Jim is so tired of trying.
‘Please,’ the Ambassador had said as he cradled Jim’s naked body in his bed. ‘Go to him - you two are destined to be together. You never belonged to me. Once you join with my counterpart of this universe, you will understand.’
Too soon. The only thing Jim had wanted to do was bask in the familiar afterglow, drown in the sensation of this Spock's fingers through his hair.
There had been a telltale reluctance to pull away, both in the thrum of their semi-formed bond and in the trembling of Spock's fingertips. His hands flexed and grasped at Jim’s sun-bleached strands of hair, as if Jim would slip out of reach at that very instant.
In the end, the displays of affection had meant nothing. Less than an hour later, the older Vulcan brutally severed their bond without Jim's consent.
Even now, Jim remembers it as the most painful experience in his life.
Spock had pushed Jim away and towards his younger counterpart. Jim had been too impressionable, too young and willing to please, as if obedience would garner the affection he never deserved but endlessly desired.
He had tried, he really had. And the worst part was, perhaps, he didn't have to try as hard as he anticipated. His chemistry with his first officer on a professional level was unprecedented. And when they weren’t arguing, tearing at each others’ souls and making each other bleed - they just worked. His relationship with Spock’s younger counterpart was volatile but they really did care about each other. For a while, Jim had let himself believe it would work out.
Fucking wishful thinking.
He remembers down to the very hour when it all started falling apart.
The USS Enterprise arrived at Yorktown, and the crew heard the news of Spock’s death.
Jim couldn't think. Couldn’t breathe. He had been frantic as he asked if there was any note left for him. There was nothing. No will, no message. No goodbye.
Because Jim was still listed as Ambassador Spock’s medical proxy, the council had granted Jim the remainder of Spock’s meager belongings: a few household items and belongings. A photograph. A pendant that has never stopped haunting Jim’s dreams. Jim had put the pendant on. He’s still wearing it now.
Jim acutely remembers the pressure of the younger Spock’s gaze during the funeral on New Vulcan. He hadn’t cared. Seeing the coffin had felt like something was physically tearing out of his chest. Everything had been a blur that entire trip.
There had been little hope for Jim’s relationship to stay intact after that. The fallout was rather spectacular, and the media gleefully recorded the events to their utmost capabilities.
Jim abandoned the final years of the Enterprise’s mission. Spock – Captain Spock – returned to the Enterprise with his mother's ring returned to his possession. They haven't spoken to each other since then.
Jim had lasted as a vice admiral at Yorktown for barely half a year before stepping down.
He found residence on New Vulcan in the outskirts of New ShiKahr, close to where Ambassador Spock had lived. During the day he worked for the Vulcan embassy, and at night he sat alone in a dark house.
Then for the first time, Jim had realized how distant he had become with the Enterprise crew, letting the struggles of his relationship with his former First Officer distract him from everything outside his professional life. Even his friendship with Bones, which Jim had once thought impervious to, well, anything, had tarnished from years of neglect.
He is completely alone now.
But Jim can’t bring himself to feel grief. He just feels hollow.
Jim wakes up frequently during the night. Tonight proves no different, and he can’t fall asleep.
Jim shucks the covers and trudges to the kitchen. He stares at the vintage coffee machine on the counter.
Contrary to popular belief, Jim doesn’t drink coffee. He doesn't like how the caffeine dries out his tongue. It reminds him too much of when he was young and thirsty and desperate, struggling to survive on Tarsus IV.
Jim had bought the coffee machine for Ambassador Spock and had taken great pleasure in making him a new cup every morning. When Jim was with his first officer, who also did not drink coffee, the machine stayed with the Ambassador, where it sat collecting dust in storage.
It’s a machine Jim should’ve thrown away years ago when he received it along with Spock’s other belongings, but it remains in his house, untouched and unutilized.
Jim pulls out a mug and uses the replicator to brew a cup of tea. He stands in front of the coffee machine, wondering if he should try to fix the rusty old machine just to smell the aroma again. He clenches the warm ceramic mug in both hands and thinks about kisses that tasted like freshly ground dark roast.
A blinding flash of light floods through every window of the house.
Jim starts back in alarm. The light dissipates but doesn’t disappear. In the moonless night, illuminated smoke billowing into the air sheds light on everything. It’s coming from Jim’s backyard.
