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Folded and Unfolding ("REVISED")


--- Present ---

Kirk isn't quite sure how he does it, but he manages to keep Bones from trapping him alone until the Enterprise settles into dry-dock for repairs after the Nero catastrophe.

When McCoy says next to nothing for hours on end while running scan after scan and using far more needles than Kirk feels is necessary, he knows what's coming. He's known it for weeks. Even before the appearance of Nero he knew he'd come to the point where Bones got to say, "I told you so." If the man hadn't become such a damn good friend, he'd hate the cynical bastard.

But Bones doesn't say it. There's not even a hint of triumph when he sets aside the padd with results of the last scan. For a long while he doesn't even look at Kirk, just stares at his hands that are braced against the med cot. Kirk sits silently, gaze also focused on the man's hands. Doctor's hands, a friend's hands. Fingers that have carefully maneuvered through complicated, illegal procedures to ensure Kirk's ability to maintain sight.

Kirk looks away when McCoy straightens and Kirk sees the man's hands tremble minutely. But maybe it's only his failing vision. He hopes so.

"Jim..."

It hurts to hear that amount of regret. Kirk clenches his jaw, forcing himself to bite back on his volatile emotions. Remember, Bones isn't to blame. This wasn't really yours to begin with. This is just sight. An entire species is endangered after the sudden destruction of their planet. This? This is nothing.

"I've looked at it all. Everything I could think of and then some. Shit, I think I slipped a goddamn pregnancy test in the batch." It's a poor attempt at humor and Kirk doesn't have it in him to offer a smile; McCoy's effort is little more than a grimace. "I really thought..." he trails off. Kirk can fill in the blank with plenty of things, but--

"It doesn't really matter." Kirk glances up at the muted screen running the news in the corner of the isolated room. He stares at it, watching the lines blur, the colors gray - then everything abruptly focuses but the color's still faded. He hasn't been able to see the captions clearly enough to read for over a month, now. "You know," he says softly, "the timing's good." He knows Bones must be staring at him in shock. "I mean, this way there's an excuse, um, an explanation. Can't get you in trouble. You noticed something wrong by the mission's end, checked me out."

He stands up, feeling suddenly much, much older. Or maybe young, too young. All he wants to do is crawl underneath warm blankets and sleep. Then he wants to wake up to watch the sun rise. He tries to remember the colorful pattern in the Iowa skies at sunrise. It's hard to recall his home, has been ever since his first year of settling into Starfleet. As much as he rebelled and continues to like disrupting the system, Starfleet quickly became home.

"Damn we were good," he mutters. Sulu and Chekov perfectly synchronized. Uhura assuming her position with such fluidity it seemed like she had always headed communications. Scotty, a man holding promise of a good friendship. Hell, he'd made a good team with Spock. If Kirk could stay. Something in his chest makes it hard to breathe. Bones is suddenly at his side, gripping his shoulder firmly. "Could've been one hell of a ship," Kirk says, exhaustion finally catching up with him.

"Hey, knock it off. I can't deal with a depressed Jim Kirk. I think crashing on a cot tonight's acceptable. Come on, lie down."

Kirk lets his friend guide him. He barely notices when McCoy pulls out a hypospray. When his eyes first close, he's jolted from his lethargic state by a surge of fear.

"You just shut your eyes, Jim. It's alright. We've got some time."

Not much, Kirk thinks. It isn't like Bones to offer pat comfort. Before unconsciousness claims him, he whispers, "James T. Kirk, captain of the Enterprise... Helluva ship."

---

Bones tells him in the morning in no uncertain terms that Kirk isn't to tell anyone about his worsening sight. He doesn't argue, partly because of McCoy's use of intimidation, but mostly because he wants to believe that his friend will find a way to solve it. A medical report is sent in regarding all other injuries and a note that between injuries sustained and currently prescribed medication, Kirk is suffering minor disorientation.

The crew that manned the Enterprise during the Crisis receives all of four days official downtime. Everyone is recalled to active duty as soon as possible as Starfleet tries to reorient itself. The loss of so many ships and lives is still sinking in. The academy is hardly empty, but the crowds are thinned without eighty-seven percent of its senior class. Lost expressions haunt too many faces and for every cadet on academy grounds, there are two Vulcans navigating their way to meetings. Starfleet's San Francisco base currently hosts the majority of Vulcans who have sought temporary respite on Earth.

