shift. And since it's noon, and you and I don't seem close to blows, I figure I'm in the clear." He winked and took a swig. "Anyway, my mom still wrenches. I haven't seen her in fourteen months. She's on some two-year mission right now."
Jim tried and failed to imagine his mother covered in grease.
"I see," he said.
"Let me check on your food."
Watching his younger self retreat, Jim raised a hand to cover his mouth, hearing his exhale loud against his palm. Where the hell was he? This was his past, that much was certain, but it was so altered—his father, dead? His mother an engineer? He was too scared to ask about Sam. So this was...an alternate universe? Jim recalled the ion storm which had landed him on the ISS Enterprise. He bristled at the memory of the agony booth. His younger self returned with his lunch, sliding the plate across the bar to him.
"Thank you," Jim said, looking up. That's when he noticed the eyes staring back at him were blue.
His throat tightened, and he sunk his teeth into the burger.
Two hours later, Jim checked into the motel and stretched out on the mediocre mattress, feeling his back relax and crack. Oh, he needed one of Spock's massages. He closed his eyes and imagined Spock's hands on him, kneading the soreness from his lower back and shoulders. It occurred to him that with his younger self not being a member of Starfleet, he would never meet Spock, and they would never...
The thought was too horrible to continue. He freshened up and moseyed to the motel's front desk to inquire about computer access. The receptionist directed him to a small room just off the lobby, where he sat at a console and spoke to an older computer.
"Bring up all history on George Samuel Kirk," he said.
An hour later, he dried his eyes, unable to read another news release about his father's heroic sacrifice. It occurred to him to search for information on Spock. If his own life was so altered, perhaps Spock's had been as well. He was relieved when a photograph of Spock in his mid-twenties appeared on the screen, young and painfully beautiful. He had to cover his mouth to stifle the happy gasp that escaped. Lt. Commander Spock, he read in an official Starfleet press release, had recently graduated from Starfleet Academy and would serve under Captain Christopher Pike on a one-year mission. Another search revealed that Leonard H. McCoy held an active medical license in the state of Georgia. Satisfied, he stood and returned to his room.
Jim spent the remainder of the day wandering around Riverside, bundled up in a thick coat and scarf, ducking into a favorite antiques store. Perusing the selection of classic books, he settled upon a title he'd owned long ago. He brought the book to the counter and inquired about its price; it was more than he wished to spend, so he haggled a little. The shopkeeper came down ten percent, so Jim agreed and watched her wrap the book in parchment.
That night, he ordered room service and read for a few hours, until he started to nod off. Though the tub was too small, he enjoyed a soak and went to bed at a reasonable time, awaking when the sun filtered through the curtains and cast a dancing pattern across his face.
"Alright, alright," he said to the window. "I'm up."
When he stopped by the Shipyard for lunch, Jim wasn't working. He ordered the same as the day before and stayed for an hour, chatting with the bartender. Lew, as it turned out, was the owner, and he was only too happy to talk about his employee.
"Kid pours a good drink," he said, hooking his thumbs in his belt loops, "but he can do better than this place."
"Are there a lot of opportunities here?" Jim asked, though he knew the answer. Lew shook his head.
"Besides the 'fleet, your options are farming and hospitality. We've got a nice little tourism business because of the shipyard, but it lulls between crafts. A couple years ago, I damned near had to shut down."
Jim was working the following afternoon when Jim came in for an early dinner. His younger self was chatting with a few other patrons who sat at the bar, so Jim took a booth and pulled out the inexpensive PADD he'd picked up yesterday. He waited for it to connect and was skimming through the local help-wanted section when footsteps approached his table.
"Jim," his younger self said with a shit-eating grin.
"Jim," Jim replied, pushing the PADD aside.
"Whiskey on the rocks."
"I shouldn't eat any more burgers this week," Jim mused. "What do you recommend?"
"The pulled pork's great," Jim said.
"I'll have that."
"One pulled pork, one whiskey on the rocks, coming up."
Jim murmured his thanks and turned his eyes back to the PADD. He brought up the real estate section, looking over Riverside's meagre offerings. For fun, he punched up real estate in Colorado, where he and Spock had always talked of getting a place. He scrolled through the typical three-bedroom, two-bath ranch houses and a few oversized luxury homes before he came to it: a two-bedroom, one-bath cabin set in a one-acre wooded lot. It had old-fashioned plumbing and lacked a central computer, which explained the low price. Jim tapped the thumbnail and brought up a larger version of the exterior. Yes, he thought, Spock would like it. He browsed the poorly lit interior shots and made note of the contact information, then opened another screen and searched for job opportunities in Ouray.
He startled when Jim slid across from him in the booth and set down his glass.
"Boss said you put in a good word for me," he said. "Thanks, man."
Jim nodded at him and took the whiskey, letting it burn his tongue before he swallowed. It certainly wasn't the quality he was used to drinking, but it would do. The effect would be the same, anyway.
"How long are you in town?"
