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Chapter Eight


Nine
2258 - Reboot Universe



The first week of their journey back to Earth passed quickly. On the third day, McCoy summoned him back to Sickbay to take care of his ribs -- the bone-setting laser had finally been repaired. At last, Jim could take a breath without feeling the pain that had quickly become so much a part of him he'd relegated it to the background.

"I want you back tomorrow," Bones told him, "just to be sure they're still mending right after some time to themselves. You're cleared to resume all your normal activities, though."

McCoy kept his tone determinedly professional. Nothing about his demeanor invited the joking and teasing interaction he'd had with his own Bones, and that he'd seen this one engage in with the younger Kirk on the few occasions his younger self had appeared in the mess with Bones in tow.

He'd only seen his own and Spock's counterparts a few times. Jim had heard through the grapevine that the younger Kirk had made it through his preliminary debriefing from the Admiralty over the comm system intact, and was even being allowed to stay in command until they returned to Earth. After their return, though, what would happen to him was up in the air. But in the meantime, he was engaged in running the ship, and really learning how to run the ship.

Spock was helping him. Jim smugly listened as the crew marveled over the first officer's willingness to help the acting captain when it was common knowledge he'd accused him of cheating on an exam just hours before the Narada mission. Jim felt no surprise -- logic dictated Spock would want to find out more about the younger Kirk. As well, now Kirk had been confirmed as acting captain, Spock would have no compunctions about doing his duty to his superior officer.

Jim, of course, spent a lot of time with Scotty, working on the engines. He had seen very little of Sulu and Chekov, but what had surprised him most was the one conversation so far he'd had with Uhura.

He'd been eating his dinner in the officer's mess, where all ship's guests were allowed to eat, when she slid her tray across from him and sat down. He'd eaten most of his meals alone, which depressed him, but he understood. He got along with the old friends he'd encountered on this ship, but they kept giving him strange glances, and he wondered what they knew.

Uhura just sat there eating for a moment, but finally she put down a piece of flatbread and looked at him straight on. Like Spock, she too seemed to have an edge on her, though he didn't know where it came from. Her demeanor carried tension he'd never noticed in his own Uhura.

"I've heard you're from the other universe," she said bluntly when he just looked back at her, calmly eating. "That you're James Kirk from the other universe."

He raised an eyebrow, something he'd learned from Spock. "Is it all over the ship, then?"

"Just among the senior officers -- or at least, the cadets who have taken the places of senior officers." For a moment she looked disturbed, but she quickly controlled herself. "Dr. McCoy has been very vocal in his disapproval of recent 'unnatural' events. Is it true, then?"

He debated denying it, but Uhura knew how to be discreet. "Yes, it's true," he replied, after swallowing another bite of his chicken and rice. "Was there something you wanted to ask me? Apart from my younger self and Mr. Spock, no one else has sought me out."

She hesitated. "Not exactly," she said. "I suppose I just...wanted to see what you were like."

He smiled. "Have you made any judgments so far? We haven't exactly had a long conversation."

"You're...not what I expected," she said finally, starting to eat again.

"What did you expect?" he asked, honestly curious. Nyota Uhura had always been one of his more insightful friends, and he'd always trusted her judgment. That was one reason why she'd been his communications officer -- she had to be able to understand and offer advice about unknown communications, which was harder than it sounded.

"I don't know," she replied with a shrug. "You hitting on me immediately? Kirk never seems to miss an opportunity to hit on someone."

A wave of disappointment struck Jim hard. He'd heard his younger self might not be as...mature as he'd been at the same age, but Uhura sounded so dismissive. How much of an idiot was his counterpart?

She must have seen his disquiet, because she continued, "He's done better as captain than I thought he would. I never thought he would take it so seriously, and he has been. But he just doesn't seem to respect people."

Jim frowned. That wasn't what he had seen, but admittedly, he had spent very little time with his counterpart. "How so?" he asked.

She looked away, but he could see the anger pass across her face. "Haven't you heard about what he did on the bridge to get the captaincy? No matter how well he did once he was captain, that was disgraceful."

