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And Then I Let It Go

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Starbase Yorktown is possibly the worst imaginable place to have a personal crisis. It’s too bright, too airy, a snowglobe in space as Bones had so aptly put it, with long clean sweeps of streets and water spilled over forcefields and actual green trees. It’s extravagant, incredibly expensive, and it’s a statement.

We are the mighty Federation, we can afford to put something like this out here, and we sure as hell can defend it.

It’s impractical and burning through resources like nobody’s business, and all the more impressive for it. The place is overrun by perky freshly minted officers with fire in their eyes and possibly their hearts. A clean-shaven, pressed-uniforms lot, who know that space is dangerous, but believe they will live forever.

Jim smirks wryly into his glass and wishes he was anywhere else.

Commodore Paris is so grateful that he saved Yorktown with minimal (all things considered) damages to property and loss of life that Jim’s obligatory court-martial – he’d lost his ship, after all – is more of a commemoration ceremony. They let all of his bridge crew testify at length, broadcasting their bright-eyed defense of him live across the entire sector, asking questions that are designed to elicit more praise, and his crew is happy to comply.

His crew has never been so fucking happy to comply with anything in their lives.

Jim sighs. They don’t get it, except for a select few, and he’s doing a fine job avoiding those. They think he mourns his ship. They’re not wrong, he can admit as much, but that’s not why he’s in trouble.

He’s in trouble because losing his ship should have broken his back and punched out his will to live.

It didn’t.

One would think that it’s enough of a jolt to the system. Certainly enough to snap him out of his funk; and it does, to a point. But all that bullshit from Paris about there being no relative direction in space, or his own whining about the difficulty of being grounded when even gravity is artificial is just that, bullshit. He knows full well why he’s feeling weightless. It’s nothing new. It’s been there all along, when he’s not distracted by some crisis at hand or a band of homicidal ferrets trying to maul him.

Once upon a time, when Jim still believed in unicorns, kind of, Pike finds him in a bar and says, ‘They gave her back to me, Jim.’

He says, ‘Spock is not going to work with me; he’s been reassigned. You’re my first officer.’

And Jim feels so much more as an asshole, because that’s twice now Pike has chosen him over Spock, and Spock freaking worships Pike, and that’s got to hurt, but most of all – most of all he feels a sense of burning, acrid shame eating at his insides, because this is what Pike doesn’t say. Jim hears it anyway, days, months, years later, like a constant refrain he can’t shake off.

Pike doesn’t say, ‘It was never about you saving his life. It was about you not owning up to it.’

A captain of a starship can do pretty much whatever the hell he wants if he’s prepared to face the music afterwards. Sure, they’d have been pissed, but Starfleet understands about not leaving a man behind. It didn’t even have to be Spock. Jim would have done the same for any other member of his crew. It being Spock simply eliminated even a hint of every other option from his consideration.

Pike doesn’t say, ‘You panicked.’

But that – that’s in his eyes, along with sympathy, and a shade of guilt, and that is the one thing he doesn’t have to say. They both know it’s true.

Pike says none of those things, but for years Jim hears them in his head in Pike’s voice, like the old man is reaching for him from beyond the grave.

‘I never would have risked my first officer’s life in the first place.’

Funny how everyone assumes Jim’s competing with his long-dead father, and no one ever thinks about the much more recently-dead Pike.

And how, Jim wants to ask him, how would you have stopped him? He strolls in with his crazy-ass plan; and, wrapped in the armor of his logic, Spock can be as much of an unstoppable force as Jim ever was. Spock is downright ruthless when he thinks he’s right, and Jim doesn’t stand a chance against that, not when he believes Spock is right, too.

He’d have loved to see Pike deal with it, though. Just once to get a lesson from a master. Jim has pulled rank on Spock, a number of times, and he’s lived to regret every single one of them, if never actually repent or want to take it back. Pike had always gotten Spock’s blind obedience, and Jim wonders sometimes what it must be like, indulges in a fantasy or two when he’s had a few in him. But when he’s sane and sober the idea repels him.

‘I never would have risked my first officer’s life in the first place.’

Pike had never been married, Jim thinks grimly. Pike knew fucking better than that.

And how on earth did it happen that Jim ended up being mostly married to a guy who’s mostly married to someone else? In his own head, if nowhere else, but hell, that’s more than enough.

Making Spock understand – understand what, dear God – had suddenly become his life’s mission. Spock didn’t get the change of subject, small wonder; and Jim got the reason to be mad at him when he so desperately wanted one.

And then Khan happened, and messed things up even more, as though it was even possible.

The thing is, Jim was attached to his adrenaline joy rides. They were a nice distraction. But it’s hard to feel shaken by a near-death experience once you’ve actually died. Maybe if it was sudden and he didn’t remember it, but it wasn’t and he does, in detail, every gruesome second of it.

Spock’s face on the other side of the glass, both of them crying, fuck’s sake, someone should get a grip, and it’s a relief of sorts, because Jim doesn’t think he could have taken much more of whatever it was between them, and Spock will grieve, sure, but he has Uhura, and it’s just better this way that Jim won’t have to make a complete fool of himself after all, and—

He wakes up to the sound of birds singing outside the open window in Starfleet Medical, and Spock is there. Jim will never admit it, but there’s a moment there, a gut-wrenching, heart-stopping moment that, if it were known, would have cost him the captain’s chair and probably any chance of having any kind of career at all.

A moment when he wishes he’d never woken up.

He hides it, but it doesn’t go away. If anything, it grows stronger.

Spock sticks close to him now. Jim becomes intimately familiar with the darkly sweet scent of his bodywash and the shift of muscle in his arm when Spock’s shoulder presses against his own. Spock’s skin is smooth and dry when he grips Jim’s hand, not his forearm, to haul him back to his feet at the gym. Spock tastes an unfamiliar drink casually from Jim’s glass, commenting on the flavor as he returns it, setting it on the table when it becomes clear that Jim’s fingers are numb with shock and inadequate for the task.

Spock smiles at him with his eyes in the middle of a briefing, during a regular shift on the bridge, in the middle of a diplomatic reception, and that’s fine. But then Spock smiles at him with his eyes when they are alone in Jim’s quarters, and it’s late into the Gamma shift, and Jim might have had a drink, and Spock is standing close enough to him to feel the warmth of his body, and Jim wants to die, all over again, or to have had died back then, so very much.

Jim pushes back, reflexively, it’s pure self-preservation. Pushes back to ‘Commander’ and ‘Mr. Spock’ and ‘Science Officer.’ Spock looks abashed in his non-expressive way at being subtly corrected, and Jim wants to shoot himself or throw an arm over Spock’s shoulders and say, ‘Spock, Spock, forgive me, I’m an asshole, it’s nothing you did.’

