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Chapter Ten


Eleven
2258 - Reboot Universe



The rest of their return to Earth went smoothly.

Jim continued to help Scotty in Engineering, though at that point he'd already boosted the impulse engines as much as he felt wise. Instead he spent most of his time helping to fix all the numerous problems that kept popping up as a result of the battle.

He checked in with Bones, who pronounced his ribs as healed as they were going to get, though he warned him bones grew more fragile with age and he should still be careful. Jim waved it off -- he was already about as careful as he would ever get. He wasn't going to stop living just because he'd gotten old.

He'd only managed brief, awkward conversations with Sulu and Chekov in the mess hall. They'd clearly heard the rumors about him and had no idea how to treat him. He didn't blame them for their uncertainty, as much as he missed the friends he knew.

Uhura would usually eye him speculatively whenever they crossed paths, though he never could guess her thoughts. She was quieter and more self-contained than the Uhura he'd known, and he hoped it was just the circumstances and her youth. His Uhura had never hesitated to display her joy in life, and though Jim had missed that before, he found he missed it even more now, faced with her counterpart. Hopefully she would grow into the cheerful steadiness of his own Uhura.

His further encounters with his own counterpart and Spock's were about as brief as the ones with Sulu and Chekov. Probably the longest conversation Jim had with the younger Kirk consisted of commiserating with him about reports, while another included his suggestion that Kirk challenge Spock to a game of chess. The younger Spock had made him another offer of a joint meditation session, but he didn't want Spock to get too attached to this version of him, so he diverted Spock by suggesting he ask his father.

Sarek had accepted. That had made Jim particularly happy, because he knew his own Spock had missed his meditation with his father. He was glad the younger one had the chance to rebuild their relationship.

So Jim spent his remaining time on the ship helping Scotty with the engines, talking to Pike and sometimes Sarek, and, with a sense of déjà vu, looking through the history of this universe after the Kelvin.

When they finally reached Earth, he held back to disembark with the Vulcans. The media were going crazy over the younger Enterprise team, but even they respected the Vulcans' privacy. Jim slipped onto the planet with no questions asked about who he was.

Once at Starfleet Academy, he found two messages waiting. One informed him the Admiralty would like to see him the next day. The second said Spock was scheduled to arrive that night.

Jim decided against meeting him at the spaceport this time. People crowded the huge spaceport, reuniting with their loved ones from returning ships. The media maintained a large presence, which Jim didn't want to deal with. And he knew where Spock would meet him, and he didn't even have to leave the Academy grounds.

When Jim had been Chief of Starfleet Operations and Spock had taught classes, the two of them had not been able to meet for lunch every day, but they'd usually tried. There was a particular secluded garden in the Academy, more of an alcove off one of the bigger gardens. Spock said he'd enjoyed meditating there as a cadet, and so Jim and Spock had turned it into a meeting place for when they were both on Academy grounds.

Jim found the garden easily enough, though he'd had to dodge through halls of uniformed cadets and teachers who still had blank, stunned faces even two weeks after the initial threat and tragedy. Some familiar faces moved through the crowd, younger officers who'd served on the Enterprise with him -- including Kevin Riley, Jim noticed with a shock. He should probably look up Tarsus IV to see if the famine had happened in this universe as well. He hoped it hadn't.

But if it had, he also needed to see if there was an Anton Karidian around.

He arrived at the garden early. No one had claimed it yet, and he gladly took the time to himself to just sit in peace. He'd occupied such a strange position on the ship that being there hadn't quite been as calming as he usually found being on a starship. He didn't quite meditate, but watching the sun set from the garden relaxed him.

Still, he felt when Spock arrived. He couldn't not. Even if he hadn't felt his approaching presence, he would have heard the soft tread on the grass, and took in the scent the slight breeze carried to him. He stood up from the bench where he'd been sitting, and, like their reunion sixteen years ago, didn't say a word as Spock took him into his arms.

Jim just closed his eyes and buried his nose in Spock's neck, Spock's hands coming up to twine in his hair and rub up and down his back. Partly the gesture served to comfort him, Jim knew, but mostly it served to comfort Spock, whose thoughts across the bond consisted of variations of hereheresafeJimhereminemineJimsafehere.

