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


4


Jim hadn't quite forgotten Sybok in the excitement about skipping universes, but he had not expected Sybok to have progressed very far in his quest in the short weeks since their dinner together. So when Jim saw Sybok's message when he got back to the house after work, the Vulcan's face infused with pleased excitement, Jim figured it would probably be best if he forewent his afternoon nap that day. Far better to find out what Sybok was actually up to.

Back out into the heat he trudged, heading for the hospital where Sybok worked. Sybok hadn't actually said it was urgent and they should come see him immediately, but Jim didn't actually know where Sybok lived; somehow it hadn't come up.

The lobby of the hospital was, at least, cooler than outside, though that wasn't actually saying much. Still, Jim took a moment to appreciate the mild relief before approaching the front desk and asking for Healer Sybok. The Vulcan told him that Sybok was with his patients, but if Jim would care to wait, the healer would be informed of his presence in due time. The man at the desk did not have an estimate for when Sybok would be done.

"Is T'Korin, granddaughter of Kopek, still sick?" he asked the receptionist.

"She remains," was the simple reply.

Jim nodded. "I'm going to visit the children's ward, then, if Healer Sybok finishes before I'm back out," he said. The receptionist barely acknowledged him, but Jim knew the way. And while he didn't actually know T'Korin very well, visiting her was better than cooling his heels in the lobby.

She was once again perusing a padd as he approached, though she did set it aside when she noticed him. "Dr. Kirk!" she said.

Her eyes were bright, though it didn't look like fever. Her tone was almost cheerful. Her lips actually twitched upwards in what was nearly a smile.

Jim stopped dead just a few feet away from her bedside.

"T'Korin? You're...feeling better?" he asked cautiously.

She nodded energetically. Jim wasn't sure he'd ever seen a Vulcan do that before. "I am much improved," she said, and at least she was talking normally. Then she added, "Healer Sybok is very effective."

Sybok.

Jim recognized the reaction now, though he'd never seen it in a Vulcan before. Spock had been the only Vulcan Jim had seen Sybok do his pain-sharing thing with, but Spock had already been so much at peace with himself it had had little effect.

It was disturbing, seeing that effect on a Vulcan who did have pain running deep.
Was this what Sybok had wanted to share with him and Spock today? Either way, Jim would have a few things to say to him.

"When do you think you'll be getting out of here?" Jim asked T'Korin, both to distract himself from his sudden anger at Sybok and to determine how encompassing the effect was.

"The healers believe I will be ready to be released tomorrow," T'Korin replied. "I anticipate returning home. I believe my grandfather will appreciate more company."

"He will?"

"He seemed very lonely when he visited this morning," she said. A Vulcan offering observations on another Vulcan's emotional state. "I believe he would benefit from speaking with Healer Sybok," she added thoughtfully.

Jim cleared his throat. "What, exactly, did Healer Sybok do?" he asked.

"He did not initiate a meld," she replied readily, "but he was able to feel my pain. He asked me if I wished it gone, and when I agreed, he expunged it. I am much improved, Dr. Kirk."

Was she really? Jim was aware of himself giving some noncommittal answer, but most of him was engaged with actually thinking about Sybok's empathic gift, as he hadn't for nearly twenty years. After Sybok's death, it hadn't seemed relevant, and its effects on his crew had dissipated, so he'd dismissed it from his mind.

He still didn't understand quite what happened, even after watching it in Spock's mind and hearing Sybok and McCoy's conversation. The rest of his crew decided to pretty much mutiny after Sybok "freed" them, but it had had pretty much no effect on Spock, and Bones had been able to put his closest friends ahead of even the man who "freed" him. Yet Uhura, Sulu, Chekov -- not even a year before, they'd risked their lives and their careers for him, and then Sybok shared their pain and they were all set to follow him and put their commanding officers in the brig.

He couldn't help thinking there was some element of coercion there.

"Dr. Kirk," Sybok's voice said from just behind him, and Jim controlled his instinctive jump as he turned around. "I am pleased you could come. Was your bondmate unavailable?"

"He's at work," Jim replied. "I thought I'd come see what was going on before I called him."

Sybok smiled at him, and Jim frowned. So pleased at what he did to a little girl...

Sybok must have noticed the darker mood his emotions were taking, though whether it was from his empathy or Jim's expression, Jim didn't know. But Sybok gestured him out of the ward, and Jim took a brief moment to say goodbye to T'Korin before he followed him into an empty consultation room.

"Is there something wrong, Dr. Kirk?" Sybok asked after the door closed behind them.

"What did you do to T'Korin?" Jim demanded.

