Jim swatted at an insect that was whining a welcome in his ear. "Find anything, Spock?" he asked. He kept a firm grip on his phaser as he eyed the thick greenery around them.
Spock was engrossed in his tricorder, and Jim was just about to repeat himself when Spock finally answered, "There is a unique energy pattern..." He looked up briefly, orienting himself a little to the left of where he'd been standing. "This way." Without another word, he led the way into the brush, leaving Jim, Tremblay and Mah to follow cautiously.
The area they'd beamed down to was more or less a rainforest; Jim's undershirt clung to his skin in the humidity and his slacks were soaked from brushing against broad, wet leaves by the time they emerged in another clearing. A round, stone ring sat in the centre, and Spock made a beeline for it.
He was frowning at the tricorder again when Jim strolled up, having directed the ensigns to cover their flank. Jim hesitantly reached out to touch the ring, tracing his fingers along some engravings.
"What is it?"
"I do not know. I have never encountered or heard of anything of its type before. It was created through no science I am aware of."
That was an impressive assertion, Jim thought, wandering over to the pedestal that stood nearby. The top was covered with large buttons, carved from something like a cloudy glass. His fingers itched to press one, but he swallowed the impulse and waved Spock over instead.
"These are the controls, right?" he said, pointing at it.
Spock spent another ten minutes examining the set-up, twisting his lips vaguely at the tricorder readings and going so far as to pull a panel off of the pedestal, exposing alien circuitry. There were a lot of angular crystals and not many wires; Jim raised an eyebrow at it but backed off, going back to examine the ring some more.
Finally, Spock sighed—more of an audible exhalation but obvious enough for him. He got to his feet, pushing the panel back into place. "I cannot discern its function. The symbols on the control panel match the engravings on the ring but their link is unclear. Perhaps there is some combination necessary to activate the ring."
"Wanna try pushing buttons randomly?" Jim asked with faint hope.
Spock raised an eyebrow. "That would be quite unwise, Captain."
Well, yeah, but Jim knew as well as anyone that sometimes science required daring and risk-taking to get anywhere worth going. In their case, actions like that frequently led to crises, though, so he let it go. "Let's report back to the ship; we can send a full science team down," he said.
"Affirmative; we will have to return to our previous location. The unique energy here will interfere with the transporter."
The ensigns fell in with only brief, curious looks at the ring, and they filed back into the jungle to head back to where they'd beamed in.
Jim really hated moving through thick foliage, and was reminded why when the only warning they had was a lot of decentralized noise, crashing and screeching that seemed to come from all around them at once, before Ensign Mah was on the ground, screaming in agony.
"That was a fucking dinosaur!" Tremblay shouted, phaser raised too late to shoot the beast that had just torn through the underbrush. Jim dropped to his knees next to Mah, who was still screaming, his eyes glazed over with pain.
"Easy, Ensign. Deep breaths. Let me see," he said as calmly as he could, pulling Mah's arms away from his body to check the damage. He nearly threw up; the man's thigh had been sliced open lengthwise (maybe not deep enough to be fatal, thankfully) and was bleeding all over the muddy ground. Mah had also sustained wounds to the stomach, probably not critical but Jim could see glimpses of muscle through the blood that stained his shirt a darker red.
"We can't move him. Call for help."
Jim hadn't addressed anyone in particular, but Spock had pulled out his communicator and Jim faintly heard him speaking to Uhura, but most of his attention was on holding Mah's leg together with one hand and gripping Mah's hand with his other, encouraging him to breathe. Tremblay kept up his minor panic attack and held their perimeter, peering into the dark trees.
Bones beamed down himself; Jim was surprised to see him fighting his way through the foliage, following their signals on his tricorder. They made eye contact, but Bones had his doctor-face on and just knelt down beside Mah, who was pale and shaking.
"Animal attack?" he asked.
"Dinosaur attack," Tremblay muttered.
Bones raised an eyebrow and Jim shrugged back. "Well," he said, snapping on his gloves, "I think you'll survive, Ensign. As a reward, I'll give you the best painkillers I'm carrying." He injected a hypospray into Mah's side before hauling out his portable dermal regenerator.
"This should do it for the stomach wounds, and then I'll bandage the leg for transport." He switched on the device and began healing Mah's abdomen, and Jim sat back in relief, enjoying a brief breeze that teased them through the thick, hot foliage.
He didn't notice when Bones froze, but his head was bowed when Jim looked back. Mah's stomach was fixed, but there was still the leg to do before they could get out of there. Jim opened his mouth to annoy Bones into working faster.
"He's dead, Jim," Bones said suddenly, his voice hoarse.
Jim blinked and looked at Mah, who blinked back at him. Just to be sure, he glanced up at Tremblay and Spock, who were also demonstrably alive. Spock was watching them with an eyebrow slowly climbing.
Jim opened his mouth, shut it, and then spoke anyway. "He looks okay to me," he ventured.
"He's dead." Bones snapped his head up, meeting Jim's eyes with a wild look. "He's dead. And so are we. We're all dead."
Jim shifted carefully, distributing his weight to move quickly if necessary. He thought he could grab Bones' phaser out of the holster, if he was quick. "Why do you say that, Bones?" he asked quietly.
Bones didn't answer him; instead he jerked suddenly, maybe at a noise Jim couldn't hear, and then jumped to his feet, abandoning the medical kit and the ensign on the ground as he shoved past Tremblay into the trees.
"Fuck!" Jim jumped to his feet and stabbed a finger at Tremblay, who had grabbed a handy tree to stay on his feet. "You fix Mah. Spock, we're going after McCoy." He tore off after Bones without looking to see if anyone was obeying his orders but within a few steps, he heard Spock tearing through the jungle right behind him.
"Captain," Spock said, hardly out of breath even while running at full speed, "if we can corner him, I will administer a nerve pinch. It may be safer than attempting to inject him with a sedative."
Since Jim hadn't thought to grab a sedative, this seemed like a good plan. "Do you hear him?" he asked.
Spock slowed down a little, listening, and then grabbed Jim's arm, tugging him to the right. Jim let him take the lead.
They burst out of the woods in the same clearing as the ring, where Bones stood quietly, maybe catching his breath. Jim charged at him, tackling him to the ground like a linebacker, and Spock was right there even as Bones began to fight back, screaming blue murder. One pinch to the neck had him slumping quietly, almost peacefully into the short grass. Jim rolled off of him, flopping back onto the grass, and dug his communicator out.
"Kirk to Tremblay, what's your twenty?"
Tremblay responded after a moment. "Still with Ensign Mah, Captain. His leg is bandaged and the drugs seem to be working. Have you found the doctor?"
Kirk cast a glance at Bones' inert form. "He's safe, Ensign. Look, we're in the clearing with the ring-thing; see if you can get Mah over here and away from any ravaging dinosaurs while we work out our next step."
"Aye, sir. Tremblay out."
Kirk snapped his communicator shut and looked up at Spock, who was standing and brushing dirt off of his uniform sleeves. "Well," he said. "Do we wait and see if Bones wakes up less insane, or drag his unconscious ass back aboard the ship for his lackeys to deal with?"
Spock looked thoughtful; Jim suspected he was debating whether to respond to the comment on Bones' sanity, but he never got to find out because his communicator chirped.
"Tremblay, Captain. I need some help getting Mah out of the sticks."
"On our way." Jim got up, dusting off the back of his pants, and cast a quick glance at Bones. He wondered whether to leave him even briefly, but he knew from experience that nerve pinches were effective. Bones was probably going to be out cold for a while yet.
"This'll be quick," he told Spock, and they set off at a jog for the ensigns' last location.
It was quick work to get Mah; they were gone maybe five minutes, Jim guessed. So he was pretty pissed to see nothing but a flat patch in the grass where they'd left McCoy.
"Oh, for..." he hissed, dropping Mah's arm from his shoulder.
"Captain," Spock said, pointing, "he is at the ring."
Jim wanted to run over and apprehend him again. "Seriously, Spock, we were barely gone five minutes," he snapped. "Did you miss or something?" But as they watched from the edge of the trees, Jim noticed that Bones was calmer, focused—still twitchy, but moving with intent.
"What the hell is he even doing?" he asked. Bones was at the pedestal now, hitting buttons like he knew what was going on. The ring made whining noises like it was powering up and bits of it lit up, and then it must have been powered up all the way because there was a loud whine and a boom and then it looked like it was somehow filled with water or something.
Jim moved forward slowly, watching Bones. Spock called after him, but he ignored it.
"Bones?" he called. "Dr. McCoy?"
Bones whirled around to look at him and then bolted, straight into the middle of the ring, and disappeared into the liquid wall. Jim, who had started running when Bones had, skidded to a stop several feet from the ring.
"It is unwise to attempt to corner skittish animals, Captain, and Dr. McCoy was not unlike an animal in his agitated state," Spock said as he drew up beside Jim, already staring at his tricorder again.
Jim had an urge to tell him where to stick the tricorder, but valiantly suppressed it. "Seeing anything interesting?" he asked instead, once he'd given himself a few seconds to feel less violent.
"Since the activation of the ring, there has unsurprisingly been a drastic change in the energy readings. Another forty seconds of data for the tricorder to record and analyze should enable me to create some hypothesis regarding its purpose."
Jim walked over to the pedestal again as Tremblay settled Mah on the grass nearby. He frowned at the buttons, which were still depressed and glowing with tiny lights that lit up the engravings.
"So. Pressing buttons randomly was a good idea after all," he couldn't help saying.
Spock gave him an unimpressed look. "Dr. McCoy's actions were inexplicable but hardly random. If this device works as I suspect, there are more than two billion possible button combinations and it is likely that fewer than a millionth of a percent of them would successfully connect to anywhere."
"Okay," Jim said slowly, drawing out the word. "So then, explain to me how you couldn't figure out how to use this ring and Bones—while apparently infected with that space madness he keeps warning me about—managed to successfully pick the one in a million combination that actually did something?" He crossed his arms over his chest and frowned to enhance the effect. "I thought you were the genius, here."
Spock raised his eyebrow and then proceeded to ignore Jim. Jim thought he could hear the ensigns giggling from where they sat in the grass. He realized that baiting Spock probably wasn't the most productive use of his time and so decided it would be best to leave him to it, and maybe go check on how Ensign Mah was doing.
"He's pretty good, Captain," Tremblay said. "I've got the rest of the doctor's medkit here, and there's more painkillers if he needs them."
Mah smiled weakly. He seemed to be having trouble focusing on Jim. Probably he was good for painkillers, at the moment. "Fucking goddamn dinosaurs," he exclaimed drunkenly.
"You said it." Jim settled next to the two young men (they were both even younger than he was) and passed the time by pulling up stalks of grass and idly talking to Tremblay, both of them laughing awkwardly whenever Mah joined the conversation with his utterly stoned insights.
"Captain," Spock called suddenly, pulling his attention away. Jim jumped to his feet, brushing off bits of grass as he went to join Spock at the ring.
"What? Did you find something?"
Spock probably would have looked less pinched around the eyes if he'd found something. He held up his communicator. "I attempted to contact the ship to get Mr. Scott or a science team to assist us," he said.
That was a good idea. "Are they coming?"
"Jim, they are not there."
He had clearly misheard. "Sorry?"
"There is no response. My communicator does not even work."
Jim groped for his own, flipping it open. It was dead. "Ensign," he said, before he'd even turned around all the way. "Where's your communicator?"
Tremblay held it up.
"Call the ship."
He looked confused but obeyed. Jim's stomach plummeted as he saw the kid frown. "My communicator's not working, Captain. I don't think I dropped it?"
Jim turned back to Spock, his eyes widening in panic. Spock looked back with his usual composure, except for a faint tightness around the eyes.
"They rely on signals from the ship to function," he reminded Jim.
"So it's gone out of range!"
"The ship was in a geosynchronous orbit when we beamed down."
Jim knew that, too, but it hurt to hear Spock say it. "It didn't just disappear!" he hissed, vaguely thinking to keep his voice down and not panic the ensigns before they had a good reason to.
Spock gave the ring a speculative look. "No. It is more as if the Enterprise never existed to begin with."
He was going to explain, he had that look; Jim just had to wait. While he was waiting, the ring powered itself down suddenly. He jumped, but Spock looked like he'd been expecting it, the pointy-eared bastard.
"Jim, this ring is a time-travel device," he said finally.