Jim carefully steps through the door and looks out at the bewildering spectacle. The low noise of smoldering wreckage fills the background. The metal forms the shape of a sleek vessel that Jim does not recognize.
And there's a young man kneeling on the ground next to it.
The stranger wears an unusual spacesuit, jet black with a sheen like a terrifying sea creature. His body is gorgeous, long and lanky in all the right places. Jim can’t help inching forward, as if his body is magnetized towards this beautiful being. The stranger is busy yanking at cables and wires inside the body of the unfamiliar starship.
And then Jim hears, “Oh, fucking hell. Come on.”
Jim drops his mug.
The crash as it falls onto the patio is enough to cause the stranger to whip his head around.
Jim stares into deep brown eyes, sharp with youth but unmistakable. Jim would recognize those eyes anywhere. He would recognize that voice anywhere. The syllable Jim exhales isn't a question, it’s a declaration full of disbelief.
The young stranger raises his eyebrows, eyes widening with curiosity. The familiar expression is amplified tenfold on the familiar face, rendering him unrecognizable. There isn't any hostility in his reply. “You know who I am?”
Jim can’t respond. All he can do is stare helplessly, drown in those eyes.
The young stranger wearing Spock’s face takes a step towards Jim. “How do you know my name? Who are you?”
Jim speaks, and his voice breaks. “I’m your friend.”
“That’s - okay. Kind of weird. Last I checked, I have no idea who you are. Sir.” This stranger, whoever he is, is not using Standard. He is using a variation of English, a dialect that can only be found on Earth.
Distantly, Jim is shocked he hasn’t keeled over from the combination of shock, grief, and awe. He wonders if this feeling is what his Spock experienced when he first saw Jim on Delta Vega.
The young stranger hasn’t stopped staring at Jim, and his expression is morphing from confusion to realization, and then fascination. He breathes, “Oh, shit. No way.”
Jim’s heartbeat is heavy with anticipation. “You recognize me.”
A pause. Jim sees poorly masked longing and desire.
“Yes,” the stranger finally says. “You’re Jim Kirk.” He does not elaborate.
The hesitation cements Jim's suspicions. This adolescent stranger wearing Spock’s face is already acquainted with Jim’s counterpart in that reality.
And not only that, this Spock is already in love with that counterpart.
At that moment, Jim hates the universe and his inescapable fate like never before.
“Unbelievable,” Jim mutters in Vulcan. “I must be dreaming.”
Spock furrows his eyebrows. “What language is that?”
“Oh god,” Jim says weakly. It's too much. He can’t handle this. He pivots and flees back towards the house.
Spock follows Jim far too easily, scrambling over large chunks of rock and debris. “What’s that s’posed to mean? Hey, old man!”
Jim’s own words echo back at him, along with a vivid image of a smirking Vulcan with silver hair and wrinkles carving his handsome face.
Jim grits his teeth and slams the door closed, as if the physical action would help shut out his memories.
Well, tries to, anyways.
“Wait - hold on!” Jim stares at Spock’s gloved hand, which kept the door from fully closing. “This is awesome, you can’t just go!” Spock’s open, expressive face comes into view. Jim realizes that for the first time, Spock is shorter than him and has to look up to maintain eye contact.
Spock continues to chatter. “I’m in an alternate reality! By accident, no less. Usually you’re only allowed to attempt inter-dimensional travel as a sophomore at the academy.”
Did he just say ‘sophomore at the academy’?
Any hint of lust that might've lingered is extinguished in an instant. “Just how old are you?” Jim demands.
“Old enough,” the young Vulcan replies without hesitation.
“Wrong answer.” Jim scowls. “Go home, kid.”
“My ship’s busted!” Spock protests. “I’d be able to go home faster if you help me. I mean, you’re Jim Kirk. You can definitely help me fix it. Right?” Spock gives him a charming smile. Fuck, if it isn’t bright. And the fucking dimples.
Jim's heart wrenches. “Fix the fucking ship yourself.” He tries to close the door again.
The younger Vulcan pries the door back open with ease. Jim suddenly feels acutely aware of the limitations of his aging body.
“God, what a stingy old man. I hope Jim doesn’t end up like you.” Spock brushes past him to examine the sparse room. He raises his eyebrows at the unkempt couch bed, an island on an empty living room floor. “Why does your house look like a bachelor pad? Or is this some minimalist thing?”
