rynne: (k/s this simple feeling)
[personal profile] rynne
Chapter Two


3


Jim stood in the shade of the ancient rock-carved buildings of Shi'Kahr, watching the people pass by. The crowd was almost uniformly Vulcan, but occasionally he could see a few humans, some Tellarites and Andorians. Very few, though.

The day was ridiculously hot, an energy-sapping dry heat Jim could feel even in the shade. But even then, it was not quite as oppressive as the more humid air of Ha-kel. Which was where Jim should be. Something niggled in his mind, though he also felt strangely foggy.

This was Vulcan. Jim looked up and could see the slight blue curved shine of T'Khut, and off in the distance were the L-Langon Mountains, with the peak of Mount Seleya rising high above the range and the city. Over to his left rested the smooth curved stone of the Vulcan Science Academy, and at the opposite end of the city, the spaceport.

All of this had been destroyed a year ago, yet Jim still stood on dusty red streets, surrounded by golden buildings.

Surely he was not asleep now. He hadn't even gone to bed yet. He'd been reading engineering journals when it seemed he'd only blinked and found himself on Vulcan.

Jim joined the throng on the streets, not sure what else he could do. He passed by the city's many parks, occasionally walking through one to refresh himself by a misty fountain, but eventually he reached his destination -- the main library of Shi'Kahr.

Jim had not been in this building for many years, but it hadn't changed. The floor, made of a golden rock that matched most of the buildings, was still treated somehow to make it just slightly soft and spongy, enough to absorb the sound of his and everyone else's footfalls. But there were still the small carrels, the open computer consoles, and far back in the distance, where patrons were only allowed to go with permission from the librarians, one of Vulcan's collections of ancient paper books.

Jim found an empty carrel and closed the door for privacy. The keyboard was in Vulcan, but his was sufficient for the task. He typed in a few commands and seconds later had the stardate on his screen.

2259. Exactly the year it should be, though Vulcan should have been dead a year.

But this -- this was an alternate universe of some sort, he realized now. It just didn't feel the same as his own. But how could he have gotten here? He'd just been reading.
He drummed his fingers on the desk. Maybe the first step would be finding out what was different about this universe, apart from Vulcan's current existence. Finding out what had happened, or not happened, could be useful. A few more keystrokes had him pulling up a recent timeline of significant events on Vulcan.

A brief scan, though, left him feeling even more confused than before. He didn't recognize any of these events, and there was no mention of the Federation.

On a hunch, he pulled up specifically bio-medical achievements and scanned back three decades. Spock's conception and birth should be on this list -- he was the first Vulcan hybrid, his conception and his mother's pregnancy eased with genetic engineering.

But there was no mention of Spock.

He pulled up birth records, but there was no mention of Spock there either. He even looked through marriage records, but Sarek was listed as being bonded to a T'Jen, not to Amanda Grayson.

Whatever had changed this universe, it had prevented Spock's birth. This was a universe without Spock. Jim almost couldn’t grasp the idea, and had to put it from his mind to avoid the fear he could feel even now bubbling in his stomach. This was wrong, and he had to find a way out.

How could he have gotten here?

He went back to the main timeline and scanned backwards, line by line, determined to find the turning point, if he could. Eventually he found it, just a brief mention -- Terra's invitation to join the brand new United Federation of Planets it was forming with the Andorians and the Tellarites, and Vulcan's polite but firm decline. Immediately afterwards was the mention of a trading treaty, but it seemed that was how far the relationship between the Federation and Vulcan extended. Trade.

Jim closed down his search and headed back outside, feeling chilled. Eridani was as hot as it'd been before, but it no longer seemed to touch Jim the way it had.

How had he gotten into this universe? And more importantly, how could he get home?

He started walking again, though this time without a destination in mind. He ended up in one of the parks he'd stopped by earlier, letting the mist from the fountain in the center cool him. He wasn't the only one to have that idea -- two more humans in the park were doing the same thing. Probably merchants.

He was just closing his eyes to savor the cool water, deliberately not thinking of anything but how refreshing it was, when the ground started shaking beneath him. Quakes were rarer on Vulcan than Earth, and rarer still in Shi'Kahr, several thousand miles away from Vulcan's few fault lines. Jim opened his eyes, grabbing onto the nearest bench, and happened to look up. There was a small but noticeable blot in front of Eridani.