It chills Kirk to the bone every time he sees a Vulcan face, knowing that he is looking at a survivor who carries a burden he can barely begin to conceptualize. Every stoic face lined with age reminds him of the strange (yet familiar) Vulcan he met on Delta Vega. The younger faces remind him of Spock. He wonders what emotions their expressionless countenances hide. How many others lost parents or lovers or children? In the face of such grief, although few show it beyond their wraithlike slow movements, Kirk recognizes that his vision is a minor thing to lose.

He sees other Enterprise members at various times: running errands for higher-ups, arranging meeting spaces for Vulcan groups, programming computers, and entering endless amounts of information into databases. He's seen Scotty twice in ten days when their paths crossed at Supply. Gaila he spots almost every other day, she's busy with a wide variety of computer programming as well as collaborating with Scotty on ship repairs. Chekov is almost constantly in the main computer labs and though Starfleet still isn't entirely trustworthy of Kirk handling sensitive data, they do acknowledge his skills and often assign him there. Sulu he sees at the occasional meal and the few times he can get down to the gym to work out some tension. Uhura is, predictably, in communications and rarely spares him a glance. Once, however, he catches her by surprise when he formally greets a group of Vulcan elders and initiates a meeting between them and a lower tier of the Academy's administration. Bones monitors him daily and although they technically still share a dorm, the doctor's gone most of the time. Kirk feels a twinge of guilt, knowing that it's for him that Bones is going far beyond overtime.

The only person he doesn't see is Spock. This isn't unexpected, but he is surprised at how acutely he feels the absence. Some casual inquiry to Sulu (who seems to know an awful lot that he probably shouldn't) and utilizing his own computer skills help Kirk figure out what happened to the Vulcan. Spock is technically still active in Starfleet, but all of his attention is on the Vulcan survivors. There is also a document on file concerning Spock's pending resignation. Kirk is awfully tempted to delete it. (Even if he is unable to captain the Enterprise, she damn well deserves the best. He can't think of anyone better than Spock, even if the guy doesn't quite seem to fill the role comfortably.) Leaving Starfleet would be all kinds of wrong.

---

Three weeks after their return, Kirk suffers a panic attack when his vision goes completely gray while showering. He comes back to himself with McCoy covering him with a blanket and cursing under his breath. A medical tricorder whines nearby. Slowly Kirk's vision focuses and he can see more than wavy shapes and muted colors. The expression on McCoy's face is grim and he doesn't bother to mention the readings. Kirk knows in his gut that he'll have to make arrangements, soon. He has to decide how and who to tell.

---

"Just give me a few more days," Bones insists as Kirk dresses. For once he's carefully adjusting the uniform and making sure he looks immaculate. "You don't have to say anything."

"I owe it to him," Kirk says, studiously straightening his cuffs. If he looks at McCoy he knows he'll back out, accept his friend's protection. "Pike asked me in even when I was bleeding, bruised, and drunk. I don't know what the hell possessed him, but he deserves the truth."

McCoy doesn't argue when Kirk turns to go.


Despite being granted medical leave, Pike has started working from his personal office. Kirk had to make an appointment to ensure he'd catch the man without interruption.

"Come in," Pike's voice beckons as the door opens. He turns away from his computer with a smile. "Captain Kirk. Nice to see you, son."

Kirk hates the jolt of longing that runs through him at the title. Well, he'd gotten to be captain longer than his father. I dare you to do better, Pike had said. Kirk hopes he has.

"Admiral," he greets with a smart salute.

Pike waves that away with a chuckle. "Not quite yet. Sit down here. Can I get you something to drink?" Kirk is tempted but more determined to focus on the matter at hand rather than let this drag out. Pike correctly interprets his hesitation. "Guess not. What's bothering you?"

Might as well jump right in. "Sir, I have a confession." Pike looks surprised. "My enrollment into Starfleet was made under false pretenses." Kirk can't meet the man's gaze though he manages to keep his head up. "I have continually falsified my medical records."

"How so, Captain?" The perfectly calm, indifferent tone is unsettling.

