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Chapter Four

2258 - Reboot Universe

After Pike's admission of pain, the conversation died down, despite Jim's attempts to reignite it. Eventually Pike could only answer in monosyllables, if at all.

This basically left Jim alone with his thoughts. The conversation had distracted him very thoroughly, enough for him to smile and even laugh. At the discussion's close, all his confidence, amusement, and sociability drained from him.

Nero had destroyed Vulcan. The event was so momentous and terrible Jim still couldn't wrap his mind around it. Vulcan, gone. Vulcan, and its ancient civilization, its history and traditions and physical presence -- wiped out as if they'd never been, except for the existence of survivors.

How many survived? Nero's plan had been put into motion so quickly. How many could have escaped the planet before it collapsed?

Jim could feel himself sinking into despondency, and couldn't muster the energy to break himself out of his depressive mood.

His entire time on Nero's ship, he'd maintained a belief he could somehow get out of this. He'd always been able to survive before, sometimes against astronomical odds. Now he found it difficult to remain confident, in the face of separation from Spock, Vulcan's destruction, and the flowing continuation of Nero's plan. How would anyone be able to stop him?

But, no. He would not give in to despair. Nero hadn't killed him yet, so he could still do something. He may have been helpless to stop Vulcan's destruction and Pike's interrogation, but he was not going to let himself remain that way. And his first priority would be these shackles.

Experimentally, he twisted his hands around his back, the pads of his fingers skittering across the pillar. Now he was almost glad he'd been bound behind his back -- his body would hide all of his movements from the guard who watched him and Pike. He hadn't interfered in their conversation, but he hadn't left off watching them.

This was not the first time he'd navigated completely by touch. Admittedly, usually he explored Spock's body, and he looked for erogenous zones, not the mechanics of restraint releases--

Focus! Now was not the time to think of Spock, no matter how much more he liked the memory than reality. He ran his fingers against the pillar once again, trying to find every dip and curve in the smooth material.

His fingers were more sensitive now than when he was younger, his skin having grown thinner as he aged. He'd begun to bruise more easily, and already had the bloom of dark purple bruises from Nero's anger on his skin. But he could use that sensitivity to find the release mechanism. He didn't recall Ayel having used a lock.

That was the problem with makeshift facilities, Jim decided, grinning slightly as one of his hands found a catch just above and to the center of his cuffs. You could only do so much to simulate professional-grade restraints when you didn't actually have them. And someone who had been locked up as many times as Jim had could usually manage a way out of anything but professional-grade.

His fingers scrabbled with the catch he found, but then they slipped as alarms started blaring across the ship. The Romulan guard's head snapped up, but as much as Jim willed him to leave and find out what happened, he stayed at his post. He glanced at Jim and at Pike, but Jim's body hid the frantic movements of his fingers, and so he just calmly returned the stare.

His fingers landed on the catch again and moved around it, getting a feel for how it worked. Soon he caught it, and then his cuffs separated from the pillar with a quiet snick. He could only hear the soft sound himself above the alarms because he was so close and listening for it.

Now, what about the guard? He would be able to see any move Jim could make, and would most likely subdue Jim before he could do anything.

"Kirk!" Nero's roar resounded through the room seconds before Nero himself appeared. Jim's head snapped up, and the guard stood at attention.

"What did you do, Kirk?" Nero hissed, moving forward until he stood mere inches from Jim, close enough for Jim to smell sweaty, worked-up Romulan, a scent vaguely coppery. Nero braced a hand on the pillar next to Jim's head.

"What do you mean, what did I do? I haven't done anything! I've been right here this entire time. What's going on?"

"Oh no, don't you place innocent with me," Nero said, focusing incensed eyes on Jim. "I've read about you, the oh-so-clever Captain Kirk. How did Spock and Kirk get on board?"

Jim's heart leapt. His and Spock's younger counterparts, here? What about the Enterprise?

"I don't know, Nero," Jim replied, but he couldn't help the twisting grin spreading across his face. "Maybe you're just slipping. Tunnel vision can be a serious drawback, you know--"

Nero's fist slammed into the pillar just a few inches away from his ear. Jim held back a flinch with all his willpower.

"You did this! I don't know how, but you did this!"

"He didn't." Pike's voice sounded weaker than Jim liked to hear, but he could still speak and raise his head.

Nero whirled around. "Then this was your plan?" he demanded.

"I...told them to come after me," Pike said, turning his face to look at Nero. "They're just following orders."