"I thought time travel needed a black hole and a lot of luck."
"Apparently that is not the only case in which it is possible. As I said, the science of this device is unknown to me." Spock took a deep breath. "It appears, however, from these readings, that Dr. McCoy was transported a great distance. The strange disappearance of the ship leads me to believe that he has travelled in spacetime. He has managed to alter the course of history so that the Enterprise never existed."
Jim's very first thought was that it had better have been an accident, or when he rescued Bones he was going to kill him. His second thought was worth voicing. "How are we still here, then?"
Spock actually shrugged minutely. "I can only hypothesize that this place exists outside time. We are therefore unaffected by the change in our timeline if we remain here."
"So we're stranded and could possibly cease to exist if we try to leave. Now what?"
"There appears to be only one possible course of action, Captain. We must go through the ring ourselves and attempt to fix the timeline and retrieve Dr. McCoy."
Jim's brain had been heading that way too, but hearing Spock admit that they had to jump in and meddle with a timeline—or maybe this was unmeddling—made it seem much more impressive. "All right," he said. "We're doing it. Figure out how to get us to wherever he went. But earlier, so we can stop him."
"Affirmative, Captain," Spock said.
While Spock took his tricorder over to poke at the pedestal, Jim had to go break the bad news to the rest of the team.
"What's going on, Captain?" Tremblay asked.
Jim took a deep breath. "Dr. McCoy travelled back in time and accidentally changed something so that the Enterprise never existed. Mr. Spock and I are going to go fix it." He looked at Mah, who was flat on his back on the grass, staring up at the clouds. "You two are going to stay behind, for the time being."
"Are we stranded?" he asked.
"Sort of. Until we fix this. Look," he sighed finally, scratching at the back of his neck, "I need you to use your discretion. Spock's going to leave you instructions on how to use that ring. When you think you've waited long enough, you go through. Take Mah, find somewhere you can get him medical attention. If you can fix things where we may have failed, then do that. Otherwise, at least you're alive and hopefully safe, right?"
"Aye, Captain. Thank you."
"Don't thank me yet," he muttered. He gave Tremblay his phaser for backup, just in case, and went to rejoin Spock.
"Five more minutes."
Jim waited, scuffing his boots along the grass and wandering aimlessly, peering into the jungle.
"All right," Spock said. "I am ready."
Jim waved Tremblay over as Spock pressed buttons, explaining what he'd figured out about the ring. "This combination is similar to what Dr. McCoy used, and if my calculations are correct—these buttons are glyphs representing constellations and therefore can show not only a location in space but in time—this 'address' should take us back to before he arrives."
"How long before?" Jim asked.
"I cannot say for certain. I hope perhaps a month."
He pressed the last button and the ring whined to life, the portal through it activating and casting a blue light on the grass. Jim slowly walked over to stand in front of it and felt the reassuring presence of Spock just at his back.
"We're doing this?"
Jim nodded at Tremblay. "See you on the other side, Ensign."
They stepped through.
The portal was something resembling a wormhole; Jim felt like he was being pushed whole through a drinking straw. They landed—there was no other word for it—in a public park, in front of an archway. They turned around and stared up at it, and Spock pulled out his tricorder, but it was just decorative and made of poured concrete, nothing more.
"We are on Earth," Spock said, looking around them and peering up at the sky. It was late afternoon. "I am not certain how to discover when we are, however."
Jim spotted a newspaper on a bench and strode over to grab it.
"June 3, 2009," he read. "The Calgary Herald. Calgary? Spock, we're in goddamn Canada."
Spock raised an eyebrow and went to join him, reading the front page of the paper over his shoulder. "A fascinating way of relating current events," he mused.
Jim looked around. No one had seen them appear, as far as he could tell, but there were people in the park who were starting to notice them. He realized all of a sudden that there was blood and mud on his clothes.
"Spock," he said, "take off your blue shirt, quick. We stand out." He frowned at his first officer's ears and eyebrows as he stripped down to his black undershirt. The ears were probably the worst part. Something had to be done or there would be uncomfortable questions, and they only had one phaser. Plus, there was the matter of the Prime Directive in this century, now that he thought about it. They were as good as unarmed.
"Fuck," he said, handing Spock his gold shirt. "Hold this, and try not to look too interesting. Follow me."
Spock thankfully knew better than to question him by now and followed without comment, keeping his head down. They reached a street and Jim aimed straight for a large throng of people, who were waiting for some kind of mass transit.
"Go that way." He pointed down the block, and melted into the crowd himself. He bumped a man in a suit, apologizing briefly, and continued down the street to where Spock waited, at the corner. He walked right by, turning to go down another road, and let Spock catch up.
"What was the purpose of that?" Spock asked.
Tugging Spock forward to shield himself from prying eyes, Jim produced the man's wallet without a word and pulled out the money. There were a number of green bills and two blue ones; 21st century money was tricky stuff. Shoving it all in his pocket, he shook out a small heap of coins into his hand and took those, too.
"Theft, Jim?" Spock said, as Jim folded up the wallet again.
"Yeah, well, I'm only taking the money. We'll drop off the rest of it at a police station, if we can find one." He pushed down feelings of guilt; he'd picked a person who probably wouldn't miss the money much anyway, and they needed resources if they were going to last ten minutes in this time. "We really need to get some less conspicuous clothes. Keep an eye out for some kind of shop. An inexpensive one."
They passed by two stores that looked to cater to people with far more wealth before discovering a street completely lined with shops. He spotted several places that looked as if they sold clothing that would do the job.
"Okay," he told Spock, "get rid of those shirts discreetly, so no one finds them or sees the blood, and then lie low until I find us some clothes and something to cover your ears with."
They separated, Spock making for an alleyway full of box-like waste containers and Jim for a nearby store. He'd taken a good look around at the passersby and thought he had an idea of what normal, male clothing looked like in this time. It wasn't all that different from 23rd century clothing, really; maybe there was some kind of renaissance going on in his time.
The first thing he did was duck into the washroom at the back, where he washed the grime off of his face and hands (Mah's blood was everywhere, wasn't that charming) and then ducked into a stall to take a good look at the money. He was pleased to see that the bills were called 'dollars', just like in the United States in old times. The green ones were worth $20 and the blue ones worth $5; a couple of the coins were also dollars, even though he'd always thought they were for the smaller amounts... cents. He spread it all out on the back of the toilet to count it and discovered he had nearly $100 in all. Hopefully that would be enough. He wasn't all that up on the early 21st century and had no idea what inflation would be at. Stuffing the money back into his pocket, Jim ventured back into the store to look around.
Everything was far too expensive, if he was reading the tags correctly. He left and tried the next store.
The fourth one he walked into was a 'consignment store', whatever that meant. It looked like it meant cheap clothing, finally. Jim found jeans and a short-sleeved shirt in his size and paused to guess Spock's before finally finding something that looked long and lean enough. After some thought, he also found a hooded sweatshirt for each of them and an extra jacket for Spock. It was cool outside even by Jim's usual standards for Earth in June; Spock was probably freezing. A last stop at a bin near the salesperson yielded a black, knit hat with some kind of small brim on it. He shrugged; it was cheap, would cover Spock's ears and looked warm to boot.
He had one $20 bill and some coins left when he walked out of the store with his purchases. Spock was waiting at the corner, standing in the shadow of a building. Jim immediately reached up to shove the hat on his head and once that was taken care of, they began to look for somewhere to change their clothes. In the end, they chose a dead-end alley, ducking behind one of the large garbage containers. When they'd changed their clothes (Spock's jeans were maybe a little on the short side, and Jim struggled not to smile at them), the old ones went into the garbage; the futuristic materials and Starfleet insignias made them dangerous to keep.
"What is our next course of action?" asked Spock, tugging his jacket on and zipping it against the breeze.
Jim blinked at him; he looked startlingly human, in Earth clothes and with his more alien features covered. It was... interesting. "Uh," he said, chasing those probably-insulting thoughts away. His stomach growled. "Food? We still have some money left."
He didn't miss Spock's glance at his noisy midsection, or the slight twinkle in his eyes. "Very well."
They found a fast food restaurant (Jim knew enough from his studies of history to know that these were generally cheap in this era) where Jim ordered a hamburger and they managed, with a lot of difficulty, to get Spock a salad with no chicken in it.
"So," Jim said, after taking a big bite of his food (it tasted kind of replicated, which was depressing), "do we know when we are in relation to Bones? We came through earlier, right?"
Spock stabbed some lettuce with his plastic fork. "I believe that we did, but I am not certain how much earlier. I attempted to make it between a week and a month prior—I could not be precise—but we will have to wait and see when he arrives."
Jim frowned down at his french fries. "Are we sure he's going to turn up here? And not, like, on the other side of the world? That's not possible, is it?" He prayed it wasn't.
"I believe that we were bound to arrive in the same place as he did, Jim. There was no option that I could see to alter the arrival point in space more precisely than the destination planet." He took a bite and chewed before continuing. "I hope that when he does arrive, we can track him either by his subdermal transmitter or his communicator, so that we will know when and where he does so, but without a computer I do not know how this will be possible."
"They have computers in this century, Spock."
Spock raised his eyebrow. "Extremely primitive ones. I believe your communicator has a better processor than the majority of leading devices of this period."
Jim suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. "Oh," he sighed dramatically. "Well, if you can't do it. I mean, I thought you could, but I guess sometimes I just ask too much of you." He smiled. "We'll think of something else. I'm sure."
Spock put down his fork. Jim took this as his cue to continue.
"I don't know what I was thinking," he said, relishing the look on Spock's face. "The computers of this time are, like, a step up from smoke signals. They program in machine code or something. That'd be too much of a challenge, even for a brain like yours."
"I will do it," Spock growled.
Jim smirked and took a triumphant bite of his burger.
Night fell before much longer and Jim and Spock found themselves without a place to sleep. After much debate, they headed back to the park where they'd first arrived and found two empty benches to sleep on. There were other dark shapes in the gloom with the same idea; Jim frowned to see firsthand evidence of the homelessness epidemic he'd read about in history books. His bench was hard and the wind was picking up, slicing through the material of his sweater. He didn't know how people could allow each other to live like this. Spock was obscured by a garbage can between their benches but Jim could hear his teeth chattering from where he lay. It was going to be a long night; he wrapped his arms around his middle and tried to fall asleep before it got too cold.
There was a bright light in his eyes and he thought he was on the operating table in Sickbay. Jim blinked his eyes open again and squinted up at Bones, but that wasn't Bones, it was some guy in a funny hat shining a flashlight at him. Abruptly he remembered where and when he was and dizzily hauled himself into a sitting position, confused with sleep.
"You can't sleep in this park," the guy said.
Jim's eyes were adjusting to the light, but it was still painful. He held up a hand in front of his eyes and the light was obligingly lowered to aim at his chest. "You're a police officer," he realized.
"Good work. This your friend?" The man indicated Spock, who had just woken up.
"Yeah," Jim said slowly. Old habits were kicking in; a human cop had to be easier to manipulate than the robots, he reasoned.
"You two got nowhere to sleep?"
"We do not," Spock answered him.
Jim wished for telepathic abilities that would make Spock shut up.
"New to the streets, are you? Come on," the cop said, gesturing with his free hand for them to lead the way out of the park. "My car's over there."
"Where are we going?" Jim asked, praying the answer wouldn't be a holding cell.
"Drop-In Centre," the cop said, opening the back door of the car. "In you get; nice warm beds waiting for you."
Jim shrugged at Spock and they got in. The cop didn't try to talk to them once they were in the car, so Jim just studied the back of his head, his eyes in the mirror, and the dark streets through the mesh divider. Spock nudged him out of his semi-awake state, and he jumped a little.
Spock gave Jim's pocket a meaningful look, and after a moment of blank incomprehension, it occurred to Jim that he was trying to tell him to turn over the wallet. Jim nearly laughed at him, but held it in and just shook his head minutely. He could picture that conversation.
'Oh yeah, Officer; we found this wallet. There was no money in it. Isn't it amazing that two broke, homeless people just found a wallet on the street like that?'
He did have an idea, though, one that wouldn't get them arrested. He leaned down, pretending to tie a non-existent shoelace, and carefully stuffed the wallet under his seat. With any luck, it would be found but not pinned on them: a win-win situation at this point, since it was probably prudent to get rid of the thing before they got to this drop-in centre.