He doesn’t. They do all right. Awkward as hell, stunted, but all right.

Then one of them is bleeding, and it switches to frantic hands and painful gasps and ‘Please, Jim. Please hold on. This cannot happen again.’ And then so fast it gives him whiplash, ‘I am pleased you are recovered, Captain. I have a status report waiting on your convenience.’

Jim wants to smash things or hit someone, but mostly – mostly he wants out. Out of his head, out of the prison that his ship has become, out of this universe maybe and into another one, a better one, where he’d have met Spock first…

The days begin to blur in his mind. He would drink more if his system could tolerate it. As it is, he drowns himself in work. He becomes so professional it’s nauseating. His reports could be put in a goddamn manual, for crying out loud. His conduct during missions is exemplary. He learns to be a diplomat, if one can believe it. He asks questions first, shoots later. He is…

He doesn’t know who he is anymore.

Krall, or Edison, or whatever the man preferred to be called, reminds him. He has his crew. His family. He can be there for his family if nothing else. For as long as he has them, anyway.

They have two months until the formerly-to-be-Hood could be finished to become the new Enterprise, and already they are scattered.

Like the only reasonable person among them, Sulu takes his accumulated leave time and disappears to some tropical oasis with his husband and their illegally adorable daughter. She drew Jim a picture for his birthday of his entire bridge crew, in which Uhura looks like a warrior princess and everyone else like overgrown tribbles. Jim got it framed and is saving it for his new ready room.

Chekov leaves. For good.

It comes like a punch to the gut, and Jim is still reeling. The kid – not a kid so much, not anymore, but always, always a kid in Jim’s mind, forever sewenteen – looks half-crushed, half-ecstatic when he says, “It’s my girlfriend Irina, Keptin. She – she said yes! I asked her a million years ago, and she wouldn’t give me an answer, but now she did.” And of course she’d signed up for a five-year mission aboard the Potemkin, which is headed very much in the opposite direction, and of course Captain Avery would be delighted to have a genius-level tactical officer and navigator, cross-trained in engineering and command, onboard.

Jim wants to tell Chekov not to go. He wants to tell him that it’s no good loving someone he’s serving with. Too great a potential for disaster; too big a risk to take. But Chekov’s eyes are bright and happy, and both Sulu and Scotty look devastated but resigned, and Jim hugs the stupid little shit to his chest for a full half minute before he lets him go with a ‘You’re always welcome back, you hear me? Always,’ and signs off on the transfer papers.

‘Take care of yourself out there,’ Jim tells him, because he’s the captain, God dammit, not an emotional train wreck in a fancy uniform.

Chekov salutes him, the idiot, tears in his eyes, a smile on his face, his lips trembling, as he’s standing there on the tarmac, transferring Jim in his mind from ‘his captain’ to ‘his first captain’ category before Jim’s eyes.

Jim watches him go for as long as he can, and the next thing he knows is Keenser handing him a glass with some foul-smelling liquid that is supposed to help with his monstrous hangover. Jim closes his eyes again and really wants to die.

Scotty more or less moves to the space dock to nobody’s surprise, overseeing the final fine-tuning of the soon-to-be-Enterprise’s systems. Jim envies him.

McCoy is requisitioned, with a decided lack of subtlety, by the Yorktown Medical Center for a hastily-designed skills-upgrade program for its staff. ‘But you hate teaching,’ Jim tells him, and Bones shrugs. ‘It’s too long a way to go see Joanna, and if I don’t keep busy for two month, I’ll go nuts.’

Uhura goes back to school, literally. The Yorktown Linguistics Research Division offers intensive courses. She signs up for about fifteen of them, and will come out, no doubt, fluently speaking five hundred more languages Jim’s never heard of.

Jim gets drafted by Paris into assisting with starbase operations, which is, he supposes, her way of telling him that first asking for promotion and then turning it down is not exactly the way things are done when you want to make friends and influence people. He upgrades their security as best he can, developing protocols that put him very much in mind of the Kobayashi Maru, and he almost hates himself for it when he’s not too busy laughing at the irony.

Spock – well.

Spock disappears.

The morning after Jim’s birthday party, Spock is nowhere to be found, his room at the Starfleet hostel empty and made up, and his comm line dead. Jim stares at the aggressively neat comforter on the bed and reminds himself that Spock isn’t the kind of asshole who’d leave Jim and, more importantly, the Enterprise without a chief science officer, let alone a first officer, without at least giving a warning. Logically, he’d have to be back.

No one seems to know anything, not even Uhura, who merely shrugs, fingers her radioactive traceable pendant that is not creepy at all, and tells Jim not to worry about it. Jim has given up on trying to understand their relationship a long time ago, but it’s hard when faced with something like that.

He tells himself it’s for the best and drowns himself in work.

He finds the spot a week and a half in. It’s so out of the way, there are barely any customers. It’s dark and dingy, and far enough away from the exuberant bright-eyed day crowd, and the bartender never smiles.

It’s the only place on the starbase where Jim feels like he can breathe. He comes every night without fail, though he never actually gets drunk after that first time.

“Vodka on the rocks,” a voice says beside him.

Jim watches the perpetually-scowling bartender tone down her scowl for the first time in days and turns to look at Uhura.

“How on earth did you find me?”

She brushes her hair off her shoulder and shrugs. “You’re not that mysterious.” She lifts her drink to her lips, the ice cubes clinking softly, and sips without cringing.

Jim watches her with a growing sense of unease, but he’s been on many, many diplomatic missions with her, and his self-preservation instinct isn’t going to let him say anything until absolutely necessary.

Apropos of nothing, she says, “Do you remember that time when Spock’s personal efficiency rating went down?”

Jim blinks. “Is this a trick question?”

Her lips curve slightly. “It happened. Once or twice, actually, but that one was after Khan.” Jim flinches. She ignores him. “He couldn’t sleep, you see. Week after week, and it’s not good even for Vulcans. Lucky for him, before someone else noticed, you managed to get the two of you stranded on Varena.”

“Hey now. What do you mean ‘I managed’? I wasn’t exactly asking to be kidnapped and—” He frowns. “What the hell are you talking about anyway? We shared a tent for a week on Varena, and he slept just fine.”

She looks at him, smiles. Jim feels the echo of her nasty right hook even though she doesn’t move a muscle.

“Of course he did,” Uhura says.

Jim reaches for his own glass and drinks compulsively.

She twirls the ice cubes in her glass. “If Altamid didn’t happen, he was going to resign his commission.”

Jim stares at her. “Okay, what?”

“He broke up with me, because he was thinking about going to New Vulcan at some point in the future and felt that it was – dishonest – to continue,” she says, tone calm, words slicing through flesh like diamonds. “I could live with some unspecified date in the future, but then we heard about Ambassador Spock.”

