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Chapter Six


Seven
2258 - Reboot Universe



The next time Jim opened his eyes, he saw his younger self at his bedside, staring at him. Jim met his eyes, and blinked.

The younger Kirk had blue eyes. That was strange. And he looked taller.

"Hello," he said. He smiled at the absurdity of the situation.

"Hello," Kirk replied, sounding wary. Jim didn't blame him.

"Half an hour, Jim," McCoy called from across Sickbay. "My patient is recovering from broken ribs and he still needs rest!"

Kirk rolled his eyes, but he called back, "Of course, Bones!" Then he looked back at Jim.

"I take it you know who I am?"

Kirk nodded, still staring, rather as if he knew intellectually who Jim really was but had trouble believing it.

"Spock lied to me," Kirk said after a moment.

The statement confused Jim thoroughly. Spock? Lying? Lying was immoral and illogical. He couldn't imagine Spock at a younger age lying to anyone, unless for something incredibly important.

"Your Spock, I mean," Kirk clarified. "He said the universe would blow up if he and his younger self met. I'm guessing that's not actually true."

Okay, what? "Back up," Jim demanded. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Start the story from the beginning."

Kirk took a deep breath and nodded. "The beginning," he agreed. "Right."

The story he told was remarkable, even given all of Jim's experience. Meeting Spock at the disciplinary hearing for the Kobayashi Maru and hearing about Vulcan's distress call. Being banned from the mission because of academic probation and McCoy smuggling him aboard. Hearing the announcement about the lightning storm in space and putting it together with Uhura's mention of a massive Romulan ship destroying forty-seven Klingon warbirds and remembering his history about the Kelvin. Convincing Pike and Spock they were warping into a trap. His confusion at Nero's recognition of him and Spock, which now made a lot more sense, by the way.

Then there was the sequence of events Jim found hard to listen to. Kirk described how he tried and failed to stop the drill. Spock beamed down to the surface get the Vulcan elders and ended up losing his mother. Kirk had argued with Spock about the necessary course of action until Spock nerve-pinched him and marooned him on Delta Vega. He had had to run away from the native wildlife and met a weird older Spock who claimed to be his friend and told him about Nero and Romulus and red matter. The two of them met Scotty, with whom Kirk beamed back aboard. Kirk glossed over how he emotionally compromised Spock so he could be captain. Then the crew came up with the plan to get back Pike and the red matter, and Kirk and Spock boarded the Narada. Spock stole the Jellyfish and collided it with the Narada until the Narada was consumed in a black hole and the Enterprise had to generate an explosion with its own warp cores in order to get away.

Jim had lived through a lot, and commanded his ship through a lot, but the story still astounded him.

And this Kirk had met Spock, his Spock. An entire planet, and the two of them had managed to meet. Jim couldn't hold back his grin at that part of the story -- he and Spock always managed to find their way back to each other. The grin had disappeared, though, on hearing about the mind meld and young Kirk's description of how Spock was feeling.

"So," Kirk said, after he'd been silent for a moment on finishing his story. "You and Spock are really friends, then? He said so, and I got that impression in the mind meld, but...even then I still had trouble believing it, you know?"

Jim nodded. "He's the person closest to me in...all the universes," he told him fondly. "I was terrified when Nero dropped him on Delta Vega. It's a big relief to hear he's all right."

Apart from the destruction of his planet, that was. Even if it had not been the Vulcan his Spock grew up on, it had still been Vulcan.

"So why did Nero keep you on the Narada? Spock didn't even mention you were there. Though I suppose he couldn't, since he tried to make me believe he and his younger self couldn't meet." Kirk glowered at the reminder.

"He wanted to hurt Spock," Jim said simply. "I'm as important to Spock as he is to me. By separating us, Nero hurt him further. And, Jim...don't blame Spock for what he told you. He would have had a good reason."

