Summary: James T. Kirk always goes to Tarsus IV - because George Kirk can die, Vulcan can be destroyed, and Jim can be resurrected, but Tarsus IV is immutable. OR - An exploration of the fanon fact that Jim always experiences the massacre on Tarsus IV, no matter the universe.

A/N: This was prompted by my questioning of why everyone assumes Jim always goes to Tarsus IV. Of course, I know the true reason is that no fanfiction author could possibly pass up such a tempting piece of angst, especially since it's so undefined. But, here is my meta-fanfiction piece that tries to present a REAL reason that Jim Kirks always go to Tarsus.

Please review! It means a lot!


It's been bugging Jim for a while, but one night he can't take it any longer, and so, when the ship hums beneath his fingertips and the only sound in his quarters is the gentle susurration of the ventilation, Jim slips out of bed and over to his computer.

"Call Ambassador Spock," he addresses the computer without preamble.

After a few minutes, Old Spock's face appears on Jim's screen. His features are impassive, but he has the same tells that his Spock has, Jim notes. The slightly cocked head and higher-than-usual lift of the eyebrows conveys his slight confusion at Jim's impromptu call.

"What can I do for you, Captain?" Spock asks, nodding slightly in greeting.

"It's nothing urgent, Ambassador," Jim reassures him, before steadying himself, taking a deep breath and collecting his courage. "I just wanted to ask you…" he swallows, and then stumbles on quickly, before he can lose his nerve. "Did your Jim… did he go to Tarsus IV?"

Instantly, Spock's composure crumbles and an expression of soul-deep pain steals over his face. "I assume," the Vulcan croaks after a moment, the sorrow in his voice almost too much for Jim to bear, "that you did as well?"

Wordlessly, Jim nods, biting his lip, a nervous habit that he's never been able to break.

Spock sighs, regaining some of his former composure. The Vulcan's partial breakdown has surprised Jim, and Spock presumably sees a touch of that in Jim's eyes, because he sighs again, deeper, and begins to explain.

"I did not know that Jim was one of the nine survivors of Tarsus IV that had seen Kodos' face until, well, a mission went awry." Spock looks vaguely guilty, an expression that Jim's Spock often sports when he feels that he needs to conceal information from Jim. However, Jim is distracted by the shocking information that Spock has just divulged.

"Nine?" Jim whispers, his voice choked with disbelief. "Nine?"

"Yes." Spock seems confused. "How many survived in this universe?"

Jim swallows heavily, and past the lump in his throat, he croaks, "Just me."

Spock freezes, before his face crumples yet again. "Jim," he rasps, his voice heavy with sorrow. "I grieve with thee."

"Who…?" Jim can't get his question out, but Spock seems to understand.

"Kevin Riley, Thomas Leighton, Sally Wright, Stonnak, Selok, Emily Maddock, Edward Reich, and Fernando Marquez."

Jim swallows several times, unable to speak past the weight of his grief, newly reopened. There was a universe, out there somewhere, where Stonnak and Selok hadn't died of cold, frozen in each other's arms, as close in death as in life; where Emily hadn't become weak and pale with fever, softly dying just as soon as her boyfriend, Edward, began to show the symptoms of her disease; where Fernando hadn't been gunned down in a futile attempt to save Kevin, Thomas, and Sally from Kodos' soldiers. Jim begins to tremble. Out there, somewhere, there is another universe where he didn't fail, and for this, he feels pathetically grateful.

"Thanks," he eventually croaks. He doesn't cry, although the grief surges through him with every breath. He hasn't cried since Tarsus, and wouldn't it just be ironic if the break in his control occurred because of a mere discussion about the colony?

"Jim," Spock sounds unsure, vulnerable, and Jim snaps his attention to the viewscreen. For a moment, it seems as if Spock will retreat, close the conversation and not tell Jim the information that he is so reluctant to divulge.

The moment passes, and Spock gathers himself visibly. "In my universe, Jim," he begins, "we discovered that…" Spock takes a deep breath. "We discovered that Kodos was alive, that the charred body that was claimed to be Kodos' was not, in fact, his."

Jim is stunned for a moment, before he begins to laugh, a bitter, haunted thing. "No need to worry, Ambassador," he says, a dark, vicious note creeping into his voice. "Kodos is certainly dead here."

Spock's brow knits together in confusion. "How can you know with such certainty, Jim?"

Jim's smile is sharp and satisfied, and there is a distinctly feral quality to it. "I know it, Spock," he states darkly, "because I killed that motherfucker with my own two hands."

Jim knows that there are alternate universes, obviously (Old Spock is kinda the end-all proof, really), so when an older, more muscular version of himself materializes on the transport pad, he shouldn't be so shocked.