Jim swallows. “Son of a bitch. He never said he was going to quit—”

“There’s a surprise.” She throws her head back to finish her drink and signals for a refill.

The bartender actually smiles at her. Jim didn’t know she could smile.

When she leaves, Uhura says, “Spock didn’t tell you, because you’d have made him stay. I was not motivation enough. Just as I wasn’t the one he needed to cure his nightmares by – well, just by being there, apparently.”

“Uhura—”

“Facts, Jim. Simple, logical facts. Don’t you just love them?” Her finger traces the rim of her glass. “He broke up with Starfleet. He broke up with the ship. He broke up with me.” She looks up at him. “He couldn’t break up with you.”

Jim says nothing, heart pounding in an odd rhythm in his chest.

“The thing is,” Uhura says, “this isn’t even the first time. And I do have more self-respect than that. But I – fell in love with the way he pronounced Deltan vowels. And the way his hair looks in the morning. And how he hates plomeek soup.”

Jim’s fingers clench around his glass reflexively. Scotch burns his throat.

Uhura slides off her chair, graceful and powerful, like a fully loaded phaser bank.

“I could find you, because you wanted to be found,” she says. “Because everyone does.” She leans over and kisses his cheek. “I wish I didn’t, but I love you, too, Jim.”

He sits there a long time after she’s gone, staring into space.

--

He dyes his hair a darker brown and lets his beard grow. It’s a meager disguise at best, but no one expects the famous Captain Kirk to look shabby, not when his face is glowing from every infomercial screen in all its airbrushed glory set off by the splendor of Starfleet’s most successful so far dress-uniform design.

Uhura was right; then again when wasn’t she? Finding Spock isn’t difficult at all. He didn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs, but he didn’t exactly hide, either. Any half-decent hacker could have found him, and Jim, in an incredible turn of events, actually is in a very legal possession of all the requisite high-clearance codes and passwords. It makes the job disgustingly easy.

Spock changes his name, but not his species, and there just aren’t enough Vulcans left for it to confuse the matter. Jim winces at the thought. Once upon a time Spock would have been swallowed by a crowd.

“So what exactly are your skills, Mister… Komack?” the coordinator asks him when Jim disembarks from the transport along with thirty other volunteers and future colonists.

Jim smiles his most disarming smile. “Oh, I’m really a jack-of-all-trades, ma’am. But I’m best with plants, I think. My mother always said I had a green thumb.”

Actually, his mother wouldn’t recognize a potato plant from poison ivy any more than Jim would, much less comment on it, but the only Vulcan who is currently volunteering at the newly established colony is supervising the construction of greenhouses. Gardening it is.

The coordinator regards him dubiously for a minute, then nods, making a note on her PADD. “Then you’d better catch a ride with Mark.” She points to the tall bulky man in brown coveralls, who’s currently examining a tire of a heavy-load ground vehicle with some concern. “He’ll take you to Selek’s camp. He’ll find a job for you.”

“Selek?” Jim asks, because he’s an asshole.

The coordinator frowns at him. “He’s a Vulcan, and you know how few of them are left, so if you cause any trouble or bother him in any way, I’ll kick you out of here personally, and you’re not going to like it. Got it?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Jim says, smothering a grin.

“How long will you be staying anyway, Mister Komack?”

He shrugs. “Depends on how the climate treats me, I guess.”

Her frown deepens. “We are a desert world.”

“Yeah.” Jim looks away, gazing into the distance. “I noticed.”

The ride takes almost two hours, during which Jim learns more about Leres than he’d ever cared to, courtesy of Mark. The colonist proves to be a bubbly, enthusiastic companion, and Jim lets him carry the bulk of the conversation, emitting encouraging noises from time to time.

He perks up when Mark says, “Selek has really been a godsend. He completely redesigned our irrigation system in, like, a couple of days. Damn that bastard Nero. If all Vulcans are so smart, then… Ah hell. And he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, either. Wish I knew where he came from, then maybe I could talk him into staying.”

Over my dead body, Jim thinks, flashing Mark a grin. Irrigation systems. Fuck’s sake, Spock.

The planet has a twenty-eight hour day, so by the time they finally arrive it’s still mid-morning. Mark parks his monster of a vehicle, leaves a couple of volunteers to unload it, and hauls Jim after him on an improvised tour.

All in all, the colony looks very much alive and active for all that it’s been in place for under a year. Jim feels duly impressed, and it’s hard to stay indifferent when surrounded by so many enthusiasts and, more tangibly, the sense of new beginnings.

“Right, the thing is, I don’t know where to put you,” Mark says, as they come back to the central square. “We have cottages for volunteers, but they are currently all full.”

“It’s okay,” Jim starts to say, “I’ll think of some—”

“Ah, Selek, just the man I wanted to see,” Mark speaks over him cheerfully.

Jim whirls in place.

Spock walks toward them in his usual gliding, purposeful pace. He’s wearing some dark-colored vaguely-Vulcan version of cargo pants and, improbably, an old-issue Starfleet t-shirt, from the time when they were blissfully all grey or black without the gaudy logo being printed everywhere. His eyes slide from Mark to Jim and pause.

“Good morning, Mark,” Spock says calmly, recovering with mind-blowing speed.

Jim thinks, Wow, he has a tan.

“James, this is Selek, he’ll be your supervisor,” Mark introduces him. “And this is our newest volunteer James Komack.”

Spock doesn’t so much as blink, and Jim feels pride bubble up in his chest. This is how they bluffed their way through the Tholian web trap and more Klingon ambushes than he can remember.

“An unexpected pleasure, Mister Komack.” Spock inclines his head politely, taking in Jim’s hair and the vaguely reddish five o’clock shadow that has taken over half his face. His eyes glint with amusement.

“No, no, Mister Selek,” Jim says in the most courteous tone he can muster. “The pleasure’s all mine.”

“Right, um, as I was saying,” Mark says, oblivious. “There’re no free bunks left. We’ll have to dig out a bubbleshelter for you, James—”

Jim arches his eyebrows slightly.

To an outside observer, Spock’s face looks as expressionless as ever. To Jim’s eye, he looks exasperated and resigned to his fate.

“That will not be necessary, Mark,” he interrupts the other man gently. “He can stay with me.”

Vulcan cultural norms and preference for privacy being what they are, Mark blinks a few times, before saying, “If you’re sure.”

“Quite,” Spock all but sighs.

Jim grins at him.

“If you are not fatigued, I will show you where you can leave your belongings,” Spock says, dismissing Mark from his attention entirely. “And then we can determine what manner of work will suit your unique talents best.”

“Can’t wait,” Jim says, clapping Mark on the shoulder as he passes him. “Thanks for the lift, man.”