Finally Spock pulled back enough so they could rest their foreheads against each other. One of Spock's hands remained buried in Jim's hair while the other came up to cup his cheek and brush across his meld points.

"I am gratified to see you safe," he finally whispered, so low Jim barely caught the words.

"And you," Jim replied tenderly. One of Jim's hands rested on the back of Spock's neck, playing with the short hairs there, the other propped on Spock's hip.

Eventually Spock pulled away entirely. As he drew back, he caught hold of Jim's hand. "This is not the place," he said. "Do you have accommodations for the night?"

Jim nodded. "Starfleet gave rooms to all the civilians on the Enterprise. I only looked in on mine, but it's standard guest quarters. There's room enough for two."

Spock nodded back and straightened, pulling his hand away so he could tuck them both behind his back. Jim started walking when Spock did, barely taking the lead. If they walked too close together, that was all anyone who watched them would notice.

Spock just sat down heavily on the bed when the door of their room hissed shut behind them. He seemed to be staring at the wall, and barely blinked when Jim turned down the covers. Jim had the computer turn the temperature up another five degrees -- he was slightly chilly, and knew Spock would be worse, though Jim wasn't sure the Vulcan could actually feel the temperature yet. Or at least, properly register it and notice it as uncomfortable.

When greater warmth filled the room, Jim started stripping. Though Jim's motions caught Spock's attention, he only started staring at Jim instead of the wall. Completely naked, Jim pulled on Spock's hands until he stood up, and then Jim methodically undressed him as well. Spock cooperated, but he didn't help, not until he too was naked and following Jim into bed.

The sheets were cool against their bare skin, but Jim drew the covers up over them and wrapped his arms around Spock, tangling their legs together. Their hips pressed flush against each other, flaccid genitals nestling together. It wasn't an erotic moment, though, and Jim knew he wouldn't be hardening tonight. Spock certainly wasn't in the mood, and he didn't think he could summon it either, as glad as he was to see Spock again.

Spock's arms closed around Jim, almost too tightly to be comfortable, but Jim was fine, particularly now his ribs had healed. Spock pulled Jim's face into the crook of his neck, and Jim shifted until he could stay there and still breathe all right. Eventually Spock's arms loosened, but only slightly.

Jim was not at his most comfortable, but he felt comfortable enough, and he had no desire to move. Spock kept his thoughts uncomplicated -- a deliberate focusing on the physicality of Jim in his arms, the feel of Jim's skin, the sound of his breathing, the scent of him. Jim just closed his eyes and wriggled closer. Spock's hand started stroking his hair, and finally he fell asleep to the feel of Spock's heart thrumming against his side and his hand petting Jim's hair.

--

When he woke up early the next morning, the gray light of dawn casting the room in light colors, Spock had already awoken. Jim wasn't sure if he'd even slept. He hoped so -- he didn't like the idea of Spock lying awake, even with Jim in his arms the reminder they were still alive and together.

Spock still lay in bed, though, an unusual occurrence when he'd already woken. Jim touched his face and Spock raised his hand to brush Jim's fingers, but they didn't have time for more than that because Jim really needed to relieve himself. While in the bathroom, he took the time to brush his teeth as well.

When Jim came out, Spock was still in bed, so Jim joined him again. They didn't have anything to do until 1400, when the Admiralty had requested to see them.

Before Jim settled in, though, Spock had grabbed him and pulled him over Spock's body like a living blanket. Jim blinked in surprise, but he was not unhappy with his new position.

Spock kissed him then, and Jim was glad he'd taken the time to brush his teeth -- Spock would put up with morning breath, but he didn't like it. Their tongues twisted around each other, Spock's stroking his until he moaned into Spock's mouth. Jim tried to breathe in through his nose, but eventually that wasn't enough and he had to pull away to breathe.

"Oh, Jim," Spock murmured, running his hands across what felt like every inch of skin Jim had, just as Jim's were him. "Ashayam, I was so worried."