One moment he had shaded his eyes to try to see the blot better, and the next minute he opened his eyes to find himself back in his chair, in his house, his mind once more filled with Spock. His limbs flailed a bit in surprise as he shot straight up, dumping the journal he'd been reading from his lap to the floor.

Spock had been working on his computer, and turned around at Jim's mental spike of alarm. "Jim?" he asked, standing up and moving forward. "Are you well?"

Jim took in a deep breath and raised his hand to his forehead -- he was sweating, just as if he'd been out in the sun. Except it was night. He took his reading glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "Did you feel anything?" he demanded.

Spock stopped just a few feet away, peering at him with concern. "What should I have felt?"

Jim let himself slump against the chair, perching on its arm. "Oh, you'd know. I wasn't asleep, was I? I don't think I fell asleep."

"You did not," Spock confirmed. "I am familiar with your mind in sleep. You took a nap this afternoon but have been awake for four point two hours."

"That's what I thought." He crossed his arms and looked away. "Spock, what would you say if I told you I thought I just slipped into another universe?"

The concern emanating along their bond increased. "I would question how that could be possible," Spock replied. "You went nowhere, Jim."

"Yeah, I know," he said, "except I did. It was just like a few nights ago, when I felt like I woke up and Shi'masu was gone. I thought it was a dream, but what if it wasn't?"

"There still remains the question of how," Spock pointed out.

Jim shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "But I know what it feels like to be in another universe, Spock, and I just was. I didn't dream it. I was in another universe for a few hours, and then I was here."

The concern Jim felt from Spock's mind shifted to include a more immediate worry. "We will look into this," he said. "We will find out how it can be possible."

"And how it can be stopped," Jim added.

He did not want it to happen again.

--

But it did happen again. The next time occurred during the day, when Jim was actually at work. One minute he was explaining some quirks of twenty-fourth century replicators to a group of Vulcans, and then he blinked and

He woke up in what looked like an infirmary. He rubbed his eyes and looked closer -- it actually looked like Sickbay on the Enterprise-A. But he couldn't be back on the Enterprise-A.

His head felt fuzzy. It was hard to think.

"Finally awake, are you?" someone said, but he couldn't possibly be awake, because that was Bones's voice. But Bones was dead.

The speaker stepped forward, and Jim could see it was indeed Leonard McCoy, though younger than Jim had ever seen him. "Can you tell me your name and the stardate?"

Jim eyed him. "I don't know the stardate. 2258? That was what Nero--"

Nero.

"And your name, sir?" McCoy asked again. "I couldn't tell why you were unconscious. There's no sign of physical trauma. Do you know who you are and where you are?"

"I think I'm back in time," Jim said dryly. "That's what Nero said, when he caught us. And I'm not sure I should tell you my name. Do you know anything about Nero?"

McCoy frowned. "He destroyed a bunch of our ships," he said. "Captain Pike was speaking to him when he suddenly cut the connection and went after a smaller ship. We followed just in time to see Nero's ship consumed by a black hole we barely escaped ourselves. Then we got a distress call from the station on Delta Vega, where the officers there said you randomly showed up and collapsed."

Jim barely heard the tale end of McCoy's explanation. "That other ship?" he asked urgently. "The smaller one that lured Nero off? Do you know what happened to it?"

McCoy looked uncomfortable. "Someone you know?" he asked, but didn't wait for an answer. "It collided with Nero's ship. We don't think the pilot made it."

Jim looked straight ahead, not really seeing anything.

It couldn't be. He would have felt it. He would have known the minute he woke up. When Spock had died before, he'd felt it happen, and continued to feel his absence until the reestablishment of their bond after the return of Spock's memories.

Spock couldn't be dead.

Jim heard the whirr of McCoy's medical tricorder in the background, but it must not have had readings too dire, because Bones left him alone after that. He would have been glad, because he didn't feel like making conversation, but he couldn't feel glad. He couldn't feel anything.

Was that why his head seemed so fuzzy? Did the breaking of the bond damage his brain this time?

Probably not. McCoy's scanner would have caught it.

But...it was wrong. He didn't think it was just his grief speaking, but this whole situation felt -- off.

Though he felt tired, he didn't sleep. He couldn't. Nurses stopped by -- including Christine Chapel, in another surreal moment -- asking if he wanted anything to eat, but he turned them down each time. He couldn't imagine eating.