Less than a minute later, the car stopped and the cop walked around to let them out, going so far as to escort them inside to the front desk and say hello to the tired woman sitting there. She looked them over expressionlessly.
"You're new. Fill these out quickly and we'll get you some beds. Lucky it's getting warm and we're not at capacity anymore." She passed two clipboards over the counter and pointed at some chairs several feet away.
Jim glanced over the form disinterestedly and hesitated over the blank for his name, before shrugging and filling in his own. It was two hundred years before his birth, he probably wouldn't get in any kind of trouble. After quickly calculating what his birth year should have been, he glanced over at Spock, who had already filled in several lines.
He kept his voice low. "What kind of name did you—" he started, but Spock cut him off by holding up the clipboard for him to see.
"Spock Grayson," Jim read. "Okay. Definitely not the weirdest thing about you, one must admit."
"I have no idea to what you may be referring, Jim," Spock said lightly, his pen skipping from blank to blank on the page.
Jim hurriedly finished his form, feeling exhaustion creep in, and signed it with a flourish before standing to join Spock and turn in their registration. The woman glanced over the sheets and then got up.
"Follow me," she said over her shoulder. "You need lockers?"
All Jim needed was a warm, soft place to collapse, and the side-by-side cots in a room full of quietly slumbering people fit the bill perfectly. He toed off his boots, kicked them under his bed, and stretched out in his clothes to sleep until morning. It was much easier to sleep when Spock's teeth weren't chattering.
Breakfast was toast and bowls of overly sweet fruit salad, eaten in a cafeteria full of the night's other lodgers. An old man with a dirty beard slid into the space across the table from them, chewing noisily on toast and slurping coffee, spilling crumbs into his beard. Jim did his best not to stare.
"Haven't seen you around," he said, halfway through his second piece of toast. His voice was gravelly.
"We're new in town," Jim said.
The man nodded. "Well," he said, "after breakfast, you pay for the hospitality." He grinned at them.
Spock leaned in to murmur at Jim, "I was under the impression that this facility was a free service for the homeless."
Jim shrugged and grinned back at the old man, digging into his breakfast.
The old man's meaning became clear before too long; as Jim was finishing the dregs of his coffee and Spock was contemplating his glass of water, a woman with a clipboard walked into the cafeteria. She rattled off a list of names, including Jim and Spock, and they found themselves joining a small group to file out of the room and into a hallway lined with offices.
"Room 106," the lady with the clipboard smiled at them both, checking off their names. "You can go right on in."
Raising his eyebrows at Spock, Jim pushed open the door to reveal a small office.
"Have a seat, gentlemen," the woman behind the desk said, scribbling something in a file. When she looked up, she was smiling. "Hi there, I'm Edie," she said, leaning over the desk to shake their hands; Jim saw Spock tense when he realized the contact was going to happen but he seemed to deal with it just fine.
She pulled another set of files toward her. "Which one of you is Jim?"
Jim raised his hand slightly in lieu of replying, and she gave him another bright smile. "That makes you Spock, then," she said, turning her attention to the Vulcan sitting stiffly in his chair. "You arrived together, I hear. We like to do these sessions in groups when this happens, to save resources. It also helps if you're planning to stick together." Her last sentence was accompanied by a questioning look.
"We are, yeah," Jim said.
"Good stuff." Edie settled back in her chair. "So, you two are new to Calgary?"
Jim nodded, focusing his attention on studying Edie, whose desk placard declared her to be a counsellor. She looked like she was in her twenties, definitely no older than Jim was; her face was cheerful and open and she had big, brown eyes framed by short, dark hair that curled around her ears. She was wearing a t-shirt with a picture of an angry-looking muffin on it and there was a colourful scarf looped around her neck, even though it was supposed to be summer outside.
"Great. So, do either of you have legal identification or a social insurance number, so we can get you some employment?"
Jim and Spock looked at each other.
"Are you Canadian citizens?" she asked.
Jim ran a hand through his hair and then leaned forward in his seat, giving her one of his most charming smiles. "Look, Edie," he said. "We're from way out of town. Like, farther than you'd think. And we found ourselves coming here kind of unexpectedly, looking for someone. I won't get into details, but we don't have any identification and probably won't be able to get any, either. We're stuck here for a while."
"I see," she said. "You're looking for someone? Do you know where they are?"
"He hasn't shown up yet, as far as we know. We're keeping an eye out. It's important that we find him."
She looked between them. "Spock, you sure don't talk much, do you?"
"He's pretty foreign," Jim said dismissively. "Speaks English but isn't comfortable with it. You know."
Spock shrugged minutely.
She tapped her pen on the desk, frowning as though she was thinking hard. "I'm sure you're aware of how hard it is to find a job without identification, these days," she said finally. "But you're in a rough situation, I understand that, and the streets are no place to stay, even in the summer. Neither one of you looks like you've spent time there," she said, her lips twitching upward. "Okay, let me lay it out for you: I can't set anything up for you through the Drop-In Centre, if you're not legally allowed to be in Canada. But maybe I know someone who owns a restaurant and is looking for a dishwasher who they can pay in cash. And possibly I also know where you can rent a place, cheap."
Jim grinned. "That would possibly be very nice of you."
She smirked as she grabbed a bright yellow notepad and scribbled something on it. "Here," she said, pulling the square of paper off the pad and handing it to Jim, who blinked when the back of it stuck to his fingers. It had an address and a phone number on it. "The address is the restaurant; ask for Steve and tell him I sent you. The phone number is the person you want to call about renting."
"Do we tell them you sent us, too?"
"If you want. I guess it depends on how shitty a tenant you are," she grinned. "It'll probably be a couple days and she'll want some money up-front, so you should expect to spend another night or two here, if you have nowhere else to crash."
"'Crash'?" Jim couldn't help asking.
She blinked at him. "Spend the night?" she said slowly.
He smiled weakly. "We're very foreign," he reminded her.
"I hope all foreigners are as charming as you," she said, getting up to open the door for them. "Good luck Jim; Spock."
"Thanks," Jim said as they left.
Now they just had to figure out how to get to the address she'd given them.
The restaurant was a small diner near the shopping street they'd found the day before. A bell tinkled overhead as Jim pushed open the door. The interior was clean but a little dingy from age; a few customers grabbing an early lunch were scattered around the brown tables and a single waitress sailed around the room with a coffee pot. She smiled at them when she came near the door.
"Table for two?"
"Actually," Jim said, "we're looking for Steve?"
Steve, when he emerged from the kitchen, was a burly, balding man in his late thirties. "Come have a seat in my office," he said.
Steve's office was tiny and cramped; barely large enough for the desk, let alone three chairs, but they squeezed in. Jim straightened nervously in his chair, folding his hands in his lap. It dawned on him that he hadn't been to a job interview in a long time.
"I'm Jim. This is Spock. Edie sent us," Jim started uncertainly. "She said you were looking for people."
Steve leaned back in his chair. "I need a dishwasher. Only one, though." He looked between them.
"Yeah," Jim said, "that's fine. I'll take it. Anything will do, right now."
"You guys one of Edie's projects?"
"Does she have a lot of those?"
Steve chuckled. "She's gonna save the world, one person at a time." He shifted in his chair. "Minimum wage, forty hours a week, and I pay cash. Good enough?"
"Fantastic," Jim said.
"Great, Jim. Can you start tomorrow? Come in at seven and we'll get you going."
They shook hands and then Jim and Spock found themselves back out in the sunshine.
"You accepted the position without first stopping to discuss who would be best suited to it," Spock said.
Jim blinked at him. "I didn't know it was worth discussing," he said. "You have a computer to build out of cans and bits of string or whatever we can get our hands on. I might as well focus on getting the money to do that." He smiled ruefully. "Also, since you're apparently playing the shy foreigner and don't have much knowledge of Earth culture in this era, I'm better suited to going out and talking to other people than you are." He patted Spock's shoulder through his jacket. "You can be the hermit mad scientist."
Spock raised his eyebrow. "I am hardly 'mad'."
"That depends on who you ask." Jim set off down the street, intending to find some kind of public phone to call the number Edie had given them. He was fairly sure most public phones would charge money, but he still had some coins that would probably do the job. Spock walked beside him in companionable silence, adjusting his hat to keep the wind off of his ears.
When they called, the landlord, Mary, insisted they come over right away to look at the place, so as the lunch hour approached and the downtown streets steadily filled with people of all types, Jim and Spock made their way to the building. It was only four blocks from the diner, happily. They looked up at the elderly brick building from the sidewalk.
"Looks well lived-in," Jim said diplomatically.
"Indeed. I believe that is Mary in the entryway."
It was, and she ushered them in and up the creaky staircase, a keyring in hand. "There's an elevator, but it's the original one, so we don't use it unless you're moving a couch or something," she explained as they reached the second floor landing. "We're going up one more."
Jim was sweating in the warm, still air as they finally reached the third floor. She stopped at the second door on the left and wiggled the key into the scratched lock.
"This is it," she said as the door swung open.
It was literally one room, although it was at least big enough for space to exist between the furniture. There was a double bed, a couch, and a dresser.
"Bathroom is shared, right across the hall, and there's a kitchen on the first floor, but you can have a hotpot in here if you're careful not to burn the place down," said Mary from the doorway as they looked around. "Rent's seventy-five bucks a week, due on Monday. All your utilities are included."
"Cozy," Jim said to Spock, raising his eyebrows slightly.
"Our options are severely limited," Spock countered. "There is both a bed and a couch; that should be sufficient."
Jim turned around to see Mary giving them a bemused look. He blinked but decided to ignore it. "We'll take it," he said, "but we need a day or two to get some money."
"All right," she said, waving them out to lock the door behind them. "Give me a call when you're straightened out; it should still be here if you're quick."
They thanked her and made their way carefully down the steep, noisy stairs. "A job and a place to live, all before dinnertime!" Jim said when they were outside again, heading back toward the Drop-In Centre. "Not bad."
"Very fortuitous," Spock agreed.
"Yeah, we'll definitely have to thank Edie when we see her," Jim said. They were shortly on the same street as the shelter and Jim grinned widely to see her just leaving the building.
"Hey!" he called, jogging over.
Edie looked up sharply but smiled when she recognized him. "Hey yourselves," she said back, shifting the strap of her bag on her shoulder. "How'd it go?"
"We're all set, thanks entirely to you," Jim said. "Let me show you my gratitude sometime soon; I think I can just afford to buy you a coffee." He winked.
Edie looked confused for a second and, for some reason, darted a glance at Spock before smiling at him again. "That sounds great. I have to run right now, but you're still here for a night or two, right? I'll talk to you soon." She squeezed his elbow lightly before turning to go catch an approaching bus.
When Jim turned around again, Spock was wearing one of his best nonplussed looks.
"What?" he said. "She's really cute." He patted Spock on the shoulder. "Come on; time for dinner."
Jim settled into a routine quickly. He would get up at six, stumble into a hot water shower which was easily the best part of his day, throw on his clothes (he'd acquired another t-shirt to add to his wardrobe) and stumble out the door of their building to be at work for seven. Then he spent eight hours scrubbing pots and plates in lurid yellow gloves and reminding himself that he was captain of a really excellent starship and this was temporary. He went home with aching hands to Spock, who usually had cheap ramen or rice and beans already cooked in the kitchen by the time he got there. He spent the evening either sitting around, maybe napping, or going out to spend time with Edie. Then he went to bed by eleven or so, to start the whole routine over. On his days off (Tuesday and Wednesday), he would do laundry in the coin-op washing machine downstairs, go to the food bank or the grocery store, or go for long, rambling walks around the downtown core, just to get out of the room for a while.
Spock worked. He'd dismantled both of their communicators and acquired an assortment of circuit boards and wires and other hilariously primitive computer bits, and he was building a triumph of computer architecture in the corner underneath their dirty window. Pieces of paper with diagrams scribbled in pencil littered the carpet and the couch, until Spock cleared off the couch for occasional forays into sleep. Mostly he was working whenever Jim was around, and well into the night as Jim slept exhaustedly, too tired to be disturbed by the glow of the lamp Spock worked by.