"Like what?" Kirk demanded, his tone soft but forceful. He narrowed his eyes. "The Spock here nearly choked me to death. I had to accuse him of not loving his dead mother! What was so important he had to keep secret?"

Jim sighed. "I can't know for sure without talking to him," he answered, "but my guess is he wanted to force the two of you to work together, without him as an intermediary."

Jim thought he was right. The relationship Jim and his Spock shared was important to both of them. Spock couldn't have liked, any more than Jim did, hearing about the antagonism between their younger counterparts.

Edith Keeler had once told Spock he belonged at Jim's side. She'd been as insightful about that as she'd been about everything else. Spock knew that as well as Jim did.

The younger Kirk stared at him incredulously, though. "Let me get this straight," he said. "He sent me back here to hurt Spock deeply, nearly get myself killed, pit us against a ship where we were outmatched in every way by ourselves when most of us are just cadets -- just because he wanted me and Spock to skip through fields of daisies holding hands?"

Jim snorted at the imagery. "He wouldn't have thought Spock would kill you," he pointed out. "I've actually had to emotionally compromise him before, too. I said some pretty nasty things to him, and he managed to stop himself before he killed me. And you weren't outmatched in every way. You had the better people, and my Spock knew that."

Kirk looked away. "Well, you guys were friends. Of course he wouldn't kill you. He hated me." But then he looked back at Jim and smiled. "But yeah, my crew is pretty awesome."

Jim smiled back at him. He had already claimed the crew, even after only one mission with them. He really was a captain at heart. It was one thing to know it about himself, and another thing to actually see it from the outside.

"And Spock is pretty awesome too," Kirk added after a moment. "We actually did end up working well together, once we got in sync. I was pretty impressed he could work with me so well even after everything I said."

"Holding a grudge would be illogical," Jim replied, still smiling. "Vulcans don't pull out the logic just to annoy humans, you know. That's actually how they think."

Kirk nodded thoughtfully. He stood silently for a few minutes. Then he said, "Your Spock...thinks very highly of you."

"Yes?" Jim replied, not understanding the relevance.

"He made sure I would be captain, even at his younger self's expense."

Ah. "Spock never particularly wanted command," Jim responded slowly. "He was always happier as science officer, and satisfied to be my First."

"He...trusts you so much he automatically trusted me, even though I'm still a cadet and have never been in command of anything."

"I trust him just as much," he told Kirk. "We just have different strengths. He knows what mine are. My affinity for command -- it's innate. I've always known that, but you've proven it. Classes and experience are great teachers, and you need both of them to be the kind of captain you should be, but what really makes a great captain comes from inside."

Kirk nodded again, his face brighter and more relaxed, some strain around his eyes eased. "I should get back to the bridge," he said. "And Bones will want me to stop bothering his patients."

Jim laughed. "That's Bones for you," he agreed. "You should come find me again after he lets me leave. We should walk around the ship."

Kirk just smiled at him awkwardly. He didn't ask why, but maybe he already understood.

Bones came over to give him a shot of something, but said nothing as the hypospray depressed. He turned away immediately afterward. Jim, struck by his uncharacteristic silence, called, "Bones?" as McCoy began to walk away.

Bones couldn't hide his flinch, but he turned around again. "Yes?"

Jim opened his mouth to ask him what was going on, then closed it again. Finally he asked, "What did you give me?"

"Painkiller," Bones replied shortly. This time when he turned his back, Jim let him go.

But he didn't dwell on Bones's strange behavior. His absence provided Jim's first chance to really look around Sickbay and see how many patients the staff actually had. Every bed was full.

Nero had attacked the Enterprise before realizing which ship it was. Of course there were casualties. Of course. The people lying in Sickbay now were only the people who had survived. The medical staff must have already separated out the dead and put them in the stasis room.

He looked around harder, but didn't see Pike. He must have been in a private room. Sickbay didn't have many, and McCoy often didn't bother with them when there he had few or no patients, preferring to keep the ones he had under his eye, but with the ward so full--

He saw Chapel passing by, and called, "Nurse Chapel!" When she came over to ask him what he needed, he said, "How is Captain Pike doing?"