"Just another few days," Jim said. "I had some...family business to attend to."
"Do you live far?"
"San Francisco," Jim replied absentmindedly.
"Starfleet?" his younger self asked, leaning back in the bench.
"Retired," Jim said. Across the table, the younger Jim pointed to his PADD.
"I've heard that place is beautiful," he said. "Thinking of moving?"
"Perhaps," Jim said. "I'm afraid if I stay here, being so close to the ships would be..."
"Bittersweet," he finished.
"So you served on a starship?" his younger self asked, crossing his arms over his chest. He glanced to the bar, ostensibly checking to see that his patrons were okay on drinks, and looked back at Jim. "What was that even like?"
"The best years of my life," Jim admitted.
"Why'd you retire?"
"Age," Jim said, taking another sip. This one burned less and left a warm sensation in his chest. "And my better half wanted to settle down, have time to travel. He's—was an ambassador."
Jim scratched the side of his face and chuckled. "We had a lot of good years."
"How'd you meet?"
"Starfleet," Jim replied. "He served under me, best first officer in the fleet."
"You were a captain?" his younger self asked, eyes widening.
"And a damn fine one," Jim answered. He heard the creak of the door opening, and several cadets in red uniforms strolled in, heading for the bar. His younger self groaned.
"Must be another recruiting group in town," he muttered. "Good thing I'm off in an hour and can get right to drinking. You okay?"
"Thank you," Jim said.
"I'll bring your food as soon as it's ready," he promised.
Nursing his whiskey, which was more palatable now that it had been diluted by the melting ice, Jim swirled the glass and considered Ouray. He couldn't stay here in Riverside. That much was obvious. He'd be no use to Starfleet, too old to go back out on a ship, but he had no desire to fill a desk job. After he finished eating, he would go back to the hotel and make inquiries about the property. Perhaps he could rent it for a while, until he figured out what he would do.
When he finished eating, he left his younger self a generous tip and waved over his shoulder. Jim waved back with a grin.
"Later," he called.
Six years later
"Jim," Bob said as he entered the antiques store and set his hat on the counter, grinning at Jim. He was a large man with thick hands and no hair. Pushing his glasses further up his nose, Jim marked the place in his book and set it down beside the hat, careful not to disturb the mug of coffee which had gone cold half an hour ago.
"Morning," he called cheerfully, sitting forward on his stool. "Do you owe your wife another apology gift, or are you going to let me talk you into a classic today?"
Bob shook his head and motioned to the vid screen, which was off. "You're on the news again," he said with a grin.
"Oh?" Jim said and gave the command for the vid screen to power on, watching as the picture flickered to life. "Starfleet News Network."
"It's that same kid, the one from the broadcast last year. I swear to god, he could be your son."
"There is an uncanny resemblance," Jim mumbled, turning up the volume. The broadcast was live from Starfleet headquarters, on a platform in front of the recently completed Christopher Pike Memorial Hall. Jim lowered his eyes in memory as he listened to his younger self give a commemoration speech.
"Five years in space," Bob went on, shaking his head. "Can you imagine?"
"Hardly," Jim lied, lifting his gaze back to the picture as it panned over the audience. He choked back a laugh at the sight of Bones in dress grays, at Uhura straight-faced and serious. And was that...Carol? he wondered, recalling their short-lived affair. She'd certainly never served under him. He sighed and paused for a moment to think of David. They were all there, faces young but still recognizable. Jim brought a hand to his chest.
The camera shifted, and one more face came into focus: strong and determined, a pointed ear he would recognize anywhere. Jim's heart clenched and sank.
"Spock," he mouthed and turned away from the screen. Why had he been sent here?
"Never met a Vulcan," Bob mused. "You?"
"A few," Jim replied. When he noticed Bob staring, probably expecting him to elaborate, he waved a hand to dismiss the topic. "I used to live in California," he said, and Bob seemed to accept it. Jim ordered the vid screen off and turned back to him, resting his elbows on the glass case.
"Finally taking Linda out tonight?" Bob prodded.
"Mmm," Jim agreed, "which reminds me: I have to make reservations."
"She's a nice lady, hell of a dancer. Barb used to take ballroom classes from her. Where are you thinking?"
Jim shrugged lightly and fetched a cloth to dust the counter. "Anywhere but Italian," he said.
"This was so sweet of you to arrange, thank you," Linda said, slipping off her heavy coat and draping it over the empty chair.
"Well, I wanted to thank you," Jim said, pulling the chair back at her place and helping her into it, "for being such a good customer."
"You're the only person in the area who carries paper books," she said, reaching for her napkin as Jim settled in across from her. "You've got a monopoly on your hands."
He folded his hands in front of him and looked at her. She was pretty, about ten years younger than Jim, and had a strong laugh. She looked a lot like Carol, he was wont to admit, and nothing like a Vulcan.
"So," she said once they each held a glass of wine. "Cheers."
"Cheers," he said and clinked their glasses.