Jim kissed Spock on his neck, tongue licking out across his pulse point. "I'm fine," he said into Spock's skin, but he knew Spock could hear him. "I'm fine, and our counterparts are fine, and Earth is fine."

"But Vulcan is not."

At those words, the erotic urgency that had begun to build dissipated, and Jim slowed his exploration until it conveyed more comfort than lust.

"It is not your fault, you hear me?" Jim said fiercely, lifting his face until he could look into Spock's eyes. Spock closed his.

"I know that. I do know that, ashayam. But it is no easier to be blamed for genocide when one knows it was not one's fault. It is even less so when such blame results in yet more genocide, and that he would have revenged himself on me by killing you. I do not know what I would have done had I lost you as well as Vulcan, Jim."

Jim kept up his slow stroking, and leaned down to kiss Spock's closed eyelids. "You would have rebuilt," he said. "You're very strong, my heart. But isn't it illogical to speculate on what might have been? It didn't happen. Let it go."

Spock opened his eyes and gave him a familiar fondly exasperated look. "As you yourself know, that is more difficult than it sounds."

Jim nodded. It was. "This is our universe now," he said. The red matter had all imploded, and even if it hadn't, coming back in time had been an accident. They didn't know how to direct time travel on purpose. "We're going to have to learn to live in it, even with everything Nero's done. You'll feel better when you're with the rest of the survivors, helping them rebuild."

"It is decided, then?" Spock asked dryly.

Jim kissed him on the tip of his nose, feeling an almost unbearable wave of love at Spock finding some remnant of his sense of humor. "It is," he replied in his most commanding tone. Then he relaxed enough to say, "I do know you well enough to predict what you would want to do. What else would you decide? You can't go back to Romulus -- you have no name here, no credentials, and it's too uncertain after Nero. And the Vulcans will need you -- you have more experience actually managing your emotions than most of them, rather than repressing them, and I think they'll need that."

"I believe you are correct," Spock said, relaxing slightly. Jim understood. Planning something useful to do could make a big difference in how one thought of the future.

"However," Spock continued, rolling them over suddenly so he was propped up on top of Jim, "I believe in the meantime, I feel the need to reconnect with my bondmate, who was so nearly taken from me."

Jim had no objections. After digging out the lube he'd replicated from the Enterprise, he willingly let Spock pull him back into his arms and into a kiss.

Alexander the Great had once been said to have been ruled by Hephaestion's thighs. Jim wasn't quite that bad, but he did sincerely enjoy the position Spock drew him into. The entire time, he felt like he was cradling Spock, holding him safe.

Afterwards, feeling sated and drained, he cleaned up, then rejoined Spock on the bed and moved easily into his arms again. Spock never even commented on the illogic of staying in bed past the time to rise, so Jim knew he got just as much out of the contact as Jim did.

They couldn't spend the day in bed, as they had when they were younger. For one thing, they did have the meeting with the Admiralty in the afternoon. But simply holding each other was still wonderful in its own right, and Jim soaked it in, cataloguing this moment with the thousands of others that gave him his core of peace deep inside.

--

They managed to get themselves up and ready long before their appointment, and spent the time familiarizing themselves with the Starfleet Headquarters of this era. The array of buildings hadn't changed significantly in a hundred-some years, but it had changed enough for exploring to be actually useful. There was no longer a building named after Jim on the Academy campus, which was strange but also somehow relaxing -- he'd always been uncomfortable about it before.

Finally the time for their meeting arrived. When they reached the interview room, they found three of Starfleet's most illustrious admirals waiting for them.

"Admiral Barnett, Admiral Komack, Admiral Nogura," Jim greeted, though Spock contented himself with inclining his head and presenting his hand in the ta'al. Barnett and Nogura returned the hand gesture. Komack attempted it, but gave up when his fingers wouldn't part properly.

What gave Jim a sharp feeling of smug pleasure, though, was that all three admirals looked off balance at being addressed by name by someone who seemed to be a stranger. Jim couldn't help but feel this interview was going to be a battle, and he wanted every advantage he could get.