They didn't talk a whole lot anymore. There were too many touchy subjects as the stress of their situation pressed down on them: how close Spock was or was not to inventing a computer that could locate McCoy; whether they could afford groceries and the week's rent as well as the water-cooling system Spock's computer needed to run for more than five minutes at a time. And Edie, for some reason. Spock didn't seem to like her much. She was just as wary around Spock, when they saw each other; probably because of his attitude toward her. But, Jim thought, he could fucking deal with it, because Jim liked her and he was going to keep her around as long as she'd stay.
One Monday evening, Jim was freshly home from work and sitting cross-legged on the bed, eating dinner and staring morosely at the back of Spock's head while he soldered a circuit board. The soft knock on the door startled Jim out of his vague thoughts of escape for the evening, and he jumped up to answer it as Spock found his hat to pull on over his ears.
"Edie!" he said, half in delight and half in shock.
She grinned back brightly. "Hey, Jim." She looked past his shoulder. "Hello, Spo—holy shit, what's all that stuff?"
"It is a computer," Spock said absently, most of his attention still on his soldering.
"It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie! Are you like, an engineer or something?" She had walked into the room, inching closer to the rig in awe. Jim guessed the homemade water-cooling system looked kind of impressive. The complete lack of a case covering any of the components was unusual for the time period, too.
"I do have some training in the fields of engineering and computer science, yes," Spock said, carefully setting down his finished board. He raised an eyebrow slightly at Jim, who cottoned on.
"Well," he said quickly, "let's leave Spock to it, shall we? Coffee? Beer? Movie at that cheap theatre you like?" He gently made to usher her back toward the door. Thankfully, she went, with only one backward glance.
"Beer sounds good. I had a conference this weekend that kind of ate me alive in the preparation," Edie said as they walked out onto the landing.
"What kind of conference?" Jim asked as they made for the stairs.
"I presented some of the research for my dissertation," she said. "Did a little talk and everything. It was mostly grad students presenting all weekend though, so it was lower pressure than it could have been."
Jim blinked. "What's your dissertation on?"
"Haven't I mentioned it before? Basically, it's about the homelessness problem. There's a lot about recession politics and their contribution to it, too." They pushed their way out the front door into the evening sunshine. "Did you two have a fight?" she asked.
"What?" Jim asked, caught off-guard.
"You and Spock," she said. "The whole vibe between you two isn't what it was. Is something wrong?"
He scratched a hand through his hair, frowning up at the sky. "Just stress, I guess. New city, new situation. Still can't find our friend. Things are tense." That was honestly as closely as Jim wanted to analyze it.
"Hmm," she said. "Well, don't let the stress get to you, Jim. It'd be a shame to sacrifice what you've got."
She smiled. "A lifelong friendship, obviously. Now, tell me what's up with that computer! That thing is crazy."
Clearly, Jim's only hope now was to distract her with beer. "Oh, it's—it's Spock's hobby, that's all. He's into that whole AI thing."
She stopped dead, curbing his headlong rush for the pub. "You suck at evasion, Jim Kirk."
He gave her a pained look and she smirked back a little.
"You two are—are a riddle wrapped in an enigma. I can't figure it out."
"I wouldn't try," Jim said, feeling a little desperate.
"Just showed up one day, no ID, no past; it's like you fell out of the sky. You try so hard to fit in but there's all these little..." she searched for the word, "eccentricities, all these little things that don't quite fit smoothly into your image. Oh yes, you're good at camouflage, you can blend in anywhere pretty well, but you're not of this world, I don't think." She laughed. "And Spock. He's even stranger than you but he can go anywhere. He just has to be by your side."
Jim stared at her; he couldn't think to do anything else.
"Come on," she said, tugging his arm. "Beer."
"Yes, ma'am." He could only go where she led him.
When Jim came home the next morning, Spock had his hat on and his hoodie was lying on the bed.
"Going somewhere?" Jim asked.
"Yes. I trust your excursion with Ms. Keeler was satisfying?"
Jim blinked. "Where are you going? It's like..." He glanced at the alarm clock beside the bed. "Nine o'clock."
"I have begun working twelve hours a week at an electronics vendor several blocks away, repairing computer systems," Spock said. "I am going there now."
Jim was rooted to the spot. "When did this start? How did I not know this?"
"Two weeks ago. I am normally there while you are at your dishwashing engagement. Additionally, you did not ask." He pulled on his hoodie.
"You never mentioned it, either!" Jim said. "How was I supposed to know? And why are you doing it? I thought you were working on the computer." He gestured vaguely at where it sat in the corner.
"I came upon the position quite by accident; I entered the store one morning to enquire about octo-core processors—a predecessor to the mnemonic memory circuit, which I find myself forced to reinvent—and was drawn into a conversation with the proprietor whereupon it was discovered that he required a computer technician and I was capable of filling the role. It is enlightening to inspect the state of early 21st century computing in aid of my efforts here. In addition to small payment, I now have access to more computer equipment at lower cost." Spock raised an eyebrow. "How else might we have afforded the water-cooling system?" He glanced at the clock. "If you will excuse me, I must depart. There is an appointment at nine-thirty."
He brushed past Jim to leave the room. Jim blinked at the empty room for several moments; things had gone off the rails further than he'd thought. Well, it sounded like he had three or four hours until Spock got back. Maybe he'd get some groceries. And change his clothes.
Jim was putting the finishing touches to a vegetable stir-fry with sesame noodles when Spock came home from work.
"Hey, Spock," Jim called, drawing his attention as he walked past the doorway.
Spock stopped in his tracks, blinked at Jim standing in front of the stove, and sniffed the air. "What is that?" he asked, walking almost cautiously into the kitchen.
"Lunch," Jim said, dumping noodles on a plate and adding the vegetables on top. He handed it to Spock, who looked down at it with interest. "You didn't know I could cook, did you?"
"I did not," Spock admitted.
"Comes in handy now and then. Like, for example, if I find myself stranded in the past when everyone had to buy or make their own meals, and start wondering how to apologize to one of my best friends for being kind of a fuck-up." Jim loaded his own plate and took it over to the table. Spock remained standing by the stove.
"I beg your pardon?"
Jim put down his fork, sighed, and gestured at the table; Spock got the hint and came to sit next to him.
"Look," Jim said, "I don't know what happened, but I think I've wronged you in some way, and I'm apologizing for that because I don't want you to hate me. We're... we might be stuck here forev—for a while. And you're the only one I know and trust, and I can't lose that. So, I think we need to fix whatever happened and start actually talking to each other again."
Spock still hadn't touched his food. "I am not the only one you have. You have befriended Ms. Keeler."
"I've known Edie for like five minutes, compared to you. I can't talk to her honestly about anything; I can't tell her what happened to us. But you... you were there." Jim felt embarrassed at that much sharing of feelings and stuffed more food in his mouth so he wouldn't have to talk. He watched as Spock finally picked up his fork and took his first bite.
"Good?" Jim asked, after swallowing a mouthful of noodles.
"I accept your apology," Spock answered, digging in.
Jim grinned down at his plate.
Life seemed to get a lot better, once they both started making an effort. They'd actually try to talk over dinner, and sometimes Jim would stay home for the evening just to hang out with Spock. They'd sit around soldering circuits or playing chess on a cheap board Jim had picked up, and all the while they'd talk, good, rambling conversations like they used to sometimes have on the Enterprise. Bitching about how backwards the 21st century was became their favourite topic; Spock could go on long tirades about the state of computing and the miracle that progress had been made at all, given the primitive state of the leading operating systems in this era. Jim felt more relaxed than he had since the last time he was on his ship.
He missed his crew, he missed his best lady, and he really missed Bones, but the worst-case scenario of this mission didn't seem quite so dire, anymore. They'd hit a roadblock with the computer and Bones ought to have been showing up anytime, if Spock's estimate was correct (as if it could be incorrect), but Jim stayed so Zen about it that it kind of amazed even him.
"We'll find Bones, one way or another," he told Spock. "We just have to have a little faith."
Spock had definite opinions on faith, and they weren't positive ones, but he kept working.
And of course, there was still Edie. She seemed to have started spending a lot more of her free time with Jim, which he appreciated. He was maybe a bit smitten.
"You," she said one evening in July, "are the lucky winner for today."
"What's the prize?" Jim said innocently, holding back a smile.
She grabbed him by the hand, grinning. "You get to accompany me to a movie tonight! The new Harry Potter is playing in the cheap theatre."
"The new what?"
She cocked her head at him. "Harry Potter? The boy wizard? No?" Edie shook her head slowly, giving him an amazed look. "You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you? How long did you live in the cave you clearly just came out of?"
Jim shrugged helplessly. "This is a movie series?" He knew what a movie was; he'd seen one or two with her already. Didn't compare to holos for the quality of the experience but they were quaint and the stories were decent.
She just laughed, for kind of a long time. Jim frowned and waited for her to calm down. "You know," she said, giggling, "I thought you were one of a kind in your complete cluelessness on pop culture, but I think I actually met your spiritual twin yesterday."
Jim gave her a quizzical look. "What do you mean?"
"Oh, we got this guy in at the Drop-In Centre, wearing this weird uniform. He was kind of... strange... at first, but eventually whatever he was on wore off and he turned out to be kind of cool, if grouchy. He said he was a doctor and then asked me what year it was."
Jim stared. "Weird uniform?"
"We get people like that once in a while. DID, schizophrenia, whatever. Mental disorders will land you on the streets, as often as not." She smiled. "He was kind of charming, though, even if he had no idea what Harry Potter was, either."
"Edie," Jim said urgently, and maybe he was squeezing her hand a little harder than necessary, judging from her face, so he took a deep breath and relaxed. "What did this guy say his name was?"
Jim thought he might pass out. "Is he still at the Drop-In Centre?"
"I think so. He had nowhere else to go. They were looking at checking him into the Peter Lougheed, though, if they could find his records in the system anywhere."
Jim's mind was racing. He had to get Spock. "Can we take a raincheck on the movie? I have to go take care of something." He kissed her quickly on the cheek and turned to go, but she stopped him by the hold on his hand.
"Jim, what's wrong? Do you know Leonard?"
Jim fought for a minute with how much to tell her. "Remember how I told you Spock and I were looking for a friend?" he asked.
She didn't understand for a minute, but then her eyes widened. "You mean—"
"I'll see you later, okay?" he said, and then he was gone, running home.
"Spock!" he cried when he burst in the door.
Spock was on his feet instantly. "What is wrong?"
"Bones! He's here!"
"How did you—"
"Edie met him at the Drop-In Centre! He's still there!"
"Is he still—"
"Whatever that was seems to have worn off." Jim took a deep breath. "What should we do? Should we go get him? He's in his Starfleet uniform and they think he's nuts; they may ask a lot of questions."
"Perhaps we should collect him. It is possible that merely being in our presence will prevent him from doing whatever it is he will do to change history."
Jim licked his lips nervously. "Okay. Should we go right now?"
Spock looked at the clock. "Unless you plan to abduct him, I believe it will be easier to remove him from the facility via normal channels tomorrow."
Jim sighed and dropped down onto the bed. "Okay," he said. "Okay."
Jim called in sick to work the next day and they headed over to the centre first thing. Edie wasn't there; she had a seminar at the university. But they found Bones without too much hassle.
"Jim!" Bones said when they finally saw each other. "Where and when the fuck are we?"
"Keep your voice down, they already think you're crazy," Jim hissed, moving in to give him a hug. "Missed you, buddy," he said into Bones' shoulder, clapping a hand against his back.
"Missed me? I have kind of a blank spot in my memory but I don't think we've been here long."
"You haven't," Jim said. "We got here a month before you did, and we've been waiting for you."
Bones stared. "Time travel makes my head hurt. Why do we keep having to deal with it?"
"Just lucky, I guess." Jim threw an arm over Bones' shoulder. "Let's get you out of here and we'll fill you in on the details. Do you remember the dinosaur?"
That got him quite a look. "They think I'm crazy?"
"You are both crazy," Spock said calmly.
Jim grinned; the pieces seemed to be settling back into place.
Even after hearing both Jim and Spock's descriptions of his behaviour, Bones had no idea what might have happened to him. When Jim insisted it was space madness and Bones had been right all along, he got glared at.
Jim wasn't sure how much to tell Bones about him messing up history, but Spock's opinion was that making him aware of his possible actions might also help prevent them, so Jim did his best to explain.
"So you see, the butterfly flaps its wings in North America and there's a hurricane in Hong Kong."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "It must be a butterfly the size of a satellite, to generate that kind of air current."
Jim ignored him.
