They beam up from the planet with about thirty seconds to spare, and the second his feet are solid beneath him Kirk can feel the nearly imperceptible change in pitch that signals the Enterprise's engines taking them to warp. Scotty is on the bridge following his orders, getting them out of Sarpeidon's orbit and safely away from Beta Niobe as the star goes nova.
"It was a clever idea," Kirk comments distractedly, stepping gingerly down from the transporter pad. "Using time travel to save an entire population by sending them all into various points of the planet's history."
"Indeed," says Spock, though there's discomfort broadcasting from the tighter than usual set of his shoulders. "It was an innovative solution to the threat of extinction."
McCoy snorts disagreeably, and Kirk turns just in time to catch his friend and CMO rolling his eyes.
"You disagree, Bones?" he asks, forcing a smile to his face despite the achy, bone-weary fatigue weighing him down.
"Oh, no," says McCoy. "Not at all. It's downright ingenious. But that jackass librarian could've just explained the situation instead of trying to give us the same treatment as the natives. It would've saved us a hell of a headache."
"Think of it as a vacation," Kirk suggests, nudging McCoy with an elbow. "A very strange, eventful vacation."
"Right. Because getting trapped in their dark ages and nearly burned as a witch was an absolute picnic. I'm thinking about putting in a request for extended leave so I can go back."
Kirk laughs and shakes his head. "I don't know why you're complaining," he says. "It had to be better than the arctic wasteland we landed in. I'm pretty sure there was an actual glacier. I nearly lost some very important appendages to frostbite."
"Captain," Spock interjects abruptly. "With your permission, I would like to report to my station before the shift ends. The ship's sensors should have compiled a great deal of data from Beta Niobe before we left the system."
The words are stiff and formal—nearly identical to Spock's usual tone and word choice, but for some reason it sounds different this time. There's a vague sense of wrongness clinging to the request.
Not that Kirk particularly expects normal from his first officer right now, but it's still jarring to hear.
"You sure you're all right?" he asks carefully, searching Spock's eyes for any indication to the contrary.
"I am well enough now, Captain," says Spock. 'I am back to my normal, logical self,' the assertion really means. Kirk should probably order him to report straight to sickbay anyway, but there's a muted desperation in Spock's eyes that convinces him otherwise.
"Go ahead," he says. "I'm sure McCoy won't mind doing your medical examination at the beginning of beta shift instead of right this moment." Kirk tosses a glance at Bones as he says it and waits for the inevitable grudging nod.
"Thank you," says Spock, and is gone before the swish of the doors has even died away.
"Well," says McCoy. "That was weird." As they exit the transporter room, Kirk catches the doctor's eyes darting down to glance at his throat—probably bruised all to fuck, not that Jim has had a chance to look in a mirror and confirm his suspicions.
As they step out into the corridor, Kirk doesn't say a word.
The heat of the cave made Spock's pulse beat harshly in his side. Even a full hour after they had followed their mysterious, fur-clad savior into this well-lit sanctuary, he still felt cold beneath his skin. Shivery and wrong, stark counterpoint to the homey, comfortable atmosphere that now did all it could to drive the chill from his skin.
His eyes trailed across their surroundings for the hundredth time, taking in the surreal sight of the civilized—if rudimentary—accoutrements that bedecked the otherwise rough space. There was furniture, and fur lining the floors, and although a fire burned in a ring of stones toward the center of the cave, there was no haze of smoke in the air. For all that they had clearly landed in an uninhabitable ice age, this place had obviously been crafted to make life possible. Perhaps even tolerable.
His eyes inevitably found his captain again, and although worry was an emotion no Vulcan would ever acknowledge, Spock could admit to himself that his concern was far from marginal. Kirk rested fitfully, body fighting the effects of prolonged cold—Spock could too vividly recall what it felt like, the man's fragile human form shivering in his arms.
When Spock turned his attention back to the only other person in the cave—the beautiful woman who had emerged from beneath the heavy furred jacket and leggings—she was watching him with a sad, uncertain expression.
"Will he be all right?" she asked tentatively, stepping closer and raising a hand as if she intended to reach forward and touch him. Spock ignored the hand, and she dropped it, but her eyes still held questioning concern.
"There is no more I can do for him at this time," said Spock. He clasped his hands behind his back and stood with his customary rigid posture. "However, he is a resilient man. I predict he will awaken before too long a time has passed."
"That's good," said the woman. Spock remembered, vaguely, that she'd introduced herself as Zarabeth.
"Spock," came Jim's voice, addled but strong. Spock was at his side in an instant, a hand braced against Jim's shoulder to keep him from sitting up. "Where are we?" Kirk asked, blinking dazedly up at him.