"I prefer to get the awkward stuff out of the way," she continued, taking a sip and settling back in her chair. "Of everywhere you could have chosen, what made you move to our little mountain town?"
Jim laughed and took a sip himself, relaxing into his elbows, which he leaned on the table. He swirled the wine in his mouth, felt it travel along his gums, and tasted the bitterness after he swallowed. "I needed a change of scenery," he said finally. "You?"
"I moved here after my divorce," she said plainly. "I guess I needed a change of scenery myself. He never liked the mountains."
"Have you ever been married?" she asked.
"Yes," Jim replied.
"But you aren't anymore?" she asked and glanced to his left hand.
"I..." Jim tried, rubbing his forehead. "It's complicated."
Were they really going to talk about this? One thing he liked about her was the fact that she held no connections to his former life. To Linda, he was just Jim Kirk, who ran the antiques store in Ouray and had a reputation for carrying better-than-average merchandise. No one asked him about alien cultures, interspecies relationships (the human thirst for prurient information never failed to amaze him), or what it was like to be telepathically bonded to a half-Vulcan.
It was a long moment before he answered, fingering the rim of his glass.
"My partner was Vulcan," he said slowly. "We have—had a telepathic link, but it's broken."
"How long ago was that?" she asked gently.
"Six years," Jim said. "Actually...it's a long story, but the heart of the matter is that I was once married, and I suppose I still am, according to Vulcan law."
"I'm so sorry for your loss," she said. "And the loss of the planet. That must have been terrible for you."
"Thank you," he replied and pursed his mouth. "It was a shock."
They continued to chat through dinner, splitting a flourless chocolate cake for dessert over coffee, and Jim walked Linda to her car.
"This was great," she said, putting a hand on his forearm. "Thanks."
"Goodnight," he said and kissed her cheek. It was soft. She squeezed his arm and climbed into the driver's seat. The car lifted into the air and she was off. Jim stood on the sidewalk looking up at the stars.
Five months later
A new shipment of books had arrived from Denver, and Jim was unpacking them with enthusiasm, taking each in his hands and opening it across his knees. He shouldn't be kneeling. His legs would kill him later, and he'd have to resort to a long soak in the tub and lie next to the fire to feel normal again, but he felt like a boy. The titles were familiar: Gone with the Wind, The Picture of Dorian Grey, A Tale of Two—
He closed the cover, a cough of dust escaping, and set the book aside.
In the next room, the Starfleet News Network was airing a documentary about the progress on New Vulcan, which Jim found bittersweet, yet he couldn't bring himself to switch to the gardening channel.
"...constructed in the manner of ShiKahr, though visually the two cities are strikingly different..."
He was supposed to go out with Linda tonight. They'd seen a lot of each other over the past few months. One thing he liked about her was her disinterest in rushing anything between them. She was independant, and she preferred it that way. She held doors for him as often as he did for her, and he admired her terribly for it. It was...nice, not to feel so lonely anymore.
"The construction of the New Vulcan Science Academy has been led by Ambassador Spock, who will also serve as high administrator. Ambassador Spock is a graduate of Starfleet Academy..."
Jim's head whipped up. He struggled to his feet, hearing both of his knees pop, and hobbled into the front store.
"Computer," he ordered. "Replay vid feed, last thirty seconds."
Eyes locked on the screen, Jim became aware of a tightness in his throat as he waited.
"...and most of the information stored in the VSA's famed database was lost. The construction of the New Vulcan Science Academy has been led by Ambassador Spock—"
Jim clapped a hand over his mouth, unable to move.
It was Spock. He was so much older, but it was him. There was no mistake. He looked at the camera with that smirk Jim would recognize anywhere, a satisfied glint in his eyes. Spock was here. He laughed, and tears spilled down his face, but it only made him laugh harder. He went quickly to the front door and turned the sign to "Closed," latched the door, and went to his car. He drove home immediately, not even caring that he'd left half of the books unpacked and the rest on the floor. He went to his bedroom, sat on the edge of the mattress, and tried to concentrate.
"You have only to think of the shield dropping, and it will dissolve."
Shutting his eyes, Jim tried to picture it as a set of gates. He pushed them with mental hands, expecting the surge of pain he'd experienced in the hospital, but he gasped when there was only silence. The bond was not broken, but Spock was shielding from him. Jim lay back on the bed, raising both hands to his temples. It had been long, too long, since he felt Spock in his mind, but he couldn't reach him. He attempted to infiltrate Spock's shields, pushing against them, but they were unwavering. There was only one choice: Jim had to get to New Vulcan immediately. He felt giddy yet terrified, and rolled to his side to pull the comm from his pocket.
The drive to San Francisco took longer than he'd expected because of a storm in the mountains. Jim drove through it despite the cautions and arrived at the Vulcan Embassy in the middle of the night.
"Greetings," the Vulcan who attended the front door offered him, raising the ta'al. Jim formed his hand in kind and presented his ID to be scanned. He was ushered into the embassy and taken to a reception desk.