"Not really a captain, sir," he murmurs, briefly glancing down at his clasped hands. "Sir, I... I was declared legally blind at age seven. Later I volunteered for an optic-nanotech study."

"I know."

"It was never legalized but---" Pike's response catches up with him and Kirk stops. He's frozen for long moments, trying to comprehend the two simple words. Eventually he meets the man's understanding gaze. "When...? How?"

"Kirk, I knew when I asked you to join up." Pike settles back into his chair with a sigh. "I knew both your parents, though Winona and I only infrequently kept in touch. I, along with quite a few others, wondered why we didn't see an application from you at seventeen. I waited, knowing it really wasn't my business. But, curiosity got the better of me so I contacted an old friend." He offers a slight smile. "Your mother wasn't very happy to talk about family at first. I think she hated that I brought up the past. I didn't know about the procedure until much later when she called me up a few months before I recruited in the Midwest. She didn't know what the hell to do with you. You have a damn sharp mind, Jim, and the determination to carry through. She hated seeing you waste your talents. I was happy to draw you in, but she had to tell me the rest."

Kirk isn't sure he's actually sitting here, hearing this. But this is Admiral Pike, with new scars, grayed hair, and confined to a wheelchair because of spinal damage at Nero's hands. Pike is telling the truth.

"But it was illegal... unreliable! It-it's deteriorating."

This information seems to be news and Pike's expression falls. "I'm sorry to hear that. I admit that I thought no one with an unexplored procedure to completely recreate sight--- Well, I didn't believe there'd be any chance in hell someone could function. But Winona kept talking to me, finally shoving your damn juvvie records and other reports my way. If you could get in that much trouble... I decided to bite the bullet, put out the offer and see what happened. In the end, it was your ass on the line and if you managed to get your way in, who was I to stop you?" He grins, "Hell, son. Captain of the Enterprise! I'm damn jealous."

There's pride in his voice that makes Kirk smile even as his chest aches. "Seems that ship is captainless again, though."

Pike's expression turns grim. "You're having problems? Are they recent?"

"Yeah, but it started before... all the chaos." Kirk slumps into his chair. "My doctor's been looking for answers for weeks. I'm sure it's pointless but he's a cynical bastard. If he might think it's still worth looking..."

"You might have some options," Pike agrees. He turns to his computer, frowning. "This is the Enterprise's new CMO?" He rubs his chin thoughtfully. "I don't know what McCoy's looked at, but have you thought of approaching any of the Vulcan Healers currently here?"

Kirk blinks in surprise. "You think they could do something?"

Pike arches an eyebrow and his smirk indicates he's intentionally mimicking a Vulcan of their mutual acquaintance. "I think it doesn't hurt to ask. If you know how to behave yourself and be polite."

"I know it's hard to imagine, sir." The joking feels more comfortable than he'd expect.

"Let me make some connections and lead you in the right direction, then."

---

Kirk doesn't know how to react when he enters the small library tutoring room and discovers a lone, familiar Vulcan. Spock -- the older, alternate one -- sits at the opposite end of the table with his fingertips touching in a serene pose.

"Welcome, friend."

"I, ah, had no idea I was gonna be seeing you." Kirk hesitantly takes the chair on the Vulcan's right before glancing at the door. "I thought I'd be seeing a couple of Healers?"

Spock inclines his head with a muted smile. Strangely the expression looks "right" on his wizened face, whereas Kirk is sure the present Spock would look almost manic. "I requested some time to meet with you alone."

"Are you also a Healer?" Kirk asks, skeptical.

"No. But I was fortunate enough to hear of your request and... intervened." The admittance makes Kirk grin. In actuality they have little more than a few hours' history together, but he feels completely comfortable in this man's presence and senses a bond, something just out of reach. Or out of phase, he corrects himself. Two universes and all that.

"Okay, you got me. What did you want to talk about?"

Spock's eyebrows arch. "I presumed you'd have questions of your own."

It's true, Kirk admits. On the other hand, it's nearly a month after their first meeting and that overwhelming mind-meld. "In the scheme of things, what can I really ask you?" He offers the Vulcan a lopsided smile. "Trust me, that stuff I saw? Fascinating. And god knows I'd ask you to unravel the mystery of 'my' Spock. Like, how the hell are you this different and yet so damn similar?" He laughs a little at the unimportant questions that fill his mind. Spock merely looks intrigued, and perhaps a little impressed.