"Safe, for the moment," Spock reassured him. "But we are still trapped in Sarpeidon's ice age."
"We have to go back," Kirk mumbled, surging up against Spock's restraining hand even though he couldn't go anywhere beneath the unyielding grip. "We have to find the portal and the library, find McCoy. Spock, we have to get back to the ship."
"You are in no condition to embark on a search and rescue mission across a glacier, Captain. You need rest."
"Then you go," said Kirk. "You find McCoy, figure out a way to contact the ship."
It was the logical thing to do, but for some reason Spock felt a surge of violent reluctance in his chest at the order.
Before Spock could agree, Kirk was unconscious again. No longer shivering, but not nearly warm enough beneath Spock's touch.
Kirk's own physical examination is uneventful. McCoy hits him with a minimum of hypos, a fact for which Kirk is infinitely grateful. He honestly expects worse. Bones isn't stingy with hyposprays at the best of times—seems to take a perverse pleasure in having an excuse to stab Kirk in the neck with whatever substance is handiest—but it's always worse when the man is cranky.
Kirk figures almost getting burned at the stake probably justifies the bad mood to end all bad moods.
When McCoy gives him a clean bill of health, Kirk ignores the quiet voice of reason telling him to leave well enough alone and instead asks, "Why are you being so nice to me?"
McCoy freezes at the question, stares at him for a moment like he's pondering weighty things, and then finally sighs—tired and dejected and shadowed with frustration. He closes his eyes briefly, and when he opens them again they're bright with concern.
"Are you going to tell me what happened or not?" Bones asks him. Kirk is suddenly sorry he opened his mouth.
"I don't suppose you'd buy it if I said I don't know what you're talking about," he hedges. His eyes dart around sickbay. It's empty but for the two of them, and offers painfully little by way of distraction or escape.
"Jim," Bones mutters tiredly. "We were roommates for two years. I know the morning after when I see it."
Kirk's breath punches out of his chest in a sharp exhale, and he's suddenly painfully aware of the way his body aches. He doesn't want to have this conversation right now—possibly ever—but the way Bones is staring at him, Kirk doesn't know if he has it in him to leave the doctor wondering.
"Jim," says McCoy, stepping closer and lowering his voice. "As your doctor, it's none of my business unless you're hurt. As your friend, you know I have to give a shit. So talk to me, or at least tell me you're all right."
Kirk actually laughs at that, a sharp burst of sound that catches him off guard. He tamps it down and composes himself, and finally offers a reassuring, "I'm fine, Bones. Just… a little confused. I can tell you about it if you really want to know."
"Before you let Spock leave for his station, he said he was 'well enough now'," McCoy presses, taking a tangent instead of calling Kirk out directly. "Did something happen to him down there?"
"Yes," Kirk admits, blushing a little despite himself.
"Let's start with that, then," says McCoy. He steps back and gestures towards the door behind him, cocking his head at Kirk. "Come on, in my office. You look like you need a drink."
Spock watched the captain sleep for twenty minutes before he managed to stand and move away, into the brighter space near the stone-encircled hearth. It was almost like a separate room, an antechamber or a den, and Zarabeth waited there, sitting patiently on a dark gray set of furs near the fire. As if giving him privacy.
"Do you wish me to take you back outside?" she asked. The words were heavy with reluctance, as if she would rather do anything else. Spock supposed that was only logical, given how alone she must have been before their arrival.
It was not concern for her, however, that had Spock surprising himself by answering, "No." He paused, confused—tilted his head to one side as he considered his response. "I mean… yes."
Zarabeth stood on long, steady legs and regarded him with searching eyes. "You seem to be at odds with yourself. Is it so complicated a question?"
"There are… many factors," said Spock, thinking aloud. "The captain is sufficiently recovered that I need no longer fear he will die. But if I leave without him in order to search for the library, there is a chance he will never regain the ship himself. But his orders were explicit, that I should go without him." The facts swirled through his head, vaporous and indistinct, and try as he might, Spock could not grasp them. He could not bring them into the sharp focus he needed to resolve this conundrum.
"You make it sound like an equation," Zarabeth commented, sounding almost amused.
"It should be an equation!" Spock felt his voice rising, but was powerless to prevent the outburst. "I should be able to resolve this problem logically." It was driving him mad that he couldn't, and suddenly it occurred to him that something was enormously wrong.
"Are you all right?" Zarabeth asked cautiously.
