"He hates me, Bones."
McCoy sighed, rolling his eyes. "Not this again; damn it, go away, kid. I don't have the time for this."
Jim scowled at him, flopping down on a chair at McCoy's desk. "Bones, I'm serious." He heaved a sigh. "He's driving me crazy."
McCoy returned his gaze to his PADD. "Jim, it's been only three months since the mission started. You and that hobgoblin aren't going to magically become best friends just because your counterparts were in some parallel universe."
Jim rubbed his forehead. "I know that, Bones; believe me, I know. I just don't get how the hell in another universe we were close friends while in this universe Spock can't even stand me—and I doubt it's gonna change. We're a shitty command team, we never agree on anything, he finds my decisions illogical and stupid, and everyone on the ship knows it! The fact that my own First Officer thinks I'm a shitty captain doesn't exactly make my crew respect me more! I tried fucking everything, but he just doesn't meet me halfway."
"All right, so let's hear it," Bones said in a long-suffering tone. "What have you tried so far?"
"I suggested doing our paperwork together."
"He gave me a condescending look and told me that his paperwork was already done."
Bones snorted. "What else?"
"I suggested chess, 'cause Ambassador Spock told me he loved playing chess with his Jim Kirk. I thought we could bond over it, but Spock informed me that he didn't have the time for such 'unproductive' activities. Yeah, right. He can find the time to fuck Uhura, but he can't spare—"
McCoy closed his eyes in exasperation. "What else?"
"I suggested sparring, and you know what he told me? He told me that I was no match for him. Can you believe that? I'm fit! Seriously—"
McCoy's communicator beeped. He flipped it open, grateful for the distraction. "McCoy here."
"Have you seen the Captain, Doctor?" Uhura's voice sounded from the speakers. "He seems to have left his communicator somewhere. We've been trying to get hold of him for fifteen minutes."
"He's here." Bones handed the communicator to Jim, muttering, "Just remember that I'm a doctor, not an operator."
"We have new orders from Starfleet, Captain. High priority."
Jim frowned. "High priority? Forward the orders to me and inform all department heads and senior officers to report to the briefing room in five minutes."
"It's already done, Captain. Commander Spock called a meeting. Everyone is waiting for you and the Doctor."
Jim's jaw tightened.
"Of course he did," he said through his teeth. "I'm on my way. Kirk out."
"See?" Jim gestured furiously to Bones. "He just loves making me look like an incompetent idiot!"
Bones sighed. "Let's go, Jim. You're already late."
Jim sat down at the head of the briefing table.
"Mr. Spock, if you wouldn't mind?" he said, not looking at his first officer. He hoped his face didn’t betray how pissed he actually was.
"Certainly, Captain," Spock said from his left, and launched into an explanation of the mission. "Forty-six minutes ago, scientists of Ktyx IV detected a space anomaly approximately in twenty light-years away from their system. The nature of the anomaly is unknown, but some characteristics of the anomaly appear to be similar to those that were detected by the USS Kelvin when the Narada appeared in our universe. The scientists reported that it looked like a ‘lightning storm in space.’"
Jim's gaze snapped to Spock, but the Vulcan's face was as blank as ever. Jim glanced around the table. Everyone looked concerned and tense.
"Our mission is to observe the anomaly, to determine if it is dangerous, and, if possible, to find its cause," Spock continued. "We have been ordered to head for Ktyx system as soon as possible."
Jim frowned. As far as he knew, the USS Prometheus and the USS Daedalus were closer to the anomaly than the Enterprise, but it was hardly surprising that Starfleet Command was sending the Enterprise there. Starfleet must have been concerned that it was something like the Narada—or the Narada, since no one knew for sure that the ship was destroyed. After all, the Narada had survived the first black hole, so there was a small possibility that it survived the second one despite the fact that they fired all weapons at the ship.
Jim turned to Chekov, who looked a little pale. "Mr. Chekov, plot our course."
The boy nodded and began furiously typing on his PADD. "We'll reach Ktyx system in approximately thirteen-point-three hours on maximum warp, Keptin."
"Good," Jim said. "Mr. Scott, we're going to needed all the power we can get. Divert all unnecessary systems to shields."
Jim looked at the other officers. "Prepare your departments for the mission. Lt. Stevenson, if you need to tweak the sensors, now is the time to do so. Any questions?”
