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Face to face, the man, this monster: he looks as formidable as he ever did on the newsfeeds, the intelligence stills. He looks terrifying, he looks maniacal.

But Jim Kirk sees something else in him, up close—something violent and wrenching and familiar in ways Jim wishes it wouldn’t be, prays that it’s not.

Because this man, this thing: there’s a spark in his gaze, a sheen to his eyes that speaks of desperation, of heartbreak. And Jim knows, he knows that it’s damn near futile to try and stop a man who leads with his heart.

“James.” Jim shudders at the way his name is purred, clawed out like steel stripped against itself, whining, vengeful. “Dear Jim,” and his hand goes to his phaser, his grip tightens, and he sees the motion recognized, sees it reflected in those colorless eyes like ghosts against the sclera, the whites.

“Will you fix it for me...” There’s a sing-song quality wrapped tight the harshness, a mocking that elevates the tone to hysteria, insanity, and Jim feels a shiver of real fear shoot down his spine as he presses tighter to the ground, vulnerable, sprawled beneath his towering foe.

“No one left to fix it any longer, Jim,” comes the snarl, the hate, and there’s a contortion to those sharp features that looks unnatural, that teeters on that perilous ledge between rage and devastation, undecided, unsure. “Just you and me, now.”

“I’m not who you think I am,” Jim insists, does his best to keep his voice steady.

“Oh, you are exactly who I think you are.” Something dangerous flashes behind those eyes, something powerful and wrathful, the likes of which Jim hasn’t yet seen, hasn’t encountered and sought to subdue. “And you always have been.”

Jim can’t help the cry he lets loose, startled from his throat as his opponent, his target drops to his knees, straddles Jim at the thighs and pins him bodily at the chest with his palms.

“A spider, with a web far more vast than I’d ever dreamt,” and hands, those hands holding him down come in near, come in dangerously close to Jim’s collarbones, his neck.

“But you have to know,” and now the fingers are stretching, now the pressure is building, and Jim tries for one last gasp to hold except it’s vague, gasping, thin.

“I will tear this planet to shreds,” he hisses, vile in Jim’s face as his throat contracts for the squeezing, the bruising and the crushing that’s coming down from all sides, a grip so unforgiving, so uniformly-aimed at destruction. “I will collapse this timeline, this universe, whatever it is you’ve created, whatever you’ve spawned, I will end it. Do you understand?”

And Jim does, yes, as his vision starts to dim. He understands that whatever Starfleet wanted, whatever kind of agreement, whatever sort of ceasefire they’d desired, none of it will come, it’s a fool’s errand, all of it. Because this man, this man

Jim fears that there’s no stopping this.

“You’ve tried to take him from me,” and it’s broken, beneath the surface, when he speaks now, when Jim hears it; “so many times,” and Jim’s mesmerized, Jim’s fixated on the way something trembles, something shakes in his adversary's neck, convulses harder, more uncontrolled than Jim’s own throat as it closes in, collapses.

“You’ve done your worst,” the murderer, the sufferer above him forces out, rough, eyes gleaming; “but you have to realize, you must realize,” and Jim’s losing focus, losing breath and the shape of his lungs, and it burns

“You have to know that in trying to burn my heart, you woke a tiger, you set the sun loose,” and Jim tries to swallow, can’t, won’t, and if there’s a dampness to the words, if there’s a droplet of something warm and wet against his cheek that’s not from his own eyes, then it makes sense, it makes no sense at all, and Jim’s heart is pounding hard, a barrage against the choking, the ending, but not enough, not enough to be desperate in the moment against a desperation that spans lightyears, ends worlds.

“And it’s you who will burn, now, Jim,” so soft, so livid against his ear. “Only you.”

And Jim aches as the black takes hold; aches for more than just the bruises, the breaks in his bones as the world, the smoke, and the feeling fades out.