Sybok tilted his head. "Her pain ran very deep," he said. "Almost all of her family was lost. She grieved deeply, and felt guilt that she still lived when the people closest to her did not, and loneliness. I have a gift that was able to take that burden from her. Does this make you angry?"

"So you force her to feel better?" Jim snapped. "Force her to accelerate through the entire grieving process--"

"That is not my gift," Sybok said firmly. "There is no force involved. I simply allow my patients to confront their pain, and to understand it need not have a hold on them. What comes afterwards for them is beyond my control."

Jim's anger drained from him -- he didn't think Sybok was lying, at least. But that didn't mean Jim approved of the whole thing.

"Sybok," he said, "has it ever occurred to you that pain is not always a bad thing? That everything we've experienced, the good and the bad, has made us into the people we are? By taking someone's pain, you're taking a part of that person."

Sybok shook his head. "The pain on this planet is festering," he said. "It poisons. I simply lance the boil."

"For everyone?" Jim asked. "For all the thousands of people who lost nearly everything, the thousands more who have lost at least something? Make everyone confront everything they feel, one person at a time?"

"If one person at a time is how I must go, that is how I shall. But I am surprised to hear you speak like this, Dr. Kirk. You also disapprove of the way Vulcans deny our emotions."

Jim crossed his arms and perched on the room's single biobed. "I don't think it's good for you to deny and repress everything, particularly given the overwhelming grief most Vulcans don't want to admit they feel," he said, "but that doesn't mean I think they should all get rid of their pain. This could be a learning experience, Sybok."

"They learn when I share with them," Sybok argued. "They learn how to let go of their pain--"

"Do they?" Jim interrupted. "Or do they learn how to let you take their pain away?" He looked at Sybok, who fell silent and blinked at him.

"Pain can be a poison," Jim continued softly. When he'd encountered Sybok in his own universe, he had guarded his pain fiercely, and he still felt he was right to do so. His pain had helped shape him, and he didn't know who he'd be without it. Particularly given the example of his crew, who had acted almost as if they'd lost themselves and needed Sybok to show them what to do.

But Sybok was right -- some pain could fester. His pain about the Klingons had festered. His pain about the death of his son had been pretty much leaking pus everywhere, and the way he'd let it affect him hadn't helped the Khitomer situation.

What made the difference, though, was that he was the one who found a way to let it go. Spock had helped, Bones had helped, the rest of his friends had helped, actually working with Klingons had helped, but in the end, he was the one who let it go.

And he liked to think he really had learned something from the experience. It hadn't all been easy, of course, especially right after he came back from the Nexus. He'd been so out of his depth that he'd done much as the Vulcans on Ha-kel were doing, and denied everything he could. But confronting his denial had been the biggest hurdle -- after he'd jumped over that, he felt he really was better able to actually process his pain.

"But," Jim went on, "there are so many different things people learn from it. Or even not just having their pain, but letting it go themselves. If you do it for them now, where does that leave them in the future? My people have a saying -- give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime."

Sybok regarded him with conflicted eyes. "They are in pain, Dr. Kirk," he murmured. "It is...difficult to feel their pain, as I can without even touching them, and do nothing about it. But I see your point. I do wish to treat the cause, not just ameliorate the symptoms."

Jim nodded. "Is there anyone else whose pain you've shared?"

"Some others of my patients," Sybok confirmed. "I believe I will for the most part refrain -- except," he added, raising a hand, "when it is my judgment that my patient will benefit most by having the boil of his or her pain lanced. I do have training in what humans call psychology," he said with some amusement. "Perhaps I have been more influenced by the emotional atmosphere in this city than I had previously supposed."

"It's hard not to let it affect you," Jim agreed. "I've got an empathic sense of my own, but it's very minor. I can get a sense of general mood, and sometimes project one of my own, but that's about it. I don't even think about it most of the time, but it's hard not to here, when the entire planet is tense with repression. I keep feeling like something's about to explode."

"As do I," Sybok said. "This sense is one of the things that inspired me to alleviate it as best I could. In that vein, I would like to address the reason I initially asked to speak with you."

Jim had forgotten about that. "Of course," he said. "Go ahead."

"You remember my primary interest and training is in healing mental and emotional ills, not physical?" When Jim nodded, Sybok continued, "These are generally not a big concern for my people. There are healers who specialize in the mental arts, though they treat mainly those Vulcans who have suffered mental damage through the use of telepathy or other mental gifts. Those who treated patients who are mentally ill as humans think of those conditions were few, and most perished on Vulcan.