"Not to mention you're trying to destroy another planet," Jim pointed out. "Did you expect them to just sit back and watch it happen?"

"They won't be able to do anything," Nero said, calmly down slightly. "The Narada's too powerful, and they're just two people."

Jim laughed in his face. "You must not have read much about me, if you believe that," he replied. "But don't let me stop you. You know best, I'm sure."

Nero pointed at him. "One more word," he told him, just barely audible over the alarms. "Just one more word, Kirk, and I'll forget about letting you die with your planet. I'll kill you right here. How will your Spock like that? Will he be able to feel me pull your head off with my bare hands over your bond?"

Jim raised an eyebrow at him, trying to take solace in this mannerism of Spock's. He said nothing, but he tried to convey that he remained silent because Nero hadn't said anything worth replying to, rather than because he feared the threat. Even though he sort of did.

Nero's face twisted with rage, and he started to stride forward with his hands clenched into fists.

Then the younger Kirk appeared in the room. For a moment everything seemed to stop as they all looked at him.

First Kirk shot the guard closest to his position and already moving to engage him. Nero shouted in a wordless expression of fury. He was on Kirk before he could shoot the Romulan barreling toward him.

"You," Nero hissed, now entirely focused on the younger Kirk. "James Kirk. You're more trouble than you're worth, and I am going to take very great pleasure in stopping your legend even before it starts."

He started hitting Kirk, including a blow that knocked him off his feet. Kirk got up again quickly, but he could only manage one return punch before Nero knocked him down again and bent over him.

He had a hold of Kirk by his throat, Kirk's hands scrabbling at the strong ones choking him. Kirk had dropped the phaser when Nero rushed him and knocked it out of his hands. Now he could only kick at Nero, but to no effect.

Jim ran forward, even with his hands still bound behind him. He gathered as much momentum as he could in such a short space, then bent his knees and leapt up, kicking out in one of his favorite moves. He hit Nero in the back. Nero stumbled back and released the younger Kirk in surprise.

Nero recovered quickly, though. He punched Jim in the chest, hard enough to send him flying back several feet. He landed hard on his side with one arm under him.

Jim wanted to get up and keep fighting, but he couldn't. He could only curl loosely on his side and gasp for breath. Nero had hit him in the ribs again and he couldn't bring himself to do anything more than shake with pain.

He opened eyes he had previously squeezed tight to see Nero once again had a hold of his younger counterpart. "Look at that man," Nero told him, spinning around so Kirk could see Jim, still on the floor. "He's in his seventies and still fighting me. But he failed, Kirk. Just like you're going to fail." He shook Kirk a little. "James Kirk was known in my universe as a great man," he hissed, his face just inches away from Kirk's. "He went on to captain the U.S.S. Enterprise, one of the greatest captains in Starfleet history. And I'm going to deprive you of that, just like I deprived your father of his life and his potential legacy."

Jim tried to get up the urge and the energy to go to Kirk's rescue again, but someone's voice announced, "Captain Nero, the Vulcan ship has been taken. The drill has been destroyed."

Nero dropped Kirk, his only word a yell of "Spock!" as he ran off. Jim could see Kirk gulping in great breaths of air as he got his arms and legs back under him. Beyond him Jim could see Ayel, who must have gotten there just as Nero left, and he raised his voice in warning. "Kirk -- behind you!"

Kirk thrust himself upright, but he lurched back on unsteady feet. "Look at you," Ayel said, not bothering to hide his amusement. "All three of you. So utterly weak. How did humans get to be the great power in the galaxy they are when you're so weak?"

"We work together," Jim answered, bracing his shoulder against the pillar so he could use it to help pull himself up. His ribs screamed at him, and his left side felt like one big bruise, but he ignored the pain.

He caught Kirk's eye and flicked his gaze at the phaser still lying on the floor. Ayel didn't seem to have noticed it. Kirk nodded at him almost imperceptibly, and Jim hid a smile. Easy communication seemed to be a big perk when working with yourself.

Jim started walking forward, keeping Ayel's attention focused on him. Ayel kept shifting his body to face him. "We humans know we're pretty weak," he replied. "But it's because we understand our weaknesses that we're able to work together. And humans are always stronger together than alone."

Jim had enough of Ayel's attention. Kirk dove for the phaser, reaching it just as Ayel spun around to face him instead. Ayel went for his disruptor, but Kirk brought the phaser up in a smooth, quick motion, and shot him.