"Perhaps it has something to do with the atavachron," Spock muttered, softer and to himself. "The machine in the library. If only I had more of an idea how it worked." But he couldn't get his thoughts to focus, and even if he could, how was he supposed to figure out how a time machine he had observed for all of five minutes might be impacting his mental state?
"It should be an equation," he repeated, more quietly this time. "I should follow his orders without question, he is my captain." When Zarabeth stepped closer, Spock didn't even turn to acknowledge her. His eyes were drawn darkly across the room, all the way to the crevice that served as a bedroom where Kirk still rested, less fitfully now.
And in a voice gone whisper-soft with revelation, Spock said, "But I cannot leave him."
Kirk leaves sickbay just before beta shift, not wanting to cross paths with Spock quite yet. He has no doubt his first officer will report for his medical examination at exactly the moment promised, and he's got a feeling Spock won't particularly appreciate his presence right now. The speed with which he fled the transporter room is evidence enough of that.
Kirk's nerves feel jumpy and jagged; restless energy courses through him. He has the urge to wander the corridors, pace uneven trails through the furthest corners of his beautiful ship. He's got until gamma shift, no rush to get to the bridge though he'd be happy enough to be there now.
But as his feet carry him towards the turbolift, he knows he's not in any shape to wander. His whole body feels achy and exhausted, from the cold and other things, and the last thing he needs is the questioning stares of his crew, wondering why their captain is so restless—wondering even more when they inevitably notice the fresh, unmistakable scattering of marks disappearing beneath his collar.
Kirk swallows hard, heat settling low in his stomach, and thankfully the turbolift is already there when he reaches the doors. He steps inside, aims the lift straight for his quarters, and then feels carefully for the less obvious bruises—the darkening marks of fingers circling his wrists. They make his heart stutter in his chest, a nervous pulse of aimless anticipation, and he drops his hands abruptly to his sides.
He can't afford to entertain that kind of fantasy when for all he knows Spock will never speak to him again.
That's the worst part of this mess, he quickly decides. He and Spock make a perfect team—his world just isn't complete without his Vulcan first officer at his back, minding his steps and calling him out when he's being an idiot. He needs Spock, needs the easy rapport and the games of chess and the way Spock can lift an eyebrow and somehow perfectly convey everything he's thinking so that only Kirk can decipher it.
If he's lost that, he's honestly not sure what he'll do.
When he reaches his quarters, he tries to sleep. Fails, of course, but he tries. He lies on his back and stares at the ceiling, and every time he thinks he might just drift off, his brain snatches him back with a sharp slice of memory—heat and skin and grasping hands that make his breath lodge in his chest, and his hands twitch to hold onto something.
"Fuck," he breathes, rolling over onto his side.
He is so screwed.
Spock decided, eventually, that his best course of action would be to meditate.
Perhaps it would settle his mind, let him approach the situation with his usual calm, detached logic. Perhaps it would quiet the chaos and let him function as a Starfleet officer, allow him follow the orders that still gnawed at him despite his inability to comply.
There was another thick fur in the corner of the cave nearest Kirk, a rug near the roughly-shaped bed, and Spock chose that corner for his meditation. He took the ritual position, kneeling comfortably with his hands joined before him, and forced his mind quiet past the swirl of questions.
He didn't have much confidence that his attempt would be successful, but somehow the eddies stilled, and quiet found him. He settled into the calm darkness, disconnected and restful, and the rest of the world fell away.
When he opened his eyes, his unfailing internal time-sense told him two hours and fifteen minutes had passed. The bed beside him was empty, and for a harshly panicked moment, Spock had no idea where his captain had gone.
The sound of quiet conversation reached his ears soon enough, and the irrational panic subsided, replaced by curiosity. He stood silently and moved away from the corner, towards the open antechamber of the cave. He watched and listened, standing at unmoving attention against the wall, as his eyes found Jim in softly animated conversation with their lovely hostess.
"Five years," she was saying, in response to some question Kirk had just asked.
"That's a long time to be alone," said Kirk. He slid closer to her, and the proximity lit a new, dangerous fire beneath Spock's skin. "Why don't you try to find your way back to the library? It must be possible to go back."
"I can never go back," she said, and the sadness in her voice was enough to touch even Spock—no surprise that it moved Kirk to reach out and set a hand on her bare shoulder, though the sight of that touch made Spock's nerves tingle unpleasantly. "My body has adapted to this time," Zarabeth continued. "If I try to return through the portal, I will be dead by the time I reach the other side."
Spock caught the masked look of panic that flashed in Kirk's eyes at that, the thought of what would happen if they couldn't return, and then Kirk asked, "What about us?"