Her open, expressive face shuttered. "He'll be fine," she said firmly. "That slug you mentioned did some damage, but he's still alive and quite comfortable now."

"Some damage? What does that mean?" Jim demanded.

"Doctor-patient confidentiality," she reminded him, and he cursed under his breath. He appreciated confidentiality, but he had never liked not knowing what was going on with his people, and somewhere during their ordeal, Pike had turned into one of his.

But there was nothing he could have done, and at least the conversation had been a good distraction at the time.

"All right," he said, letting it go. He'd have a chance to visit Pike later, he was sure. "How about finding out when I can get out of here? Broken ribs shouldn't keep me tied to Sickbay."

Now she smiled. "I'll ask the doctor, but I see no reason you can't leave," she replied. "Do you have anywhere to go--" She looked stumped for a moment at how to address him.

He grinned. "Jim is fine," he told her. "Or you can call me Dr. Kirk, if you prefer." It was probably best not to tell her to call him Captain, though he still retained that as a courtesy title.

"Doctor? Surely not a medical doctor," she replied with surprise. Amused, he wondered how much experience she had with his counterpart.

"No, a doctorate in engineering," he replied. "Just as something to do after I retired from Starfleet. What, you don't think I could be a medical doctor?"

She seemed to realize he was teasing her, because she narrowed her eyes. "Dr. McCoy seems to think you're constantly on the edge of killing yourself," she replied. "Are you sure I can trust you to leave Sickbay unharmed?"

He laughed. "Hey, blame younger me," he claimed. "I'm a lot more sensible."

She gave him a look that said she didn't believe him. He remembered that look. He'd even missed that look.

His relationship with Chapel had been strange. She'd eventually gotten over her feelings for Spock, but they'd been strong feelings, for a long time. Interacting with the man who held Spock's heart, and had even during the first mission, had been noticeably awkward for her at times. She'd always been professional and friendly, though, and eventually the awkwardness ceased.

Honestly, he really admired her. He never had reacted well to rivals for Spock's affections himself -- at least, not the ones Spock paid any attention to.

McCoy came over again to give him one last scan before pronouncing him ready to leave. As before, though, he was very abrupt, and this time, Jim called him on it. "Bones?" he asked, once again noting McCoy's flinch at the nickname. "What's wrong?"

"Take your pick," McCoy grumbled. "It'd be easier to list what isn't wrong."

Jim frowned. "With you," he clarified. "You've never exactly been cuddly to patients, but usually you're not so curt."

McCoy scowled, and not amicably, as the McCoy Jim knew frequently had. "Look," he said. "Whether or not you're some version of Jim Kirk from another universe, you're not my Jim Kirk, and I'm not your Leonard McCoy. You don't actually know me." He threw up his hands. "Alternate universes! Even if I believe you, don't go making me into someone I'm not!"

He stomped away before Jim could say another word.

He didn't know what he would have said, though. McCoy was right -- he might have been a Bones, but he was not Jim's Bones. He couldn't replace the man Jim had lost, and Jim shouldn't even try.

He felt suddenly, deeply alone, and longing for Spock overwhelmed him.

Chapel came over to him again, frowning after McCoy. "Well, you're ready to leave," she said, cheerfully. "Has anyone assigned you quarters yet?" At Jim's headshake, she continued, "Well, I'll call Mr. Spock to deal with that, then."

Chapel smiled at him, but left before Jim could find his voice. Spock. How was he going to deal with this Spock, so young and so angry and so very much not his?

But he only had a few minutes to come up with a plan, because that was how long it took for Spock to get to Sickbay. And when he got there, he just stood there in front of Jim's bed, hands behind his back, surveying Jim impassively.

Even knowing this wasn't his Spock, it hurt to see his eyes so guarded. His Spock had not been so guarded around him in a long time.