No one spoke.
"Dismissed. Commander, a word."
Jim waited until everyone but Spock had left the room before turning to the Vulcan.
"May I inquire," he started, "why the hell do you give any orders without consulting me first?"
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I assume you are referring to my calling a meeting?"
Pursing his lips, Jim nodded.
"It was only logical," Spock said in a lecturing tone that Kirk was very much used to by now. "You would have done the same if you had your communicator on you, Captain."
Jim let out a breath through his teeth. "It doesn't fucking matter. You made me look like an incompetent and irresponsible idiot who can't even be on time for an emergency briefing. Why the hell do you keep doing this? You know how hard I work to earn the respect of the crew!"
Spock stared at some point above Jim's right shoulder. "It was not my intention to make you look incompetent, Captain. I merely did what is required of every first officer when the captain is out of reach."
Jim huffed. "Right."
Spock stood up. "If you will excuse me, I have to return to the Science Department to oversee the preparations."
Not waiting for an answer, Spock left the room.
Jim heaved a frustrated sigh.
"Sir," Sulu called. “Dropping out of warp in three—two—one—"
On the forward monitor, subspace streaking gave way to—
Jim gripped the armrests of the command chair as the starship shuddered and was jerked forward with incredible force. The emergency sirens went off.
"Shields up! Red alert! Status report, Mr. Spock!" Jim yelled over them, his eyes glued to the viewscreen. A bright white light surrounded them as the ship was pulled towards a huge energy disturbance that really did resemble a lightning storm.
"The anomaly appears to have grown significantly since it was first detected," Spock said evenly, annoying Jim to no end by his refusal to speak shorter and quicker even in an emergency. "That is why the Enterprise appeared in the middle of it. Its gravitational pull is too strong to resist, Captain. The ship is being pulled towards the center of the anomaly."
Jim threw him an incredulous look. "What, we can't do anything? Its gravitational pull can’t be stronger than the black hole's!"
Spock's gaze was glued to the monitor, his fingers flying over the console. "We cannot, Captain. We are already in the anomaly, and its gravitational well is so great that it literally reaches infinity. I have never seen such a phenomenon." He shook his head. "What we did to escape the black hole's gravity will not work this time. We will merely lose the warp engines for nothing. "
"What do you suggest?"
"We have no choice but to allow the anomaly to pull us to its center. If we resist, the ship will be damaged beyond repair."
Jim shuddered, remembering how the Enterprise's hull began cracking when they resisted the black hole's gravitational pull.
"All right," he said, sighing, before raising his voice. "Mr. Sulu, stand by. Uhura, inform all departments of what's going on."
The ship was quickly pulled forward, tossed about like a leaf in a hurricane, sheets of lightning filling the viewscreen completely.
"We will enter the center of the anomaly in approximately two minutes and twenty seconds, Captain," Sulu said, his voice tight with tension.
"Your opinion, Mr. Spock. What are we dealing with?" Jim asked, drumming his fingers on the armrest.
"There is no sufficient data to make any—"
"Spock," Jim growled. "I'm asking for your personal opinion, not a scientifically-proven theory. Are we in danger? Can we survive it?"
After a short pause, Spock replied, "Given our decision to not resist, I do not believe that the ship will sustain severe damage. From what I have gathered so far, it seems to be a natural phenomenon curiously similar to a hurricane, which should be against all laws of physics. It is possible that we are being pulled into the so-called 'eye of the storm', a region of calm weather found at the center of strong tropical cyclones." He paused. "Of course, it is only a theory."
Jim grasped the armrests tighter as she ship shook violently. It was kind of hard to believe that they were being pulled into safety. "So you think we can just wait it out? We're not going to end up in some parallel universe like the Narada?"
"While it is possible, I do not believe so. There are certain similarities in characteristics of the anomalies; however—" He broke off as the ship rattled viciously again, tossing everyone from their stations. With a grunt, Jim got back into his chair and looked at the viewscreen.
His jaw dropped. They were in a clear space surrounded by the wall of lightning.
Jim licked his lips. "Status now, Mr. Spock?"
"We appear to be in the eye, Captain. The eye is a roughly circular area and approximately sixty-four kilometers in diameter. We are surrounded by the eyewall, which—"
"Captain, I'm detecting another ship!" Sulu exclaimed.