Bones blinked. "So I'm the butterfly. And the present, or the future, or whatever it is in relation to us right this minute, is a hurricane?"
"Well," Jim said, "it's Hong Kong, post-hurricane," and then thought his analogy probably sucked.
"Well," Bones said, crossing his arms, "I guess I'll try not to touch anything, in case I generate air currents to the future."
Jim put his face in his hands. Spock decided to help him out.
"We will endeavour to aid you in this, Doctor."
"I feel safer already. Sorry, future!" Bones said to the ceiling.
So it turned out that even with Bones within sight and back to his normal levels of sanity, they were probably still screwed. First of all, because they had no idea what he'd done the first time to screw up history, and secondly because they also had no idea how to transport themselves back to the gate. They had to be cautious and patient until they found a way back.
Jim hated being cautious and patient.
His coping mechanism was avoidance: once they found Bones a job (the Drop-In Centre agreed to hire him on as cash-paid custodial labour once Jim and Edie vouched for him not being crazy) and a place to sleep (the couch in Jim and Spock's room), Jim embraced routine and threw himself into the life he'd been creating. He got up, went to work, and then either came home to hang out with Spock and Bones or went out with Edie. Since three adults in one tiny room was pushing it even when one of them could get by on about two hours of sleep in the early evening, Jim began sleeping over at Edie's a lot more, which she didn't seem to mind.
Although Jim was making more of an effort to get along with Spock (Bones was used to living with him and his ways, after the Academy), he threw most of his energy into his relationship. Edie reciprocated, and made easy friends with Bones. Spock was still standoffish but he was Spock, and they still hadn't told her anything about where they were from, anyway. Jim suspected she thought they'd all served overseas in the military together, which was close enough to suit him. It certainly made a good explanation for why Spock still called him Captain sometimes.
Life was very nearly good, which Jim should have known was a mistake.
One night in September, Jim was hanging out with Spock, eating dinner in their room, when Bones burst in the door. "Jim," he said, and Edie was with him and they were both white as sheets. Jim nearly dropped his bowl of ramen all over the bed.
"What the hell happened to you two?" he demanded.
"We were... we...." Edie tried, but then she just shook her head.
Bones took over, hugging her protectively to his side. "She waited for me to get off work so I could walk with her back here. We got mugged in an alley off 7th Avenue. The guy had a fucking gun." He looked disgusted. Bones wasn't a fan of cultures with projectile weapons, as a rule.
"You were not injured," Spock said immediately, sounding like it was a demand.
"I fought him off," Bones said. "It was a close one." Jim saw that his free hand was trembling a little at his side.
"Holy shit, guys," Jim said, and moved to hug them both. Bones clapped him on the back, hard, and then Edie latched onto him, clinging for dear life. Jim buried his nose in her hair and shut his eyes. The past was no safer than where they'd come from, he remembered, and all of the precious people he had left were standing in the room with him. They faced unknown threats in a strange time.
Jim definitely hated being cautious and patient.
Edie finished her dissertation just after Christmas and defended it in February. Jim was proud and cooked her dinner in celebration, declaring to Bones and Spock that it was a party as he moved around the kitchen of their building.
Bones looked up at him thoughtfully. "You remember that we're not from here, right?" he said. "We might get to go home. Then what? You can't take her with you. You can't stay behind, either."
Jim set down a pot on the stove so suddenly that some water sloshed out, spitting on the hot element. "Shut up, Bones."
"Yeah," Bones said, "what do I know, anyway."
Spock sat at the table and drank his tea in total silence, not acknowledging either one of them.
"Jim!" Edie said when he came by the centre after work. She ran up to him, one of her endless parade of scarves bunched around her neck under her long coat (Jim would give up Canada in a heartbeat to move somewhere with less snow and cold, and he'd grown up in Iowa). "Guess what!" she beamed.
"I've got nothing," he said, kissing her nose.
She wrapped her hands around his neck and tugged him down just enough to peck him on the lips. "I get to give a talk on my dissertation at a summit in D.C. on social welfare."
"That's awesome," Jim said. "They're finally acknowledging your brilliance."
"Yeah, whatever," she said, and then laughed. "The keynote is going to be on some bourgeois, right-wing, loony US senator's bill to basically corral the homeless into designated areas of cities. Supposedly it's to make it cheaper and easier to build housing for them. Because the projects that already exist work so well." She was scowling by the time she finished speaking.
Jim smirked. "I bet that'll get real far."
Edie's summit was in March and she was gone for a week; when she came back, Jim was sitting on her doorstep with flowers.
She set her suitcase down on the sidewalk in front of him and smiled. "Who are those for?"
Jim grinned. "They're for my girlfriend. She's been out of town like, forever, and I missed her."
"Yeah? What's she like?"
"Pretty. Smart. Opinionated. Vicious at pool. Has an epic love of social justice."
Edie raised an eyebrow. "Wow. How'd you score a girl like her?"
"No idea." Jim stood up. "But let's fuck before she gets back."
She snorted and leaned in to steal the flowers, kissing him. "You're an ass, but I missed you too."
Later, in bed, she ran a hand through his hair. "Jim. What are you doing?"
Jim lifted his head. "Thought that was kind of obvious. You sure know how to cut a man down, Keeler."
She tugged him up to lie beside her and pillowed her head on his shoulder. "No, I mean, what are you doing? Do you have plans, now that you've reunited with Bones?"
Jim sighed. "The plan was supposed to be that we'd go home."
"I still don't know where 'home' is."
"Pretty far away."
"I gathered that much. Don't be so mysterious."
Jim bit his lip, staring at the ceiling. "Far enough that we can't come back."
She raised her head to look down at him. "Seriously?"
He met her eyes and made up his mind in an instant. "You want to come with me?"
She laid her head back down. "I can't."
"I guess not."
"You're definitely going?"
"I don't know. It depends on a lot of things."
"Well," she said, kissing him, "there's no sense in worrying about the future."
Jim kind of had to disagree, but kissed her back anyway.
Whether he worried about the future or not, Jim had to admit that it was looking less and less likely every day that they'd ever see it again. Bones and Spock seemed to be thinking along the same lines, but they were more annoyed about it. Bones was short-tempered and drank when he could afford to; Spock went to the library every day and scoured the headlines, apparently relying on his knowledge of history to help him figure out what might have gone wrong. Since Bones was keeping his head down and mostly hanging around Jim and Spock, though, it seemed that odds were low he'd even change anything, now.
"Jim," Bones said one night at the bar, once he'd killed his third cheap beer, "do you even want to go back?"
Jim's insides froze; he tried to look as offended as possible. "Bones! What the hell are you trying to imply?"
Bones glanced over at Edie, who was playing pool with Spock over in the corner. Jim followed his gesture; Spock was winning by a narrow margin but didn't look, even to Jim's trained eye, like he was having a good time.
"Why are you dragging her into this discussion?"
"Because you're in love with her, you fucking idiot."
Jim looked down at his drink.
"Figure out what your priorities are and save everyone some heartbreak." Bones stood up, threw on his coat, and left the bar.
Jim tried to figure out his priorities, he really did, but as long as the mystery of the timeline change remained unsolved, was he really obligated to make up his mind? If they could fix the future, obviously they would and he'd leave, but it was a long shot. A really long one, it seemed. They had no idea what they were looking for.
He could leave it a while longer.
Jim had a day off and Edie was at work, so he was spending his morning sleeping in, for once in the bed in the room he shared with Spock and Bones. Spock had rebuilt his tricorder and resold the rest of the computer parts for more cash, and the place was much more comfortable without the heat and hum of the thing running all the time.
He was having peaceful, half-waking dreams when the door opened.
"Jim," Spock said, sitting on the edge of the bed and shaking his shoulder.
"Somebody better have died," Jim muttered, opening his eyes.
Spock looked pained, and for a second Jim wondered if someone actually had died. Then he saw the papers in Spock's hand. He sat up, rubbing at his eyes. "What? What is it?"
Spock handed him the papers; they were a printout of a news story from the internet. "What am I looking at?" Jim scanned the first page; something about a senate bill.
"A US senate bill regarding a homeless initiative was outvoted yesterday."
"Okay," Jim said, not sure what the problem was. Then fuzzy connections emerged in his brain. "Wait. What senator? I think I actually know what you're talking about." He frowned, reading the article more carefully.
Spock's voice was calm and measured, but Jim could sense a kind of nervous energy coming off of him. "This bill was historically known as the genesis of the sanctuary districts of the 2020s."
Jim looked up in surprise. "It was supposed to have passed?"
Spock nodded. "By a narrow margin, but yes. Its inception led to the eventual creation of the sanctuary districts in most major cities. After funding was eliminated and walls built around the districts with residents still within, the Bell Riots of 2024 occurred."
Understanding dawned on Jim, and he dredged up memories of history classes in school. "No sanctuary districts means no Bell Riots, no Bell Riots probably means no social upheaval in the aftermath. No Federation."
"But what changed their minds?" Jim asked, waving the papers around helplessly. "Why did they decide not to pass the bill?" As soon as the question was out of his mouth, he knew the answer. He spoke reluctantly. "The summit Edie went to was all about this stuff."
Spock's eyes narrowed, calculating. "That is what Dr. McCoy changed," he said finally. "Edie is the key."
"Edie's just a postdoc who works at a homeless shelter!"
"She presented at the summit on her dissertation. She is the only strong link Dr. McCoy has had to this event. Jim," he said, "it was in September."
Jim closed his eyes. "No."
"The mugging," Spock insisted. "The doctor said that he defended her against a man with a gun."
Bones' Starfleet training and field experience getting into trouble with Jim had made his reflexes pretty quick. "No, it can't...."
Spock's hand landed on his shoulder, hot, and squeezed lightly. Casual physical affection from a Vulcan? Jim must have somehow broken him via exposure.
"Jim, it is the logical explanation. Had the doctor not been present during the attempted mugging, Edie would have likely been injured or died during the incident. She would not have finished her dissertation or presented at the summit."
"Jim. I understand that it is difficult for you to accept, given your personal involvement, but this is the only clear inciting incident. Edith Keeler must die."
Spock was the smartest being Jim knew and sometimes Jim hated him for that. He took a deep breath and then pushed away Spock's hand from his shoulder, climbing out of the bed and slamming the door behind him as he went out into the hallway.
Bones was, of course, the one who eventually found him.
"Jim," he said, sliding into the other side of the booth Jim was occupying. "Jesus Christ, you've been missing for a day and a half! No one knew where you were and you didn't go to work today!"
Jim drained his beer and signalled for another one. He was going to lose his buzz at this rate, and the cheap beer was too shitty to start over. "Fuck off, Bones," he said, frowning at the drunken drawl of his own voice. Another beer and he'd be Southern, too.
"He doesn't need another one," Bones growled at the waitress when she approached the table. Jim watched helplessly as she nodded and scampered back to the bar. She was shooting looks at them and talking to the bartender, and Jim would never be able to come back here again.
"Goddammit, Bones, thanks a lot. I liked this place."
"Well, it doesn't like you. Why'd you disappear, Jim?"
"Why'd you come looking for me? I suck at disappearing," Jim said, picking at the label of his empty bottle.
"Spock told me what happened. I waited till this morning and then started looking through all the dive bars downtown. There're a lot of them, so I'm fucking glad I only had to search half before I found you."
"Spock's an asshole."
"What have I been telling you for years? Sounds like the pointy-eared bastard's right, though, as usual. Was this what I wasn't supposed to change? Butterflies and hurricanes and shit?"
"Too late now," Jim said. "I realized something about two beers ago. It was—" he hiccupped, "—that even if that was the, the point of divergence, or whatever, we're too late!" He spread his arms to illustrate. "Too late! We can't change shit now and we're stuck here. So maybe I'm gonna marry her."
"Stop talking, you drunk," Bones said, getting up and hauling Jim out of the booth by his arm. "He's paying his tab," he called toward the bar.
"Who're you calling a drunk. I've seen your bourbon collection," Jim shot back, but it took a lot of concentration not to fall over as Bones dragged him over to the bar, so he shut up and paid his tab.
"I miss my bourbon collection and I'm never gonna see it again."
"We're too late," Jim said as they walked outside, "and I'm happy."
"You won't be happy in a year, when you're still stuck on Earth with no identification."
"I'll have Edie."
"If she's smart, she won't take you. Come on, you're gonna sleep it off. Spock's run off for the day, anyway."