"Good afternoon," Barnett said, gesturing them towards seats. He glanced down at his padd, though Jim was sure he didn't need it to remind him of anything. "Thank you for agreeing to meet with us." Not that it had exactly been an invitation. "We've been told the two of you are from the same universe and time period as Captain Nero?"

"That is correct," Spock replied serenely, and Jim nodded.

"And you are, in fact, James Kirk and Spock of Vulcan from the other universe?" Barnett looked dubious of the idea.

"Yes, Admiral," Jim replied, and further offered, "Retired Captains Kirk and Spock. He is now Ambassador Spock, but I would still prefer to be addressed as Captain."

Jim smirked inwardly at the glances the three of them exchanged. He had no idea what they had planned for his younger counterpart, but he wanted to be sure they acknowledged at least one James Kirk had earned the right to that title.

"Of course, Captain Kirk, Ambassador Spock," Barnett said. He seemed to be the spokesperson, though if Jim recalled correctly, Nogura was Commander in Chief at the moment. Barnett continued, "Do you mind if we ask you a few questions?"

"That was our assumption," Spock answered. "Would you prefer first to hear a recitation of our story?"

"We would appreciate it," Barnett replied.

Jim let Spock tell the story -- he'd explained it enough times over the past weeks, and he was tired of hearing it. Instead, he kept his gaze on the faces of the three admirals.

Komack's face displayed open skepticism, but Jim had expected that from him. He was one of the more conservative voices within Starfleet, and Jim had never exactly gotten along very well with him, even after his own promotion.

Barnett was listening and withholding judgment for now. Jim had seen that intense stare before, and seen it turn seasoned Starfleet officers into stammering cadets -- just as they'd been when Barnett had presided over their tenure at the Academy, since he was the Superintendent of it. Spock, of course, kept his composure with aplomb.

Nogura he couldn't read at all, but that didn't surprise him. Commander in Chief of Starfleet was an intensely political position, and no one who couldn't keep his thoughts behind his eyes would be allowed to hold the rank.

Spock began the story by giving brief descriptions of their own careers in Starfleet, including Jim's promotion to admiral and his later return to the rank of captain -- Jim was amused to note, though, that Spock didn't mention his court martial or the reason he'd been demoted beyond a mention of the Federation President's praise of his ability in that role. He gave a brief mention of the Nexus, to explain how Jim had survived to Nero's time, and then he launched into the story about the Hobus star and the red matter and their appearance in this universe.

Silence filled the room after Spock finished speaking, though Nogura did get up and go to the room's replicator to get a glass of water and give it to Spock, who accepted it with a nod of thanks.

"Remarkable story," Komack said, with undertones of its perhaps being too remarkable.

"Even so," Spock agreed blandly.

Barnett shook his head. "You are sure that the red matter, the Narada, and your own ship are gone?" he asked. "Completely destroyed?"

"Completely," Jim answered firmly. "The Jellyfish impacted with the Narada, and the Narada was utterly consumed by the red matter, which imploded. There is nothing more from our universe here in this one except the two of us."

"Hmmm."

"If I might ask," Jim said politely, "have you decided what's to be done with my counterpart yet?"

Barnett fastened him with that intense gaze, but Jim simply met his eyes. "What do you mean, Captain?" he asked.

Jim caught himself just before he shrugged. He was trying to be formal here. "I understand he was in the middle of a disciplinary hearing, and now he's commanded the ship that saved Earth. And he is a younger version of me. I'm sure you understand if I'm curious."

Barnett eyed him. "Commander Spock has dropped the charges against him," he said slowly. "As for the rest, we have not yet come to a decision."

"In fact," Nogura spoke up, "we wondered if this might be something we could discuss with the two of you. You must admit you have unique insight."

"Though it will, of course, be our decision," Komack warned them. "We agreed to listen to what you have to say, but the decision will lie with us."

Jim and Spock exchanged a look. "Of course, Admirals," Jim agreed. "What did you want to ask us?"

"You must understand," Nogura said, leaning forward in his chair, "that Starfleet is in turmoil. We lost nearly an entire class of cadets, as well as seven of our newest and most advanced starships. That's not even mentioning the effects of losing Vulcan."

