I knew each nick and scratch by heart,
the bluish blade, the broken tip,
the lines of wood-grain on the handle...
- Elizabeth Bishop, "Crusoe in England"
From the mouth of the cave, he watches his planet collapse on itself in a rage of whirling debris and cloud. There is nothing to be done. Spock stands there in the ice and cold, wind whipping at his skin, until survival kicks in, and he turns toward the interior of the cave. He's not ready to head for the Starfleet base, though he knows he must, unless he wants to die.
At first, he sits on the ice, wanting to be one with the rock and the frozen landscape. The thought stays with him for a moment, though it is not in his nature to seek an end to life. Instead, he forces himself up, and lights a fire with the small survival kit Nero has sent with him. Nero did not want him to die before Vulcan did.
He is almost relieved when he hears a loud roar and the panicked sounds of a man running, fighting for his life. It is instinct to come to the man's aid -- Spock has spent his life saving people from death. As he chases away the beast, his blood rushes with nothing more than adrenaline, nothing more than the primitive emotional spike of defending the cave against intrusion, but when he turns and sees the man sprawled on the snow-dusted rocks, his heart races for an entirely different reason.
At first, he thinks perhaps he's imagining things, but he knows that face. Knows it better than any face he's ever known in his life. Better than his mother's or his father's, or maybe even his own. He can recognize a fake, as he has many times in mirror universes. He is impossible to deceive on this matter.
"James T. Kirk," he says, convinced that it must be true. The universe is capable of many miracles and many tragedies, sometimes both at once.
"Excuse me?" the young Jim says, still cast out over the ground, catching his breath.
Spock feels a pinch in his heart. This Jim doesn't know him. Doesn't remember. Or maybe, Spock realizes, simply doesn't recognize him in his old age. They have spent a lifetime together, what seems like more than a lifetime, and yet, here they are, strangers.
"How did you find me?" Spock asks. It's one of the mysteries of the universe, how he and Jim have always found each other, even when there were no clues, and no trail. It's as if they each have a homing device buried deep inside them, broadcasting a signal only the other can receive.
Spock steps forward. He wants to touch. To feel Jim's heart beating underneath his hand. To kiss the mouth that belonged only to him for so many years. Jim inches away, not frightened, only wary.
"How do you know my name?" Jim says, scrambling to his feet.
How could I not know?, Spock thinks. You are a part of me.
Later, when he places his fingers on Jim's face, feels the skin and the bones and the energy he could never mistake for anyone else, he is so overcome with emotion that he almost backs away. It's too much to touch and not be welcomed the way he had always been. Jim surprises him, though, by opening up, as if sensing what Spock is feeling.
"Our minds, one and together," Spock says, as it has been, and always shall be. Their eyes meet for a split second before the meld begins. And then they pour into one another with no secrets.
Spock tries to remain focussed, tries to convey the information Jim needs to return to the Enterprise and save Earth from destruction, but his barriers are weak from seeing his planet destroyed, and from touching the man he has lost too many times. He can feel his thoughts, even the memories he intended to sequester, rushing headlong through the connection between them. Their first missions together before each knew who the other was, disobeying orders to hurtle across the galaxy to find Jim when he was lost, fighting to the death on Vulcan, Jim coming to Spock's quarters not long after that, taking Spock's hand and lifting it to his face because Jim did not know how to speak what was in his heart. That was the first time they had melded, and Spock had seen how his desire was returned. Their lips met halfway, as if they knew what the other wanted. First kiss. First touch. First night awake, watching Jim breathe, staring at his naked body as he slept. First death. First loss. And there were many after that.
They break apart.
Jim staggers backward, tears in his eyes. He lifts a hand to his mouth, which is wet and open. Spock touches his own mouth. They kissed. They were kissing. Spock's mouth remembers.
"Forgive me. Emotional transference is an effect of the mind meld."
Jim shows no disgust or anger, only shock and sadness, Spock's own emotions, dumped so unceremoniously into Jim's unsuspecting mind. "So you do feel," Jim says, as if that is the most important truth he learned during the meld.
Jim steps away, his back to Spock. He catches his breath, then glances over his shoulder, his eyes still shining with tears. He surprises Spock again by turning around and closing the distance between them. Before Spock can blink, the familiar mouth is on his again, warm and fluid. Dexterous. A hand on his jaw. Jim's tongue touching him where he hasn't been touched in years. Spock responds, his hand slipping on the fabric of Jim's bulky coat as he tries to pull him closer. Spock forgets his age. Forgets he's an old man. Because his body feels young again. Feels the way it did when he first kissed Jim, so many years ago, when they were the same age, the world fresh and new and unexplored, with everything waiting to happen to them, and they were waiting to happen to everything.
When Jim releases him this time, the movement is slow and considering. Blue eyes wide and watching. They look surprised still, as if they haven't processed the revelations of the last few minutes. "No one's ever felt that way about me before," Jim says, as if that explains everything.
"We must go," Spock states, barely able to think, but mindful of the fact that time is of the essence. Their lives have always been this way, with moments of tenderness stolen from the will of the universe.
"I know," Jim replies in a quiet voice. He offers Spock a small smile.
They both turn at the same instant, of one mind as they head out of the cave to who knows what beyond the Starfleet base. When Jim is by his side, Spock doesn't really care. As long as they're going. As long as they're together.
On Earth, Jim finds him just as he is preparing to board a shuttle that will take him, along with the other Vulcans, to a transport ship headed for the new colony. Spock has been avoiding seeing him. He doesn't know if he will be able to bear it. For a long moment, Jim just looks at him, his arms folded across his chest.
"You weren't going to say goodbye?" Jim finally asks.
Spock steps nearer so that no one will hear their words. "I have said it many times. Far too many for my liking." Jim is about to veer away from Spock, for a new life unfurling without him. Spock doesn't belong here, on this path. He has a younger self who must fulfill that destiny.
Jim looks oddly like he might cry. "One more time," he whispers, almost pleading. He gently touches Spock's hand, then leans in to kiss him, almost chaste.
Spock's planet implodes within him once more, worlds folding down into a maelstrom of gas and dust and lost life. He has had his chance. He has had this life. It is time to start something new, he reminds himself, gaining control of his emotions.
"I don't think the other you would let me do that," Jim says, pulling away, studying Spock's face.
Spock nods. "He will. He will not be able to stop himself."
He lifts his hand, and parts the fingers in farewell.