Kirk immediately set to work on the straps holding Pike to the table. He'd just gotten the ones covering Pike's chest off when Pike grabbed his phaser and shot something behind him. Kirk and Jim both turned to look, and saw yet another Romulan fall.

Jim grinned, even with all the pain he currently felt. He definitely liked Chris Pike.

When he had all the straps undone, Kirk helped Pike off the table. Pike couldn't stand by himself, so Jim came up to tuck himself under Pike's other arm, though he was a bit off-balance with his hands still bound behind him. Kirk shot him a quick grin, then blinked and looked at him more closely.

"Who--" he began, but Jim interrupted him.

"Save it for when we're safe, kid," he said, feeling very strange about talking to himself. He was familiar enough with alternate universes, but even in the mirror universe, he'd been in his other self's body. He'd never actually come face to face with him.

But Kirk nodded, though the questioning light in his eyes was being crowded by something like revelation. He flipped open his communicator with his free hand.

"Kirk to Enterprise, three to beam up here, plus Spock."

"Three? I thought it was just you and Captain Pike--"

Scotty's voice. Jim had heard it a lot more recently than he had all the other ghosts from his past, but that made it no less amazing to hear Scotty there too. Were all his old friends on the Enterprise years before they should be?

"We found another human prisoner. Come on, Scotty, we're short on time -- beam us up and we can explain when this is all over. Have a medical crew standing by."

"Aye, sir!"

Jim felt the familiar transportation sequence and then moments later the three of them, and the younger version of Spock, stood on the transporter pad. For a moment, his and the younger Spock's eyes met. Jim's heart sped up at the familiarity of those brown eyes, but Spock blinked and turned away.

"Nice timing, Scotty," Kirk said with a grin as he began to move off the pad and Spock sped off with barely another glance at Jim.

"I've never beamed four people from two different targets onto one pad before," Scotty told them with an exultant laugh, but then McCoy and other medical crew burst into the room. Jim didn't even have time to marvel at seeing his oldest friend alive again before McCoy took Kirk's place under Pike's arm and Kirk and Spock headed out at a run. "That was pretty good," Scotty said as the transporter room door closed behind them.

They were probably going to the bridge. Jim wanted to follow them, especially since he had almost no idea what was going on, but then McCoy asked loudly, "Who the hell are you?" and he had to deal with Bones.

"Later," he grunted. "Pike needs help. Nero fed him a Santorian slug to make him talk and didn't bother to remove it. He had trouble feeling his legs earlier, but his upper body seems fine."

"Don't talk like I'm not here," Pike groaned. "I can't walk, but I can still talk."

"Sorry." But Jim smiled as he apologized. Pike was resilient.

They met the stretcher just outside of the transporter room, and McCoy heaved Pike onto it. McCoy turned to him with a mutter of, "No, I got it, that's all right," and finally seemed to notice Jim.

"You're hurt!" he said. He immediately took out his scanner and started passing it over Jim. "Broken ribs, cuts, contusions -- did you pick a fight with a Romulan or something? We need to get those restraints off you."

Oh, Bones. "That's exactly what I did," he replied. "A few times, actually. Nero doesn't like me very much."

McCoy gestured at a blonde nurse escorting the stretcher, a nurse Jim only recognized as Christine Chapel after a moment. Chapel. God, everyone really was here.

"Nurse, escort this man to Sickbay," McCoy ordered. "He's got broken ribs, so he has to take it easy. I'm going ahead with Pike. Call Security, and have them meet us there so we can take care of the restraints."

He took hold of the stretcher and started rushing it forward at a greater pace, while Jim was happy to proceed more slowly. Chapel turned away from the wall comm, watching him with worried eyes. With his return to relative safety, his body seemed to tally up every single ache and pain and give him the bill all at once. He found he actually had to stop against a wall and rest for a moment.

"The doctor should have gotten us another stretcher," Chapel fretted, running her own scanner over him. He didn't know why, since McCoy had already diagnosed him. Maybe compulsive scanning was just a reflex in medical professionals. He was pretty sure Bones even slept with his scanner.

"I'll live," he said. "A few hours ago I had no internal injuries, besides the rib. Something might have changed during the last time Nero beat on me, but I think I can still get there under my own steam."

As he recalled, Sickbay wasn't far from Transporter Room One anyway. They hadn't been able to beam people directly to Sickbay at this point, so Sickbay needed to be closer to the transporters to get injured people as soon as possible.