"Furthermore," Barnett continued, "Captain Pike is in no condition to resume command of the Enterprise. His ordeal on board the Narada has left him currently paralyzed from the waist down. That might be fixed in time, or it might not. But we cannot leave the Enterprise without a captain."

Nogura nodded. "Already people throughout the Federation and even beyond our borders know what the Enterprise accomplished, and under whose command she did it. Despite our desire for Captain Pike to resume his duties aboard the Enterprise, which he sincerely earned, we cannot leave what is not only the flagship, but what has become a symbol of the Federation, in drydock until Captain Pike recovers."

Jim could read between the lines, and shook his head slightly in disbelief. "Are you suggesting putting my younger counterpart in as captain? That is what you're hinting at, isn't it?"

"Do you believe yourself incapable of it?" Komack asked, with a raised eyebrow.

His eyebrow was nothing on Spock's, though. "The situation is unprecedented," Spock replied, raising an eyebrow back. "Despite the confidence we both have in young Kirk's abilities, Captain Kirk is surprised you're even considering the idea."

Jim nodded. "Field promotions are one thing, but I've never heard of someone's rank rising so astronomically. I was young when I was commissioned as captain of the Enterprise, but I was thirty-one, not twenty-five, and I'd still had ten years to properly climb the ranks."

"Unprecedented or not," Nogura informed them, "young and inexperienced or not, James Kirk's name has become known throughout the Federation. We can't ignore that."

"But nor is it a guarantee," Komack cautioned. "When the possibility was brought up after his initial debriefing soon after the battle with the Narada and Dr. McCoy informed us of Captain Pike's condition, plenty of us did not want to place that burden on an inexperienced cadet, who will inevitably flounder."

God, Komack. "He did not when faced with the Narada," Jim pointed out. "He even kept up with the less exciting duties on our return to Earth."

"Furthermore," Spock added, "James Kirk is the kind of person who excels under pressure. He constantly and consistently faces and overcomes challenges that would make most other officers falter."

Jim watched as the three admirals exchanged glances at Spock's praise. They were probably disconcerted, like everyone else. They had probably counted on Spock being "the voice of reason" -- Komack certainly had, and was now watching Spock like an unknown element that could potentially explode.

Hah, Jim thought, amused. Good luck getting Spock to say anything negative about him, particularly in public. He'd once told a court martial hearing that Jim's honor and cool head in a crisis were things akin to gravity.

"Then it is your recommendation the young Kirk keep his field promotion?" Barnett asked.

Jim crossed his arms and legs and leaned back in his chair. "Do I think he can handle it?" Jim said. "Yes, I actually do. As important as experience is, it is something anyone can gain, and at least he has enough for both him and you to know he can stay calm and in control during a crisis. The rest -- Admirals, I assume you'll be sending the Enterprise out on deep space exploration? Out there, he'll encounter things no one has seen before and no one knows how to deal with. Experience would help him, but so would creativity, and he has enough of the latter to do just fine until he gains more of the former."

"And you, Ambassador?" Nogura asked. His face was impassive, but he watched Spock intently.

"I would not have sent him back to the Enterprise to take command from my younger self if I did not believe wholeheartedly in his abilities," was Spock's reply.

"Even above those of your younger self?" Komack asked.

Spock raised an eyebrow at him. "It has never been my desire to take command," he said. "I am competent at it, and have grown more so under the tutelage of Captain Kirk, but I lack the innate talent for it that he has."

Jim shook his head, shooting Spock a fond look. "Spock has the potential to be a very good commander," Jim told the admirals, "and I have always known that, or I would never have made him my first officer. But he does need experience -- experience in understanding humans, which are still the vast majority of those enlisted in Starfleet. My younger self, more than Spock's, has an edge in a greater understanding of his crew, and that might make more of a difference than experience on a ship."

Spock nodded in agreement. "Given their current capabilities," he said, "I would determine that James Kirk, rather than my younger self, is better equipped to take command of a starship and thrive in that position."