"Yes?" the woman said, rising. She had long, dark hair which was plaited, and tilted her head just slightly to the side as she regarded him. Too much time on Earth, he thought, amused.
"My name is Jim Kirk. I have reason to believe my bondmate survived the destruction of Vulcan," he said hurriedly. "I didn't know he was alive until this evening. I want to arrange transport to the colony immediately."
"You are willing to submit to a mind meld, to verify the presence of a bond?"
"Very well," she said, moving from behind the desk. She indicated a row of low benches along the wall. "Please take a seat. A healer will be with you momentarily."
"Thank you," Jim said, but he was too nervous to sit, pacing instead along the wall, which was painted a deep ochre. Somewhere in the building, a fountain trickled, filling the halls with a soothing sound. How funny, he thought, that here on Earth with its abundance of water, Vulcans would take pleasure in the sounds created by a substance which was actually quite rare on their planet. He supposed it was logical and laughed. He realized his hands were shaking and shoved them into his pockets. He stared down at his legs, clothed in khaki pants, and the plaid shirt tucked into them. He hardly looked like a former Starfleet captain, let alone a respectable Vulcan's bondmate. He should have changed, but he'd done nothing more than gather his ID and comm, his credit chip, and hurry out the door. He'd sent Linda a message apologizing for breaking their plans but hadn't returned her call. What about his shop? Had he even remembered to turn off the vid screen?
It didn't matter, he told himself. Soon, he'd be with Spock on New Vulcan. They'd figure out everything then.
It was several minutes before a healer entered the room, in the long, flowing robes Jim associated with Vulcan medicine.
"Yes," he said, walking forward.
"Please come with me," the healer said and started down a short corridor. He motioned to a private room and closed the door behind them.
"You are familiar with the mind meld?"
"I am," he said.
"I will touch your mind only briefly, to verify the presence of your bond and ascertain its condition."
"Fine," Jim said.
It was soothing to feel someone in his mind again, however short the connection was. He found himself smiling when the healer stepped away from him.
"The bond is strong," the healer pronounced. "I will contact the colony immediately. What is your bondmate's name?"
"Ambassador Spock," Jim said.
The healer raised an eyebrow but activated the wall-mounted computer. He spoke several commands in Vulcan—Jim made out a few words—and understood that the healer was connecting to the healing compound on the colony. A severe-looking Vulcan man appeared on the screen, and the two of them conversed for a few seconds. The man nodded, and the screen went dark.
"He is patching us through to Ambassador Spock's home," the healer explained. "As a courtesy to you, I will speak to the ambassador in Standard."
"Thank you," Jim said.
The breath left him when Spock flickered into view.
"Ambassador," the healer greeted him. "Were you told the reason for my communication?"
Spock nodded once and furrowed his eyebrows.
"Are you willing to speak with him?"
"He is there with you?" Spock asked.
"Then allow us to speak in private," Spock directed. The healer inclined his head and left the room. Jim swallowed, ensuring the door had closed behind him, and stepped into view.
"Spock," he said.
"Jim?" Spock said, his voice strained. "I do not understand."
"Neither do I."
"How is this possible? Neither of us should be here. This is not our universe."
"Yes, I found that out a while ago," Jim said with a chuckle.
"I ran across a younger version of myself with alarmingly blue eyes, but what surprised me more was that he was twenty-one and still hadn't enlisted in Starfleet."
"How long have you been here?" Spock asked.
"About six years," Jim said.
"Six...years?" Spock repeated.
"Since 2254. I've been living in Colorado, just like we always said." He paused and laughed, though he didn't feel like laughing. "You'd like the house, especially the fireplace."
Jim smiled at him, but his stomach was twisting. Why was he so nervous? Spock looked uncertain, a hand pressed to his lips, his eyes shifting from the screen to the surface of his desk and back.
"Can't you feel me?" Jim asked.
"It was broken," Spock said apologetically. "I have shielded for many years."
"I know," Jim said. "But it's not anymore."
Closing his eyes, Spock bowed his head, and Jim knew the instant Spock dropped his shields. The bond pulsed in his head, alive and strong. He drew in a sharp breath, bracing himself with a hand on the wall, and focused on the monitor.
"I told you," he said, beaming.
When he lifted his head, Spock's eyes were shining.
"If you'll approve it," Jim said, "I can get on the next transport, and we can figure out all of this then. I just...I have to see you. Please say I can come see you."
Spock's head shake was slight but discernible. "The next colony transport does not leave for three weeks," he said.
Though it was only twenty-one days from now, to Jim it sounded like a lifetime. But he nodded and inclined his head, wondering if he could afford a hotel nearby. He could go back to Ouray for a few days, close up the store to pass the time, then drive back the day the transport left. Yes, that was the better option.
"However," Spock said slowly, and Jim's eyes snapped back to the screen. "My father is returning from Earth in one standard day aboard a Federation ship. If you are able to leave then, I will arrange for your transportation immediately."
"Yes," Jim said earnestly. "Yes, I can leave right away."