"It's stuff that's... not 'appropriate,' I guess. Things that'll screw up my opinion or something," Kirk says.

"Or something?" the Vulcan inquires, and Kirk knows the Vulcan picked up on the wistful tone. He might become biased, it's true, but the more important reason why Kirk doesn't want to see more visions is that he'd be seeing all the things he'll likely never have.

Kirk looks down at his lap where his fingers have clenched together, a common habit for him these days. "Did your... um, me. Did I ever have problems with my vision?" He sees Spock shake his head. "I do," he admits quietly. Somehow this is harder to say to the Vulcan than to Pike, to whom he'd felt a sense of duty. "My eyes... I had this procedure. Illegal. Still unstable, though I had mine done about ten years ago."

"And you are losing your vision?"

Kirk closes his eyes and feels the irrational rise of panic such an action has led to recently. "Yes, and no. Legally I've been blind since I was a kid. The records are just, um, missing." He opens his eyes and is relieved that everything appears in order. "Pike knew, said my mom told him. He still got me in," he says, still amazed by this revelation.

"Jim," Spock's hand rests close to his but doesn't touch. The aged face shows concern and compassion. "I am unsure of the capabilities available in this time. I promise you that I will endeavor to find a solution."

"Just don't promise me the Enterprise," Kirk says with a forced smile. "My heart might just break when I lose her." He intended it as a joke but he recognizes the sharp pang of loss in acknowledging this aloud, and it's about more than just the ship.

Spock's hand covers his and he's flooded with calm and understanding. Kirk lets himself sink into the comforting flow, deciding he can wonder about the Vulcan's methods and motives later. Right now he feels the most relaxed he's been since... perhaps before that last Kobayashi Maru test. Amusement not his own washes over him and he's surprised by (Spock's) memory---

A delighted young cadet Kirk grinning in amusement at the Vulcan's inability to get the cadet to admit he cheated. That Kirk received commendations for creative thinking, that Spock is perturbed but intrigued. There is no academic board hearing.

---

A comforting presence guides him through a sea of stars filled with images and scenes that are already slipping through his fingers. He isn't aware of time passing until that comfort slowly recedes and his vision clears. Kirk blinks slowly, reorienting himself in the present. There are two new Vulcans in the room, a female and a male. They stand in silence but when Kirk glances over at Spock he realizes there's a muted sense of tension, only he can't tell if it's discomfort, embarrassment, or disapproval.

Spock stands and steps away. The Healers smoothly take the empty seats, and Kirk admittedly feels a little trapped. Some of Spock's presence, a reassuring warmth, stays with him and eases much of his nervousness.

"James Kirk. You are the current captain of the USS Enterprise?" the female healer across from him intones.

"Yes, though it's not quite official."

"I am Healer Tol'Sha. My colleague is Healer Vasik."

Vasik studies Kirk with a surprisingly frank stare. "You are acquainted with Traveler Kirak."

Traveler Kirak? he wonders. Spock shifts into view and he understands. Oh, so at least a few others know of his situation. It also makes sense to take on an alias. "Yeah, met in a kinda weird situation."

"Indeed."

Tol'Sha turns to her male companion and as they face each other in silence it occurs to Kirk that they must be speaking telepathically. It's rare for Vulcans to do, as far as he knows, but then again he knows nothing of special positions or what exactly "Healer" status entails.

Usually he'd have more trouble waiting patiently, but he focuses on the flicker of Spock's essence that's still with him. He's amazed at the amount of comfort he's drawing from it. Even when his vision grays and begins to unfocus, his panic is tempered by the reassuring presence.

"You are experiencing distortion," Tol'Sha observes.

Reminding himself to be considerate, Kirk swallows back his impulsive sarcastic reply. He nods sharply. The Vulcan in front of him has become severely blurred in his vision.

"With your permission, I will initiate a meld to evaluate the condition," Vasik says.

Kirk has to reign in his fear when he realizes that his peripheral vision is clouded to the point that he can't see the Healer at his side.