Jim's head jerked to him, his heart beating like crazy. "What?"
"Mr. Sulu is correct. The ship is twenty-six kilometers away," Spock confirmed after a moment.
The Narada? Jim's first thought was. But no, of course not. The Narada couldn't possibly have survived the black hole.
"What kind of ship?" he asked, his voice tight with tension. "Give me visual, full magnification, Mr. Spock."
Everyone held their breath before the viewscreen was filled with the image of a ship.
It wasn’t the Narada—thank fucking god. But, having a good look at the ship, Jim frowned.
"The ship isn't Federation, is it?" he asked. The design was completely unfamiliar to him. It was a big ship, much bigger than the Enterprise. Their weapons looked menacing and unfamiliar – possibly more advanced than those on the Enterprise, as well. And, given their recent rough journey, if this ship was hostile, the Enterprise would likely be at a disadvantage.
"It is..." Spock started before trailing off.
Jim turned to him. "What?"
Spock was staring at his monitor. "It is a Vulcan ship, Captain."
Jim's eyes widened. As far as he knew, the Vulcan Fleet was almost non-existent now. The Narada destroyed all ships in orbit of Vulcan.
"Are you sure?"
Spock nodded. "I am magnifying the hull. You can look at it yourself."
Jim turned back to the viewscreen as Spock magnified the image even more. Now he could clearly see the words V.S.S T'Pau on its hull.
"Vulcan Science Starship T'Pau," Spock said, his voice pensive. "There is no such ship in our universe, Captain."
"We're in another universe?" Sulu asked uncertainly.
"Not necessarily," Spock replied. "It is possible that we are in a neutral space and the other ship was simply pulled into the eye as well."
"Captain, we're being hailed!" Uhura exclaimed.
Jim sat straighter and schooled his features to seriousness rather than worry. "On screen."
The bridge went unnaturally quiet as they all stared at the screen, waiting for the image to appear. And when it did, Jim's mouth fell open.
He was looking at Spock—another one. Unlike Ambassador Spock, this Spock was young, probably the same age as his First Officer. The new Spock was wearing a black uniform—of Vulcan High Command, Jim noted absent-mindedly—and was sitting behind a desk. He was also staring at Jim with a slightly baffled look on his face.
No one said anything for a few moments.
"Holy shit!" a voice off the screen said—a very familiar voice—before a face appeared over New Spock's shoulder. "It’s me!"
Jim blinked a few times. He was looking at his own face, in his own blue eyes. But what shocked him most was that the other Kirk had his chin on Spock's shoulder, his hands resting on his upper arms, and Spock didn't even blink, as if the touches were no big deal.
"Um… hi?" Jim said, utterly confused. He couldn't get over the fact that his other self was practically hugging another Spock.
"I presume you are from a parallel universe," New Spock said, still looking oddly at Jim. "You are the Captain of the USS Enterprise in your universe, I presume?"
Right. He was the Captain. He was supposed to be professional in any situation.
Jim cleared his throat. "Yes, I'm Captain James T. Kirk of the USS Enterprise. To whom am I speaking?"
"I am Captain Spock of the VSS T'Pau," Spock said before giving his Jim Kirk a pointed look. "And this is my First Officer."
Smiling, Kirk rolled his eyes and put on a serious face, but Captain Spock didn't look overly impressed.
"Lieutenant, please change the parameters of the video transmission," Jim heard his first officer say to Uhura before the Vulcan stepped to the command chair.
Captain Spock and Kirk's gazes snapped to Spock.
"I am Commander Spock, the First Officer of the Enterprise," Spock introduced himself.
Kirk lost his serious face and grinned triumphantly at Captain Spock. "Nice! In that universe, I'm your captain, and you can't order me around!"
Snorting, Jim muttered under his breath, "Sorry to disappoint, but he still orders me around. A lot."
"Have you determined anything about the anomaly?" Spock asked their counterparts, ignoring Jim's words. As usual.
Captain Spock inclined his head slightly. "We have been in the anomaly for three-point-one-six hours and have gathered some valuable data. If you wish, we can transfer the data to you."