Spock's face remained guarded, but it softened. "I will await your arrival."
Jim didn't sleep the first night on the transport, too wound up to even sit down. He paced the length of his small cabin for an hour before his legs began to cramp. Then, he sat on the very edge of the sofa and held his face in his hands, trying to regulate his heartbeat.
He glanced at his comm, expecting to see the indicator light blinking, but it lay still on the low table. Spock had never been one for written communication, but Jim was anxious and human and in need of reassurance. He had Spock's ID, had given Spock his, but they had yet to exchange any messages. Picking up the comm for perhaps the hundredth time that day, he laughed helplessly. What was he supposed to say? He had no idea how long Spock had been here, how he even got here, how old he was now. Had he remarried? Did he have children? There were so many things he wanted, needed to ask. Scrubbing a hand over his face, he lay the comm back on the table and resumed his pacing.
Perhaps a quick call, just to let Spock know his progress. Undoubtedly he was already aware, likely having spoken with Sarek. Jim sighed and went to shower.
He emerged from the adjoining bath feeling refreshed, pulling back on the same clothes he'd worn earlier that evening. He replicated a light meal, salad with grilled chicken, and ordered the computer to play classical music.
He tapped out the rhythm on the edge of the desk, on the wall, on the table top, on the couch cushions. His fingers wouldn't remain still. He shoved them into his pockets and they played against his hip.
"Damn," he swore and pulled out the comm. He ordered it to connect to Spock's and waited with his eyes closed.
"Jim?" Spock's voice came through the speaker. "Are you well?"
"I'm fine," Jim said, covering his eyes with his left hand. "I just needed to hear you."
"I was uncertain if you would desire communication until we met," Spock admitted.
"You don't mind that I called?"
"No," Spock said. "I am...pleased, to hear from you."
"There's so much I want to ask you," Jim blurted, aware his voice was unsteady. "I don't even know where to start. How did you get here?"
"It would be easier to show you," Spock said, but Jim remained silent, hoping he would continue. "As you know, I was intent on working with Romulus, to bring peace between them and the Federation."
"Of course I remember," Jim said.
"What you would not know is that a star near Romulus was nearing supernova. I attempted to stop it. I did not succeed."
"Did it create a wormhole?" Jim asked.
"Not the supernova itself," Spock said carefully, "but...suffice to say, my attempt to save Romulus resulted in my presence here, and in the destruction of Vulcan."
"Spock..." Jim breathed. He felt for Spock's presence, attempting to reassure him.
"The fault was mine," Spock said, though Jim felt a surge of gratitude in return. "Vulcan was lost, and I must do what I can to preserve what remains."
"Then I'm going to help you," Jim said. "Whatever I can do."
"How is it you came to be here?" Spock asked.
"I..." Jim started, faltering. "I don't know. I don't really remember anything before. I remember leaving the apartment for the spaceport, going up with Scotty to the Enterprise B. I remember..." He sighed. "I remember waking up in the hospital in Iowa City, but I have no idea how I got there. I went into Riverside, went to the Shipyard Bar. That's where I met myself. Found out I wasn't in Starfleet, that I'm apparently allergic to everything."
"You were born prematurely," Spock explained.
"So I read," Jim said. "I figured I couldn't stick around Riverside forever, so I looked up Ouray, found the house. Bought an antiques store on the verge of closing."
"You always said you wished to run such a store," Spock said fondly.
"You should see it," Jim said with pride. "You will see it, won't you?"
"Anyway, I've lived there ever since. It wasn't until I saw the documentary that Starfleet broadcast on the colony that I realized...you were here."
"I am gratified."
Jim squeezed his eyes shut before he spoke again. "Have you remarried?"
"As you know," Spock said, clearing his throat, "it became necessary, at a point, for me to take a partner."
Jim lowered himself to the couch as his stomach dropped out. Of course, the pon farr.
"Yes," he said weakly.
"While I did join with others physically, it was only as a means of survival when meditation did not suffice. Jim, I have bonded with no other."
Jim couldn't help the cry that escaped. "You have no idea how glad I am to hear you say that."
"And you? Have you remarried?"
"No," Jim said emphatically.
"Would you..." Spock began.
"Yes?" Jim asked.
"Would you consider a life on New Vulcan?"
"I want a life with you," Jim said firmly, "whether that's on New Vulcan or Earth or a yet-to-be-discovered moon."
They talked until Jim's throat was dry from speaking, until his eyes began to fall closed. Spock encouraged him to lie down, and he did, with the comm tucked between the pillow and his ear.
"Call me tomorrow," he said as his words began to slur. "And the next day, until I get there."
"Go to sleep," Spock murmured.
"Talk to me," Jim pleaded.
"What should I say?"
"What about that poem you always liked? Do you remember it?"
He fell asleep to the sound of Spock's voice.
"Because of you, I again seek out the signs that precipitate desires: shooting stars, falling objects."
