The idea of parallel universes didn't bother him. In fact, the concept was a bit of a comfort.
He liked to think that there were other Jim Kirks out there who had led different lives, happier and far less dramatic then his own.
So no, it wasn't that there were parallel universes that truly perturbed him, it was that he now possessed knowledge of one in particular, and he knew that in that universe history considered Jim Kirk to be a great man, and that was just one more expectation he had to live up to. As if the specter of his father's heroic sacrifice wasn't enough of an albatross dragging him down by the neck.
"You keep on applying more pressure, Universe, are you trying to see how much I can take?"
He hoped those other Jim Kirks were good and happy and enjoying their greatness or what-the-fuck-ever they were doing, because he sure as hell was getting enough bad chi for all of them.
The universe he lived in really, truly sucked and he would have been content if he had lived blissfully on not knowing that…. not knowing that it could be better, not knowing other Jims had amazing lives with living fathers, soul deep friendships and a long list of battles won.
Yet, not even getting the short end of the stick, universe-wise, was what bothered him the most. He could handle that, really. It was character building and all that. 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger', trite, and cliché as all hell, but true.
And it was not as if it was all bad. He did still have the Enterprise, and at 25 to top it off, far younger than his other-world counterpart. So there was that. One plus in the 'go Jim, go, perhaps you're not entirely a lost cause' column.
But truly, what bothered him was that now he found himself questioning everything about his life, and wondering whether the decisions he made were influenced by what could be, by what other Jim Kirks had accomplished. Had everything he had achieved since learning of his other self's reputation been purely the result of his own sharp mind, his own merit?
It was enough to cause a headache every time he allowed himself to contemplate it, which was pretty much each time he was alone, or every time he glanced at his first officer for longer than a few seconds… long enough to consider Spock, and his place in Jim's life.
The first time he had met Spock, the younger, he had wanted to punch his lights out. Because really, accusing him of cheating, using his dead father's sacrifice against him at a hearing in front of everybody… at that time Jim would have liked nothing more then to hit the stubborn bastard over the head with a very heavy object.
One meld with an older man met briefly on an ice planet had changed that, had shown him a potential that clenched his heart and had him seeing stars, both literally and figuratively.
Half of Jim wondered if that encounter had been fate lending a hand, the other half of him wished that all ice planets everywhere could somehow be morphed into tropical beach resorts. They served no purpose in the grand scheme of things. And the creatures on them? Well, they sucked, both literally and figuratively.
And even now, while he and Spock tentatively worked on getting to know one another, on feeling each other out and developing a command flow, he couldn't help but be alternately fascinated - hypnotized by dark eyes and a sharp wit kept subtle under Vulcan stoicism that Jim was only beginning to catch glimpses of - and weary. The half-Vulcan had almost killed him, both by marooning him on Delta Vega and by choking him; had almost wiped this universe of his existence completely. Jim Kirk almost done in by his supposed soul-brother, lover, the Hephaestion to his Alexander, or what ever the fuck they were supposed to be to each other….It was more than a tad disheartening.
How come the other Jim Kirk got all of the love? A father and a Vulcan soulmate? Where was his share?
The first time he had met Spock, the elder, he'd wanted to be held, and petted, and bask in the easy acceptance, obvious adoration, and the seemingly limitless affection the man emanated. He had been the only warm thing on Delta Vega.
The experience had been both heart-wrenching and poignant. Here was the only being who had ever looked at Jim with utter faith and unwavering devotion.
He wanted that, so badly. Wished with everything in him that that life had been his.
Yet, Jim had known, even then, that that easy acceptance was not for him, but another incarnation of him who had years to cultivate it. But he wasn't exactly sure if he would reach that point with his own Spock, considering their rocky start. Wasn't sure he'd ever have that type of bond with someone, whether it be with Spock or Lulu the feisty Andorian.
Hell, it might not even be feasible, given their very different lives, vastly different from even themselves. Other-world Jim had been raised differently, in a loving home with a living father, a mother free of grief and survivors' guilt and a brother who never ran away. Other-world Spock had had a living mother for a considerably longer amount of time.
It all came down to the age old question: did nature make the man, or was it nurture?
If the answer was nurture, then the universe he lived in and the supposed epic friendship, romantic relationship, whatever it was he would build with Spock, was truly fucked.
Yet even if the answer was nature, did he want a relationship with Spock because it could, potentially, be attainable? If his counterpart had managed, why couldn't he? Was he competing with himself by longing for some aspects of another Jim Kirk's life?
He'd longed for a relationship of that caliber just as anyone would. He wasn't immune to the desire for total companionship, no matter what his former partners might claim. Who wouldn't want that type of connection? Someone who knew him inside and out, someone who loved him, who would always come back to him, who accepted him wholly, both strengths and weaknesses. It was all so fucking Brothers Grimm. In every species he'd ever encountered or read about, there were always two constants: math and the inborn need for companionship, for connection, to find that soul that made your heart sing. It was normal.
But did he want that with Spock for its own merit, or because it felt like, by rights, such a connection should be his by law of destiny?
The stars didn't hold the answers, and Jim didn't fault them for it. They were beautiful anyway and they reminded Jim that in all universes there was a constant… Jim Kirk in any incarnation was always meant to be among them.
"You should be resting, Captain," a stoic voice pierced the silence of the Observation Deck, and Jim could only close his eyes and let out a deep breath.
All things being equal, be it nature or nurture, Spock was a part of his life, no matter the form their relationship took.