"If you are ready, I will take you to your quarters," Spock said after a moment.

Jim nodded and stood up. Unexpectedly, even though he couldn't really see anything in Spock's expressive eyes, he could still get a sense of him.

Well, of course. This Spock shared the same katra as Jim's bondmate. Jim's and his Spock's katras were bound together very tightly, and though their bond was not replicated with the younger Spock, his bond still recognized Spock, and provided a sort of echo.

Jim wondered if this Spock felt the bond as well, but decided not to ask. He didn't want to bring attention to any possible mental connection if Spock hadn't already felt it himself.

On their way to Jim's assigned quarters, they passed through corridors almost dizzying in their familiarity. They were modeled more like the original Enterprise he'd known, but some aspects reminded him more of the Enterprise after her remodeling in his time as an admiral. Though the ship was still...whiter than he was used to.

"What's the crew complement?" he asked, growing tired of the silence. Silence could be comfortable, but here it seemed more awkward. Jim had the feeling there was a lot Spock held back from saying.

"Eight hundred and fifty," Spock answered after a pause. "The ship is not currently at full capacity, having been crewed primarily by cadets for its maiden voyage."

"Ah." Definitely bigger -- his own had only held about 450. And he was reminded more and more of the situation with Khan. Like Nero's vendetta against Spock, Khan's revenge, too, had been personal. And the Enterprise then, as now, had been crewed primarily by cadets, with only a few experienced senior officers. He had even taken over command from Spock, though without the violence that seemed to have happened with their younger counterparts.

Spock followed him into his new quarters when they got there and perfunctorily pointed out the amenities. The rooms were bigger than the guest quarters on his ship had been, like the rest of this universe's Enterprise, but certainly still smaller than the ones of the Galaxy-class version. He looked through them briefly before turning back to face Spock, who was watching him.

"Yes, Mr. Spock?" he finally said, feeling a flash of amusement. His own Spock looked at him in just the same way when he wanted to discuss something but didn't know how to broach the subject. And this one wasn't quite so unreadable as he first seemed. Jim could practically see him making up his mind to speak.

"You are the James Kirk from Nero's timeline, are you not?" Spock asked bluntly.

He thought about denying it, especially after Bones's reaction, but Spock wouldn't ask him if he weren't already fairly sure. "That's me," he agreed instead. "How did you figure it out?"

"Nero recognized Kirk as well as myself on our initial encounter. The ship containing the red matter recognized both of us as well, though it stated its manufacture date as 2387. You were the only human on board, which would be logical if Nero had kept you as a prisoner upon your arrival in this timeline."

"Very logical, Mr. Spock," Jim said, hiding a grin.

Now Spock hesitated. "Would you permit me several queries? I find there is much I am...curious about."

Jim shrugged. "Depends on the question," he replied. "But go ahead and ask, and I'll see what I can answer."

He had already determined not to answer questions about the true nature of his relationship with his Spock. He found he didn't want anything to interfere with the developing relationship between their younger counterparts -- he firmly believed in the natural evolution of a relationship. One of the reasons his bond with Spock was so strong was because it had come about completely naturally.

Jim sat down in the chair behind the desk, and gestured for Spock to take the chair in front in a moment of déjà vu. Spock sat, and folded his hands in his lap.

"I cannot help but wonder how you are still alive," he began. "Did you not leave your own timeline in 2387? That is many decades past how long a human should live naturally."

Jim grimaced. Spock never asked the easy questions. "Short answer is, I ended up spending almost eight decades in a pocket universe where time didn't really exist. When I found my way out again, almost everyone I knew was dead. Except for my Spock, of course, since Vulcans live longer." His mouth twisted up in something like a smile. "This is actually not the first time I've had to rebuild my entire life. Now I'm in a time where my friends are still alive, but aren't really my friends."

Spock looked thoughtful. "And my counterpart -- I presume he is in this universe as well?"

