Warnings: implied slash, violence, strong language, a little cliché, possible OOC-ness
A/N: RL is upside down and inside out right now; I'm not really writing a lot, but this popped in my head and poured out in about three hours, ready for consumption (I believe). Concrit appreciated. Gushing likewise.
There are options: drugs and brainwashing and torture. Inelegant, Nero believes. His plan is so much simpler; it requires but a good old-fashioned saving a child's life.
Nero has become acquainted with his once-wife's grandfather and while they do see eye to eye on interplanetary politics, there is little on Romulus to keep Nero grounded. He, soon enough, resorts to rifling through Narada's memory banks and therein he discovers data – old, unreliable reports – that inspire such a trivial yet devastating scheme. Why wait for Ambassador Spock? Here is all that he needs, served upon a memory-bank of precious metal, built of countable positives and negatives, ready for an enterprising Romulan hungry for revenge to snatch up.
2247, Earth colony Tarsus IV
"Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society!" the tinny voice is saying. Jim understands a little too well what it's telling him, but the people pressing in from all sides don't.
Idiots. It's not rocket science. It's just, pure and simple, survival of the fittest. Except in the twenty-third century the fittest man is the one with the phaser, and Jim's going on fourteen, so tough luck on the phaser-ownership thing.
"Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony! Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death!"
Jim would like to stop and think for a moment, but there's just too much humanity screaming into his ears in their feckless bid for survival. He shudders, vainly trying to huddle in on himself to hide among taller and more robust people.
He's got an advantage. He knows hunger. He knows pain. He knows fear.
He knows what it means to be hunted.
But, fuck it, he's in the centre of a herd of sheep and they're all obediently walking into the slaughterhouse like… like fucking sheep! He tries to cut through the throngs of people, to escape the enwombment, but someone strikes him and he sees stars in the middle of the day. He had not eaten since… God knows when. Except God probably doesn't, because the fucker's got his hands full with the obedient little Earthians and no time to waste on the trash that got themselves shipped off-planet (off 'God's green Earth') to die in racial cleaning.
"Do not struggle!" the tinny voice orders.
Some do struggle. Panicked, they punch and claw around themselves. An Andorian in front of Jim screams, and a second later gooey brain-matter splatters over the side of Jim's face. A bit of it gets into his mouth. It's kinda sweet. Not as much as blood, but still sweet.
He, incongruently, remembers Iowa. He hates Iowa, although right now he would sell half of his soul to be there. To be anywhere else. He's pretty sure that-
He can't see that far but he hears that on the square the executions have already started. The people in the front try to back away, the ones in the rear are attempting to progress forth, motivated by intermittent gunfire into the crowd. Bodies press into him.
There's a cave-in a few yards off, cries and curses as someone falls through the hole into the sub-level, perhaps canalisation. Limbs broken. Jim throws his entire weight against the mass surrounding him, and there's the gaping hole in the pavement. He jumps.
It's not too deep. He's up to his knees in mire and it stinks worse than anything he had ever encountered – worse than the john in juvie – and he staggers along the tunnel with one palm pressed to the wall. He gets dizzy soon – too little food, toxic fumes, too much exertion – but look! There's light! Light at the end of the tunnel-
There are stairs. He climbs. There's grass. He's not sure where he is, but there's no grass in the town, so he must have gotten away – for now. He can't walk much farther, though.
And then, suddenly, there's darkness. No, not real darkness, not like when he goes unconscious, or closes his eyes, or when night falls, but like something got between the little, glaring orange star and the planet. Jim raises his eyes. It's – a ship? But he's never seen any ship like it, and his mum's in Starfleet, so he's seen pretty much every kind of ship there is.
The ship fires, a single torpedo – a ball of plasma hurtling through the atmosphere toward the surface – and Kodos' villa explodes. Blue and green flames envelope the entire structure, and the tinny voice-
"-no alternative but to sentence you to death-"
Jim stares at the ship and tries to figure out who it was that came, right on time, faster than the Starfleet, faster than the Federation, who it was that bothered to save four thousand genetically inferior settlers.
He can't think of anything. He'll have to go ask.
Nero doesn't have actual objections about this mission going smoothly – every unproblematic mission is one more that no busybody had the chance to fuck up – but sitting in his chair and looking at the main screen gets old. Fast.
Half an hour into the invasion he stands, gestures his two bodyguards (less brainpower between the two of them than the average sehlat has, but they're big and strong and he's smart enough to pick up the slack) and goes out. It's not a long trek – forty-two seconds to the transporter chamber, instantaneously on the ground. There are corpses; otherwise nothing out of ordinary.
The smell of blood pervades everything yet that is to be expected. He looks around. Yes, it does resemble one of the greatest tragedies the Federation ever hushed up. He believes there's just enough terror and death to imprint upon the survivors just how lucky the arrival of the Narada was for them.