Spock's eyes were reluctant to leave his captain, but he forced his focus back to Zarabeth, watched her face carefully as she considered her response. Her eyes flashed with uncertainty, as if she were considering conflicting alternatives. If she said Kirk and Spock were trapped like her, could they even believe her? Surely she would do anything to prevent them from leaving, to avoid being alone again.
But finally she admitted, "I don't know. I only know that I can't go back. You were not meant to be here in the first place."
"You'll be alone again if we leave," Kirk pointed out. He was inching closer again, leaning into her space, and Spock felt an unanchored, inexplicable rage flash dangerously inside him.
"Yes," said Zarabeth miserably, but she too was leaning closer, reciprocating and inviting. "But it is… nice. Having you here now."
Something in Spock snapped, stretched too tight and finally shattering, and before the space between the two figures before him could close, he was moving. Fast enough to surprise even himself, as he grabbed Kirk roughly by the collar of the shirt and dragged the man to his feet. There was a low rumble of sound reaching Spock's ears, and it took him a moment to realize it was a possessive growl emitting from his own throat.
"Spock, what the—?" Kirk started, but cut off promptly when Spock slammed him too hard against a tall column where stalactite met stalagmite and formed a sturdy pillar. He grunted surprise and shook his head.
"Enough," Spock snarled, not even sure what he meant. He could feel Zarabeth's eyes on him, could hear the soft slip of movement as she got to her feet, but he couldn't spare a moment's concern for her. His attention was caught indelibly by the bright, confident, infuriating man before him.
There was silence between them for a startled moment, and their eyes searched each other, off balance and electric.
Finally, Kirk spoke. "Jealousy isn't like you, Spock," he said, and his eyes flashed like he was trying to work through a particularly challenging puzzle. "But if you wanted dibs, you could've just said so. I know how to stay off another guy's turf."
"I do not envy you her attentions," Spock snapped too quickly, and the wide-eyed look on Kirk's face was all perplexed confusion. But Spock was figuring it out—sharp and sudden, like the uneven pace of Kirk's breath rising and falling beneath his hands, Spock felt the revelation settling into his bones.
It was not the lovely Zarabeth inspiring the possessive rage that flooded him. Which left only one possible alternative.
Spock was quiet too long, standing too close and keeping his fingers wrapped in the gold fabric of the captain's uniform. He needed to extricate himself and back away—he needed to put as much space as possible between himself and Jim Kirk's maddening presence—but for the longest moment, he couldn't bring himself to move.
"Spock," Kirk breathed. There was something a little too much like revelation starting to light his eyes, and Spock finally managed to step back.
He dropped his hands as suddenly as if hearing his name had scalded him, and Kirk watched him with a wary, cautious gaze. Spock cursed himself silently, felt madness and want swirl up inside him, and this was wrong. He was Vulcan. He was logical.
But as he turned his back and fled as far as he could—not far at all, unfortunately, in the close confines of the cave—Spock realized that logic had left him entirely.
Kirk hears his door chime well before he needs to get up, but since he's not sleeping anyway it's not much of an intrusion. He welcomes the distraction, in fact, and wonders who it is as he hauls himself to his feet.
"Come in," he calls, tugging his tunic down as the door swishes open.
He's more surprised than he should be when his visitor turns out to be Spock.
"Captain," says Spock. He steps into the room and the door swishes shut behind him.
For once Jim doesn't bother to call him out on the use of his rank instead of his name.
"Spock, what can I do for you?" he asks, feeling suddenly awkward and out of place, even though they're standing in his own quarters. Spock wouldn't have come if he didn't plan on hashing things out here and now, and Kirk is so far from ready for this conversation that his skin itches.
Or maybe that's his skin buzzing with anticipation. Fuck, doesn't his libido ever learn?
"I am here to offer my sincerest apologies," Spock says stiffly. His eyes flick down to Kirk's throat—his gaze holds for all of a second, but Kirk doesn't miss the glance.
He swallows thickly, feels Spock's eyes follow him as he moves towards the desk near the far wall and leans on it—crosses his arms in front of him and tries to maintain a neutral expression.
"At ease, Mr. Spock," says Kirk, fighting the urge to fidget. "If we're going to have this conversation, I don't think I can do it with you standing at attention and calling me 'sir'."
Spock relaxes almost imperceptibly, lets his rigid posture soften just slightly. It's not much, and there's still discomfited tension running through the Vulcan's entire body, but it's enough to let Kirk breathe. Maybe they can get through this after all.
"Do you think I'm angry at you?" Kirk asks, not sure where the question is coming from but suddenly curious to know.
"I would not presume to know—"
"Bullshit, Spock," Kirk cuts him off. "Tell me the truth. Do you think I'm angry with you?"
