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"Chimborazo, Cotopaxi had taken my speech away"

Chapter Text

Act 1.

It was burning season on Tarsus IV. 

notants art "It's burning season on Tarsus IV"

The sky was bright white and the sun was pale behind the smoke that rose from the fields. Farmers with respirators and goggles looped around their faces wearing heavy outer shirts and thick gloves carefully monitored the process, poking the pile-fires with staves and occasionally making sections hiss and steam with quenching fluid.

“It’s to get rid of the crop stubble,” Sam had explained when Jim had asked what the burning was all about. “And the fires break down the slash, which helps replenish the nutrients in the soil.”

“Isn’t all the smoke bad for the environment?” Jim had asked, but Sam had only shrugged sagely and looked off into the distance. Older brothers were annoying like that.

Wrinkling his nose, Jim walked quickly down one of the paths between fields under the light rain of ash, waving back whenever a farmer recognized him. 

Burning plant detritus smelled sharp and strong, and Jim’s eyes watered from the smoke. He wasn't even supposed to be out here. He’d had class this morning with the rest of the farm kids and he wasn’t needed in the fields this afternoon. He'd been looking forward to the time off before the hectic schedule that planting would entail, and had made some vague plans to read or go exploring.

But of course a girl had given him a message and a paper bag full of something that smelled like cookies for Sam (girls were always giving him things for Sam) and Jim had been sent into the fields to look for his brother with the promise of eternal gratitude.

Jim was beginning to think he should have sued for something more substantial though. Sam was nowhere to be found and Jim was going to be late for dinner if he didn't hurry.

Walking fast, he was almost to the Hall—the big central building where everyone ate—when he heard it. Raised, agitated voices a little to his left and invisible behind the hazy air and the long corner of the Hall.

You’ll miss dinner, a voice in his head cautioned. But caution was a voice Jim didn't have much practice listening to so he ignored the rumble in his stomach and headed around the corner to investigate.

Officer Hansen—one of Kodos’ uniformed guards—was speaking loudly, almost yelling, at a boy Jim’d never seen before, about Jim’s age probably, dark haired and dressed in some kind of long robe. A monk maybe?

Hansen was gesticulating, a hand on her phaser, but the boy wasn't backing away. He was almost expressionless actually, Jim noticed when he got a closer look, mouth closed but confusion obvious—to Jim at least—in the wrinkle between his weirdly pointed eyebrows.

“What’s going on here?” Jim asked, keeping his body language unthreatening, hoping to diffuse the situation. He knew Hansen after all, even if it was because he’d been on the wrong side of the law one too many times (missed curfews, fights, stolen apples, but they couldn’t prove it).

Hansen turned to him, looking angry. “This isn’t his mess hour. He keeps trying to go inside, and he won’t listen to no,” she told him with obvious frustration. 

Jim turned to the boy with eyebrows raised in question. “Why are you trying to get in?” he asked. 

The wrinkle between the boy’s eyebrow deepened ever so slightly, gesturing at the Hall and saying something in a language Jim didn't recognize, the words full of harsh consonants.

“Well that's more than I’ve been able to get out of him,” Hansen said, putting her hands on her hips, off the phaser though, Jim noted.

“Do you speak Standard?” Jim asked.

The boy looked at him blankly.

“Standard?” Jim repeated, pointing at the boy, who shook his head and said something else in his strange, rasping language.

“How'bout this,” Jim bargained, turning to the guard, “It’s my mess hour now, so I’ll go inside with him and make sure he doesn’t do anything he’s not supposed to. He might be trying to meet someone—or maybe he missed his mess,” Jim added, finishing his offer with a reassuring smile.

The smile was wasted apparently because Hansen looks unimpressed. Hardass.

“Rules are rules. He’s not allowed inside,” she said. 

Just then, a bell rung signalling the end of dinner hour, and Jim cursed internally. 

“And it looks like neither are you now,” Hansen informed him, crossing her arms.

“Ah, come on!” Jim protested, but Hansen just pointed towards the barracks, tapping her foot impatiently. 

Groaning, Jim turned to go, almost forgetting about the boy, who was still standing dumbly in front of the entrance.

“Come on,” Jim said, clapping the boy on the shoulder. “I’ve got cookies,” he added, holding the bag up to the boy’s face when he didn't move.

The boy gave him an odd look but he must've understood—or at least realized that arguing with Hansen was an exercise in pointlessness—because he followed Jim back behind the Hall towards one of the common buildings, sure-footed and silent except for the swishing of his weird robe.

“Are you a monk or something?” Jim asked as they walked, the fact that the boy won’t understand him still not totally computed. 

Predictably, his question went unanswered and Jim sighed to himself as he opened the door to one of the common buildings. Set aside for the kinds of indoor socializing and recreation enjoyed by farmers with nothing better to do, it was an echoing space enclosed by ceiling rafters and equipped with a shabby kitchen, beat up sofas and several tables for carpet ball and other Terran-style games.

It was also the only building on Tarsus with a library—really just a single bookshelf filled with crumbling paperbacks—so naturally it was one of Jim’s favorite places here. He led the boy into the kitchen, which was empty, and plugged in the electric kettle after filling it with water.

Bending over the sink, Jim quickly brushed his hands through his hair, dusting his shoulders clean of the white ash that had collected there.

Turning to lean against the old-fashioned convection oven, Jim waited for the water to boil, appraising the kid. 

Standing somewhat awkwardly in the doorway, he was stoic except for the single, revealing twitch of his hands—as though he’d wanted to clasp them but thought better of it.

A puzzle. But a skittish one, Jim decided, smiling. He’d always liked weird people and this boy had outsider written all over him, from his foreign language to his scratchy-looking robe and dorky haircut. 

Besides, Jim had a few centimeters of height on him and he liked it when people were shorter than him.  

“Sit down,” Jim instructed, pulling one of the green plastic chairs out from the table and taking a seat in the other. The boy still didn't move and Jim rolled his eyes, reaching over and grabbing the bag of cookies from where he’d set them on the smurf-colored formica counter.

“Cookies,” he said, holding up the bag and gesturing to the other chair ingratiatingly. The boy sat, his movements oddly—graceful? That isn’t quite the right word. The boy walks like a cat. Too carefully and almost disconcerting in his total economy of motion.

Dark eyes met his across the table, hard and assessing. He was being sized up, Jim realized, so he grinned again—his default response in the face of a challenge. 

“I’m Jim,” he said, pointing to himself with his thumb and sticking out his other hand.

Instead of taking the hand being offered to him though, the boy looked down at Jim’s hand with widening eyes as though it were a snake. Was his face going a bit greenish? Or was that just the fluorescent lights?

“Are you okay?” Jim asked, leaning dropping his hand to the table. The boy blinked across at him—and yes, his face was definitely a bit green. Shit, Jim hated vomit. Frank had done it all the time when he drank too much and the sour smell always reminds Jim of things he’d rather forget.

Pushing those thoughts down, Jim focused back on the boy, whose face was thankfully fading back to normal. 

“Jim,” Jim said, pointing at himself again, not knowing what else to do. 

The boy regarded him implacably and Jim thought that was going to be all he got when—

“Spock,” the boy said, gesturing to himself with a slow dignity that Jim knew his own gesture hadn't had.

But, as he moved, the boy shifted slightly, and a pointed tip was revealed amid his floppy black hair.

“You’re Vulcan? ” Jim asked incredulously. Just then though, the electric kettle clicks, the water inside gurgling insistently, so despite his shock, Jim turned and decanted the water into two tin mugs which the boy—Spock—retrieved from a cabinet. 

“There’s only dandelion root,” Jim informed Spock as he rifled through a drawer. “Since some asshole drank all the peppermint.” 

Jim knew the boy couldn't understand him of course, but talking was a habit just like anything else, and therefore hard to break in a moment.

Jim put their tea bags in the hot water and the kitchen filled with the scent of dandelion root—nutty and faintly bitter.

“Because everybody knows you can’t eat cookies on their own. Even if they technically belong to your brother,” Jim told Spock, opening the bag, which was spotted with promising grease stains. “They’re oatmeal I think,” Jim said, taking one for himself and sitting back down at the table with his tea.

Spock sat back down as well, but didn't take a cookie. 

“Go on,” Jim said, pushing the bag toward him.

Hesitantly, Spock reached into the bag, using his other hand to prevent the sleeve of his robe from touching the greasy paper. Jim smiled to himself, taking a bite of his cookie, which was very good. 

Too bad Sam, Jim thought, watching with a smile on his face as the boy dips his cookie carefully into his tea and took an equally careful bite.

The Vulcan’s eyes widened fractionally as the taste registered and Jim grined at him. 

notants art "It's good huh?"

“It’s good huh? The girls who like Sam are always good at things,” Jim informed him, feeling an unwanted bitterness creep into his tone, suddenly not at all sorry for stealing Sam's cookies. The girls who like Jim were always airheads, and he didn't like what that might mean about him. 

“So you’re Vulcan?” Jim asked, shifting gears and pointing at Spock.

Spock nodded. “V’tosh,” he said gesturing to himself. “Vulcan.” 

V’tosh,” Jim repeated, trying to mimic the breathy accent and the way Spock had pronounced the “t” almost like a click. His attempt must be reasonable, because Spock nodded again, looking pleased.

Komihn,” Spock said after a moment, pointing at Jim. 

“Human?” Jim asked.

“Human,” Spock repeated, stretching the vowels and pointing at Jim again, nodding.

Taking a big sip of his tea, Jim only registered that it was too hot when it’s burning his tongue. He squawked, spitting the tea back into the mug.

As he was assessing the damage, Jim heard a small huff from across the table and looked up to see Spock’s mouth twitching.

“It’s not funny,” Jim said, even though his voice was edging into a ridiculous giggle by the end of his pronouncement.

The Vulcan’s mouth kept twitching, and Jim stuck out his tongue, but then made a disconcerted sound when it twinged.

Spock covered his mouth with a hand and Jim finally broke into a real laugh.

Who’d have thought that an almost wordless exchange could be so satisfying? 

Without a PADD to translate for them though, that was about as far as their conversation got. But the silence was companionable anyway as they sat in the kitchen drinking their cooling tea and eating all of Sam’s cookies, the light outside dimming into night.

Chapter Text

Jim woke from a dream to faint light filtering through the barrack windows. It’d been about a man in an eyepatch. Or maybe something about Macbeth?

Shaking off the gummy dregs of sleep, Jim rubbed his eyes and sat up.

The wood floor was cold under his bare feet and the morning outside was foggy. A real pea-souper, as his mother would've said.

Fogs on Tarsus were different from Iowan ones though Jim decided as he pulled on his jeans and sweater.

In Iowa the mists rolled in from the Great Lakes, picking up dust along the way; brown and heavy by the time they got to Riverside, turning the air sepia-toned and drab, like those scenes from the beginning of The Wizard of Oz.

Jim jerked the laces tight on his heavy boots, resolutely ignoring the implication that this would make him Dorothy.

By contrast, the morning mists on Tarsus were thick and white, Tule fogs often laden with freezing drizzle so you had to wear a lot of layers.

Buttoning the last button on his flannel, Jim pulled on his beanie, turning up his collar against the wind as he steps out the door. Sun wasn’t fully risen so it was still dark outside as Jim makes his way down the familiar route to the Hall, feet making satisfying crunching sounds as he destroyed the tiny, immaculate sculptures that hoarfrost had made of the grass.

In line for gooey oatmeal and coffee, Jim looked around for Spock, trying to pick out his dark head amid the bleary-eyed farmers impatient for breakfast. He was nowhere to be found though, and Jim could only hope he’d gotten whatever problem he’d been having with his meal card sorted out.

Spock must be new, Jim had decided the night before, because although the colony was pretty big as these things went and Jim didn’t know everyone, he did know people. And word of a Vulcan—and one who didn’t speak Standard at that—would have spread fast amongst the good natured, gossiping Midwestern transplants who made up the lionshare of Tarsus IV’s population, here because gentrification and high housing prices had engulfed most of Earth’s inhabitable land.

By the time he was done with breakfast, Tarsus’ single, huge sun was rising behind the fog—a god returning undying from the underworld—if you put any stock in the traditions of ancient Terran religions.

Even Jim, who didn’t put stock in much of anything felt the burgeoning sense of awe as its golden light covered half the sky—like Quetzalcoatl’s wings unfurling behind the clouds.

When he got to the school room, Spock wasn’t there either, and Jim felt a small, silly touch of disappointment. Of course Spock isn’t here, the lessons were in Standard for crying out loud.

And he didn’t even know if Spock was his age, Jim realized. He could be several years older or younger for all Jim knew—who could tell with Vulcans?

Annoyed at himself—why did it matter anyway? Spock was probably just another stupid kid—Jim pushed down his disappointment and took his seat, glaring at a poster on the wall with the slogan “Dream, Believe Achieve.” 

How corny was that? Jim thought derisively as the other students started streaming in. Kids from Midwestern families who’d grown up on farms and knew the value of hard work, hayseeds and hicks who came from small towns a lot like Riverside, who wore overalls, blouses and boots. Kids with whom Jim had everything and nothing in common.

Mr. Lasker, their teacher tapped his desk with a ruler to call the class to attention, but Jim didn’t bother to look, instead choosing to pick at a bothersome scab.

“We have a new student today,” he announced and Jim’s head snapped up so fast he almost got whiplash.

It was Spock. Standing stoically in front of the class in the same brown robe from the night before.

His face was expressionless, but Jim could detect a hint of discomfort in his stance, the tips of his fingertips, nose and ears flushed green with cold.

Like a teenage asparagus, Jim thought abstractly as Spock held up his hand in what must be some kind of foreign greeting, and said “I am Spock,” slow and careful in his thick, rasping accent.

notants' art "Say hello to Spock"

“Class, say hello to Spock,” Mr. Lasker instructed them.

“Hello to Spock,” the class droned obediently, earning a glare from Mr. Lasker and Jim caught Spock’s eye and winked at him. Spock blinked back at him in response.

“He doesn’t speak Standard,” Mr. Lasker told them. “So he’ll be following along with the lessons by PADD.”

“What does he speak?” a snotty kid in the middle of the class asked without raising his hand. “Gobbledygook?”

Several repressed giggles broke out around the room and Mr. Lasker looked at them sternly.

“Anymore of that and it’ll be lines Schimdt,” he reprimanded the kid who’d spoken. “Even though there’s a language barrier, I still expect you all to treat Spock with respect and to do your best to make friends with him.”

When this pronouncement had no palpable affect Mr. Lasker added “Say, ‘Yes Mr. Lasker.’”

“Yes Mr. Lasker,” the class droned without enthusiasm.

Like that was going to do any good, Jim thought peevishly. He understood what Mr. Lasker thought he was doing, but honestly, it wasn’t like they were in the second grade. Jim was almost fourteen, and long past the age when ‘repeat after me’ would work to get him to do anything—if indeed it ever would have.

Spock, who was probably oblivious to everything that had just happened, stood quiescently in front of the class until Mr. Lasker gestures him to his seat—which was in the front row, and almost as far away from Jim as possible.

The morning lesson was long and boring like always—stuff Jim had mastered years ago—and he spent most of the class alternately day dreaming and watching the back of Spock’s unguarded head, perfectly neat and never wavering from its owner’s task.

Finally, the noon bell rang and they were all turned out.

Usually they’d head to the fields, but today was another burning day, and most of them were too young to be necessary for the relatively unintensive work.

Jim shoved his notebook into his bag in a flash, but loitered outside the door longer than he usually did.

“No lollygagging Kirk,” Mr. Lasker quipped, stepping out of the classroom preceded by a phlegmatic-looking Spock.

“Lollygagging’s not a crime on Tarsus last time I checked,” Jim responded, putting ironic emphasis on the word and repressing a disrespectful smirk.

Mr. Lasker rolled his eyes, but there was a hint of affection underneath the gruffness of his response. “Well it should be. Now get going. Don’t you have better things to do?”

“Are you kidding?” Jim asked. “Where do you think we are, Risa?"

And wasn’t that the truth, Jim thought as he and Spock headed to the common buildings by some unspoken agreement, white flakes of ash still fluttering down from the windless sky.

It wasn’t like there were many other places for them to go.

Tarsus IV was a relatively new colony so unlike many others throughout the galaxy—some of which were older than first contact and were like second Earth's—Tarsus had only been established about a half-decade ago and consequently had very little infrastructure. No big cities, no fancy vacation spots for rich intergalactic tourists, not even any paved roads—just a couple of farming settlements without even a movie theater, restaurant or a real library to split between them.

And although Jim knew his being here wasn’t technically supposed to be a punishment—just a change of scene, for his own good, his mother had said, the subtext away from Frank too obvious to be spoken aloud—the lack of even these basic amenities (amenities which even Riverside had possessed in duplicate) sure as hell felt like one.

When he and Spock walked into the rec building, it was predictably full of kids making a racket playing carpet ball and arguing over games of cards. Upstairs though, where Jim led them, the “library,” was mostly deserted, plywood floors smelling like sawdust.

Jim flopped down on one of the couches and pulled his book out from underneath where he’d hidden it. In his hands, An Anthology of Modern Poetry (although it definitely hadn’t been “modern” for at least two centuries) falls open to “Oh Captain, My Captain!” it’s most famous poem.

Spock sat carefully down on one of the adjacent couches and methodically typed something into his PADD before proffering it to Jim. Curious, Jim took it. 

  You what reading?

Jim read in a text box which sits under another filled with curling, unfamiliar script that's gotta be Vulcan. Spock must have switched the keyboard for him though, because when he pulled it up to respond, the letters are Terran. 

 

  Poems. This one is by a guy called Walt Whitman 

Jim hit the translate button and watched as his answer turned into the swirling letters of what he assumed must be Vulcan script.

Spock took the PADD, examining it closely. Jim hoped he can understand, but if the translation was as choppy as the one Jim had gotten from Vulcan, the odds were against him getting anything more than the gist.

And indeed, when Spock passed him back the PADD, the response took Jim a minute to decipher. 

    Song-speaking good you?

“You mean do I like them?” Jim asked before remembering how fruitless asking was. Spock raised a supercilious eyebrow in seeming agreement and Jim laughed before he went back to the PADD.

    Yes, I like them. They are good. They are about America. This one is about the death of a captain but it's also a metaphor for Abraham Lincoln's assassination.  

Jim typed, pointing to the poem. 

His message was perhaps too ambitious for the workings of the cheap translator app though, and sure enough, Spock got a little confused wrinkle between his eyebrows, the same one Jim had noticed during their first meeting.

“Come on, I thought everyone had heard that one,” Jim said. “O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done?” Jim quotes but Spock just shakes his head, no recognition in his dark eyes.

Jim didn’t even think about trying to explain the reason everyone knew that line was because it’d had gotten popular after the Kelvin incident—it was lines plastered across the page of every big news site in the Alpha quadrant.

After all, it’d suck to explain to anybody who didn’t already know that your dad was basically white Jesus, let alone someone who didn’t speak your language.

“Do you want me to read some to you?” Jim asked instead.

He wasn’t quite sure why it was okay to ask Spock this—he wouldn’t be caught dead reading poetry in front of anyone except maybe Sam, wait, especially not Sam—but somehow it just was okay.

Maybe it was because Spock’d done everything Jim’d told him to so far, which suited Jim’s more than healthy dose of ego, or maybe it was the obvious whiff of outsider that came off the guy stronger than the smell of a cornfield in July (too-big ears and alieness, ungainly limbs and boney elbows).

Spock gave him the condescending eyebrow again—just reward for his pointless question—and pushed the PADD towards him.

Jim typed his message in quickly and Spock, after looking at it for a moment, nods in ascent, fingers moving nimbly over the PADD, which he set purposefully in front of Jim—no message this time—looking satisfied with whatever he’d done to it.

Turning to the dog-eared page he’d left off at, Jim began reading (not Walt Whitman, the association’s too strong), and the PADD begins emitting noises that must be Spock’s language—full of strong t’s and plosives that sounded like a dry wind.

Jim continued slowly, feeling a bit like the apostles at Pentecost, Spock’s eyes fixed on his face as he reads the familiar words, dust moats catching in the oblique lines of sunlight falling across them.

(“When I was but thirteen or so/I went into a golden land…”)

He wasn’t sure how much was getting through, but maybe the translation app was paradoxically better at poetry, because Spock’s face was rapt as Jim read.

Jim himself didn’t really know what some of the words mean, but they sounded big and important in his mouth all the same.

(“I walked home with a gold dark boy,/And never a word I'd say,/Chimborazo, Cotopaxi/Had taken my speech away.”)

The sun was setting by the time they left the library.

Breath-taking and enormous, it burned hugely in the sky above and in front of them as Jim and Spock walked toward the Hall.

“It looks like that because of all the air pollution,” Jim told his companion sagely.

The response, quick and unsparing, was a quirked eyebrow that said clearer than any language known to the Federation 'You are clearly an idiot. I do not understand why you continue to attempt communication with someone who will not understand you.’

Jim laughed. “Think I’m an idiot all you want Spock. I can understand you just fine.”

Chapter Text

After that Jim and Spock became, well not exactly joined at the hip, but something close enough.

Before Jim realized what was going on people were referring to them as “Jim and Spock” (never the other way around for some reason), their settlement’s odd couple; Spock the persistent, quiet shadow to Jim’s loud-mouthed exuberance.

Some joker even scrawled their names together on the clapboard of the school wall where that stuff usually went—things like “Noah likes Leda Noah,” and "Jackson&Olivia forever,” and “I love you Curtis Stanely,” all circled in furtive little hearts.  

Dumb graffiti aside, (Jim’s name was already up there with half a dozen girls’, it was no big deal) Jim wasn’t sure how he felt about it exactly. About being “Jim and Spock,” that is.

Jim’s never really had a friend before. Not a real one, the kind he’d treat as an equal or give his breakfast raisins to anyway. 

But man, he’d been missing out big time. Spock and his raisins were hilarious—totally worth eating blander oatmeal to witness the intense, zealous focus with which Spock first arranged and then consumed them.

Maybe their friendship worked because they just don’t understand enough of what the other was saying to get annoyed and call it quits—half the time Jim rambling on in Standard without the aid of the PADD, (much to Spock’s bemusement, he suspected), Spock humoring him by occasionally replying in his own, mysterious language. 

Or maybe it was that the PADD’s poor translations prevented them from asking each other complicated questions, so Spock couldn’t ask Jim about his life before Tarsus or his dad or the things he didn’t want to talk about and so Jim never has to get angry at him and do something spiteful to keep Spock out for good.

Or maybe it was simply because Spock didn’t have anyone else to hang out with and Jim didn’t really fit with any of the other kids, shying away from them on instinct (too close to home, he didn’t want to end up like them) and because Jim liked Spock, liked the harsh sounds of his incomprehensible speech, liked to watch him eat raisins and liked it best when Spock does what Jim told him to.  

If there was something deeper at work—something more like the meeting of two disparate, but identical souls, finding one another in the most unexpected of places—if Spock noticed, he kept his council to himself and Jim just didn’t think about that sort of thing. 

It wasn’t like Jim was Sigmund Freud or something.

“What’s with that itchy bathrobe thing you always wear? It’s weird,” Jim told Spock one evening when they’re sitting on the grass together before dinner. (Definitely not Freud).

Spock tilted his head to the side in silent question.

Jim plucked the shoulder of his own sweater—massive and yellow with the single word “IOWA” emblazoned across the front—and pronounced “Sweater,” as clearly as he could. Then he plucked at Spock’s sleeve and raised his eyebrows.

A look of understanding dawned in Spock’s eyes. 

“To-pal,” he responded.

notants art "You'll never get girls wearing that"

“Whatever it is, it makes you look like a monk,” Jim replied disparagingly, releasing Spock’s sleeve and going back to picking at the bluish grass. “You’ll never get girls wearing that.”

Not that there were that many girls to get out here. 

Jim sometimes thought about Nora McKenzie—about the way the freckles and sunspots on her skin looked like chocolate chips, disappearing intriguingly into the collars of her crisp blouses. 

He’d spent a lot of time wondering how far those freckles go, about whether they would taste as good as they looked. 

Nora seemed nice enough—she wore hearing aids and always knew the answer when she was called on, and once, when they’d been studying The Red Wheelbarrow by William Carlos William had said “Obviously a lot depends on wheelbarrows—we use them all the time out here,” which made everyone laugh and Jim had thought was pretty solid analysis—but Jim suspected that she was the kind of girl who’d want to get married someday. Married and living somewhere just like here, with two kids and a house and maybe a dog.