Maybe he did sleep later, but if he did, it wasn't restful. He probably just tuned out, and when he regained awareness, it was to see two other people standing at his bedside.

One of them was human, but Jim's eyes skipped over him immediately to rest on his companion. His heart started thumping madly even as his mind stretched out, reaching -- and meeting nothing.

It was Spock. Spock, but too young; like McCoy, younger than Jim had ever seen him.

He was beautiful. He was perfect.

He was not Jim's Spock.

Jim met Spock's calm, considering gaze, and forced himself to look away. This was possibly the cruelest thing the universe had ever done to him. To distract himself, he focused on the other officer, and wouldn't let his eyes drift back to Spock.

"I'm Captain Christopher Pike," the officer said, and Jim belatedly did recognize him as Chris Pike. "This is my first officer, Commander Spock. You're on the Federation starship Enterprise. Can you tell us how you came to be on Delta Vega?"

Jim remembered now, for all the good it did him. "We came through the black hole," he said, and nearly winced at the dullness in his voice, but he couldn't muster up more energy. "Nero caught us. He said we came back in time, and were in an alternate universe now, one he created with the destruction of the Kelvin. In our universe, a supernova destroyed Romulus, and Nero blamed us, and Vulcan, for not doing enough to stop it. So he claimed revenge against Vulcan, and against us. He marooned me on Delta Vega to watch, and kept...my companion...on board the Narada. I guess my, my friend--" he swallowed around a lump in his throat, but it didn't dissipate, and he forced himself to continue, "--got back to our ship, and decided to take care of Nero himself."

"And the black hole?"

That was Spock. Jim still couldn't look at him.

"Technology from the future, and that's all you need to know. It should be gone now anyway, with the Jellyfish."

With Spock.

Oh God.

"How is Vulcan?" Jim asked, realizing -- Spock would have taken the Jellyfish before Nero could use the red matter.

"Recovering from earthquakes caused by the drill," Spock said.

Jim let out a breath. Vulcan was still there. Thirteen billion people were still alive -- and his Spock was dead.

"You realize we have no way of getting you back to your own universe," Pike said, almost gently.

Jim shrugged, with almost monumental effort.

It didn't matter. The other universe without Spock, this universe without Spock -- he was still without Spock.

He couldn't help it -- he looked at this younger Spock again, and this time couldn't look away.

Maybe it was just as well. At least here he was in a universe where Spock still existed, even if he wasn't Jim's.

Spock returned his stare, and Jim could practically see his mind racing with questions. "Will you tell us your name?" he asked quietly. "I do not believe doing so will adversely affect the timestream. This universe has already split off from your own and now has its own trajectory. It is not the equivalent of simply being back in time."

Why not? "James Kirk," he said. He noticed their eyes go wide, but didn't find himself to be particularly curious, even when the two of them drew away to have a quiet conference by themselves. Finally Pike moved to a wall comm, and Spock returned to his bedside.

"And your companion?" he asked, as Pike returned as well.

Jim snorted softly. "Alternate reality, right?" he said. "No harm...." He closed his eyes, then opened them again. "It was Spock," he said. "My Spock. And now here you are, so young." His hand twitched, wanting to reach out, but he stopped himself.

Spock and Pike exchanged quick glances. "You were friends, you and this other Spock?" the young one asked, voice soft.

"Best of," Jim said. "To be without him is..." He trailed off, shook his head.

It was wrong. Spock would quote him the needs of the many once again, but it helped no more now than it had after Khan.

The doors to Sickbay opened, and an already surreal situation got even stranger, because Jim's own younger self walked through the doors. "You wanted me here, sir?" Kirk asked Pike. He shot a curious look at Jim, then looked again, longer. He moved closer without listening for Pike's reply first.

"Well, that's interesting," Pike said, but Jim didn't manage to ask why because

He blinked and he stood once again in front of a dismantled replicator, three Vulcans looking at him.

"Dr. Kirk?" one asked, T'Bar. "Are you well?"

"I don't know," he replied. His voice sounded very distant in his ears. "I think we should...continue this another time."

Dizziness and nausea began fighting for his attention, and he leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "Dr. Kirk, do you require medical attention?" T'Bar asked.

Jim didn't know if he needed it, but he knew he didn't want it, so he flapped a hand. "Spock," he muttered.