"Broken ribs can be dangerous," Chapel scolded him. "If you do have internal injuries, broken ribs can damage them further."

"I have had broken ribs before," he said, slowly starting to walk again. "They're not very fun, but as long as I'm careful, they're not hard to deal with."

Of course, as if in direct response, the ship then shook hard enough for Jim to stumble into the wall again. Chapel stumbled into him. She immediately moved to the side enough so she didn't press on his ribs, but he was too busy gasping at the sudden resurgence of pain to see immediately where she went.

"Come on!" he said, though the ship was still shaking. He started walking more quickly towards where he remembered Sickbay to be, and she followed along in his wake.

He knew he had almost reached the right place when he could hear Bones's swearing. His CMO never had been pleased when the ship shook around him, usually even less so when he had patients, and he always blamed Jim. Whether or not it was Jim's fault, he always blamed Jim.

Jim had actually grown fond of the accusations after awhile. He found walking into Sickbay and hearing Bones muttering about "that damn idiot, can't manage to keep the ship straight when I have patients to look after" to be remarkably nostalgic.

Seeing most of the beds full, legacy of Nero's earlier attack on the ship, immediately deflated the good mood that had been rising after seeing Bones. Jim had only just reached an empty bed when another wave of whatever-it-was shook the ship again, and this time kept it shaking for longer than Jim thought boded well. Jim just leaned against the nearest bed and braced himself.

Finally it stopped, and stopped for good. He hopped up on the bed as well as he could with bound hands and lay on his side again, trying to find the most comfortable position for breathing, and waited for Chapel to return.

He had to find out what happened with the Narada. He went with McCoy because of his injuries, but mostly because he didn't think he would be allowed on the bridge when no one knew him. But he had no idea what had happened with his and Spock's younger counterparts and Nero. Ignorance was dangerous when Nero had already demonstrated the lengths he would go to for his goals -- and how much he hated Jim. He probably wasn't very happy with Jim's younger counterpart, either.

Chapel appeared at his side long enough to ask, "Are you allergic to any medications?"

"Retinax five," he answered. "No pain medications, as far as I know."

She nodded, and loaded a hypospray. He let her press it into his arm, and only remembered afterward, when the world started going blurry, that he hadn't asked for no sedatives.


Jim woke up later utterly confused. He heard McCoy's voice, and called softly, "Bones...?"

But wait, no. Bones was dead. He'd died before Jim got out of the Nexus.

When he opened his eyes, the room didn't look like the house he shared with Spock on Romulus, or Spock's family estates on Vulcan. It looked like the Enterprise-A.

Then memory rushed back and he sat straight up, noting the twinge in his chest only because his pain had lessened dramatically. Chapel came over to him, though McCoy still spoke to someone else about Pike.

Chapel came over to him, smiling. "Are you feeling better?" she asked. "Your ribs are still broken, so you need to be careful, but the pain medication shouldn't have worn off yet. Our bone-setting lasers were damaged in the initial attack and we haven't been able to repair them yet. Security did come to get the restraints off of you while you were out, though."

"It's fine," Jim said, rubbing his wrists, "I'm not really in pain. Do you know what's going on with Nero and the Narada?" He flexed his wrists as well. Relief rushed through him at being out of the restraints.

"I know he's dead and his ship destroyed," she replied, her eyes flashing with satisfaction. "Acting Captain Kirk announced it a few hours ago. I don't know anything beyond that."

Jim sank back against his pillows. Dead. Nero was dead, and the Narada destroyed.

He almost couldn't wrap his mind around it. So much of his life for the past several days had been consumed by Nero and dealing with Nero, and now he could finally let it go. But they'd only managed to finish it after the destruction of Vulcan and the decimation of the armada Starfleet had sent to help.

Jim had matched his wits against plenty of opponents, but Nero was the first person to cause destruction on such a wide scale. Everything else that had done this sort of damage had been a machine of some sort.

"Acting Captain Kirk?" he said, when he remembered her earlier words. "I thought Captain Pike told me he'd advanced Spock to Acting Captain."

"Not long before we began our assault on the ship -- what did you call it, the Narada? -- Commander Spock resigned his post and advanced Captain Kirk," she explained. The strangeness of this universe once again struck him, hearing someone else called Captain Kirk likewise disconcerting.