"Nero sent him to Delta Vega," Jim replied, feeling another hot flash of anger at Nero. "To make him watch."

Now Spock surveyed him out of eyes of thinly veneered calm over turbulence. "And he met your counterpart there." It wasn't a question. "That is how Kirk discovered information he could not otherwise know. That is how he was able to beam back on this ship despite our traveling at warp. That is why he incited my anger to make himself captain."

Jim sighed. Spock very obviously still had an edge of anger on him, but Jim wasn't sure if the edge was a legacy of Vulcan's destruction only a day ago, or if Spock had always been so angry. But he didn't think it was his place to help Spock get over it. Jim's younger self needed to learn how to help Spock deal with his emotions -- and Spock needed to learn to trust the younger Kirk.

"I think you should discuss that with my counterpart," he said quietly. "I've already talked about his conversation with my Spock with him. He knows more than I do about all of these events."

Spock inclined his head in agreement, though Jim couldn't tell what he really felt about the suggestion. "You are very familiar with my counterpart, then?" he asked. "Twice you have referred to him with a possessive pronoun."

Jim shrugged, smiling slightly. "He's been my closest friend for years." He thought back. "Nearly forty-four of them, actually." And thirty-five of those years married, though Jim didn't mention that.

"And you came with him to this universe out of...friendship?"

"That was certainly part of it," Jim agreed. "He hadn't been able to save Romulus in time, and was determined to stop the supernova himself. I couldn't let him do it alone. He and I...we've been through far too much together."

Spock nodded slowly. "I have never had such a friendship," he said, his voice very low. "Logically, it is not necessary for a satisfactory life filled with meaningful work."

Spock looked at him then with eyes almost begging for understanding. Jim was struck again by how young this Spock was -- still years away from being a full adult by Vulcan standards, with the final mark of adulthood coming at the onset of pon farr.

A memory flashed in Jim's mind of Spock under the influence of the Psi 2000 virus, explaining almost tearfully how when he felt friendship for Jim, he was ashamed. But that half-Vulcan had been older, had had longer to build a shell of logic and encase himself in it. Was this one still young enough that the shell was thin and more easily cracked? Already he seemed more emotional, though Jim didn't know how much was due to his planet.

"There's more to life than meaningful work," he replied gently. "Friendship is not always logical, and any relationship between two complex people is bound to be complex itself, always with the potential for hurt. But despite that, I have always found it to be worthwhile and beneficial -- as has my Spock."

"I will meditate on what you have said," Spock murmured, looking like he was already starting to think about it.

Jim hesitated. How would Spock respond to this next offer? But it was something Jim himself needed, and perhaps it could help Spock as well.

"Spock," he said, trying to word this carefully. "A lot has happened to me recently, and I think meditation would benefit me. But a lot has happened to you as well. Would you be willing to engage in joint meditation with me?"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I find it difficult to believe the word 'meditation' is in a James Kirk's vocabulary," he returned dryly. "Would this be a way in which my counterpart has influenced you?"

Jim grinned. "It is," he replied ruefully, though not without amusement. "Of course Starfleet teaches us how, but I always dismissed it. I only really started finding meditation beneficial when Spock and I would do it jointly. He's been...a steadying influence."

Spock looked even more thoughtful. "Has he," he murmured, almost to himself. Then he focused those dark eyes back on Jim. "Are you not psi-null? Starfleet records indicate your counterpart has no psychic sensitivity."

"He shouldn't," Jim agreed. "I didn't until I returned from that pocket universe -- being there made me sensitive to temporal and universal currents and awakened some minor latent empathy. Nothing significant, but I have been able to meditate with a Betazoid and El-Aurian, and of course my Spock."

Spock considered him a moment longer, then said simply, "I will agree, then. However, I am still on duty at this time. What time I could permit for questions to our mysterious guest, I cannot for my own pursuits. Will you wait until my shift has ended?"