Jim didn’t think a dog would be so bad, but wasn’t real keen on the rest of it. He’d had that kind of thing back in Iowa (minus the dog), and how had that turned out? No, that sort of thing was definitely bullshit.

So Jim ignored it when Nora smiled at him sometimes and made sure to give back the pink pencil with the special eraser on top that she’d lent him even though he knew she’d wanted him to keep it.

“Girls are dumb,” Jim told Spock sagely, who at least gave the impression that he was listening politely, although in actuality he could be figuring out why the sky was yellow or how humans survived as a species if they're all as dumb as Jim. “They always pretend to be stupid even when they're smart, and they don’t want to do anything important like see how far they can spit, and all they want was for you to be their boyfriend—but only so other people can see that they have one.”

But if Spock knew the secrets of the female brain, he wasn’t telling.

Jim sighed.

After dinner they headed off to Spock’s assigned barracks, which was one of the places they hung out when they weren’t exploring—bushwhacking through the Tarsus’ flooded forests, discovering riparian zones and frozen freshwater swamps, Jim pretending to be a famous explorer and Spock doing his weird thing, documenting plants and insects with a tricorder he’d dug up who knew where.

Spock had a whole room to himself—well, three walls separating him from the rest of the barracks anyway—and Jim wondered how he’d managed to swing it. It was a question that hadn’t made it through the translator though, along with “Why are you on Tarsus in the first place?” and “Where are your parents?” although it was equally possible that Spock had understood what Jim was asking, and simply chose not to answer, which Jim would get since he wouldn’t want to answer those questions either. 

“Why don’t you ever go to church?” Jim asked Spock idly, once they’d reached Spock’s room and taken their usual places (Jim sprawled in the middle, Spock sitting primly with his back to the headboard), typing the question into the PADD.

Jim wasn't particularly religious. Jesus and Samson were OK, and he liked the story of David and Goliath, but the whole idea of God made him feel uncomfortable. Almost everyone on Tarsus went to church though—frozen chosen Midwesterners as they were—him and Sam, Aunt Abigail and Uncle Theodore (and Winona when she visited on shore leave, although Jim thought she went just to criticize the sermon) included.

He’s never seen Spock there though. It had been just one more weird thing about him, but now that the question had occurred, he was curious. 

When Spock handed the PADD back, it had one word.

  Jewish.

“Wait what?” Jim asked, incredulous. “How can you be Jewish? I thought you were Vulcan!” 

Without waiting for the you're-an-imbecile-eyebrow, Jim quickly typed his question into the PADD and handed it to Spock feeling betrayed.

  Mother human

He read when he got the PADD back, noticing that Spock’s face was tight with wariness.

“What?” Jim exclaimed. “You’re human?—Komihn?” he asked after wracking his brain for the word Spock had taught him and pointing to make his question clear.

Spock proffered the PADD and Jim read the tiny numerals.

  1/2

Jim stared at Spock, whose face was unusually closed off—his mouth a flat line, but something big moving behind his eyes, something too big for Jim to read.

notants art "That's crazy dude"

“That’s crazy dude,” Jim pronounced flopping back onto the bed.

Whatever reaction Spock had been expecting, apparently this one was deemed acceptable, because Spock didn’t push him away or scold him when Jim crawled up next to him and wormed his way under the covers a few minutes later, feeling close as he used to be with Sam.

Spock really has the body heat thing going on, Jim noted sleepily, as he listened to Spock read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in Vulcan, paying more attention to the sound of Spock’s voice than the choppy Standard issuing from the PADD.

notants art "Wuttimeizit"

When Jim woke up, it was dark outside and his head was resting on Spock’s leg, which was as uncomfortable as it had looked, Spock’s elbow propped on a pillow and the gawky architecture of his face glowing calmly in the light from the PADD. 

“Wuttimeizit?” Jim asked blearily, feeling slow as molasses in January. He looked up at Spock, who just patted him on the shoulder in a rare display of physical affection.

Or he just wants me to shut up, Jim thought as he curled back into the heat of Spock’s thigh, further up this time and more comfortable, closing his eyes and slipping back into his dreams, which all have to do with traveling on a sailing ship, the seas as harsh as Spock’s language and the wind ruffling his hair from another world.

Chapter Text

“Faggots!” Mason Taylor Miller yelled as he ran past them on his way to the fields.

“Fuck you Mason! You're a coward and history will forget you!” Jim yelled after him because Kirk’s always had good comebacks, but Mason just cackled and kept going on his stupid-shithead way. 

What kind of name was Mason Taylor Miller anyway? Which idiot parents named their kid “Mason Taylor” when his last name was going to be “Miller?” Didn’t they know those were three mutually exclusive professions? Fucking backwater idiot hicks, Jim thought with a scowl. 

Spock gave him a questioning look, but Jim just shook his head. In Jim’s experience it wasn’t true that what you don’t know couldn’t hurt you (it could), but in this case he didn’t see a good reason to explain idiots like Mason Taylor Miller to Spock. It wasn’t like anyone on Tarsus could actually hurt Spock. Jim would totally beat them up if they tried.

Waving goodbye Jim headed out to the fields, thinking the matter would be over while Spock headed off in the opposite direction to work on some computer project that he’d been drafted for, the specifics of which hadn’t made it through translation. 

Spring had rolled around a week ago, warmer weather dispelling the freezing fogs, heralding the start of planting season and Jim had to spend all his spare time in his uncle’s fields, plowing to break ground and seeding it with a grain drill, which was hard and dirty work but important. Besides the triticale and soybeans that would be their subsistence in the coming months, they were also planting cabbages for export, Green Lunars and hardy Murdoc 115’s that had a high market value and were particularly well suited to Tarsus’ moist climate, all of which Jim was excited to see if they were anything as cool as their pictures.

Spending his afternoons and evenings in the fields though meant he and Spock didn't have as much time to spend together, despite the better weather that would’ve made their exploring expeditions more enjoyable. 

So it was with great excitement that Jim received news from Aunt Abigail the following Sunday that he could have the day off after church. 

Bounding down the single step out the church doors as soon as the service was over into the burning sunshine outside, Jim went so indecently fast that he was sure the good people of Tarsus would worry for his soul. 

Let them worry, Jim thought gleefully, sprinting back to his room, stripping out of his stiff Sunday clothes—bowtie, good shoes, suspenders—and pulling on his jeans and t-shirt and then he was out the door again. 

Minutes later he was pounding on Spock’s flimsy door and waiting impatiently as he heard Spock call out something in Vulcan that either meant “Hang on, I’ll be right there,” or “Leave me alone, you crazy sonofabitch.”

Apparently it was the former because Spock pulled open the door a moment later, the neat disdain of his expression belied by amusement gleaming in his eyes.

“Come on!” Jim exclaimed, grabbing Spock’s wrist and trying unsuccessfully to yank him out the door.

“Geez, what do you keep in that robe? Your rock collection?” he asked, huffing. “C’mon, I snuck us sandwiches from the Hall—right out from under Hansen’s nose!” Jim persuaded, holding up the purloined sandwiches in their paper bag, still trying to pull a stubbornly unmoving Spock, whose Vulcan density apparently transcended the merely physical and had crossed into the spiritual realm.

“You’re stubborn as hell, you know that?” Jim informed him, dropping his wrist and putting his hands on his hips. 

Spock merely gave him a haughty, long-suffering look and then proceeds out the door at his own pace, the bastard.

Jim groaned. Spock was weird like that. He would follow Jim around, but he seemed to like to do it of his own free will rather than being dragged.

“Are all Vulcans as Goddamn annoying as you?” Jim asked conversationally as he led them away from the buildings towards the newly muddy forests. The "Goddamn" was because he'd been teaching Spock cussing. Well trying to anyway. (He’d tried to convince Spock that “Bitchin,” meant ‘thank you,’ and that he should say “I am a boob,” to introduce himself to new people, but Spock had somehow seen through the attempt).

Spock replied in Vulcan, probably saying something like “I cannot believe that someone apparently as imbecilic as you hasn’t choked on his own saliva yet,” or something equally unflattering. The insult was clear in the tilt of Spock’s chin and the almost imperceptible quirk at the corner of his mouth.

Jim stuck his tongue out at Spock to let him know that Jim knew he was being badmouthed, and Spock lifted his chin a little higher like a real snob which made Jim laugh because times like these felt like they had their own private language, better than words, that worked whether they’re alone or in a crowded room. Thinking this had his chest and stomach thrumming, tilting the universe just enough so that his way of looking at things wobbled, shocked that just one person could be the difference between a life that was a punishment and one that was an adventure.

“Race you to the big-ass tree!” Jim yelled as he took off, the action needing no translation. Spock’s faster than he looks, even in his stupid bathrobe, and after a few moments, it was Jim who was chasing him, fighting the distance growing between them as Spock books it to the big-ass tree—Jim’s name for a massive cylindrical tree that Spock calls a “baobab,” whatever that meant.

Smacking into the tree minutes later, Jim plastered himself against it was cool trunk, panting in the heat, his legs coated with tacky mud and sweat. His only consolation was that Spock—who'd beat him to the tree by at least thirty yards—didn’t look much better, his dumbass bangs sticking up and down at the same time and his robe littered with mud and twigs. 

notants art "the big-ass tree"

“Let’s go swimming!” Jim panted as he caught his breath.

Banks shaded by towering sedge and dripping with lichen, the big-ass tree was on the edge of one of the forests’ big calm rivers, waters recently thawed with spring heat. 

Jim’d named this one the Great River of Narnia for its size and color—a deep yellow that probably resulted from some mineral or bacteria that Spock could explain to him if he spoke Standard.

Striping off his shirt, pants and underwear, without waiting for Spock to agree, Jim plunged in buck naked, laughing and squealing as the just-unfrozen freezing water hit his chest, clapping a hand over his nose before dunking his head under the water before he could think better of it—which was just how you had to deal with things like that if you weren't a coward.

Sputtering, he came up to see that Spock still on the shore, his robe still firmly on and face looking a bit green—though the color might just be from the light filtering through the leaves of the big-ass tree.

“What are you waiting for?” Jim asked, swimming up to the shore, gesturing for Spock to come in. But Spock just shook his head, his cheeks definitely a little green in a way that has nothing to do with the light. Jim watched as Spock pulled the PADD out of his pocket and fiddled with it for a few moments.

“Can’t swim,” issues the robotic voice and Jim felt his eyes widen. 

“I’ll teach you,” Jim said confidently, trying to bury his surprise while making swimming motions to indicate his meaning.

Spock looked hesitant, so Jim swam closer to the shore, grabbing Spock’s ankle.

“If you don’t come in voluntarily, I’ll just pull you in,” Jim threatened, his meaning apparently understood in the stubborn set Spock’s jaw took on. 

He didn’t think he could actually drag Spock in—guy was strong as hell, much stronger than Jim, he'd begrudgingly admit to himself—but Jim liked it when Spock does what Jim told him to, the power rush whenever he did going to Jim’s head like single malt whiskey from the bottle he and Sam had snuck out of Frank’s stash last Fourth of July, passing it back and forth and getting schnookered dizzy and laughing, reveling so much in the illicit that it was almost worth the belting later.

Didn’t look like this was going to be one of those times when Spock obeys orders though, so Jim shifted his hand to Spock’s foot, a supplication instead of a demand. This approach must be more convincing, because a moment later Jim saw Spock’s relent in his unclenching jaw, and Jim lets go of Spock’s foot as he took off his robe and hangs it carefully on a tree branch.

Without most of his clothes on, Spock reminds Jim of an asparagus less than he’d thought he would. His shoulders were a little broader than Jim'd been giving him credit for, the muscles on his back a bit more defined, his chest and legs covered in fine trails of hair that were as dark as the stuff on his head even thoughhe is the same age as Jim. 

He’s still an asparagus, Jim decided. Just a slightly manlier asparagus than he’d thought originally. 

Robe, pants and shirt off, Spock kept his undies on—some kind of Vulcan boxers, Jim supposed, but he didn’t get in the water, eyeing it suspiciously.

Just like a barn cat, Jim thought, swimming back over. 

Jim held out his hand to help Spock in—and the show of support must’ve enough to restore Spock’s courage because Spock took one look at Jim’s hand and then plunged into the water, head and all, without Jim’s help or coaxing.

Spock came up spitting and hissing, and Jim laughed like a maniac at how bedraggled he looked, which prompted Spock to throw him a very dirty look.

“Like this,” Jim explained, still laughing, ignoring the look and miming the front crawl. 

“Frontstroke,” he said clearly before kicking smoothly out into the shallow water further from the bank.

“And this one’s backstroke,” he said when he’d gotten out a little deeper, flipping onto his back and demonstrating the back crawl—chest up, turn your pinkies toward the water—before paddling back.

When he got to where Spock was still standing, chest deep in the water, he held up two fingers. “Frontstroke,” he said, lowering one finger while circling his arms forward. “Backstroke,” he said lowering the other finger and pinwheeling his arms backwards.

“Got it?” Jim asked, and Spock gave him a clipped nod, flopping resolutely onto his stomach and doing a rather ungainly version of the front crawl, which Jim has to stop himself from laughing at. Soon enough though, Spock’s determination ironed out the kinks in his stroke and he was paddling around—if not like a pro, then at least almost as well as Jim.

Spock was delighted—Jim could tell. It was a hard emotion to hide, writing itself as it does into every ligament of a person’s face and body, and Spock, despite his general unflappability was no exception, obviously proud at his accomplishment.

“I told you so,” Jim said smugly and Spock shot him a glare that failed to convey any antipathy whatsoever.

notants art "cannonballs are illogical"

Together they swam up the meandering river, which turned golden in the hot sunlight given off by Tarsus’ giant sun, Spock examining rock formations and Jim finding ever higher places to jump off of, trying to show Spock how to do a cannonball—which although Jim had no doubt Spock could master if he wanted to, he must not see the point of because he stubbornly refused to do anything but the pencil jump until Jim showed him how to do a forward dive, which he took to like the weirdly focused guy he was, getting out of the water to do it again and again until he was pleased with the result.

Tired out and shivering, they eventually they swam back to the tree, grateful to put on their sun-hot clothes. Jim handed Spock his peanut butter and jelly before bumping their sandwiches together like champagne glasses in a gesture that prompted the telltale wrinkle between Spock’s brows. Jim poked the wrinkle, like he always got the urge to when it appeared—except he forgot to take his sandwich out of his hand, so really he just mashed a peanut butter and jelly into Spock’s face, an opening sally which caused Spock to glare at him in betrayal and then proceed to mash his own sandwich into Jim’s face, Jim shocked slow on the dodge.

It ended, predictably, with both of them sticky and Jim losing a wrestling match, pinned on his stomach with Spock sitting on top of him in triumph, but Jim almost didn’t care that he’d lost to an asparagus because he was laughing so hard it hurt.

notants art "spock wins a sandwich fight"

When Spock let him up they both have to get back in the water to wash off the incriminating raspberry jelly.

By the time they head back to the settlement, the forest was a hall of shadows, length indicating it was almost time for dinner which was good ‘cause Jim was starving. 

Changed into clothes that aren’t muddy and jam-sticky, dinner was amazing like it usually was on Sundays—chilly and cinnamon rolls with chocolate pudding cups for dessert (thankyouGod for the food amen). Spock pushed his pudding toward Jim, thus cementing his worth as the greatest friend of all time.

When dinner was over Jim and Spock head off to Spock’s room. 

Spock’s bed was nicer than his, Jim decided, stretching out on it burying his face in Spock’s pillow. Spock joined him a moment later, climbing carefully over him and sitting down against the headboard.  

A while passed with Jim dozing and Spock clicking away with his PADD at something that looked suspiciously like the tetris game Jim had been playing yesterday. Jim was just debating about whether it was worth it to go all the way back to his barracks, when he felt Spock tap him on the shoulder.

Lifting his face out of the pillow, Jim saw that Spock was holding out the PADD, so he propped himself up on his elbows and took it, glancing at Spock’s message.

  What is "faggots"?

Jim felt his eyes widen as he took in the question. He’d thought Spock would forget about that. Jim certainly had.

Jim’s heartbeat sped up uncomfortably because apparently it was one thing to hear that word shouted at you by idiots like Mason Taylor Miller who you could shout back at and another completely to have Spock ask you what it meant.

They’d never talked about something this serious before and it was just such a loaded thing that Jim didn’t know where to begin, hadn’t read enough about Vulcans to know if they could be homophobic—or even gay.

  A word used to make gay people feel bad

Jim typed after a pause, remembering the line from TV and deciding that was the best way to put it anyway because Jim might be a backwater dumbass like the rest of them but his mom had taught him early that only shithead assholes used words like that, which must be true because he’d heard Frank say it.

Spock read the translated message, and after a few moments he started tapping in a new message, and Jim tensed for whatever response he was going to get. 

A little flip flop happened in his stomach when he read what Spock has written.

  Are you gay?

Jim shook his head instinctually, feeling his palms begin to sweat for no apparent reason.

Geez, why was this thing suddenly working? Jim wondered, wishing that he could’ve pretended that the question had been scrambled by the cheap translator app. It was too late for that though and he looked at Spock, whose face was blank and serious, but with that big unknowable something moving behind his eyes again. 

  No, are you?

he types back, just to be clear. 

Jim wasn’t gay after all. He never thought about boys the way he thought about girls, the way that made heat flood his stomach and caused a myriad of other, less innocent reactions. So he wasn’t sure why the question made him feel so prickly and uncomfortable.

Spock shook his head too, his eyes wide and fearful.

  It's okay if you are

Jim typed, not sure how to interpret Spock’s reaction, but Spock just shook his head again, face closing back into stoicism.

Chapter Text

“My library was dukedom large enough.” —Prospero, The Tempest


Dry season heat rolled in and soon the triticale shoots were a foot and a half tall, turning the fields a deep green that darkens to amber with each passing day. 

Sam left Tarsus for an internship with a bio-company on another planet, and Jim was sad, but distantly so because Sam had been leaving for so long that Jim was almost surprised that there was any part of his brother left to tell him goodbye.

Triticale wasn’t quite as tall as corn stalks would be at this time of year (“knee high by Fourth of July”), nor as impressive, Jim decided. It didn’t stand in the same stalwart lines, ramrod straight like vegetal martinets. 

Instead, triticale swayed in the breeze like a sea, releasing a smell that Jim couldn’t put a word to other than “green.”

Smelled stronger in the rain, Jim noted, because its scent even got indoors, reaching all the way to the library common building that he and Spock were occupying today (squatters rights, if anyone else tried to barge in).

It’d rained hard the night before—so hard that class had been canceled because the school house roof was leaking and they’d been given the whole day off while it got fixed.

It was still raining so they’d gone to the library, stretching out on their stomachs and flipping through a huge encyclopedia that Mr. Lasker had lent them and which was probably the nicest book on all of Tarsus IV. 

Turning the big, impressive pages, they were teaching each other scattered words while they took turns choosing what planet to read about next (well, Jim was reading, Spock could only look at the pictures or look up translations on his PADD). 

Spock had chosen Earth (which was actually as good as a foreign planet to Jim for all he’d seen of it), and they were on the Africa page. Spock pointed to a picture of a painted wolf and a yellow baboon squaring off, hackles raised and teeth bared labeled “Lycaon pictus and Papio cynocephalus, deadly ambush at dusk.”

“Ke-tarya,” Spock said, pointing at the picture, and Jim repeated the word while he typed it into the PADD for a translation.

“Fight,” he responded a moment later and Spock imitated him in his accented voice. 

“Like The Lion King,” Jim added and Spock nodded in agreement. 

Lion King

The Lion King was something they both knew about since two evenings ago a big projector had been set up and everyone had gathered to watch the outdoor movie, children hushed in front and adults in the back, drinking cider and laughing at all the wrong parts.

Never having seeing it before, watching it for the first time had left an impression on Jim and Spock both.

At least, Jim assumed it’d been Spock’s first time seeing it, and that it had made an impression—judging by the way his eyes had been as big as cheese wheels, following along with the Vulcan subtitles that Jim had insisted on. In fact, from the intense way he’d been fixated on the moving images, Jim suspected that it might’ve been the first movie the guy had ever seen.

And Jim himself, despite his insistence that he was too old for cartoons, had watched with rapt attention, broken only when he’d glanced over at Spock to elbow him in the side, to snicker and share in the silent jokes they’d gotten good at telling each other. 

Early in the movie though, when the hyenas had started chasing Simba and Nala, Spock had gotten agitated, repeating a series of Vulcan words (including ke-tarya, which made sense now, fight) over and over again and balling his hands into fists.

Someone had started shushing them and Jim had put a hand on Spock’s arm, rubbing it soothingly until Spock’s fists had unclenched.

Fight, Jim thought to himself, turning the word over in his head like an artifact as he looked over at Spock, who was placidly studying some photos of Lake Nyassa.

Because it was amazing really, that Jim hadn’t been in a fight since he met Spock, he reflects as he turned the page to Antarctica and Spock glared at him because apparently he hadn't been done with his ogling. 

Jim used to get in fights all the time when he’d first arrived on Tarsus. Not serious ones, but real enough to land him with black eyes and enemies, bitter anger stalking him even in sleep (“But why are you so angry Jim?” Mr. Lasker had asked, and Jim had known why but hadn't been able to put it into words and hadn’t wanted to.)

But he hadn’t felt that hateful tug—the one that came over him like an outside force, driving him to say or do whatever would enrage the person he suddenly wanted to hurt (or make hurt him?)—for a while now, he realized.

Even two nights ago, during that horrible stampede scene (“Mufasa, quick, stampede, in the gorge, Simba's down there!”), when he’d felt his own fists clench, unable to watch or breathe, feeling like he was the one being crushed under the hooves of a thousand wildebeest, thoughts collecting like Frank’s empty bottles in his head, all he’d done was get up and walked away from the crowd for a few minutes to himself.

When he’d returned it had been to find Spock, happily munching on microwave popcorn that someone’s mom was handing out, watching Pumbaa, Simba and Timon sing about not having any worries and the feeling had unclenched a little.

Long after the credits rolled and someone had taken down the screen, he and Spock had lain next to each other on Spock’s robe in the warm night air, looking up at Tarsus’ unfamiliar, nameless constellations. Jim plucking a stray shoot of grass and putting it between his teeth, hands behind his head like he had seen people do in the movies; Spock his stalwart second-in-command next to him, hands clasped neatly over his sternum.

Spock was always neat, Jim thought, watching as Spock re-folded his robes underneath himself on the library floor before carefully turning a page. 

It kind of made Jim want to mess him up sometimes, but maybe it was okay that he never would, that Spock was making Jim neater, and not the other way around.

Chapter Text

“Where my heart is
Where my heart is
Where the scented lunar flower is growing
Somewhere beyond the stars
Beyond Antares…”

Jim woke to the haunting strains of a song he couldn’t remember whispering insistently at him from the corners of his mind, trying to tell him something important. The harder he tried to remember though, the more surely the dream slipped away.

There was something eerie about not being able to remember what had been going on in your own mind only moments before, Jim decided. Like a play whose actors kept going, even when the audience had left long ago.

Spooky, Jim thought shuddering a bit and turning over on his side. 

Checking his wrist chronometer he saw that it was 5:05, the numbers of which spell S.O.S. on the chronometer’s digital interface like an ill omen. Observing this didn’t help Jim’s mood in the least.

Save our souls

Stupid wildebeest. 

After a few minutes of tossing and turning with ever increasing annoyance, achy and acrid-mouthed Jim climbed out of bed, stuffing his long-johned feet into his boots and pulling his flannel and beanie hat on over the top.

The barracks were mostly empty, since most everyone kept country hours at this time of year, a few up to milk the cow-like bovines native to Tarsus and the others out in the fields to monitor the crops—growing season being the finickiest part of the annual cycle. 

Through the dubious help of the PADD Spock had explained to Jim that on Vulcan, years weren’t divided by agricultural units, but by the movements of Vulcan’s twin suns, with month names like the “Bright One” and the “Fast One,” if the translations could be trusted at all. 

Jim’s curiosity had been caught by the poetic sounding names. He’d never considered how Vulcans named things, but if he had he probably would’ve thought they’d stick to logical-seeming numbers. But when he’d tried to type in his question, the translator had flat out given up, issuing him an error message that stubbornly persisted no matter what combination of words he tried.