His head wasn't fuzzy anymore, and he could clearly feel his bond with Spock, a bond that deepened slightly as Jim's strident relief and dissipating despair caught Spock's attention. He heard T'Bar move to the nearest computer console and put in a call, heard Spock's voice answer. He didn't have to pay attention to their conversation to know that Spock was on his way.

The other two Vulcans left, but T'Bar remained with him until Spock arrived. "I wish you a speedy recovery," she told Jim, sort of awkwardly. Then she left him alone with his bondmate, who knelt in front of him.

"Jim?" Spock asked, reaching forward to take his hands. "What is wrong?"

Jim didn't answer. He couldn't yet. He just fell forward until he was caught in Spock's arms, his hands fisting in the fabric of Spock's robes, his face buried in Spock's neck. He inhaled and took in Spock's dry, spicy, Vulcany smell.

"It happened again," he told Spock's collarbone. Spock's hands started rubbing up and down his back. "I was here, and then I was somewhere else. Oh God, Spock. It was like when we first arrived in this universe, but something was different and you were dead. Nero sent me to Delta Vega instead and you sacrificed your life to destroy him and the Narada. Vulcan was still there, but you were gone."

Spock continued his soothing motions, and Jim lifted his face until he could rest his chin on Spock's shoulder, taking in deep breaths. Finally Jim pulled back, and shifted so he was sitting on the floor in between Spock's spread legs, his own legs tangled with one of Spock's.

"It was like I was really there," he said as Spock watched him. "Like I was really living it. In the others, I knew something was wrong. I knew that wasn't how the universe was. But this time I didn't. I just knew it was wrong."

"Do you know what made the difference?"

Jim shook his head. "It's all been so different. It's like I'm getting dropped into alternate universes for a few hours before snapping back here. How can that be possible? I'm not even doing anything."

He shifted away from Spock, grabbing onto the table to pull himself up so he could start pacing, even as his joints protested from sitting on the floor in such an awkward position. Spock stood as well.

"What experiences have we had with alternate universes?" he asked, half to himself and half to Spock. "There was coming here, of course. The Nexus. The Terran Empire."

"Lazarus and the anti-universe," Spock offered. "The Tholians. And the one formed by McCoy's jump back through the Guardian of Forever."

Jim paused. "And how we first figured out I'm sensitive to temporal and universal changes," he added. "When the Borg went back in time and took over Earth until Picard fixed it. You know, these...these universal shifts remind me the most of our experiences with time travel. Like someone is trying to go back in time to change things, but the changes aren't lasting very long and events snap back to how they really were."

"Time travel," Spock mused. "We have discovered many different means of doing so. Have you been able to determine a pattern in the changes thus far?"

"You mean indications of what this person is trying to change?" Jim crossed his arms. "Not yet, no. Or how he's doing it, and why it's not lasting."

Spock inclined his head. "I am confident we will soon understand the situation," he said. "However, you have been through a trying experience and were feeling ill when I first arrived. I believe it would benefit us to return to our home."

Jim shot him an irritated look. It was easy for Spock to counsel rest -- he wasn't the one going through these strange shifts. Just as easy to say they would figure it out later. "I don't need rest," he said. "I'm feeling much better. I want to know what's going on."

"We do not yet have enough data to make a determination," Spock pointed out. "Jim, I still feel your turmoil. Allow yourself to calm down."

Jim closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He knew Spock was just looking out for him, but right now he felt mostly annoyed. He didn't want to go through another shift, but that might be the only way to get more data.

But his stomach still roiled with leftover nausea, and his heart still pumped adrenaline. He should calm down. "Fine," he said. "I'll go home and rest. But you're coming with me, mister. If I have to sit around and do nothing for awhile, then so do you."

Spock tilted his head. "I had every intention of accompanying you," he said. "Though perhaps I was unclear on our planned activities once we arrived at our residence. I do not believe sitting around and doing nothing, as you say, will be of great benefit for you now."

Jim looked closer at Spock's expression, lit with the tiniest bit of teasing mischief, and laughed. The nausea started to dissipate. "Fine," he said again, heaving an exaggerated sigh, though this time in a much better mood. "We can go home and...not rest."

It was just as well -- for several hours, real or not, Jim had thought Spock was dead. He could use some reconnection with his bondmate, and Spock probably knew it.

