Spock closed his eyes. The sun was already up, rising in a strange, unfamiliar pattern through the drapes. An odd sweet scent followed a soft breeze through the shaggy tent. It reminded Spock of all the races they'd saved from dying planets, the relocation and segregation of species on newly terra-formed systems. Some planets were dual-formed, half of the planet suitable for one species and the other half suitable for another. Much like the dichotomy of deserts and jungle found on Earth. However, not many planets developed like Earth. Most had miniscule differences between poles to equator. The tilt of the Earth, its size and position from the sun made it what it was.
Variable upon variable.
Spock lifted from the flat mattress and stood, stretching a bit. He pulled his robe close and shifted through the small space the Federation allotted him as a home. It reminded him painfully of his quarters aboard the Enterprise in its size and sparse furnishing. He turned half expecting to see the IDIC mosaic and firepot blazing. Hazel eyes and bronze skin tucked away in the corner. Spock blinked back the image. It was illogical to wish for things that were not so. For things that, in this world, did not exist.
Spock finally understood what Kirk meant when he said memories and experiences live on. If we remember them, they are just as alive as the day they happened.
And Spock remembered.
He remembered too much.
But guilt overshadowed memory. How does one atone for killing his own Mother? Killing his whole species? Or a dear friend's father? The sadness, the brokenness, the pure chaos that was James T. Kirk's mind filled him with utter trepidation. Never had he experienced Kirk's mind in such disarray. Even in their first meld, he was collected. It was the thing that drew him to Kirk, the thing that tugged him closer to that mind year after year.
And now if his counterpart were to meld with Kirk, would he have the same sympathy? Or would he just see the pieces and never feel the curiosity, the draw to that exceptional human mind.
It was there, buried beneath layers of sadness. Although he was broken, he also held great strength. Unimaginable strength. So inviting and warm in an achingly sad way. The fluttering ends of Spock's broken bond were pulled taunt with their meld. They held even so. He knew their connection wasn't deep, but Spock's mind clung to him and nestled deep in the empty space.
The transference young Kirk felt was a multitude of things. Guilt, mourning, anger, bittersweet love-lost and shame. As nice as it felt to have his mind reconnect with a Jim Kirk, he knew he had to sever it. It was like being broken all over again. He had to rip the link from his mind. It was forceful and it was rough. And he had a sinking feeling that he may have left a piece behind but the loss was so miniscule it was hard to tell.
Pain overshadowed the organized fields of Spock's mind. He tried to see down into his own psyche, to re-organize, to re-categorize, to re-reference his experiences and feelings into those wonderful logical plains that he daily sowed and cared for with careful meditation. Rain clouds, dark and angry, took up his neural skies. He could not see himself.
It was frightening.
For days he could ignore it. For days he could put aside the maelstrom and torment to commit himself to the Vulcan Council and organize efforts outside of his crumbling mind. It gave him a sort of calm to at least do physically what he could not mentally.
Until he came.
"Surprised?" Headaches were not Vulcan. But Spock sported one now and quickly tried to face away from his tent intruder.
"What do you want?"
"What do I want! What do you want?" The being sat on his dresser. His 4 foot dresser, legs dangling and his mouth upturned in a quick, animated smile.
"I am in no mood for games. Why are you here?"
"It took me a while to find you, you know, it's been what forty years? Thirty-Nine if you include that little jump through time we had together."
"You kidnapped me and took me to the time of my mother's death."
"You got to say goodbye didn't you?"
"Why do you hold such interest in me, and why now?"
His intruder jumped down from the dresser and slipped into the bed, shifting his shoulders exuberantly as he tried to settle deep into the mattress.
"Ugh, is this Vulcan regulation or Federation bedding? It's horrible! No. This won't do. Humans would never want to-."
"As you are not human, and nor am I, I do not see why it is an issue."
"Ah, that's the thing, the thing you didn't know, the thing you didn't think to think about."
The pause was disgusting.
"Humans, what about them?" Spock implored.
"You know my power, Vulcan. Do you want him?"
Spock felt great anger fill him, overflow him, and terrify him to the point of madness. If the suggestion alone were not enough he had the images of a life never lived tear into him.
"Do not toil there Q, do not even go to that part of me, because if you cannot make do on what you speak, so help me, you will be throttled by my hands until you decide to vacate this time and place."
"We're both visitors here, what's one more?" Q poofed to the other side of the room, creating a notable distance between them.
"He is dead. Captain Picard wrote me the letter; he told me what happened."
"And did he know his katra would return to the Nexus. That your Captain's little journey would end him back in paradise, in bliss?"
"Then he is still in the Nexus?" Spock's interest grew and with it, his chest terrifyingly tight.
"Like I said, do you want him back or not?"
"Why would you offer this to me? What do you have to gain?"