Seriously, Jim was beginning to think the thing was possessed since it only ever seemed to work right when Spock had something nagging to say like “If you wish sit my bed, bathe more often,” or the memorable instance when it had worked too well since Jim didn’t think Spock intended to tell him “loud music fucking awful,” after Jim’d tried to introduce him to the greatest music ever: the Beastie Boys.

Just now though, Jim wanted company more than he cared about any complaints Spock might have, so he trudged out into the dark cold, late summer frost cracking under his boots and breath forming fantastical shapes which hung ghost-like in the air as he went.

When he knocked quietly on Spock’s door it was a minute before he heard stirring from inside, which was just long enough for Jim to start feeling bad about waking his friend up at ass o’clock in the morning on a school day. The door opened though, revealing a ruffled looking Spock, birds nest of hair and face faintly green-smudged and swollen from sleep.

“Can I come in?” Jim asked quietly, pointing inside.

His meaning must be clear because after a moment Spock moved aside for Jim to duck into the room. 

Easier than trying to get rid of me, Jim supposed, which might actually be how Spock thought of their entire relationship. Jim stepped out of his boots and flannel and climbed into the bed without asking, hoping fiercely that’s not how Spock thought of him and not brave enough to find out.

A moment later Spock was clambering over him, pulling the fluffy coverlet up around them, soft and full of down and Jim took this as tacit permission to snuggle into Spock’s side. And Spock turned out to be wonderfully pliant when he was half asleep, looping an arm over Jim and making some sort of soft Vulcan sound that was one ignominious step away from a coo.

Beyond Antares

Under the coverlet with Spock was warm and safe and smelled like spicy sage; like the deep-earth scent Jim remembers from the time he’d visited his grandfather in Carrizozo, the desert still the only ocean Jim has ever seen. 

And when Jim fell asleep his dreams were of a different desert, red like rust and hotter than the one he remembers from New Mexico. Spock was there too, except he’s smiling faintly, which Jim has never seen him do in real life. Dream Spock held out his hand for Jim to take, the quirk of his lips increasing when Jim did, and together they headed towards the rainy horizon, tall mountain peaks jutting up around them on either side.

***

Kissing Nora Mckenzie was surprisingly soft. 

Jim’s kissed girls before—he was a Kirk after all—but those times were all elementary school dares or furtive, embarrassing pecks behind the hedge in the corner of the Riverside school yard.

This was different though.

Different because he and Nora were alone as alone got on Tarsus IV, in the library, and Jim’s hand was up her shirt and Nora was kissing him with an eagerness bespoken by the breathy giggles she made when their noses bump or saliva stretched between them in the brief moments their mouths aren’t locked together.

Nora had been there when he’d first walked in (“Hi Jim.” “Oh. Hi Nora,”) standing by the shelves on the pretext of reading one of the books.

But since no one read the books here except for Jim, it’d been obvious that she was here on purpose for him. He wasn’t sure how the kissing had started, but now that it had he didn’t want it to stop, all his reservations washed clean away by the baby powder smell of her skin and the warm wetness of her mouth on his.

Nora was on his lap at this point, Jim’s fingers fumbling a bit with the pink hobnail buttons on her blouse as she mouthed at his ear, when there’s a sudden loud clatter from the doorway behind them. 

Jerking away from one another, Nora pulled her mostly open blouse closed as they both stared at the doorway where Spock was stooping to the floor to pick up his fallen PADD, face hidden from view. 

“Um,” Jim said intelligently, his tongue suddenly slow in his mouth, trying to get to his feet before realizing that Nora was still on top of him. And before he could really do anything (do what?), Spock was ducking out of sight, the sound of his feet on the stairs fading fast.

“Well, this was—” Nora started, her face going a blotchy pink. 

Jim felt like his stomach was dropping into his shoes, his own face already heated scarlet.

“Yeah, um, thanks,” Jim said, cringing at how that sounded. “Let’s—”

“Yeah,” Nora agreed hastily, climbing off his lap and buttoning up her blouse, even though Jim hadn’t been sure what he’d been going to say. He got up too, pulling his own shirt back down from where Nora had worked it up far past his stomach and wiped his mouth. 

He felt ashamed without knowing why. When they’d woken that morning, hours later but in time for class at 7:45, he and Spock had still been snuggled together, Spock clinging to him like a wombat and Jim’s head resting on his friends’ shoulder. 

And before he’d dashed off to his own room for school clothes, Spock had given him a look that wasn’t as open as the smiling Spock in his dreams, but maybe half way there, eyes endless as the night sky in the dream. Jim'd carried the memory around all day, feeling fuzzy inside whenever he thought about it.

So why does he feel a sick swooping in his stomach now? Like he’d done something wrong? It wasn’t like the library belonged to just he and Spock or something. Kissing Nora here wasn’t a betrayal of their friendship no matter what Spock thought, Jim decided, feeling righteousness flood through him. He’d done nothing wrong. Nothing to be ashamed of, he decided as he and Nora snuck down the stairs and said awkward goodbyes.

Spock should be the one apologizing to him after all—for messing up his kiss with Nora. Why did he have to go poking around where he wasn’t wanted anyway? 

Batty little weirdo, Jim thought angrily.  

Later, at dinner though (Spock didn’t show up) it occurs to Jim that maybe Spock had a crush on Nora. It would make sense. She was pretty and nice, and Jim once saw her helping Spock find where the paint brushes were in the supply cabinet—and since most of the people in their class ignored Spock for some reason, maybe Spock liked her because she helped him find that paint brush and was nice to everyone. At this thought, Jim started to feel the stirrings of guilty sympathy work in his chest.

Spock was his best friend after all. His only friend really. And Jim took the chivalric code of bros before hoes very seriously. Jim won’t kiss Nora again, he decided. Not if it got in the way of their friendship. It wasn’t like he’d promised to marry her or anything. They’d just been messing around.

Satisfied with this line of thought, Jim got up from the table. He’d decided to tell Spock that according to the golden rule of manliness, neither of them could kiss Nora.

But Spock didn’t open his door when Jim knocked and although Jim listened carefully, he didn’t hear any sounds coming from inside, which either meant that Spock wasn’t there or that he is, but has decided to be a stubborn ass about this.

It was fine though. Totally fine. He could just explain it to Spock tomorrow. 

But the next day when Jim tried after school, Spock was gone before Jim could apologize. The same thing happened the next day and the next, and the sting of rejection and hurt pride prevented Jim from trying harder to seek Spock out and make him listen. He didn’t need Spock anyway. Who did that guy think he was? Jim was just fine on his own.

He revolted against this pent-up mix of feelings by dipping Nora’s curls into a printer ink canister when he was supposed to be reading The Tempest. When she stood up, her blouse was spattered with ink, and he knew what he’d done was mean, really, really mean from the look of deep hurt Nora’s face.

And the way Spock didn’t even look up from his PADD as Mr. Lasker lead Jim out of class by his ear made it all ten times worse.

Whatever, Jim thought as he scrubbed out garbage cans as punishment. It wasn’t like he’d never see Spock again. They were trapped on the same stupid planet after all.

Chapter Text

Act 2:

The murmurings of shortages started a few weeks later.

“Martins’ triticale lost to blight,” was the first Jim heard of it, at dinner (still no Spock). Everyone shook their headed sympathetically, murmuring about coming together to support the community and Jim’s not particularly worried.

But then it was the Muellers’ crop, and the Lees’ and more after that. In the month it took for summer to wither into autumn, all the triticale was infected; spotty leaves and mushy roots and a sticky, rotten smell.

Jim still wasn’t worried though. Not for himself anyway. They still have some fields left and he’s lived through mean times before—back in Iowa, when Frank drank all the money Winona left them, and he and Sam took to the woods with their bb guns, eating squirrels like wildmen and bringing their food stamps to the Salvation Army. 

So he knew how this went, knew how to tighten his belt when the rationing started, knew how to stay out of the way when adults started to get hungry and irritated, knew to put together a pipe gun that he figured he might be able to use to bring down some of the fluffy looking rodents he and Spock had seen in their forest explorations.

He did start to get worried about Spock though. From one or two hints—the fact that he had his own room; the way he cut his food into small pieces before he eats it, always with silverware even when it was hand-food; and the dignified way he carried himself unless Jim was goading him into a race—Jim suspected that Spock came from some kind of money. Maybe even silver spoon in your mouth, ivory tower kind of money. 

But even if Spock wasn’t as rich as Jim suspected he was, he was still soft. Not soft like he couldn’t take a punch or defend his honor if he had to—he could, Jim’d made sure—but soft like innocent. Innocent of the fact that adults weren’t always right and didn’t always want what was best for you.

Jim, who wasn’t soft at all decided that, stupid stalemate or no, he had to make sure Spock was okay. 

Sneaking out of the barracks after curfew one evening was easy. Everybody was huddled around a radio, listening to some sort of broadcast in which Kodos, Tarsus’ governor, was making a reassuring speech with phrases like “careful rationing” and “grain silos” and “protecting the remainder of the harvest” and something about a meeting being called for the following day, names of those requested to attend to be posted, ration cards to be handed out.

When Jim looked in though, Spock’s room was unlocked and empty—which was weird. Jim had tried to get Spock to stay up past curfew on numerous occasions before their fight, to sleep out in the woods or to catch the bioluminescent fish that swam in the Great River of Narnia at night—but Spock had never bitten. Guy loved rules after all, always did what adults told him to, as far as Jim could tell.

But Jim’s not worried. He checked the library, which was empty, and the barns where Spock liked to sit and watch the bovines murmur and bump into one another for some dorky reason (actually Jim liked sitting there as well but pretended he did it just to indulge Spock—before they'd stopped speaking anyway, he hasn’t been back since) but it was empty too.

Jim was starting to feel the first icy flutterings of panic when he remembered to check the schoolhouse.

At first he thought that’s empty too, but then blinked and he saw it, Spock’s wan profile glowing in the twin lights of his PADD and the monitor that sat in the corner of the schoolroom. 

notants art. computer vision syndrome

Jim let out a pent-up breath of relief, and Spock’s head shot up at the sound. His expression when he saw Jim was startled and guilty, and it gave Jim a strong sense of reverse déjà vu.

Neither of them said anything and the moment stretched taught, filling up with ungiven explanations and anger. It was the first time they’d been alone in more than a month of ignoring each other, an interval spent, on Jim’s side at least, building up an armor of resentment.

“Jim,” Spock said in his serious, heavily accented voice, making Jim's name sound like it had an extra vowel, and suddenly none of the rest of it mattered—like it never happened—and Jim was pushing his way through the desks to get to his friend, to hug him maybe or tackle him and be glad to lose yet another wrestling match.

But Spock was turning back toward the computer and Jim was confused, he’d thought they were going to make up—

“Jim,” Spock said again, pointing at the screen.

Not sure what this was about, Jim looked at the screen.

It was some sort of chart—lots of names and numbers all in neat little boxes and Jim wasn’t sure what he was supposed to see.

“What—” Jim began, but Spock gripped his arm, hard and scary so Jim shut up and kept reading.

It was some sort of rationing plan, Jim realized on closer inspection. Except it wasn’t the one that he’d seen posted everywhere throughout the colony for the last few weeks. This one was much more complicated, listing the blighted fields with small black dots and the viable ones with little green checks.

There were many, many more black dots than there should be.

Jim had thought it was just the triticale—that the market crops were fine, that this would all be over come second harvest when they could bring in money by selling their fancy Lunar Cabbages and Murdoc 115’s to the merchants who were due in a little over a month. 

But it wasn’t just the triticale, it turned out. It was almost everything. Out of all 8 of the settlements on Tarsus, theirs was the one with the most green checks. 

He’d been stupid not to be worried, Jim realized, feeling the floor drop out from beneath him. Insulated by the relative health of the crops in the immediate vicinity and his own reckless confidence in himself, Jim hadn’t understood what was happening. Up until right now he’d even thought that their settlement was the only one affected. 

Everyone must still think that, Jim realized, Tarsus’ lack of good roads or cell towers preventing such information from circulating.

Jim looked at Spock and Spock looked back at him, eyes deadly serious and definitely afraid. And if Spock was visibly afraid than something was definitely wrong, Jim felt with the weight of confirmation. Jim knew for sure because he’s tested Spock’s bravery on numerous occasions, seeing if he would follow him over splitting logs fallen like bridges over rushing channels, take a swing on a giant vine-turned-rope swing into deep water that Jim had found, faces painted with berry juice as they pretended to be pirates, wildmen or explorers. And Spock had followed Jim every time, intrepid and showing no fear.

“Come on,” Jim said. “We’ve got to tell everyone.”  

Jim knew that Spock knew what “Come on,” meant by now (it was practically marching orders at this point, Jim always said it before leading them off somewhere) but Spock just tugged on his sleeve insistently.

“I see what it said Spock, just—”

Jim broke off when Spock handed him the PADD, a message glowing on its screen.

  1/2

Confused by this cryptic number, Jim wondered if the PADD has malfunctioned and spat up one of Spock’s old messages by mistake. 

“I don’t understand,” Jim said, making a gesture of bewilderment, and Spock looked frustrated, reaching forward and typing in something else.

  not enough, 1/2 people food-plan work 

He looked at Spock helplessly, who got to his feet and strode toward the chalkboard determinedly. There was no chalk on the board’s shelf though, because Mr. Lasker always hid it so that idiot kids like Jim wouldn’t use it to draw dirty pictures on the board when he wasn’t looking.

Dashing to the sink, Jim filled a cup with water and brought it back to Spock, whose eyes light with understanding. 

So much chalk dust layered the board that, when Spock dipped his finger into the water and started writing, the marks he leaves were easy to read.

Four stick figures appeared on the board, and then Spock drew a line between them, two on one side, two on the other. 

notants art. 1/2

Not enough, 1/2 people food-plan work Jim thought feverishly, trying to understand.

Pointing to the monitor where the rationing plan still glows, Spock circled the figures on one side of the line and suddenly it clicked in Jim’s head like lightning.

There wasn’t enough food. Kodos’ rationing plan would only work for half of Tarsus’ population. Spock must have done the math or something, because when Jim went to inspect the monitor more closely, all he saw were a bunch of numbers that don’t make sense.

“How did you get access to this?” Jim asked, but even if Spock could understand it wasn’t important. Probably through his mysterious computer job, Jim guessed, his brain whirling as he tried to work through the information so he could decide what to do.

“So what about the other half?” Jim asked into the silence, not sure if he was talking to himself or Spock. 

Jim looked back at the chalkboard, where the circle Spock had drawn around half of the stick figures had run, causing the stick figures inside it to drip too, lines of water dark in the room lit only by the computers.

notants art. aghhhh

The sight made a cold something twist in Jim’s mind and he thought back to the radio broadcast he’d heard earlier (meeting called, names to be posted).

“Don’t say anything about this,” Jim told Spock, typing “Say nothing. Avoid panic,” into the PADD and praying it got through. There’s a meeting tomorrow after all. He could wait until then. Kodos was probably just trying to make sure no one freaked out like Jim was doing right now.

Spock must understand his message because he nodded solemnly, his eyes still scared. 

Jim nodded back, the sharp gesture making him feel like he was in control of a situation which has so quickly spiraled out into something far, far beyond his grasp.

***

After an uneasy sleep troubled by dreams about Hamlet of all things, Jim met Spock outside the Hall. When they were at last let in, they crowded around the bulletin board to look at the posted names with everyone else. 

Jim’s name wasn’t on the list. Neither was Spock’s.

Nora’s name was, Nora Ruth McKenzie. So was his Aunt Abigail’s. 

Jim turned to find Spock pulling at his sleeve and pushing the PADD at him.

  Count  

Jim read the word in confusion, but looked back at the paper to do what Spock said anyway.

But he didn’t really need to though, because the names were numbered, 467 in all, although Spock probably really had counted (and crazy fast too) since the numerals were Terran.

Doing the math quickly—the fact that this was almost exactly half their settlement’s population sticking in Jim’s mind like tar—he got that same cold feeling from the night before, but stronger this time.

He didn’t know what’s happening. was Kodos going to evacuate half the people on the colony while the rest of them stayed behind? Surviving on the ration plan until—until what exactly? There wasn’t going to be a harvest. Not a first one or a second one. That was obvious from what he and Spock had learned last night. When the merchants came there would be nothing to trade—what they had probably wasn’t even enough to support the colony until then.

He looked at Spock, the same fear from the night before written on his face in tense lines.

“It’s going to be fine,” Jim told him, trying to believe it, to make it sound reassuring in a way that Spock would understand without language.

Kodos probably just hasn’t told everyone about the shortages to avoid a panic. It’s what I would do, Jim tried to tell himself, feeling deep down that it wasn’t true.

After a breakfast that Jim could hardly taste, he saw Officer Hansen standing in a corner and went to her immediately. 

“Do you know what’s going on?” he asked.

After appraising him for a moment, she answered, a bit reluctantly. “No. We were just told that ration cards would be handed out at the meeting.” 

Jim believed her. Strict and annoying as she’d always been, he didn’t think she would lie.

Still, worry was twisting in his stomach like a tightening cord so he finds Nora after breakfast and tried to convince her not to go even though he wasn’t even sure why she thought she shouldn’t.

“James Kirk, if you ever speak to me again, I’ll slap you so hard you see stars,” she said, anger and hurt in every line of her face, and he knew that there’s nothing he could say that would make her listen, and worse still that this was his fault.

Spock was standing outside the Hall when Jim turned around, and Jim felt his own expression stutter, not sure how to balance the tensions pulling him in different directions. But Spock just handed him the PADD silently.

  What are we going to do?

“I wish I knew,” Jim replied.

***

In a last ditch effort to do something, Jim pretended to be sick (thermometer in hot water) so that Aunt Abigail would stay behind to take care of him. A bunch of children (why were children being summoned?) were left behind as well—including thank God—Nora, and Nora’s younger cousin Kenny, along with a few of the elderly. 

Everyone else whose names were on the list marched off towards the municipal building a few miles to the northeast.

It’ll be fine, Jim told himself as he watched them go, before joining those left behind, most of whom had gathered in one of the barracks to listen to the radio, where apparently the audio of the meeting would be broadcast, only Spock’s silent presence by his side keeping him calm.

After a tense wait, the radio crackles on and after a brief announcement that Jim barely heard, Kodos’ voice issued through the speaker, slightly marred by static.

“—revolution is successful. But survival depends on drastic measures. Your continued existence represents a threat to the well-being of society. Your lives mean slow death to the more valued members of the colony. Therefore, I have no alternative but to sentence you to death. Your execution is so ordered, signed Kodos, Governor of Tarsus IV."

Chapter Text

“...But it's coming—it's coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It's covered with blood!"

“Don’t be silly, it’s only the light of sunset.”                                                                        

                —Richard Adams, Watership Down


Later, when Jim will try to recall what happened after he heard the first screams, he won’t be able to. 

Reading about it all sometime afterwards, he’ll desperately try to piece together what had actually happened, to make sense of the utter senselessness of it all, jog his memory, anything.

He will read about how Kodos had the assembly room doors locked, the anxious crowd trapped inside, the twisted speech the last thing they, the less-valued members of the colony, ever heard. How an antimatter switch was flipped and they were all gone in a single (painless?) instant.

About how the guards were sent to round up those whose names had been on the list but hadn’t shown up because they were too young or too old, how the people of Tarsus IV had refused to give them up and blood and fire had been shed.

He will read countless psychoanalysis’ of Kodos and his presumed insanity, scientific explanations of why the blight had spread in the first place, hour by hour break downs of when Starfleet should have been hailed and wasn’t, but in the end, none of this will matter.

All he’ll have are words on a page and distorted snatches of memory hazed over by terror—some of which he knows can’t have actually happened because there are no such things as thundering wildebeest with giant teeth who roar and spit fire from their mouths, and he’s sure the man he saw outside the municipal building—the one with the pointed beard and dead eyes—can’t have taken off into the sky on enormous black, decaying wings.

Jim remembers clutching his pipe gun in sweaty hands, stumbling along the road amid huge billows of dark smoke—was there a fire?—calling out for Spock, for Sam, for Aunt Abigail, for his mother, for his father, but no one answered and the smoke was like burning cotton in his lungs and mouth.

The municipal building was in flames that reached past the sky, purple smoke huge, towering cities in the air—a man takes off into that smoke on hideous wings—and then Spock was somehow by his side (did you hear me calling you?), tugging him backwards and they’re running back down the road towards the settlement.  

There was a man on the road, who looked like he was asleep. 

notants art "the dead"

“Tevik, ” Jim said, holding out his hand, using a word Spock had used weeks ago to describe a large insect that wouldn’t move, even when Jim poked it with a stick. “The dead,” and Spock said a blessing in Vulcan.

Then there was Mr. Lasker, who was wearing his church clothes—but that can’t be right, because it wasn’t Sunday—and his eyes were like twin stars, which probably wasn’t real either, handing them Nora’s little cousin Kenny and telling them to run.

“Come with us!” Jim shouted, as he watched Mr. Lasker, who was suddenly the size of giant running back towards the burning buildings. Mr. and Mrs. Leighton were begging them, with more children—Thomas and both of the Lee kids screaming and crying, a roar growing in the background.

“They were on the list, please take them somewhere safer. Please Jim.”

And then he and Spock were carrying children and running—racing to the big-ass tree one last time—chased by the wildebeest whose hooves were shaking the earth. 

notants art "wildebeest"

And it wasn’t the river of Narnia, Jim realized.

It was the river of blood (who’s blood?) on the way to Mictlān—the underworld—red under the haze of smoke and he prayed to God to part the waters for them, searching frantically for the place where he knew it could be forded. 

And maybe God listened because Spock found the fording and they crossed, water up to their waists, barely able to breath under the smoke, Spock carrying both the Lee’s and Jim with Kenny on his shoulders and coming out on the other side felt like baptism (you have put on christ, in him you have been baptized. alleluia).

notants art "Mictlān"

Walking until they weren’t breathing smoke, they got to one of his and Spock’s forts. In their game it’d been the Marshwiggle’s outpost, but now it was somewhere to hide, big enough for them to all fit, catching their breath, huddling together like frightened animals.

Blisters formed on sore feet from carrying Kenny when they trooped on, getting muddy on boggy ground, Spock leading them further than they’d ever ventured before, to the foot of a tall mountain that Jim thinks might have been a volcano because of how hot the ground was in certain places, and how it had melted their shoes a little. 

notants art "into thin air"

They stayed there for a while. It seemed like only a few hours, but he has a memory of waking in the night, breathing hard, thinking they were the only ones on the planet left alive. And Spock was sitting up like a cat on watch, their eyes meeting in the dark, wanting to cry but not doing so because when he’d left Iowa he’d vowed never to let anyone see him cry, no matter what. 

So it must have been at least a day, maybe two. 

Jim doesn’t remember much besides feeling so hungry he’d dreamed only of food during fitful sleeps (cinnamon rolls, oatmeal, even Goddamn broccoli), of Spock’s hungry eyes when he brings back foraged roots and tubers, the children growing too dehydrated to cry, the scratch of fear, of starting to feel weird and floaty and almost not hungry even though he knows he should’ve been, the glowing fish from the lake swimming before his eyes, and Spock always on watch, keeping them safe from whatever they were supposed to be afraid of.

***

“Spock,” he said, looking up into Spock’s hollowing face (was it always that thin?), evening sun burning itself out behind them. Spock was wiping his forehead with a damp sleeve, and Jim lifted his thumb to Spock’s face, trying to wipe away the exhaustion written there, and Spock did the same to him, so he must've looked just as tired.

Spock’s hand touched his face and then the world was doubling—like in cartoons when a character got hit hard in the head (“how many fingers am i holding up, winston?”)—and then his mind was bounding outwards, stretching like a rubber band and the river was rushing over its banks like a tide and then—

notants art "mind melt"

 

Jim.

 

Spock. Spock is that you?

 

Yes Jim.

 

There are colors rushing past his eyes, and he's swimming in the Great River of Narnia again, and Spock is on the shore. Jim swims towards him, and Spock helps him out of the water, his clothing dripping on the bank in the warm sun.

 

How!? I can understand you!! Where are we? all pass through Jim’s head? mouth? at once, immense-sudden-joy-confusion pushing the river to lap at their ankles.

 

(calm, fascination) I do not know. I believe I unintentionally initiated a shallow mind-meld at your unexpected touch. I apologize for any disorientation you may be experiencing.