“Yeah.” Mark sounds utterly perplexed behind him. “Anytime.”

They walk a long way before Spock so much as glances at Jim over his shoulder.

“What are you doing here, Admiral?” he asks, sarcasm dripping off his tongue.

“I could ask you the same thing. And shut up, it’s funny.”

“I assure you, it is not.”

They stop before a one-story field shelter on the edge of the settlement. Spock holds up the canvas and gestures Jim inside.

“Ah, blessed shade,” Jim mutters, looking around.

The shelter has one room, but it’s spacious. If Spock wasn’t Vulcan, Jim is certain, he’d be rooming with at least three more people here. There’s a small kitchenette in one corner, a sleeping cot at the opposite wall, and not much else. Spock’s things are still in his travel bag by the bed, which is strangely reassuring. Jim drops his duffel to the floor.

“The sanitary facilities are outside,” Spock tells him. “And I am afraid that the showers are communal.”

Jim looks at him. “So, like the gym, then. You never seemed to have a problem with that.”

Spock looks at him, arms folded over his chest. “What are you doing here, Jim?”

“I—” Jim pauses. He hasn’t actually rehearsed this part. “I found myself at loose ends,” he temporizes. “Thought maybe you wouldn’t mind some company.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow that speaks for itself. If Spock didn’t mind company, he wouldn’t have left Yorktown.

Jim throws his hands up. “Look, I can clear out if you want, no big deal. I just thought—” He doesn’t know what he’d thought, not exactly.

Spock regards him for a moment longer then straightens up from where he’s been leaning on a support beam. He crosses to the kitchenette, pulls something out of a drawer, and throws it in Jim’s direction. Jim snatches it out of the air. Huh. Sunscreen.

“Once you have settled in, you can join us for the afternoon assignments,” Spock says, already by the exit. “You can find me by the orchard.”

Jim blinks. “There’s an orchard?”

Spock pauses for a moment, his entire silhouette softening somehow. “There will be,” he says and leaves.

“Oh well, in that case,” Jim mutters to an empty tent.

He has no idea what he’s gotten himself into.

--

He spends the afternoon digging. The specifics of soil on Leres make it difficult to develop it with machinery, and there’s not much of it to go around in any case. Leres is a low-budget colony within less than a light-year from the exuberant abundance of Yorktown. Makes the mind boggle.

Spock selects the crews for specific tasks with the same quiet efficiency and concentration that he exercises as the Enterprise’s head of personnel. Jim watches with a smile as he moves about to answer questions or make arrangements, drawing respectful glances all around. They don’t know him from Adam, and he’s been here a week. Figures.

Naturally, Spock reserves the most physically demanding task for himself, and Jim follows him without waiting for his marching orders. Spock gives him a curt assessing glance that makes Jim suddenly want to stand up straighter, then hands him a power-shovel, and motions for Jim to follow.

They dig and sort, and dig and sort again. Jim’s long-sleeved shirt is soaked with sweat, but the sun is merciless, sunscreen or not, and he keeps the sleeves down.

Spock… strips out of his shirt.

Jim doesn’t know he has stopped digging, doesn’t realize he’s staring, the image too surreal for him to comprehend. Spock has a beautiful physique, understated yet unmistakably powerful, all whipcord muscle and miles of creamy pale skin. Jim’s rarely treated to the sight, but it’s not like he’s never seen it before, except—

There’s a cluster of darker green lines on Spock’s right side below his ribcage, a constellation of fresh scar tissue shaped like a star nebula. Jim swallows; his fingers spasm on the shovel’s handle.

“Jim?”

Jim looks up to find Spock watching him. Biting his lip, Jim tries to look away, but his eyes are glued to the damn spot.

“Shouldn’t you be, you know, careful with that?” He’s miles past playing it cool, but it’s not in him not to try. “Taking it easy or something?”

His heart. His heart is right there, right under that vulnerable, unprotected layer of skin. Dammit, Vulcan physiology is insane.

“Doctor McCoy is an excellent physician,” Spock replies, tone soothing, as he stretches across the freshly dug drain to retrieve his tricorder. “I am in perfect health. This is merely a – souvenir.”

Jim watches him take measurements, taking a moment, before returning to his own work. “You didn’t want Bones to remove it?”

Spock sets the tricorder into the holster on his belt and picks up his own shovel, adjusting the gage as he resumes cutting through the layer of clay. “I did not feel the need to.” After a beat, he asks, curious, “Do you find it repulsive?”

No, Jim thinks. I find it a terrifying reminder of your mortality.

“No,” he says. “I find it a terrifying reminder of your mortality.”

Fuck.

He can feel Spock pause for a moment to look at him. Jim avoids his eyes with determination worthy of a better employment.

“How do you explain it to the people here?” he asks, redirecting.

Spock goes back to his work. “I do not.”

Jim snorts. Of course he doesn’t. Spock is the only person he can conceive of, who can get away with this kind of shit.

They work mostly in silence after this, until Jim lifts his head and realizes that the sun has almost set, and his stomach is complaining loudly. His shoulders feel like they are carved in stone when he drags himself out of the trench and moves slowly toward the showers. His back is killing him.

He wolfs down his food like a starving man and then goes to sit by the honest-to-God campfire, behind a weary-yet-relaxed crowd watching infomercials on the big screen propped against the wall of the main building.

They watch the news in peace and mostly silence, with an occasional comment here and there, far enough away from the others not to be overheard, and it’s almost bliss. Paradise syndrome, Jim thinks. A mug of tea in his hands, Spock is still beside him in a way that is both effortless and complete, a tangible reminder that he is not human.

Jim looks at Spock looking at the screen and thinks, Enough. This could be enough.

Then he hears a familiar jarring jingle and freezes in place. His own face stares back at him from the screen, eerily perfect like a character from a video game, as the narrator begins her cheerful spiel about modern-day heroes.

Jim has seen this one before. He hates it.

“Can we turn it off?” he asks Spock, irritated.

“Not if you wish to keep your incognito,” Spock murmurs. “Such as it is.”

“Everyone’s a critic.”

Jim seethes, bracing for impact.

They start, with a nauseating lack of originality, with his father, his epic heroic act, and a clip of his mother giving a stilted, hobbling speech at the Riverside Shipyards commemoration day. Quick cut to the Enterprise in orbit in all her glory just before her maiden voyage. The narration makes it sound as though George Kirk had practically handed his son the ship as some kind of legacy, like a sword in a stone. No mention of Pike. No mention of Jim’s police record. The defeat of Nero, clips of Jim being named captain in front of the general assembly, the Vulcan High Council expressing gratitude.