"Alright." He sits rigidly, fingernails digging into his thighs as he represses the urge to push away from the table and retreat. He hears the rustle of fabric and the change of air as the Healer moves behind him. He keeps his stare level, even though Tol'Sha has become nothing more than a layered image of skewed shades of grey.

"I only seek information pertinent to your impaired sight. Relaxation will aid in a complete and swift evaluation," Vasik advises. Kirk's skin tingles and he knows that the Vulcan's hands hover near his face. "Our minds--one and together."

The abstract vision of the room disappears. Kirk's sense of body is absent as he flows through memories and sensations he can only vaguely associate with himself. The Healer's mind is a cool ribbon winding delicately through his thoughts. It's different than his contact with Spock. Even now he can sense Spock nearby, yet the Vulcan's presence isn't the only one.

Kirk finds himself drawn to an intangible glow. Within its essence he can see a dozen gleaming threads, similar to the Healer's ribbon. The threads seem familiar and warm to his mental touch when he seeks them out. As he focuses on one in particular he's reminded of Uhura's light perfume and sharp gaze. Another thread triggers a recent memory of Bones' poorly-hidden exhaustion.

What is this? he wonders.

Abruptly he's yanked away from the shelter of the gentle glow and there's only pain. His mind is full of violent flashes of color and lines, a sort of all-consuming static that drags him back to corporeal form. Every sensation is rushing to his eye sockets and the only reason he doesn't scream is because he can't breathe. He can't sense the Healer anymore, or those threads that seem to connect him to others, and even Spock has faded.

---

Kirk thinks he's dreaming, thrown back into a nightmare of pain and sightlessness. He's a child again, convinced his eyes are gone because that has to be the reason he can't see anything.

Something isn't right with this replay. The panic is lessened with time's distance and there are voices speaking nearby, one of which is unbelievably calm. Kirk processes these facts and realizes that he is awake, lying on his back on the familiar texture of a medical cot. He can't tell if his eyes are open, so he concentrates on blinking. All remains dark.

It's not exactly the lack of vision that sends a jolt of panic through him. His immediate worry concerns where he is and who has seen him -- who knows.

"Jim!" Bones' voice is a godsend. Kirk can sense when the man moves closer and hears the beeps of a medical tricorder. "Scared me half to death having Ghost of Christmas Future summon me. You're telling me what the hell that's all about, soon."

Kirk lets the doctor finish before speaking. "Bones, where am I?" he asks quietly. If he could better guess where his friend is standing he'd reach out to grip his hand. Kirk's long been a physical contact type of person, but he hasn't ever felt quite this needy.

"They kept you in the Vulcan sector, don't worry, kid." Bones' voice is calm, though Kirk can hear the effort it takes.

A weathered hand covers Kirk's on the opposite side of the bed. He doesn't startle, sensing before the touch that Ambassador Spock, Kirak, is there. He turns his head automatically. "What happened?"

"Unfortunately it appears that the deterioration process was adversely affected by the meld."

Bones grumbles something under his breath but Kirk has the sense that the Vulcan understands it. The hand on his squeezes momentarily.

"Captain Kirk, I apologize for this development;" the voice is that of the Healer's who had initiated the meld. Kirk barely has the time to think about sitting up before Spock comes to his aid, hand moving to his elbow. It's strange to realize the ambassador is somehow reading him perfectly. "It is unprecedented for a Healing evaluation to cause damage. I am unfortunately not yet clear as to the cause."

"It would happen soon, anyway," Kirk answers. He congratulates himself on maintaining a neutral tone. "I appreciate that you didn't send me straight to Starfleet. I haven't yet... uh, my condition isn't fully reported."

For long moments there is no conversation. There's tension in the air, reminiscent of what he sensed when the Healers first arrived in the afternoon.

"It was on the advice of the Traveler that we sent for your doctor discreetly," Vasik eventually says.

Spock maintains their connection with only the very tips of his fingers resting against Kirk's wrist. The Vulcan doesn't let any emotion project, but Kirk realizes now that there is a problem regarding their contact. He just isn't sure whether it's about a Vulcan-Human thing or a time-traveler thing. (Although the formal title suggests that there is a certain amount of respect and status being afforded this Spock.)