Especially since the other version of himself isn't perturbed at all. "Aw, man," he whines, glancing around the transporter pad. "Spock's going to kill me."

"What're you doing here?" Jim asks, as the rest of his brain seems to have shorted out.

"Hmm?" The other Jim is investigating the transporter console now, poking and prodding it with fascination. "Oh, this happens to me all the time," he replies blithely, still occupied with the terminal. "Scientists think it has something to do with the strange radiation I was exposed to as a child, or something, because I grew up near a physics testing facility on Vulcan. Drives Spock up the wall. He can't send me on diplomatic assignments down to planets with one hundred percent certainty that I'll actually arrive there. And it's pretty awkward to explain to people, as you can probably guess."

"Diplomatic missions?" Jim asks incredulously, because although he can accept the universe-hopping thing (it sound like the kind of impossible quirk that only James T. Kirk could possess), he can't imagine diplomatic missions going well without Uhura and Spock as the main negotiators. Jim just doesn't have the patience to deal with whiny, pampered, often intolerant government officials. That's something he learned quickly on the job – bureaucrats are a universal constant, and he doesn't have the temperament to deal well with any of them.

"Yep," the other Jim agrees, finally turning away from the console and raking his eyes over Jim critically. Jim feels strangely exposed, and fidgets under his counterpart's observations. "I'm the Communications Officer under Captain Spock of the USS Enterprise. You? You're bridge crew, at least."

"I'm the captain," Jim states. "Captain of the USS Enterprise, and Spock is my First Officer and Science Officer."

The other Jim gives a low whistle. "Impressive." When Jim screws up his face in disagreement, the other Jim laughs and swings an arm around his counterpart, noticing Jim's instinctive flinch but not withdrawing. "You'll have to tell me all about it, after we deliver this," the other Jim waves a sheaf of papers that he had pulled from an extra pocket in his uniform, "to your Chief Engineer. Scotty?"

Jim scoffs as they march out of the transporter room, ignoring the incredulous stares of his crew at the sight of two Jim Kirks. "Of course," he retorts. "What do you take me for, an idiot?"

The other Jim's laughter rings down the corridor.

An hour later, the two of them are ensconced in Jim's quarters, and the other Jim sits back in his chair, heaving out a sigh.

"That…" he pauses and runs his hand over his face. "That's heavy. I mean, wow. I've never found a version of the universe this… messed up. Vulcan? And Khan, like that? Really? And Dad, I can't…" he trails off.

Jim smiles humorlessly. "All true, I promise," he says.

"Oh, I don't doubt you," the other Jim replies. "This is the sort of shit that only James T. Kirk can fall into. We're all trouble-magnets, or something. Speaking of that," he leaned back his head to lazily observe Jim. "What do you want to know about the other Jim Kirks out there? I mean, apparently your Old Spock can tell you about his Jim, but I've been to like, twenty different universes."

Jim quietly considers for a minute, before curling into a tight ball on his chair. His counterpart looks on in sympathy, knowing what the poor man wants to ask. They are, after all, almost the same person.

"Tarsus?" Jim croaks out after a moment.

"All of us," his counterpart replies, a deep sorrow undercutting his words. "Every one. Some of were able to save hundreds, others a handful, and others none. Some of us were confronted with Kodos, the tricky bastard, later, including myself." He gives a bitter laugh. "That was a shitstorm." He pauses for a moment before continuing. "Some of us were on the list of desirables, others on the undesirable list. Whatever the variables, though, we've all been there, lived through that hell."

"But none of us," he continues painfully, "never really move on, not like the other survivors do." He shakes his head. "I don't know why. It must be genetic, this survivor's guilt, or maybe something that crosses universes."

"And I don't know why we never escape it," his eyes are anguished as he looks at Jim, begging for an answer that neither can provide. "I don't know why James T. Kirk must go to Tarsus IV, must see Kodos' face, must hear that fucking speech…" his voice rises, and he chokes.

For a moment, the two Kirks sit in a silence that is clogged with the emotional turmoil of thousands of deaths and the cloying guilt that perpetually clings to James T. Kirk.

"I don't know," Jim whispers tiredly. "I don't know either."

And somewhere, there is a James T. Kirk that never went to Tarsus IV, stayed in Iowa, lived a quiet life, and never stepped near a transport pad. He dies of old age and unexpressed longing.

And somewhere, there is a James T. Kirk that never went to Tarsus IV and he tears himself to pieces because he can't find an anchor. He can't live for himself, and has never learned to live for others.

And somewhere, there is a James T. Kirk that never went to Tarsus IV, and when, on the bridge of a starship, he comes face-to-face with death, he hesitates, flinches, and so he dies, silently, out in the cold reaches of space.