George Kirk woke up to that damn dog licking his face again, signaling that they had been misplaced in a different universe yet again.
It happened every three months or so. He would pass out, or go to sleep and he would wake up in a completely different universe than where he had been. It had started the day the he had condemned himself to die on the Kelvin, after hearing the birth of his second boy, Jim, after Winona's dad. The dog hadn't shown up until about three years ago, but he was a good companion. He kept some of the insanity George often felt at bay.
He pushed Gladstone –Gladstone for the last two and a half months because George Kirk had woken up in a universe that had never advanced past nineteenth century –away from him. He opened his eyes to take in his surroundings. He had passed out in a carriage on the way home from the theatre, Gladstone lazing on his lap to keep him warm, and he had woken…
He looked around carefully, taking in the absolute shininess of his new confines. Very white, he concluded. Very white and—he took a deep breath—very clean smelling. He liked it a lot more than nineteenth century universe already, although if it turned out to be that evil universe again his opinion would change rapidly. That had been no fun at all, and he had just barely escaped with his life.
He sat up, slowly, trying to get his bearings.
Aside from the whiteness and awesome smell of cleaning solution, he had nothing. It was a room; he observed, round, no windows, decidedly empty save for the rows and rows of tables and benches. Black flooring was beneath him and it kinda sparkled when he tilted his head.
He was obviously in a sanitarium mess hall. What kind of universe was this?
He tapped his fingers against his knee, unsurprised when Gladstone—the name would have to be changed for this psychological institute run universe—nosed his hand. He rubbed the beagle's ear, not really registering what he was doing as he stared at the room. He had to find a good way to blend. He didn't want to be mistaken for a patient so obviously he would need to see what they wore and then dress oppositely. Yes, good strategy.
"Come, Gladstone," he said, the nineteenth century dialect and accent still in his voice. Probably would be until he came across those of this universe. "Let us gather proper information and attire for this place."
He looked down at the clothing he was in. A brown suit stolen from a local tailor. Bad thing to do, he knew, but when you know you're only staying in a universe for two to three months it makes getting a job a little redundant. He had done that for the first five years. These last eight years had been spent just kinda sluffing it. Well, sluffing it and talking to himself…until the dog had come. Then he talked to the dog.
"Makes me seem less crazy, I believe," he told the canine, who only looked at him like his plan was suffering a massive fail. George frowned. "Right," he nodded. "Now, doors. We need to leave this room, my dear canine."
The dog was off like a shot, George Kirk following at a leisurely pace behind him, hands in his trouser pockets. The doors were easy to locate and they slid open with a vaguely familiar whoosh. He stopped in the jamb and stared at where it had retracted.
"Not sure, but I don't think a sanitarium would have sliding doors." He stared at it for a moment longer before his eyes widened and his mouth fell open. "I didn't pay the cabby last night. Poor chap, he probably drove an empty carriage all the way from 34th to 110th." He pursed his lips in thought as he took his bowler hat off to fidget with. Then with a shrug he dismissed his willowy guilt. "Not like I would have paid him anywho."
Gladstone barked at him, startling him out of his staring contest with the jamb of the retractable door. He placed the hat on his head and gave his vest a gentle tug before straightening his jacket. For as boring as the perpetual nineteenth century had been, getting dressed had always been a fun game. He almost did it twice each morning to get double the enjoyment.
"Let's find out where some new clothes are, shall we then?"
The dog gave him a look that clearly said he was the one hindering the search for new clothing. They didn't make it very far before someone came walking down the hall towards them. Both George Kirk and Gladstone froze staring at the dark skinned woman dressed in red came towards them. She had a padd in her hand and she was watching that instead of where she was going. However, seeing as there was a stationary man dressed in nineteenth century garb with a dog standing in the middle of the hallway, she eventually had to look up.
She glanced up as if to acknowledge, yes, there was a sentient being standing directly in front of her, back down at the padd, intending to move around him without thought, before her entire head snapped up and her eyes went wide. She opened her mouth and George Kirk pulled his hands up to his chest as if in prayer.
"Don't scream," he demanded, though he made it sound like a request. "Unfortunately, over the years, I've become rather sensitive to the noise. I cannot stand it."
She nodded her eyes still wide as she looked him over, thoroughly. "You…you're not…I mean you're older but…you…"
"I'm George Kirk," he introduced himself with a nod to her.
He thought about it for a moment, as if it could be very likely that his last transition between universes could very well have killed him, but he decided against it. "No. I am still very much alive."
"Captain George Kirk is alive," she muttered to herself. Then a snort of laughter. "Oh, my god! I have to go see Len. We've got some new outbreak."