An extremely convoluted version of Admiral Marcus’s coup that focuses bizarrely on Jim’s alleged romance with his daughter. Her sneaking onboard the Enterprise is presented like something out of Romeo and Juliet, and then apparently Jim almost dies for her. No mention of Khan for obvious reasons, or the real reason why the ship nearly went down.

A creative retelling of some of the Enterprise’s declassified missions. That unfortunate interview Jim had given on Vega. A quick overview of his crew. Uhura’s name is misspelled. Scotty gets demoted a rank, and Chekov promoted. McCoy, Sulu, and Spock are not mentioned at all.

When the story jumps to Jim apparently singlehandedly saving Yorktown, Jim pushes to his feet and stalks off. It might not be the smoothest move if he doesn’t want to call additional attention to himself, but he can’t take a second more of that. The words follow him anyway into the blackness of the desert night.

‘What makes a hero? Courage, strength, morality, withstanding adversity? We may never know. But in the case of one James T. Kirk…’

Jim hates it. He’s always hated it, but at least throughout his childhood it had never been centered on himself. The media circus after the Narada had made it really personal for the first time, and Jim felt he deserved another medal for not killing any of the vapid, stupid, incapable of understanding lot.

‘It comes along with the chair, son,’ Pike had told him. ‘Package deal.’

Jim doesn’t get it. Maybe he should ask Uhura one of these days about how public relations actually work, because this has to be making sense to someone somewhere. There has to be a purpose for that, an actual, working purpose, other than driving Jim up the wall.

He’s too angry to care or notice where he’s going, and skitters awkwardly to a halt before face-planting into solid rock. Huh. The camp is flanked from the south with a rocky formation that goes on steadily up further to the east, but Jim never realized there were caves.

He walks in cautiously, guided by the ghostly glowing of cold lights, scattered here and there. The cave is big. As in a cathedral could easily fit in here big. Jim stares, taking it all in. it obviously serves as a supply storage, protecting them from the incessant heat and electrical storms that Spock said were fairly common, but that’s not all.

Jim starts slowly down an uneven path, descending to a relatively flat palm of rock. Someone had installed protective railing here, and Jim leans over it, looking down at a small waterfall.

It’s nothing spectacular, but it’s definitely water, gurgling gently below, collecting streams and strands into an underground river, emerging from a rock and disappearing under it. Turning to follow its path, Jim notices for the first time huge tanks filled with soil standing at either side of it. The light is sparse, but even from a distance he can see small tree plants reaching up toward the ultraviolet lamps installed above.

An orchard.

Jim doesn’t hear Spock approach. Spock moves like a cat when he’s not consciously focusing on making noise to put the humans around him at ease. Aboard the Enterprise, Bones swears to put bells on Spock roughly twice a week. Jim smiles a little, feeling Spock solidifying out of darkness next to him.

“Spock – what is this place?”

“I have meant to show you tomorrow. This planet has a most unusual geological makeup,” Spock explains with audible fascination. “It had once been very much like Earth, but it had suffered a much longer ice age. All of this” – he gestures to encompass the enormous cave around them –“was frozen water, mud, and organic matter. As the climate began to change, and the temperature rose, the organic matter produced methane in quantities significant enough to liberate all this space. And while it remains a desert world on the surface, down here in this stratum, it is quite remarkably different, capable of sustaining a diverse and thriving ecosystem.”

He sounds absolutely in love, and Jim smiles a little, glancing at him. “Life from lifelessness.”

Spock looks at him in a way that never fails to make Jim’s stomach do a little flip. “Indeed.”

They look at the waterfall for a few moments in appreciative silence.

“The manner of your departure was rather abrupt,” Spock says at last.

“Yeah.” Jim’s hands grip the railing, channeling the anger that has never completely left him. “I hate that feature. Couldn’t really listen anymore. It’s bullshit.”

“It is – somewhat inaccurate,” Spock allows.

Jim blinks. “Somewhat?”

“Your FIDE rating does not exceed 3000. It is, in point of fact, impossible.”

Jim turns to stare at him. Then he bursts out laughing. His body releases the tension of its own accord, as though the words have pulled out a toxic barb that was slowly poisoning him. He sways very slightly and bumps into Spock, who doesn’t tense, but merely remains there, solid and supportive.

Jim has trained himself to pull away, had done it always whenever his body betrayed him. But now he takes his time.

“I’m losing the crew,” he says, once the mirth dies out. “They’re all… scattered.”

Spock lets out a barely audible sigh that for him is an impatient huff. “The crew is not scattered, Jim. When the lives we live are so intense and interconnected, it is only – natural – that they would need the time to reconnect with themselves.”

“Chekov—”

“We will always be his home, Jim.”

“Home,” Jim repeats, tasting the word.

Spock shifts next to him. “My mother had once given me a most apt definition. She said, ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.’

Jim laughs softly, twice in so many minutes, and looks at Spock’s profile wistfully. “She must have been quite something.”

Spock inclines his head. “Indeed.”

Jim pulls away to face him. “And you, Spock? Are you reconnecting with yourself here?”

Spock moves further away, a subtle motion, but doesn’t deny it. “Perhaps. I confess I had not examined my motivation at the time of my departure. When the option presented itself, I merely – took it.”

“You didn’t tell Uhura.”

Spock’s face closes a little at that. Not a rebuke, Jim realizes. Control.

“I believe I have caused Nyota sufficient emotional turmoil for the moment. Removing myself from her presence for the time being seemed logical. I do not enjoy causing her pain.”

Jim could say a lot about that, but doesn’t. “What about me?”

Spock stills. Carefully articulating, at his most guarded, he asks, “What about you?”

“Why didn’t you tell me? In fact, fuck Yorktown. Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving Starfleet?”

Spock turns to look at him, his expression, if anything, one of betrayal. “You would ask me this? You would ask me this?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“I would have thought you of all people would understand my motivation and would do me the – kindness – of not speaking of it.” He pulls back from the railing, draws himself up to his full height to face Jim square on. “Can you really not perceive my reason, Jim? Do you truly, honestly believe me to be made of stone?”

Stunned, Jim can do nothing but stare at him and try to remember how to breathe. Remember to breathe.

“I think you’d better clarify, Science Officer. I think you’d better clarify right now.”

Spock, incredibly, looks away. “To what end?” he asks softly, his tone so mild as to almost hide the pain. “If you truly have not surmised my difficulty, then perhaps—”

Jim steps forward, gripping his arm, fingers clenching with bruising force. “Spock. Out with it. Right now. Right the fuck now.”

Spock’s eyes find his and stay there. Jim’s throat constricts cutting off his air supply, and he feels lightheaded, delirious. He’s drowning. Spock is the only thing keeping him grounded.

Spock has always been the only thing to keep him grounded when gravity itself failed.