"Of course," Jim agreed. "I may be retired from Starfleet now, but I remember what it was like to be on that schedule. Would you like to come here again at the conclusion of alpha shift, or would you prefer me to come to your quarters?"

Spock tilted his head. "My incense and equipment are in my quarters," he replied. "I do not need them to meditate, but..." He paused, then went on, "I do have several cushions. I do not typically use them, but perhaps you would appreciate one?"

Jim beamed at him. There was still some compassionate under all the anger! "My knees will thank you," he said.

"Thanks are not necessary," Spock informed him, though he looked quietly pleased. "Furthermore, your knees lack both mouths and vocal cords and are physically incapable of thanking me."

Jim laughed. "Why don't you just show me where your quarters are, and I'll meet you there after shift?"

Spock agreed, and again escorted him through the corridors until they stopped outside a familiar door, though it looked like all the others along this hallway. It was exactly where Spock's quarters had been during Jim's first five-year mission.

From there, Spock went back to the bridge, and Jim debated for a moment what to do next. He wanted most to go back to Sickbay and spend time with Bones. They had not just sat around and shot the breeze with each other in far too long.

But he was not this McCoy's Jim. This McCoy already had a best friend, as he'd made clear to Jim earlier.

He turned his steps towards Engineering instead. He'd offer his services to Scotty. The engineer had ejected the Enterprise's warp cores to help get the ship away from the singularity that had consumed the Narada, but that left them without warp drive. Spock in the Jellyfish had not led them very far from Earth's solar system when he'd warped away as bait for Nero, but far enough that it would take them several weeks to get back to Earth on only impulse power.

Jim figured he probably shouldn't give away too many technological advances from the future, particularly until he had a chance to discuss the ramifications with his Spock. Briefly boosting the Enterprise's impulse engines shouldn't hurt too much, though. Especially when his Spock himself had already given Scotty a more significant equation.

Scotty was ecstatic when he made his offer. "I've been that worried about the engines," he confessed, leading Jim through a much bigger Engineering than the one he had been used to. "Not that the captain didn't make the only decision he could, but there aren't enough people or parts to get the Enterprise in the shape she should be. I'll be right glad when we get back to spacedock, and any help you can give getting us there will be mighty appreciated."

"Of course, Mr. Scott," Jim replied, inwardly marveling at the irrepressibility of Scotty. His younger self and Spock's younger self had so many differences, but Scotty and Bones were so like the men he knew.

"So, pardon my asking," Scotty said as the two of them got to work on the impulse engines, "but are you from the future too? Only we picked you up from that Romulan ship, and I can't figure out how you would have got there except with the older Vulcan I met on Delta Vega."

Jim smiled wryly. His friends were too clever by half -- but Bones's reaction taught him he shouldn't just tell everybody his identity. Spock he could count on to be discreet, but Scotty loved to gossip when the matter wasn't classified. Jim didn't need even more awkwardness with the people so like those he once knew.

"The future, yes," he affirmed, because Scotty probably wouldn't believe a denial. It wouldn't matter as much if the crew heard about him being from an alternate future timeline.

"Wow. Really? So did you learn a few tricks about engines in the future?"

Jim laughed. Oh, Scotty. "A few," he assured Scotty. "Don't think I'll share everything with you, though. Some thing you'll have to learn for yourself."

Starship engineering, while interesting and enjoyable, was not his passion. Still, Jim found himself eagerly digging into these engines with Scotty by his side.

Well, this was the Enterprise. It wasn't precisely the ship he knew, but she still had something of the same feel about her. And he had always been content to commune with his lady, whether in the depths of commanding her, or walking her halls, or digging into her engines.

So he passed the time working with the engines until alpha shift ended and Spock was ready for him. He left Scotty claiming he was "only going to do a wee bit more," and knowing someone would probably have to pry him out of the engines later to make him eat and sleep.