Nero walks up a deserted street. His medical officers are treating some of the wounded. Security has rounded up Kodos' men. Kodos himself has been dead for almost an hour, but Nero never really wanted to meet the man. Revenge burns him, drives him forwards, but never heedlessly, never without stopping to judge to consequences of his actions. Insanity has no appeal.
Romulus is already negotiating with several allied planets the relocation of its people. There will be no pointlessly lost lives this time around. These few lying on the ground… well, their deaths were needed.
The only other that will suffer and die through Nero's actions will be Spock.
"Captain!" Ayel calls. He hurries over, scuffing his boots on the edge of the sidewalk, looking very out of place. His sleeve is stained with red, human blood and his expression tight. "Captain, we have yet to locate the boy."
Nero hums in acknowledgement – ignores Ayal's relief, for Ayal should have known that it's too early for Nero to realistically anticipate results, that they still have time and Nero still has patience – when a scuffle demands his attention.
The detained bloodhounds of Kodos, disarmed and bound and lined up on the ground have become too attractive a target for some of the Terrans previously sentenced to death at their hands. Nero recalls all too sharply what it was like to lose those he loved, so he lets it go on. These people are entitled to their own revenge.
"Who are you?" a hoarse, weary voice asks.
Nero spins, and he cannot suppress the mixture of surprise and pleasure that stretches his lips in the first smile in months.
Thran, one of his bodyguards, has his hand wrapped around the thin, pale neck of a Terran child. Despite the length of blonde hair (dirty and scraggly), it is unmistakably a boy – a boy with hungry blue eyes, quick hands – he has already managed to steal Thran's blade – and more courage than he can reasonably expect to ever need. He is standing as straight as Thran's grip allows him, defiant, challenging, in stark contrast to their funereal surroundings.
Nero realises that it is all too obvious why Spock became so enthralled with this human.
Nero also realises that his plan has just become all that easier, all that more self-evident.
He nods in greeting and meets the child's gaze.
"Hello, James Tiberius Kirk. I am Nero."
2258, Klingon Space
Nero has been briefly astounded at how easy it was to win someone's unconditional devotion, and soon he finds himself falling into the comfortable routine, every night sliding into his bed warmed by his Terran boy and, oh, thoughts of revenge become more distant by the day.
He has fallen into a trap of his own creation. The boy is more than he ever could have imagined.
Narada grows from a symbol of vengeance, the last reminder of a once prosperous planet fallen to the treachery of a half-Vulcan bastard, into the cornerstone of new Romulan era. It comes to life as its crew creates new paths, walks in new directions, embraces new life in this strange-yet-familiar world.
Romulus rises against the force of nature that threatens it, and year after year gains more allies, more possibilities and resources, and Nero almost forgets he has been waiting (he is more in love than he considers admissible, and his work fulfills him in a way revenge never could) until suddenly the year is 2258 and the accursed Jellyfish is spat into this universe on the background of a lightning storm.
Spock has known for 4.7 seconds that he was going to be ambushed upon his exit from the wormhole. The presence of Narada has been expected, it's Captain's hostility indisputable, and Spock's chances of evasion approximately 1 to 22347.
He counts the probability milliseconds after the Jellyfish opens, before he steps into the hangar aboard Narada. The Romulan ship is no less impressive on the inside than it is on the outside.
Spock has lived a long, fraught and fruitful life, yet he cannot suppress the feeling of trepidation as he walks towards his captor. He fears nothing for himself, but Nero is well aware of that and, certainly, his vengeance would be aimed against innocents, for there is no greater pain to a moral being than that of guilty conscience.
"Nero," Spock says solemnly, inclining his head in greeting.
The Romulan's stance is relaxed in his awareness that Spock has no means of harming him. Spock feels that the harm that has come to Nero in past – their past, the past of another universe – is not of his creation, but it is Nero's wish to assign it so, and in this instance Nero has all the judicial power.
"Ambassador Spock of Vulcan," Nero replies calmly, stepping forward from his entourage, entering a spot of harsh halogen light.
Six of his companions spread to create a semi-circle; the last one continues idly leaning against a terminal, seemingly absorbed in reading from a PADD. Spock narrows his eyes. There is something-
"We have been waiting for you for twenty-five years, Spock," Nero says, redirecting Spock's wavering attention to himself. "We have heard your excuses and found them insufficient. You are detained for crimes of genocide against the people of planet Romulus."
Spock has not anticipated else – except perhaps more violence or uncontrolled emotionality. Admittedly, if Nero and his crew had twenty-five years to grieve and come to terms with their loss, perhaps their thirst for retribution was not quite as primal anymore.
"I caused Romulus' destruction neither through action, nor through negligence," Spock points out.