“This was a mistake,” Spock whispers, his free hand wrapping around the railing, the last anchor connecting him to sanity. “You should not have come here. Jim. You must leave.”

“Yeah, that’s happening.”

Jim doesn’t realize he’s pushing until Spock’s back hits the wall. Jim slides his free hand under the soft fabric of Spock’s loose tunic, fingers tracing the outline of his newest scar until his palm presses to the center of it. Spock jolts as though he’s been electrocuted, but doesn’t push Jim off.

“There’s no way,” Jim breathes out, shocked, “no way you’d let me get away with this, if I read you wrong.”

Spock lets out a sound that could only be a laugh, brittle and helpless, the usual precision of his speech slipping badly when he says, “You’ve never read me wrong in your life, Jim. I wish you did. I wish—”

Jim pulls him down sharply, and their lips collide in a rush of frenzy.

Watching Spock with Uhura all these years has given Jim a completely skewed idea that Spock would be gentle or shy. In reality, Spock grabs at him with inhuman strength, fingers digging into the nape of Jim’s neck, as their mouths move together wildly, unabashedly, desperate to taste, to feel, to know one another.

Jim’s head is spinning, his hands are everywhere, greedy, frantic, and too rough, and Spock’s throat vibrates with a growl he can’t release, kissing Jim as though he’s trying to carve every second of it into memory for future reference as this is the only chance he gets. Jim is right there with him, pushing into every touch, licking into Spock’s mouth with blinding, bruising intensity, overwhelmed and hurting with how good, how impossibly right it feels.

And oh, but this is a mistake, Jim realizes. Spock was right a thousand times. Now that Jim knows it, how could he possibly let go of it? How could he possibly ever forget?

“Jim,” Spock breathes between the kisses, repeating Jim’s name like he is delirious, like it is the only thing he knows anymore. “Jim. Jim.”

Jim arches back, lets Spock trace the vulnerable line of his neck with his lips, fingers sifting through that dark rich hair that will never be truly messy but is a sensual heaven in and of itself, and Jim twists the silky strands painfully just to hear Spock gasp against his throat, to feel the sharp edge of teeth on the verge of breaking skin and just barely receding.

“I need you,” Jim pushes out, breathless, his chest too full, too tight, his hips locking almost painfully, burning. “If only just this once, Spock. I need you now.”

Spock makes a noise that sounds like a stifled sob and pushes Jim back onto the pile of folded tents, sweeping his feet from under him and dropping him hard enough to knock his air out. Jim tugs at his clothes, hears something rip and doesn’t care, because suddenly Spock is pressing him down skin-on-skin, and they both lose their minds a little bit at the shock of the sensation.

Jim bucks his hips up, desperately begging for friction, hands sliding up Spock’s arms in mute but eloquent admiration, as Spock tries to work Jim’s jeans open, fingers slipping. Jim can’t wait and rolls them over, straddling Spock’s thighs and bending down to kiss his scar, to learn the shape and texture of it with his tongue and lips, to feel Spock’s abs contract under his cheek, to feel him hot and hard under Jim’s weight.

Spock jerks him up by the hair into a kiss that’s all teeth and tongue and hooks a leg over the back of Jim’s thigh, locking them together, and they both moan at how painfully good that is. They kiss, and kiss, and kiss, hands flying everywhere frenetically, and Jim doesn’t know how he ends up on his back again with Spock holding his wrists above his head, throwing his weight into them as he thrusts against Jim, wrenching sharp, aborted gasps out of Jim’s chest.

“Come on,” Jim growls in desperation, fighting against Spock’s hold. “I need – Spock—”

Spock releases him and pulls up on his knees to slide out of his pants. Jim’s eyes widen in appreciation, committing the sight to memory, and it’s adrenaline and pure animalistic want that give him the strength to knock Spock back and pounce, pressing a splayed hand hard into his stomach, forcing his breath out, and take him into his mouth.

His lips stretch, tongue flattens out, as he slides lower, feeling the miniscule tremor of muscles under his fingers digging into Spock’s inner thigh as he goes down. Spock’s hands curl into fists, knuckles going white, and Jim exists only in this moment, he lives and dies in this moment a thousand times, he becomes the burn in his throat and the clean intricate scent of Spock’s arousal, he dissolves in the trembling agony and sharp sweltering pleasure.

He can feel the moment Spock yields, giving up, giving over, surrendering to Jim completely, and when Jim manages to look up at him, there are tears in Spock’s eyes, shimmering on his eyelashes to make them even more dramatic, and Jim loses himself a bit in the sight.

He pushes up, kicks his jeans and underwear off, and all but falls down, Spock’s arms looping around his waist, immobilizing him, as Spock kisses him, holds his head in place and kisses him, and Jim could probably come from this, just from the shockingly heated press of their bodies, and maybe Spock could too, given time, but they don’t have it, they never did.

Jim straddles his hips and positions himself, one hand braced against Spock’s chest. Spock’s eyes widen in alarm, hands leaving bruises on Jim’s hipbones in warning. “Jim,” a shocked gasp, “that is hardly wise—”

And it’s not, of course it’s not, it’s so very fucking far from wise or even sane it lives on another planet. But if they’re only going to do this once, if this is all they’ll ever have, Jim wants to remember it, wants his body to ache with it for as long as it can, wants to carry the phantom burn long after the real one will fade, wants that feeling of Spock to be branded into his body.

Jim grins, feral, and pushes down, and Spock gasps, his head falling back, kiss-swollen mouth going slack even as he squeezes his eyes shut, and his fingers curl into Jim’s flesh with unconscious, punishing force. It’s the most beautiful sight Jim has ever seen.

He slides down, slow, inexorable, reveling in the pain, luxuriating in the stretch, in the way Spock trembles under him with the effort to keep still. He doesn’t move, lets Jim control it, but his eyes – his eyes are oceans, barely containing emotions so powerful and consuming that Jim feels himself being devoured, broken, and held, being possessed, and rearranged, and owned inside and out.

His rhythm falters at the onslaught, eyes darting down as he begins to fall, his thighs protesting, refusing to lift him yet again, and Jim’s eyes fly up to meet Spock’s like they do every time there’s an emergency on the bridge or someone threatens to kill them, like every single moment Jim wants to share, and Spock just gets him, always, in naked moments like this there is no misunderstanding, no doubt, no rejection.

Spock catches him, easy, pulls Jim close and flips them over, careful, but not lingering, not hesitating a beat, as he pushes Jim’s leg up and over his shoulder and slams in, forceful and perfect, and Jim whimpers, eyes tearing up with the sheer fucking happiness and rightness of it all.