Then she started giggling hysterically as she turned around and headed away from him. George Kirk looked down at the dog, which had taken a seat on the black, sparkly floor and shrugged. She looked like she knew where she was going. He gave chase after her, the beagle following behind him this time around.
Several people moved out of their way as they made towards this 'Len' person. He imagined she must come off as rather manic. He supposed the fact that she was being followed by a man in a brown suit and a bowler hat didn't help, either. And a dog. Yes, they must paint a riveting picture.
They entered into a room he immediately recognized as a sickbay for the biobeds and the few medical officers off in their corners looking bored and close to wishing for an accident of some sort to keep them occupied. He gasped and turned to look at the dog at his feet. "Toto!" The name seemed fitting, and the dog looked up at him, despite the change in name. "I think I've made it back to some semblance of normal." He turned to the woman, who had stopped laughing to look at him with disbelief. "Where am I?"
"The U.S.S. Enterprise," she said quickly, looking just a little terrified of his outburst.
"It's a ship, Toto! A ship!" George Kirk exclaimed, grabbing the beagle and spinning with it in his arms. After these last few universes they had been flung through this was a miracle. It was closer to a universe he originated from. This universe didn't look to use horses for transportation. This universe didn't seem to have people willing to stab you just for looking at their breakfast. They didn't sing, because yes! There had been a damn singing universe.
"Doctor McCoy?" the woman called as she inched away from the oddly dressed man and his dog. She looked to believe without a shadow of a doubt that one of them was without there sanity and she was having a hell of a time trying to decide which of the three of them it was.
A door on the other side of the room opened, and a tall man in blue, also reading a padd. These people were epic multi-taskers. "What is it?" he asked without looking up.
George Kirk stopped spinning Toto, which the animal seemed to appreciate as it wobbled around on its four legs when he was set down. George almost bounced a little, still excited at being on a ship.
The lovely young woman, asked with a wobble in her voice and a wild gesture towards George, "Do you see that?"
George was mildly offended. That? He was very much a him, thank you.
The doctor pulled his eyes away from the padd, giving him a breif once over before a smirk made its way across his features. "Did he lose a bet?" Of course, then his eyes settled on Toto and his smirk fell away as confusion settled in. "Where'd we get a dog?"
Toto tilted his head, knowing that he was being spoken about. George looked down at him, scolding softly, "Don't be so rude."
"Don't focus on the dog, Len." She went over to him and grabbed him by the sleeve of his jacket. George squaked at her that his suit was very expensive, despite not having bought it himself. She dragged him over to stand in front of 'Len' giving a sweeping gesture with her arm. "Do you see this man?"
She looked desperate for him to tell her 'yes' he did see George.
'Len' looked a little confused as he looked a George a little blankly, before casting his eyes around the room to see his very intrigued staff. He sighed and then gave the young woman a look that said he was gonna have to sedate her, and not very happy about it. "Yeah, he's got a nice hat." George went to thank him, but he was already asking the lovely lady, "Are you okay, Nyota?"
"Nyota? That's a lovely name. Swahili, yes?" George asked, causing them both to give him startled stares. "I apologize. I seem to have interrupted a moment."
Nyota huffed, turning to fully face him with her arms crossed over her chest. In a brusk, no nonsense tone that almost seemed to have lost the hysteria, she demanded, "Tell him who you are."
"I'm George Kirk," he introduced, taking off his hat and giving a slight nod. He turned slightly, missing the dark look that came over Len's face, and gave a sweeping gesture to the beagle. "This is my canine companion, Toto."
The dog barked his hello.
When he turned back around Len was glaring at him feircely, a frown pulling heavily on the corner of his mouth. "Keep him away from Jim. It's too close to his birthday for this stunt."
"I don't think it's a stunt." Len raised an eyebrow at Nyota's quiet admission. She uncrossed her arms and pointed at him. "Look at him. He's a George Kirk that's been thrown into a giant dryer!" The hysteria was returning to her tone. The crew was taking a vested interest, a few getting up to come closer.
Len looked at him again, doubt lingering in his eyes as well as disbelief. "There is some resemblance."
"Some?" she asked incredulously waving her arms around in front of him. "It's him! Don't let the suit distract you!"
Recognition hit him hard, and his mouth dropped open as he took in the situation again. "Why is he with a dog?" he finally asked, dumbly.
George corrected a little shortly, "His name is Toto," but it was lost as Nyota continued yelling.
"Who cares? Captain George Kirk of the U.S.S. Kelvin is standing right in front of you! Why are you so hung up on the dog?"