Jim debated telling her, but he'd already decided to trust her discretion. "He did that on advice from my Spock, the Spock from my universe who ended up here with me. Nero left him on Delta Vega, which is where he met my young counterpart."

Uhura frowned, but then she shook her head. "Even so, the things he said--"

"Were things he had to say," Jim interrupted. "Would Spock have responded to anything else? Unlikely, and I say that from decades of experience with my Spock. He did what he had to do."

She sighed. "I know, I suppose," she agreed reluctantly. "We never would have defeated Nero if he hadn't provoked Spock. I just can't like--" She stopped herself, her mouth turning up in a wry half-smile.

She didn't have to like her superior officer's methods and decisions. She just had to put up with them. Jim knew that could be harder than it sounded, and it looked like Uhura was now discovering that for herself.

"If it helps," Jim offered, "I don't think he's pleased with what he had to do either. He just didn't let that stop him."

She tilted her head. Her smile gentled. "Indecisiveness has never been one of his faults," she murmured. "Not that he always makes good decisions, but..."

Jim nodded. "No one does," he agreed. "I've made plenty of horrible decisions in my time. Sometimes, though, I made the only decision I could, and bore the consequences the best I could. No captain can do any more."

She folded her arms on top of the table. "This must be so strange for you," she commented. "You knew all of us when you were younger?"

"Yes." His closest friends...he'd missed them all terribly. He looked in her eyes, and his throat closed for a moment. Warm brown eyes glimmering with the beginnings of wisdom -- she was Nyota.

He cleared his throat, but when he spoke again, his voice was slightly hoarse. "By the time Spock and I appeared in this universe, he and Scotty and I were the only ones of our friends left."

She covered his hand briefly in a gesture of wordless compassion, then pulled her hand back. "So, you know your Spock well?" she asked, looking curious.

He was getting tired of explaining that yes, he and his Spock were actually friends. His heart tore that their friendship came as a surprise to anyone, since it was something of a minor legend in their own universe.

"He and I met under less trying conditions than the ones you know," he explained. "He very quickly became my closest friend, and has held that position for about forty-four years now."

"I'm having some difficulty wrapping my mind around that," she confessed. "The Spock I know doesn't seem to know how to have friends, much less anything else."

Spock's difficulties with friendship were hardly anything new to Jim, who seized on the rest of her statement. "Anything else?"

She smiled self-consciously, looking away before returning her eyes to him. "Well, I suppose it's not really a secret after this mission, not after Kirk and Mr. Scott saw us kissing," she said. If that hadn't short-circuited his brain, her next statement pretty much did. "Spock and I are together."

For long moments he could only gape at her. He wasn't even sure if he even blinked. He got control of himself as quickly as he could, but -- Spock was his.

He wasn't proud, but neither was he surprised, that his first reaction was a heart-pounding rush of jealousy and possessiveness. Which was ridiculous, because it wasn't even his Spock. And this wasn't Scotty's Uhura, he reminded himself after a wave of indignation threatened to rise on Scotty's behalf.

He'd already told himself he wouldn't interfere in the younger Kirk and Spock's relationship. He knew they had the right to make their own choices about who they loved.

But possessiveness was still his first reaction, and he had to choke that down before he said anything unwise.

Uhura's face, which had held a combination of shy pleasure and self-conscious pride, dimmed into a more neutral expression as the silence stretched.

"We weren't together in your universe," she said, measuring his reaction, though he hoped she couldn't see anything but surprise. "Were we."

She couldn't keep the traces of sadness and disappointment out of her own voice. Had she told him hoping to find out the Spock and Uhura of Jim's universe had been together?

It struck him, then, how very young this Uhura was. He thought he could finally identify the edge of tension he'd noticed in her earlier -- insecurity. This Uhura, at the very beginning of her career, would be trying so hard to be an exemplary officer. He hoped she got the professional validation she needed from her superiors, but, maybe only because he knew his Uhura so well, he could see her need for more personal validation as well. Her relationship with Spock was not likely so established that she was secure in it.