--

Jim was surprised that night by an incoming call -- few people had called them at their home so far -- and surprised further to see it was the younger Spock's comm-code. Jim's Spock, who had been working at his desk nearby, closed down his computer and headed for their bedroom when Jim gave him a look, and when the door had shut behind him, Jim accepted the call.

"Hello, Spock," Jim said when Spock's face appeared on the screen. Jim studied him carefully -- this was the first time they had spoken in real time since Spock had called bringing news of the crew’s final encounter with this universe’s Khan Noonien Singh. Jim’s Spock had told him immediately when the younger had called from the Enterprise to ask about Khan, and Jim hadn’t been able to relax until he’d seen the younger Spock for himself.

Even hearing that Jim’s own younger counterpart had died and been miraculously resurrected had not dented Jim’s relief. His heart had, however, skipped at hearing how the younger Kirk had sacrificed himself. Jim's Spock was not the only one who had taken the mirroring of their universes' encounters with Khan hard.

But this younger Spock looked well, now. Certainly calmer than he had those weeks ago, when Jim had seen the slight tremble in his limbs and the forced passivity of his face as he described the glass separating him from his dying captain. Jim let out a breath, and felt himself calm as well.

"Good evening, Jim," Spock replied. "I hope this is not an inconvenient time. I have been considering something, and I thought I might take the opportunity to solicit your advice."

Jim raised an eyebrow in a conscious approximation of Spock's, then let it fall. "Of course, Spock," he said. "Go ahead, and I'll see what I can do."

Spock hesitated. "It is an emotional matter," he hedged.

Jim nodded. "It usually is, when you want my advice," he said. "It's fine. Lay it on me."

The familiar exasperated amusement entered Spock's eyes at the colloquialism. "I do not understand your fascination with imprecise idiom," he said, "but I will proceed. Forgive me if this is an impertinence, but have you ever been married, or entered into a similar long-term relationship?"

Jim inhaled sharply. "Yes," he said, after a moment. "I would prefer not to tell you who, but yes. I've been married." I'm still married, he didn't say.

"Did you enter into this arrangement out of love?"

Jim narrowed his eyes. Spock wanted love advice? God, please don't let him be asking how to propose to Uhura, he thought suddenly. But he replied, "Yes. I did marry for love."

Only Spock's eyes gave away his discomfort with the topic, but he pressed on. "You are aware of my relationship with Lieutenant Uhura, are you not?" And when Jim nodded, he continued, "When I was a child, I once asked my father why he married my mother. I had been tormented throughout my youth for my half-human heritage, and I wished to know why my father married a human rather than another Vulcan.

"At the time, my father told me his decision had been made out of logic. He said that as the Ambassador to Earth, marrying an Earth woman was logical."

That sounded like Sarek, the younger Sarek who had not quite known how to appreciate what he had. Jim was sure that Amanda, through the marital bond she shared with Sarek, had known of his love for her, but Jim's Spock hadn't known for sure his father loved his mother, and loved him, until after Sarek's death.

"Because of this answer," Spock went on, "I determined that logic should be how I made my own eventual choice of a wife. I had been bonded to T'Pring as a child, but did not feel we were particularly suited. She would be acceptable if I could not find someone with whom I shared a greater affinity, but I...hoped to find someone else. My observations of my parents' marriage included mutual affection and contentment with each other's company and an easy coexistence. If logic could result in such a marriage, I thought, then that would be satisfactory for my own life."

Jim could see where this was going, and his suspicions were confirmed when Spock said, "I chose Lieutenant Uhura out of logic. She is clever and intelligent. She is efficient in her work. I find her aesthetically pleasing. She understood my Vulcan nature, and was willing to accept my inability to be emotionally expressive as human men might be. She was a logical choice for relationship partner, once I was no longer the instructor of a class she attended."

"But?" Jim prompted.

Spock's discomfort grew enough for a corner of his mouth to twitch down. "But," he agreed, "my father later informed me, after the death of my mother, that my initial impression of his marriage was based on a lie. He told me he married my mother not out of logic, but out of love."

Good for you, Sarek, Jim thought, hiding a smile.

"All right," Jim said, once Spock had fallen silent. "I'm guessing that's the backstory. What, exactly, do you need advice about?"

"Put simply, I wish to know if a satisfying, successful relationship is more likely to be based on logic, or love," Spock said. He was probably trying to be confident, but his question came out almost tentative.

Jim sighed. "You know, that's actually a very difficult question. And a very subjective one."