Len continued staring at him as she went on, his face slowly draining of color as he realized that yes, he was George Kirk. Taking a steadying breath, he said, "This is a lot to take in, Nyota. I'm focusing on the small things. It helps me. That's called coping mechanisms, just like what you're experiencing is called shock."
"You're damn right I'm shocked!" she screamed, her eyes widening incredulously. "A dead guy is watching us debate over freak-out methods!"
"I'm not dead," he inserted while Nyota was taking a breath.
Again they stared at him, before Len scoffed, "Unbelievable." He stalked passed them and out of medbay. Nyota followed him quickly. For a moment, George just stood in place, but the rest of the crew was staring at him in varying degrees of shock and awe. It was a little uncomfortable.
"Wait for me!" he called, holding his hand out as he would have for a taxi, pressing his hat back onto his head and hastening to follow.
Toto barked, following at George's heels.
They were all in the turbolift, Nyota and Len standing off to the side. Nyota still looked a bit wild, staring at him as if she couldn't quite believe that he was standing in front of her, while Len looked like he had swallowed something fowl. George tried not to squirm as he hummed the tune he had been forced to sing to in the singing universe. It really was quite catchy.
Toto watched him balefully. He had not enjoyed the singing universe, or the name Pongo.
The door hissed open, and Len and Nyota stepped out quickly, heading towards two people. Len quickly walked up to the chair in the center of the…George put a hand to his heart, the Bridge. Nyota headed over to a…Oh! Vulcans! He had also been in a universe where Terrans had adopted the Vulcan way of life.
He stepped out, Toto at his side, just as Len said, a southern accent thickening in his tone, "Jim…"
'Jim' spun around in his chair, a smile lighting his face. "Bones!" he proclaimed happily. "I didn't even hear you. You usually make such a ruckus when you come up here."
George was taken aback for a moment. This Jim looked so much…
Jim caught sight of him and before he could hold it in apparently, a burst of laughter errupted from him. "Did he lose a bet?" But then he stopped laughing, looking at George strangely. "Who is he? He's not part of my crew."
He stood from his seat and made to walk over to George, an air of authority wrapping around him immediately. Len stopped him, however, grabbing his arm gently. "Darlin', I think it best if you remain seated."
As he said this, the young Vulcan stood abruptly, causing Nyota to take a step back. He gave her an apologetic nod before swiftly making his way over to George.
"How come he gets to go investigate?" Jim complained to Len. "I'm the Captain."
The crew on the bridge was becoming quite interested in what was going on, turning to either watch Len and Jim or the Vulcan who had yet to be named for him.
Toto barked at him happily, having always had a certain liking for Vulcans. It was the first time anyone had apparently up here had taken stock of his companion. The Vulcan even looked as if he had been caught off guard, but he covered it quickly as he investigated George's appearance very carefully. His brow slowly rose up, and his sharp eyes roamed his face once more, before he said very calmly, "Fascinating."
"What!" Jim demanded. "What is so damn fascinating Spock?"
"Jim, take a seat," Len said softly.
"Vhat is going on?" a young man asked from his seat, Russian accent thick in his words.
Spock, as he had been addressed, turned about abruptly, clasping his arms behind his back. "Captain, I do not wish to cause you emotional duress, but George Kirk is on the bridge with us."
He took his hat off again and gave a polite nod. "At your service."
The bridge crew stared at him in a stunned silence, all save for Nyota who seemed to have calm down now that Spock had reinforced her suspicions, Spock and Len who were watching Jim very closely.
Jim himself seemed to be at a total loss, his mouth opening and closing in immitation of a fish. His face had lost color as he examined George from a distance.
"Jim…" Len called for him, concern extending that single syllable out.
"I feel…very lighthead…" he trailed off and sagged to the floor, the outright fall eased by the fact that Len still had a grip on his arm. Automatically, a small flock of people jumped from their seats, including the young Russian boy, and the man he was sitting next to. Spock as well, ventured over but he stayed out of the way as Len made sure Jim hadn't hit his head too hard.
George fiddled with the rim of his hat, momentarily before saying, "I know this may come at a highly inappropriate time," they all looked at him with confused eyes. "Is that my...Is he by chance…James Kirk?"
Len rolled his eyes, but it was Nyota who answered while the good doctor tended to Jim. "You're not all there, are you, sir?"
He didn't get the chance to answer. Len called out, "Spock, help me get him down to medbay."
The Vulcan was immediately by his side lifting Jim with ease into his arms. "Mr. Sulu, you have the conn."
The young asian man, who stood and sat next to the Russian, nodded blankly. "Yes, sir."
Spock and Len came back towards him, heading for the 'lift, and Nyota followed them with a worried frown, grabbing his arm as she went.