He took a breath and firmly got a hold of himself. How to answer this without interfering? "The Spock I know wasn't really ready for serious romantic relationships at this age," he said carefully. "By the time he could admit he loved someone, he was past forty. But don't let that discourage you," he added, knowing he had to say it even as he hated it. No interfering meant no interfering, not even subtly, and it meant fixing whatever damage he did. "Your Spock--" and he tried not to choke on calling him that, "--is already different from the one I know. I haven't spent much time with him, but enough for me to tell that. Maybe he can handle a serious romantic relationship right now."

He actually did take the Prime Directive seriously, both the regular version and the temporal, no matter what the people of future generations said. As disturbed as he was at even the thought of someone else with Spock, he had to deal with it.

Uhura's revelation, however, made him want his own Spock even more desperately than he had before. He wanted to bury himself in Spock's mind and body until they didn't even feel like separate people anymore, affirm their soul-deep connection to each other.

Uhura looked marginally more cheered after his little speech, though, which lifted his mood a little. As possessive as he felt about Spock, he didn't want to hurt her. Still, he left the mess after a few more brief comments. His appetite had disappeared.

He wandered the ship for awhile after that, her steady hum soothing him as it had done countless times in his years commanding her. He didn't pay attention where he wandered, and felt like he'd only blinked and found himself outside Sickbay.

This was probably a situation he would have taken to his Bones. Bones would have been expressing both his sympathy and his exasperation that Jim let Uhura's disclosure get to him. Jim was exasperated with himself, because he should understand by now not everything would be exactly the same as in his universe. Everyone in this universe was a different person from the ones he knew, including his own counterpart and Spock's. Their lives were different -- maybe their destinies were too. No matter how Jim felt about his connection with his Spock, he had no right to force it on any other Kirk and Spock.

But he couldn't talk to this Bones about it. This McCoy wouldn't welcome personal discussions from him.

There was still someone in Sickbay he might talk to, though. Chris Pike was still bedridden, his legs not yet working properly, though Jim didn't know any of the details. He'd visited briefly a few days before, but Pike spent a lot of time sleeping. He might as well see if he was awake now.

Pike was, and Bones even said he could have visitors, though he made sure to scowl at Jim to intimidate him into not tiring Pike out. Jim wasn't fazed, though; he'd been on the receiving end of so many of Bones's scowls he was pretty much immune to them.

"Hello, Captain Pike," he said, settling into the chair by his biobed. "How are you doing?"

"Bored as hell," Pike replied, throwing him a disgruntled look and moving his computer aside. "And call me Chris, Captain Kirk. Or don't you remember you've done it before?"

Jim smiled. "Chris, then," he said. "And of course it's Jim. But I called you that before because I knew your counterpart in my universe. Now I'm trying to remember that all the people on this ship I know are not actually the people I know."

"Not doing well with that, huh?" Pike asked, crossing his arms. "I don't blame you. I can't imagine how strange this must be for you."

"Strange is an understatement," Jim replied. He crossed his legs and settled back in his chair. "I think it's a good thing this isn't the first time I've been thrown around in time. Did I tell you about that? I got thrown into a pocket universe where time didn't exist for seventy-eight years, and when I came out, almost everyone I knew was dead. If I could adjust to that, I can adjust to this."

Pike snorted. "I wouldn't want to be in your shoes," he said. "It's pretty amazing, the kinds of things you've experienced."

"Amazing is one way of putting it," Jim agreed. "But you know, when I retired from Starfleet, I thought I'd retired from all the things the universe could throw at me. I both love and hate being proven wrong about that. I'm an explorer at heart, but I'm getting too old for this."

"Me too," Pike replied, then glared down at his legs. "But I don't know how well I can explore with legs that don't work."

This was one of the hard things about being back in time. Twenty-third century medicine had a lot more difficulty with paralysis of any sort than the twenty-fourth century. Pike might regain the use of his legs if that slug had truly paralyzed him, but it would take him a long time and a lot of work.

And truthfully, Starfleet was not very disability-friendly, particularly for those on active starship duty. It advertised itself as a peacekeeping and exploratory armada, but it had its military aspects, and for those, Starfleet required a sound body -- or at least, one that could be made sound by technological advancements, like with Geordi LaForge, who didn't even need his VISOR to see anymore.