"As well, there were very, very few healers prepared to treat emotional hurts. That profession was considered to have something of a stigma, both for being useless because a Vulcan should not need any such healer, and for being dangerously on the edge of emotionalism themselves, by letting their patients influence them. Vulcans who had emotional difficulties usually relied on their Clans and family for help, and for those who needed further assistance, the recommended course was usually Kolinahr training.

"However," and Sybok grinned now, "I have been able to argue successfully for the institution of an emotional counseling program at this medical center. I am currently the only healer assigned to such a program, but that it now exists I count as quite a feat. And already I have had patients, Dr. Kirk. Vulcans who have come to me of their own volition."

"That's wonderful, Sybok," Jim said, clapping him on the shoulder. Sybok looked briefly startled at the gesture, but did not seem perturbed by it.

"I am, however, only one person," Sybok said, the smile on his face fading. "I cannot counsel two million Vulcans, or even the fifteen thousand who survived from the planet itself. I have been given permission to operate a counseling service myself out of this medical center, but I have not been able to convince the administrators of the necessity to train others to treat the emotional pains. Nor is such a service to be found anywhere else."

Jim nodded. "It's a problem," he agreed. But when the Vulcans in authority wouldn't listen, what was the solution?

--

The next time he shifted was actually in public, while in transit from work to home. But he didn't realize it immediately, because he was still on Ha-kel.

It did, in fact, seem an utterly normal day to him. The transport stopped at the bottom of the hill on which his house had been built. When they'd first moved in, he and Spock had planted many native trees along the path, their wide leaves providing some shade from the heat of the sun. This was especially helpful because Jim usually came home in the afternoon, when the sun was at its hottest. There were very few private vehicles on Ha-kel and Jim and Spock didn't own one, so they took public transport, and they climbed their hill.

The first thing he noticed was the lack of the trees. Jim stared, and looked around where they should be, but there wasn't even any disturbed dirt to mark where they'd been. There were just no trees.

Jim didn't know what to think about that, but he was not going to try to figure it out standing outside in the sun. With a sigh, he started trudging up the hill. The already-strenuous walk was much less pleasant without any shade.

The next strange obstacle was that the front door didn't respond to his biometrics. He stared at it in consternation, but it still didn't open. Even when he placed his palm against the reader they had by the door for a failsafe measure, nothing happened.

So Jim had to hack his way into his own home. Spock was definitely going to hear about this.

It didn't really hit him that he might have shifted universes again without realizing it until he got inside, though, because there were no traces of him there. This was still definitely Spock's house -- Spock's choices of furniture from when they'd moved in were there, though the living room lacked the big squishy sofa Jim had insisted on and instead had more utilitarian, ergonomic chairs. Jim's question of the house computer confirmed the place belonged to Spock.

It further confirmed the house did not also belong to Jim, though of course the computer had no information as to why.

He knew the computer, when asked a question by a stranger, would automatically send an alert to Spock. Jim didn't mind. The sooner Spock came home, the better.

Jim did, at least, know this was a universe where he and Spock knew each other, and was most likely at least one where Spock had fallen through the singularity. On the table beside a (much smaller) bed was a certain pendant Jim had given Spock for his birthday right before he'd gone to the conference on Qo'noS and Jim had fallen into the Nexus. Jim had been touched to find out Spock still had it and wore it regularly, and was further touched when it was one of the few things Spock had brought with him onto the Jellyfish.

In Jim's own universe, it was pretty much the only relic of their universe to survive. All they'd had were the things they'd been wearing, and for Spock, that included the pendant.

Jim touched it gently, then turned away. He knew what it said.

He thankfully did not have very long to wait until Spock got there, but he spent the time trying to figure out what he was going to say. It occurred to him only belatedly that he should have left the house immediately once he realized he had shifted universes.

All indications pointed to Jim not being in this universe. However that happened didn't really matter, but it did mean he would be with Spock for a few hours at most before snapping back to his own universe. He had no idea what happened to the universes he left after that. Did they fade out of existence? Continue on as if he'd never been there? Continue on, but with the people he'd interacted with baffled by his sudden disappearance?

But Jim didn't have very long to wonder, because that was when Spock arrived.

He was actually armed when he came in, but his upraised arm immediately dropped to his side when he caught sight of Jim, who was still in the bedroom, by the table with the pendant.
For a moment, they stared at each other, then Jim licked his lips and said, "Hello, Spock."
Spock engaged the phaser's safety before moving further into the room. He still said nothing, his eyes filled with both wonder and disbelief. He moved closer until he stood just in front of Jim, and then raised his free hand to touch Jim's face.

Jim closed his eyes at the brush of Spock's fingers against his meld points. His bond with Spock was clouded, as it usually seemed to be whenever he shifted universes, but at Spock's touch he could sense bright sparks of consciousness, of connection.