Spock nodded. "I realize that," he said. "I still, however, wish your advice on the subject, if you feel able and willing to give it to me."

What should he tell Spock? That he even asked the question was a good sign about his willingness to accept "love" as the answer, and therefore his willingness to accept emotion. But how long would that willingness last? It would break Spock's heart, to say nothing of his partner's, if he was initially willing to be in love only for the strength of his emotions to scare him off later.

All he could really do, though, was offer the best advice he could, and trust Spock to handle it.

"From my own experience," he said, "I can tell you that I would never have been satisfied with a partner who didn't love me fully as much as I loved them. But for you, I think it depends on what you're really looking for. If what you want is harmonious coexistence, then maybe logic is your best bet. But if what you want is someone who will enrich your life beyond all telling..." He closed his eyes, trying to put his love for Spock into words.

"Love, at least the way I see it and experience it," he began again, "can be terrifying. No one has a greater capacity to hurt you than someone you love. And what happens when your partner dies--" He swallowed. Thanks to his most recent universe shift, the memory of existence without his other half was closer than all the decades ago and Khan's revenge. Not that he would ever forget Khan's revenge, especially not now. "It's devastating. And something that will mark you forever.

"But," he said, raising a finger when Spock started to look subtly discouraged, "that doesn't mean I regret any of it. My husband has caused me a lot of pain in a lot of different ways, but he also gave me so much joy. And in a way, he’s even given me me. I've changed a lot since meeting him, in ways I really think are for the better. And that's part of what I think love is, Spock -- someone who is willing and able to help you become the kind of person you want to be. Someone who will challenge you when you need it, but who will also support you when you need it.

"Humans like to say things like how they can't live without this person, that kind of romantic hyperbole. You think it's illogical, right?" He grinned when Spock nodded. "It is hyperbole, but it's also true, in a way. It's not so much that I literally can't live without my husband -- I know for a fact that I can, as much as I don't like having to do so." Those months after Khan without Spock's presence in his mind -- he had wanted to follow Spock in the moment of his death, and the immediate aftermath, but that impulse had faded. He knew he could live without Spock. The actual doing so was hard, though. "But I can't live the same life without them, the life I most want. There are so many ways that just knowing my husband, and having him in my life, has made my life so much better.

Spock had angled his head away when Jim mentioned living without his husband, but now he met Jim’s eyes again, his face intent.

"Relationships, especially marriage, are all about compromise. You don't go into a relationship expecting to change someone, or even to change yourself, but you both have to be willing to change, in small ways and in big ways. I've changed some of my eating habits for my husband, but I've also changed my career path and where I've lived. It's been hard, but it's also been worth it -- he changed just as much for me. I think he also appreciated those changes, even when they were difficult. I think my husband, partially through his relationship with me, found a kind of peace that he had never before experienced. And it's an extraordinary thing, to be the cause of that, or even partially the cause."

Spock's eyes were wide. Maybe he hadn't expected a dissertation on love and relationships when he asked, Jim thought with mild amusement.

"Nyota," Spock began, and then paused, seeming to organize his thoughts. "Nyota has changed for me, I think. She was more exuberant in the beginning of our acquaintance. She eventually grew more subdued, and I attributed it to both greater maturity and an effort to make me more comfortable."

Jim nodded. That made sense, given what he knew of his universe's Uhura. His own, while perfectly capable of controlling herself, was rarely subdued. Exuberant was probably a good word for her. And she had never dated Spock.

"What do you think about that?" he asked.

"I'm not sure," Spock admitted. "I do not believe I have changed similarly in response to…her." He paused, and Jim wondered what was going on behind those dark eyes. "I further do not know if she is comfortable with these changes -- if, as you say, they are making her more of the person she wants to be. But I do not feel that response to her."

Jim sat back in his chair. "You probably need to have a serious discussion, then," he said. "Talk about what you want for yourselves, for each other, for your relationship."

"And if I am not certain what I want?"

Jim shrugged. "Not everyone is," he said. "But I think you should at least decide if what you want is logic or love. And keep in mind that they're not mutually exclusive. It can be logical to pursue love, depending on your goals, and I'm sure love can evolve from a relationship initially based on logic."