There's a pause, awkward and disjointed, but finally Spock shakes his head and says, "No. For reasons beyond my immediate comprehension, you do not seem to be angry with me."
Kirk resists the urge to point out that if anyone here owes an apology, it's probably him. Something in Spock's eyes says that argument won't go anywhere good at the moment.
Before he can say anything more, though, Spock is locking him with intense, dark eyes and saying, "My behavior on Sarpeidon was inexcusable."
Kirk snorts, and doesn't miss the way his response makes Spock's shoulders go tight. "Your point is debatable, Spock. I think we both know you weren't yourself down there." Before Spock can interrupt, he continues, "Besides, you're also missing the vital point."
"And what point is that, precisely?" asks Spock, braced as though for impact.
Kirk forces himself to meet Spock's eyes steadily, to uncross his arms and grip the edge of the desk as he says, "I didn't have to let you fuck me."
Spock might not have been the most social creature to begin with, but even he didn’t miss the way the atmosphere in the cave changed after his outburst. There was silence for the most part, all three of them sitting carefully measured distances apart, and only the briefest smatterings of stilted conversation broke the stifling quiet.
When Zarabeth announced that she needed to go out to hunt, Spock wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or terrified.
Terrified, he decided, when she secured the last fastening of her heavy furs and disappeared out the cave entrance. Not that such a blatant emotion was something he would ever own to. Not normally. But here, in this raging ice age and carefully crafted cave, the usual rules refused to apply.
"Spock," said Kirk, voice irrevocably shattering the silence that hung between them. "What’s going on with you? Something’s wrong, and I need to know what."
Spock couldn’t answer for a moment. His vocal cords felt tight, his skin too hot, his mouth suddenly dry. There wasn’t enough air in the cave, and he blinked rapidly, tried to bring himself back under control.
"I do not have a satisfactory answer for you," he finally admitted. The words felt like gravel in his throat. "It is something about this place, this time... or perhaps the device that sent us here. I have insufficient data to ascertain the specific cause, but your assessment is correct. Something is 'wrong'."
"Do you think we can get back to the library? The Enterprise should still be in orbit if we can return through the portal."
"I do not know," Spock admitted. "But surely…" He cut himself off abruptly, swallowing hard. He could feel Kirk's eyes drilling into him, and it occurred to Spock just how close the captain was. Just a few feet separated them where they sat on the fur-softened ground.
"Surely what, Spock?" Kirk pressed. Stubborn and bright, so bright Spock almost couldn't bear to look at him.
"Surely to attempt it would be better than to stay here," said Spock. When he forced himself to raise his eyes, he saw determination glinting in his captain's gaze. He knew Jim Kirk would do anything to return to his ship, and the risk of death was hardly going to stop him. It had never been much of a deterrent in the past. Spock didn't mention that his own reasoning had very little to do with the Enterprise.
"Agreed," said Kirk. "If we stayed, even if we managed to get off this planet we'd have nowhere to go. Earth won't discover warp drive for thousands of years yet, and Vulcan… what is Vulcan up to right now?"
Spock actually had to fight down the urge to snort, a surreal sensation to say the least. He met the captain's curious eyes and arched an eyebrow as he explained, "Vulcan is a brutal, violent world of warring tribes, and Vulcans as a race are slaves to rage and emotion. The rule of logic and the teachings of Surak will not emerge for almost a millennium."
Kirk stared at him, dumbstruck, and it occurred to Spock that perhaps the surprisingly knowledgeable young captain did not know everything after all.
"At any rate, the current state of Vulcan is academic," Spock pointed out reasonably, and his voice even felt mostly normal as he spoke. "You are correct in your assessment that, if we stay, we will never be able to leave this planet."
The space between them fell quiet again, and Spock considered the fire. He could use it as a focal point, try to meditate again—but such an endeavor had not done him much good before. He turned to consider Kirk instead, and was surprised to find the captain's expression dark and pensive. It was an expression Spock had seen numerous times before, always in the throes of some impossible puzzle or quandary.
Spock did not interrupt now, though he was sorely tempted to.
"Do you think it's related?" Kirk finally asked, eyes clearing and finding Spock.
Spock arched one eyebrow and said, "Clarify."
"Vulcan. And you. I don't know, I guess it's a little crazy, but is it possible that it has something to do with what's happening to you?"
Crazy, perhaps, but Spock's brain latched onto the idea and immediately began working it through. He had no other factors solid enough to consider, but this. This had potential.
"It is theoretically possible," he murmured thoughtfully. "Vulcans share a constant, low-level telepathic connection. It is, for lack of a better term, an undercurrent of psionic energy common to all members of the Vulcan race."
