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Public transit in Riverside was nominal at best, but there was one tram line that went where Jim wanted to go. The cars were all empty save for him, and no one boarded when he stepped off onto the small platform. The transit center was a small, gray, flat building with waiting benches, a few displays detailing route times and tram status, and a replicator for water; all told it could accommodate maybe fifty people, and might never have seen twenty at the same time in its existence. (He couldn't remember ever seeing more than fifteen, even when the Enterprise's construction had been well underway.) It sat between several huge, fenced off fields of dark, blue-green grass which were bisected by the sleek road.

He went outside and the stiff wind almost shoved him right back through the door. The tall, unmistakable marker light of a storm shelter stood a little ways to the south of the road, where it had always been. Scattered trees and sandy mounds dotted the landscape, and denser clumps of bushes marked a tributary of the English River where it wound in erratic turns defined and redefined by its summer flooding. The countryside's beauty was intensified by the collection of storms marching along the horizon in every direction: the clouds varied from stark white to a gray so dark it was almost black, and every shade in between, and ranged from towering, energetic supercells to the still majesty of cumulonimbus.

He'd come out here when he was young and the emotional noise in his heart and his head got to be too much. The empty space and solitude let him have it out where no one could bear witness, reducing the collateral damage. It had happened a lot before he moved out, and though it lessened when Frank was no longer an issue, the sheer pressure of existing would sometimes overwhelm him. The storms around him meant this was a bad time to do this, but he couldn't help himself. Like with the car, and joining Starfleet, and the warp core, and one hundred other things from his birth to now, he couldn't not do it: he had to enact change, and this was the only way he knew how to make it happen.

He started out walking, but soon he was running. He fled across the decrepit old footbridge over the river and into one of the fields. These had been farms a hundred years ago or more, but now they were left for the tornadoes to scurry through, tearing everything to pieces as they came and went. He turned east and kept going, parallel to the river. In front of him a storm spun, clouds shredding and turning in waves of white and gray and dark green. He ran until his lungs burned and he had to stop; not nearly as far as he'd once been capable, but better than three months earlier. The wind was blowing so hard it made him sway and pushed the grass down against the ground into a glossy, verdant mat.

He panted, trying to catch his breath. The vise grip on his chest began to loosen and his thoughts disentangled themselves from one another, and he stared around himself at nature's chaos. Sometimes he wondered if this was where he belonged, if maybe this was his real home.

I'm not a person.

He gripped his head. He'd promised McCoy there wouldn't be another next time, and was wondering now if that hadn't been a mistake. How could there not be a next time? Wasn't it his nature to dive headfirst into whatever insane situation grew up in front of him?

When the sirens started to wail, he didn't budge, just let his arms drop to his sides and scanned the horizon until he saw the spot several kilometers distant. The clouds had begun to turn, and a pale gray, finger-like shape that he knew the way mice knew the hawks that prowled the skies was reaching for the ground. It wasn't large as twisters went, but it was fast, striking down and tearing along with enough speed that running from it would only be feasible from his current position. Dirt flew up from its base in broad chunks and trees loosed their limbs when it swept by them. It flattened a small copse and moved on, unconcerned with whatever might have called that place home, and he wished he didn't see so much of himself in its careless savagery.

He realized why he was still standing there, and not getting in the bunker like he should be: he wanted to know, if it came towards him, what he would do. Would he take shelter like he should? Or would he dare the universe once again, this time with no one around to do anything about it if he lost?

For one perfect, aching moment, he thought the tornado's track had turned at him in earnest, and he was going to get his answer. The writhing funnel contorted and loomed in his vision, and he waited, eyes watering and ears aching from the pressure as every muscle in his body trembled, ready to propel him anywhere but where he was.

The moment was over as quick as it had come. The vortex turned further east, growing weaker and spinning apart, dropping debris as it went. He stood there, quaking and feeling on the verge of hysterical laughter, and sucked in a breath. The sirens quieted, and the wind eased off enough that his ears stopped throbbing.

He was some time in getting a handle on the fact that he'd been seriously contemplating a game of chicken with a tornado.

What the fuck is wrong with me?

He collapsed to the ground, sitting heavily and staring around himself at the pummeled grass and wind-ravaged trees. He tried to put together the last few minutes, and all he could think of was McCoy's voice saying, This isn't the kind of thing that heals up overnight.

He hung his head between his knees and took deep sobbing breaths. So many times he'd taken incredible risks and gotten away with it (Blind luck, he heard Pike's voice say, and his throat ached at the memory of that meeting), and the one time he hadn't, Spock and McCoy and Uhura had shown up to yank him back from the brink. And here he was, at it again, like they hadn't just sacrificed a significant portion of themselves to put him back together.

He could be such a selfish asshole.

He scrubbed at his face, willing himself to stop crying, which he managed after a few more attempts. He sat there, exhausted, watching the storm boil about as it tried to decide what should come next. He thought he knew what that felt like more than anyone else on the entire planet.

The sirens jerked him out of his reverie. The storm in front him was still unformed, so he cast about, and when he looked behind himself his heart lodged in his throat. A black and gray wedge tornado was just touching down, not more than five kilometers distant, blotting out almost a fourth of the sky and bringing with it a vanguard of hail.

Adrenaline and instinct had him on his feet and sprinting for the brilliant blue and orange glow of the shelter light before rational thought kicked in. He'd never been so close to a tornado of this size before, and he knew they could, for all their bulk, move at considerable ground speeds. It was too large to really say if it was moving towards him rather than simply in this general direction, but his hind brain was certainly convinced of it, and found plenty of previously untapped resources for his flight. The hail bit into his face, and every inch of exposed skin went numb within seconds.

By the time his hands were on the door to the shelter airlock they were shaking so hard he lost his grip twice before he could depress the heavy handles and slide the door open. He slammed it shut, and the roar of wind and clatter of hail gave way to hushed silence and the whine of the motors driving the locking bolts back into place. The inner door opened with a soft thump.

There was no one else inside, and the motion-sensitive, low-wattage lights flickered to life as he entered, revealing the shelter in phases. A thin layer of dust on the displays set into the textured, bronze-colored, concrete walls suggested the most recent cleaning had been some months prior, but aside from this the small space was well-kept. The floor was also concrete, smooth and lead-colored and promising to be ice-cold to the touch; this was not a shelter intended for long-term occupancy or comfort. A replicator for water and basic food supplies sat opposite the displays, and several dull green storage chests labeled in big, white, block letters with things like BLANKETS, CLOTHING, and FIRST AID crowded the room’s corners. There was also a spindly card table with a set of eight equally frail chairs, a dozen bunks set into the walls, and a stack of fold-up cots.

The air pressure fluctuated and he heard numerous loud booms overhead. When it persisted for more than a minute, he resigned himself to staying put, and picked one of the wall bunks. It smelled old in that way his grandparents' guest rooms always had; a pleasant memory from his early childhood that predated Frank. He settled in and let out a deep breath, surprised to find the mattress was soft and comfortable (though perhaps that was just compared to running for his life from a tornado through hail after having an emotional breakdown).

Exhaustion pulled him to sleep before he could start thinking about why he'd been out in the storm in the first place.



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