Time disappears, and all that remains is the intensity of the moment, their bodies fitting together in a million imperfect ways, the scratchy line of hair that trickles down the flat plane of Spock’s stomach, the sharp pull of muscles in Jim’s hip, the helpless arch of his back, the curve of Spock’s ear as he drops his head next to Jim’s, the press of Jim’s blunt nails down his spine, the incredible fullness of his body, the way Spock can’t help the small vocalizations that are driving Jim nuts, and Jim holds on to him, arms wrapped around Spock’s neck, knees squeezing.

They could go on forever like this, for all he cares, but he can feel the unmistakable tightening, hot-white pleasure beginning to overflow, curling at the base of his spine, raw and ravaged and never sated, not yet, not yet, and he clings to Spock in a mess of lips and hands, and Spock’s thrusts become pure uncontrolled pain, and God, God, it’s beautiful. Jim cries out as he comes, his whole body spasming violently, and Spock growls something into his ear, something he doesn’t get, but it nearly ends him, and then Spock stills, and shudders deep inside Jim’s body, and Jim twists his fingers in Spock’s hair, whispering, Don’t leave. Don’t leave. Don’t leave.

--

A century or two later, he becomes aware of things again. The rough fabric of the folded tent beneath him, unpleasant under his oversensitive skin. The murky glow of the cold lights. The sound of running water. Spock, still close, but not on top of him anymore, stretched beside him, their legs still tangled, Spock’s hand on Jim’s chest.

Jim picks it up, caresses the long fingers. Spock lets him. Jim twines their fingers, feels a slight shiver run down Spock’s back.

“Cold?”

Spock hums softly in acknowledgement of their surroundings.

“We should go back to your tent.”

Neither of them moves for a long time still. At long last, Spock sits up and pulls his hand free. Jim feels like someone has shot him.

They dress in silence that isn’t awkward so much as dead, empty of – anything. The front of Spock’s tunic is ripped very nearly in two. Jim looks at it ruefully. “Sorry?”

Spock doesn’t even pause. “It is of no consequence.”

All at once, Jim’s body remembers the day of hard labor, his shoulders feel heavy and unresponsive, his back padded with muscle pain. He hunches over as they make their way up to the cave’s mouth.

The shower isn’t tepid anymore, it’s cold, and it’s another kind of torture to have Spock naked and shivering not two meters beside him and not reach out to touch. Jim’s teeth are chattering by the time they’re done. Spock looks pale, but stoic as ever.

He never once meets Jim’s eyes.

They enter Spock’s tent and are immediately confronted with the view of the single cot in the corner. It’s too cold to contemplate sleeping on the ground, and Jim turns to Spock.

“If you say you’re going to meditate and don’t need any sleep, I’m going to kick your ass.”

Spock’s lips twitch ever so slightly. “I would be foolish to attempt meditation in my current state.”

That’s apparently the end of the discussion because Spock simply walks over to his bag and pulls out another long-sleeved tunic. Jim looks away as he strips. Stretching out on the cot, he contemplates the ceiling until Spock kills the light.

Jim tries to count sheep. He tries to count his breaths. But nothing proves distracting enough when he can feel Spock there, inches away, not sleeping. It’s minutes before Jim gives up and rolls over, draping himself around Spock as best he can under a thin blanket, face pressed into Spock’s neck.

Spock doesn’t move. “Jim,” he says. An admonishment and a protest. But this is Spock, and Jim has learned to pay attention to what he does, as opposed to what he says. And Spock does nothing.

“For warmth,” Jim murmurs. “Come on, we’ve shared before.”

Spock doesn’t dignify that with a response, but, after a moment, he goes less rigid somehow. Jim can swear he hears a deeper inhale as Spock turns his face into Jim’s hair.

Jim tries, he really tries to stay awake now, to soak up as much as he can of this, to stockpile that feeling of Spock actually wanting him there, but it’s a losing battle. He had a long flight, and a hard day of demanding physical work, and Spock has just more or less fucked his brains out. Jim falls asleep between one blink and the next, hands curled into fists in Spock’s tunic.

--

Jim wakes up alone, bundled in the blanket. He blinks, coming awake not in portions, but all at once, and sits up, looking at the window. The grayish light outside is murky. It’s not yet dawn. He ignores the screaming of his body and drags himself up, stretching.

Spock isn’t far, not that Jim thought he’d run or anything. He is clearly visible outside the tent, moving slowly as he performs some Vulcan variation of tai chi. Jim blinks and looks more closely. Not Vulcan and not a variation anything, it is tai chi. Well then.

Jim disdains shoes and walks out of the tent, ignoring the cold bite of sand beneath his feet. He approaches Spock slowly and watches for a while. Then, as one sequence ends and another is about to begin, Jim starts moving, mirroring the motions.

Spock is undoubtedly aware of his presence, but doesn’t look up, his concentration tangible around him like a forcefield. Jim focuses on the motions and lets go, surrendering to the rhythm, pulling his focus tightly within his body. They call it a walking meditation, the only kind Jim has ever been able to master. He moves in sync with Spock easily, aware of the free flow of energy between them, the ease with which it comes, the gentle waves of affinity. He is almost sad when the sun comes up, and they bring their last circle to a close.

“Who taught you?” Spock asks later as they’re making breakfast.

“Mom had a friend who had a friend. I stayed with her once for a summer.” Probably the most peaceful summer of his life.

“I was not aware you practiced meditation, Captain.”

Jim gives him an apologetic smile. “I haven’t in years. I just couldn’t resist when I saw you out there.”

“You are always welcome to join me,” Spock says and suddenly stills. “For as long as you stay here at least,” he amends quietly.

“Thanks,” Jim says, staring into his cereal.

He never wanted this, never wanted this awkward fumbling. He wanted – yes, what did he want when he came here? So far, this has proved to be a monumentally bad idea.

Probably – no, scratch that – undoubtedly taking into account his physical condition, Spock sends him to the team who paints the completed buildings. The work requires concentration, but is not physically demanding. Jim contemplates rebellion, but in the end doesn’t object. He’s not sure he’d be able to spend more time in Spock’s proximity and not slip just now.

The day passes in a haze. He talks with the other volunteers as he works without having the slightest idea what he’s saying. He does remember everybody’s name, but only because that’s a skill he has taken a painstaking effort to hone after becoming captain of the Enterprise.

Spock doesn’t join him for dinner, and instead remains at the big table, talking to the other team leaders. Jim watches them listening to him, watches Spock’s calm, impassive face as he talks. Pride swells warmly in his chest, instantly followed by a razor-sharp, searing longing that burns through his stomach like acid.

This was a colossal mistake. He never should have come, no matter what Uhura had said. She and Spock will always be the endgame. They are the love story, the romantic narrative of the Enterprise, with trials and errors and a sappy happy ending at some point when Spock stops coming up with ridiculous excuses and wises up.