 

Geez, are you a professor or something? You talk exactly how I imagined you would.

 

(amusement) Among my people teaching is considered an honor. However I do not believe you intended your remark as a compliment.

 

It’s weird, Jim thinks, laughing, getting the psychic rebound on Spock’s thoughts, feeling the suppressed humor that he’d always known was there, but which he can usually only detect in Spock’s amused black eyes—wait, brown eyes. How had he never realized they were brown before?

 

Spock, we’re going to die, he says, his mind clearing for maybe the first time since the screams. 

 

Jim feels the sudden sobering of Spock’s thought’s like a cloud going over the sun.

 

(hope, you) You have assured us that we will not. I will return to the settlement. There may be food there.

 

We’ll go together. The kids will die if we stay here and if both of us go, there’s a better chance that we both make it back, Jim says, not allowing himself to think about other possibilities.

 

(hesitation) Very well. I will attempt to end the meld. 

 

Wait! 

 

Jim has a million questions, a million things he wants to say, but none of them is what he wants to say right now.

 

(curiosity, hope?) Yes Jim?

 

Never mind.

 

(concern) Jim. If we do not return please know that—

 

Spock! We’re going to make it. 

 

(hope, fear) How do you know?

 

Because.

 

(jim) Jim—

 

We will. Just trust me.

 

Instead of an answer in words, Jim feels an emotion that’s not his own pressing into him. Something that is too big, far too big for him to understand. 

And then it was over, like stepping out of a warm bath, the rubber band snapping on the recoil and Jim opened his eyes with a light headache, Spock still lying across from him, his fingers drawing away from Jim’s face. 

Chapter Text

Morning turned the forest a dim green in the light of the rising sun, and he and Spock set out for the settlement, leaving Thomas keeping a sleepy guard over Kenny and the Lees.

Sure and quick with practice, they made their way through the marshy woods, the memory of their—mind melt?—the night before still swimming in Jim’s thoughts, and soon enough he began to recognize familiar landmarks, and knew they were almost there.

Thick, golden fog rose off the river when they reached it, like walking through pillowy light and Jim gripped the corner of Spock’s robe so they wouldn’t get separated from one another, Spock gripping his sleeve in return.

At the bank they took off their shoes, Spock slinging his robe over his shoulder before shucking off his pants. Jim followed suit, shivering as they stepped into the stream. Extending his arms like a gymnast, Jim carried his shoes and pipe gun with one hand and and kept his tight hold on Spock’s sleeve with the other, careful not to trip on the slick river rocks and bring them both down into the icy water which rushed around their ankles, calves, thighs, waists.

By the time they made their way out of the forest, the fog was starting to dissipate, and they hurried across the fields until they got to the outskirts of the settlement. 

All the crops were gone now, Jim noted with a distant dismay. Withered swaths of triticale stretched on either side, smelling of rotten hay and purpling with decay. He wasn’t sure what they would find amongst the buildings—if any were even standing. 

Making their way over the last rise, the settlement appeared before and slightly below them in the pale morning light. 

The Hall was gone. So were some of the barracks—half burned and black with char (so the fire was real after all). But several other barracks, and the common buildings still stood, stalwart in the fog.

Everything smelled of smoke when they got closer, despite the dampening rains which had already encouraged green-blue moss to burgeon on the fallen buildings that Jim saw as he and Spock entered the empty village. 

Quiet was so strong he felt like they were just two small ghosts tiptoeing in a vast wreckage.

Maybe that's exactly what we are.

Together they approached one of the common buildings—the one where their library had been—and went inside. The lights didn’t work and the refrigerator was off so everything inside was spoiled (milk for tea, yogurt that had “Margerie’s don’t touch” scrawled on it with Sharpie).

But the cabinets had dandelion tea (no peppermint, there were assholes after the apocalypse too) and some hard crumbly biscuit-cookies and power bars.

notants' art "there are assholes post apocalypse"

Seeing food was like manna from heaven, and it was all Jim could do not to cry out with joy. Quickly, he and Spock stuffed everything into the pockets of Spock’s robe—God, that robe was the greatest thing ever it turned out—and they were about to dart back to their camp, not wanting to press their luck, when they heard a sound from outside of tramping feet. 

Their eyes met in horror.

Kodos’ guards.

Stepping in front of Spock, Jim hefted his gun. There was nowhere to hide here and if he was going to die it was going to be protecting his best friend in the world.

Shouting voices rang out and in the moment the door opened, for the second time in Jim's life he thought fuck, I don’t want to die, I really, really don’t want to die, please God not yet

Not Spock, please not Spock—

Several uniform clad figures stepped inside.

And at first it didn’t make sense, and he was yelling at the shocked looking officers to stay back, don’t come any closer, I’ll kill you, and he felt Spock’s hand clutching his arm like a vice, and he knew it was going to be the last thing he ever felt. 

But it wasn’t Kodos’ guards. 

It was Starfleets.

Feeling his gun slide through his fingers and clatter to the floor, Jim had never been so grateful to see those stupid Godawful primary colors, watching as the officers surged forward. With adults rushing towards them, Jim turned, suddenly afraid and confused (who are these people again?), grabbing onto Spock.

When the officers try to pull them apart—saying words that Jim could’t understand—he screamed and didn’t let go. He was never, ever going to let go, never ever ever—

“Jim, let go,” Spock said. “Let them help.”

Wait, what?

Thick as Spock's accent was, it took Jim a moment to realize that he was speaking not Vulcan but Standard

The shock was so great that he obeyed instinctually. Then he was being pulled away from Spock—whose eyes cried out to him, despite his words—and Jim was babbling about children in the woods, children in the woods, four of them, across the river, and several Starfleet officers were asking him questions at once and Jim was gesturing wildly towards where they’d left the kids, and then watching in relief as several red-clad officers jogged off in that direction.

notants' art "primary colors"

And as if this was the thing he’d been unconsciously waiting for, the last gasp of his exhausted brain, (“and i only am escaped alone to tell thee”) Jim felt a sudden wave of dizziness, his legs wobbling underneath him as the world tilted and everything was gone.

***

 

Memories of recovery were a little spotty too for Jim, blurring together in the repetitive cycle of artificial days and nights in a starship’s medical facility, bland food and sterile wards and lots of sleeping.

There was a moment he remembered when he and Spock were lying on beds next to one another, sitting up for the first time since who knew when, and Jim climbed out of his and into Spock’s—because that’s how they’d always done things right?—and Spock was warm and there’s a TV showing a bunch of people doing some kind of slow swing dance in the background (wait is that the polka?) except it was very, very beautiful.

“We will do that someday, when we leave here,” Spock told him in heavily accented Standard, pointing up at the screen and Jim nodded, because he couldn’t think of anything better—of being somewhere where he wasn’t sick and tired all the time, with Spock, free and happy and able to move like a person again.

Pressing in for dear life, Jim got as close to Spock as he could, nosing under his arm which clasped around him. Together, as if moved by the same impulse, they tilted back and forth just a little—like the dancers on the screen—feeble imitations of the beauty represented there.

Spock, you saved my life, he tried to say out loud, but his tongue felt much heavier than it should and when he woke up he was in his own bed and Spock was gone and he wasn’t sure if it’d even happened because Spock had been speaking Standard, and Spock didn’t speak Standard right? He couldn’t remember and the medication they keep giving him was making him so sleepy. . .

***

When he woke up again he was in an unfamiliar ward and he needed to find Spock to thank him for saving his life.

There was a nurse in the room with him, which Jim thought was good, because he might know where Spock was.

“Spock?” he asked, voice coming out hoarse.

“Who?” the nurse responded and Jim felt frustration spark.

“Where’s Spock?” he asked again and the man looked confused. “The Vulcan who was here,” he snapped at this obviously slow person.

“Ah. Transferred to a vessel headed to Vulcan when we stopped over at Starbase 19.”

Staring and uncomprehending Jim looked at him and the nurse went on, wasting Jim’s time with details that were obviously wrong, because Spock couldn’t be gone.

“We made dry dock last night when you were asleep so—”

Ignoring this unimportant person, Jim pushed himself off the bed on legs that were weirdly shaky. Made a break for the corridor anyway, but the nurse caught him with laughable ease, which didn’t make sense because Jim was fast—only Spock had ever beat him in a race—and he was being corralled back into bed and he was lighter than he should be when the nurse helped lift him back into position, his struggles only a token protest for the sake of his imperiled dignity.

“Where are the kids?” Jim asked as soon as he was seated again, a little shaken.

“Do you promise not to escape if I tell you?” asked the nurse who was clearly wilier than Jim had given him credit for. 

Jim nodded because he didn’t think he was up for another escape attempt just then, but he didn’t want the sneaky nurse to know that in case he was given an opportunity.

“They’re in a separate ward. All fine—better off than you actually. I’ll take you to see them this afternoon,” he said, heading off Jim’s questions. “From what I hear, you saved their lives.”

The only thing Jim heard was that they’re safe and then his mind snapped back to Spock. 

Spock saved my life. Maybe more than once.

“And Spock?” he asked, the fact that Spock might not actually be here slowly sinking in.

At least Spock would have the food they'd gotten into his pockets.

“Extremely low in a lot of essential nutrients, just like you. But also just like you, he was going to be fine. You’re both young enough that you’ll snapback fast. Vulcans are tough. Just like humans,” he said, ruffling Jim’s hair with an odd gentleness that Jim didn’t fully understand. Not until he was allowed to take a trip to the bathroom and he caught sight of himself in the mirror anyway.

Disturbingly round, his face was moonlike, sickly and pale, his eyelashes too long and brittle. His hair was dull and lank, and when he pulled up his shirt and took off his pants, his body looked wrong and too small.

“Malnutrition,” the nurse explained when Jim asked, and Jim was disconcerted by this. He’d looked so different the last time he’d seen himself in a mirror. It didn’t make sense. They’d only been in the forest for a day or so.

But the rationing had been going on for longer than that, Jim thought, which made some sense after he has time to think it over for a while. 

***

Darkness was over his eyes when Jim woke up in the middle of the night, and he didn’t know where he is. He screams for the nurse, who came running in.

“Spock? My Aunt and Uncle? The kids?” he gasped in a panic. Why hadn’t he asked before? 

“All alive and accounted for,” the nurse told him, and Jim slumps back. The nurse looked at him worriedly and Jim got the funny feeling that he’s already had this question answered for him, and he closed his eyes and let his head sink into the pillow, which was suddenly very soft.

“What actually happened on Tarsus IV?” he heard someone who might be him ask.

“No one will ever know,” the nurse, who was maybe a part of Jim’s dream responded.

Chapter Text

It was hard at first.

San Francisco was strange and no one said hello on the street or ‘bless you’ when you sneezed or understands that the ice cream they’re eating was terrible (it wasn’t the same as frozen custard and they didn’t even have Blue Moon for crying out loud) and there wasn’t any snow and the buildings were too tall and close together.

Missing Iowa was weird, since he spent all his time there hating it, and missing Tarsus was even weirder and more confusing for obvious reasons. And he missed Spock like crazy and maybe he was a little crazy after all for missing two places where he’d almost died.

He was hungry all the time.

Sometimes he even thought that the hunger was the only real thing there was.

Often he couldn’t even taste anything though—like trying to eat with a cold, so he’d spend an hour looking at food porn and then get cravings for weirdly specific foods like peanut butter and pickles in the middle of the night, go eat and then feel ashamed of himself, ashamed of the fact that he’d done nothing on Tarsus, had been so, so, shamefully weak, saved no one despite knowing something was wrong.

Nightmares came and he gets trampled, couldn’t move or breathe, waking up with a bottomless pit yawning underneath him and Jim was falling with nothing to catch him, thinking that maybe he deserves this, maybe he gave up his chance when he tried to take that car off a cliff and God was punishing him now. 

Because even though Jim didn’t really remember most of it, what happened on Tarsus felt like a curse, just more proof that the universe was cruelly random and there was nothing you could do and his old anger came back, with no Spock to stem the flood gates this time.

Knew it’d gotten bad when one day he saw a car that looked nothing like his father’s, but it was red and for a second he imagined hot-wiring it, getting behind the wheel and driving as fast as he can, fast enough to be chased, fast enough to escape, to keep going, going until he wouldn’t have to—

Then he went back to eating too much again, (and too little again, and too much) his body weight waxing and waning like the moon, binging furtively because he just couldn’t eat enough to fill the bottomless pit and then refusing to eat because he shouldn’t be eating, he was so guilty, the food was for the kids. 

He tried hard not to get caught at either activity, which was impossible with his mom and grandfather around for the foreseeable future, and even Sam around for temporary, when he came to visit from his internship.

So they sent him to therapy (what a joke) where a man in a yellow cardigan asked him all sorts of questions about his dad, of all things, which didn’t make any sense (nothing made sense) and he was angry on the way home in the car, glaring up at the undersides of San Francisco's stupid-as-fuck tall buildings.

Stupid therapist phony didn’t understand, he thought angrily as he watched his grandfather go off to church without him (“Going would be good for you Jim.” “I don’t give a shit.” “James, language.”) the day after Sam left again.

His dad hadn’t even been there on Tarsus. 

“Full fathom five thy father lies, of his bones are coral made.”

Told his therapist so, angry when he asked another of his stupid-idiot questions and Jim started yelling, storming, rage fueled and insulting ("Your sweater is ugly and it makes you look fat!”). 

Until he realized everyone he was yelling at (Sam, Spock, his dad, his mom, Kodos, Mr. Lasker) wasn’t even in the room with him and he was suddenly exhausted. Slumping down on a chair he tried not to cry and said sorry, it won’t happen again, I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, but the therapist told him it was alright, it was OK, yelling was OK here Jim, what you went through was something that no one should have to go through, you didn’t deserve it.

After that he started taking the therapy a little more seriously. 

Mr. Nguyen wasn’t so bad, it turned out, and he listened when Jim explained how it wasn’t fair that he wasn’t allowed to talk to Spock and that sometimes everything he ate turned into sawdust, and about his nightmares and eventually about how he still didn’t really remember what happened on Tarsus and the old stuff about how he felt about not having a dad.

Because Jim hadn’t had a dad growing up.

Which was maybe the reason the idea of God bothers him so much, he realized in between sessions. 

In church they told you that God was everybody’s dad, and all that Jim knew about dads was that they were gone like George Kirk or asshole alcoholics who hit you as punishment like Frank. If God was supposed to be like either of them, Jim had decided long ago that he was better off on his own, no thanks. 

God is an asshole who didn’t exist, Jim thought angrily during church, and you‘re a sucker if you think he does and I’m. no. sucker.

***

“Are you excited for school?” Mr. Nguyen asked him on the day before he was supposed to start, mid-year for the January term.

“No,” Jim answered because he wasn’t. 

***

But school was better than he’d thought it would be. Much better, it turned out. Mom got him into all the right classes—ones where he finally, finally didn’t feel bored, like a light switch getting flipped on in his brain—and he joined the chess club, which he never would have before (too nerdy), but no one at his school cared about that as much.

And all of it was weird because what happened on Tarsus had felt like the end of the world, but apparently it really hadn’t been, and this realization was both reassuring and distressing because life won’t just stop happening to him.

***

“So, the minister at my church is married.”

“And?” Mr. Ngyuen asked.

“To his husband.”

“It would be pretty hard to imagine having a husband and not being married to him.” 

“Don’t be such a wiseguy.”

A slight pause.

“It’s OK to be gay and Chirstian Jim. God loves everybody.”

“What about Hitler?”

“Don’t be such a wiseguy Jim.”  

Silence.

“You do know that it’s OK, right?”

“I know.”

***

Jim kept trying to call Spock. 

A black-haired boy sat near the front of his class, and every time Jim saw the back of his head out of the corner of his eye he thought he was seeing Spock. And then when he realized it wasn’t, there was a deep ache, and he desperately missed his friend.

Eventually he got on the phone with Spock’s dad, Ambassador Sarek (seriously who named their kid “Ambassador”? Spock got off easy) who sounded like a snobby protocol droid, and who told him that Spock was recovering, and would be better off without “outside influence,” whatever that meant, and no matter how hard or with what semi-illegal measures Jim tried, he couldn’t find a comm number to reach his friend.

***

Not much felt like home these days, so Jim started going back to church, despite feeling pretty ambivalent about the whole thing. 

Once he was there though, standing in a room full of freshly starched, annoyingly pious and washed-behind the ears for the first time all week Presbyterians, it felt familiar and even nice. Surprisingly nice, to feel forgiven and clean, singing songs with feeble lyrics that nevertheless seemed to lift up above the quotidian bustle of everyday life. Up into something that was maybe God. 

Because if Jim ever did decide to believe in God, he thought a group of annoying people with their eyes all fixed on the same goal, striving for goodness that was beyond them, and willing to die for one another if it came to that might be as close as it got on Earth. 

Mr. Lasker had died on Tarsus. 

So had Mr. and Mrs. Leighton, all gone back to pull more people out of the fire. 

To Jim, church-goers had always seemed like hypocrites, just a little dumber, sheep-like and more bigoted than everyone else.  

But sometimes that wasn't true. Could be the opposite of true, he knew now because all that laying down your life bullshit had turned out to not be bullshit at all 'cause their really were some actually good good people in the world.

(even if they were the ones who died)

***

About eight months out, Jim was no closer to making sense of Tarsus, to understanding it. But he did get his eating mostly under control, which made Mr. Nguyen and his mother very proud—although they both express it differently (Mr. Nguyen said “I’m proud of you Jim,” while Jim mother’s smiled get less tight, and she took him to the movies and didn’t say why but Jim knew why).

Getting some control back wasn’t actually that hard once Jim discovered that focusing on a difficult problem filled his mind with strategies and emptied it of all the crap he’d rather not think about.

First it was doing his advanced physics homework, then it was learning how to play chess and making a few friends and trying to get with some of the girls who were very interested in him all of a sudden—who could understand the mind of a girl? And then it was learning to really run again—which he hadn’t done since Tarsus—up San Francisco’s steep streets, muscles straining, up asphalt hills and faster than the wind going back down the other side, pleasure and accomplishment licking his brain.

That’s how he ends up learning Vulcan actually, starting late one night in a fever of ambition and insomnia and then coming back to it day after day like an obsession.

It was hard—fucking hard, it finally made sense that the PADD translations had been as bad as they’d been—but the idea of Spock’s lighted-up look of surprise when Jim uses it on him kept him going through intransitive verbs, declensions and the God-forsaken ablative and vocative cases that he was  pretty sure had been created as instruments of torture rather than necessary parts of the language.

He’s not sure if he’ll ever get a chance to use any of it, but the language felt like something he needed to know. 

And, while this intuition won’t turn out to be strictly true, Jim would look back many years later and realize that it had nevertheless been one of his better ideas. 

Chapter Text

One day in late Fall a little under a year after Tarsus, Jim came home from school to his mother telling him that Spock had called—that Spock was on the line right now.

Racing in, Jim didn’t know whether to be shocked out of his mind, or happy and excited, or angry and betrayed that it’s been so long—but when he saw Spock’s soft eyes, blinking at him from the vid comm screen, it couldn’t matter less how he was supposed to feel.

“Spock!” he joyfully half-shouts. Not gonna to cry.

“Jim. It is pleasant to see you,” Spock replied in accented but intelligible Standard, with a small quirk of the lips which made Jim’s heart swell.

“Stop looking so smug,” Jim said accusingly as he headed off to his bedroom for some privacy from his mom. “When did you even learn Standard anyway? I swear I remember—” Jim breaks off as he sat hard on his bed, feeling his mouth tense at the memory of Starfleet guards and being pulled away from Spock.

“Jim,” Spock said again, and Jim opened his eyes, which he must have closed. “I apologize for not contacting you sooner. I was unable to as my father sent me to Gol for a protracted period of recovery.”

This didn’t make Jim feel any better. "Your dad sent you by yourself?"

"You are indignant."

His friend had a talent for understatement it seemed. "Hell yes I am, I haven't seen you in months!" Do you know what that was like?

Calm under Jim's upset, Spock response was surprisingly ameliorating. "My father believed it was for the best considering the Vulcan need for solitude and meditation. However I was not alone, for my mother was with me in Gol, which was only permitted due to his influence."

“Oh." Jim hadn't thought of any of that, and anger was quickly exchanged for curiosity. "Alright, what’s Gol then?” he asked, the word feeling strange and guttural on his tongue, different from most of the Vulcan words he’d learned. 

So Spock told him about a soldier who mistook an army for a sandstorm, and about how afterwards, when the city of Gol was destroyed, it’s ruins were converted into a series of monasteries—and Jim sat back to listen to the surreal sound of Spock’s calm voice, still accented, but less so than before—proof that Spock has been practicing, and also making Jim ache a little for how things used to be. Imagining Spock as a monk made Jim laugh though, a moment later because—after all that time joking to himself about the Vulcan’s robes—Spock really had been a monk after all. 

Spock paused to give him the eyebrow which made Jim laugh more. Everything about Spock was making him laugh right now.

They talked for hours, re-learning each other with words, which was strange, but mostly because it was as easy for them to talk with language as without it—that was to say, often very annoying and at cross-purposes with one another, but hilarious and rewarding when it did work out, when they found that place where they just got each other.

Direct mention of Tarsus wasn’t made (Jim didn’t really want to talk about it and guessed Spock didn’t either) and instead they talk about where they are:

"C'mon Spock, hold the PADD up to the window, I wanna see what Vulcan looked like."

"Very well."

"WOWWWWWW! It's like, the reddest thing I've ever seen!"

"You are easily impressed."

"Shut up Spock."

...

"Jim, may I see out your window as well?"

...

"Fine. Don't look at me like that. Ugh, that means I have to get up, you're the worst—oh wait, here's my mom's cat. Say hello to Spock Mr. Paul McCatney."

"Fascinating—Jim, this is an Earth feline, correct?" 

"Yup. Biggest jerk I know, he hates m—Hey! No! Don't paw the screen, you bastard!"

(a pause while Jim rights the PADD and shoos a sullen Paul McCatney away)

"He is rather an unusual color. Are Earth felines generally blue?"

Jim smirked. "Only ones that get Kool-aid dip-dyed for being jerks."

Spock gave him a stern look. "I am beginning to understand why he holds such animosity for you."

"Of course you'd side with the cat Spock. I should've known."

And about classes: 

“...who’s teaching us about banana republics. Do you have those on Vulcan?” 

“Banana?” Spock asked dubiously, butchering the word with his accent, the familiar wrinkle of confusion between his eyebrows.

“How can you have never heard of bananas Spock? They’re the king of fruits. Wait you know what—the fact that you haven’t had one is bananas!”

The wrinkle deepened.

And school—Spock seemed very interested in the idea of chess club, although he tried to act like he wasn’t: 

“...and pawns can move forward two spaces on their first move, just one on all the others, and they capture pieces diagonally.” 

“Illogical,” Spock declares, clearly fascinated. 

“Oh very illogical,” Jim agreed, sly. “Probably important to learn about though, for cultural exchange purposes,” he added casually, waiting, and sure enough...

“Jim, what befalls pieces once they have been captured?”  

Eventually Jim started yawning, and Spock told him he should sleep.

“But what about,” Jim paused to yawn, “the snooz mana—whatever you said—that martial art thing you mentioned? I want to know about it.”

“The next time we speak,” Spock assured him, which was as good as a promise and made Jim feel more than he could put into words—which was called ‘ineffable,’ a word Jim read in one of the books he’d been assigned for school and had to look up in the dictionary—and pretty much describes a lot of how he felt about Spock.

But he has to make absolutely sure because he’s had too many upheavals to count on an almost-promise.

“Do you promise? That we’ll talk again soon?”

You saved my life.

“Yes Jim,” Spock replied, tilting his head to the side, a curious bird.

“How do I know you won’t disappear again?” Jim presses, feeling silly and also desperate for reassurance.

“Vulcans do not lie,” Spock told him, as grave as if it were written in blood so Jim finally let him hang up after one more goodbye, body fizzing with excitement as he drifted off to sleep.

After that first call, they talk almost every time Vulcan and Earth’s daylight hours match up and neither of them was in school, which turned out to be about two or three times a week, mostly over voice-comm since video calls were more expensive between planets. Evening would come and Jim would kick off his shoes and lie down in bed in his socks, comm to his ear—only to get up and pace around whenever Spock said something that got him thinking, wildly gesticulating even though Spock couldn’t see him.