"Or, you can come on the Enterprise," Jim suggested. Now that he’d – somewhat – gotten past the sheer weirdness of their situation, he was curious about the other universe. From what Ambassador Spock had told him, Jim got the impression that being the Captain of the Enterprise was his destiny or something. It seemed the old guy was wrong.
"I do not think it would be prudent," Spock said from where he stood behind Jim's chair. "The storm may end any—"
Kirk shook his head. "We've already determined that the storm will last at least another ninety-eight hours. We'll take a shuttle; it's risky to use transporters."
"All right," Jim said. "We'll wait for you. You can bring a couple more people if you want. Kirk out."
The viewscreen changed to the image of the T'Pau again.
Jim exhaled. "Well. This was weird."
Sulu chuckled. "Very astute, Captain."
"Mr. Chekov, make a ship-wide announcement. We don't need anyone to have a heart attack seeing two Spocks and Kirks."
Chekov beamed at him. "Aye-aye, Keptin!"
"Another Kirk and another Spock?" Bones grumbled under his breath. "God, why?"
Snorting, Jim leaned against the wall of the hangar bay. "Don't worry, Bones— it seems they aren't at each other's throats like we are."
"We are not ‘at each other's throats,’ Captain," Spock commented from his other side.
"Of course we aren't," Jim said. "You just hate my guts."
"I do not harbor hatred towards your intestines," Spock replied, not looking at him. Jim had noticed that Spock didn't like looking at him—like, at all. Sometimes, thanks to Spock, Jim felt like he had leeches on the sides of his face or something.
Uhura smiled at her boyfriend. "You know perfectly well what 'hating one's guts' means."
Whatever Spock was going to say was lost as the shuttle they had been waiting for finally arrived. Feeling excited, Jim watched the hatch open and lower to the floor of the docking bay. A familiar figure stumbled out, muttering something about space diseases and bacteria, and Jim grinned. It seemed some things never changed, no matter what universe they were in.
"Hey, Bones!" Jim said, stepping to him and patting him on the back.
McCoy looked up at him. "Whoa. You look exactly like the brat. I didn't really believe it when they told me. And why the hell are you calling me 'Bones'? It's Len, Leonard McCoy."
Jim raised his eyebrows. Len? No one addressed Bones like that.
"All right, Len, meet Bones," he said with a smile, stepping aside so that Len could see Bones. It was funny to watch them eye each other with identical grumpy expressions on their faces.
"So much for my hope that I was smart enough not to get tricked by the brat into serving on his ship in your universe," Len grumbled, sighing. Bones just snorted.
Len looked at Spock and Uhura. "And of course, you two are here too."
Uhura's mouth fell open. "There's another me on your ship, Doctor?"
"Yeah. We have you, Gaila, and some other girls from Communications—"
"Gaila?" Uhura and Jim both said at the same time. "She's alive?"
Len raised his eyebrows. "Why wouldn't she be alive?"
"You mean," Jim said, licking his lips, "there was no Narada in your universe?"
Len frowned. "Narada? That giant ship Vulcans retrieved from Klingons over a year ago?"
Jim and Bones exchanged a look.
"Doctor, do you mean," Spock said, "that, in your universe, the Narada never attacked Vulcan?"
Len's frown deepened. "No. The crew was found on Rura Penthe, and they were transferred to a Federation prison for the Kelvin Massacre after the trial. I don't really know more details; don't have the clearance."
Jim nodded, feeling slightly numb. "So Vulcan is still there, huh?"
"Sure," Len said, then froze. "You mean in your universe...?"
Jim shook his head slightly.
"Oh," Len said, and glanced at Spock before looking away.
Jim bit his lip, having mixed feelings about it. Sure, he was happy that in the other universe the destruction of Vulcan was prevented, but this meant that they could have done it better, that they could have saved Vulcan. From what Len had told them, it was obvious that the Narada had attacked the Kelvin in the other universe as well, but why were their universes so different from each other? What was the factor that had changed everything, saving billions of lives—Gaila, Spock's mother? What exactly had they done wrong in their universe?
"Where are Spock and Kirk?" Uhura asked, breaking the tense silence.
Len snorted, glancing at the shuttle. "Probably making out or something. Yesterday Jim was whining to me that he was white-knuckled with the strain of keeping his hands off Spock in public— What? Why are you all looking at me like that?”
Jim stared at him.
"Making out?" Bones repeated slowly.