"Answer the question."
"Yes, now answer mine."
"The Nexus is like a playground. Q make up 92% of the illusions created by the minds that get trapped there. Because the Q are there to provide the psycho-physical environment, they have to accurately delve into the desires and wishes of others. Q are first taught to be selfless. It is a child's game, a private school if you will. The bending of time and space are the first things a Q will learn to develop their sense of rightness and wrongness in a universe. There is a natural flow to time. Nero disrupted a lot of what we built. Your red matter took up a big chunk of our lessons. Despite what people think of the Q we literally do nothing but baby-sit the future. We cannot control the flow, but we do regulate it. If things flux to far temporally we try to place them back. Sometimes a flux is too far out of proportion to fix. Your black hole caused problems. And so has your Captain. He's been reluctant of the Nexus ever since he found out that it was pure fantasy and manipulation. He's been using our youngster's minds against us. He thinks of things, really thinks and makes believe that they are his only true wish, only desire, and to pass the Nexus class, our Q must provide the psycho-physical response to his wish, accurately. You would not believe the amount of things he's requested. His lifelong goal, which had never been tested before, was to escape the Nexus. He has a wall of calculations, of theory and hypothecations that could make even the most brilliant scientists blush. We're tired of him messing with our youth; he is disrupting all we hoped to teach with the Nexus. We do not want him there, but we cannot send him back to your time."
Finally, the omnipotent being took a breath.
"Because there is no Spock in that world. We planned on sending him back until we found out about the little trek through time and space you did after Romulus collapsed."
"There is also a Kirk and Spock in this world, does this not factor into your balance of the universe?"
"It does, however we have a Kirk and Spock belonging to this world, and we have a Spock not. We need a Kirk-not to fulfill the temporal gap.
Why do you think you're mind is not working? Why do you think you are dizzy at all times, disoriented, misplaced?"
"I did not dwell on it."
"Anyway, it's a win-win really." Q approached the hard Starfleet issued mattress and clicked his tongue. The bed extended a foot in each direction and sunk in at the weight of a slumbering humanoid. The mattress appeared much softer than the previous.
As soon as Spock crossed the room to inspect the gift, Q left, vanished more like.
Spock felt his breath grow shallow, almost non-existent as he crept near the edge, watching as the figure shifted deeper into the new pillow and bedding.
Spock felt like steel. Solid and rigid. He could not let the moment overwhelm him. He could not feel what he wanted to feel. If this was not the same man, if something had altered his consciousness, if Q sent him a facsimile of his former Captain, he could not bear it.
Dark curls dusted with grey puffed out near the junction of pillow and blanket. Spock knelt; pulling back the covers to reveal an all too familiar face scrunch up in unawareness and sniffled. He had to know, but he was also aware that touching his mind now could be dangerous.
"Jim." Spock said aloud, curling his palm against the soft weight of Kirk's rounded jaw. The feeling that passed between telepath to psi-null was enough to arouse.
Kirk's eyes fluttered, his breath sharp and his brows sunk to the center of his forehead.
"No…" Kirk's eyes squeezed shut, his entire body twisted, away, far away. His hands clutched the blankets, and he writhed as though in pain.
"Jim!" Spock was frightened.
Was he hurt? Did the Q not account for his body traveling to this time and space? What was it? Why?
Jim whimpered and his teeth scrapped together, gritting an gnawing in extreme displeasure. He kept chanting 'no', 'not real', 'I don't want him'. The last hit Spock with a hard sickening blow. Jim threw the covers over his head. 'Away!' Jim yelled, cried, and sobbed. And lastly he shook. He shook so hard the legs of the bed trembled.
Spock couldn't take the display any longer. He stalked onto the covers and pulled Kirk against him. He fought. He twisted. His fists smashed at Spock's shoulders but did little damage. Spock stopped the next strike, taking both fists clutch in his hands and pressed them down against the bed.
Jim was immobilized. His hips pinned by Vulcan weight, and his arms held high above his head. He stopped fighting, his breathing labored, but his eyes remained shut.
"Jim. Are you in pain? Are you ok?" Spock loosened his hold on Kirk's hands.
"You. You can't be here. I- who knew, who brought you here?" Kirk demanded his voice strained and nearly fell apart.
"Jim. I… no one brought me. You were sent to me. Please…" Kirk flinched when Spock touched his face.
Slowly, hazel peeked out. He squinted, the light now taking its midday poise through the drapes.
Spock nearly smiled and retracted his hold from both hands and hips. Spock sat near him, but pointedly turned away.
"Where…how do I know this isn't the Nexus. I've gotten old too Spock. My mental control might have slipped. I spent my time there trying not to think of you. Because if I thought of you… if they gave you to me… I would never want to escape. And when I saw you… I thought I'd lost. I still think I've lost."