His suit was being so abused today.
They had deposited Jim on a biobed—oh, how George had missed those in some of the universes he was thrust into. Len clucked over him for a few moments, but ultimately nothing had been damaged when he fainted. Spock continued staring at George with sharp eyes, but he waited until they had him in what appeared to be Len's office before he said anything.
They had escorted him into a chair, and Toto jumped into his lap without hesitation. They stood around him, looking varying stages of intimidating, and unsurprisingly Nyota was the more terrifying of the group.
George cleared his throat, suddenly feeling very hot in his suit. "Just to make sure, you don't torture people for fun in this universe do you?"
"We don't torture anyone period," Len said with a small shudder. George wondered if he knew the universe to which he was referring. It hadn't been pleasant.
"You said, 'this universe.'" Nyota said, her eyes, now that they weren't frenzied, were sharp like Spock's, but more inviting.
He nodded, running a hand over Toto's ear. "Yes, yes, I did."
"Would you care to explain your arrival on this ship?" Spock asked.
He wasn't really fond of trying to explain his universe hopping. People tended to believe he was crazy and he wasn't. Well, he conceded to himself as he stared at the wall behind his interrogators, he wasn't too crazy. So, he answered vaguely, "I woke up here?"
"Please elaborate," Spock demanded.
"It's a long story."
"We got time," Len growled. George liked him better when he was still using his coping mechanisms. He had been much nice then.
"George." He snapped his gaze towards Nyota. "Where have you been?"
"Oh, lots of places. Lots of places." He pet Toto methodically. "I don't mean to sound crazy"—'Too late,' Len muttered—"but I can't seem to stay in one universe. There was this lightning storm…" he trailed off, trying to remember, but for some reason all he could remember was the storm that hit his ship, when he was a sailor in a time period where everyone was a pirate. "You know, I don't remember. I would very much like to have a cup of tea. Would that be feasable?"
They gave him dumbfounded looks, save for Spock, but George knew Vulcans and their expressions. He was dumbfounded too.
They had not found him to be a threat, and neither was Toto.
George had rummaged around the ship, having lost his 'guide' as quickly as possible. If he had been able to stay with one of the other three, he may have stayed, but he had been given an ensign who couldn't stop staring at him, and it had begun to make him twitch just a little.
After having ditched the young woman, he wandered around until he found a large supply closet.
"We've struck fabric, Toto," he called delightedly as he began shifting through mounds of black and primary colors to find a few things he knew would fit him. He pulled out black slacks and a black shirt, and without much preamble changed into them. He probably should have found a room or something to do so, but after so long of waking in strange places, he found that it was best to change when you found the clothes, blend in quickly.
"How do I look?" he asked, kicking the multiple pieces of his suit into closet.
Toto tilted his head to the side.
George nodded. "Yes, I rather feel like a spy as well. That was a fun universe, didn't you think so?"
With new clothing appropriate to the universe he now intruded on…his own universe, how delightful, he meandered at a more leisurely pace, hands in his pockets, until he was once again in the medbay.
Jim was awake again, and speaking with Len in quiet tones. His eyes were wide, face pale as he clenched at the biobed around him, whispering harshly to Len. The doctor seemed to take this in stride, nodding every so often and giving small return statements.
It surprised him when Toto, perked his ears slightly, cocking his head to the side. Before he knew it, the beagle had shot from his side and onto the biobed, startling the two men. Jim looked down at the dog, blankly before recognition dawned in his eyes. "Porthos?"
"His name is Toto," George corrected from his spot in the doorway.
Len's brows furrowed as he took in George's appearance. "Ensign Hediza find you some new clothes. Where is she?"
George shrugged. "I lost her."
He rolled his eyes. "Great. I'm gonna go comm her to make sure she isn't runnin' around in Jeffreys tubes lookin' for ya." He glanced at Jim. "You'll be okay?"
Jim, who hadn't said a word since he realized George was in the room, nodded. "It's highly likely. Not like he's a Klingon, Bones."
Len, who must also be 'Bones', looked like he would like to protest, but he wandered into his office, keeping the door open. George briefly wondered what the doctor thought he would do, but he set it aside.
He was aware that he wasn't all there in his mental facilities, but he did have the sense to know that this was his son, his younger boy, who was apparently the captain, and much older than the thirteen years it had taken to scramble George's brain.
"How old are you?" he finally asked, thinking of nothing else. There had always been so many things he wished he could see of his children, but his children weren't kids anymore…
"Twenty-nine. How old are you?" Jim returned, somewhat wary, somewhat still shocked.