They talk about a lot of things (Jim was curious as hell about Vulcan for one thing), but for some reason Jim never mentions the girl he’s been kissing, even though his natural instinct was to do so, to tell Spock about the one he’s started to do more than just kissing with, touching each other you-know-where. 

Jim’s not sure why he didn’t mention it, he just didn’t.  

And eventually they do talk about Tarsus. 

Just the nice stuff though, because what was the point of talking about that sort of thing with anyone who wasn’t your therapist?

And Jim got all sorts of questions answered—was The Lion King really the first movie Spock had ever seen? (Yes); Fuck, really? (Still yes Jim, I do not understand the purpose of asking a second time); Don’t be so literal. So why do you always wear that bathrobe thing? (It is not a bathrobe); Uh huh, so Vulcans don’t just like wearing their pajamas around all day? (No, that would be illogical); We’re gonna have to agree to disagree on that dude. So why do you guys wear 'em then? (Vulcan is hot, therefore Vulcans are easily chilled); I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you're not chill Spock. (Your laughter indicates that you do indeed enjoy being the deliverer of ill tidings, although I do not understand your comment. Are you speaking a variation of Standard that I am unaware of?); 'Chill' means laid back, which Spock, I've seen the way you comb your hair. So, are you really a vegetarian? (I do not brush my hair in any particular manner, and yes, all Vulcans are vegetarian); Fine, fine—that sucks man! No meat? Then what about chocolate, why don't you eat that? (Vegetarianism does not produce a partial vacuum. And chocolate is an intoxicant for Vulcans); No shit! I call dibs on your pudding cups for the rest of your life. And not what I meant by ‘sucks’ Spock. And wait, Spock, were you really using the f-word that time I had played you Sabotage? (uncertain, Spock won’t give him a straight answer).

Spock asked Jim questions too, one of which was the long-delayed and therefore inevitable “Why were you on Tarsus IV?” 

“Drove a car off a cliff,” Jim replied nonchalantly, a tone he has near perfected in the time since he did it. could almost make it sound like bragging, and someday, he already knew, that’s all it’ll sound like.

(“Yeah, I drove a car off a cliff—isn’t that cool.”)

Spock though, who always told the truth and who knew Jim's tones better than anyonesince that's all he had to go on for so long, seemed to sense Jim's false bravado because his eyes grew solemn.

“Why?”

Jim shifted uncomfortably on his bed.

He's never had to explain this before. And for a moment, Jim thought about lying (“Because it was awesome!” or “No reason,”)—but you just couldn’t lie to someone who would never lie to you. Not without feeling like a dick afterwards anyway.

“My step-dad sucked—was the worst I mean,” Jim said, averting his eyes but wanting Spock to understand all the same. “An alcoholic. And I needed to do anything besides be in the house with him. Mom sent us to Tarsus to get us away after, so it worked I guess,” he said, trying to smile but unable to, not elaborating because he hates thinking about that shit (sour smell, sticky beer bottles, TV always on, bottles of the harder stuff, Sam please, wanting, needing to get out, escape, disappear, anywhere else, the quarry edge, God I want to—

“In what way did your step-father ‘suck’?” Spock asked, word a gesture of solidarity.

In what way?

Jim took a deep breath. “He, um, hit me when I didn’t behave,” he said in a small voice.

And it was scary.

Because Jim knew a lot of kids get spanked when they didn’t behave—hell, his mom had spanked him—but with Frank it’d been different. Unlike his mother who’d been calm about it, Frank’d done it angry and sometimes drunk, hitting too hard and Jim never knew if he would stop, terror hurting as bad as the pain, crying and promising himself he would never cry again.

“Jim,” Spock said, and he opened his eyes, realizing he’d closed them. “I grieve with thee.”

Spock’s eyes were big and sad and deep and Jim could tell he meant it, so he gave a sharp nod in return.

“Why were you on Tarsus?” Jim asked a moment later. And Spock didn’t evade the question as he had done via PADD, all that time ago. 

And it turned out that Spock—well behaved, rule-following Spock—had been sent to Tarsus for shockingly similar reasons to Jim: for his own good, after reckless bad behavior that almost got him killed.

“It is called the kahs-wan. The ordeal of maturity,” Spock explained—and wasn’t that true, being mature sure was an ordeal—but the kahs-wan was apparently some sort of intense, dangerous, and largely extinct Vulcan rite of passage, and that Spock had been too young and he’d just walked out into the desert one night without telling anyone.

“Why did you do it?” Jim asked, wanting to understand what could drive someone as smart as Spock to do something so stupid. 

“As you are aware, my mother is human, and therefore I am composed of DNA from both my parent species,” Spock began and Jim nodded, even though it was kindov weird to think about it. “What you may not know is that I am also the only such hybrid in existence. And, although they are incorrect, there are certain Vulcans who believe humans to be inferior, and thus find the concept of miscegenation and my consequent existence to be unpleasant,” Spock finishes in a monotone. 

And despite his flat tone, Jim could sense the suppressed pain—the ugliness of the word ‘miscegenation,’ and all the things Spock’s not saying—as clearly as though it were a distress flare because he’d never understood before why Spock was so sensitive, but this made a twisted kind of sense, the kind that Kodos would maybe have understood.

“That’s bullshit,” Jim told him fervently because Spock existing was great, even though that word wasn’t at all strong enough.  

Spock looked confused and then Jim had to explain about the intricacies of metaphor involved in human cursing. 

“Fascinating,” Spock responded, typing away on a new PADD like he’d discovered warp 10 because he was still the same weirdo Jim remembered.

Secrets are like shibboleths—private passwords between their users, tiny covenants forged quietly and without fanfare—and after Jim and Spock have traded some of theirs, their conversations were full with the unspoken significance of co-conspiracy: just us, just us and no one else gets it.  

***

Winter thawed into spring and in school, Jim learned about Karl Marx and the types of government and came this close he swears to getting Spock to laugh when Jim told him about how he’d almost fallen out of his chair giggling when another student had confused a picture of Gorbachev with his own great aunt.

With the warmer weather, San Francisco's early morning fogs rise from the ocean almost daily, reminding Jim of Tarsus, but was OK because he was still talking to Mr. Nguyen and he had Spock, even if Spock wasn’t actually with him, which was hard.

Jim turned fifteen in March and on his birthday his mother surprised him with exciting news. She and Amanda (Spock’s mom who was very nice as far as Jim could tell) had arranged for him to come to Vulcan!—for two weeks in August, the coolest time of year on the planet.

Barely able to contain his exhilaration, Jim stayed up until midnight to call Spock at Vulcan’s six o’clock in the morning.

“Yes, my mother informed me several weeks ago,” Spock replied, sleep-ruffled and grumpy sounding when Jim babbled the news at him excitedly.

“What!?” Jim shouts into the comm, which prompted a disgruntled sound from Spock. “Sorry,” Jim whispers in a betrayed voice, “But how could you have not told me?”

“My mother communicated this information to me under strict confidence, and although I informed her that celebrating birthdays is an illogical practice, she assured me that hearing this news as a surprise would increase it’s value. I deferred to her expertise in this area, but perhaps I was incorrect to do so?” Spock asked, a trace of insecurity coloring his voice.

“Nah, she was right,” Jim responded. “Shit, Spock can you believe it?”

“As I have seen the tickets, it would seem foolish not to,” Spock replied dryly and Jim laughed.

Even after he’s seen the tickets, Jim didn’t really believe it until he was on the shuttle leaving Earth, duffel bag full of sunscreen and epipens under his seat, watching Earth disappear in the distance.

Like James and his giant peach, he thought dizzily, picturing himself floating off into the sky on a stone fruit the size of a spaceship.

 

Chapter Text

Vulcan was red even from space, Jim saw when he woke to the passenger ship making orbit, drooling face pressing against the window. 

The sky was red too, Jim saw once his shuttle burned through the atmosphere, something he hadn’t been prepared for, even though he’d known it would be that color.

And when the shuttle touched down onto the boiling tarmac and the pneumatic doors opened and Jim stepped out into the strong light of Vulcan’s two suns, it was as hot as, well, Vulcan. Smelled different too, although he couldn’t put his finger on exactly how, gravity like lead clothing.

Despite the constraints of such unimportant things as Newton’s universally applicable law of inertia, as Jim made his way through the bustle of the shuttle port to get to the exit, he has to stop himself from literally bowling people over in his excitement, craning his neck to see if he could spot—

“Jim!” he heard a woman call off to his right, and when he turned his head there’s Mrs. Grayson and next to her—

“Spock!” Jim shouted, bounding forward and causing several stately Vulcan headed to turn in scandalized offense. 

But Jim didn’t even notice because he was hugging Spock so hard he could barely breathe, and he felt Spock’s hands resting on his shoulders, patting lightly, probably a subtle ‘remove yourself from my person you inarticulate buffoon’ but just maybe an ‘I’m glad to see you too, Jim.’

“You’re taller than me,” Jim accused, pulling back and grinning. Last time he’d seen Spock they’d been about the same height, but now Spock (the bastard) has got a couple inches on him.

“A circumstance which I have no control over,” Spock responded with a sanctimonious tilt to his head. “Although I doubt this will serve to check your expressions of indignance.”

This was typical Spock and Jim’s about to reply in kind (“Yeah? Well at least I don’t have a bowl cut!”) when Mrs. Grayson stepped in looking stern.

“Spock, don’t be rude,” she rebuked in Vulcan (although a more literal translation would be ‘cease speaking as one who wishes to be struck with a large stick,’ wow that was a good one, poor Spock) before switching to Standard to address Jim. 

“Jim, it’s so good to finally meet you in person,” she said warmly, offering him a ta’al.

“It’s good to meet you too Mrs. Grayson,” he said, hastily remembering his manners and making a clumsy effort at the ta’al, extending the arm that he wasn’t using to heft the weight of his duffel.

“He is tired, please take his bag,” Mrs. Grayson instructed in Vulcan, and Spock hopped to it, a little green from his mother’s rebuke.

Jim put up some resistance to save face, but not too much ‘cause he knew now that Vulcans were about three times stronger than humans (cheaters) which he might as well profit off of while he can. Maybe he could arrange to have Spock carry Jim’s stuff for the rest of his life. Jim’d be okay with that, he thought, as the heavy weight was lifted off his shoulder.

“C’mon Spock, take me to your leader,” Jim jibed as they walked towards the exit, elbowing Spock in the side, earning himself a look that’s one Vulcan step shy of an eye roll.

Desert hurtled by below them out the windows of the hover-car Mrs. Grayson drives them in, and Jim just had time to glimpse towering red cliffs framed by a redder sky, billowing sand dunes, and glowing cities cut into rock before they were touching down on a landing pad in the waning evening light.

“Wow, I knew it! I knew you were a rich kid,” Jim exclaimed accusingly once Mrs. Grayson had left them with promises of dinner and it was just him and Spock standing outside an imposingly large building which looked almost like it was part of the rocky mountain face, except that it was too perfectly geometric to be natural. 

“My father is indeed a valued member of Vulcan society,” Spock said in a dignified tone as they walked into the house, which was cool and dark and spartan inside.

“Karl Marx would spit on your shoes,” Jim teased, following Spock through a series of triangular hallways to a guest room.

“Which I would take as a very high form of praise as on Vulcan, water-based fluids are considered extremely valuable,” Spock replied crisply, opening a door and depositing Jim’s bag inside.

“Then what would you do if I sneezed on you?” Jim asked, giving him a shit-eating grin in response to Spock’s not-glare before poking his head inside to examine his room. “Wow, this is sick,” Jim exclaimed, doing a belly flop onto the bed.

“Sick?” Spock asked, standing next to the bed with that wonderfully familiar crease between his eyebrows.

“Cool—like it’s great,” Jim explained, turning his head sideways on the pillow and looking up at Spock, hit by a wave of nostalgia and fondness. 

“Ah,” Spock said, nodding and taking a seat on the bed as he reached for his pocket—probably to record the new information down in his PADD, the nerd.

The gesture was so familiar (how many times has he seen Spock do just that?) that Jim literally has to hug him again, eeling over and getting his arms around Spock’s middle. 

“I missed you,” he said into the side of Spock’s leg.

“And I you,” Spock replied after a moment, resting a careful hand on Jim’s back.

"Nerd," Jim muttered, just so Spock wouldn't think he'd gone soft.

***

Vulcan was both wonderful and dangerously potent.

Food was way too spicy and Jim had to pretend it wasn’t burning his Midwestern tongue off so Spock wouldn’t laugh his ass off at him (well, Spock wouldn’t laugh of course. Not on the outside anyway, but Jim would know) and the sun was so strong that Jim sweats so much he has to carry around a water bottle with him at all times, and he has to wear one of Mrs. Grayson’s floral scarves wrapped around his head every time he went outside (apparently all of Mrs. Grayson’s plain scarves were “on holiday”) to avoid lobsterification, and the gravity pulled stronger than it did on Earth so Jim found himself getting tired more easily.

notants' art "Spock!"

Which was all fantastic. 

Except that Spock was acting a little weird. 

Weirder than usual that is.

At dinner the first night he’d been introduced to a regal looking Ambassador Sarek, who still sounded like a protocol droid: 

“You are welcome in our home Mr. Kirk.” 

“Oh, thank you—sir,” Jim had responded, pretty sure from the way Sarek had pronounced “Mr. Kirk,” that he wasn’t in fact welcome.

But when he’d looked over at Spock to share his half joking, half real terror, Spock hadn’t met his eyes. 

And at first Jim thought that Spock’s behavior was Sarek’s doing, since even Jim had to admit, his imposing, straight-backed presence wasn’t exactly a conversational boon.

But even after Sarek had left—gone to answer a comm call that may or may not have existed judging from Mrs. Grayson’s exasperated expression, talk about hereditary awkwardness—Spock hadn’t gotten any better. Got worse even, getting stiffer and more stiffer, eventually clamming up completely and then excusing himself early to go meditate, leaving Jim alone with Mrs. Grayson, which was fine, but not what Jim had been looking forward to and even Spock’s mom had looked a little surprised. 

And then the next day, when Spock took Jim to Vulcan’s biggest library—a hugely impressive building belonging to the VSA, filled with real books and scrolls in every conceivable language, beautiful artifact displays, and outer doors embedded with fossilized sea shells—despite all there’d been to wonder at, Jim only had about half as much fun as he might’ve because Spock wouldn’t join him in it. Just hovered several feet away, telling him to be quieter and shooting down Jim’s jokes and questions with terse, snobby answered. 

Stuffy and stifling as Vulcan’s air, Spock’s obstinacy eventually got him to shut him up, and what should have been a wonderful adventure became a disappointing drag. 

And it continued. Mealtimes were abbreviated and talking to Spock was suddenly like working against Vulcan’s gravity—ironic since they actually spoke the same language now, and also annoying as hell because why couldn’t Spock understand how cool it was that they could finally be around each other? 

Flopping down on his bed for a frustrated sleep, Jim remembered wistfully how easily it’d been to fix Spock back on Tarsus—challenging him to a race or forking over his broccoli never failing to coax his friend into the knowledge that Jim knew best, was right about whatever plan he’d come up with.

Maybe these thoughts were why, at Jim’s bequest, they hike up Mt. Seleya the following day, whose stony face watched Shi'Kahr from the outskirts of the huge city. 

And sure enough, out on the mountainside and away from the city, Spock did seem to loosen up a little. 

He still wasn't the same as he used to be, not as casual as he was over comm, which was frustrating—but Jim would take what he could get—and he guessed he understood Spock’s feeling awkward around all those other Vulcans and a little better out here in the wild. Jim felt it too.  

Prompted by Jim as they climb, Spock even explained the different kinds of sand dunes (apparently all sand wasn’t the same) and the significance of the different mountain ranges during Vulcan’s pre-Surakian era (turned out Vulcans had been pretty baller before they’d decided to button up their collars and get all logical) and even telling Jim (at Jim’s insistence) about one or two of the old legends of mountain spirits and sacred peaks.  

Looking down on Shi'Kahr from Mt. Seleya, (not the top, there’s not enough oxygen up there) it was cooler than in the boiling valley, breeze blowing in their faces and Jim took off his scarf to mop his brow. 

He looked over at Spock in awe, and then back at the landscape, red adjusting itself into different shades, pale pink to a red so deep it was almost purple as Jim’s brain swims with endorphins from the hike and maybe a bit from the altitude.

“Hey Spock, do you remember when we couldn’t even talk to each other?” Jim asked.

“Yes, as it would constitute an egregious lapse in memory not to,” Spock said curtly, raised eyebrow puncturing Jim’s mood.

“Ugh, why do you always have to be such a snob?” Jim asked, frustration seeping into his voice despite Spock’s comment being relatively innocent. 

“It is illogical to treat foolish questions as though they are intelligent ones,” Spock said haughtily, face stiffening, and straightening so that the height difference was more obvious and Jim sparks with actual anger.

“Jesus, you’re Vulcan, I get it,” he snapped, watching Spock bristle. “You don’t have to be such a fucking asshole about it though.”

“Your opinion on the matter holds no value,” Spock said cuttingly. “Ni'droi'ik nar-tor fam-panahik plokh-na'shikh  si-ek'traik tfi'kien.” (“So you will forgive me if I do not take the words of an outsider under consideration.”) 

“You’re wrong,” Jim retorted, bristiling right back. “Ish-veh spes tor guhsh.”

Whoops. 

Spock looked so shocked at Jim’s use of Vulcan—eyes wide and mouth falling open—that Jim almost laughed, feeling his anger drain away as quickly as it had come. He’d been waiting for the right time to surprise Spock—and well, mission accomplished

“My accent cannot be, as you say, ‘trash,’” Spock replied, still looking disgruntled. “Du oren tor Vuhlkansu aishan tor viltah me?” 

“Damn right I learned Vulcan just to insult you,” Jim grinned, humor bubbling up inside him as he watched Spock fighting to suppress what looked like, unless Jim was very much mistaken, a tiny smile of his own.

notants' art "You're wrong"

notants' art "my accent is not trash"

notants' art "damn right."

Probably trying to hide the expression, Spock turned to look out at the view, looking out over Vulcan’s red on red on red. Jim looked too, thinking.

What he’d said had been a lie of course. 

Well, not a lie exactly. He had actually learned Vulcan to insult Spock better—but not just to do so.

Jim had learned it to keep himself on the rails. Spent so many lonely moments imagining out the conversations he would have with Spock, what he would say and how Jim would make him laugh or how he could tell him anything, a grounding fantasy that calmed him when nothing else could. 

Because even when Spock wasn’t there he had never stopped being Jim’s friend, loyal to a fault, telling him not to do the stupid things and pushing him to do the right ones.

All of this was too big to put into words of course—completely ineffable—so instead of trying to, Jim let the large feeling of unspoken gratitude bloom between them as they make their way down the mountain, the first of Vulcan’s twin suns followed them down into the horizon.

Chapter Text

After their fight, Spock was a lot less weird and Jim was overjoyed.

Vulcan is wild.

He and Spock go to an arboretum full of the strangest plants Jim’d ever seen—towering cacti that tripled in size in less than a second with flowers in the shape of snakes, twisting omnivorous vines that could literally kill you, and some whack trees with sap that Spock told him had been used in spooky ancient Vulcan rituals. 

All of it was awesome—and even Spock not letting Jim out of his sight (apparently he was not trusted not to get himself eaten by the omnivorous vine) wasn’t annoying but just kind of silly.

And when they go home, Jim was tired enough that lounging around in Spock’s living room, watching Spock’s dumb nature shows—

"Hey Spock, you kindov remind me of that penguin."

A snide look. "It is a scientific certainty that you share more DNA with it than I do."

"Hey, are you calling me a birdbrain?"

"I do not know to what you are referring."

—and eating the skittles and gummy worms Jim had smuggled from Earth because Jim was curious how Spock would react to them (gummy worms were illogical, skittles were fascinating) was the greatest thing he could imagine.

On another day they go to an echoing mapparium where you could stand inside three story high stained glass replicas of various Federation planets—to-scale and fastidiously accurate, of course. 

Light shined through the glassy, domed ceilings and when Jim stands in the middle of the Earth room, spinning slowly, everything he said echoes back to him no matter what direction he turned—which also meant he could hear every disdainful Vulcan mutter coming from the opposite sides of the room.

“They’re all phonies,” Jim told Spock in a whisper he hopped carried, “With fnash-vel up their asses.”

Spock gave him a withering look, but his eyes were laughing and Jim felt his heart jump in his chest like a particularly unskilled acrobat.

That night Mrs. Grayson had a meeting to go to so she sent them into the city for dinner with some credits and a strict warning to be home by 2100—the ‘or else’ only unsaid because it was tacit in her every articulate syllable.

Out in the cool night air, Spock led him through the clean, scrupulously gridded streets to a part of the city Jim hadn't seen yet, while Jim preoccupied himself with feeling very adult. 

Vulcans were a little too good at being consistent, meaning that Jim was expecting more of the same from wherever they were going, grids, sandstone, red-brown architecture—so when he started seeing vibrant colors and sections of sidewalk overgrown by desert lichen, at first he thought the heat was finally getting to him. 

But then he heard a syncopated rhythm accompanied by what sounded like conga drums issuing from a glowing doorway on their left, and that was the last straw.

“Is that go-go music?” Jim asked incredulously.

“This is the akansu-quarter,” Spock explained, leading him onward. “The district in which most of the non-Vulcans who reside on the planet dwell.”

“Wow, I never thought about that!” Jim said, unable to believe that he hadn’t and looking around at the now fascinating neighborhood.

“It—reminded me of you,” Spock added without turning around, meaning Jim couldn’t see his expression.

Spock didn’t say anything else until he led Jim into some sort of restaurant, bright and full of aliens from various Federation worlds that Jim didn’t even try not to stare at.

Unlike how they’d eaten at Spock’s house—seated on floor cushions and eating from ornate metal trays—this place had more familiar bar seating and booths and the interior looked like some sort of hybrid between Human and Andorian styles. 

Spock found them a spot in one of the booths and Jim started getting excited about eating something that wasn’t going to blister his tongue.

“Can I have this one?” Jim asked their Tellarite waiter, pointing at something he was pretty sure was pizza.

Spock asked for soup (boring) and Jim entertains himself by kicking Spock in the shins, ogling the aliens and trying to get a rise out of Spock with questions about the various species around them (“C’mon, what other purpose could those dorsal spines have?”) until their food arrived.

“OhmyGodthisissogood,” Jim breathed as he inhales a piece of pizza-like substance with as much reverence as his fast-eating could bestow. 

He’s having the time of his life, (it didn’t taste like sawdust and it wasn’t spicy) but when he looked up, he saw that Spock was watching him with an odd expression, which quickly vanishes when Jim caught him at it.

“What? Do I have something on my face?” Jim asked, not bothering to find a napkin. It wasn’t like Spock’s suddenly going to dump him once and for all for a little sauce. Spock wasn’t that much of a snob right?

“It is nothing of consequence,” Spock said, looking down at his red soup—seriously, was there a contract somewhere that said everything on Vulcan had to be red?

“What?” Jim presses, noting Spock’s shifty expression. “C’mon, tell me,” Jim wheedled, pressing his foot against Spock’s, who finally looked up from his soup, which meant that Jim had won.

“Did you experience any difficulty in your habits of food consumption upon your return to Earth?” Spock asked, and Jim felt his stomach twist as memories take shape involuntarily around him, crowding out the bright room. 

Even though they talk about Tarsus, they haven’t really talked about that side of things after all. It was painful to think about and Jim didn’t really see the point. 

But it was okay. This was Spock, he decided, focusing on the ways Spock’s face had changed since Tarsus (ears and nose fit him a little better, eyes less round and owlish, and had his eyelashes always been that long?), which slowly clears his head of the fractured, damaged memories that threaten to swallow him.

“Yeah. Did you?” he asked in a low voice. 

Spock nodded. “I was unable to retain food for several months.”

“Like, bulimia?” Jim asked, shocked. That sounded awful. And Spock had always seemed so under control.

“In a sense. Although much of my condition was physiological, a small percentage was voluntary,” Spock answered clinically, although his eyes were tight and sad. “Did you experience similar symptoms?” 

Jim shook his head. “Well sort of actually. My therapist told me I had binge-eating disorder.” Spock tilted his head, prompting him to explain further, and Jim braced himself internally. “I couldn’t stop eating—like at midnight I’d feel the need to consume an entire loaf of bread and a jar of peanut butter—and then after a while I’d start feeling guilty and eat like as little as possible for a week.”

