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The stars on Tarsus IV were so different to Jim. He didn’t know their names, their constellations, their stories—yet he looked to them every night, swallowing what little comfort they could give him as they twinkled in a night sky that was becoming too familiar to Jim.

He breathed in the air as a breeze softly shook the leaves above his head. It still smelled rotten; still smelled like death.

“Jim?”

Jim blinked slowly, looking away from the stars to the source of the shaky voice.

“Hey, Kev,” Jim kept his voice soft and low. You never knew when someone could be watching, waiting just beyond your sight. “What’s up?”

Jim lifted his hand and held up the ratted blanket so Kevin could snuggle up next to him against the old wooden hut.

“I can’t sleep.” Kevin whispered. “It—It hurts to much.”

“You didn’t eat again, did you?” Jim’s voice was harsh. Kevin winced, and Jim let his face fall and he rubbed his hand up and down Kevin’s arm to give him comfort and keep him warm. “Kevin—“

“Anna needed it more than I did.” Kevin looked at Jim with wide eyes. Jim felt his face soften, and he dropped his head to press his lips to the top of the boy’s head.

Anna was sick. Too sick. Jim knew she wasn’t going to make it; as much as it tore his heart in half he just knew the six year old was going to die soon. All he could do now was make her as comfortable as he could and whisper soft words of comfort to her as the fever slowly drained her away from him.

“You’re too good for this place, Kevin.” Jim whispered it, pressing the softest of kisses to Kevin’s forehead.

Kevin was silent for a while. He squirmed closer to Jim, dropping his head on Jim’s shoulder as the night life of Tarsus IV chirped and fluttered around them.

“She’s going to die, isn’t she?”

Jim’s breath hitched. He looked down to Kevin, who was staring up at the stars. He wasn’t even ten yet, and he had already learned what death looked like, the signs that came when death was close--he shouldn’t have to know, shouldn’t have to see it.

“I tried--” Jim’s voice cracked.

Kevin looked at Jim with broken eyes that reflected strange stars. Jim swallowed, opening his mouth to say anything that could bring some comfort, but before he could say anything another one of the kids came running out of the hut with heavy breaths and wild eyes.

“Anna--she--”

Jim stood up fast enough that joints and bones snapped and cracked, but he ignored the sharp pain as he ran inside. Anna was on the floor by the fireplace, swaddled in most every blanket there and shaking bad enough that the heap of blankets were moving with her. Marie was with her, running her fingers though Anna’s mop of curly hair and singing something soft.

Jim fell to his knees hard enough for pain to shoot up this legs. He ignored that too, gently scooping Anna into his arms. He held her close even as she squirmed closer to Jim, desperately seeking out heat and contact even as she slept.

“How’s she doing?”

Marie stopped her singing. It was in a language Jim didn’t know--Spanish, Marie had told him one night when everything was still okay. When they could still be kids and could still sit outside at night, laughing and talking and looking at the stars.

“I don’t think she’ll make it through the night.” Marie swallowed back something wet and hoarse. “Not without medicine.”

“Jim?” Kevin’s voice was shaking.

Jim swallowed, pulling Anna just a little bit closer. “I’m going to fix this.”

“Jim, you’ve done everything you could--” Marie put a hand on his shoulder, but Jim shook it off as he gently set Anna back on the little nest they had made her. “Jim, please, don’t--”

“I’ll be back.” Jim ran his fingers through Anna’s hair a few more times before he stood.

Marie stood with him, grabbing his arm and holding tight. “You said you wouldn’t do this again.”

Her voice was quiet, meant only for Jim.

“I have to.” Jim’s voice cracked. He cleared his throat and swallowed, lifting a hand to place on Marie’s wrist. “I can’t let her die.”

“Then let me go--”

“No--no, they need you--”

“They need you too, Jim.” Marie lifted her other hand, gently placing it on Jim’s cheek. Her thumb swiped across the dark circles under his eyes and across his freckles, and Jim leaned into the touch, almost hating how much he wanted to go boneless and just let Marie hold him. “Please don’t do this to yourself--not again.”

Jim swallowed, closing his eyes. He took a deep breath, moving his hand till he was holding the one on his arm. Then he opened his eyes, giving Marie a soft smile as he gently lifted her hand from his arm. “I’ll be okay.”

“Jim--!”

He dashed out of the hut before Marie could stop him.