Sarek bid Jim goodbye shortly before the ship entered orbit around New Vulcan, wishing him a successful stay.
"I am pleased for you and for my son," he said.
Jim extended him the ta'al, satisfied to be able to perform it so well after all these years. He wondered if Sarek had met the younger Jim. He supposed he had; he read that the Enterprise had been involved in the evacuation efforts. He wondered if the Spock of this universe had been upfront about Sarek's identity, and chuckled at the memory of their journey to Babel.
The transporters were reserved for crew members who were delivering supplies to the colony. Since Jim was a passenger and wouldn't have access to the transporters for a few hours, he opted to wait and take the shuttle, which was headed down to the surface shortly. He paced outside the shuttle bay nervously, checking the time on his comm.
"Mr. Kirk? Sure you don't mind the bumpy ride?" a female lieutenant asked as she strode past him.
"Not at all," he assured her, falling into step. "I've been on my fair share of shuttles." He followed her up the ramp. Though instinct told him to sit next to her, she motioned to the passenger seats and he obeyed.
"I'm Lieutenant Wahl. Looks like it's just us," she said, pushing the button to close the shuttle door. It rose with a hum and made a satisfying thump when it was in place. "They don't want to chance transporting the medicine—can't risk the slightest molecular change—so I'm bringing it down. Buckle up."
He did, sitting back in the chair. It was narrow and dug uncomfortably into his back. Entering the atmosphere would be a treat, but the turbulence would only last for a few minutes. He'd be with Spock soon, and then none of it would matter. He didn't care if he threw up in the damned shuttle, as long as he made it to the surface.
The ride took only a few minutes once they left the ship's shuttle bay. Lieutenant Wahl was a good pilot, with steady hands. She guided them through the atmosphere easily. Though the shuttle did shake, causing Jim to grip the arm rests until his knuckles turned white, he kept imagining Spock's face and found the shaking didn't bother him at all. He unfastened his safety harness before she gave him permission, which earned him a lifted eyebrow. He merely shook her hand in thanks and waited for her to raise the door.
He expected Spock to be standing directly outside the shuttle, but he was met by dust and heat. He walked down the ramp, shielding his eyes from the sun and glancing around him. Starfleet personnel surrounded him, carrying supplies to a series of small warehouses adjacent to the dock station. They were intermixed with many Vulcans, though Jim noted other species, even Andorians, assisting. He pushed his sleeves up, unfastened the top button on his shirt, and walked away from the shuttle.
He recognized Spock by the curve of his neck, the way he held his shoulders. Spock faced away from him across the landing field, looking toward the city Jim could perceive in the distance. Against the whirring of the transporter, the constant sound of crates being offloaded from the orbiting ship, it wasn't surprising that Spock hadn't heard the shuttle land. His heart pounding, Jim started toward him, taking tentative steps at first. But his pace quickened, and he found himself tripping forward until he was able to reach out a hand and touch Spock's shoulder.
There had been moments in Jim's life which had branded themselves into his memory: the first time he boarded the Enterprise, opening the message containing a photograph of David in the delivery room, Spock remembering his name following the fal-tor-pan. Never had he wished to remember something as much as he wanted to remember the look in Spock's eyes as he turned around.
He was so much older than Jim remembered, his hair grayed, skin etched with wrinkles. Jim looked at him, and his face slowly morphed into a smile. Spock regarded him softly and lifted a hand to Jim's face. Jim laughed, his eyes watering, and then his face contorted as a sob tore out of him. He sucked in a breath, trying to control it, trying not to draw too much attention. Spock's palm was smooth with age and curved gently over his cheek. With his thumb, Spock wiped away the tears as they continued to fall. Jim raised his right hand, his index and middle fingers extended, but Spock stepped forward and pulled Jim to his chest. In his mind, the bond sang, and Jim cried into Spock's neck.
"You know people can see us," he laughed, sniffing when he had regained his breath. Spock pressed his mouth to Jim's ear, and there was a smile in his voice.
They went straight home, to the small house Spock occupied in one of the city's outer rings. The walk took nearly fifteen minutes, but Jim was content to walk alongside Spock despite the heat. The house was sparse and modest, and so like him. Jim felt instantly at home. Spock held his hand through the door, allowing it to close behind them. He gathered Jim in his arms and kissed him. They kissed for long minutes, quietly, relearning one another. Jim slid a hand into Spock's hair, and the texture was familiar.
"Where's the bedroom?" he whispered. Spock pulled back from him a few inches and raised an eyebrow.
"It is not yet afternoon."
"Six years," Jim reminded him.
"We should eat first," Spock told him. "I have prepared lunch."
"Still so logical."
Spock touched their foreheads together and laughed and nodded.
"I am much older than you remember me," Spock said, a hand on the shoulder of his robes. They stood feet from one another in the dimly lit bedroom. Spock had drawn the curtains; they were illuminated only by candlelight. Jim pulled his own shirt over his head and flung it on the ground.
"And I've put on a few pounds," he said, indicating his stomach.