They were both silent for a minute and then Spock (Spock had always been stronger than him) speaks. “Tushah nash-veh k’du.” (“I grieve with thee.”)

“Th’i-oxalra,” Jim replied (“I appreciate it.”) before adding “But it wasn’t that bad. Nen lhomek i skavdu tsifuzin,” using a phrase which meant ‘you’re watering a dead plant,’ which was the Vulcan version of ‘beating a dead horse’ and basically meant ‘this won’t get us anywhere.’

Spock looked like he might press him anyway, so Jim changed the subject.

“So are you ever going to tell me why your mom didn’t teach you Standard growing up?” Jim asked. (It was a question that’s bothered him for a long time, but he’s always shied away from asking because for some reason he’d gotten the feeling that the answer would be very personal).

And indeed, Spock’s face underwent an odd spasm before it settled back into emotionlessness.

“I refused to learn it.” 

“Why?” Jim asked, although something told him he had a good guess.

“At first my parents argued over the matter of my education. My mother wished to incorporate elements of Terran-style child rearing into my otherwise fully-Vulcan upbringing. But my father disagreed. It was his opinion that it would be easier for me to assimilate without such interference,” Spock stated flatly. “I learned some Standard from my mother when I was a child, but when I began attending school at the age of three I encountered data which supported my father’s hypothesis. After this I refused my mother’s teachings and intentionally suppressed everything she had taught me.”

Jesus.

“And so why did you decide to learn it again?” Jim asked, his voice oddly hushed. 

Spock looked him right in the eye when he responded. “Because of you.”

Jim noticed absently that the lighting’d gotten a little lower since they walked in, and several alien and interspecies couples (and groups of three or more in some cases, wow) had started dancing to songs in languages he didn’t know, issuing from an honest-to-God jukebox.

“I have this weird memory from after,” Jim began slowly, watching people sway. “When we were on the ship I mean—of you saying we’d dance together someday.”  

“It might have been a hallucination though,” Jim added quickly, feeling embarrassed as Spock’s gaze sharpens. 

Jim still remembered how that promise from Spock had sounded like the best possible thing, more important than anything else, but this was another one of those things you couldn’t just say out loud.

“You remember correctly,” Spock responded, his face unreadable. 

Just then, the song changed to something that sounded Terran, old fashioned with a slightly spooky saxophone melody.

“…And the moon glows
On the silent sand
Of an ancient land…”

“Hey, I know this song,” Jim said, realization striking. It was Roy Orbison. “Do you wanna?” he asked, kicking Spock in the shins for good measure because he suddenly had to do this but he doesn’t want Spock to know how much.

To Jim’s relief Spock nodded and stood up—because Spock somehow always understood what Jim needed when it was most important. 

Jim stepped closer, feeling an unexpected wave of shyness, and put a hand on Spock’s arm and the other on his shoulder and Spock mimicked him with his own hands.

"…Shahadaroba
is the word they whisper low…”

“It’s kind of a sad song,” Jim said distractedly. Bittersweet really. He was finally close to Spock and it was been so long and it was a little overwhelming. 

“I am unfamiliar with this word,” Spock told him, wrinkle forming between his eyebrows as they sway a little bit back and forth.

Jim laughed because Spock got so concerned when he didn’t know something. He wondered if Spock even knew he had such an obvious tell.

“Don’t worry, it’s not even a real word—just some mistransliterated Arabic,” Jim answered, inhaling and God Spock smelled just the same, like desert and sage. “I think Roy Orbison was trying to say Inshallah, which means ‘If it is God's will, it will be so,’”

“Curious,” Spock responded, moving his hand to Jim’s back and turning them slowly on the spot. “There is a similar saying in Vulcan.”

“Really?” Jim asked, taking the hand Spock had on his shoulder and squeezing it with his own.

“Kaiidth,” Spock said, eyes closing.

notants' art "Inshallah"

“...Face the future 
And forget about the past.”

“What does kaidith mean?” Jim asked quietly, tipping his head onto Spock’s shoulder as the song entered its final verse.

“It means ‘what is, is,’” Spock replied softly. 

“You do realize those are two totally different sayings right?” Jim asked as the song ends, reaching up to adjust Spock’s collar, which was a little askew. “Yours means that whatever happened you have to suck it up and mine means that the future could be anything you want it to be.”

Spock took his hand out of Jim’s and stepped away. 

“The comparison,” Spock responded as they walked back out into the night, “lies in that both refer to seeking acceptance when the fulfilment of a wish impossible.” 

“Hey, we’re both here aren’t we?” Jim said glibly, clapping Spock on the shoulder. “Nothing’s impossible.”

***

“Hey can I see your room?” Jim asked when they get back to the house. He hadn’t seen it yet for some reason and he was suddenly curious to see if it would be anything like Spock’s mini-natural history museum of a room on Tarsus, where they’d spent so much time together.

Nodding, Spock led him down the corridor in silence. Spock had been silent on the walked home too, maybe in another one of his moods, which Jim hopped wasn’t the case.

“Fucking hell,” Jim breathed when Spock opened the door for him. It was the same as his guest room except that there’s a replica of what might be the entire 40 Eridani A system hanging from the ceiling.

Wasting no time, Jim jumped up onto Spock’s bed to examine its intricate design. Rich kids.

“Please vacate my bed and remove your shoes,” Spock ordered and Jim switched his attention to Spock, who sounded waspish.

“Make me,” Jim provokes, grinning and doing a couple taunting half bounces under Spock’s severe gaze.

If Spock really was in a mood, Jim thought, winning a wrestling match would probably make him feel better.

And at first he didn’t think Spock’s going to take the bait, that he really had turned into a model Vulcan. But then he saw the telltale flash in his friend’s eye, and in the second it took Jim to brace himself, he was being tackled, knocked backwards onto the bed.

Jim squeals with delight as he went down because this meant he had gotten under Spock’s skin, fighting back against his inevitable defeat as Spock worked to pin him.  

Quicker than Jim’s manly dignity liked, (fuck, Spock’s even stronger than he used to be), Jim’s wrists were trapped beside his head and his legs were pinned under Spock’s so Jim couldn’t kick him off.

Struggling a little bit on principle, Jim wriggled, trying to get free. 

“You haven’t changed a bit, Spock,” Jim giggled looking into Spock’s face. “You’re just the s—Mmph!”

Jim’s words were cut off by what felt like a freight train because—

Because Spock was kissing him.

Spock was kissing him.

Felt like he was falling out of his skin, heart turning into a banging go-go drum, the warm feeling of Spock’s mouth moving against his, the weight on top of him and Spock’s hands sliding into his which opened automatically to the touch, feeling himself turning into a firework and—

Jim bites Spock’s lip. Hard, kneeing him in the stomach as he struggled to get free.

“Get off,” he gritted out as Spock jerked away with a pained noise.

Once free, Jim leapt off the bed and dashed out the door, pausing for a split second in the hallway, turning to see Spock crumpled on the edge of his bed with his head bowed before Jim was racing back down the hallway to his own room and slamming the door behind him.

Heart racing, hyperventilating, he leaned against the closed door, and the most coherent thought in his head was “Fuck!”

Chapter Text

Act 3:
6 years later

Vulcans do not sweat.

Muscles tightening, Spock adjusted his position, feeling the telltale moisture started to bead at his hairline and the back of his neck, it’s tacky presence one of the few tangible indications of his human heritage.

Pushing these intrusive thoughts away, Spock refocused on his body, finishing the set in the final position of the sof’el’itju and dropping back into a casual stance.

Compared with the more widely practiced suus mahna, the sof’el’itju was more physically demanding; comprising a more complex set of postures and swifter movements that require greater physical and mental discipline from the adherent.

Which was exactly why Spock had chosen it for today, intending the exercise to be a distraction from greater difficulties. 

An escape from them you mean, he amended wryly as he wipes his forehead with a towel. For at twenty one, Spock was enough acquainted with himself to be aware of his tendency to avoid that which he cannot change. All of this was about avoidance in fact, though not entirely his own.

Sarek had not spoken to him for eight days. 

Not since his disastrous interview with the VSA panel.

“It is truly remarkable, Spock, that you have achieved so much, despite your disadvantage.”

Here, in the privacy of the exercise room, Spock sighed. A painful sound that sharply reminded him he should not require so emotional an outlet.

Going into to the long interview room below the dais, Spock had not yet been sure if his application would be accepted, so emotionally compromised with hope and nerves that he’d thrown up in a bathroom only minutes previously.

But when Council Member Vok had used that word—a word Spock had thought he had left behind long ago in a series of impressive grades and academic achievements—his world had turned ‘on a dime,’ as his mother would say.

“Your Human mother.” 

Naively imagining that he was ‘passing,’ Spock had believed his success had rendered his heritage a moot point, no longer his first identifying characteristic to the majority of his species. 

But the council member’s casual reference to his humaness as a ‘disadvantage,’ gone unquestioned by any in the room, had shocked him out of this long held illusion, the space of the few seconds all that was required for him to rethink his entire future.

“Council, Ministers, I must decline.”

In those 4.29 seconds of thought, he had seen his life stretch out before him, with his every achievement questioned and scrutinized, forced to ignore what his full-blooded peers would believe about his emotions—which, particularly among Vulcan scientists would be disdained as a weakness, casting doubt on his work—his loyalty, his status as a Vulcan; of bonding with T’Pring whom he did not love and feeling her constant, intelligent apathy at best, her disgust at worst—for as she had informed Spock, although she did not dislike him in particular, she did not prefer males—in his own mind, perpetually reinforcing the apathy and disgust he would receive outside it.

“Was it to satisfy your emotional need to rebel?”

And Spock had not lied. As a half-human, he was capable of telling lies but despite this he never did. Spock was grateful to them for removing his last delusions so efficiently, with a single word.

“The only emotion I wish to convey is gratitude.”

Although, gratitude wasn’t all he had felt of course. Only what he wished to convey, for Spock was human enough to know when diplomacy was required—and in this instance had been human enough to take a certain, bitter satisfaction from it.

‘Phonies with fnash-vel up their asses,’ as had once been said—although not by him.

Stripping off his dampening clothes, Spock pushed these thoughts away, stepping into the sonic shower which thrums on his back, removing the film of human sweat away from his skin.

Tomorrow, he would be on a shuttle to Earth, taking him to a place where he would finally be Vulcan, simply because he wasn’t fully human.

***

Red alluvial plains, large assemblages of fluvial landforms—braided streams, terraces, eskers—forming low gradients, regional ramps along the flanks of mountains flash before Spock’s eyes in the moments before his shuttle breaks atmosphere.

From this distance Vulcan’s deserts betrayed no hint that over a billion years ago, much of the planet had been covered in water, including the Sas-a-Shar desert in which the city of Shi'Kahr was located and Spock had been born.

As a small boy, Spock had found part of a fossilized shell in his mother’s garden, and when he had asked his mother about it, he had learned the awe-inspiring fact that the nearly barren desert around him had once been the seafloor of an enormous ocean.

“That was on the third day you know,” his mother had teased. “Before God separated the dry land from the waters. Just like it said in the Torah. Though I think this land is a bit drier than even God had in mind,” she’d added, looking sadly at one of her tomato plants.

At almost three, Spock already possessed the cognitive function to know he was being teased.

“Illogical,” he had replied, smiling, the word not yet the rebuke it would soon become. “There must be a scientific explanation.”

Discovering this explanation; discovering that one’s own planet could be a wholly different world, had perhaps been the first step Spock had unknowingly taken towards becoming a scientist and acceptance to the VSA, which had been his goal for almost all of his life.

Now, he was going to be a Starfleet Officer.

(“And in the Torah Spock, God said that ‘it is good.’ ‘Vayar Elohim ki-tov.’ That means everything created is good.”)

Space, with its studied recesses and vast unknowns passed flicks by outside his window at impulse speed, and Spock’s mind drifted to his much altered future.

With a large number of transferable credits from his fast-paced Vulcan schools, he would almost certainly graduate from the Academy in approximately a year and a half (odds were 91.8% based on his usual rate of academic progress). After this, he would be likely be made a professor or assigned a research posting on a distant planet for a few years, after which time he would take up a position as a science officer aboard a starship with a lieutenant’s commission.

“As always, whatever you choose to be, you will have a proud mother.”

Thoughts like these pass the time until the passenger ship he was on made port at the bustling Starbase 1 after which he boards a shuttle which took him the rest of the way to San Francisco's docking station, down through Earth’s darkening sky.

Never having been to Earth before, Spock had a scientist’s fervent curiosity as to what it would be like, beyond what he already knew of its culture, history and its role within the Federation.

His first impression was that it was very wet.

Stepping off the shuttle, he could taste the high levels of moisture in the air, bearing tidings of cigarette ash, car exhaust, bitumen, and ozone, and he estimates the percent humidity to be above 67%, a number unheard of on Vulcan. 

No one was expecting him. No one besides his mother—and perhaps some nebulous figure on the Academy board—knew or cared that he was here, and the profound anonymity that cloaked him as he made his way out onto the noisy street and into a pre-arranged hover-car was both a relief and a bit daunting.

Despite his scotopic vision, the car ride was too fast and it was too late in the evening for him to see anything besides spinning lights and tall buildings beneath him out the windows of the hovercar. 

At last, after paying the driver and lifting his suitcases out of the trunk, he located his room at the edge of Starfleet’s campus, which opened automatically to his ident chip and, due to his species, he would thankfully not be expected to share. 

It took less than half an hour (24.32 minutes, his over-scrupulous suprachiasmatic nucleus supplies) to unpack his few belongings, after which time he had nothing to do but lie on his newly made bed and attempt sleep before first year orientation began tomorrow.

Outside his window, the sky was a deep, foreign blue that was quickly darkening to black before his eyes.

It reminded Spock of a different night sky, one from almost ten years ago, and of a boy, laughing and speaking in a language Spock had wanted to understand. 

A boy who had saved Spock’s life and to whom Spock had not spoken in six years.

Chapter Text

Jim is most likely on this planet, Spock thought as he walked to the cafeteria across Starfleet’s sloping campus, Earth’s small, afternoon sun bright overhead. 

There was roughly a 64.4% chance that he is—according to Spock’s often revisited calculations—weighing Jim’s age, socioeconomic class, spoken languages against his restless nature and the desire for adventure he had frequently demonstrated as a child. 

Although the chances that he was still in San Francisco were significantly lower, Spock told himself to quell the emotions this thought brought with it.

3.46 weeks of classes have passed with startling rapidity, and already Spock felt himself growing used to this altered existence; Earth’s wetter climate with San Francisco’s average humidity of 75%, and higher in the mornings, adjusted to with raincoats and an increased intake of tea; it’s lower gravity of 9.81 N/kg with early morning practice of the suus mahna after three accidentally slammed doors and the incident in which he had almost fallen on the stairs leading to his advanced physics classroom—and adjusting to his schedule, his innate ability to focus and learned diligence making his assignments light work compared to the years he had spent in Vulcan schools and studying for the VSA exam.

Solitude is conducive to study after all, Spock thought, a bitter thought which quickly led his mind down a pattern as familiar as his attempts to halt it.

It was perhaps because he was thinking this way—brooding, if he was perfectly honest with himself, which he tried to be at all times—that when he saw the laughing, golden haired man sitting next to a female Orion on the quad 51 meters to his left, he thought that it must be an apparition. That his subconscious had conjured Jim where he was not, that he had gone temporarily insane and should report to Starfleet medical, intake symptoms listed: visual and audible hallucinations, dizziness, possible orthostatic hypotension blurring his vision, norepinephrine surge stressing his sympathetic nervous system.

It cannot be. You are not truly here.

But he was.

Jim must be real because the sight of him hurt too much, sharp as a lirpa piercing his side, terrible and wonderful at once. 

Nothing imagined could hurt this much, he thought as he watched Jim lean close, the unknown woman putting her arm around him and kissing the corner of his mouth, Jim’s laughter caught in an overabundant smile.

Spock should leave. He knew that. But his feet wouldn't obey him, and he stood rooted to the spot unable to look away.

And then, before Spock could make himself keep walking, hide, anything—blue eyes snapped to his, meeting his gaze.

Euclase blue, (BeAlSiO4(OH)) his mind supplied in a vain effort to categorize—anything to pull his focus away from the sharp, magnetic eyes. 

Turning his face straight ahead, Spock walked quickly along the path, heart rate spiking to 121 bpm as adrenaline spured him forward. 

“Spock!” he heard a voice call out—both familiar and deeper than he remembered—feet pounding after him on the path.

Unable to pretend he had not heard, Spock slowed his pace but did not turn. 

“Don’t you dare ignore me,” Jim said, catching up and ineffectuality yanking at his shoulder.

I am incapable of ignoring you, Spock thought, turning, eyes traitorously regarding the person who had been his first and last friend.

Up close, Jim looked different. Jaw squarer, eyes narrower, broader shoulders and muscles plain under his cadet uniform. 

And he was handsomer than Spock had ever seen him—not that this mattered. 

It was just one more change that Spock did not know how to account for, a reminder that he did not know this person anymore. 

“You have a bad habit of turning up exactly when you’re not wanted, you know that?” Jim said, crossing his arms. 

Spock looked over Jim’s shoulder to where the female cadet was still sitting at the table, regarding them curiously, before turning his eyes back to Jim, feeling all the cruelty of Jim’s comment. 

Vasodilation warmed Spock’s face, and he worked to prevent the blush as he involuntarily recalled the day he had accidently seen Jim kissing Nora Mckenzie in the library, 8.421 years of age and maturity vanishing in an instant, making Spock once again a frightened, jealous boy whose loyalty to his friend apparently did not extend to wanting him to be happy kissing someone else. 

“You are angry,” Spock said, stating the obvious as he fiercely attempted to collect himself.

Jim’s eyes widened in a way that would be almost comic if they were not also furious.

“You bet I am,” Jim gritted out, voice rising. “I called you for a year and you never picked up—even to tell me if you were alive!”

“You exaggerate. As I am aware that you spoke to my mother, there could have been no doubt as to my status,” Spock said stiffly. 

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Jim snapped, eyes flashing. “We were best friends and—” Jim cut himself off with a harsh laugh. “You know what? Why do I even bother? You clearly don’t want to talk to me,” Jim said, looking at Spock as though challenging him to tell him he was wrong. 

But Spock didn’t. 

He just stood there, less able to make himself known even than when they’d spoken different languages.

What is wrong with me? he wondered.

With one last look of disgust Jim turned away, striding off after the woman he’d been with, leaving Spock, stomach roiling on the path, familiar lines of The Tempest pressing against his tongue, unspoken and guilty, at fault for Spock’s silence.

But The Tempest was not truly to blame, Spock corrects as he walked automatically forward. Not precisely anyway.

Who after all could suggest that The Tempest—a play written over five hundred years ago—could bear responsibility for his own follies? 

Spock perfectly remembered the day in early autumn, when Mr. Lasker’s class on Tarsus IV had been reading the play, him following along by PADD with a Vulcan translation Mr. Lasker had somehow procured for him, when there had been a disturbance behind him—Jim getting in trouble for dipping Nora McKenzie’s hair in ink. 

But Spock hadn’t looked up, even as Jim was taken from the room—too fixated on the words in front of him, which seemed to glow with unnatural brightness on the screen before him:

“I am your wife if you will marry me. 
If not, I'll die your maid. To be your fellow 
You may deny me, but I'll be your servant Whether you will or no.”  

And Spock had felt the words take like a curse. Knew with sudden horror that they were unalterably true. 

He’d sat there dumbly, hearing them repeat in his head, Vulcan intensity mixing with human foolhardiness and superstition, an incantation foretelling his future.

Everything had felt like a prophecy in those days.

Spock was an adult now and was fully aware that the passages one read in books were not prophecies and were incapable of predicting the events of one’s life. Despite knowing this however, he had been unable to shake those lines of The Tempest.

Because loving Jim was like trying to chase the sun.

Spock had tried both things, and prospered by neither.

***

 “Good communication is vital,” said Spock’s xenolinguistics professor, to a class already drowsy at just past noon.

“...And nothing fosters good communication better than working with your peers, so our next assignment will be a group project,” announced Spock’s xenolinguistics professor, causing approximately half the class to sit at attention while the other half to roll their eyes, droop or muffle groans as the professor went on to explain the parameters of their assignment (analysis of the interaction between grammar and rhetoric in a relatively famous speech excerpted from an Andorian theater of cruelty).

Spock was sitting in the front of his class, as always, 2.04 weeks elapsed since his encounter with Jim. 

Although it caused him chagrin, he had spent every day since subconsciously searching for Jim amid the other cadets and not seeing him; listening for his name in the halls between classes and hearing it in contexts that he wishes afterwards he had not; and every night struggling with himself, trying not to imagine that Jim was in his bed with him, trying not to remember what kissing Jim had felt like.

Once, he had even heard a tap on his door and had gotten out of bed to open it, believing he would see Jim waiting, clad in his long pajamas, that Spock would grouse but let him in anyway, and Jim would climb into Spock’s bed and tuck himself in and stay.

But the tapping must have been in Spock’s imagination, because when he opened the door, there was no one there.

“…so I’ll leave you to pick your own partners. Groups of two to four please—okay, jigsaw.” 

Unfamiliar with this terminology, Spock was unprepared for the immediate shuffle of paper and motion as students around him turn to one another and form groups that followed this instruction. 

Illogically paralyzed amidst the rising noise level, Spock attempted to divine what to do. “Group projects” do not exist on Vulcan and whenever the formation of groups had been required, Spock had always been the last to be chosen.

So when a female cadet seated next to him turned to him and placed a hand on the side of his desk and asked to be his partner, he was somewhat blindsided.

“That is acceptable,” Spock responded in a monotone which hides his surprise, as he was appraised by intelligent eyes that looked out of a dark, angular face.

“Good,” she said as the professor signaled the end of class and students around them got up to leave. “I have class now, but we should meet to get started later today. What time worked for you?” she asked, briskly confident.

“1630 hours is suitable,” Spock replied, blinking. “I believe the library will be a conducive location for our undertaking.”

“Great! My name’s Nyota, and I already know yours. Study room 108. See you then!” She waved goodbye, smiling and slinging her bag over her shoulder which left Spock to slowly put his PADD in his bag and get up to follow her out.

***

“I said, ‘are you gay?’” Nyota repeated slowly as they sit across from one another in bustling a café 3.89 weeks and many such meetings later, although their project had long been completed.

"Faggots!"

Although Spock’s auditory system was perfectly functional and he had heard her the first time, deciding how to reply was difficult.

What does ‘faggots’ mean?

Asked this question at 13, in his room on Tarsus with his first and only friend, Spock had shaken his head, no, afraid of what it would mean if he was. 

He’d even believed it in the moment of denial—the layer of repudiation he’d thrown over the fluttering feelings of hope and embarrassment he felt whenever Jim touched him (slept in his bed, smiled at him, called his name, looked at him) still not yet stripped away by the jealousy he’d felt at seeing Jim touching someone else.

And even now he was still not sure if he was gay. Suspected that he was gay—or possibly bisexual—but he didn’t really know because he had never kissed anyone but Jim or even wanted to. 

“Why do you wish to know?” he asked, instead of answering.

Nyota’s mouth twisted in an odd line that suggested either amusement or bitterness, Spock wasn’t sure. “Well, take this as a compliment because it was one, but you’re the first guy who I’ve known for over a month who hadn’t made a pass at me.” 

“A pass?” Spock asked, because he had not yet encountered this idiom, and Nyota had proved invaluable in her knowledge of these things.

“Make an amorous or sexual advance. Term originates from fencing—Shakespeare uses it in the Merry Wives of Windsor.”

“Ah,” Spock hummed, filing the information away. “And you wish to be certain that I will not do so,” he deduced.

“It can be difficult not to know what someone’s—intentions are,” she responded, a pained look in her eyes, and Spock caught the gendered subtext that she was leaving out. “And I think we make good friends and I’d hate it if that were spoiled.”

Friends?

“I harbor no amorous feelings towards you,” Spock said quickly, trying not to stutter over the words, but feeling oddly light all the same. Friends.

“Great,” Nyota replied warmly, a searching look lingering in her eyes—likely because Spock had evaded her original question. “Now I can talk to you about this girl I met in my required math class—her name’s Christine Chapel, and she is in training to be a doctor and she got legs like...”

