In my country there is a mountain.
In my country there is a river.
Come with me.
Night climbs up to the mountain.
Hunger goes down to the river.
Come with me.
Who are those who suffer?
I do not know, but they are my people.
Come with me.
I do not know, but they call to me
and they say to me: "We suffer."
Come with me.
And they say to me: "Your people,
your luckless people,
between the mountain and the river,
with hunger and grief,
they do not want to struggle alone,
they are waiting for you, friend."
Oh you, the one I love,
little one, red grain
the struggle will be hard,
life will be hard,
but you will come with me.
--Pablo Neruda, "The Mountain and the River"
Jim sank into a light meditative trance next to Spock, trying to let go of all the day’s stresses with a drawn-out sigh. Building a colony was no easy task, especially when he was no longer in his prime.
As much as Jim hated the circumstances of their relocation to Ha-kel, commonly called New Vulcan in the rest of the Federation, he enjoyed most of his life there. The weather was almost always hot -- Ha-kel tilted on its axis even less than Vulcan had, so there were pretty much no distinguishable seasons -- but while Jim didn't enjoy heat as much as his Vulcan bondmate did, he found he appreciated it more as he got older. And the heat did make cuddling up with the cooler body of his bondmate more welcome at night.
But he felt more useful than he had since before his retirement from Starfleet. He'd enjoyed his work in theoretical engine design, partly for the puzzle of it and partly because it allowed him to remain near Spock when he was stationed on Romulus, but he had always wanted to spend his life making a difference.
He was certainly making a difference on Ha-kel. There were so many details involved with building a colony, especially after such devastation. And the Vulcans -- they needed the help more than most colonists, who just wanted the challenge of building a new home. The Vulcans had no choice, and they were very aware of it.
Vulcans had always been an industrious people, but before the colonization of Ha-Kel, he had rarely seen them work until they dropped from exhaustion. Now, however, more than once he had shown up for work only to find several of his colleagues had worked through the night. On two separate occasions, one had fainted where he stood when Jim had tried to send him home to rest.
"There is so much to do," they always argued. Jim could not disagree, but he did remind them they did not have to do it all at once. But they did not listen to him, because they just kept up their grueling pace.
He could feel something of the emotional atmosphere around him, legacy of a latent talent activated by his time in the Nexus many years ago. He could feel the Vulcans' determination, but he could also feel their sense of loss, and their constant attempts to numb it.
One consolation was the survival of T'Pau, one of the Elders the younger Spock had rescued. Jim had once called her all of Vulcan in one person, and he was unaccountably glad that she had lived. She was the Eldest Mother of the Vulcan people, the matriarch of the House of Surak, in many ways part of Vulcan's very heart. She certainly represented it, though she would raise an eyebrow at the emotional symbolism. It was a relief for the Vulcan people as a whole that they had not lost her.
However, as much as she was all of Vulcan in one person, that also included Vulcan stubbornness. She had refused to consider that the ways of the Vulcan people might have to change in the wake of the tragedy, as Jim was growing increasingly sure they must.
"It is in the wake of devastation that our ways must most be preserved," she had told Jim when he brought it up to her, just a few months into the colonizing process. "The Vulcan Way must not be lost."
"I agree," Jim said. "But that doesn't mean it shouldn't be adapted. Your people haven't seen this much devastation since before the Reformation, and never on this scale. That has to be taken into account."
"It has been," T'Pau replied implacably. "Thy concern is appreciated, James, but it is unnecessary. The Vulcans will rebuild."
That had been the end of it -- T'Pau had spoken.
Jim was not going to give up, though. The Vulcans were immersed in grief, as much as they tried to bear it. Vulcans learned at a young age learned how to deal with grief, always a powerful emotion, but they had never had to deal with grief like this. There were very few people even from the established colonies who hadn't lost people on the homeworld -- but even for those who hadn't, it was the homeworld. No Vulcan was entirely free from grief, except possibly the Kolinahru Adepts who had completely purged their emotions.
Spock cautioned him to patience, though, as Spock typically did. The Vulcans were a rigid people, Spock reminded him. They could not change so much in the course of a few months, or even a few years.
Jim found himself not entirely satisfied with that, though. The Vulcans had already had their lives changed so drastically that he wasn't sure they were even able to process it yet. Their lives had changed so much -- they would have to change as well, or else risk breaking under the weight of a burden they didn't know how to bear.
"I got a message from Bones today."
Jim stretched his legs, shaking out the pins and needles so familiar to him after time spent meditating. He swung his arms around and rolled his head, then moved from the meditation area to sit on the couch.