He kept running until he couldn’t hear Marie calling his name anymore, till he was far away from the hut and on the edge of the city, and he fell against a tree as he brought a hand up to his chest. He couldn’t breath, and as he took in short and panicked breaths he could hear Spock telling him you’ve left your chest binder on for too long, ashayam, imagine Spock trailing his fingers along Jim’s side, hooking them under the fabric and tugging it off as he pressed soft kisses to Jim’s chest.

He could remember it. It was the first day of the summer they were 15--two summers before Jim left for Tarsus IV and whispered three words in the early morning light, and the summer after they kissed over and over in the loft of the barn as the stars twinkled and the crickets and cicadas woke up. It was their fifteenth summer and they had been in the barn loft, kissing and laughing and crying and whispering promises and truths against bare skin.

Spock had held him close in the loft--it had been their loft, really. Winona was never home, and Frank never went into the barn unless he absolutely had to. So Jim had moved blankets and fairy lights and books and trinkets into the loft and during the first day of their fifteenth summer Spock had held him close and whispered over and over you’re beautiful, Jim. I will always find you beautiful.

Jim gasped, sliding to the forest floor. He dug his fingers in his hair and hung his head between his legs, his mouth opened wide as he heaved air into his lungs.

He missed Spock. He missed him so goddamn much.

“Well, look who came back.”

Jim looked up. He knew the guards face, but not his name. He made a point not to know their names. He couldn’t stand to know them.

“What is it you need this time?” The man stepped closer to him. Leaves crunched under his boots, and he knelt down next to Jim with a frighteningly sharp smile on his face. “Hmm, pretty boy? Food? Clothes?”

Jim swallowed. “Medicine. I—I need medicine.”

The man looked Jim up and down, his tongue darting out to lick his lips. Jim willed himself not to flinch back, and he swallowed again before taking as deep of a breath as he could. His chest ached, and he dropped a hand to lay it on his chest, digging his fingers into his skin, trying to fight the pain with pain.

“You suck my cock as good as you used to, I’ll get you anything you need, pretty boy.” he reached out a hand, pressing his fingers under Jim’s chin and lifting up his head till Jim was looking at his eyes.

Jim looked away, swallowing down spit and guilt and he closed off the faint threads of his bond.

Then he pushed himself up to his knees, closing his eyes as the guard hummed and pressed a wet tobacco stained kiss to his lips.

 

--

 

Jim couldn’t remember a time where he didn’t have Spock in his life.

They had met each other when they were both infants, when Amanda and Sarek were visiting Winona.

She and Amanda had been roommates during their academy years and had become and stayed fast friends. Amanda had been one of the first to know about George’s death, and after months of arguing with the Vulcan council she and Sarek had finally managed to push all their appointments and councils and meetings aside to visit Winona and offer comfort for the still grieving widow.

Winona and Amanda always told the same story from there.

“Is Sarek not with you?” Winona’s words sounded wet, and Amanda felt her heart clench.

“Someone needed him for something, I didn’t bother to see who.” Amanda gave a soft smile, adjusting Spock so she could give the Vulcan greeting she had grown so used to doing and offer Winona a one armed hug. “He won’t be too far behind me.”

Winona fell into Amanda’s hug, giving a tight squeeze before pulling back.

“I don’t think you’ve met Spock yet.” Amanda pressed a soft kiss to the top of Spock’s head, letting Winona gently take him.

Winona smiled as she held Spock, sniffing and giving a small laugh as Spock reached up to pat her cheek. “He’s got the pointed ears.”

Amanda hummed. “Yes, but he’s got my eyes.”

It was right about then that Spock decided it was the perfect time to start wailing.

Amanda was quick to hush him and take him back from Winona, rocking him gently and singing a soft lullaby in Vulcan until he quieted down. He was still whimpering, and Amanda pressed another kiss to his temple.

“He hasn’t had time to take a nap yet.” Amanda gave Winona an apologetic smile. “And I think he was a little scared by all the people on the train.”

“Oh, that’s alright.” Winona turned, leading Amanda out of the entryway and into the living room. “I just put Jimmy down for a nap. They can share the crib.”

Amanda gave thanks and Winona led her back to the nursery, and Winona kept telling her over and over it’s alright Amanda, really. They padded softly down the hall, and Winona slowly cracked open the door. The lights were off in the room, and both women crept towards the crib as quietly as they could.

Winona always told Jim that he had woken up as soon as they reached the crib.