"Oh, fuck," Kirk breathed, and Spock could all but see the wheels of comprehension spinning in the man's head. He could practically see Kirk going back, in his mind, to the destruction of Vulcan, putting together pieces of a puzzle he had never thought to consider before. But that was not the conversation they were having, and Kirk returned quickly to the present. "So that undercurrent… you're still connected to it. But instead of a race of logical, controlled Vulcans you're picking up rage and chaos."
"Precisely," said Spock. For some reason the revelation did nothing to reassure him.
Kirk laughed, and the sound was so unexpected that Spock felt his eyebrows rising high against his conscious control.
"I fail to see what amuses you in this situation," Spock quipped as coolly as he could.
"No, it's not funny," said Kirk. "It's ridiculous. As if we needed more of a reason to get the fuck back where we came from. This is… It's okay, we'll make it. As soon as Zarabeth gets back—"
"Don't," growled Spock, surprising himself with the abrupt vehemence of his own response.
"Don't what?" Kirk asked cautiously.
"Do not say her name," said Spock, and much as he felt ridiculous the second the words were out of his mouth, he couldn't help it. There was anger in his chest, blunted and banked a moment before but quickly warming back to life. He fought it, had to control it.
He didn't know if he could.
He tore his eyes from Kirk, and it was the most difficult thing he had ever done. He had to focus—had to get a handle on the possessive hunger itching beneath his skin—and he wrapped his arms around himself, curled inward as if it could help protect him from himself.
"Spock," came Kirk's voice, and Spock realized with a sharp spike of terror that it was closer than a moment before. "Hey, Spock, come on, you're freaking me out here." Closer still, and he needed to stop. He needed to keep his distance until Spock found the steadying thread that would let him compose himself.
"Captain," he said, trying to convey the necessary warning in his voice. "It would be best if you—"
And then Kirk touched him.
It was just a worried hand on Spock's shoulder—such an innocuous touch, especially between the two of them—but something inside Spock snapped at the moment of contact. He was too aware of Kirk—of his mind, his heat, his proximity—and Spock's muscles tensed and moved without conscious decision. His hand darted out and grabbed Kirk by the wrist, his body surged forward, his weight and pull dragging Kirk off balance and knocking him onto his back on the thick gray fur beneath them.
There was a dazed blankness in Kirk's eyes, blinking and disoriented but coming around quickly. Spock's fingers tightened around Kirk's wrist, an unrepentant grip that was sure to leave dark bruises, and a wild chorus of 'Mine mine mine' echoed through his mind. He wanted to leave marks everywhere, a tangible sequence to proclaim his territory. He leaned close and let his lips find Kirk's throat, lips then teeth in a bite meant to bruise.
He was startled into a second's stillness when the act made Kirk curse and arch maddeningly against him.
"Jesus, Spock," Kirk breathed as Spock's tongue searched for his captain's pulse point. The words came out on a shaky breath, and then Kirk's free hand was between them, bracing against Spock's chest and trying to push him away. "Spock, come on, just. Fuck, just back off a second."
Spock grabbed and diverted the resisting hand easily enough, getting Kirk's wrist in a solid grip to match the first. When he looked at Kirk this time, the captain's eyes were clouded, wide and off-balance, and his chest rose and fell in uneven breaths. Spock could feel an electric thrum of anticipation echoing between them in the silence, superheating their bodies where they pressed together.
"You wish me to stop?" he asked, and the question felt nearly impossible. He had no idea what he would do if Kirk answered in the affirmative. He was less than confident he could walk away now.
"Spock," Kirk breathed.
It wasn't 'stop'.
Spock surged forward, finding the captain's mouth this time—releasing his wrists to pull Kirk closer against him, to manhandle and maneuver and find just the right angle. He wanted to possess every inch of this man, wanted to map and claim the entirety of the body beneath him.
There was too much fabric between them, but that wouldn't be a problem for long.
Kirk can tell from Spock's posture that, back to normal or not, it's taking Spock conscious effort to keep from pacing back and forth across the floor right now. That painful rigidity is back, and he imagines if he could see the hands clasped behind his first officer's back, they would be white-knuckled from gripping too tightly.
"Your point appears cogent at first glance, Captain," Spock finally admits. But it's hardly the capitulation Kirk was hoping for, and he's not surprised when it's followed up with a tense, "But there is an unmistakable flaw in your reasoning."
"Really," Kirk mutters, crossing his arms and fighting down the frustration that swells in his chest. "Enlighten me, Commander."