"Based on what facts?"
"That's the thing. I don't know if my mind could superimpose your age, or this room. I don't have any facts except that you're here… fuck you are here…" Kirk couldn't look directly at him, couldn't even direct his words to him. It was so surreal and painful. He truly did not know if he could allow himself to believe.
Spock forgot all warnings and was drawn to the psychic energy that woke his telepathy in a way that he'd never experienced before. The clouds seemed to clear. But the landscape of his mind was still blurry and disjointed.
"Would you meld with me? Could I show you what has transpired in the past 95 years?"
"Ninety-fi…has- has it really been that long?" Kirk finally locked eyes with Spock. Finally took in the deep lines that filled the elder Vulcan's face. It was him though. His hair had finally turned white with some dark patches of remembered youth just above his pointed ears.
His eyes seemed to be the worst indicator of age. Sunken in, trapped by loose skin and a dull cast. He held no more amusement, no more curiosity, no more of the Science Officer that served with him for the better part of his life.
Kirk shifted on the bed, felt his knees ache as he did so and took a sitting position facing Spock.
Spock reached out; his hands gnarled with age, but still soft, Kirk thought as the pads settled on his face. Spock eased in, slowly, gently. His mind was a soft murmur against Kirk's. Soft and warm.
'I won't break Spock, show me.'
'I am not idling for you; it has… been a long time since I've been inside your mind.'
'What do you think? Has it changed much?'
'No, Jim. But I have.'
'Watch.' Spock flipped back, precisely to the time when Kirk first disappeared. He reigned in his emotion through this part. Through every part. After he believed Kirk to be dead or beyond retrieval he stopped the illogical emotions that tore through him. He halted them and buried them deep within himself.
'Why didn't you just go through the Kolinar. You would have succeeded this time.'
'You once told me that our pain is what makes us who we are. I could not part with the pain of losing you. It felt deserved and it pushed me to a lot of things that I wouldn't have done had you been alive.'
'Yeah, like what?'
Spock took him through his time with the praetor. The years of smuggling Vulcan artifacts to Romulus, the decades of living under an assumed name until he thought the world was ready for Vulcan/Romulan reunification. He showed Jim the children he taught logic to, the parents that sought him for truths that their council kept hidden about the Vulcan race.
'Did Starfleet know where you went?'
'No. Nor did my father or my mother. I exiled myself completely.'
'Did it work?'
'It would have. Jim. Romulus was destroyed.'
'By who! What…'
Spock flooded Jim's head with calculations, schematics, electronics, years of theory and planning. Collaboration, reintroduction to Vulcan, his Father, the madness and sadness of Bendii flipped through like a single page but Kirk caught it; read it all with dreaded clarity.
'He died thinking you betrayed Vulcan? Spock… I'm so sorry.' Jim's comfort got lost in a sea of red. Red everything, bubbles of red. Darkness that was tinted red. And like that darkness a sucking feeling of being engulfed in something.
Red matter. Dark matter. Unstable, needs more. More. Just a blood slide, a splotch of energy suctioned within a tube. A ship. A whirling ship. And like an overhead lay-up, it falls deep into the swirling atmosphere of an angry star.
The suction grew, falling, pulling, tugging, ripping. The ship wouldn't last, but the channel the hole created bubbled about the ship, and it sunk deeper and deeper.
A battered, dark voice and the words 'finally' flooded both their minds. Jim watched in horror as Spock was forced to the ground by a tattooed Romulan. He watched through Spock's horrific eyes as Vulcan dissolved into nothing. He felt the bond of Spock's mother, though already severed, throb with an echo of pain. Jim watched as a young man elicited a familiar bout of amusement and adoration. Kirk watched as Spock's hands touched the man's, he felt the ghost of that man's mind. He felt the rush of relief and cool emotion that iced over Spock's aching loss and rebuilt him for an instant. He saw the rebuff. The darkness that came with such overwhelming heat and light. The pain of pulling away from such happiness. He saw the red dripping ends, like tentacles limp back into Spock's mind. They collapsed, sighed and curled up in awaiting despair.
He saw Spock meeting himself and realized then that the young man had been him.
He saw Spock being shuttled from Starfleet to New Vulcan- an ambassador, he claimed. Selek he identified as.
He saw Q prance about the room snuggling into Spock's bed and ranting. The words all meshed in the meld but the meaning was clear. It was about him. And poof. He appeared.
He felt Spock trying to tug away from the meld, the image distorted and soon all he could sense was Spock's presence and warmth that he'd never experienced before.
Spock withdrew his mind, but not his hand. It settled on Kirk's cheek, Spock's thumb pressing lightly against his skin.
Jim reached up and took Spock's hand. The gesture, their position much like Spock's recovery from V'ger.
"I forgive you."
Spock shifted his head. Almost a shake but not quite.