Jim doesn’t fit into that picture, he never has. Jim will keep on sleeping his way through the galaxy, maintaining his reputation as an intergalactic fun seeker, and they will tell ludicrous stories of his exploits, but they will never know.

He pushes from the table abruptly, leaving most of his food untouched. Some of the others call after him, but he doesn’t care.

Back in the tent, he stuffs his travel bag angrily. He’s been here less than two days – how the hell did his things get sprawled all over? He hunts them down one by one, motions jerky, abortive.

“Your other shoe is beneath the lamp-pad,” a calm voice comments from the door.

Jim stills for a moment, then bends down to retrieve his wayward footwear. “Thanks.”

“I was given to understand,” Spock says softly, “that when a meaningless sexual encounter not exceeding the duration of one night takes place, it is considered polite to share a morning meal afterwards.”

“Spock—”

“Should I be flattered that you have stayed for an entire day to follow?”

Jim looks at him in pained exasperation. “It’s not like that and you know it.”

Spock lifts an eyebrow. “On the contrary. I have no data to contradict that premise.”

“You’re not meaningless!”

“Evidently, I do not mean much.”

Jim drops his bag and crosses the room to glare at him point blank. “You mean the world to me, Spock. But we have to work together.” His voice slips into pleading. “I thought I could handle it. I thought – hell, I don’t know what I thought. I didn’t plan this. And now – you’ll go back to Uhura, and I – I need to be able to not be an asshole about it. And I need to be able to move on. Three fucking years is long enough, don’t you think?”

Spock is staring at him as though Jim has suddenly switched to High Romulan.

“Jim,” he says quietly. It’s the menacing kind of quiet, the kind that makes Cardassian guls shake in their boots. “What precisely are you saying?”

“I’m sorry,” Jim breathes out, all fight going out of him. “I’m sorry, Spock, I was being an ass. You’re right. As always. I shouldn’t have come here. I don’t know why I did. I’m sorry for – for messing everything up, and I hope you can forgive me. We can pretend this never happened, I won’t ever say a word—”

“No,” Spock cuts him off. “I will not pretend this did not happen. Jim, Nyota and I have parted ways because—”

“It’s temporary!” Jim interjects. “You’re on-again, off-again. You don’t have to spell it out; I get it. Hell, hostile aliens from behind the nebula who don’t speak our language get it. You’ll be back together in no time at all, and I—”

“Nyota and I have parted ways,” Spock repeats, speaking over him, “because, while I cherish and respect her, in the end, I could not commit to our relationship when the loyalty and – other emotions – that I owed her belonged to someone else.”

Jim freezes in place.

“I will always love her,” Spock says, simple and clear, with no hesitation. “There will always be a part of me that no one else can touch. But I do not anticipate us returning to the previous parameters of our relationship.”

Jim swallows, his heart doing an admirable job trying to forcefully beat out of his chest.

“Someone else?” he asks eventually, because he’s not prepared to ask about ‘other emotions.’

Spock deflates, sinking back, and turns away. “If you believe that I would merely indulge you—”

Jim grabs his wrist, lightning-fast, preventing further escape, and tries to breathe, even as he thinks, Screw the things he says, he’ll hurt you with them. Look at the things he does.

“Spock.” He tugs at the captive wrist to turn Spock back to face him, cups Spock’s jaw with his other hand. “Spock.”

They fall into the kiss as though pulled in by gravity. Spock’s hands fall onto Jim’s hips, fingers flexing over last night’s bruises, and Jim moans softly, molding his body into Spock’s, shamelessly using him for support. It’s slow and sweet this time, everything their first frantic kiss couldn’t have been, halting, dragging, melting on their lips, as Spock pulls back to murmur something in Vulcan, and Jim doesn’t know what he’s saying, but the words taste raspy going down, like sea salt and dark chocolate.

He was insane, Jim thinks. Crazy to think he could do this once and never again. Crazy to think he could look at Spock and not remember, not be instantly transported into this bliss, not die for loss of it.

“Jim, there was something that I wished to…” Spock trails off, flushed and slightly breathless. “If you would let me…”

Spock should never sound so uncertain, so unsure of himself. Jim grabs his hand and lifts it to his temple. “Not let you – beg you to. Do it. No more stupid misunderstandings. You’re too important.”

“As are you,” Spock says, eyes sliding closed.

And then it’s like a circuit is closed somewhere, completing something within him he didn’t know was only halfway done. It’s nothing like the forceful, almost painful intrusion that Ambassador Spock had subjected him to a lifetime ago. Jim had been nauseous for days afterwards.

Spock’s mind slides alongside his like a cool breeze over an ocean, a welcome respite, a power to respect, but also like something so very much his own, familiar and new at the same time, exhilarating and comforting, exciting and soothing; and he can’t tell anymore where he ends and Spock begins, and it feels like nothing he’s ever known before, it feels like—

Coming home.

It’s terrifying.

He would never give it up.

They spend the night learning each other, reshaping, reordering, worshipping, taking for their own. Spock arches his back beautifully when Jim enters him, and if Jim could pick a moment to inhabit forever, this would be it, except there’s also the way Spock curls around him like a comma and mutters, “For warmth,” and Jim laughs, and laughs, and laughs, and in his mind he can feel Spock grinning.

--

In the morning, Jim says, “No offense to your tea-making skills, but I would really kill for a cup of coffee right now.”

Spock considers him over the rim of his own cup. “If you wish to return to Yorktown, I will, of course, go with you.”

The morning is chilly, but Jim doesn’t feel the cold.

“No.” He shakes his head and grins. “I can’t deprive this promising young colony of our strangely ill-fitting yet not inconsiderable two-man workforce. At least for the next two months.”

“I am pleased to hear that,” Spock says, not missing a beat, “as I am certain you will particularly enjoy your next assignment.”

Jim looks up, sensing the challenge. “But you’re not going to tell me what it is.”

“You have stated more than once, as I recall, that you enjoy surprises.”

Jim narrows his eyes at him. “You enjoy bossing me around, don’t you?”

Spock treats him to an elegantly lifted eyebrow and an expression as unreadable as ever. That’s just – not fair.

“Fine,” Jim says. “But if it’s got anything to do with sewage, I’m leaving both you and this planet to rot.”

Spock’s eyebrow goes up again and he sips his tea in an infuriatingly demure manner.

Two hours later Jim is standing before a two hundred forty meters high rock with a climbing harness and a backpack filled with spare parts for the lightning rod. He looks up at the smooth, barely reclining surface, and shakes his head, unable to contain the grin that threatens to permanently split his face.

“God, Spock,” he mutters. “I fucking love you.”

He hammers in the first hook, thunder cheering loudly in the distance.

--