Jim didn't want to give Pike either false hope or fake-sounding platitudes, so he just inclined his head in agreement until Pike changed the subject.

"So, you look like a man with something to say," Pike said, smiling. "Is there something I can help you with?"

Jim briefly debated telling Pike about his relationship with his own Spock, but he decided against it. He recognized the desire came from the disquiet of his conversation with Uhura. He shouldn't make a decision based on a passing insecurity, though.

"I'm worried about my Spock," he said instead. "Nero dumped him on Delta Vega. Apparently my younger self met him there and he's fine, but a lot's happened and I'll feel better when I can see him again."

Which was a severe understatement.

"You'll be meeting him soon, though," Pike pointed out. "We're only another week or so from Earth. Spock will be headed there, right?"

Jim nodded. "I don't know when he'll get there, though. All he had was the shuttle left for the team on Delta Vega. It doesn't have warp capacity, though, so he'll still have to catch a ride from a ship that does."

"That shouldn't be a problem, though. There will be plenty of ships converging on the Eridani system, and this one."

Jim nodded. There certainly were, though all had been smaller ships. None of them could help tow the Enterprise in, so the ship was still on her own. But any of those smaller ships could have taken in a shuttlecraft.

"My Spock will be glad to see you," Jim said. "I don't know how long you've known this one, but my Spock served with our Chris Pike for thirteen years. He respects you a lot."

Spock respected him enough to have hijacked Jim's ship for Pike's sake. Jim didn't resent him for that -- he knew the loyalty of a Vulcan. But in the beginning it had rankled, both Spock's actions and that he had kept it secret from Jim partly to protect him. Jim didn't know what he would have decided had Spock come to him with his problem, but Spock had taken the decision out of his hands. He hadn't liked that.

He had never resented Chris for it, though, so when Pike smiled, he echoed it. "I scooped him up for the Yorktown right after he finished the Academy," Pike replied, chuckling. "The other captains sort of hated me for getting there first. Spock was rather bewildered at all the courting going on."

"And then he put his foot down and cited his duty to his previous commitment and stayed with you?"

Pike nodded. "That's exactly what he did. He's done the same for you?"

"Yes, though his friendship with me was the prior commitment," Jim replied, remembering with fondness Spock's stubbornness in those early years. "I'd actually been promoted to admiral after the first five-year mission, and the brass wanted to give Spock a ship of his own. He pretty much told them where to shove it, and started teaching at the Academy." He didn't mention the whole Kolinahr thing and the V'Ger crisis -- it wasn't relevant.

Pike whistled. "Admiral after one five year mission. That's pretty impressive."

Jim snorted. "I never should have accepted promotion," he replied. "I hated it. I felt grounded and useless pretty much the entire time. Having Spock and some of my other friends around was the only thing that made it bearable. I was so glad when Starfleet finally made me a captain again and gave me back my ship."

"And never mind it was technically a demotion?" Pike said, but he smiled.

Jim waved that off. "As if I cared about honors and rank. I'm a starship captain at heart, Chris. Even though I've been many years retired and doing something else, I'm still a starship captain."

And part of him always felt incomplete because of it, now he was a captain without a ship. Being grounded now was more bearable than it had been when he was an admiral, because he knew he was getting old and he hadn't been rated for the Starfleet of Picard's time. As an admiral, though, he knew he still could have been a captain.

Besides, he needed Spock more than he needed a command of his own. Staying with Spock was worth it. He even understood the part of Jim that still yearned for his ship, would always yearn for his ship, and never resented it. He knew Jim's heart, and knew his place in it.

Pike nodded. "I could see it in young Kirk," he said. "You know, I actually met him after he lost a bar fight against four of my cadets? I could tell he had spirit even then, and he was almost ridiculously smart, when I looked him up. Especially considering his father. I knew he needed more than Iowa could offer him, so I told him to join Starfleet, but even I didn't expect this from him."

Jim smirked, though inwardly he was also pretty amazed at what his younger self had accomplished. A lot of it had been luck, but the younger Kirk had been able to take that luck and push it farther, really take advantage of it. Not everyone had that talent. "Never underestimate James Kirk," he said. "I've lost count of how many situations I got through because people underestimated me." But then he frowned. "What do you mean, especially considering his father?"