Jim swung his legs out of bed. "Do you know if he's available -- him or Spock?" he asked. He still needed to know exactly what happened, and Kirk and Spock might well be the only ones who could tell him at this point. He'd lived through too much of the situation to just wait to be told later.

"Oh no you don't," McCoy said, appearing as his bedside as if by magic. Jim had chided him many times for that trick, and McCoy had always been smug about it. "You're still my patient, and I haven't cleared you to leave yet."

"I need to know what happened," Jim argued. "How long have I been out?"

"Just a few hours," Chapel replied. "You let me know when you need another dose for the pain."

"Yes, yes," Jim said impatiently. "I don't care right now. I need to know what's going on."

"Not right now you don't," McCoy insisted. "What you need is to rest. You said you've been a Romulan punching bag, and you need to recover."

"It's just a few bruises and broken ribs," Jim replied, waving a hand to dismiss them. "Nothing serious. And I promise you, I'm just going to get more agitated if you don't tell me what I need to know."

"And why is it so urgent you know?" McCoy demanded. "I haven't even been fully briefed, and I'm the damn CMO now!"

"Doctor, you've been busy," Chapel interjected. "You growled at the captain when he came to fetch you for a debriefing. You insisted you couldn't leave your patients."

Jim grinned, because that sounded so like Bones. He'd done the same thing several times in the course of their journeys together in Jim's own universe.

"And so I have been. Which is what I'm trying to do now -- take care of my patients! Whoever you are, you've been through a tough time, and you need to rest. Broken bones heal more slowly as you age, and you need to take care of yourself. You'll have plenty of time to update yourself when you're doing better."

Jim shook his head. He ignored the comment about his age -- it didn't matter how old he was. He could still feel the adrenaline spiking his system. He never had been able to calm down well unless he knew his ship had come through safely. And even though the Enterprise seemed fine now, and was at least no longer shaking, his body wasn't yet convinced the danger had ended.

"Bones," Jim began, and only then realized his mistake. He'd let familiarity lull him into complacency, and now Bones stared at him incredulously.

"Seriously, who the hell are you?" he asked. "There's only one person who ever calls me that, and you are certainly not James Kirk."

Jim coughed. Of all the things for Bones to say... "Don't be so sure," he said softly. He probably wouldn't be able to keep his origins secret, anyway -- Pike knew, and the younger Kirk had probably figured it out by now. Besides, Bones was his doctor. "You have figured out by now that Nero was from the future, right?"

"So the hobgoblin said, but I'm not sure I believe his crazy theory even now," Bones replied gruffly. "Are you actually telling me you're Jim Kirk from the future?"

Jim shrugged. "A simple DNA test will confirm," he said. "But yes. I'm from the future. S -- Someone else and I got pulled into the black hole after Nero, and we ended up here."

"Oh, someone else. That's great," McCoy griped, even as he ran the scanner over Jim again, gently pushing him back until he lay prone again. The adrenaline did seem to be wearing off now. Everything else he felt started to hit him. "Someone else from the future is going to be showing up soon?"

Jim smiled. "I certainly hope so," he murmured. He knew Spock still lived. The hum in the back of his mind hadn't changed since Vulcan's destruction, so he was probably even fine. Jim needed to know when he could see him again, but he couldn't get an answer to that without knowing Spock's exact location so he could send a message. Their bond just didn't work like that at this distance.

He would meditate later, he thought. Not only would meditation probably help him process recent events, it would help him get into deeper contact with Spock. As a Vulcan, Spock was telepathic enough that he might be able to feel Jim's thoughts even now, but though Jim could no longer be considered precisely psi-null, not after the Nexus, he was still not a telepath. He pretty much had to be deep in trance for him to distinguish any of Spock's thoughts and feelings at this distance, beyond the kind of overwhelming emotions like what he'd felt on Vulcan's destruction.

But if nothing else, he would meet Spock on Earth. The Enterprise would head there next, as Spock would know. He would meet Jim there. They hadn't yet been separated for a full day, but he desperately needed to see Spock again.

Something in Jim seemed to relax as he finally accepted Nero's death and the ordeal's end. He'd told himself constantly this would be the outcome, and had refused to believe anything else. Still, it was an unaccountable relief to wake up and find it true.

Now his exhaustion hit him, despite the hours he'd slept due to the sedative. He barely even heard McCoy's further grumbling as he closed his eyes, and his mind on the edge of sleep almost considered it a lullaby.


Chapter Six
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