Len looked from Jim to Spock and back again, frowning. "You mean …you two aren't together?"
Uhura laughed. "Of course not! Spock is my boyfriend, Doctor!"
Len looked positively gobsmacked. "Really? That's— wow, that's weird."
Jim finally regained the ability to speak. "They're… boyfriends?" he managed.
Len snorted. "Boyfriends? They've been married for eight years."
"What?!" Bones, Jim, and Uhura yelled.
"I know, right? I had the same reaction when I found out they were bonded since their teens.” He shook his head. “Who the fuck gets bonded at seventeen?"
"Len, I can hear you gossiping about me!" a familiar voice exclaimed, and they all turned to Kirk, who was emerging from the shuttle, his cheeks flushed and his lips pink and swollen. He also had a fresh hickey on his neck, and Jim blushed—Spock. Holy shit, in that universe Spock and he were together and happily married. Happily married. Was this some kind of joke?
Len scowled at Kirk and stepped to him. "Tilt your head back," he said, pulling a dermal regenerator out of his pocket. "How often have I told you not to let the goddamn hobgoblin bite you?"
Rolling his eyes, Kirk tilted his head. "Maybe I like it when he bites me," he said, smirking.
Len scowled. "Too much information, Jim. At least tell him not to bite you where everyone can see. I'm a doctor, not a cosmetologist!"
"We are all well aware that you are a doctor, Doctor," Captain Spock said, stepping out of the shuttle. Jim looked from him to Kirk's hickey, then back at him. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at Jim, catching him staring. Jim felt himself blush and quickly looked away—only to find his First Officer looking at him disapprovingly.
Jim sighed on the inside. What had he done wrong now?
Bones nudged him with his elbow, and Jim finally remembered his duties.
"Welcome on board of the USS Enterprise," he said, forcing what he hoped was a natural-looking smile. "I'm sure everyone here knows everyone, so there's no need for introductions."
Uhura chuckled, shaking her head. "Captain, we all still remember the last time you decided that there was ‘no need for introductions.’"
"Yeah? What happened?" Kirk asked curiously, flashing Uhura a genuine smile. "It's good to see you, Nyota. Gorgeous in every universe, huh?"
Uhura blinked, clearly taken aback. She opened her mouth to reply, but froze—Jim froze, too—when Kirk took Captain Spock's hand, two of their fingers entwining like it was perfectly ordinary for them.
Jim looked at his First. He was staring at their counterparts' entwined fingers with a strange expression. Bones had a pained look on his face.
"Well, let's go?" Kirk said, widening his grin. When he seemed to get a clue that everyone was staring at their hands, he looked down, then looked at his husband—his fucking husband—with a frown. They didn't exchange any words, but Jim got the impression that they were somehow communicating. A moment later, they both turned back to Jim and his first officer.
"From your reaction, we presume you are not bonded," the other Spock said.
Before either of them could reply, Uhura chuckled awkwardly and stepped closer to Spock. "No, they're not. Spock and I are together."
Kirk and Spock simply stared at her for a few moments before Kirk's face slowly turned red. Clenching his jaw, he looked at Jim. "A word."
Captain Spock gave his husband a warning look, but Kirk seemed to ignore it, grabbing Jim's arm and dragging him out of the hangar. Jim let him, curious as to what his other self wanted to talk about.
Kirk pushed him into the nearest empty room, closed the door, and turned to him. Huh. Jim hadn’t known he looked so hot when he was pissed off.
"What. The. Fuck," Kirk gritted out, his hands on his hips. "Why the hell did you let Nyota—Nyota of all people—steal your man?"
Jim blinked, then laughed. "Are you kidding? Spock isn't my ‘man.’ Neither he nor I want him to be my man! We barely tolerate each other. And I thought you liked Uhura."
Kirk huffed. "I like her fine, as long as she isn't fucking my Spock."
Jim chuckled. "God, you’re crazy. I'm not you, and my First Officer isn't your Spock. We're completely different people. Spock is happy with Uhura, and I'm happy with— I'm happy being the Captain of my own ship."
Kirk gave him a 'please' look. "Was it supposed to hurt my feelings? I wouldn't trade my life for yours for any money in the world. I'm the First Officer of the ship that is much more technologically advanced than the Enterprise—"
Kirk shrugged. "Well, it's true. I've seen your ship's specifications—it's a nice ship, but damn, you guys are missing out. And that's not the point. The point is that I have a brilliant, gorgeous husband I love and who I know loves me just as much, while all you have is this gold command shirt."