"Do you have any ideas what I... I mean, is there something that can be done?" Kirk swallows against the twinned pair of nervousness and hope.

"I have been speaking with Dr. McCoy about options. I believe there are a few possibilities to consider. There are further examinations to be done in order to decide the best course of action in ridding your body of the nanites employed in your previous procedure." The distaste in Vasik's voice is surprisingly clear. Kirk wonders if Bones hears it, too. "Your options to restore sight will depend on the damage they have left behind."

Kirk turns his head to address his best friend. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"Means if this was a kidney, you'd need a transplant," McCoy informs him grimly. "Except I haven't come across any successful cases for eyes in any Earth-kept records."

"Then what?" Kirk asks, focusing back on the Healer. A cold fear settles in his gut at the idea of this being it; the nanites might have done too much damage and there won't be another option.

"Your concerns are noted. However, Doctor, I believe you will find it beneficial to examine records from the Interspecies Medical Exchange."

"After those nanites are out and we decide what the hell to tell Starfleet."

"That is your concern," Vasik defers. "We shall assist, of course, with the facilities here lent to us." Kirk thinks there might be the edge of irony in that statement, but he may be projecting.

"Thanks," Kirk says, certain that he can hear Bones grinding his teeth in irritation. "We'll figure out our report first, I suppose."

"We shall be nearby," the Healer says.

Spock's hand lands on Kirk's shoulder for a moment before he withdraws with Vasik. The door hisses shut and not a moment later Bones grips his arm and demands, "What the hell is going on? That guy's a dead-ringer for Spock. Aged a good century, but even so..."

Kirk leans back with a small grin. "Alternate timeline theory, remember?" He can feel his friend's glare. "So, that's the other Spock. Like alternate future, came from Nero's time." Oh, shit, should he be saying anything about this? Scotty already knows, and really the ambassador had only warned about not letting this timeline's Spock know...

"Um, Bones, can you not tell anyone about this? There's this whole paradox, possible universe-ending thing that might crop up..."

"I'm sorry I even asked," the doctor grumbles. "You're crazy, that plan you and Spock cooked up was crazy, and I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what the hell is going on with you and this guy. Jesus, Jim, that Healer was doing the understated Vulcan version of a death glare, watching him touch you--- He was touching you!"

Kirk shifts uncomfortably. It's true that Vulcans rarely touch each other or other species. He hadn't thought about what he was doing when he'd slapped (the younger) Spock's shoulder on the bridge. At the time he'd recently had contact with the ambassador and a sense of camaraderie from that other timeline strongly lingered. It seems natural to have physical contact and it's strangely satisfying to accept the touches. If Kirk focuses, he knows intuitively that (the alternate) Spock is grateful for it.

"I don't have answers for you," Kirk says, trying to shrug Bones off this thread of conversation. The more time Kirk spends considering the unmistakable bond between himself and the ambassador, the more he finds himself desiring to seek out "his" Spock.

Bones sighs, a noise that lets Kirk know just how much his friend's been holding back. There's frustration, affection, exhaustion and a whole heap of other emotions in the sound. Kirk controls the urge to wince as guilt strikes him.

"Okay, kid. We've already informed Starfleet about lingering effects. I can maybe hype up the sudden sight loss with something related to any number of the stunts you pulled during the crisis."

Kirk thinks quickly and is a little surprised what occurs to him.

"Pull Scotty in on this." He feels McCoy's skeptical stare. "Get him to come see me. I think we might be able to pass something with how we pulled that transporter trick."

McCoy considers this, one finger absently tapping Kirk's arm, which he still has in his grip. "Plausible," he finally deems. "You trust him with keeping his mouth shut? He's going to know something's off."

With a grin, Kirk points out, "He kinda already knows about future Spock. Old Spock. Kirak. Whatever. And he's not terribly fond of Command for leaving him out on Delta Vega for so long. Plus he can help you figure out a workable story for some technical-based interference in fucking up my vision and you'll get to bitch about the dangers of transporters."

"If we both make it back to the Enterprise, you are never asking me to beam down, understand?" McCoy growls. Kirk chuckles, knowing that's as close to agreement as he'll get for now.

"Thanks, Bones."

---

TBC...