He supposed it would be shocking to someone who wasn't always going, someone who didn't live life knowing that one day you would wake up and have to learn life again. But this was commonplace for him. He had never met his kids in any alternate universe, but this wasn't really an alternate universe…
He looked at his son, his son from a home he hadn't been to in a dichotomous thirteen/twenty-nine years.
"Forty…I think." He did quick math in his head. "Yeah, around forty."
They were cast in silence for several minutes, just looking at each other.
"I can't believe you're not dead," Jim said, something sad in his eyes, something angry, more than anything something fragile, child-like.
George shrugged, not knowing how to feel. "Sometimes, neither can I."
"What happened to you?" Jim asked softly, looking him over critically.
He shook his head. "I'm not sure. I go to sleep sometimes, and I just wake up somewhere new, some different universe." He waved his hand around, motioning to the ship around them, because for this being home, it was home twenty-nine years after a lightning storm in space that he didn't remember.
"How often does that happen?"
"Every two or three months."
Jim looked like he'd just been shot. "You'll only be here for three months?"
George hated seeing Jim like that, but didn't know how fix it, didn't know how to help. "Give me a moment…" he said, leaving the room.
He went to the Mess, one of the few things Ensign Hediza had shown him before he escaped her. Carefully, he pulled two cups of tea from it and made his way back to Jim. He was beginning to move off of the biobed, Toto waiting on the bed beside him to see if he would actually get off the bed, but when Jim saw George and the two mugs in his hand, he settled again, waving to the chair beside it. Toto settled on Jim again, rubbing his nose against Jim's hand.
"Toto likes you," he said as he handed Jim his tea.
"Yeah, he knew me when I was in the Academy." He paused, before calling loudly, "Bones, tell Scotty we found Porthos."
There was grumbling, and the returning call,"Sure, Jim. Glad I've been promoted to your secretary."
George looked at the dog, saying, "His name is Toto."
"It's actually Porthos. He belongs to an Admiral down in San Francisco, don't you buddy?" Jim rubbed behind the dog's ear with a silly look on his face.
George was held up. He had never thought that the beagle…Porthos, what a strange name, could have come from his mother universe as well. He didn't think it was even possible for a coincidence. "This is his universe too?"
"Yeah." He nodded, still petting the beagle with one hand, taking a sip from the tea. He didn't seem to know what to say, but he did look like he wanted to say something, anything.
George cleared his throat, trying to help ease the silence. "How's Sammy?"
Jim smiled tightly, giving a jerky shrug. "I don't know. He left when I was twelve. Never came back."
His heart cracked a little at that. "Your mother?"
"We don't really talk." Jim gave him a sad look, on that conveyed more than words propably ever would.
George sighed, bits and pieces falling away from his heart. He had left his wife with a family, and she had given him in return outcasts. It was enough to push him over the edge he already teetered on.
He pulled for a different topic. "I used to write you letters…"
"I used to talk to your picture," Jim replied, sad smile on his features.
This was so strange, and so much harder than he had ever imagined, but he pulled for anything, anything that would keep Jim talking. "Are you married?"
Jim laughed a little, tilting his head toward's Len's office. "Yeah, to the surly bastard in there. He only comes off grouchy, promise."
"Stop talking about me," Len demanded from the confines of his office.
George was a little stunned, but continued nonetheless. "Children?"
"How long have you been captain?"
"Do you hate me?" It escaped unbidden from his mouth, but it was no less urgent that he find out. He had to know.
Jim stared at him for an eternity before he set his tea down. He took a deep breath. "A little. I used to have all these questions for you. I wanted to know all about you, what your favorite sport was, if you liked going out to bars, if my mother was the only person you ever loved, and I always wanted to ask you, find a way to send missives back in time. And now you're here…"
"And you hate me." George nodded, feeling somehow like it was not less that what Jim should feel.
"And it doesn't matter. I never thought I'd get to see you in the flesh, let alone talk to you. It's kinda like a dream come true." He swallowed harshly. "But you're leaving in three months…" He stared at his hands in his lap, having still them moments ago, much to Porthos' chagrin. Slowly he opened his mouth to ask,"Have you ever tried to stay?"
"No. I've never wanted to." Who would want to stay in all those other universes, when they could have had this one?
"Do you want to now?" Jim picked up his head and met his gaze and it was almost like looking in a mirror, because he looked almost nothing like Winona, a woman who had been younger than him, but now was older than him. A woman who he had given a family to, and who had given back an outcast. "We can look into it…try and see if maybe…" Jim continued, hopefully. "Do you want to stay? Dad?"
It was the first time he had ever heard his son say his name, and there was only ever one answer to his question. "Yes."
Four months, three weeks, and two days…
He was still counting.