Jim pursed his lips, starting to get pissed off himself. "What makes you think that I don't have a boyfriend—or girlfriend?"
"Even if you do, it wouldn't be the same." His blue eyes were serious as he looked at Jim. "Look, Jim, I get it—it's your life, you have the right to screw it up. We're essentially the same person, remember? If someone tried to tell me how to live my life, I'd tell them to fuck off. But I'm not just someone; I'm you. I know what's good for Jim Kirk. And from one Jim Kirk to another: you're making a big mistake by letting someone else have what can make you absolutely, ridiculously happy."
He smiled, his expression becoming distant. "Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that it's always sunshine and roses. He drives me crazy in a good and bad way, but… It may sound sappy as hell, but I'm not gonna lie—I can't imagine my life without him, and I just want you to have this, too. Spock should be yours, not Nyota's."
Jim shook his head. "Look, I appreciate this, I really do, but you're wrong. There's no such thing as destiny or 'meant to be.' It's just a bunch of social bullshit that doesn't exist. The future is unwritten. You are responsible for how things are in your life and how your life will turn out. Jim Kirk being the Captain of the Enterprise isn't a universal thing. Kirk and Spock's being together isn't a universal thing, either. I know a Spock from another universe and he wasn't involved with his Kirk—"
Kirk raised an eyebrow. "Are you talking about Ambassador Spock?"
"You've met him?"
Kirk laughed out loud, his eyes shining with amusement. "Yeah; we met him half a year ago when he appeared in our universe. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Spock and I had gotten together so early in life. If he told you that they weren't together, he lied. They got together way later than us, but still, they were together."
Jim's frowned. "But I saw his memories through a mind meld. There was nothing like that there."
Kirk gave him an amused look. "Don't you know that Vulcans can hide what they don't want you to see? The Ambassador probably just didn't want to affect your timeline more than he already did."
"But apparently you have no qualms about it,” Jim pointed out, rubbing his face. “Look, this conversation is useless. Spock's with Uhura. He doesn't want to be with me. He doesn't want me, and more importantly, I don't want him. He hates me, and I hate him right back. I'd rather punch him than do him. End of story."
Kirk pursed his lips, looking like he was trying hard not to laugh.
"What?" Jim said, glowering at him. "What's so funny?"
Kirk chuckled. "Nothing."
Kirk shrugged. "Just a déjà-vu. ‘Cause you know, when we first met, I hated him, too. I was, like, obsessed— Wait. You two met at a chess tournament too, right?"
Jim frowned. "A chess tournament? When?"
Kirk stared at him. "2246?"
Jim's lips curled, his stomach twisting into knots. "2246? No."
Kirk eyed him pensively. "You went to Tarsus."
Looking away, Jim nodded curtly. "And you went to a chess tournament and met Spock. Life’s a funny thing, isn't it? And in your universe, you still have Vulcan."
Kirk frowned, his shoulders tensing up abruptly. "What? There's no Vulcan in yours?"
"Nero escaped," Jim said shortly. "So no. We barely saved Earth."
Kirk's face darkened. "Fuck—that's…" He bit his lip. "Red matter?"
"Yeah. You know about it?"
"Ambassador Spock told us about it, but he destroyed it before coming to Vulcan because he didn't want it to fall into wrong hands... What about Amanda and Sarek?"
"Sarek's alive," Jim said.
Kirk averted his gaze, his jaw working.
"Shit," he said breathlessly, looking shaken. "Amanda. She's like a mom to me. That's—Fuck. Poor Spock. He adores his mom.” He breathed in deeply and turned away from Jim. “Okay, I've gotta go. My Spock probably found out about it—he's blocking me and that’s never a good thing."
He stopped at the door and looked over his shoulder. "Think about what I've said. Don't be stupid, Jim." Suddenly, he broke into a sly grin and winked at him. "Also, he's awesome in bed. You don't know what you're missing out on."
Jim was left staring at the door as it closed behind Kirk.
Since they didn't really have anything to do but wait for the storm to end, almost everyone was on light duty. Only astrophysicists worked full shifts, observing the anomaly and studying the data the T'Pau had gathered.