As Nyota described her “crush” (a romantic infatuation, the term originating in 1870 from a complicated association with the word “spoony” which denoted weak-minded, foolish sentimentality deriving from the fact that spoon-diets had to be mashed—and therefore crushed) Spock thought about his own “crush,” and wondered if he would ever be able to voice it aloud as Nyota was doing.

The difference is that her desire had a chance of being reciprocated, Spock decided, aware that he was not physically attractive like Nyota, or able to deceive himself into believing that his admixture of abrasive Vulcan sternness and occasionally caustic human sarcasm could appeal to most beings, and besides which, Jim himself had denied being attracted to men. 

And moreover, seeing his former friend once, after half a decade of silence, should not have reignited hopes that should never have existed in the first place. 

It is I alone who am weak-minded and foolishly sentimental.

Chapter Text

Seeing Spock’s face again was like seeing a pristine hardback book on a library shelf, years later, after having read only the first, shaky draft.

He looked like someone who knew who he was, and was confident in that knowledge. Harder to read than ever, Spock finally looked the way Jim had always subconsciously known he was supposed to look under his silly bangs and awkward limbs. 

He still wasn't handsome—but he’d grown into his ears a bit, haircut immaculate and imposing rather than dorky, shoulders broadened and stronger, still a bit taller than Jim and his accent gone without a trace.

But his eyes—the only beautiful part of him—were still the same. 

Still said too much, sad and human in that otherwise austere face during their run-in—a reminder of the boy Jim had known in the school house and marshy woods of Tarsus IV, glinting in the plagued wilderness and on the rescue starship, soft over comm and sterner on Vulcan, there for the last time.

(eyes of the person who saved my life).

So it was all the more disconcerting to see those eyes in this new face. To see them in the face of a stranger on the path and know, instantly that it was Spock.

He wasn't at all handsome, but all the same he looked like someone who mattered—in a way that'd let anyone who saw him know he was important—the rest of the world who wasn’t Jim let in on that secret at last. One more thing that didn’t belong to Jim anymore.

Jim wasn't sure how he looked.

Worse probably—rougher around the edges instead of polished clean like Spock. Worse because six years was a long time to spend convincing yourself that you were a terrible person, and that the mistakes you’d made could never be fixed, all because you acted dumb when your best friend kissed you, lost you the person who had always made the world make sense. 

And it was a longer time to spend trying to forget all that, and all the other things you wanted to forget like the wildebeest and Frank’s bottles and the hitting and the ghosts. Mind bringing up memories—jumping the shark on you, even though you thought you were too old for that shit. Hair of the dog that bites you, biting you again and again; guilt over Tarsus and your childhood finally catching up with you, the no-win scenario you’d been running from your whole life. Forgetting it took work—all with the alcohol you promised yourself you’d never drink, drugs you probably shouldn’t have taken, lies that you told everyone, especially yourself, meaningless sex, like a phaser to the head and pulling the trigger, blurring out your thoughts long enough to go to sleep.

Joining Starfleet was supposed to be about starting over, a second chance, the way Pike’d put it, and Jim had put that stuff behind him mostly, ‘cept for the lying ‘cause it was too much a part of you.

So yeah, there were second chances. 

But not for everything. You didn't get a second chance when you’d messed up as badly as Jim had with Spock.

If he had only known that when Spock had kissed him—wasted time wondering sometimes—would things have been different? Would he have kissed his friend back instead of running? Would he have stayed instead of leaving Vulcan a week early, not calling until a month later? (which turned out to be far too late). 

Probably not honestly. 

And a part of him was still angry—all of it coming out harsher than he had intended that day on the path. Why had Spock had to go and kiss him in the first place? Why couldn’t he have just kept it to himself and they could’ve gone on being friends for the rest of their lives? Why couldn’t he have just answered one of Jim’s calls, and pretended it never happened like Jim had wanted to?

None of this really mattered of course. 

It never would've worked, Jim knew now, now that he knew how selfish he really was. How Spock had always just been someone for him to use, someone who would do what Jim told him to and oblige all his selfish requests. And Jim hadn’t been able to do the one thing Spock asked for.

So Jim knew fully well that he didn’t love Spock. Didn’t and never would. Because if he ever had been capable, what he'd chosen since had messed him up too much to ever love somebody for real.

Chapter Text

I am very hungry, Spock realized with a thrill of dread at 2205 hours.

Checking the box he kept under his bed, he found that it was empty, the lack of its usual protein bars causing disproportionate distress. 

Aching but not ravenous—he’d missed dinner somehow—his hunger was not of the sort that would cause him to require food in order to function, but nevertheless, sustenance quickly became a psychological necessity.

At this hour the canteen would be closed so when Spock exited his dormitory, he proceeded at a rapid pace towards a convenience store to the northeast of campus, pulling his sweater up over his hands in the chilly, 61.5° air, the sharp smell of bitumen filling his nose.

Seldom out after dark, the lights and shadows played tricks on Spock’s eyes, confusing his depth perception and creating glowing afterimages on the backs of his eyelids, shadows lengthening and shortening as he passed each streetlight. 

Spoony though it was, he could not help the illogical feeling of expectation thrumming through him. The one he got whenever he was outside, walking alone—’ perhaps I will see Jim,’ despite the statistical improbability, confirmed by the fact that he had not seen Jim since their initial meeting except once, at a distance and with yet another female. 

Looking up at the sound of speech, Spock saw a figure on the dim other side of the street, and his heart leapt illogically—but it was not Jim. Just a cadet speaking into a comm.

Catching some of the conversation as it drifted across the street, Spock felt shuddering revulsion curl in his stomach, joining the aching hunger.

Although Spock himself had no claim to absolute moral superiority, the way humans spoke about sex horrifies him and he often wondered how the other aliens in Starfleet adjusted to it, and how he would manage it for his foreseeable future.

On Vulcan Spock had been taught about intercourse at the age of ten—along with the rest of his peers and never suspected that it could be discussed in such crass and misogynistic ways as the two across the street had been speaking.

Abstract and scientific, the descriptions of the seven year mating cycle his teacher had provided were calculated to prevent interest rather than encourage it, and if the discussions of his peers had been any different—Spock would never know as he had been excluded from them. 

And besides this, as the only half-human in existence, Spock’s own biology had been as of yet unknown at the time and it had not yet been confirmed whether it would conform to the norms of the Vulcan mating cycles.

One of the many ironies of Spock’s life, he reflects in the dark between streetlights, was that he had learned most of what he knew about sex from by far the purest of Shakespeare’s tragicomedies. 

In The Tempest, sex was merely a shadow at the edge of the text, a crass joke when Caliban spoke of Miranda becoming Stephano’s “bed” or a symbol for the loss of innocence, unnatural virtue to be protected “lest too light winning/Make the prize light.”

And perhaps more ironic still—perhaps hilariously so, Spock decided as he reached the convenience store and pushed open the door—what made perfectly innocent reading for humans who talked about sex whenever they could had read as bawdy innuendo to Spock. 

Back then, the thought of Ferdinand taking Miranda’s hand had made Spock yearn; sparking a desire for something that he couldn’t put into words, something that had to do with being as close to Jim as he could, the thought of which filled him with hot embarrassment for unknown reasons. 

And at first Spock had assumed it was a desire for Jim’s mind, for a bond and the sort of closeness that only touching minds could bring. And after the dizzying joy of the meld, Spock became sure that his assumption was at least partially correct.

However as Spock grew older, he began to sexually mature, and the ill-defined desire took on unbearable clarity in a series of increasingly mortifying symptoms. Symptoms often accompanied by thoughts of Jim: of his full mouth, of what it would feel like to kiss him, to touch him in formerly uninteresting but now fascinating places, of Jim smiling at him, moving seductively, of Jim in Spock’s bed, his hands on Spock’s body as Jim breathed heavily in his ear and Spock wanting to—

And although Spock had tried to keep these thoughts at bay during their calls, suppressed them with hours of meditation—(and once, in a pit of dark, bottomless shame, had written faggot all over his arms and legs in dark marker).

All of his careful resolutions and inhibitions had crumbled away in Jim’s actual presence though; the painful hope he had experienced when Jim asked him to dance, holding him again after so long as Jim put his head on Spock's shoulder, taking Spock's hand when they danced almost better than he had allowed himself to imagine. Jim’s smile had seemed so flirtatious when he'd challenged Spock to wrestle—and Spock had lost control, pushing Jim down and kissing him like an animal ruled only by impulse.

Spock still remembered with perfect clarity the look on Jim’s face after he had kicked Spock away. 

And when Jim had left, fled home from Vulcan unable to look Spock in the eye, all Spock had left were his thoughts and his shame. Fantasies that he suppressed ruthlessly, tiring himself out with physical exercise and mental labor—but, that on the few occasions that they slipped past his increasingly iron control—were desperate and half-crazed: Jim on his knees, Jim pressed against a wall naked and glistening with sweat, Jim panting, begging for Spock, begging for him as he cried out his name, telling him he loved him as he took pleasure from Spock’s touches.

Fantasies that resulted in painful shame when they came to their abrupt ends, and Spock would have to clean himself, the physical manifestation of his lack of control, proof his unVulcaness clinging to his body and reminding him of his own failures. 

Faggot!

This was why it did not do to dwell on these thoughts, Spock reminded himself sharply, pushing them firmly away and focusing instead on his growing physical hunger, which was still all too real.

Purchasing a bag containing dried fruit, nuts and some unknown, brightly colored oblate spheroids (“trail mix”) took less than a minute, and after a brief exchange of words and credits with the cashier, Spock was once again outside, walking quickly back towards campus in the dusky air, chased by his own thoughts, brought on by poor control and the added stress of hunger, not slowing until he reached campus.

Closer to his room, cigarette smoke rose from an occupied bench on the grass by the dorms, usually empty at this hour, and Spock felt a twinge of disapproval at witnessing such a dangerous habit.

It was Jim, he realized with a jolt, sitting alone and facing the other direction. 

Given the choice as he had been between retreating back down the path and continuing forward and being seen, Spock surprised himself.

“I was unaware that you smoked,” Spock stated once he entered Jim’s field of vision.

“I was unaware that you cared,” Jim said, regarding Spock with a flinty gaze. 

With no response to give, Spock continued to stand in front of him without speaking, determined not to allow himself the opportunity to catalogue Jim’s physical appearance. 

Jim sighed, exhaling more smoke, and extinguished his cigarette. 

“I don’t really. It’s a dumb as fuck thing to do,” he said patting the empty place on the bench next to him.

After a moment of suspicion, Spock obeyed the silent instruction—which was possibly an invitation. 

He didn’t know what to say. Their old language, constructed from looks and shared smiled, secret jokes and vegetables given in exchange for chocolate pudding, was permanently inaccessible; differences like wedges splitting a trunk, driven deeper by time and separation. 

For what had they ever had in common, after all, besides shared pain?

“Are you gonna eat that?” Jim asked, pointing at the bag of trail mix, rupturing the tension.

“What you mean is ‘am I willing to share with you,’” Spock translated dryly, opening up the bag and cramming some into his mouth because he was truly hungry.

“Well are you?” Jim asked, grinning. “You know M&Ms are chocolate right?” 

Spitting his mouthful over the side of the bench was undignified, but hadtily done, Spock wiping his mouth while Jim laughed at him.

“Damn, I shouldn’t have told you,” Jim said, reaching into Spock’s bag and helping himself to the traitorous “M&M’s” while Spock scowled, making sure Jim did not take any of his cranberries. “Don’t worry, I hate dried cranberries, so they’re safe from me,” Jim added through his mouthful of chocolate, as though reading Spock’s thoughts. 

Silence resumes while Jim crunches his M&M’s, and Spock began to grow cold in the darkening night. And silence might have reigned if Spock’s stomach had not interrupted by rumbling audibly as it did 71.57 seconds later.

“Hey, I’m hungry too,” Jim said, swallowing the last M&M’s and slapping his hands onto his knees. “Let’s go somewhere and get food that isn’t sold in bags,”—telling instead of asking as was his usual style of speech.

“I do not believe that would be wise,” Spock said, refusing to give voice to the many reasons why it wasn’t.

“No, but I want to. Ipso facto,” Jim replied, pronouncing the words lazily and giving Spock a smile that shattered his resistance because Jim had always had too much power over him. 

“Very well,” Spock said stiffly to hide his chagrin, standing up and noting that a light, misting rain had begun to fall in the increasingly cold night. “Were you speaking generally or do you have a specific location in mind?”

“Just follow me,” Jim tossed behind him, slinging his leather jacket over his shoulder and striding off.

I have no choice to do otherwise, Spock thought as he matched Jim’s step along the path, feeling the tug in his stomach that precipitated all manner of acts he would prefer to forget.

***

“I apologize, but there’s been a mix up in the kitchen and your food is going to be late,” the anxious waiter at the pizza restaurant informed them and Jim and Spock make eye contact. 

“But don’t worry, we won’t let you starve,” the waiter added like it was a strange Terran joke and Jim did start laughing, presumably at the irony of two Tarsus survivors being told they shouldn’t worry about starving. 

“About ten minutes late,” the waiter said, now looking more confused than ever.

“Thank you for informing us,” Spock, who was not immune to the powerful irony of the situation, assured the waiter, dismissing him. 

Discordant and uproarious while his laughter had lasted, Jim's face sobered quickly when he was done.

“Well, so much for forgetting about Tarsus.” 

Spock exhaled, feeling his begin ears thaw in the warmth of the restaurant. “It does appear as though it’s presence will never fully leave us.”

“You can say that again,” Jim said, leaning back and resting his arm over the back of his booth, the position emphasizing the muscles in his arms, and Spock’s eyes involuntarily flicked over his body before he forced himself to focus on what Jim was saying. 

“I don’t even remember what happened and it still feels like it’s never over sometimes,” Jim said, his voice deceptively casual—and behind the casual tone was a flash of the Jim that Spock recognized, his friend in the face of this stranger—a 13-year old boy hiding his vulnerabilities behind the bravado he wields; shield or a sword, depending on the interaction. 

“I remember everything,” Spock said quietly, because it was true. He remembered every moment, from the time when he first discovered Kodos’ ration plan intended for only half of the colony up through the burning and their flight into the forest, Jim being so strong, saving his life again and again, the eternity they’d spent in the wilderness, their eventual rescue and his own recovery, the thought of Jim, of not disappointing him keeping him in recovery instead of growing worse. Jim had always been so much stronger than him.

“We never really talked about it, did we?” Jim asked, meeting Spock’s gaze with an illegible expression. 

“No,” Spock replied. “It was my impression that you wished to avoid discussion of events that would only cause pain.” 

“You got that right—I didn’t want to talk about it,” Jim said.

“And you do now?” 

“No.”

“Is there anything you do wish to speak of?” Spock asked shortly, although the question was accompanied by a thrill of anxiety and hope that ran from his amygdala down through his sympathetic nervous system, a reaction he was fully aware was utterly and uselessly foolish.

“This was so much easier when we were kids,” Jim muttered. “So, how have you been?” he asked at normal volume, shifting, the unknown emotion in his eyes deepening. 

“Adequate,” Spock said, remembering how hard it had been to contain his feelings as a child and silently disagreeing with Jim’s assessment that this had ever been easier.

His response elicited an eye-roll. “Wow, you really know how to reassure a guy.”

“That is fortunate, as that was indeed my intention,” Spock retorted, raising an eyebrow. 

Jim exhaled loudly. “Jesus, you’d think speaking the same language would make it easier to talk, but it really didn’t,” he muttered. “So, you’re Starfleet now. What happened to the VSA? Did you not get accepted?” he asked, changing tack. 

“I was accepted, however I found that we disagreed on certain fundamental matters,” Spock said curtly.

“Wait you turned them down?” Jim asked incredulously. “Isn’t it like the greatest school in the universe or something?”

“There is not enough data to definitively arrive at that conclusion,” Spock said, and Jim gave him a look which Spock knew meant ‘answer my question you addlepated snob.’ 

“I was informed that my choice was a first,” Spock relented.

“That’s fantastic—Oh man I would have loved to see their faces. Didja tell them where to shove it?”

“Your idiomatic expression is unknown to me and I did not tell them to ‘shove’ anything. I merely thanked them for their consideration and conveyed the traditional farewell.”

Jim cackled gleefully. “You told them to live long and prosper? That’s fucking amazing.”

Would you look like this in my bed, Spock thought, observing the way Jim’s eye’s crinkle as he smiled and the way his shirt stretched across his chest as his shoulders shake with laughter before determinedly returning his gaze to Jim’s face.

“And you?” Spock asked, changing the subject. “If I recall correctly, you found Starfleet to be distasteful.”

Jim shrugged, open expression shuttering. “It’s been five years. I changed my mind.”

“Your willingness to be so forthcoming is appreciated,” Spock responded, a dry echo of Jim’s earlier sarcasm. 

Jim snorted. “Okay, you win. I was in a bar fight against these four guys, winning—” here Spock raised a skeptical eyebrow and Jim grimaced at him.

“—fine, losing a bar fight, when Captain Pike of all people showed up with this big speech about my dad and my potential and told me I should join. So I got on a transport the next day. I’m in my second year—command track, obviously. You of all people remember how much I love telling people what to do,” Jim finishes glibly.

“You were persuaded to join Starfleet by a lecture?” Spock asked, because although he could easily believe everything else, this fact defies belief.

“Didn’t have anything else to lose,” he said flippantly.

Facetious as Jim’s tone was, Spock had known him since he was an angry child who couldn’t watch the stampede scene in the Lion King, and the bitter, perhaps accidental honesty behind Jim’s blithe delivery was plain. 

Jim seemed to realize this too, and he shifted uncomfortably, sudden vulnerability tightening his jaw.

“I have missed you, Jim,” Spock confessed quietly, clenching one of his hands around the edge of his seat where Jim wouldn’t see the tell.

“And I missed you too. A lot.”

Across their table they regarded each other, the low lighting of the restaurant shading Jim’s eyes a darker blue.

“Just because we survived didn’t mean the rest of our lives would be easy huh?” Jim said solemnly, a line creasing his mouth downwards as the space between them filled with memories, unspoken admissions, and sorrow.

Just then their food arrived lessening, but not banishing, the tension. 

Both of their minds were too full for speech and they both ate too quickly without acknowledging why, Spock trying to focus on forking his pasta instead of observing the movement of Jim’s throat as he swallows.

“Have you ever had pop—dammit, I mean soda, everyone here calls it soda,” Jim muttered to himself. “Have you ever had soda?” Jim asked, emphasizing the word while pointing at his drink—and with a jolt, Spock recognized the gesture as an old habit from the time before Spock could speak Standard.

Spock shook his head. 

“I have never had either ‘pop’ or ‘soda’ before,” Spock replied with faint sarcasm, remembering how Jim had often referred to Iowa as “a shithole,” over their comm calls, but had grown paradoxically defensive when Spock earnestly inquired whether the whole state was indeed a waste disposal zone.

True to form, Jim glared and Spock felt a foot impact his shin. 

“Try it,” Jim commanded, pushing the glass towards Spock and causing the ice inside to chatter.

Spock raised an eyebrow at the tone, and Jim’s glare softens into a goofy grin that was more persuasive than any order could be.

Drinking out of the same straw as someone else—especially if that person was someone on whom you have had a spoony crush for 7.32 years since you were both children—is a decidedly intimate matter, and Spock felt his ears heat approximately 2.2° above his average body temperature as he stoops slightly to do so.

Unprepared for the rush of carbonation, Spock choked, jerking backward and slapping his hand over his face to cover it as he felt soda go up his nose.

Failing to contain his offensive laughter, Jim tossed him a napkin.

“Serves you right, you snob,” Jim said, making the insult sound oddly fond. 

Napkin pressed to his face, Spock scowled at him, an expression which had little to no perceivable effect on Jim’s enjoyment at his expense. 

“You should leave a customer review—the food was so late that it re-traumatized me by triggering memories of childhood starvation and I almost died drinking po—soda. You’d ruin their whole business. Vulcans can’t lie right?”

“They can,” Spock corrected, still scowling. “But they do not.”

“You mean you don’t,” Jim responded, kicking him lightly in the shins.

Chapter Text

“C’mon, we could watch The Lion King,” Jim cajoled as he and Spock pushed open the heavy library doors and stepped out into the bright evening air. 

For the past 4.1 weeks Jim had been joining Spock in the library to study. Always at unlooked for times and for varying lengths of time, his presence both longed for and painful.

Spock would be sitting in an alcove when Jim would walked by, looking somehow both surprised and not surprised to see Spock there. 

Smiling, he would pull up a chair and get out his PADD and a pair of glasses, sitting with Spock in companionable silence for several hours or just a few minutes, quiet broken only when Jim made the occasional scoff or snort of surprise at whatever text he was reading.

Unsure though Spock was whether these meetings were preordained or entirely accidental—he suspected a measure of both was involved—they were always accompanied by a rush of dopamine to his brain, exciting and warming him while they studied. 

A rush that when Jim inevitably departed left Spock in a state of withdrawal, craving more and pursued by thoughts of Jim for the rest of the day, leaving him tense and aroused when he got back to his room and angry with himself for allowing such thoughts to wreck his control—but nevertheless unable to tell Jim to leave him alone the next time it occured.

It had gotten so that Spock found himself sitting in places he knew Jim would find him in, looking up whenever someone walked by. And although he had not gone so far as to purposefully leave Jim an extra chair, it was a near, humiliating thing. 

Currently, it was after one of these library meetings that Jim was trying to persuade him to ‘hang out,’ something he had so far refrained from doing and that Spock had secretly both desired and dreaded.

“As I recall, it is a very illogical film,” Spock hedged as they walked down the stepped together, remembering how, as a 14 year-old, he’d found the cartoon lion Simba oddly charismatic and attractive—and then much later realized this was because he reminded him of Jim, and how this had been embarrassing.

“Shut up Spock, you fucking loved that movie,” Jim replied, laughing, his hair catching the fading sunlight in an ersatz halo, and Spock tried to ignore how physically aware he was of Jim next to him, and the way that Jim saying his name sends an electric current surging through his whole body.

“I’ve got Sun-Maids,” Jim wheedled, clever blue eyes going sly as he sidled closer and he elbowed Spock in the side. 

“And you are not lying to me to get your way?” Spock asked suspiciously, interest piqued by the mention of raisins.

“That is my favorite thing to do, isn’t it? But no, I’d never lie to you about raisins Spock,” Jim replied with a wink.

Spock blinked, trying to ignore the way Jim’s wink made his stomach swoop because 0.92 months and several library rendezvous later, Spock had not yet grown accustomed to the sensation, or the double-edged hope and pain it incited, for although Spock’s imaginings were far from innocent, even such small expressions had the power to render him foolishly compliant.

“Very well,” Spock replied, despite the pain he knew it would bring him. 

Jim grinned, leading him a meandering way to the off-campus apartment he shares with an unknown person who Jim calls “Bones” (which was a decidedly odd name, but perhaps he wasn’t human) and two other cadets.

“Let me take your coat,” Jim offered when they arrive, because his manners were still Midwestern and therefore better than the rest of his demeanor would suggest. He helps Spock out of it and hangs it on a rack while they both step out of their shoes, probably oblivious to the effect the brush of his hands on Spock’s back.

“Want some tea?” Jim asked as he rifles through some drawers. “I think we have pepperm—dammit! Bones drank it all, the asshole—I don’t know why this kept happening, it’s not even funny,” Jim muttered to himself, and Spock wasn’t sure what he was talking about. “That left green tea. It’s decaffeinated,” Jim assured, holding up a slightly battered box.

“Thank you, that is acceptable,” Spock replied, hoping that Jim had indeed not been lying about the raisins.

“Here, sit down,” Jim said, pulling out a chair from a table. Spock sat while Jim put the water on to boil and Spock wondered if Jim realized how similar this moment was to the first time they’d met, back on Tarsus.

“A lot like that first time huh?” Jim said, leaning against a refrigerator and giving Spock a long look.

“Indeed. My thoughts were similar,” Spock admits, remembering that night 7.81 years ago and how he had followed the grinning boy whose language he could not understand, all the while anxiously waiting for him to stop smiling and turn on him like so many others had—except that he never did. 

And Jim’s thoughts must have tended in a similar direction because a moment later he asked the question that had been silently present in all their interactions since they had begun to spend time together again.