It was Jim's luck that he remembered the entirety of his conversation with Bones once he was sober again. Once he'd drunkenly blurted out that he was going to marry Edie, of all things, it seemed that it was time to admit, at least to himself, that he had definite and strong feelings for her.
And hell, he'd known her for nearly a year, so what else was there to do? After checking Wikipedia (the best resource available to outcasts from another time when it came to navigating the 21st century) and ensuring that marriage rituals were pretty much the same in this time as his own, he went ring shopping.
Rings were expensive, he discovered quickly. Way too expensive. Or he was way too poor; probably both. But then Jim learned about the concept of layaway, and realized that he could get a pretty okay ring in about three months, on his budget (a new expense to replace the computer equipment they didn't have to buy anymore). He found the ring he wanted, and found the cash for his first of twelve payments, and then he froze.
Maybe he'd just think about it a little more. It was a big step. Commitment. He hadn't tried commitment for years, unless his ship counted. And he guessed he was broken up with his ship now, given that it currently didn't exist and never would.
He walked out of the jewelry store and went home to play chess with Spock and maybe listen to Bones kibitzing on the game, if he was home. At least he and Spock were at a truce again. Jim really hated it when they weren't speaking.
Three days before the anniversary of Jim and Spock's arrival in the past, and two weeks after Jim didn't start paying for an engagement ring, Edie talked him into going out for dinner, which he couldn't usually afford beyond cheap Korean barbecue.
"Relax," she said, when they walked into a half-decent Italian restaurant and he looked around apprehensively, "I've got this one."
That didn't make Jim feel better, but they were seated anyway and the food seemed to be worth the money.
After the plates were cleared and the coffee brought, Edie started fidgeting with the handle of her cup. Jim's eyes narrowed.
"Something wrong?" he asked.
She sighed. "I got a job offer," she said, looking up at him with a hopeful smile.
"What? That's great!"
"It's in Ottawa," she continued.
Jim's face fell. He'd learned two important facts about Ottawa: it was the seat of government in Canada, and it was about 2000 miles away.
The look on his face sent her back to staring at her coffee cup. "It's a really good position on a social policy research panel, and I have to take it, Jim. I start in a month and I'm going there next week to look for an apartment," she said in a rush.
"No, that's... you definitely have to take it. I'm happy for you," Jim said faintly. "I'm sorry I don't have the money or identification to come with you."
She looked up at him again. "Jim, you and your friends.... You said you were working on going home."
"Yeah," Jim said.
Edie smiled. "You should definitely do that. You guys aren't happy where you are." She looked at him for a moment; she seemed to be studying him or memorizing him or something. "I'm sorry, Jim," she said at last.
Jim looked up at the server as she slipped their check onto the table. "Me too," he said.
Edie kissed him sweetly on the lips outside the restaurant and then they parted ways. Jim went home to a surprised Bones and Spock, and almost before Jim knew it Bones had gone out for cheap whiskey. They sat on the couch and passed the bottle back and forth, drinking straight out of it, while Spock sat cross-legged on the bed and watched Jim worriedly.
"It's fine," Jim said once the booze had kicked in. "It just figures. I finally fall for a girl and she's not that into me."
"Your statement is illogical," Spock said.
"It's called karma, Spock," Jim said, pointing at him with the hand that was gripping the neck of the bottle.
"I was unaware that you practiced Buddhism."
"I don't," Jim said, taking another drink. "I just like a handy explanation. At least I didn't actually buy that ring!"
"What ring?" Bones said sharply, grabbing the bottle from him. "You were gonna buy a ring? I thought you were talking out your ass that day!"
"Well, I wasn't. I guess. Except that I didn't buy it anyway, so maybe I still was."
Spock held up a hand. "Am I to infer from this discussion that you were purchasing jewelry of some emotional significance for Ms. Keeler?"
"Yeah, Spock," Bones said, "the kind you hand over from one knee."
Spock blinked for a moment. "Marriage?"
"Fucking hilarious, isn't it," Jim said, grabbing for the bottle again.
"Not particularly," Spock replied.
Jim shut his eyes and took another drink.
Jim wasn't sure how it happened, but one day he walked into his favourite bar and when he walked out again, he had a second job as a bartender. It filled the extra time he used to spend with Edie, who had been gone for a month (he hadn't seen her again before she left; maybe that was a dick move but he found he didn't care). For a while, he just worked.
Now that he had nowhere else to sleep, the rented room was back to three inhabitants and feeling cramped. Bones jealously guarded the couch as his own space, which left Jim and Spock to share the bed; Spock didn't sleep much anyway and would usually be ready to get up by the time Jim got home from work.
But the landlady had figured out there were three of them now. One day when Jim was off from his dishwashing job and hadn't gone to work at the bar yet, there was a knock on the door. Mary was looking up at him from the other side.
Jim blinked at her, belatedly letting her in. Spock was downstairs, making dinner. "We didn't miss rent, did we?" he asked.
"No," she said, standing just inside the door. "Just thought I'd come and tell you that the room across the hall's vacant, now. Same rent." She smiled. "Have a good night."
Jim mentioned it offhandedly when all three of them sat down for dinner, expecting puzzled looks or shrugs. Instead, Bones stood up and said, "I call it. What's her number, anyway?" He walked out to the phone in the hallway while Jim stared after him.
"That was weird," he said.
"Not really," Spock replied, slurping his noodles. "He complains to me regularly about the effects of the couch upon his back. He appears to be in poor physical condition for a man of thirty-three."
"Only his liver," Jim said, still staring out the door. Bones was just visible, talking on the phone.
Bones moved into his new room two days later and they had a room-warming party, which involved a bottle of tequila. Spock even drank, professing to enjoy the taste of it and keeping up drink for drink. Unfortunately, ethanol seemed to have no effect on him, because halfway through the bottle, when both Jim and Bones were hanging off the side of the bed laughing, Spock still sat placidly on the chair in the corner and raised his eyebrow at them both.
When Jim stumbled back across the hall to their own room the next morning, peering through a painful fog of hangover, Spock was sitting on the bed meditating. A cup of steaming tea sat on the dresser, waiting for him to finish. Jim thought hateful things about him as he staggered down the hall to the bathroom.
After a long shower, as hot as the old pipes could handle, Jim could have a thought without his head pounding. Spock was sipping his tea when Jim came back to the room, although he didn't appear to have moved at all. Maybe he'd been developing telekinesis in secret.
"Well," Jim said, and winced at the volume of his own voice. He continued more quietly. "Back to just us, huh?"
Spock looked up at him over his tea.
Jim looked at the couch. "Who's going to sleep where, now?"
Spock joined him in looking at the couch, and there was a long silence.
"I do not see why we cannot continue our current arrangement, as our relative schedules have not changed," Spock said finally.
"I'm fine if you're fine," Jim agreed hastily. The couch smelled musty, anyway.
And so they kept to their established system: Spock slept while Jim was at work at the bar, and woke up when Jim came home to sleep. Jim would sleep like a corpse and Spock would do whatever it was he did at night. Meditating, probably. Then again, he could have been doing carpentry right next to the bed and he probably wouldn't have woken Jim, so it was no big deal.
It was no big deal until Spock got sick.
"I believe it is a viral infection," Spock said, sounding kind of hilarious with his nose stuffed up. His eyes also had a film over them, though, which was just creepy and gross to look at. "It seems similar in symptoms to a common virus that afflicts Vulcans; it requires a high body temperature to survive, so I believe that it is not contagious to you. I will recover without incident."
"If you're sure," Jim said, looking at Spock with his eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Do you want some tea or something?"
Spock rubbed at his temples. "Tea would be beneficial, if you do not mind."
Jim brought back Bones along with Spock's tea, but Bones couldn't say anything that Spock hadn't already.
"Just take it easy, so your body can fight it off," he said gruffly. "Fluids and rest."
"That is eminently logical, Doctor," Spock said; it wasn't clear from his stuffed-up tone of voice if he was actually paying Bones a compliment or if he was being sarcastic in a 'well, duh' kind of way. Bones blinked at him but apparently chose to err on the side of 'compliment', because instead of bitching, he left the room.
A healthy Spock slept three or four hours a night, unless he was doing something he found more interesting; Spock with the Vulcan Flu slept pretty well all the time (not that Jim could blame him).
This caused problems the first night Jim came home from work and saw Spock, still in the bed and dead to the world. Jim stood in the middle of the room, watching Spock, and then looked at the couch. He'd spent nights on that couch and he did, frankly, understand why Bones had invested in a room of his own with a bed of his own.
He looked back at the bed.
Really, Jim reasoned, he and Spock were friends and had been roommates for over a year. Spock wouldn't freak out about them sharing the bed. It was a logical move, given the circumstances, Jim thought as he stripped down to boxers and t-shirt and climbed in under the covers on the vacant side. The bed was really warm with Spock still in it; he drifted off into an exhausted sleep.
Jim woke up the next morning feeling very cozy. He stretched, lazily, and realized his back was pressed against something warm. Spock, he remembered. He froze and craned a look over his shoulder; Spock was still asleep with his back to Jim, huddled under the blankets. He shivered when Jim edged away, probably feeling the cool air.
"All right," Jim muttered, moving back to where he'd been. Spock stopped shivering; Jim shut his eyes again.
The next time Jim woke up, he was a lot colder; he opened his eyes and realized Spock was out of bed. He was sitting on the couch, actually, with tea in his hands and a blanket around his shoulders, and they made eye contact as Jim sat up in the bed.
"Sorry," Jim blurted, "I came home and you were sleeping and I didn't think you'd mind."
"I apologize for not vacating the bed as per our agreement," Spock said at the same time.
They blinked at each other; Spock lowered his teacup until it was balanced on his knee. "It was a logical solution which allowed both of us to obtain optimal rest," he said quietly.
"My thoughts exactly," Jim said, and got up to go to the bathroom.
When Jim came home from work at 2:30 the next morning, it didn't take much internal debate for him to get into the bed again. Spock was snoring lightly, probably because of his sinuses, but the noise was no match for Jim's state of sleepiness.
In the morning, they were wrapped around each other in the middle of the bed, between the pillows. Spock was the big spoon; his breath tickled the hairs on the nape of Jim's neck. Jim was really comfortable, despite the tickling, and considered going back to sleep again, but really, Spock's arm was thrown over his waist and he probably shouldn't have been letting that slide. So instead, he fidgeted a little and Spock stirred, his arm tightening for a second as he woke up. After one silent, tense moment, they mutually rolled away to their original sides of the bed.
"I think you must get cold at night," Jim said to the ceiling.
"I admit that I do miss the environmental controls in my quarters on the Enterprise."
Jim pursed his lips, studying a water stain. "Well, you're not feeling well, either. I don't mind sharing some body heat if it helps you sleep." He kind of liked having another body in the bed anyway, even if there was no sex involved.
"Acknowledged," Spock said. "I appreciate your consideration, Jim."
"I've shared beds with Bones, too," he shrugged. "It's okay. He's an unconscious snuggler himself."
He winced belatedly at his choice of words, but all Spock said was, "Indeed." Jim still wasn't looking at him, but he could picture a raised eyebrow.
They shared the bed for the rest of the week, while Spock finished his recovery. There was a clear pattern: Spock would be fast asleep when Jim climbed into bed, staying on his own side, and then they would inevitably wake up snuggling. Jim had always openly been a lover of physical contact, so he certainly wasn't bothered by it; in fact it was kind of nice. Spock was twitchy at first, ending the contact as soon as he was conscious enough to do so. But he had no control over his compulsions while he was asleep (despite his probable best efforts) and since the results were the same every morning, he seemed to just give up and accept that they were more than likely going to wake up spooning.
And so Jim got to wake up slow and warm every morning, and smile to himself at the thought that he was cuddling with a Vulcan. It was a shame, really, that Vulcans were so standoffish, because all that body heat made them ideal cuddlers. He thought about sharing this revelation with Bones, but since Bones wasn't aware of their current arrangement (as far as Jim knew), he probably wouldn't appreciate the knowledge.
Jim thought maybe he wouldn't say anything. Spock seemed to be recovering, anyway.
And so, after eight days and nights of stoic Vulcan suffering, Jim came home from work to find Spock sitting on the couch.
"Hello, Jim. Was work enjoyable?"