McCoy communicated with him sporadically -- and most often, it seemed, when he was exasperated with Jim's younger counterpart. It made Jim laugh. He'd missed McCoy's frequent deprecations of his common sense.
"I assume he was in an entirely jovial mood and wanted to share his peace and positive emotional state with you?" Spock asked, raising an eyebrow as he came out of own his meditation. He also knew the content of most of McCoy's messages. He stood with greater ease than Jim had, and joined him on the couch.
Jim laughed. "Not hardly! He wanted to know if I ended up under his counterpart's care as often as the kid ends up under his."
"Khan," Spock murmured, his sense along the bond darkening. Jim grimaced -- McCoy's message had indeed included ranting about trying to take care of the younger Kirk after his death at Khan's hands and later resurrection, but Jim hadn't been going to mention that name. Apart from Jim not liking to dwell on it himself -- would he never be free of Khan? -- news of the younger Kirk's sacrifice had hit Spock hard.
Jim knew Spock was reminding himself that the younger Kirk was now alive and well and back to bothering Bones, and gave him a moment. Then he wrapped an arm around Spock's shoulders, drawing his head down to rest against Jim's neck. "I'm going to send him a reply telling him to watch out for your younger self, since you were the daredevil on our ship!" Jim teased.
"My decisions were always entirely logical," Spock replied, letting himself slump against Jim’s body, his side of the bond warm and bright again as he responded to his own reassurance and Jim’s distraction. "With my Vulcan physiology--"
"Always superior, of course."
"--I was better equipped to survive situations that would have killed a human. You are aware of this, Jim. And do not pretend to innocence. Or do you intend to inform the doctor as to how often you got into physical fights?"
Jim flapped a hand. "And how often did those land me in Sickbay? Once, twice? But you, Mister--" He grinned, then shifted them both, with Spock’s silent help, until they lay flush against each other on the sofa, legs tangled, Jim propped against the arm with Spock’s head on his chest.
"I hope you do not presume to accuse me of seeking out such things as the creature on Deneva and the flintlock rifle on Neural. Those were pure chance."
"Yes, and the dart-spitting flower on -- what was that planet--"
"Gamma Trianguli VI. And if you'll recall, the plant was aiming for you, and we had already observed it kill one human."
"--And the way you tripped that forcefield!"
"My tricorder gave no indication of its effects until I encountered them myself," Spock replied, very dignified. His eyes were laughing.
"Yes, of course." Jim inclined his head in an exaggerated motion. "But you can't tell me your mind meld with V'Ger was purely logical."
"It was logical, Jim," Spock insisted as Jim laughed. "The Enterprise had been unable to determine its origins or purpose. Attempting to discover these through the use of a meld was logical." He paused. "But it was also perhaps somewhat reckless."
"Well, you survived, so you won't catch me complaining."
At the time, though, Jim had been terrified. To discover Spock had left the ship, alone...to go out in a spacesuit himself to catch an unconscious Vulcan in his arms...to wait while McCoy and Chapel discussed strange brainwave patterns--
But in the end, that experience had led them to their deeper bond. If Spock had never melded with V'Ger, if he had never seen what a consciousness of pure logic was actually like -- would he have ever been willing to accept Jim's love for him, his own love for Jim? As much as Jim hated Spock putting his life in danger, he could only be grateful at the results.
"You are very gracious," Spock replied solemnly. "Your complaints would render the experience unbearable to recall. I could never remember with fondness or even neutrality something my bondmate so vociferously dislikes. I am entirely gratified you will refrain."
"I bet." Jim, reclined on the sofa with his back against the arm, contemplated taking the pillow behind him and hitting Spock with it. He decided against it, mostly because his back would be less than happy to press against the harder arm.
But thoughts of V'Ger inevitably led Jim to Spock's process of accepting his emotions, and his mind caught on his lack of progress with the Vulcan refugees. He sighed. "What are we going to do, Spock?" he asked. "Everyone keeps dismissing me when I try to suggest maybe repression isn't the way to go here. I had to send another person to the hospital after she fainted from exhaustion, and I'm not sure she actually went. I wouldn't be surprised if she just went back to work when I wasn't around."
Now Spock shifted until he could more easily look Jim in the eye, propped up on his elbow. "I could remind you of the rigid nature of my people," he said, "but I believe that is not what you are requesting. Jim, all people grieve in their own ways. It is for us to let them decide how they feel most comfortable doing so."
"But if they're not grieving, Spock? If they're trying to avoid it?"