"I'm an insomniac," he replied, not bothering to look at his First, "have been for many years. I have a hard time turning my brain off. I'm used to functioning on little sleep."
He was always afraid to make direct eye contact with Spock. Afraid that Spock could sense the longing in him, could read it clearly in Jim's eyes, no universal translator or Rosetta Stone necessary, even though he knew, logically, that Spock's telepathy didn't work that way. They weren't physically touching. But that part of him that was hard-earned - that part of him that sought to protect his heart, and his ever questioning mind - didn't want Spock to know just how much Jim wanted their supposedly epic connection to be a universal constant, too. So he kept his gaze to himself.
"I believe that Doctor McCoy could provide assistance in your achieving adequate rest. In fact, given your friendship with the Doctor, I'm surprised he hasn't attempted to alleviate the matter already," Spock replied, and Jim felt rather than saw Spock come to stand next to him.
There was an energy that cackled between them, one that put goose bumps on his flesh and sent small shivers up his spine. Jim always felt it when Spock was near and couldn't quite determine whether it was a figment of his imagination, created because he had the knowledge of another universe in which Jim Kirk and Spock had loved each other wholly, or if it was a real, physical manifestation of their supposed fit.
Jim felt himself smile at the irony of it all… how now he was imagining he heard a small hint of jealousy in the Vulcan's voice when he spoke of Jim's friendship with Bones, because there was no way his First would debase himself enough to allow such a human emotion, and there was no reason for Spock to feel that emotion to begin with. Christ, for all Jim knew Spock still hated him. They'd only been out a month, hardly enough time for both of them to get over past hurts.
"He has tried, but it's difficult, particularly when I'm allergic to half the medication he's given me. Besides, like I said, I'm used to it. My body handles it fine." He gave a small, ironic smile at that, his body wouldn't know what to do with a full night of adequate sleep if it had it, having rarely experienced the phenomenon. "It won't interfere with my duties," he finished with a shrug, eyes still locked on the stars. If he kept his gaze on them, he would remember his goals above all other distractions: to explore, to gather knowledge, to discover the secrets the universe held. He wouldn't be sidetracked by burgeoning feelings and doubts best kept hidden, especially in the presence of the one who evoked them.
There was a reticence in the sudden silence, Jim felt it just as surely as he felt Spock, the energy crackling between them becoming infused with… more. He heard Spock's intake of breath, then felt him release it, softly, the warm gush caressing Jim's cheek.
"Perhaps I could be of assistance. Vulcans do not always require sleep to achieve rejuvenation, sometimes we use meditation. If you would like, I can instruct you in the art of Vulcan meditation," Spock's voice was as stoic as ever, but underlined with a hope and hesitancy that had Jim's heart beating just a little faster.
A gauntlet was being offered, and while Jim seriously doubted he would ever be able to sit still long enough to meditate effectively, because really? Sitting still for long periods of time and not thinking? Definitely not his preferred method for passing time, but he would take the metaphorically offered hand, gladly. Spock was making an effort, so to could he.
But before they proceeded, there was an answer he needed.
Of his many questions, he could live with all, save one, remaining unspoken.
And still he kept his gaze on the stars.
"Spock, I know this is going to seem a bit off topic, but before I commit to the meditation-thing, I have to know…. Why did you change your mind about accepting the First Officer position on the Enterprise? I asked for you, originally, and Pike told me that you had said no, and rather firmly at that."
Again there was energetic silence; the intensity between them so highly charged it throbbed like a living, breathing thing.
Then, as before, a quiet voice broke the stillness.
"Opportunity," Spock answered, as if that one word summed it all up.
Jim supposed that it did. It fit nicely, encompassed everything….Opportunity.
"The concept of an idyllic future was presented to me, one where I would achieve peace within myself and, in that journey, discover something quite precious and rare… completion; the other half of my soul, as it were." There was a small hesitation, nearly indiscernible, yet there, and Jim could almost physically feel the Vulcan beside him gathering his courage to elaborate further. "I felt compelled to follow my heart in this regard," Spock continued; his tone containing so many layers that Jim felt he could only decipher half of them… the half he translated were enough to cause his heart to constrict and his pulse to dance.
Whether Spock knew it or not, he had just answered most of Jim's questions and put things into shining, clear perspective. Suddenly, it didn't matter whether or not Jim and Spock had sought each other out on their own, whether nurture had screwed them over, fate-wise, or whether a presence from an alternate reality had put the idea of their belonging together in their heads, cultivating something potentially beautiful out of anger and resentment… what mattered was intent.
It was consensual, their accord, they both wanted it. They both sought it. That made it real. Made it exist in this reality just as surely as it existed anywhere else. Not mirrored, but sparked to life like a flame of a candle: enlightened, beautiful and enchanting. What had sparked the flame didn't matter, but rather the fact that it lived.
'Cogito, ergo sum,' Jim thought to himself with a wry grin, 'I think, therefore I am.' He turned to Spock with shining eyes, no longer desiring to hide the longing he was sure Spock would find there.
"Well then, Mr. Spock, let's do this whole 'rejuvenate' thing," Jim said with a small, ecstatic laugh, offering his hand.
Touch telepath and shy about it or not, Spock showed no hesitation in taking Jim's hand, the contact fueling a current that speared up Jim's arm, straight to his heart.
The widening of Spock's pupils indicated that he felt it, as well: their energy, together, them….the potential before them as brilliant as the stars they charted.
"Captain, I believe full rejuvenation is something we will learn from each other," his First Officer announced, and Jim supposed Spock was right.