"Um, yeah," Jim said, throwing his coat on the dresser. "You're feeling better?"
"I believe that I have recovered. I no longer feel the extreme lethargy characteristic of the last week."
"That's good," Jim said, and yawned. "Okay, bedtime for me, then."
"Sleep well. I will be in the kitchen." Spock left the room as Jim started getting ready for bed.
The bed felt cold, even though Spock had probably gotten up not long ago. But it was also empty, waiting for Jim to sprawl all over it, so he would take the trade-off. He settled into his pillow with a sigh.
An hour later, he sighed again and peered at the cheap alarm clock. '2:59' glowed back at him. He turned over on his other side, and finally his eyes drifted shut.
He woke up again at 3:27, 4:15, 4:42, and 5:39. He had to get up for work at the diner at six. He rolled onto his back and glared at the lightening ceiling. Spock was meditating on the floor in the corner.
Jim got up and took a long shower. When he came back to the room, Spock raised an eyebrow at him.
"Slept like shit," he said, grabbing his jacket and going downstairs to look for some breakfast. He thought viciously of knocking on Bones' door to wake him up, but decided not to be so cruel. Or suicidal.
Spock looked up from the window when Jim came home that night.
"You are home early."
"Quiet night. Kicked out the regular stool-warmers early. I'm fucking beat, anyway," Jim said, dropping heavily onto the edge of the bed. "How'd you sleep tonight?"
There was a pause before Spock answered. "I have not yet slept," he said.
Jim froze in the middle of kicking off his shoe. "You haven't?"
"I have a theory about your sleeplessness last night. I believe that it will continue if untreated but that there is a simple solution."
"Yeah, what's that?" Jim asked, even though he thought he knew.
Spock moved over to the couch but stayed standing; Jim watched from the corner of his eye. "You grew accustomed to sleeping with another person, during your relationship with Ms. Keeler. The associations it created were of security and safety. You lost this experience at the termination of your relationship, but regained a fascimile of that time when you shared a bed with me. Your insomnia last night was due to shock of further loss of personal contact upon once again sleeping alone."
Jim turned to look at Spock. Spock's hands were folded behind his back and he was watching Jim calmly.
"You're offering to sleep with me again," Jim said, feeling shocked.
"You cannot continue as you are if you do not obtain the appropriate amounts of rest."
Jim looked at the floor; the room was silent. His mind was racing. "Okay," he said. "Okay, I accept."
Spock inclined his head.
"Not every day you get a voluntary Vulcan snuggle-buddy," he couldn't help adding.
Spock raised an eyebrow at him and Jim grinned back.
They were unusually quiet as they got ready for bed. Even though he'd been doing it for a week straight, it felt weird to Jim to be climbing into the same bed as Spock. But the bed was already warming up from Spock's presence, and Jim felt comfortable even keeping to his own side, as he had been. Maybe he should have just invested in a hot water bottle, he thought idly.
"Thanks, Spock," he said faintly, relaxing into the mattress.
"Your thanks is unnecessary," Spock said as Jim drifted off. "I could not sleep last night, either."
A single, fuzzy thought of how odd that was, was all Jim could manage before he fell asleep.
Jim woke up with an arm slung over Spock's ribcage and the early morning sunlight on his face. It was his day off from dishwashing, and his first instinct was to snuggle in closer to Spock's neck and go back to sleep. Then the reality of the situation hit him and he pulled away, rolling onto his back.
Spock stretched and rolled over beside him.
"How was your rest?"
It had been really good, but that was not what Jim wanted to focus on, right now.
"This is too weird," he said. "I mean, it was okay when you were sick and it was this or the couch, but last night I made a conscious choice to sleep in the same bed with you, and vice versa, when it didn't have to happen." His hands clenched in the blankets. "There are like, entire sections of the Code of Conduct that we're probably violating."
Spock didn't answer for so long that Jim turned his head to make sure he was actually still there. He was giving the ceiling a placid, thoughtful look; Jim studied his profile for a second before catching himself and looking away.
"You raise an excellent point," Spock said finally. "But can we still be a captain and first officer with no ship to command?"
"I'm from a Starfleet family, and let me tell you: once an officer, always an officer."
"But can that still be the case in an era with no Starfleet? Jim, if we never return to our correct time, if we must live out the rest of our natural lives here—and mine will likely be quite long—will we still adhere to the roles of captain and second-in-command? Dr. McCoy cannot even practice medicine in this era without the appropriate accreditation, as well as an identity to live under. Is he still to be the chief medical officer of the Enterprise in a time with no Enterprise?"
Jim scratched his arm. "You want to go AWOL in a time with no service to go AWOL from. I don't even know what that would qualify as."
"It is not even a matter of wishing to go AWOL; it is a matter of doing what must be done to survive—within reasonable means—until such time as we may be able to return to our proper place."
Something Jim had been half-saying months ago, really. "Fair enough," he said. "You two are the worst examples of respecting the chain of command I've ever seen, anyway, so I'm sure it won't make much difference."
"I believe there is an idiom about cooking implements which applies in this circumstance."
"Pots and kettles?" Jim said, grinning. "Fuck off. I'm going back to sleep."
"I believe that I will meditate," Spock said, sitting upright and sliding out of the bed.
"You two are getting kind of... touchy," Bones said one day, as he and Jim wandered through the grocery store. "Should I have moved out sooner? Was I getting in the way of something?"
"Jesus Christ, Bones," Jim said, dropping an apple he'd just picked up. "What an imagination you've got."
"Don't know what you're talkin' about," Bones drawled. "Ain't got one of those. I call 'em like I see 'em."
"I see you're an asshole. Look, the orange juice is on sale. Go be useful and get some."
"Yes, dear. Oh my god, I live in a sexless three-way marriage and there aren't even any tits to look at."
Jim did not throw an apple at him, because that would be infantile and then he'd also feel guilted into paying for it. But that conversation just made Jim start paying attention, if only to prove to himself that Bones was once again full of shit. And instead, he realized what it actually looked like.
He and Spock were still... co-sleeping, or whatever non-sex-implying name one cared to give it. Spock had started either sleeping longer, or getting up in the middle of the night to meditate or do carpentry or whatever, or maybe both. They had no concept of personal space while they were asleep (or Jim's lack of propriety was wearing off on Spock).
This had, somehow, without Jim's knowledge or awareness, crept over into their daytime interactions as well. They'd walk right beside each other. Knuckles would occasionally brush, and once Jim finally started noticing this, he noticed it every single time. It was distracting and weird. They'd sit right next to each other, on benches, on the couch, on the chairs in the kitchen. Knees would touch and no one would move, because seriously, they woke up every morning practically breathing each other's air. Spock's personal space bubble around strangers and even Bones was still at Vulcan levels of 'don't touch me, ever', but where Jim was concerned it seemed to have shrunk almost to nothing. Jim caught himself in the act of stealing food off of Spock's dinner plate one night; Spock didn't even blink.
Things had gotten way out of control and hadn't even had the decency to give Jim any kind of warning first.
One night, Spock stopped by the bar as Jim was closing, presumably to walk home with him. Jim took one look at Spock, perched on a stool as if he belonged there, and then dumped a pint glass into the dishwasher, threw his apron on the sticky back counter, and moved swiftly around the bar to take Spock by the arm.
"We need to talk," he growled, dragging Spock off of the stool. Spock went calmly; Cindy the waitress gave Jim a confused look, which he ignored, leading the way to the back office and shutting the door behind them.
"Is something wrong?" Spock asked.
Jim took a deep breath, and then another one. "What the fuck is going on?" he asked. "With us?"
"I do not understand to what you are referring."
"I think you actually do, so don't give me that shit. How did we end up married?"
"I am sure that we are not married, given that I believe I would recall such a thing occurring."
"Why are you so literal all the time? Look, what I mean is, first we were sleeping together. Like, I mean, sleeping in the same bed. At the same time. And then now there's all this touching and no personal space and Bones is starting to make jokes about gay marriage in the 21st century and when and how did this happen?"
Jim realized he had gotten right up in Spock's face; Spock backed away and leaned on the edge of the desk, looking up at him. "You are a tactile person, Jim, and you have replaced Ms. Keeler with me. I should have objected, but I did not, because I have harboured feelings of affection toward you for quite some time."
"I believe the human term is 'rebound'; a basketball metaphor, if I am not mistaken."
Jim grasped for some kind of conversational handhold, because he was about to lose this one entirely. "Rebound? How can you be my—you have feelings?"
"All Vulcans have feelings; you are aware of this."
"You have feelings for me?"
Spock's fingers tightened around the edge of the desk. "I do."
"You never said anything." Jim was still reeling.
"I was aware that they were inappropriate, given our relative positions to each other, so I kept them private. Our time in the past has weakened my resolve, even in the face of your relationship with Ms. Keeler."
"I—I don't know what to say."
Spock stood up swiftly. "I regret that it has come out in this way." He moved past Jim, too fast to stop, and was gone when Jim turned to the door.
"Tiff with the boyfriend?" Cindy asked when Jim came back out front.
Jim gritted his teeth and finished with the dishwasher.
Jim managed to linger at the bar another half an hour, and then he walked home and climbed the stairs to the third floor of his building. One look at his and Spock's door (shut, with no light coming from underneath) and he was knocking on Bones', an annoying, constant rapping that made Bones open the door in under a minute. He glared at Jim.
"Are you two fighting again?" he growled, but he let Jim in to sleep on his couch, which at least seemed to be a little newer than the one across the hall. Jim curled up on it under a borrowed blanket, hugging his arms to his body and trying to get to sleep before Bones started snoring.
Jim stayed with Bones for two days, never seeing Spock, barely sleeping with the press of couch cushions at his back, and putting up with Bones' snoring and bitching (kind of like being back at the Academy). Then he came home from his diner job and Bones crossed his arms and said, "I've let you hide long enough. You need to go back and apologize to him for whatever it was you did, because I have a date tonight with one of the baristas from Good Earth."
"What happened to 'bros before hos', Bones? And why do you assume I'm the one who has to apologize?"
"I've known you for years, Jim, and you're always the one who has to apologize. And she's a medical student and twenty-four and into me, so go home."
"Helping her study for her anatomy exam, are you?" Jim said.
"So much for a sexless three-way marriage. Unless she likes me too and we can make it a four-way."
"Thanks, Bones," Jim said on his way out the door.
"You're welcome," Bones said before slamming it.
Once Jim was out in the hallway, the simple joy of picking on his best friend faded into dread at the sight of the door across the way. He wasn't even sure if he or Spock was supposed to be the one apologizing, here, and that seemed to make it worse. He dragged leaden feet across the worn wooden floor to knock.
Spock's footsteps could be heard before he opened it.
"Jim," he said, and stepped aside. Jim walked in, feeling like an intruder even though he paid half of the rent.
"How's it going, Spock?" Jim asked awkwardly.
"I confess I had begun to think you would be Dr. McCoy's roommate from now on," he answered.
"He still snores a lot and doesn't like to share. And uh," Jim crossed his arms over his chest and looked at the floor as he continued, "I kind of missed you."
"You missed me?"
"Of course. I haven't seen you at all in two days. That's a long time by our standards." Jim's mind stuttered a little at the realization of how much time he spent with Spock, now. "I. I also kind of missed touching you."
He looked up again; Spock was keeping his distance, giving Jim a measured look. His poker face.
"I'm sorry I used you," said Jim.
"I am sorry that I used you, as well," said Spock.
"So I guess we're even."
"Where does that leave us?"
"I believe," said Spock, "that it is up to you."
"Don't do that to me."
"Jim, I have informed you about my feelings."
Jim deflated. That was true. The ball was definitely in his court. He walked over to the couch and sat down; Spock sat across from him, on the end of the bed.
"I haven't had as long to think clearly about things as you have," he said after a moment's thought. "I've been facing this down for two days, while you've had... however long. I've only figured out a couple of things. One is that I like being around you. I always have, since we became friends. I like waking up beside you, too. And the other thing I figured out is that you could never be just a rebound."
Jim stood up and shrugged nonchalantly. "Like I told you before, I knew Edie for like five minutes, compared to you. And she could never know me as well as you do."
Spock stood up smoothly from the bed, swooped into Jim's personal space, and kissed him. Jim slid his hands up Spock's arms, savouring the heat of his skin through his clothes, and kissed him back. It felt amazingly natural.