"You are still young," Spock said.
"I don't care about your age."
"I fear you will no longer desire me."
Jim kicked out of his pants, steadying himself with a hand on the bed. He glanced down his own body, which was responding to Spock's presence, and grinned up at him.
"Does it look that way to you?" he asked. Spock shook his head and flushed.
Jim stepped toward him, hearing Spock's sharp inhale when he was close enough to touch. Spock placed a hand on Jim's bare hip, and Jim pushed the robes away from Spock's body. Spock closed his eyes, his face tight as Jim looked at him. He was thinner, his skin less firm, some of his muscle tone gone. The hair on his chest was mostly white, and his body was pale. Jim rested a hand on Spock's chest, palm flat against his skin, and slid it to rest just over his heart.
It caught his eye then: the pendant hanging from Spock's neck.
"You still wear it," Jim breathed, trailing his fingers along the chain. Spock nodded slowly. "How long?"
"Longer than six years," Spock said, and took Jim's face in his hands.
The kiss was slow as they stumbled their way to the bed. Jim pulled Spock down beside him. He had forgotten the exact texture of Spock's tongue, the way Spock teased Jim's lower lip between his teeth so gently. They rolled each other over and over, until the sheets were twisted around their legs. Jim laughed into Spock's neck. It felt like he was twenty again. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt so young. He took Spock's hand and positioned it in a flare along his face.
"Please," he said, and Spock kissed him as he whispered the incantation.
He had always loved being in Spock's mind, having Spock in his. It had never felt like an intrusion, more like having a part of himself back that he hadn't known was missing. They moved alongside one another. Jim pointed to the memories of Ouray, of his antiques shop, of Linda.
I would not have wished loneliness for you, he heard Spock say all around them.
Spock looked earlier, to when Jim first awoke in the hospital. He focused on the nurse who spoke to him the first day.
Do you know him?
I think so. I just can't remember who he is. Can you?
He is unfamiliar to me.
He's the one who told me the bond was broken. At first, I thought it meant that you were...
Jim turned, and across the field of his own memories, he could just glimpse the beginning of Spock's, where they merged with his. There was so much he did not recognize, so many years he was absent. He began to count them—forty-one, forty-two, forty-three—until they became so numerous the thought made his throat tighten. He watched Spock pilot a strange craft toward Romulus, watched him approach the supernova and become enveloped by the black hole.
When he saw Vulcan destroyed, this time it was through Spock's eyes. He felt the pain of billions of lives extinguishing simultaneously, and in his mind, he held Spock tightly. On the bed, he knew he was crying. The tears left cold, wet trails.
The memories shifted to the colony on New Vulcan, to a young Jim Kirk standing in front of Spock's bookshelf. He watched that Jim Kirk embrace Spock, cry out against his neck, meld with him before the fireplace. Spock tried to pull Jim away from the memory, but Jim merely laughed.
I always did go after what I wanted.
He is not you.
I'm glad you weren't alone.
Jim saw the dream that left Spock shivering, of the bond reestablished and strong. That must have been the night I unshielded, he thought. He felt Spock's shock at hearing his bondmate was alive, the disbelief that transformed into hope when he first glimpsed Jim's face on the monitor, the elation when Jim's hand curled over his shoulder.
You came back to me, Spock said all around them.
We said 'always,' didn't we?
Hours later, Jim had no idea how many, they sat on the patio. It was cooler now that the sun had set. Spock had a blanket across his lap, but Jim had put on only an undershirt. They held hands loosely between the chairs, looking up at the stars.
"I missed this," Jim murmured.
"I sit here every evening," Spock told him.
"I see why," Jim said. "There's hardly any light pollution here. This is almost as beautiful as the view I had growing up in Iowa. I'd lie on the roof for hours.
But Spock shook his head, and turned Jim's hand over in his, so he could trace the lines on his palm.
"I watched the stars," he said quietly, "because they were what remained of you."
New ShiKahr, New Vulcan
"They're going to be here any minute," Jim called down the hallway to where Spock was still dressing. He spooned preserves into a dish and set out a bowl of fresh bread, carrying both to the table. He had cleared away Spock's makeshift desk, relocating it to the common room near the fireplace where he would be warmer. The change left Jim with a functional dining room and plenty of reasons to cook. He'd made a feast this morning, in anticipation of the Enterprise's arrival on New Vulcan.
He'd already brewed enough coffee for two, and he had a kettle of water ready to put on for spice tea. He had the upper cabinet open and was taking down glasses for juice when he felt Spock's hands at his waist and a kiss pressed to his hairline.
"Did you try on every set of robes you own?" he teased, turning around to kiss Spock before ducking under his arm to finish setting the table.
"Hardly," Spock replied, but Jim could sense Spock's slight embarrassment.
"You look good, no matter what you wear," Jim assured him. He paused and took a breath. "He'll think so too."
"Jim," Spock admonished, but Jim shushed him.
"I know you better than anyone," he said. "I know how capable you are of feeling. I'm glad you were there for him—for me. Okay?"