"You know about George and the Kelvin, right?" Jim nodded, and Pike shrugged. "George is known as a hero throughout the Federation. If he had anything of George in him, I knew he could go far. I just never guessed how far."

Somewhere deep in his chest, Jim felt a sense of disquiet. "Don't tell him about me, would you?" he asked. "He knows about the captain thing already, but the promotion, the rest of it -- don't tell him."

Pike looked at him critically. "You think he'll resent it?"

Jim crossed his arms and shifted in his chair. "I think he's already been living under the shadow of a hero," he replied. "He doesn't need to live under another one, particularly one who's him from another universe. I'm sure he'd thrive under the pressure, but it would also be a burden, and he'll thrive anyway. I think he'd be better off if he knows no more about me than I was a starship captain and my Spock respects and trusts my abilities."

Pike nodded. "I agree," he said. "Besides, he'll likely have enough pressure just living up to this stunt."

"Lucky him," Jim replied caustically, remembering the accolades heaped on him after the V'Ger crisis, no matter how much he'd tried to divert the attention to Decker, Ilia, and Spock, who had been the true heroes there. He'd been in command, so he got the public credit.

He didn't envy his younger counterpart there, who would also have to learn to deal with it, and much younger than Jim had been, too. Jim hoped public recognition wouldn't go to the younger Kirk's head, but despite all the tales of his ego he'd been hearing, Jim didn't think it would. He could recognize he had an ego of his own, and he'd only been impatient with public accolades.

For that reason, he and Spock had kept their relationship quiet, after their bonding. The public was actually interested in their lives, which Jim hated. He hadn't wanted to fan the flames, like the knowledge of any relationship would. There was something about sex and relationships that turned not just humans, but plenty of other species, into avaricious voyeurs, and Jim didn't want to share his relationship with Spock with anyone.

Pike yawned, though he looked sour when he finished it, and Jim laughed. "McCoy will have my head if I keep you up when you're getting tired," he said, standing.

"I'll be glad when I'm off the drugs," Pike replied, still sour. "Thanks for coming by, Jim."

"Any time," Jim assured him, and meant it. Pike was a good three decades younger than him at this point, but he understood Jim better than the younger versions of his friends.

He left Pike's room, in a much better mood now than he had been after his encounter with Uhura. This Pike, of course, was younger than the one Jim had known, but they had still been able to connect.

There was someone else he also wanted to talk to, though, after finding out he was on this ship. And Jim didn't think this conversation would be as easy as the one he'd had with Pike.

--

"T'nar pak sorat y'rani," Jim said when Sarek's door slid open. He spread his hand in the ta'al, and waited until Sarek slowly spread his fingers as well. He'd used a phrase of formal greeting, thinking that "live long and prosper" was not exactly appropriate after such devastation.

"T'nar jaral," Sarek responded, the formal reply to Jim's greeting.

Jim lowered his hand. "I would have speech of you, Ambassador Sarek," he continued, also in Vulcan. His reasons for using the language were complicated -- he wanted to show Sarek respect, wanted Sarek to respect him, wanted to show he was not untouched by Vulcan's tragedy.

"Come in." Sarek stepped aside so Jim could enter. When the door hissed shut behind him, Sarek said, "You do not wear a Starfleet uniform, and you were not among those this ship rescued from the planet."

Jim shook his head. "My story is the reason I came to speak with you," he told the man who was and was not his father-in-law. "I believe you deserve to hear it."

He'd debated with himself about having this conversation for days. He knew he'd probably be an intrusion, but the Vulcans deserved to know exactly why their planet had been destroyed.

"If I might offer you a seat?" Sarek said, indicating the chair in front of the desk. When Jim sat down, he took the seat behind the desk. "Proceed."

"First, how much have you been told about Nero?"

Sarek kept his face and body still. "That he was a Romulan from the future who bore a grudge against my planet for being unable to stop the destruction of Romulus in another timeline."

Jim nodded. "Those are the basics," he said, "but I thought you should know the whole story."