That was why, instead of being on the bridge, Jim found himself sitting in the Officers' mess not watching Kirk kiss his husband.
He couldn't believe they were doing it so openly. They were in a public place, for fuck's sake. Granted, there weren't many people here—only the two McCoys, Uhura, Spock, and Jim—and sure, they weren’t kissing the human way, but Jim knew perfectly well what the touch of fingers meant to Vulcans. Comparative Xenobiology had been one of his favorite classes at the Academy.
Jim couldn't help himself and glanced at their fingers again before looking up. Kirk was eating a pear, his cheek pressed against Spock's shoulder, face flushed, eyes a little glazed over. Captain Spock was eating methodically, his face betraying nothing, but Jim didn't miss his dilated pupils. Blushing, Jim looked away, wondering if Kirk was doing it on purpose, just to show him how happy he was with Spock.
"You know, we're kinda trying to eat here," Bones said with a pinched look.
Len snorted. "Ignore them. They're just touch-starved." He took a sip from his coffee and hummed in appreciation. "This stuff is way better than that liquid shit Vulcans call coffee."
"Touch-starved? They live together!" Bones said, frowning.
"Compared to the way they were before assuming the command of the T'Pau, believe me, they are touch-starved. Just ignore them."
"It's kinda hard to ignore them when they're practically making out four feet away," Bones grumbled.
Jim stared down at his plate, part of him still unable to believe this was really happening. His counterpart was married to Spock. His counterpart was happily married to Spock—Spock. To basically the same person who constantly treated Jim like shit.
On a purely physical level, Jim supposed he could understand—Spock was hot in an icy sort of way—but still. Marrying him was too much. It was something Jim just could not understand no matter how hard he tried.
"This is highly inappropriate and unacceptable behavior for a Vulcan," Spock said stiffly.
Jim looked aside and found his First Officer eyeing his plomeek soup with uncharacteristic interest, his jaw clenched and his ears a bit green.
Uhura, who was sitting next to her boyfriend, was silent, but her face was tense as she determinedly avoided looking at the couple.
"It is perfectly appropriate for a bonded couple to show their affection for each other in a relatively private place," Captain Spock said to Spock, untangling their fingers. Kirk made a disgruntled noise.
"It was not a mere display of affection," Spock said, his voice clipped. "Such behavior is vulgar and shameful for a Vulcan."
Jim looked at him incredulously. Wasn't Spock the one who had kissed Uhura—who definitely was not Spock's bondmate—in front of Jim and Scotty? Pot, kettle, much?
The other Spock raised an eyebrow. "May I inquire why you are so agitated by this? We are not among Vulcans."
Kirk gave Jim's First Officer an assessing look before turning to his husband with a grin. "Ha, I saw this expression on your face years ago when you cock-blocked me with Reliya and started lecturing us about our inappropriate behavior in public. You were green with jealousy."
"I was not," Captain Spock said.
Kirk smirked and gave him a peck on the lips. "Come on, baby, you so were.”
Bones and Len turned to each other and made identical gagging noises. Jim would have laughed at them if he weren't so baffled.
He imagined calling his First Officer 'baby' and almost laughed out loud. Jim looked at Spock.
His First was looking at the other Spock disapprovingly. "I cannot fathom why you allow him to refer to you as an infant," he said very evenly. "Furthermore, your bondmate is implying that I am experiencing jealousy, which is absolutely illogical. I am surprised you bonded yourself to an individual who is obviously not intelligent enough to comprehend that I am righteously ashamed—"
"You will apologize," Captain Spock interrupted, and Jim felt the hair on the back of his neck rise.
Kirk winced. "Look, Spock, leave it, I've been insulted worse—"
His husband didn't look at him, his hard gaze still on Spock. "We are waiting."
Spock pursed his lips before saying stiffly, "Very well. I apologize for insulting your bondmate."
Captain Spock narrowed his eyes. "My bondmate has a name and you should apologize to him, not me."
"I apologize if I insulted you," Spock said, looking at some point above Kirk's head.
Kirk shrugged. "No biggie," he said nonchalantly, but his eyes were pensive as he stared at Spock. "Hey, can I ask you something?"
Spock nodded with a wary look.