After a moment, Barnett nodded. "We thank you for your advice," he said, dismissing them, "and we will certainly take it under consideration when we make our decision."

Jim and Spock both inclined their heads and rose to leave.

They ended up spending the rest of the day wandering San Francisco, re-familiarizing themselves with the city as well. They walked along Fisherman's Wharf, still preserved after centuries, and ended up eating dinner at a vegetarian Betazoid restaurant in the off-planet market and restaurant area that had grown up near Chinatown.

Jim took a shower that night before he went to bed. When he returned to the bedroom, Spock only brushed his hand, but Jim could tell he still needed physical comfort. They'd not had sex more than once in a day for a long time -- they still loved being physically close to each other, but did not feel the need to translate that into sexual activity as often -- but Jim understood. Sex was life-affirming. He could do with some affirmation as well.

This time Spock took charge very quickly, which Jim had always found ridiculously sexy. He was gentle but purposeful, slowly stripping the clothes from Jim's body and his own and easing them back until he lay on top of Jim on the bed.

His hands wandered almost aimlessly, but wherever his fingers passed he left a trail of slow-burning heat that seemed to sink into Jim's skin and stay there. Soon Jim was writhing, trying to get Spock to touch him in more sensitive areas, but Spock only shook his head and continued on.

He stroked two fingers from Jim's temple to his chin, but did not initiate a meld. He passed his hands down Jim's chest and sides, but did not touch his nipples. He caressed the creases of the joining of Jim's legs and pelvis, but avoided his cock. He had Jim turn over, and ran his hands down Jim's back and buttocks, but did not dip between his cheeks. Then he added his mouth, and started kissing all over Jim's skin.

Jim felt a slowly drugging engulfment of pleasure, something he found strangely as relaxing as it was enticing. Even the urge to beg for more subsided. His cock was not yet fully awake, and he could wait until Spock was ready.

Spock was claiming him utterly, taking ownership of what felt like every part of him. Jim's skin tingled in his wake as if trying to call him back, and whenever Spock returned to a previously-loved spot, something in Jim seemed to settle with contentment even as he felt the need for more. His hips began to thrust into the sheets, seeking more friction for his hardening cock, but Spock's hands came to rest on his hips to hold them still.

Jim whined, some of the pleasant languor dissipating. "Spock," he said, his voice getting low and graveled. "Please, Spock."

"Patience, talukh-veh," Spock replied, his voice also low and rough enough that a shiver passed over Jim's entire body in reaction. "I will take care of you."

Jim tried to roll over again so he could look at Spock, so he could reach out and touch him, but Spock wouldn't let him. "Patience," he repeated. He kissed the very top of Jim's buttocks, his tongue darting out to taste the skin there, and then he pulled back slightly and blew on the wet spot. Jim's entire body jerked.

"Yes, that's it," Spock murmured, lowering his face to nuzzle at Jim's cheeks. "You will give me all of you. Everything."

"Yours," Jim groaned out, even as Spock drew him up from his prone position on the bed to his hands and knees. "Already yours. Always yours."

"Yes, you are. My James," Spock agreed, then parted his cheeks and leaned in to lick at him. Spock's tongue, just slightly rougher than a human's, swiped up and down his perineum, then moved up again to jab at his opening.

Jim found himself gasping fervent pleas, as he always did when Spock indulged in this act. His body went pliant and his mind blank, immersed in pleasure. He had no idea what he was saying, but it made Spock smile against his skin even as he traced the rim of Jim's entrance.

Finally he moved back and started kissing his way along Jim's vertebrae as one of his long, slender fingers, slick with lube, replaced his tongue inside Jim. Jim squeezed his eyes tighter shut as Spock's pleasure began to transmit even more strongly across their bond -- Spock loved fingering him. He loved the rimming for its intimacy and how Jim enjoyed it, but he really loved fingering Jim.

By the time Spock had four fingers inside him and was mouthing at the skin of his shoulder, Jim's cock was fully hard and he felt like a mass of nothing but pure need. With every drawn-out moment of Spock stroking inside him, filling him almost perfect but not quite, not enough, Jim felt himself coiling tighter and tighter.