"This cannot be," Spock finally breathed. "I felt the snapping of our bond myself. I felt your death. How can you stand once more in front of me?"

Jim reached up and caught hold of Spock's fingers, intertwining them with his. "I'm sorry," he said, "but I won't be staying. I don't know what happened to me here, but I'm from a universe where whatever happened didn't. My Spock and I share this house. I'm not even sure how I got here, except that this is not the first alternate universe I've been dropped into. It never lasts very long, though."

The light that had been building in Spock's eyes went out, and Jim's heart clenched at the sight. Spock's fingers tightened around his, though, but Jim didn't mind. He wasn't very inclined to let go himself.

"Do you know how long you will stay?" Spock murmured, his eyes fixed on Jim's face.

Slowly, Jim shook his head. "A few hours is all I can guess," he said. "That's about how long the others have lasted, but I haven't been able to time anything exactly."

Spock nodded in reply, a jerky, rusty motion. Jim hated to ask, but he knew the more he found out about each universe he dropped into, the better. "Can you tell me what happened?" he asked.

Spock didn't pretend not to know what he was talking about. "It was Nero," he said. "Before he transported me to Delta Vega, he informed us he would let you die on Earth when he destroyed it. That is what he did."

Jim sucked in a breath. "Earth is gone? And Vulcan?"

"Earth and Vulcan both," Spock confirmed. "Our younger counterparts were able to defeat Nero, but only after he destroyed two planets. The Federation has been crippled -- Klingons and Romulans both test the borders regularly. Andoria has become the new headquarters of the Federation, though the Vulcans are less than pleased with this. Starfleet was decimated with the loss of most of its flag officers. Our younger counterparts have seen...much action, and their legends grow."

Jim raised Spock's hand to his lips and kissed the knuckles. "I'm sorry," he said. I'm sorry I wasn't here. I'm sorry you were left alone. I'm sorry I can't stay. I'm sorry I have a Spock to go back to and you don't have your Jim.

"Apologies are illogical," Spock replied promptly, but Jim was pretty sure Spock understood what Jim hadn't said. He did not move his fingers away from Jim's lips, but he loosened them enough from Jim's grasp that he could brush against Jim's lips with his first two fingers, a combination of Vulcan and human kissing.

"Your universe?" Spock asked, now moving his hand back to take hold of Jim's again.

"Our counterparts stopped Nero before he could destroy Earth," Jim explained. "Vulcan is still gone, but Earth just has a new fissure in the San Francisco Bay. I got off the Narada with the help of our counterparts, and we were soon together again. We moved to Ha-kel together."

"To bewail what is past is illogical," Spock murmured, "yet I believe that if I were human, I would be inclined to do such a thing. It is particularly difficult now I know how events could have gone."

A new regret was added to Jim's litany of mental apologies -- I'm sorry that I bring you pain.

But Spock looked at him, and his eyes were clear. "Do not apologize," he said. "In some ways it is a burden, but it is also a gift. I am grateful to know there is a version of me who still has his Jim."

"My friend," Jim said, his voice thick and heavy. "My heart. If I could change your circumstances--"

"Illogical," Spock reminded him. "What is the human phrase? We all must play the cards we are dealt, Jim. But I am glad to have you with me."

Jim just nodded. He had no idea how much time he had left here, so he took Spock's free hand and raised it to his face; Spock's fingers fit over the meld points on their own. "Are you sure?" Spock asked, and Jim nodded again.

They spent the rest of their time together melded, something Jim could do, and indeed had done, for hours with his own Spock. He did not get a sense of the passing of time, but finally, when something inside him prompted him to pull away, he did. He barely had time to blink his eyes open again when

He sat up straight in his seat, catching the attention of his Vulcan neighbors in the transport. They regarded him curiously for a moment, but when he slumped down in his seat again, deliberately relaxing his limbs, they turned away from him again, surprised panic at the sudden movement forcefully calmed.

When he reached his own stop, the path leading up from the base of the hill was lined with trees. When he reached his front door, it slid open as the biometric scanner recognized him.

The furniture he picked out was there, and when he got to the bedroom, the bed was big enough for two. But his attention was caught by Spock's nightstand, where his own Spock had also left the pendant Jim had given him. Jim moved closer and picked it up, closing his eyes a moment.

His Spock, though, had more than a pendant.

Feeling a strange combination of buzzed and enervated, Jim stripped down to his underclothes and slid into his side of the bed. His thoughts were buzzing, but his eyelids drooped. He did fall asleep fairly soon, but his dreams were vivid, full of exploding planets, space debris, Nero's chillingly calm voice, and his Vulcan's sad eyes.