"Lacking practical alternatives, you can hardly be said to have chosen the course of events that transpired."
Which solidly frames the issue at least, even if it does so with a rapidity that leaves Kirk unsteady. This conversation has nothing to do with decorum and everything to do with consent—consent that Spock stands before him now one hundred percent convinced he didn't have.
Which, Kirk considers in retrospect, is probably more accurate than not.
But Jim Kirk has never been one to get bogged down in semantics, and he's sure as hell not surrendering the argument at that. Not without a fight.
"Spock," he says, after pausing to choose his words with unprecedented care. "How long have we served together?"
Spock looks taken aback for a moment, caught off guard by the abrupt shift in topic. He schools his expression quickly enough, quirking one eyebrow in understated expression, and answers, "One year, three months, seven days and approximately two-point-six hours."
"And how many crises have we been through in that time?" Kirk presses, hoping to keep Spock on his intended track.
"Depending on your definition of 'crisis', the answer ranges from twenty-nine to one hundred fourteen."
"And in any of those situations, how many times have you seen me surrender without a fight?"
The obvious answer seems to draw Spock up short, and it takes him almost thirty seconds to respond, "Zero."
"I hope you can see where I'm going with this," says Kirk. He really does, too. He doesn't want to have to explain, in detail, that he's maybe fantasized about Spock before—that, just maybe, he'd done it even before Spock and Uhura's discreet breakup several months prior. That he knew, on Sarpeidon with Spock's hands and mouth all over him, that the only way to stop Spock might be to hurt him—and that it never once occurred to him to test that theory out for sure.
Spock is silent for so long that Kirk thinks he's still on the hook after all. He's working it through in his head, trying to figure out where to start and how best to phrase it, when Spock interrupts his thoughts with a softly uttered, "Captain."
Kirk holds his tongue. The last thing he wants to do is open his mouth and make things worse.
"I confess," Spock murmurs, "that I am having difficulty accepting your premise."
"You don't have to accept it," says Kirk. "Just think about it. And stop beating yourself up already. You don't owe me any apologies."
Spock nods in reluctant acquiescence, still uncertain but obviously recognizing when he's been beat. Kirk knows that expression from the few chess games he's actually managed to win, and it gives him hope that, eventually, Spock will stop guilting over something that belongs squarely on Kirk's shoulders.
"If you will forgive me, Captain," Spock says, inclining his head just slightly. "I am late for an appointment."
"Go ahead, Spock. I think we're done here." He watches Spock's retreat, and is relieved that the tight, impossible tension has eased from the Vulcan's perfect posture.
The door slides closed, and Kirk feels a conflicted mess of emotions in his chest. On the one hand, he's relieved this conversation is over, even more relieved they never have to have it again. Spock will work it through for himself, now that he's got all the facts at his disposal. They can go back to normal.
But normal isn't quite what Kirk wants, and the thought makes his chest tighten with irrational disappointment. He knows what he can't have.
It's just a little hard to hang onto that reality when other memories are so vividly, distractingly fresh.
Spock could feel Kirk's pulse beneath his hands, Kirk's skin an offer of maddening, human heat. The captain's mind was a mess of want and chaos, humming at the edges of Spock's consciousness and ramping his own hunger up to a mindless furor.
Fabric lay discarded nearby, gold and blue and black, and Spock spared a sliver of his attention to hope that he had managed to leave the uniforms intact. He'd removed them in a hurry, and even Starfleet-issued textiles were no match for Vulcan strength.
"Jim," he breathed, burying his face against Kirk's throat. His fingers dug bruises into the human's hips, grasping with a violent desperation as his own hips snapped forward—as he buried himself in the pliant flesh beneath him.
Kirk's breath stuttered, his voice gasped, and Spock thrust again—withdrawing only to drive forward, deeper still. Kirk's body was a tight, impossible heat around him, rocking up against him and accepting everything. Kirk's hands slid along Spock's back, trying for purchase and failing, slipping up and up to bury delicate human fingers in Spock's hair—holding tightly on as Spock's ravenous need threatened to shatter them both.
Kirk had uttered his name a couple times at first, breathy gravel and then—when Spock first entered him—a fractured gasp of the familiar syllable. But he seemed lost for words now, language somewhere miles beyond him, and Spock thrilled hungrily at the inarticulate gasps and moans and cries that echoed through the cave.
He had no sense of time, just rhythm, and he wondered if he could soar like this forever.
He wanted to.
But the edge of the precipice loomed, and it drew ever closer, building and building, thrust for thrust. His orgasm was a threatening storm front, a wave on the horizon, and when it finally hit him he groaned into his captain's skin and never wanted to come down.