Finally the coiled pleasure reached almost an edge of pain, and that was when Spock removed his fingers. Jim barely had time to feel empty before Spock's cock nudged at his opening and then slipped inside. As Spock moved forward and filled him, Jim felt something inside him relax utterly, though tension still tightened the muscles of his body.

He did not even have to think about it to push back to meet Spock's thrusts, and he didn't. He felt the physicality of their bodies moving together, but Spock consumed his attention in his mind, adoring him there as well. Then Spock's hand was on his face and they flowed together until they were simply one whole, complete being.

Despite the extended foreplay, when climax came, it was not explosive. It felt more like freefall, but knowing there was safety at the end, because what they fell toward was an utter union of being. And when they reached it, they lingered there together for uncountable moments.

Eventually Jim stirred and opened his eyes to find himself collapsed face-down on the bed, Spock heavy on top of him. Jim had only barely felt his weight when Spock rolled off of him, and Jim took a moment to mourn the separation. But as he turned his head to meet Spock's eyes, he smiled languidly. The separation was an illusion. Spock may not be physically inside him at the moment, but he was always there.

Jim shifted to a more comfortable position, but continued to lie on his stomach as Spock's weight left the bed entirely and then returned moments later. Jim muttered protests when Spock urged him to his back, but the gentle cleansing on his stomach and between his legs and buttocks was soothing.

Spock joined him again when he finished, spooning behind him and wrapping an arm around him, his hand spread out to cover Jim's belly. He still felt totally claimed by Spock, which he knew had been Spock's need and was part of the source of the satisfaction emanating from his husband. Jim took those feelings and brought them with him when sleep dragged him down, and his dreams were full of Spock as well.

--

A few weeks later, Jim sought out his younger counterpart for a long-delayed walk.

The younger Kirk had indeed been given command of the Enterprise, though Starfleet had not yet held the investiture ceremony. They intended to hold it jointly with an award ceremony and were waiting on Pike's release from Starfleet Medical. Pike was still paralyzed from the waist down, and so the Admiralty had decided to promote him to admiral. Jim wished him luck -- he would probably need it, since Jim had gathered he enjoyed a desk job about as much as Jim did.

He found his younger self in his quarters, a small dorm room shared with Bones. Kirk pored over crew profiles and manifests, his eyes reddened from being rubbed and his hair wild, as if he'd absently drawn his hand through it a few too many times. "C'mon, kid," Jim said, tugging him out of his chair against his protests. "Let's take a walk."

He and the younger Kirk never really had gotten their chance for a stroll around the Enterprise. Jim figured this was as good a time as any.

They needed Kirk's authorization to get Jim on board, which Jim found amusing. The ship was full mostly of mechanics and engineers at this point, focused on fixing her up as soon as possible so the Federation's flagship and symbol could get out there and do some good. Jim dodged them with the ease of much practice, and Kirk followed in his wake.

"Were you this terrified at the beginning of your commission?" Kirk asked after they'd been walking in silence for several minutes.

Jim glanced at him. He didn't look terrified, despite the red eyes and barely-tamed hair, but he'd always been pretty good at controlling himself when he cared to. "Petrified," he replied. "I wasn't as young as you are, but I was pretty young. I had some experience, but it never felt like enough. I dealt with it, though, just as you will."

They paced slowly through the corridors, Kirk's attention mainly on Jim. Jim nodded his head at the walls. "Pay attention to her," he said. "To the Enterprise. You need to know this ship, kid. You need to know it better than you know your own face." He'd been going to say your mother's face, but decided to change it on remembering what he'd heard about this Kirk and his mother.

"So that's why we're here?" Kirk asked. "For you to give me advice?" But he looked more closely at where they were going and what they passed.

Jim shrugged. "If that's what you want," he replied. "I just wanted to see her again, and I thought it would do you some good too."

"I...would like some advice," Kirk said. "I don't feel ready for this."

Jim nodded. "You will," he assured him. "Or if nothing else, you'll fake it 'til you make it. I happen to know you're very good at bluffing."