And so he told him. He told him who he was, his time in the Nexus, and about his Spock's work on Romulus after his retirement from Starfleet. He told the story of the Hobus supernova and their attempts to stop it -- attempts that came too late to save Romulus. He explained how Nero decided their failure meant they'd been lying to him about their intentions, and Nero's claims of revenge. And he told about the red matter, his and Spock's journey to inject it into the supernova, their travel through the black hole, and their capture by Nero. He even mentioned that the younger Kirk's antagonism of Spock on the bridge had been on the advice of his own Spock on Delta Vega.

"You and the son who is not my son have been through much," Sarek said when he finished. His face remained unreadable, even to Jim who had known him for decades.

"As have you," Jim replied. He closed his eyes. "Ambassador...I grieve with thee for the loss of thy people, and thy wife."

"I thank thee, for thy words and thy story," Sarek responded, then moved away from the formal language. "Did you know my wife in your universe, Dr. Kirk?"

"I did," Jim said, remembering Amanda, who had welcomed him into her family with joy. She had been so happy that Spock had someone who loved him. "We had many things in common. She enjoyed speaking to someone who appreciated your people as she did."

"Many humans have had difficulty relating to Vulcans," Sarek agreed. "My wife was rare in her ability to bridge the gaps between us."

Jim nodded. Most people, of both species, didn't even care to try. "It took me time to understand Spock even as much as I do now," he said. "But it was worth it."

"I...am gratified my son has found someone to appreciate him. He is a unique individual."

"Yes, and he struggled with that." Jim tactfully didn't mention Sarek's own part in Spock's struggle. He had taken a long time to get there, but he had eventually forgiven Sarek for his treatment of Spock. "But the Spock I know is at peace with himself and who he is, the human half and the Vulcan."

"My wife would have been glad to know it," Sarek replied quietly. "She worried about him very much. She was never satisfied with a Vulcan's dismissal of happiness as a life goal."

"My Spock has known happiness," Jim told him. "But he is still a Vulcan. The Sarek and Amanda I knew -- they were both proud of him."

Sarek didn't protest that pride was a human emotion. "I hope I should always have pride in my son," he said instead. "He has always been worthy of it."

But Jim frowned. "Does he know?" he asked. "Forgive me, Ambassador, but at this point in his life, my Spock had been estranged from his father."

Sarek...actually looked sad. "I did not approve of Spock's decision to reject the Vulcan Science Academy and join Starfleet," he replied. "My wife's attempts at our reconciliation failed. Now she is gone, and Spock is all I have left of her. It would be disrespectful of her memory to reject those aspects of her that found expression in our son."

Jim chose not to mention how that would have been just as applicable when she was alive. He understood the way death made people reevaluate their lives. "You loved her very deeply," he said, just to see if Sarek would face it. Spock had never known, really known, that his father loved him and his mother until after Sarek's death, through a meld with Picard.

But Sarek gave no denials. "I did," he agreed. "I still do."

Yes. "I understand," Jim murmured, looking at his hands.

When he looked up again, Sarek was watching him with eyes that seemed to see too much. "You do, don't you?" he said. "Dr. Kirk, what is the nature of your relationship with the son who is not my son?"

Jim smiled. Perhaps it was unsurprising Sarek saw what gave Jim such an understanding -- as a diplomat, he was alert to nuances other people might miss. "He and I are bonded, yes," he replied, answering the real question he could hear under the first. "Very deeply. I actually even know how you feel -- you remember my mention of my time in the Nexus, the pocket universe that was how I survived until 2387? Universal bounds...broke my bond with Spock. I came out to the feel of a broken bond. But Spock took me back."

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut, for a moment overcome by such a strong wave of love for Spock he couldn't speak. When he could, he looked straight at Sarek and said, "Spock loved me still, every bit as strongly as he did before we were separated, even though he thought me dead. Just as you will continue to love Amanda, even when time passes and you marry again."

"...Yes," Sarek said, looking curious.