Jim had to work that night, and he didn't really want to go, but Spock was a paragon of responsibility and made him go anyway. It was a long shift, and by the end of it he was anxious to leave.
"I guess you and your other half made up," Cindy commented as she was cashing out.
"What makes you say that?" Jim asked.
"You look a lot happier."
He smirked down at the table he was wiping. "Yeah, we're better now."
"Good for you, babe. He's a lucky son of a bitch."
"I'll be sure to tell him that," he laughed as he finished up his cleaning and grabbed his jacket.
He jogged all the way home, feeling a cool breeze on his cheeks (fall was settling in already), and took the stairs two at a time. His heart was racing as he hit the third floor landing and he was fully prepared to blame it all on the exercise.
Spock was sitting on the couch, reading a book, when Jim opened the door, but Jim instantly had his full attention.
"How was work?" Spock asked, standing up and leaving his book on the couch.
"Long and torturous," Jim said, pulling off his jacket and hanging it haphazardly off of the doorknob.
"I regret convincing you to go," Spock said as they closed the distance between them. Jim kicked off his shoes as he walked, and left them where they landed.
"That'll teach you to be responsible," Jim said, and they finally got close enough to touch. Spock's hands cupped Jim's elbows and Jim slid his fingers up under the back of Spock's shirt, feeling the play of muscles under hot skin.
"Self-denial is an ancient ritual meditation practice, both on Earth and Vulcan," Spock said, his lips millimetres from Jim's.
"I've never been a fan of it," Jim said, leaning in for a kiss.
Jim woke up hot, both from the sun shining in on him and Spock's weight half on top of him. Jim slid a hand down Spock's naked back and smiled to himself when Spock pressed in closer, hot breath tickling his throat. He was surprised and pleased to find that waking up cuddling with Spock was exactly as nice now as it had been before. Although maybe it was a slightly different kind of nice, because they were both naked for the first time and the night before had been, in Jim's estimation, the best idea ever.
He was thinking of ways to wake Spock up before he glanced at the clock and realized he needed to be in the shower already. He extricated himself with a sigh and watched Spock roll over, taking all of the blankets with him. Jim shook his head and found some pants to put on before making the trek to the bathroom.
After a shower, he found Spock again in the kitchen, dressed and eating toast and tea alongside Bones.
"You're up early for someone who was studying anatomy last night," Jim said as he sat down and grabbed the Cheerios from Bones.
Bones raised a disbelieving eyebrow, which Jim chose to ignore in favour of filling his bowl.
"Didn't get to study any. But I did get her number, so fingers crossed," Bones said, taking another bite of cereal.
"You need lessons, old man," Jim teased. He reached down to pick up his spoon. His fingers went right through it. And the table.
"What the fuck?" he said, and looked up. Bones and Spock were the only solid things in the room, which was rapidly becoming transparent. Bones was swearing and Spock was waving his hand back and forth through the table.
Then Jim's head felt like it was being squeezed, and the kitchen disappeared completely.
He landed, hard, on top of something squishy.
"Ow! Fuck!" Bones said. "You don't look that heavy!"
"You're my physician; you know exactly how much I weigh," Jim said as he rolled off of Bones and onto the damp grass. "Where are we?"
Spock, off to his right, stood up. "Ensign Tremblay, report," he commanded.
Jim looked around; they were back on the planet with the ring. They were actually on the ground right in front of the ring; Tremblay was standing next to its control console, and he snapped to attention.
"Commander Spock, sir. I attempted to operate the ring and brought you back."
Jim got up and helped Bones to his feet before brushing bits of grass off of his clothes. "How long has it been, Ensign?"
"About six hours, Captain. I was concerned because I thought it might grow dark soon, and Mah's painkillers are starting to wear off."
Jim stopped in his tracks on the way to the console. "Did you say six hours, Ensign?"
"Yes, sir. Hey, where did you get those clothes? And you found Dr. McCoy already, but we still can't hail the ship."
Jim raised a hand. "We'll explain later. Were you trying to get through, or find us?"
"Both, Captain. Whichever worked when I tried it."
Jim and Spock looked at each other.
"Stand down, Ensign; I require access to the console," Spock said, striding forward.
"You think you can get us back to the right time?" Bones said, moving to join Spock.
"Now that I have seen when Ji—the captain and I arrived in the past, relative to your arrival and the passage of time here, I believe that I can recalculate the time address with high accuracy."
"Spock," Jim said, "when are you calculating it to?"
Spock looked up from the console. "We must fix history, Captain."
"Ensign," Spock said, "do you have a tricorder? I have misplaced mine."
Tremblay handed it over. Jim watched helplessly as Spock worked, and then the gateway through the ring opened again, glowing blue.
"This is the correct time address, with 95% accuracy," Spock said, walking with Bones to stand in front of the ring. He turned to face Jim. "Captain?"
Jim stared at the ring. "I—"
Spock walked over and took Jim by the elbow. "Jim," he said in a low voice, "we must go back to the Enterprise. We do not belong in the 21st century and we do not belong here."
Bones walked over and stood on Jim's other side. "We have to fix it, Jim," he said. "I'm sorry."
Jim let them lead him through the ring.
They landed in the same park, on a cool evening. Spock looked around, and then went to a newspaper box, kneeling and peering into it.
"It is September 8, 2009. We have arrived on the correct day."
Jim shut his eyes.
"I have given Tremblay instructions to bring us back, in the event that our fixing the timeline does not do so automatically. We must discover the time so that we may arrive at the designated place and time without incident."
It was shortly after five, and they hurried down to 7th Avenue; Bones thought they had about fifteen minutes. Jim let them lead the way, following in a haze.
"Stop!" Bones said suddenly, pulling them into a doorway. "I just saw us leaving the Drop-In Centre!"
"We must waylay Dr. McCoy so that Ms. Keeler continues alone," said Spock.
"I can't believe this," Jim said, staring out at the street. There was Edie. Wearing that t-shirt with the angry muffin on it, and her ever-present scarf. "We can't let this happen."
"Jim," Bones said, laying a hand on his shoulder, "I won't pretend I like it, and fate or causality or whatever's a bitch, but she was supposed to die if we were never here. If it doesn't happen, we don't get to go back home. There'll be no home to go to."
Jim kept watching her, feeling his heart clench. "I love her. I can't do this."
"Jim, it must happen," Spock said. "However, you do not have to do it."
"I'll stop you," Jim said.
"You will not," Bones shot back. "This is how it was supposed to go, Jim."
"You don't know that!"
"We're pretty sure! That's always been good enough for you before! Even when other peoples' lives were on the line!"
Jim blinked at Bones, shocked.
"Our window of opportunity is nearly past," Spock said. "Dr. McCoy cannot encounter himself; I will go." And he was off, jogging across the street before anyone could say different.
Jim watched him go helplessly, Bones' hand on his arm to keep him back.
"He's doing this for you, you jackass," Bones said.
"Doesn't feel that way."
"Someday, I think you'll get it."
"Don't belittle me."
They watched in silence as Spock caught up with Bones, drawing him aside to speak to him. Jim wanted to call out as Edie waved at them both and carried on down the street. Instead he watched, frozen. She disappeared around the corner. Spock left the other Bones and jogged back across the street.
They faintly heard the gunshot. Jim jerked in Bones' arms. Spock watched from beyond arm's length, looking at Jim warily. Jim choked out a sob as the world started to fade away again.
Jim stayed on his feet as they stumbled back onto the grass in front of the ring. Tremblay was on the ground next to Mah, looking at them. Jim was blinking back tears; Bones held an arm hard around his shoulders. Spock cast a look at them and then straightened, turning to the ensigns.
"Ensign, do you have your communicator?" Spock asked.
Tremblay held it up.
"Attempt to hail the Enterprise."
Tremblay obeyed, and his face broke out into a grin when Uhura answered. "Are we beaming up, Commander?" he asked.
"Please, Ensign," Spock said. Jim was still clinging to Bones, barely paying attention.
"Five to beam up," Tremblay confirmed. "Energize."
Jim's grip on Bones tightened as the world in front of him went golden.
"Jim," Bones said, when Jim strolled into Sickbay two days later to check on Ensign Mah's recovery. He was flirting with the nurses, so he'd probably pull through.
"Yeah, Bones, what's up?" Jim asked, and followed him into his office, dropping into a chair.
Bones leaned forward in his chair. "I figured out why I went crazy on the planet," he said.
"Not space madness?" said Jim. "I had money riding on that."
Bones gave him the finger. "No. I felt dizzy when we got back on the ship, so I came to Sickbay—pay attention, that's what sane people do when they feel strange after missions—and had M'Benga run some tests on me. I had a reaction to some pollen on the surface."
"Pollen?" Jim said incredulously. "I get hay fever, but I don't go insane."
"Shut up. For once, you're not the special snowflake who's allergic to something. I did think it was weird that I was the only one who apparently had a reaction, so we did some more tests. And, uh."
"What, Bones? Don't leave me hanging now. I like not being the medical mystery for once."
"I was the only one who was allergic because it was having a unique reaction with my blood."
"Is it the ice water in your veins?" Jim joked.
Bones winced. "Jim, I discovered I have xenopolycythemia."
Jim sat up. "What?"
"It's a rare blood disease, characterized by overproduction of red blood cells. It leads to blood clots and it's fatal if not treated."
Bones held up his hands. "We caught it early. I'm still in Stage 1. That means that I can get treatment and I'll more than likely recover completely, no problem."
Jim sagged in his chair and put a hand over his face. "Jesus Christ."
"Treatment needs specialized equipment, though, that we don't have aboard the ship. I'll have to go to a Starfleet medical centre for the first stage of my treatment. That'll be a month or two, at least."
"So you'll go. We're almost due for shore leave; you can go to the med centre on Rigel II and the whole crew can get drunk and then come visit you in the hospital for a week or so. It'll be great."
"I'm glad you're taking this well."
"Taking this well? You nearly had to admit me for a heart attack, you asshole." Jim pointed savagely at Bones. "You are not allowed to die on me. Ever."
"That's a healthy standpoint."
"My psychological issues are a matter of public record." Jim stood up. "Get the paperwork ready for your admission so I can sign it and we can start getting you better. That's an order, Doctor."
"Yes, Captain. Hey, Jim." Bones' voice stopped Jim on the way to the door.
"Have you talked to Spock yet?"
Jim suppressed a wince. If taking reports counted, maybe. "Of course I have," he said indignantly.
"You're a shitty liar."
"You just know my tells. I should have you killed. You know too much about me."
Bones leaned back in his chair. "He's torn up. We spent over a year stuck in the past and no one knows anything about it except us. We have to be able to talk about it. So put your big boy pants on and go tell him he's forgiven."
"Why would I do that?" Jim snapped.
"Because you forgive him, you fuckhead. Get out of my office."
Jim stalked out of Sickbay and headed for his quarters.
Jim was sitting at his desk, staring at a scan of an ancient newspaper obituary from the archives, when the door buzzer went off.
"Enter," he called, quickly putting up the screensaver on his terminal.
Spock walked in and stood uncomfortably just inside the doorway. "Captain."
"Mr. Spock. What can I do for you?"
"Dr. McCoy indicated that you wished to speak to me."
Jim rolled his eyes to the ceiling. Fucking Bones. "Of course. Have a seat."
When Spock was seated across the desk from him, Jim cleared his throat. "Bones said you feel guilty about," he gestured at his terminal screen before realizing what he was doing, "killing Edie. Or, I mean, letting her die."
"It was not a course of action I particularly desired to pursue, whatever your thoughts on the matter may be."
"Spock, of all the things I could believe about you, your capacity to murder an innocent person is not one of them. You were right," he said, the words coming out painfully. "It had to happen. We had to come back. I forgive you. If I were to blame anyone for the whole mess, it would have to be Bones, but I can't blame him either, so there you go."
"Thank you," Spock said quietly.
They fell silent, the white noise of the environmental controls the only thing to be heard.
"And us?" Spock said eventually.
"We're back on the ship. Captain and first officer."
"I haven't been sleeping well," Jim admitted.
"Nor have I."
Jim blew out a slow breath. "Let's fall back on the earlier plan, of taking it slow."
"I concur. There is something else I wish to tell you, which I neglected to before. This was a serious oversight."
Spock took Jim's hand across the desk and squeezed it. "I grieve with thee."
Jim shut his eyes and squeezed Spock's hand right back.