Spock nodded and held out two fingers. Jim brushed his against them and kissed the back of Spock's hand. "Set out the skewers?" he asked and went to stir the soup.
He startled when the knock sounded on the front door, his heart beating rapidly. He checked his reflection in the blurry image on the fridge door, smoothed the front of his tunic, and listened to the voices as Spock greeted their visitors.
"Place looks different," he heard his own voice say, younger, brighter. "You moved your office out here, huh?"
"It is warmer by the fire," Spock replied. "You look tired. Do you wish to rest before the meal?"
"Nah, I'll just make a cup of coffee to wake up," Jim said, rounding the corner into the small kitchen. "Did you get your replicator programmed for it yet?"
He stopped when he saw the elder Jim, who held out a steaming cup.
"Thanks," the younger Jim said slowly, standing back and cocking his head. He drank without blowing on the coffee first, his eyebrows furrowed.
Both Spocks followed him into the kitchen. The younger Spock stood next to the younger Jim. Though his posture was stiff, he deliberately placed a hand on Jim's back. Jim bit back a smile at the sight of them and leaned minutely into Spock, who moved to his side.
"I know you," the younger Jim said, looking at him. "I've seen you before."
"About six years ago," Jim answered.
"Oh," the younger Jim said, grinning. His forehead softened. "Probably at the Shipyard, right?"
"That makes sense." The younger Jim shook his head. "You know, it's funny." He motioned to the elder Spock. "He's got this drawing, right? And you look so much like it, for a second I thought maybe you were from the future too."
"Well," Jim said, leaning into Spock further. "Technically I am, but not as far into the future as he is."
It took a few seconds, but a look of understanding crossed the younger Jim's face. He wiped his mouth and set down his mug.
"So you're..." he began, pointing at himself and then at Jim. "You're the other me."
"I think it's actually you," Jim said with a wink, "who's the other me."
"Fascinating," the younger Spock said.
"He's cute," Jim told his younger self in a stage whisper. "I'd keep him around."
"Oh," Jim said and slung an arm around Spock's waist. "Believe me, I intend to."
Breakfast was simple and consisted less of eating and more of the younger Jim cataloging differences between them. They finished eating and went into the common room to sit before the fireplace. Jim and Spock sat together on the couch. The younger Spock sat in a chair, with Jim at his feet, leaning back against his legs. Spock kept a hand on Jim's shoulder.
"I still think it's funny," the younger Jim said, "that you enlisted before I did, but I got a ship first."
"I think it's odd that you have blue eyes," Jim remarked. His younger self grinned at him, but he blinked twice, and it faded.
"Were you on Tarsus?" he asked, looking toward the fire.
"Yes," Jim said, and he felt Spock's arm slide around him and tighten.
"I'm glad he's dead."
Jim leaned into Spock, who turned and pressed a kiss to Jim's ear. Jim would tell his younger self about what really became of Kodos one day, perhaps, but not today.
"You are not ashamed by physical displays of affection," the younger Spock observed. Jim noted the way he maneuvered his hand to touch the bare skin of the younger Jim's neck.
"Not anymore," Spock told him.
Smiling, Jim glanced out the window into the garden. He could already see an improvement in the plants since he had begun tending them. A healthy crop of plomeek stood along the far wall; he'd need to stake them once they grew any higher. He had tamed the native plants and introduced a few other Vulcan species, which grew harmoniously among the various rocks and boulders he had left in place. On the dusty patio, which he rigorously swept every morning, were the two chairs Spock owned and a low table for coffee which Jim had constructed. He had plans to order a cushion for his back as well, and perhaps a shade sail. They would bring some of Jim's furniture back with them next month, when they visited Earth. He was about to turn his attention back to the common room when something caught his eye.
There was a man standing in the garden, where just moments before no one had stood. Jim was certain of it. The garden was walled on all sides; it wasn't possible to simply enter. Had he come through the house? Impossible; the garden door was just off the common room where they sat. He stared at the man silently, a chill passing through him, though he remained quiet. The man stared back, and there was something in his eyes which was familiar. Jim was reminded of the nurse when he first awoke in the hospital. He frowned, and he remembered the weight of the fallen bridge, Picard's voice, chopping wood, a conversation beside a stone fireplace, a gateway of swirling light.
He pressed his lips together to keep the cry from escaping and nodded at Q, who nodded back.
"Thank you," Jim mouthed.
He kept his eyes locked on Q's face, but when Jim blinked, he was gone. There was no sign he had ever been there. The garden was again empty, and Jim noted no footprints in the dirt. The explorer in him desired answers, but he knew that he would never understand why he had been brought back. And, for once, he found he didn't care. He turned back to Spock, to their younger selves. He slid a hand to Spock's leg and squeezed.
I love you, he thought.
Spock's hand came to rest on top of his. Jim looked down to where they touched, but he didn't need to turn his head to take in Spock's expression. He could feel the smile, as if it were his own.