"I...do not believe I love Nyota," Spock said, his voice low. "I care deeply for her, and I enjoy her companionship, but I do not feel she has enriched my life in the way you describe. I would regret her absence from my life, but I do not believe such an absence would make my life so much the poorer. I do not feel that she has made me more of the person I want to be, and after having engaged in a relationship with a duration of one point eight years, I do not believe these facts will change. Our relationship has been satisfactory in that she provides harmonious companionship, but..."

"But you want love," Jim finished for him, almost a question.

Spock closed his eyes, and when he opened them again, he had a sort of wildness in them, like he was choosing to jump off a cliff. "Yes," he said, very softly. "What my father shared with my mother, and what you have described -- if that is love, I wish that for myself."

Jim smiled at him, feeling almost humbled to be allowed to be part of that decision. How lucky was he, to have helped two Spocks better understand their needs?

He forced himself to sober up, though. He gave this Spock what advice he could, but he had no way of knowing what would come of it. If this Spock would find someone who fulfilled him, or if he would arrive someday on Ha-kel, terrified of the strength of his feelings, seeking to undergo Kolinahr.

But that might never happen. Jim had to trust that Spock knew what he was doing. "You deserve it," he said, and softened again when he could see Spock's smile in his eyes, that beautifully familiar and distinctive look. Even now, being able to extract that look from Spock made him feel vaguely giddy.

"I believe I will schedule a conversation with Nyota," Spock said, the smile in his eyes fading. "I thank you, very much, for your advice."

"Anytime," Jim said sincerely. "I hope it goes well for you. For both of you."

Spock nodded, paused, and then said, somewhat awkwardly, "Jim...I grieve with thee."

Jim smiled at him, just as awkwardly. He had implied his husband was dead, even if he'd not told a single lie. He didn't want this Spock to know he was married to his older counterpart, not yet, especially not when this Spock was already enough in turmoil about love to have come to Jim about it.

It was awkward all the same. "Thank you," he said, in appreciation of the spirit of Spock's offering.

Spock raised his hand in the ta'al, looking easier. Jim reciprocated the gesture, and then the screen went dark.

Jim let out an almost explosive sigh. That had been difficult, and disturbingly close to interference. Or maybe it was interference. But how could he have turned Spock away?
He shook his head, and went to find his own Spock. The older Vulcan was engaging in the incredible indulgence of reading in bed when Jim moved into the room, but he put aside his padd with no reluctance when Jim crawled on the bed and laid his head on Spock's stomach. Long fingers started carding through his hair and he nuzzled into Spock's belly with another sigh, this time one of contentment.

"All is well with my younger self?"

"I assume so. He was actually calling to ask me about love."

Jim didn't have to look up to know Spock was raising an eyebrow. "You were right about his relationship with Uhura," Jim went on, referring to a conversation from nearly a year ago, one that stuck out in Jim's memory because of Spock's reassurance that the younger Vulcan's relationship with Uhura was not likely to be one of great depth. Maybe it made Jim a bad person to be reassured by that, but he didn't really care.

He would have gotten over it if the younger Spock had really loved Uhura, and she made him actually happy.

Probably.

"He basically wanted to know if love is worth it. I described what it was like to love you, without actually saying I loved you, and he seemed to decide it was indeed worth it." He shifted his face until he could look up at Spock with what he knew was an unabashedly affectionate expression on his face.

"Jim..." Spock said, then shook his head. "I do not know whether I should be pleased or exasperated," he scolded mildly. His fingers paused in Jim's hair. "We agreed not to interfere." But his face softened when Jim kept beaming at him.

"I don't know if it was interference," Jim said. "He obviously really needed to ask someone, or he would never have brought it up." He nudged his head upward slightly, and Spock's fingers resumed their movements.

"Yes, and you would have given the best advice you had available," Spock agreed. His trust thrummed through their bond.

Jim lifted his head, finally dislodging Spock's hand, then scooted upward on the bed until he and Spock were face-to-face. He brushed the first two fingers of his hand against Spock's, then leaned forward to kiss him in the human way as well. "I love you," he said. He didn't say it often -- he didn't have to, not with the bond between them -- but he felt the need to say it now. "With all of me, I love you."

Spock's eyes were that warm liquid chocolate color they turned when he was particularly happy. "I cherish thee," he said in reply. He placed careful kisses along Jim's meld points, and Jim settled against him easily, tilting his head to give Spock better access.

He needed Spock in his life. Anything else was simply...wrong.


Chapter Four
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