I thought you were gonna start crying Winona would always say as she laughed as she told this part, and Jim would flail and huff while Spock would place a hand on his shoulder. Instead you just stared at Spock with the widest eyes I’ve ever seen.

“Hey, Jimmy.” Winona’s voice was soft. “Do you mind sharing your bed for a bit?”

Jim gurgled happily, kicking his feet—and consequently the blanket—looking at Spock with wide eyes and a gummy smile. Spock himself had squirmed until Amanda set him down, and both Winona and Amanda watched in amazement as Jim and Spock curled up and lay over each other.

Jim grabbed his blanket and threw it over the two of them and Spock dug his fingers in Jim’s onesie. They wiggled closer to each other before they both fell asleep, and Winona gaped and blinked while Amanda took her padd and snapped a picture to send to Serak.

Jim and Spock had been inseparable ever since then.

 

--

 

Jim stumbled through the woods, clutching a glass bottle full of a clear liquid in his hand.

He was sweating and shaking, and he threw his hand against rough bark as he gagged and dry heaved and tried to expel whatever was in his stomach. There was nothing for him to heave up, but once Jim started he couldn’t stop until something came out.

Jim looked away from the spattering of red and white on the leaves, swallowing down the taste of copper and salt.

“Jim?”

Jim looked up. Marie was standing on the edge of the forest line, her hands covered in dirt and tear tracks staining her cheeks.

“Marie--”

“She didn’t make it, Jim.” Marie choked, her hands flying to cover her mouth. She let a sob rip from her throat, and Jim dropped the bottle as he stumbled over to Marie. He gathered her up in his arms, and the fell to the forest floor in a heap of limbs and tears.

“How--how long--?”

“Just a few minutes ago.” Marie’s body shook as she took a breath. “I took her before any of the others could--”

Marie gave another choked sob.

“It’s okay, Marie, I—“ Jim looked back at the bottle he had dropped. The glass gleamed in the moonlight, and Jim bit his lip and swallowed and tried not to cry and scream. “Did—did you bury her?”

Marie shook her head. “I was still digging the hole.”

“We should probably finish.” Jim was trying so hard not to cry. “Before the—before the animals get to—“

Marie started sobbing harder.

Jim pulled her closer, and she dug her head in the crook of his neck and dug her fingers into his shoulders. Jim lifted a hand to run over her hair, letting her break down as gracefully as she could.

This was the first time she had lost someone to this stupid planet. She hadn’t seen the massacre, hadn’t been on the wrong side of that yellow line, hadn’t seen death the same way Jim had, hadn’t seen the way it took everything from you until you had nothing let to give.

Jim almost hated her for it.

Marie sniffed, lifting her head. “She--she asked for you, before she--”

She broke off again, and Jim looked at her with wide eyes. He swallowed and felt something wet slide down his cheek, and all Jim could do was stare at her as he cried.

He didn’t know how long they sat there, but when Marie finally stirred Jim’s joints were stiff.

“We need to bury her, Marie.” Jim let his arms fall away from Marie. “Before anything happens to the body.”

Marie nodded. She untangled herself from Jim, holding out a hand to help him up. He took her hand and hoisted himself up, the dirt on her hands feeling gritty and cold against his. He let go of her hand quickly, tucking it behind his back and trying to ignore how wrong it felt.

They walked a little further into the woods, stopping by the bottle Jim had dropped.

“Someone else might need it.” Marie mumbled.

Jim leaned down to scoop it up, stowing it in his pants pocket.

They walked a little further, where the moonlight couldn’t reach through the trees and the stars couldn’t be seen. Jim looked at the leaves for a moment, then to the shallow hole and the frail blanket covered body. He wished that he could give her the comfort of the stars--Anna had always told Jim she wanted to be a Starfleet officer when she grew up--but there wasn’t anywhere else to bury her.

“Why don’t you go back to the hut?” Jim turned to look at Marie. “I can finish.”

“Yeah, but--”

“They’re going to ask where she went.” Jim cut her off. “And Kevin is probably--”

Jim had no doubt that Kevin saw. He had always been scared to sleep when someone got sick, afraid that they would die because he had been asleep and couldn’t help them.

Marie was crying again. She bit her lip and swallowed, then nodded before starting a slow walk back to the hut. Jim watched her go until he couldn’t see her anymore, then he knelt down, digging his hands in the dirt and scooping out handfuls.

This was not the first time he had done this, yet he always hoped that it would be the last.