He stopped by his quarters to take a quick shower and wash off the sweat and grease that accumulated in a hot engine room when the engines needed physical work done, but soon he headed out to Spock's quarters. Anticipation bubbled in his stomach, though he wasn't entirely sure what it was for. The chance to feel his own Spock while in a meditative trance? The possibility of showing the younger Spock that Jim Kirk was not always as illogical and chaotic as he seemed? Both of those, or something else?

Spock answered his door promptly and invited him inside. The rooms, though bigger, were decorated as they had been on his own Enterprise. There were the same red drapes around his sleeping area, the same ka'aythra and chess set on his shelf, the same weapons on the wall -- weapons he kept as a reminder of his people's history, their traditions, and how far they'd come since they were warrior clans who conquered their way across unforgiving desert.

Spock had his meditation mat set out and incense already filling the room with the scent of a spicy Vulcan wood. There was another mat set out close to the first one, with a cushion on top. As Spock took a kneeling position on his own mat, Jim sank down onto the cushion in a mirror image of Spock's position. He arranged his hands to indicate receptivity, then closed his eyes and began to match his breathing to Spock's.

Vulcans would occasionally participate in joint meditation with members of their family, one way of keeping them mentally balanced even while repressing their emotions. Spock and his father had done so when Spock was young, but after he'd chosen Starfleet over the Vulcan Science Academy, Sarek had refused to continue the practice. He had maintained his refusal as a sign of disapproval even before Spock actually left. After that, Spock had never meditated with another person until he'd taught Jim soon after their bonding, and only resumed the practice with Sarek after the fal-tor-pan and the reintegration of his memories.

Joint meditation, at least among the psi-sensitive, was more a matching and sharing of energies than simply multiple people meditating in the same room. Jim had only been able to do it with Spock because of the bond between them -- until his return from the Nexus. After that he'd been able to meditate with Deanna Troi and Guinan as well, both psi-sensitive themselves, though he rarely had.

Spock was in turmoil, Jim could tell. He didn't know if Spock had managed to attain a meditative state since Vulcan's destruction, but he wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't. His mental energy nearly vibrated with fury, pain, and grief, and he seemed to be having difficulty letting them go. Once a Vulcan let emotion claim him, he was hard-pressed to return to logic -- which, of course, was why Vulcans eschewed their emotions.

Spock would have to come to terms with those on his own -- or, preferably, with the younger Kirk's help. But Jim could help him gain more balance in the short term, in a way that would hopefully lead to a longer peace with himself, if he was intrigued enough to start his feet on the same path Jim's Spock had taken, the one that led to them learning balance from each other.

Jim had his own things he would need to work through, but he could put those aside for the moment. He had had plenty of experience sequestering his emotions as a starship captain. This would be for Spock.

So he ignored his own pain, his own anger, his own grief, his own sense of helplessness, his own uncertainty. What he focused on was the inner core of peace even Nero had not been able to touch, though he'd certainly tried, in attempting to destroy Jim's bondmate.

Jim kept his breathing matched to Spock's and focused on that peace. He didn't call upon any specific memories, only the emotions associated with them. Gentle amusement and affection. Gratitude. Comfort. He kept the associations light, wanting more the flavors of friendship than of the deep love he felt for his Spock, which might well frighten the younger one. But above all, he remembered peace -- the peace of evenings spent in comfortable companionship, of having someone who understood him better than sometimes he did himself, of someone who accepted him.

He remembered that peace and immersed himself in it, and felt it now, and passed it on.

He noticed when Spock seemed to stop mentally vibrating and started to settle with the feeling of a deep sigh. Finally Spock started to feel a measure of peace himself, and shared that with Jim as well. The feeling was so familiar and beloved Jim's own sense of peace increased.

This was the best frame of mind in which to try contacting his Spock. Humans were not great multi-taskers, so Jim would be less able to concentrate on sharing with this Spock, but the hard part was already done -- they had already established their rapport. It would be something like patting his head and rubbing his stomach to commune with both Spocks at once, but he could as long as he didn't think about it too hard.