"T'Pring died with Vulcan, right?" asked Kirk. His husband's gaze darted to him before shifting to Spock.
Spock said nothing—just inclined his head. Jim saw Kirk and Captain Spock exchange a look.
T'Pring? Who the hell was T'Pring?
Jim looked at Uhura, but she seemed as confused as he was.
"You're suffering from a broken link, aren't you?" Kirk said softly. "That's why you're so snappy."
"How do you know this?" Spock said.
Kirk snorted. "Are you kidding me? You're essentially the same guy I've been bonded to for years. My Spock had a bond with T'Pring, so you probably had it, too, and since, in your universe, we never met as teens, you were bonded to her most of your life and the bond must have been pretty strong. Fuck, it must feel awful. You know, if you want, I can help you ease the pain—"
"No," his husband broke in, taking Kirk's hand in his own.
Kirk rolled his eyes. "Spock, it's not like I'm gonna sleep with him or anything! Sure, he's cute and looks exactly like you, but—"
"No," Captain Spock repeated firmly. "I know what you mean, but I will not allow him to meld with you."
"Thank you for the offer, but I do not require your help," Spock said to Kirk before looking at his counterpart. "And please cease emitting territorial pheromones. I do not desire your mate."
Kirk groaned and poked his husband on the chest. "Why do you keep doing that? You promised you would stop—I'm not your fucking property to piss all over."
"Wait," Uhura said, her voice tight. Everyone’s eyes flicked to her – she was glaring at Spock. "You were bonded to another woman when we got together and you didn't say a word?"
A muscle in Spock's jaw twitched. "Nyota, you do not—"
"Unbelievable," Uhura said through her teeth, and, getting to her feet, she marched out of the room.
An awkward silence descended upon the room. Now both McCoys had pained looks on their faces. Spock stared down at the table, his face blank.
"Oh," Kirk said, smiling sheepishly. "Was it a secret? Crap, I'm so sorry."
Jim narrowed his eyes, examining his counterpart. Somehow he doubted Kirk was sorry at all.
Spock made a move to get up.
"No!" Kirk exclaimed. Spock looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
Kirk gave him a very genuine smile. Jim's suspicions only grew.
"Don't go after her," Kirk said, his face a picture of concern. "Believe me, I know women. She doesn't want you to follow her. Give her time to cool down."
Jim looked at him incredulously. What kind of advice was that? Of course Uhura wanted Spock to follow her and beg her forgiveness!
"Very well," Spock said and sat back down. Captain Spock gave his husband a look, and Kirk smiled brilliantly at him before winking at Jim.
Jim could only stare at him. Unbelievable. Fucking unbelievable.
Spock turned to his counterpart. "I am required in the astrophysics laboratory. If you are finished, would you like to accompany me?"
The other Vulcan nodded and looked at his husband. "Are you ready to go, Jim?"
Kirk wiped his lips with a napkin and smiled. "Sure!"
"You want to go with them? You?" Bones said incredulously.
Kirk looked genuinely insulted. "Hey, I'll have you know I graduated with honors from the VSA. Yeah, I was on the Engineering track, but I still know plenty of stuff."
"You graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy," Spock repeated, clearly surprised.
"Jim finished the Academy in five-point-six years, setting a new record for an outworlder," Captain Spock said, looking at his bondmate with obvious pride.
It made Jim's stomach hurt for some reason.
"Fascinating," Spock muttered, standing up.
"You coming?" Kirk asked Jim.
Before Jim could decline, his First Officer said, "The Captain does not enjoy science."
The unsaid 'he's too stupid for that' hung in the air.
Jim gritted his teeth, his face growing hot. Did Spock still think he was dumb? Maybe he hadn't graduated from the VSA, setting a record or whatever, but he hadn't been the top of his class for nothing.
He stood up, too. "I'm going," he said pleasantly to Kirk, not sparing Spock a glance.
Kirk beamed at him, and, grabbing his husband's hand, tugged him to his feet. "Great! Let's go, then. See you later, guys!" he said to two McCoys, who grunted something in reply, and dragged his husband toward the exit.
"Jim, I am perfectly capable of walking myself," Captain Spock said in an amused undertone, but he made no attempt to pull his hand away, letting his bondmate drag him.
Jim and Spock followed them in tense silence, keeping a good distance between each other.