"All this time, Jim. You were alive. I should have known."
"Jim." Spock stopped all conversation. Anything Kirk planned on saying, anything that filled his mind dropped instantly at his name. At that tone.
Kirk's hand tightened. Kirk searched Spock's face, explored the differences with his eyes. Undid their hands and ran his fingers over Spock's cheek.
"How old are you anyway?"
"I am one hundred fifty-eight standard years."
"I am sixty-one. At least with the time displacement. I didn't age in the Nexus. I was out of phase for ninety-five years. You know the life span of humans. We match now. Hardly a coincidence don't you think?"
"I suppose I should be grateful then."
"It's harder for you than it is for me. You've had to deal with it. I could hardly bear the short time you were dead on Genesis before we revived you. I cannot imagine ninety-five years of that feeling. I was in limbo, time was nothing."
"You are correct. Our meld only showed you the surface of those emotions. I am not ready to face what I locked away. You cause in me a much volatile war between logic and emotion. I will share them with you someday, when I am ready."
"Of course." Kirk folded his hands in his lap. They sat close, basking in mere presence and the re-awareness of minds.
"How do you feel?"
"I think I'm alright, aside from a bit of stiffness. I don't know how much my body actually moved in the Nexus, or if it was all imposed activity."
"Come, stand." Spock stood and held out his hand. Kirk slowly reached out, gripped hard locked eyes with Spock.
Slowly Kirk's legs straightened, but his hand pushed down with a weak force. Gravity and Spock's upward pull seemed to be the brunt of the motion.
"Jim. Are you-"
"Just…I don't know." Spock curved his left arm behind Jim's waist and began to ease his support.
A wave of panic rippled through their hands and Spock immediately returned his strength.
"I'm going to set you down now; I do not think you are capable of supporting your own weight at this time. It would be beneficial if you rested." Spock began lowering his hand, guiding Jim to sit upon the bed. But Jim didn't respond accordingly. He tried, despite his obvious atrophy. The only thing that kept him upright was the proper alignment of bone and gravity, should his center of balance…
…Spock shifted his left arm and braced himself as Jim collapsed. He showed no sign of predicted frustration.
Only a small smile.
"I knew you'd catch me." Spock swooped down to hook his legs and placed them on the bed as well.
"I want you to see a healer." Spock watched as Jim's face scrunched.
"Any healer would be able to tell I'm not from this time from the temporal flux in my DNA."
"Then we will seek a healer that knows of the time displacement."
"What would a healer know of human physiology? It took Bones nearly three accidents to figure out how to properly treat you when you were injured."
"And that is precisely why I am taking you to see the good Doctor."
"I believe I said that."
"Young Bones then? Is he… Did he make CMO in this timeline too?"
"Indeed, in fact, he made CMO six years before our Leonard ever did."
"Six? So .. I'm what 24? 25? In this world? They didn't give her to me until I was 31! How the hell did this Jim Kirk swipe her from Pike that easily? This is the mirror universe isn't it? I bet he killed him."
Spock felt his eyes glow and a bubble of emotion flutter through him. It was the first laugh he'd felt in over a decade. But on the tails of happiness came a shadow and ghost images of Romulan children. Specifically the year they banned together and gave Spock a present to celebrate his birthday on a day of their choosing. He firmly told them, 'Celebrating birthdays is a human custom, do not confuse it with Vulcan tradition.' To which they replied, 'you are half-human. You have accepted us fully; let us accept you in the same capacity.' It was also the first birthday he acknowledged after Jim was pronounced dead. He clutched the locket firmly in his hand that night and no amount of meditation ever brought him to complete peace.
They were dead now, those children, in his world. And would now probably live in prejudice and fear that was not present in the other. Once his work was done on New Vulcan, he planned on picking up where he left off. He almost felt needed more than ever in this new world where unjust hostilities towards Romulans were sure to arise. But now, with Jim back?
Jim closed his eyes and sighed.
"Rest. I have a meeting with Sarek this afternoon. I will be back before dusk." Jim nodded as he nuzzled into the covers.
"Wait. Isn't that weird? You're older than your father! Does he know?"
Spock knew he wouldn't sleep quietly and smiled to himself.
"Yes and yes. The only people who know of my true existence are the Vulcan High Council, the Priority Admirals at Starfleet, our respective counterparts, Montgomery Scott and Leonard H. McCoy."
"Seems like a big fan-base to me."
"We will talk more at a later time. Rest Jim." Spock caught his hand in Jim's hair, feeling the coarser texture and combed through the curls with fondness.
Jim hummed, barely registering the hand that slipped from his hair and the sound of the tent flap shutting behind his fleeing friend.
On some unknown date, on some unknown planet, in some unknown time and universe, James T. Kirk fell into the best sleep of life.