Nero shakes his head, black, bottomless eyes trained on Spock's face, scrutinising the details of his expression. "We will not agree on that point, Ambassador. Incidentally, my first officer and I disagree on the method of your punishment. I believe that this matter should be resolved immediately, and therefore I have invited someone who can resolve it. James?"
Spock stills. Shock, fool's hope, fear and grief pass through him with speed and force that robs him of breath. The man leaning against the terminal lifts his head from the PADD and sharp eyes the colour of Earthian sky measure Spock with indifference that is almost physically cold.
Spock perhaps shivers; he is not quite certain. His lips form the name: "James Tiberius Kirk." He feels old now, so terribly old, stale, wrinkled and archaic, compared to this vivacious young man.
"Hello," Jim says. His tone is even, as indifferent as his gaze (he wears Romulan attire, dark and draping, and there are black marks tattooed on his handsome face), yet it is unmistakably him (same eyes, same mouth, same voice, same confident step). He saunters forwards, closer to Nero, closer to Spock, like a horrible caricature of himself-
No, not himself. The other James Kirk. Caricature of what 'James Kirk' means to Spock. What a subjective judgment on Spock's part…
Spock turns to Nero, wildly grasping for self-control, even though his ears are ringing like red alert.
"How did James Kirk come to be on your ship?" he asks. He does not doubt that he will receive the answer, because any answer at this point would cause him pain and that is what Nero wishes.
James' indifference becomes tempered with a hint of inquisitiveness. Nero's satisfaction is thinly veiled beneath nonchalance. He shrugs.
"There was not a lot of work to do. He was broken when I got to him. He might or might not have healed on his own. I helped him."
James does not protest; he grimaces, remembering unpleasant past, and calms only when Nero grips the back of his neck and squeezes – hard enough to leave bruises on the fragile human skin. Spock recalls Jim's (his Jim's) experiences, and there is not much that could have left such a wound on his psyche. A genocide survived by, as Jim once said, 'the skin of his teeth'.
It angers Spock to think that Nero would have located Jim and extracted him from such a tragic situation for the sole purpose of indenturing him.
"You enslaved – a child?" he whispers, rage tightening his vocal chords.
Nero ceases to touch James and shakes his head in easy denial. "I have no need for a slave, Spock of Vulcan. James is his own man."
James smiles. The smile is mild, gentle, with no edge of danger or teasing that Spock searches for. It rearranges the tattoos into a new and almost appealing formation. "Why would I wish to leave?" he inquires.
Why would James Kirk not wish to escape? The James Kirk that should have grown to allow no one and nothing to limit him?
"You do not yearn for freedom?" Spock sounds to himself as if he were pleading.
"I am free," James replies with that uncomplicatedly happy smile. "I am free of pain, of hunger, of fear. I want for nothing."
There is a fraction of second – it feels like an hour – when the tips of Spock's fingers graze the soft, pale skin of James' forearm, and Spock feels the welling spring of emotion trickling through the minute contact. There is no lie – no need for a lie. No need for manipulation. This Jim knows exactly how and why his father died, who was responsible, and he has come to terms with it.
He knows what the Federation strives for and he agrees and disagrees with parts of their philosophy, just as he alternately agrees and disagrees with Nero – Nero, who despite appearances, is far from James' controller. Indeed, at times it is James in command of Narada, and while James generally prefers engineering, he also loves the moments when the Romulan crew listens to him with respect and follows his orders.
James does not care for ideals or mottos. He is not chasing chimaeras. He is simply living, a life not too different from the one he would have had on Enterprise, only here he always has someone to lean on.
He loves Nero, of his own free will. He cares nothing for a would-be soulmate who is somewhere half a galaxy away just learning to be his own person. This James is vicious and kind in equal measures, and at peace with himself in a way Spock's Jim never managed to be.
Spock's hand falls along his body. He has lived for a very long time, seen the births of stars and deaths of planets, found and lost his t'hy'la, died and was reborn.
Never before has he been subjected to such an all-encompassing sense of futility.
Objectively, he could profess that it is worse than death.
Not quite as terrible as Jim's death.
Something within him comes loose. Someone might have struck him from behind, but the pain does not register. His eyesight, already corrupted by age, splinters into facets of glittering multicoloured light. He perceives motion, slow and comfortable, a meeting of bodies – James' and Nero's – a fleeting gentle touch…
The logical response would be rejoicing in Jim's happiness. Spock, however, feels little but a black-hole of grief for his young, foolhardy, alternative self that will never find the taste of unconditional devotion and affectionate companionship.
"I believe you were correct, Captain," one of the Romulans addresses Nero, voice ripe with respect and curiosity.
"This… undoing of a man…" Nero muses, "truly is more satisfying than senseless death of nameless billions."