Kirk smiled. "It is one of my talents," he agreed.

"There isn't too much I want to tell you, though," Jim warned. "You have to make this work. We're different people, and you need to find your own way into whatever style works best for you."

"But some things can still apply to me, right?"

"Right. And one of the most important is that the captain sets the tone for his ship. The crew is going to emulate you, whether or not you really want them to." He gave Kirk a hard look. "You don't have to be deadly serious all the time, but you do have to set a good example."

Kirk looked a little abashed, but also determined. Good.

"You also need to remember you are nothing without your crew," Jim continued. "A captain can't run this ship on his own. You need them just as much as they need you -- and more, in the beginning, while you establish yourself. Pay attention to them. Respect them. Learn who they are, as much as you can. Someone will always fight harder for a leader he feels cares for him than he will for a leader who doesn't know he exists. And they'll make doing your duty easier as well -- just as they can make it so much harder if they don't respect you. Given your circumstances, you're going to have to work pretty hard to ensure you do gain their respect."

"I can do that," Kirk said.

This would have been advice Kirk had learned in his command classes, but as Jim knew from experience, advice from class always took on a greater importance when you were about to put it to use. Kirk should find it particularly applicable, given the circumstances of his promotion -- how he related to his crew could make or break his captaincy.

Jim smiled at him. "Yes, you can," he agreed.

He debated warning Kirk off sleeping with his crew, because he'd heard plenty about the trail of lovers Kirk had left in his wake at the Academy -- more than Jim, who had usually preferred long-term relationships. But he decided against it. Whatever he said could backfire on him if this universe's Kirk and Spock did fall in love. And besides, hopefully Kirk would understand about not sleeping with his crew just from the first two pieces of advice Jim had given him.

"Everything else is up to you," Jim finally said. "You'll make your captaincy your own, just as you'll make this ship your own. You can always call me for advice, but I think you'll do fine."

Kirk drummed up a smile, but Jim could see the uneasiness in it. "I might take you up on that," he replied. "Are you going to be staying on Earth?"

Jim shook his head. "I'm going with Spock to the new Vulcan colony, whenever it's settled," he explained. "It would be too strange to stay on Earth, and I'd be by myself. Spock is all I have left now, and I can do some good on the colony."

Jim didn't mention, of course, that he had no desire to be separated from his husband just because they'd fallen into a new universe now. But Kirk looked satisfied with his explanation, no hint of suspicion, so it didn't matter.

They ended up spending several hours on the ship, wandering all over and discussing their childhoods. They'd both had different trials, and while Jim's had made him more serious, the younger Kirk's had made him more rebellious. But they weren't so different, really. Jim thought he understood a lot of what Kirk didn't say, and the same was probably true for Kirk about Jim.

Spock was already on the bridge when Jim and Kirk arrived, seated at the science station and looking at his computer console. Jim remembered all the times his Spock, in their early years, had remained on the ship to oversee repairs, and he hid a smile as his younger self strode over to speak to Spock. Spock turned around in his chair, looking up at Kirk in a posture so familiar Jim caught his breath.

He had some time to recover from the déjà vu when Kirk moved away, meandering slowly from station to station, studying their configurations. Jim stood near the center and placed a hand on the back of the captain's chair. His chair, but not his chair -- and yet, still James Kirk's chair.

That was as it should be.

Eventually Kirk stopped in front of the viewscreen, a curved floor-to-ceiling window with a magnificent view of the spread of stars outside. They were in spacedock, so the stars appeared stationary, but Jim watched as Kirk leaned against the transparent aluminum and stared out at them. He probably didn't even realize what a longing look he had on his face.

Jim turned away and briefly caught Spock's eye. Spock tilted his head, then smoothly stood up and joined Kirk at the window. Jim could hear the soft buzz of words between them, but not what they said.

He was struck instead by the picture they made, angled just slightly towards each other against a backdrop of stars.

Kirk and Spock, on the bridge of the Enterprise again.

This may have been a whole new universe, but it was not as different as it could be. Already there was something it had gotten exactly right.

--

Chapter Twelve

August 2013

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