“Spock, why didn’t you ever call me back? You had to know how much I would miss you,” he said, pain lancing through his blue eyes.

“You know why.” 

“No, I really, really don’t,” Jim began angrily. “I don’t get it at all—it was just a Goddamn k—” 

But just then Jim was interrupted by the insistent 3000 Hz whistle of the kettle, and he snapped around, switching off the burner with frustrated sound as Spock silently got up to retrieve mugs.

The moments while Jim poured the boiling water over the teabags were tense and uncomfortable. 

Process complete, Jim lifted the mugs off the counter and sets them on a low, tiny table in front of a couch, managing not to spill them despite the anger visible in the taut line of his shoulders and the flex of his forearms. Taking a seat on the couch, Jim gestured to the seat across from him.

“Oh, I forgot about your bribery raisins,” Jim muttered when Spock didn’t move, getting up and pushing open a door into another room. 

When he did not return, Spock followed him through it in time to see Jim replacing a box under his bed.

This was Jim’s room, Spock realized with a detached jolt. Surprisingly neat, it features only a double bed, a closet and a window with a few books on the sill. 

“Here,” Jim said, tossing Spock a small red box before flopping down on his bed face first.

Giving in to the impulse, and because he suspected no more damage could be done at this point, Spock took a seat on the other side of the bed—against the headboard—as he opened his box of raisins.

Jim propped himself up on his elbows and watched him, a slow smile pulling up first one, and then the other side of his mouth in an inexorable grin.

“I told you I wasn’t lying,” Jim said as Spock put a raisin in his mouth, and he felt his own lips twitch, relishing the taste and the small moment of familiarity.

Out the window, Earth’s single, small sun was almost set, the last of it was orange light fading into blue and darker blue.

Spock felt the side of Jim’s head rest on his thigh and he tensed instantly. 

“Jim,” he said, tone sharp. It was impossible that Jim was unaware of what he was doing. 

“What?” Jim asked, his voice petulant but colored with something else that confirms to Spock that he knew.

“Jim,” Spock said again, hearing his own voice grow slightly breathy as a hint of his childhood accent creeps back, and Jim twists around so thathe is looking up at Spock from his lap.

Face heating, Spock struggled to control his vasodilation response as well as the rapidly increasing rate of his heart.

“I’ve always loved the way you say my name,” Jim said. “You make it sound like it’s got an extra vowel.”

Are you…?

Jim lies still, watching, as, barely able to breath, Spock carefully slid two fingers over Jim’s lips, slow; a question.

Jim took them into his mouth.

And then the slowness was over and Spock was hauling Jim up by his shoulders, trying to kiss Jim immediately.

Unpracticed as he was, the results were sloppy, and Jim braced himself against Spock’s shoulders, pulling himself the rest of the way up.

“Open your mouth,” Jim instructed against Spock's lips. “No, not like you’re going to the dentist you weirdo,” he murmured, chasing the words to Spock’s mouth and sliding his tongue inside when Spock obeyed.

So this is what it felt like to be Nora McKenzie, Spock thought hazily as Jim tugged open the fastenings on the back of Spock’s cadets uniform, while Spock attempted the same process on him, too distracted by Jim’s mouth to be successful.

“God, these things are like Fort Knox,” Jim whined breathily, finally getting the outer shirt off before moving to take off his own.

A frustrating struggle later, Jim, who was the more coordinated at the moment, had both of their undershirts off too, pulling him closer and licking the inside of his mouth rocking against Spock's thigh in the tight space between them, Spock desperately pushing back, seeking friction.

“Jim,” Spock got out again, befuddled, voice hoarse and accented, and Jim paused to grin at him, eyes glinting in the fading light.

“I know all your told Spock, you can’t hide from me,” he said, moving his hands down to undo the fastenings of Spock’s uniform pants.

Hit by wave after wave of overpowering heat, Spock tried to control his wild heart, head tipping onto Jim's shoulder as the pants were got open, eyes widening, breath coming ragged and damp.

Never done this before, but it was obvious that Jim had—probably many, many times—in the practiced movements of his strong, callused hands that were making Spock feel too much.

Made a noise like bubbles going up your nose the wrong way, choking gasps like when Jim had gotten him to try soda, and Jim laughed, other hand rubbing the back of Spock's neck as, as—

And then it was like nuclear fission inside him and around him as the world split apart—fragmenting into heat and heat and heat, eyes shut against Jim's shoulder as Jim murmured meaningless words that meant everything: “God, you’re perfect/You’re beautiful/God, Spock.” 

And when it was over, the shattered world fading back into bright wholeness, after he had pushed Jim roughly down on the bed, kissing him desperately as he did the same to him, clumsy but successful, Jim kissed him one last time, wrapping a sleepy arm around him, pulling Spock as close as when they were children.

Chapter Text

Spock was hit by a wave of lamentation when he woke up the next day in Jim’s bed.

Remembering what they had done the night before, the words of The Tempest burned in his mind like a cruel prophecy as he looked over at Jim’s sleeping body, painfully beautiful and golden in the morning sunlight.

(“Ay, with a heart as willing,”/“I’ll die your maid,”/“here's my hand,”/“Lest too light winning make the prize light.” )

Self-loathing roiled his stomach and he had to suppress the stimulation of the fourth ventricle, area postrema of his brain to prevent himself from vomiting.

Because how could he have forgotten everything that he had ever promised himself in a single moment? 

But that was untrue. It had not been a single moment (of course, he saw that now). 

The decision he had made at 13 to keep his feelings to himself and then desperately reaffirmed at 15, when Jim left Vulcan—to stay away in order to spare Jim the memory of how Spock had forcibly kissed him, to preserve his own sanity, his dignity and sense of self worth—had meant nothing in the end. 

Spock had allowed himself, knowing all the while what he was doing, to follow Jim’s lead (when had he not?), to succumb to a lapse of his control and want. He’d broken his promise and done precisely what would ensure that his heart would break even more deeply when Jim inevitably left him.

For The Tempest was correct—there was something sacrificial about sex, Spock realized with a shudder of dismay, despite having willingly gone to the alter.

Because he knew Jim would leave him. Even without the rumors he has already overheard of Jim’s behavior with others he has taken to his bed, Spock has always known that Jim would not stay long. If he stayed at all.

Would Jim call him a faggot, that Spock desiring him was disgusting and claim it had all been a joke?

More likely, Jim would pretend nothing had happened. 

And that, would be unbearable.

Looking one last time at Jim’s sleeping form, Spock pulled on his clothes and left. 

Morning cold made him shiver, nipping at his ears and nose. When he put his hands in his pocket though, his fingers brushed an unfamiliar object.

Upon drawing it out, he saw that it was the slightly crumpled Sun-Maid box.

He should throw it away.

Spock put it back in his pocket, where it remained for the rest of the day, reminding him.

***

“There you are Spock!” Jim called out, when they ran into one another in the commissary a few days later and Spock tensed, wondering if this would be the moment when Jim would reject him. 

“You’re not mad at me right?” Jim whispered into Spock’s ear, leaning close for the ostensible purpose of selecting a milk carton. “You were gone before I woke up so I wasn’t sure—” Jim broke off, biting his lip, and Spock felt a surge of relief that although Jim would leave him, he would not do so yet.

And—resolve stuttering—Spock slid two tentative fingers against the back of Jim’s hand, and one of Jim’s abundant smiles was his reply.

*** 

After that meeting, a pattern was established.

Where before Jim had existed largely in imagination, he was suddenly everywhere; meeting Spock in the library more often, eating with him in the commissary, making him dinner or inviting him to go somewhere out in the city—to a restaurant, an aerospace museum, to Ocean Beach to look at the tide pools, full of bright starfish and anemones where Spock had quite naturally taken produced his tricorder to take readings (“I remember how much you loved that nerdy shit,” Jim had laughed, but then looked over his shoulder and asked him what he was detecting)—after which Jim would take him back to his apartment—often with an illogical pretext—and have sex with him.

And each time there was no assurance that it would not be the last time, apart from when Jim would say “Can we try it the other way around next time?” or “You’re so strong, it would be so hot if…”  

Too afraid to initiate and risk driving Jim away as he had on Vulcan as an adolescent, Spock was not even sure he was the only one Jim was saying things like this to. Was not sure whether, if on the nights he was not with Spock Jim sought out other partners, for they had made no promises to each other.

Despite his doubt, he couldn’t bring himself to ask, and he avoided looking at Jim’s eyes, where he always saw an abundance of lust, but never the love that Spock himself could barely contain.

On the mornings afterward, when he left for class, Spock hated himself a little bit more each time, self disgust eating at him, making him resolve to be stronger and not be ruled by his desire—resolutions that were broken again and again each time Jim smiled at him or said his name.

Spock loved Jim too much, his appetite for Jim’s affection too strong—still hardly able to believe that he got to have him at all.

***

“Hey I never asked you—do you remember that poem I read you? From that first afternoon in the library?” Jim asked as they sat on the floor of Jim’s room, drinking tea and eating the soup and grilled cheeses Jim had made, both surprisingly good.

Spock nodded, recalling the moment with ease for it had been the happiest he had ever been up until that point.

“How did it come out in Vulcan?”

“As you are now aware, Vulcan is a highly synthetic language, and as such many of the distinct Standard morphemes were rendered as agglutinations, and the verse was rendered “Pa’leh-reh dah-yel pa-yut ka'ug'yel-svi-tor ka'ug'yel solektra sailau din-tor ka'ug'yel i'khaz'el, spes-fam. Kunel-maat fleitau starun. That is to say, rather inaccurately.

Jim thought for a moment. “‘At approximately thirteen sun-revolutions, I entered sun-colored terrain. Accompanied by an incomprehensible sun-colored-male-child, I lacked verbal expression. Mountains removed speech.’ Wow, that’s actually pretty nice sounding,” Jim said and Spock thought so too, as he had then, although he was mostly listening to the sound of Jim’s voice.

“Except that word, ‘fleitau’ can also translate to ‘a removal of clothing,’ huh?” Jim added, grinning.

The heat of the tea curls in Spock’s stomach, and Jim’s smile grew predatory.

“You know, I’m really hungry,” Jim said, pushing aside his food. “Starving actually.”  

***

Hands in Jim’s hair, Spock’s thoughts were rushing with I love you, I love you, so he bit his tongue to stop the words.

“C’mon Spock,” Jim said, pausing to smirk, eyes dilated so fully that their blue was almost eclipsed by black, “The only time I kneel like this is in church.” 

***

“You’re so beautiful,” Jim breathed into his skin, and Spock gripped Jim’s arms, as he rose and fell on Spock’s lap, hands splayed on either side of Spock’s spine, deep strawberry flush on his face.

“You are mocking me,” Spock murmured, trying to pull Jim into another kiss. bounced

“If you really think that, y—you’re crazier than I thought,” Jim gasped, lowering his head to bite Spock’s shoulder as they continued to move together. 

I love you was again on the end of Spock’s tongue, so he bit it so hard that he tasted the copper of his blood, pain becoming pleasure as one or both of them moaned, Jim's mouth against Spock’s neck.

***

“That’s just too sad,” Jim said.  

“In what way?” Spock asked, looking at the movie poster Jim is gesturing at, which depicted a cartoon dog running across a field towards a boy.

“I mean, I heard the dog dies at the end.”

“Ah yes. The death of a fictitious cartoon canine is indeed tragic.” 

Jim elbowed him in the side, eyes narrowed in a glare that was really a grin. “I’ve always wanted a dog,” Jim told him as they walked further down the sidewalk in the slanting evening light. “Dogs are ride or die—I’ve always admired that.”

Reaching forward, Spock took Jim’s hand in an act of tentative boldness. Jim smirked at him, giving Spock lazy ozh'esta with his thumb, and distracted, he required several moments before he could resume the conversation.

“As a child, I was given a sehlat, a companion which I believe could be considered an analogue to the Terran canine.”

“Really? Didn’t you tell me those things are like, bear-sized and terrifying?”

“In the wild they are. I-Chaya, however was domesticated.”

“What happened to him?”

“He died.”

“Oh. How?”

Spock doesn’t respond for a moment, remembering the parching taste of sand in his mouth and the terrifying purple eyes of the le-matya which he could never forget.

“Bravely,” he said at last. “When I fled into the desert, he followed me and killed a le-matya to save me. It was his death that prompted me to return to the city for help, but it was too late and the healer could do nothing for his wounds were to great.”

Tushah nash-veh k'du,” (“I grieve with thee,”) Jim responded, his grammar proficient, but as Jim had once told him, his accent was “trash.” 

Lapsing into contemplative silence, they continued down the street to Jim’s apartment until Jim spoke once again.

“Hey Spock,” he began in an odd voice a few moments later. “Were you trying to die when you went into the desert?”

Spock eyes shut briefly. It had been so long ago, but he still remembered.

“No," he said. "But I do not believe I cared. Or rather, I thought I did not. The purpose of the  kasha wan is to purge the fear of death from the initiate, and in this I failed for when I saw the cost of my recklessness, I could not endure it.”

“That’s not failing,” Jim said, gripping his arm. “ Kup-fun-tor ha'kiv na'ish du stau? Dom nam-tor vohris nem-tor ha'kiv,” he said, using one of Surak’s sayings. (“Can you return life to what you kill? Then be slow to take life.”)

“And you Jim?”

“What do you mean?” 

“Were you attempting to end your life when you drove off a cliff?” to flee what haunted you.

“No,” Jim said, releasing his arm and looking deeply uncomfortable. “Well yes, I was, but I changed my mind.”

“What stopped you?”

“Too stupid to know better.”

“That is not humorous.”

“You’re right. Hansen—that guard, the one who wouldn’t let you into the Hall on the day we met—she committed suicide you know.”

“I thought you did not want to discuss Tarsus.”

“Sometimes it’s harder not to talk about it,” Jim sighed deeply, breath shuddering on the exhale. 

“Jim you are not responsible for his death or hers. Or any of the deaths that occurred,” Spock said, knowing that he himself has often felt illogically at fault, and suspected that Jim must have felt so too.

“I know,” Jim replied unconvincingly. “It’s just hard—to believe it even happened sometimes. It still feels like a nightmare. Or like it happened to someone else.”

“You are forgetting that the four children we had with us, and many others are all still living. Without you, they would be dead.” As would I.

“Wait, what are you talking about? I didn’t do anything. You were the one who figured everything out and got me away from...” Jim trailed into silence.

Confused by this thoroughly incorrect assessment, Spock was unsure how to respond. “Jim, you have told me you do not remember what occurred. In the 7.71 days we were hiding in the forest—”

“Wait—7.71 days ? Jim interrupted, “What do you mean? We were out there for a day and a half, tops.”

He truly believes that, Spock realized and he shook his head slowly, watching Jim’s expression slide into bewilderment.

“During that time you used the firearm that you had constructed to kill enough food to ensure our survival,” Spock told him carefully. “You continually encouraged us with the hope that the merchants would soon come to rescue us.” 

And without that hope I would not be here, Spock added silently.

The look in Jim’s eyes was—Spock did not know how to describe it.  

Jim squeezed his eyes shut. “What the hell—” he started, before shaking his head. “So that's why I felt so c—all I remember is that there was a fire, and—and you pulling me back, and we ran to a volcano?—and you found all those edible roots, and then that mind meld where you told me we had to go back. Did I really lose five days?”

“You believe me?” Spock asked, because Jim was not arguing with him anymore.

“Of course,” Jim said, eyes full. “All this time I thought—”

Jim broke off, grimacing and they walked on in silence, light slanting and glinting off windows, turning San Francisco's muraled streets into a mosaic of color, steep as the salt canyons on Vulcan.

“My mother once told me,” Spock began, “that in the Torah, in the description of the creation of the universe, the text reads vayar Elohim ki-tov, which translates from Hebrew to ‘He saw that it was good,’ a set of words which is repeated several times, and therefore lent emphasis according to the dictates of ancient Near Eastern poetry.”

“Oh yeah, I know what you’re talking about. ‘And God saw every thing that he made, and behold, it was good,’” Jim quoted, looking up from the ground. “Or something like that anyway.” 

“Precisely,” Spock nodded. “She told me that it meant that everything that was created is good. I believe in order to reassure me that as a genetically unique being, I was included in this.”

“It’s a nice thought. Universal goodness and all that?”

“Yes. However, although I have no doubt that, as a linguist, her analysis of the text was sound—I often struggle to believe such a concept of the universe as a whole.”

“Yeah I can see why,” Jim muttered. “Tarsus was shit, and those Vulcan kids...stuff like that makes it harder to believe in there being any goodness in the universe.” He punctuated his words by squeezing Spock’s arm, sending a warm feeling through Spock’s whole body.

“But Jim, I have never struggled to believe it of you.”

***

“So are you ever gonna tell me who you’re dating?” Nyota asked.

Spock, who had not told her he was “dating” anyone, looked at her in surprise.

“Oh don’t look so shocked,” she smiled. “It’s obvious. For the last month you’ve always been going off somewhere looking like you have the galaxy’s greatest secret. And there was that one time you showed up to class late with your hair all messed up, and you were glowing,” she accused.

“Vulcans do not phosphoresce,” Spock replied curtly, blushing instead.

Nyota snorted. “Well, are you going to tell me? I’ve told you everything about Christine.”

“Yes, without my asking,” Spock replied, lifting an eyebrow. 

Nyota rolled her eyes. “You’re the literal opposite of my roommate—she never shuts up about that sort of thing.”

“Your roommate?”

“Haven’t I told you about her? Her name’s Gaila. She’s Orion.”

“And?”

And she’s a menace to society. Well actually I like her quite a bit, but it drives me crazy how good she is at getting what she wants. I’ve been working up the courage to ask Christine on a date for four months, and Gaila doesn’t even think about it—as soon as she likes somebody, I see them leaving our room the next day.”

“You are jealous,” Spock guessed, and Nyota nodded furiously.

“She’s a one woman Casanova! She's as bad as Jim Kirk—do you know him? 2nd year, smarter than he looks?—anyway, I think they should just get together as save us all the trouble. Actually, she was helping me practice my Orion the other day and she said they were sleeping together.”

Spock stared at her, nausea shooting through him.

Nyota blushed. “Normally I wouldn’t repeat that, but I know Gaila really wouldn't mind,” she finished looking disgruntled, not knowing that she had just confirmed all of Spock’s worst fears.

Chapter Text

“I hope you have not been leading a double life, pretending to be wicked and being really good all the time.” —Oscar Wilde 


“I love you so much,” Jim breathed into Spock’s ear, arms curled under Spock’s and pressed into his back as they moveand Spock cried out, jerking forwards and away as though scalded.

“Shit—are you okay? Did I hurt you?” Jim asked, searching Spock’s face worriedly. 

Spock could not speak. He got off the bed and located his clothes, which he began pulling on.

“Spock you’re scaring me—what’s going on?” Jim asked, getting up and putting a hand on Spock’s back.

Jerking out from under the touch, Spock turned sharply around and glared

Jim’s eyes widened and he took a half step backwards before visibly steeling himself. “What did I do? Please just tell me, ‘cause I have absolutely no idea.”

And that was the problem.

“How dare you say those words to me without meaning them,” Spock spat, realizing suddenly that he was furious.

“What words?” Jim asked, looking bewildered.

I love you—I know that you lie whenever it suits you but this is unacceptable. I am leaving,” Spock stated with finality. 

“What the hell are you talking about?” Jim asked. “I’ve never lied to you once in my life—not about anything important. You’re the only person I’ve never lied to—and I do love you. I get it if it’s too soon and you don’t feel the same way, but—”

“Then you and I have very different definitions of the word,” Spock interrupted, unable to listen to Jim’s tempting manipulation. “To me it does not mean a passing attraction or one of many idle pursuits. And it is my own fault for degrading myself in the hopes that the same could be true of you.”

Jim looked like he’d been slapped in the face. “You think it’s degrading to sleep with me? Well fucking hell Spock, I apologize for getting you dirty, ” Jim said, starting to pull on his own clothes now.

“I did not mean that,” Spock said, suddenly pulled in two different directions, regret and anger both nauseating him. 

“Well then what did you mean?” Jim shouted.

Spock braced himself. “I am aware that I am not the only person you—you—” 

Images of Jim wrapped around other people flashed through Spock’s mind and, with horror, he felt the nausea crest and suddenly knew he was about to throw up.

Turning on his heel, Spock rushed to the bathroom, barely in time to heave the contents of his stomach into the sink, gagging as stomach acid burned his throat. 

Hanging his head, Spock gripped the sides of the now befouled sink, panting and sour-mouthed.

“Are you okay?” Jim asked from outside the bathroom door.

“Go away,” Spock said miserably, shame replacing the nausea.

“Not a chance,” Jim murmured, and then there was a washcloth wiping his face and the sink was being turned on and Spock was too weak to struggle.

“There, if that’s not proof that I love you, then I don’t know what is,” Jim said conversationally, continuing to clean up the mess. “You don’t know how much I hate vomit.”

“Jim,” Spock got out weakly, sagging against the porcelain, hating that Jim’s touch is soothing even now. “Nyota informed me that you are engaging in intercourse with another cadet.”

“Another ca—I wish I’d know ‘cause this is the first I’m hearing about it,” Jim said in confusion, “Did she say who?”

“Nyota’s roommate Gaila,” Spock replied as Jim handed a glass of water. 

Jim huffed a laugh. “Sorry, sorry, that’s really, really not funny. They didn’t happen to be speaking Orion when Gaila said this?” 

“They were,” Spock confirmed, heart beating and painfully confused.

“Well that explains it—Gaila told me that ’sex’ and ’speech’ can be refered to with the same word in Orion.”

Spock’s eyes widened. “Oh.”

“I can’t believe we got this fucked over by a bad translation—actually wait, I can. Do you remember that godawful PADD?” Jim asks, his voice full of humor, but Spock was not ready to let this go.

“So you are not engaging in intercourse with anyone else?”

“No!” Jim said, “I would never do that to you—I mean, I did sleep with Gaila, but that was a over year ago, and I actually haven’t been with anyone since—not until you anyway,” Jim said.

“Oh,” Spock said again, feeling foolishly relieved.

Jim groaned. “I can’t believe you thought I would cheat on you. This whole time I thought I was doing things right for once by taking you on dates, and giving you my raisins, and I only didn’t tell you I loved you because I didn’t want to freak you out, but I do—and I have since we met I think, just I’m a liar like you said, and I’ve been lying to myself for so long I was slow to catch on. And you—you’ve known all along—since we were kids, you always know everything. God I’m such an idiot,” Jim babbled. “But please don’t break up with me because I also didn’t tell you that my mom will be dirtside in April and she and I and your mom have been planning a Passover seder for like a month—it was going to be a surprise, and I know you think surprises are illogical but I wanted to hear you tell me it was illogical,” Jim got out, taking a breath and making himself stop with obvious effort.

“This was entirely unknown to me,” Spock responded, feeling somewhat shell-shocked. 

“So you’ve just been imagining that I would—God—why didn’t you ask me?”

Spock felt suddenly very, very small. 

“I did not wish to know. I was willing to accept whatever you would give me.”

Jim’s eyes widened and in the silence Spock heard 21st classical music century filter in through the living room window from the apartment below.

“I don’t know how it happened, I don’t know who’s to blame…”

“Dance with me?” Jim asked suddenly, holding out his hand, a familiar look of determination in his eyes. 

“And though you break my heart in two, I still feel the same about you…”

“You can’t pretend you don’t understand me anymore,” he added with a half smile as Spock took the offered hand in his, still unable to speak.

Jim stepped close, tightly wrapping his arms around Spock, breathing against his neck. Spock held Jim just as tightly, and they weren't even really dancing, they were just clinging to each other and breathing for a long time.

“I have loved you almost since I first knew you,” Spock told him and Jim inhaled harshly. 

“You were my first Vulcan kiss,” he continued, gripping Jim’s hand tightly in his. “My first human kiss, and every other one of my firsts, and although it was often painful, I would choose to live it all again if it meant knowing you,” Spock said, and he felt Jim’s chest contract repeatedly, too quickly. 

“Jim are you crying?” Spock asked, unbelieving even though he could feel wetness against the side of his neck. Spock has never seen Jim cry. Not through Tarsus. Not after. 

Jim nodded, his laugh coming out as a gasp, and he gripped Spock even closer.

Spock turned them slowly, music in the background and evening air smelling like yerba buena, knowing what Jim was saying without needing language.