After Jim's return from the Nexus, he had not wanted to let himself grieve for the life he had lost -- in the Nexus, and his life before the Nexus. He had done the best he could to avoid it. Spock had eventually insisted he face his pain and grief.
And Spock was remembering that now, Jim could tell. Avoiding the pain, suppressing the pain -- never a successful path to actually processing the pain, and being able to move on.
"We are different species, and we handle our emotions differently--" Spock began, but Jim shook his head.
"You can't deal with pain if you pretend it's not there," Jim said. "Human or Vulcan, it doesn't matter. I have read Surak, Spock. He said the same thing. Pretending there is not a le-matya in your house will not make it go away if there is one."
"Perhaps," Spock suggested, "what you see as repression is merely an attempt to keep the pain in private and conduct public affairs normally. My people are inclined to keep much of ourselves private. After all, I do not reveal as much of myself in public as I do when alone with you."
Jim leaned his head back. "Possible," he conceded. After so long with Spock, he understood well the Vulcan impulse toward privacy. "That's just not exactly the feeling I get. The tone is very...tense here, Spock. And it keeps getting tenser. If the Vulcans were healing from what happened with Nero, wouldn't the atmosphere be relaxing? Instead it feels sort of like a spring coiling tighter and tighter."
"And you believe it will snap."
Jim nodded. "I think it has to. The tension has to go somewhere. I don't want the same sort of explosion to occur as with our younger counterparts."
"That should be avoided, yes." Spock returned his head to Jim’s chest, but Jim knew he was thinking about the problem.
Eventually, Spock said, "You do have a greater facility for understanding the emotions of others, particularly since your return from the Nexus and the advent of your latent talent." Spock’s voice lowered and turned soft and fond. "It is also your nature to desire to help. I will not dismiss your concerns, Jim."
"Then you will help me persuade the High Council there is a problem?"
After a beat, Spock nodded against his chest. Jim could feel his agreement, and his commitment of support. He sent his own gratitude in a mental caress.
Jim mentally composed his response to McCoy's message, too relaxed and comfortable to be willing to get up and actually record it yet. Replying could wait a day or so. He still had a message from the younger Spock about two days ago he had not responded to yet, though he intended to within the next few days.
Their communications with the crew of the Enterprise were actually sort of funny. The younger Spock kept up a regular correspondence with Jim, while Jim's alternate self corresponded with Jim's own Spock. Jim didn't have trouble keeping from getting too intimate, at least; he and Spock found themselves acting more parental to the younger pair than anything else. The other Kirk seemed to appreciate having someone who believed in him unconditionally, as his father would have had he lived. The younger Spock, bereft of his human mother, still had someone to ask questions about emotions of, someone who understood and appreciated the Vulcan way but would encourage him to explore the rest of his heritage.
The younger pair's progression on their own relationship was something Jim and Spock mostly had to read between the lines about, since their alternates rarely mentioned each other except in brief asides. They knew the younger pair continued to play chess, and that they had already begun to appreciate the other's strengths as officers and commanders.
That was good enough for the first year, Jim figured and Spock agreed. The rest would come in time.
Hours after their discussion on the tension within the colony, they went to bed without discussing anything of similar import. Jim closed his eyes as Spock spooned behind him, feeling reassured that even if he had to go against the entire High Council, at least he had Spock with him.
Jim wasn't sure what woke him up, apart from the shock. It could have been the cool breeze suddenly rushing across him, or the absence of the bed beneath him and the substitute of hard, dirt-strewn ground. Perhaps it was the lack of Spock's even breathing and the gentle buzz of his sleeping mind; Jim could only feel a fog where Spock should be.
When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was the night sky above him, the stars patterned in configurations no one had yet traced into constellations. He sat up, utterly bemused. He had not gone to bed under the open sky.
He blinked, and blinked again, trying to make himself wake up. Where was Spock? He couldn't feel the bond, but it didn't feel broken. There was no pain in his mind. He just felt...clouded.
He couldn't tell if he was dreaming or not. He'd gotten better at lucid dreaming since his bonding with Spock, who had such control over his own dreams, but when he tried to shift his surroundings back to his house, nothing happened. The breeze continued to chill him, dressed in thin sleep clothes as he was, and the dirt dug uncomfortably into his bare feet and into his ass as he sat.
Jim stood up and brushed himself off, ignoring the prick of sand and tiny rocks beneath his feet, which he couldn't do anything about.
This...was Shi'masu, his new home. Jim recognized the foothills surrounding him, the plain below him. He turned around and in the distance could see the rise of Mount Sreman.