"I sometimes wonder," Jim continued softly, "if we do something cruel to you, we humans who are lucky enough to be the recipients of a Vulcan's love. Your emotions are so strong and consuming, and even if we don't die prematurely, our lifespans are shorter than yours. I have to wonder if it's cruel of us to make you love us, knowing how long you'll have to live without us, loving us still."

"I would say," Sarek began, watching him evenly, "that I would not take back my love for Amanda, even after having lost her. And I believe your Spock would say the same."

Jim smiled wryly. "He would," he confirmed. "And he would tell me he chose this path, even knowing where it would lead, and he does not regret it."

"So I would say," Sarek agreed.

Jim took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Perhaps I should not have doubted that he would take me back after the Nexus, but I still consider myself so lucky he did."

"Lucky? Why did you doubt?"

Jim huffed out a small laugh, then quickly sobered. "He had married again, of course. I was grateful for that, or else I would have left the Nexus only to hear of Spock's death, and I'm not sure what I would have done then. But I was very grateful his wife agreed to step aside."

Sarek seized on the first part of Jim's statement. "He will then undergo pon farr?" he asked. "We had not been sure, given his human blood."

Jim nodded, feeling sorry for both Sarek and Spock. Sarek, too, would have to remarry. And while Jim had always enjoyed the actual experience of pon farr, and Spock had come to enjoy it with him, the Vulcans still hated it, and they had good reason. "Not for another nine years, assuming that won't change between universes -- though I don't know why it would, since it's a matter of biology, and Spock's first Time arrived later than a full-blood Vulcan's would. But yes. He will have to deal with it."

"His betrothed did not survive Vulcan's destruction," Sarek murmured.

Jim's face twisted. "T'Pring?" he asked. Sarek he had forgiven for his early treatment of Spock, but he never had managed that for T'Pring. He understood her wanting her own life, but she had set things up so either he would kill Spock or Spock would kill him and the survivor would have to live the rest of his life knowing he'd killed the other half of himself. If not for McCoy's intervention, that would have been Spock's reality. Jim knew she had her reasons, and he even sympathized with them. He still could not quite forgive her for her callous disregard of Spock.

Sarek nodded, eyeing Jim. Jim shook his head to dispel the anger, but his voice was still short when he said, "She claimed the kal-i-fee."

Sarek's eyes widened minutely. "None have claimed the kal-i-fee for over a thousand years!"

Jim shook his head again when Sarek would have continued. He didn't want to talk about it. "Will you allow him to find his next bondmate himself?" he asked. "I know it's the clan's responsibility to arrange bondings, but..."

"But you hope he will eventually find his bondmate in your younger self," Sarek said shrewdly. Jim nodded.

"I'm not going to interfere," he told Sarek. "But my bond with Spock is very important to me, and I would like them to find that themselves."

"Even though all Vulcans will be needed to help rebuild our race?"

"Spock doesn't have to marry a Vulcan woman to contribute," Jim pointed out. "And as for his physical presence, I'm pretty sure my Spock is going to want to help, so the two of us will be wherever the colony is established."

Sarek inclined his head thoughtfully. "This is important to you."

Jim sighed. "Spock and I are t'hy'la, in the ancient sense," he said. "My life would be so much poorer without him, and I know he would tell you the same thing."

"You mentioned not interfering. You would prefer I also keep the fact of your own bond secret?"

Jim nodded strongly. "My feelings for Spock...sometimes they scare me," he admitted. "They're so completely strong, so much a part of me -- I don't know what I'd be without him. When I think about it too hard, that does still scare me. But I think it's worth it. Having been t'hy'la to him for decades, I know it's worth it. But the younger Kirk and Spock -- they haven't had those decades. They would be terrified, maybe enough to run away -- my Spock attempted Kolinahr once because he feared his feelings for me, before he decided they were worth it."

Sarek bowed his head. "I will keep your confidence," he said. "The bond of t'hy'la is still respected on modern Vulcan. If my son has a chance to reach that bond, I will not prevent him."

Jim closed his eyes. "Thank you," he said, the words heartfelt.

There was still no guarantee the younger Kirk and Spock would find their way to the kind of relationship their elder counterparts had, especially not with Uhura in the picture. But they at least had a chance. That was enough for Jim.

--

Chapter Ten
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