Waking up later felt like he was fighting his way out of sleep, something fairly unusual for him. But he did wake up when the mattress dipped beneath him, and he forced his eyes open to see Spock sitting on the edge, just inches away.

"I believe I felt it that time," Spock informed him. His brain was almost too sleep-fogged to understand.

"You did?"

Spock nodded. "It was very brief. Possibly I would not have noticed had I not set part of my consciousness to monitoring yours. I returned home not long after you did, but when I noticed you were asleep, I let you be. This is, however, the time you would normally finish your nap, is it not?"

Jim frowned, and asked the computer the time. When it responded, Jim was even more disturbed, because normally he would have woken up on his own. Even now, years after his retirement from Starfleet, he had a highly accurate internal clock -- nothing to Spock's, of course, but he was quite good at waking up when he wanted to wake up.

Spock moved, and Jim swung his legs out from beneath the covers. The best way to wake up was to actually get up, and food would certainly help too. Jim tilted his head at Spock, who brushed a hand against his before leaving the room. Jim got dressed again and headed out to find Spock already started on the evening meal.

They ate mostly in silence, as was the habit of Vulcans, and when they did speak it was about inconsequential things. They kept up the lighter chatting until after the dishes were cleaned and put away -- mostly by hand, both because they used few dishes and because mechanical dishwashers were still something of a luxury on Ha-kel -- and only then did they address the elephant in the room.

"This time it was a universe where Nero also destroyed Earth before our younger selves defeated him," Jim said, sitting down on the couch and tugging Spock down next to him. "And just like he promised, Nero dropped me down on Earth before it imploded."

"You were dead?" Spock inquired. His voice was calm, but his hand moved so he could hold Jim's.

Jim nodded, then laid his head on Spock's shoulder. "I was on Ha-kel still," he said, "so it took me some time to realize I'd actually shifted. I went home, but there was no trace of me. Then I saw that universe's Spock."

He didn't think he could explain everything he felt about that other Spock, but his own Spock must have got the gist of it through their bond, intensified by all the physical contact, because he didn't ask.

"I hated to make him explain," Jim murmured, shifting down slightly so his forehead nestled against Spock's neck, "but I thought the more information we had about where these universes are splitting off from ours, the better."

Jim felt Spock nod. "Have you come to any conclusions?" he asked.

Jim blew out a sigh. "Well," he said, "so far there have been two of them centered around Nero. There was one where Vulcan wasn't part of the Federation, and one where I have no idea what happened, just that Ha-kel wasn't colonized."

"So everything has had to do with Vulcan in some way?" Jim could feel Spock's brain working. "What about the details of your consciousness? In this latest one you were aware it was indeed a different universe?"

"Yeah," Jim said. "There was only one where I wasn't."

"What was different about that one?"

Jim thought about it, and something occurred to him, highlighted by his awareness of his own death in the latest universe. "I existed there," he said slowly. "In the others, I think either I never came back to this universe, or I died. Either way, there wasn't already a Jim Kirk there for me to inhabit, the Jim Kirk who is me. There was still my younger counterpart, but..."

"I understand what you mean," Spock assured him.

Jim shifted until he was sitting straighter, though he still kept hold of Spock's hand. "I really think it's time travel," he said. "My head usually feels foggy while I'm there -- I can't feel my bond to you, and I can't feel my extra sense. But I still get the impression that it's time travel."

"What still remains is to understand what method," Spock reminded him, but Jim shook his head.

"Two of the universes so far have been involved with Nero," he said, his voice beginning to come quicker with the excitement of an incipient discovery. "And the other two have still had something to do with Vulcan. The second time might also have been about Nero -- I came back just when the ground started shaking and there was something in the sky. That could have been Nero. Spock, it's like someone is trying to go back to change Vulcan's history."

"To preserve it," Spock murmured, and Jim nodded.

"The shifts only last a few hours," he continued, trying to talk his way through the problem. "And they're very smooth. There's nothing I could be doing to trigger them, since I haven't really been doing anything at all. It has to be someone else, and that someone is most likely Vulcan, to be trying to change Vulcan's history."

"Furthermore," Spock picked up when Jim quieted, falling into deeper thought, "fifty to seventy-five percent of the universes have been created around Nero. Jim, we have encountered time travel relating to Nero before."

That key piece seemed to fall into place, and Jim lifted his eyes to Spock's, knowing his own showed off the knowledge. There were still questions, but Jim knew their supposition had to be right.

Still, he said it out loud. "Red matter?"

Spock nodded, slowly, in confirmation. "Red matter."


Chapter Five

August 2013

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