Except the land around him was inexplicably empty of a civilization Jim had seen steadily growing for the past year.
Shi'masu, the first city of Ha-kel, was not a poetic name for the city. Or at least, it was not just a poetic name. Shi'masu was built on the biggest oasis the planetary survey team could find, based right at the edge of the foothills that led up to a greater mountain range. Like Shi'Kahr on Old Vulcan, the closest city to the sacred Mount Seleya, Shi'masu was a mere thousand kilometers or so from the base of the mountain where the old adepts of Gol were building their new retreat, called now Mount Sreman for an ancient Vulcan mountain spirit. There were not very many masters left, since only those masters who had not been at the monastery had survived, and they numbered in the small dozens. There were plenty who had undergone the Kolinahr disciplines and then resumed their lives in society, and many of these survived, but there were few now of what had been Vulcan's most highly respected citizens.
Even a year after the destruction of their home planet, Vulcans continued to arrive on the colony nearly every week. The Vulcanis Lunar Colony had not been affected by Nero's revenge, nor their few other scattered colonies. The surviving Vulcan High Council had issued a request for all Vulcans who felt able to come establish a new Vulcan colony, intended to be the home base of the surviving Vulcan race. Many Vulcans remained on what had been their home, but many also came to Ha-kel, until by the end of the first year Shi'masu held two million Vulcans, half of the surviving population, squashed into communal housing as the needs for food, energy, and defense were prioritized.
It was only in the more recent months that individual projects could be worked on. The elders of the colony had first claim on individual housing, which meant that Jim and Spock could get their first choice of site, on top of one of the smaller foothills just outside the city.
Now Jim stood on the foothill where he had made his home, but the city was gone. The house he shared with Spock was gone. The stretch of isolated buildings spreading out across the desert -- they were gone as well.
He stood alone, surrounded by nothing but bare desert and rock. He could be the only living thing on Ha-kel, apart from the native plants and animals.
But...it was wrong. The universe just didn't feel right. How could he have gotten here?
Bewildered, Jim started walking. He didn't have a communicator handy, so he couldn't check to see if anyone was around. Walking would probably not do any good either, not with the landscape empty and the city on the plain disappeared, but he felt better doing something than just standing around on top of a bare hill.
He picked his way carefully down the hill -- there was no longer any sort of road or path to guide him. He did his best to avoid sharp or big rocks, but the only light came from the stars, not bright enough to prevent him from stubbing his toe twice and accumulating small cuts on his feet and ankles. He ignored them.
He tried hard not to panic, but he couldn't slow the frantic beating of his heart. How could an entire city have disappeared -- everyone except for him? And why couldn't he feel his bond with Spock -- anything about his bond? Even whether Spock was dead or alive? His mind just felt entirely clouded.
He had to be dreaming. It made no sense for a whole city to disappear except for one person, or for his bond with Spock to be randomly blocked.
But he could feel the wind, the dirt beneath his feet, the sting of the cuts on his feet as they bled lightly into the air. How could it be a dream?
Then, between one step and another, he woke up. His eyes were already opened, but felt dry, and he blinked several times. Finally he opened them again to see ceiling above his head. He was reclining on a bed, and there was a pillow beneath him, sheets on top of him, Spock's arm around his waist and the warmth of him steady at Jim's back. Their bond had also returned -- had never left? -- and Spock's sleeping presence murmured strongly in his mind.
He brought his knees up so he could feel his feet, the skin free of cuts. He could remember the sting, very distinctly, but his skin was smooth.
"Jim?" Spock said groggily from behind him. The warmth of Spock's forehead lifted from the back of Jim's neck. "You are agitated. Did you dream?"
Jim only realized his body had tensed when he felt it start to relax at Spock's voice. He consciously told the rest of his muscles to relax as well and stretched out to loosen himself. He shifted around until he faced Spock, needing to actually see him.
"I didn't disappear, right?" he asked, feeling slightly foolish for the question. The experience had been...so vivid. He noticed the thin note of distress in his voice only after he finished speaking.
Spock's eyes sharpened as he woke up further. "In no way," he said. "What did you dream, Jim?"
Jim shook his head, trying to dispel the feelings. His heart was beating just as it had during the dream, though he was certainly awake now. "The world was empty," he said and left it at that. "Don't worry about it. It was just a dream."
Spock felt dubious, but Jim shook his head slightly, trying to put it out of his mind so he could go back to sleep, and Spock didn’t press him. It was only a dream, he told himself again.
No matter what it felt like, it could not have been anything else.