So once again he reached into the core of him, but this time for his bond -- which was part of the source of his peace, though not the whole. Having the bond be partially the source made maintaining the joint meditation much easier, though.

But he reached for the essence of Spock, the familiar Spock, his Spock, the one who matched him -- and who felt him and reached back for him. His Spock was only marginally more peaceful than his younger counterpart. Though Jim ached to feel his bondmate's grief, he couldn't do any more to help than what he was already doing. He would have to wait until they could meet in person to truly be a help to his bondmate.

They didn't have anything they truly needed to communicate to each other this time, beyond confirmation they were both heading for Earth and would meet there, at Starfleet Academy, an agreement they sent with images rather than words. The rest of the time they spent just touching each other's minds, each other's spirits -- which was, in many ways, as intimate and fulfilling as any hug or kiss, if not more. Their mental communion satisfied Jim for now, though he certainly looked forward to being able to touch Spock physically again soon.

Gradually, his body began to assert a protest to remaining in one position for so long, and with reluctance, Jim let go of the trance. The younger Spock retained it little longer, but he opened his eyes not long after Jim. Spock stood in a smooth, almost liquid motion, and then reached out a hand to Jim.

Jim hadn't expected it, but he smiled as he clasped hold of the hand and let it draw him easily upward. He had to brace himself against Spock's wall once he was up, though, because pins and needles had taken over his legs and he wasn't sure he could stand on his own without falling. Spock didn't hold him up himself, but he stood close, making clear he would help if Jim required it.

"Jim," Spock said, as Jim got his legs working again, "I thank thee."

Jim could even see the lingering peace in his eyes, though he knew it wasn't likely to last long. Trials of the kind Spock had just undergone were not the kind of thing to be put behind after one meditation session. But it was a respite, and Spock had surely needed that.

"And I thee," Jim replied, mustering up a smile despite the prickling in his legs. "That helped me as well."

"Indeed." Spock paused. "If you would permit another query...?"

"What is it, Spock?"

"I...believe I detected the presence of a link between us. Since we should not have been able to create one ourselves, would this be something you share with my counterpart and only the echo of it reaches me?"

Jim carefully controlled his expression. He'd been hoping Spock wouldn't notice that, but knowing his observant Vulcan, it had probably been too much to wish for. At least he had a ready answer. "Spock and I have had to meld in the line of duty several times," he told his husband's younger counterpart. "The link naturally formed between us. We both found it useful and decided not to break it."

That was actually even the truth.

But Jim didn't need to go into the history of his bond. Spock should not be able to distinguish between a familial link and a marital bond with only an echo. He even seemed satisfied with Jim's answer as he bid him goodnight.

The meditation had lasted nearly four hours, but Jim didn't find himself particularly hungry. He did swing by the mess hall to get a sandwich and some water to take back to his quarters, but he ended up lingering over the simple meal taken by himself.

It was probably going to be harder than he'd thought, keeping the reality of his and Spock's relationship from their counterparts. Jim figured hiding the truth would be worth it, though.

Maybe he was wrong to want their counterparts to form a relationship. This was an entirely different universe, and the people in it had the right to make entirely different choices from the people he'd known. Even his own and Spock's counterparts had that right, despite -- and maybe even more because of -- the example he and his Spock set. Jim had always been one to make his own choices for himself, and Spock was the same.

But even knowing that, Jim wanted to see his and Spock's counterparts find the kind of happiness he and his Spock had, and he wanted them to find it together. He just knew he had to keep his hands off as much as possible, because a relationship manipulated into being was not the kind of thing he wanted for himself and Spock -- any version of himself and Spock.

No. If a relationship would happen at all, it had to happen naturally. That was, after all, how his and his Spock's relationship had developed, with friendship, trust, loyalty, affection, and love coming each at their own pace. Rushing something was the easiest way to break it, which was the last thing Jim wanted for their younger selves.

--

Chapter Eight
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