Jim watches him saunter about. “Don't you have some sort of policy for meddling in other realities?”
“Yeah.” Spock shrugs. “But you're Jim Kirk. I can trust you.” He's leaning on the back of the couch, flashing that blinding smile. Clearly this Spock knows what he looks like and is actively weaponizing his appearance against Jim's hapless inhibitions.
Jim drags a hand down his face. “Look, kid. If I help you, will you get out of my hair faster?”
“Huh? Wait, that means you're agreeing to help me, right?”
Jim sighs. “Go wait outside with the ship. I’ll bring tools.”
This Spock is unsurprisingly a skilled and efficient worker.
With his gloved hands, he targets the damages on the starship and determines what needs to be accomplished.
The details of the technology are advanced beyond anything Jim's seen in this universe, and he is content to sit and watch Spock work.
Spock’s lips are pursed in deep concentration as he fiddles with strangely-labeled capacitors. The expression pinching his face is thoroughly endearing.
God, his face. It’s so smooth, it looks artificial. He looks so young.
Jim realizes the younger man has paused in his work upon noticing that his face is being scrutinized.
Jim coughs. “Uh. So. Your dialect. You're from Earth?”
“Born and raised,” Spock replies with a blinding smile. Jim finds himself averting his gaze again.
Fuck. If this was what the elder Spock was exposed to constantly, Jim doesn't know if he can survive it for much longer.
“Maybe I should save this.” Spock stares at a fried mechanical component he has just replaced with a spare.
“Why would you do that?”
Spock holds the object up to eye level, admiring its intricate ruptures. “Why wouldn't I?”
“It's illogical,” Jim says. “The component appears damaged beyond repair, not to mention the unnecessary weight it will add to your vessel. You should dispose of it properly in your universe. It’s useless.”
With a pout, Spock hoists the component and himself into the ship. “Just because it’s useless doesn’t mean you need to throw it away.” The ignition starts smoothly. Jim watches the young Vulcan struggle to properly sit in the cockpit with those awkward long legs, and he feels the affection swelling up inside him.
“You're just gonna leave without saying goodbye?” Jim calls.
“Why, is that illogical too? Fucking old man.” Despite the sharp words, Spock's eyes soften. “Um. Thanks for helping me. Jim.” He's blushing. “Bye.”
Jim instinctively holds up the ta’al. Spock seems to understand the meaning of the gesture well enough and salutes back.
The night is illuminated with a glow similar to the one Jim saw through the windows.
And then he’s gone.
The doorbell rings.
Jim doesn't get many visitors. He already suspects who it is.
“You can't keep doing this and not expect consequences,” Jim says as he opens the door.
The young Vulcan with Spock’s face flounces over the threshold. “Did you miss me, old man?”
“Hardly.” Jim’s voice is dry.
Spock immediately goes into the kitchen. “I'm gonna steal this celery.” There are munching sounds.
Jim sighs. “Spock, I'm leaving.”
Spock's head peeks through the doorway. “Where are you going?”
“Aren't you gonna kick me out? You didn't even ask why I'm here again.”
Jim thinks of Ambassador Spock's loneliness and the younger Spock's childhood bullies.
Jim thinks of his own past, crying and wishing he was anywhere but in his stepfather's house.
Even after he had found stability and success as the captain of the Enterprise, Jim had retreated to the comforting solace of Ambassador Spock’s home. After all he’s been through, Jim can’t find it in his heart to turn away this strange, younger Spock.
“I'm sure you'll tell me why you're here if you want me to know.”
“You're cool with leaving me here alone? What if I, like, steal something?”
An image of the bulky vintage coffee maker springs to Jim’s mind. It’s the only thing really of any monetary value in his house.
“You wouldn't steal,” Jim says tiredly. “I know you. You’re not like me.”
He leaves without letting himself stare at the young Vulcan again.
Jim is startled to see the porch lights on when he returns to his house before remembering his unexpected guest. He enters, wondering if Spock has already left.
Spock is lying in Jim’s bed above the covers. He’s stripped out of his flying uniform but is still fully clothed. He hasn’t removed his gloves.
His eyes are closed, but Jim can immediately tell from the stiff lines of the younger man’s shoulders that he is feigning sleep, forcing his breathing to remain steady.
Jim does not join him. He goes outside and sits in a chair on the balcony, wide awake in the moonless night.