He lost himself after that. Not for long—his internal time sense was back, and it told him he had been out for but a few short minutes.
But it was long enough that when his eyes found Kirk, the captain was already dressed. He stood near the far wall of the cave, looking disheveled even in the crisp lines of his gold uniform shirt, and he was talking.
There was a carefully calculated barrier of open space between them—a full meter, Spock noted almost idly. Enough, anyway, that the territorial wrath barely bubbled up inside him. He could hear their conversation from here, laying the groundwork of a plan for getting back to where they came from. Zarabeth was nodding, looking more than a little uncomfortable.
Spock wondered just how much she had seen, but was surprised to find he didn't much care what the answer was.
She disappeared again, briefly—deeper into the cave, Spock thought, rather than outside—and Kirk approached him. Spock didn't feign sleep. He watched his captain with heavy, unrepentant eyes.
"She's getting us extra furs," said Kirk. "So we don't die of hypothermia on our way back to the portal."
"A wise precaution," said Spock, sitting up and reaching for his uniform. He stood and donned it with practiced ease, then turned to find Kirk watching him. The expression on the human's face was unreadable.
Spock stepped, drawn helplessly by his captain's proximity—magnetism, gravity, some metaphor Spock was sure could be crafted to perfectly fit the inevitable sense of rightness that urged him forward—and he raised a hand to Kirk's face. Not to find the meld points, no. Just to touch. Kirk met his eyes and didn't turn away.
But then there was Zarabeth, returning with a noisy energy that seemed not quite genuine. She thrust two heavy, gray pelts at them, fashioned roughly in the form of parkas to match the one she wore, and urged them to put them on quickly.
Spock did as directed, never once taking his eyes off his captain.
As they leave the early-stage nova of Beta Niobe behind them, Kirk and Spock slowly return to something resembling the status quo.
They'll never quite achieve 'normal' between them again. Sex has a way of interfering with normal, even when it's once-in-a-lifetime-never-to-be-repeated sex.
Though Kirk suspects it's his own wistful interest getting in the way. It's hard to ignore now that he knows what he's missing, and the best he can do is fake it. Smile on the bridge, tease Spock about being a bipedal computer, keep showing up for the games of chess that have become a weekly tradition.
It's good enough for the rest of the crew, and most of the time it's even good enough for them. But Spock knows him better than that, which means they both know things aren't quite right between them.
Which means Kirk isn't exactly surprised when his first officer corners him in a turbolift and keys the locking mechanism into place.
Spock's eyes are intent but willfully unreadable as they regard him, and Kirk kind of wants to squirm under the scrutiny. He squares his shoulders instead and says, "Something bothering you, Spock?"
"You do not truly hope to pretend ignorance."
Kirk sighs and deflates a little. "Fine. You think we need to talk badly enough that it's worth holding up one of the main lifts, then let's talk. But honestly, Spock, I don't know what else there is to say."
Spock shifts his stance minutely, and for a split second he looks every bit as uncomfortable as Kirk feels. It's oddly heartening, maybe because suddenly the playing field seems a little more level.
"Look," says Kirk, taking pity. "I don't know how it works for Vulcans, but with humans… Let's just say sex tends to complicate things. The genie you can't put back in the bottle, if you will."
"I confess I was beginning to wonder if you were not angry with me after all."
"I wouldn't lie to you about something like that," Kirk instantly protests.
"No," Spock concedes with a quick nod of acknowledgment. "But in the time I have served with you, I have observed you to possess a mercurial temperament. It was possible you had changed your mind." A hesitant beat, a reluctant flicker of something in Spock's eyes, and then he adds, "I would not blame you for doing so."
"Spock, enough with the guilt trip," Kirk sighs, scrubbing a hand over the back of his neck. "You didn't hurt me, and I'm still not mad."
Spock's eyes dart seemingly unbidden to Kirk's throat, then lower, to his wrists where the command-striped sleeves extend just far enough to cover the other visible evidence.
"Oh, come on, Spock," Kirk mutters, and he does nothing to mask the exasperation in his voice. "You know me better than that. Since when have a few bruises even made a blip on my radar?"
"Nevertheless, you cannot tell me you walked away from our encounter unscathed."
"I never walk away from anything unscathed," Kirk retorts, aimless frustration bubbling higher in his chest. Maybe that's what makes him careless enough to add, "And I've gotten a whole lot worse from things that were way less enjoyable."
It stops his friend's pity party up short, at least, but the advantages end there. Because Spock is looking at him now with startled consideration, already mulling the words through. Catching up faster than Kirk is comfortable with.
"Enjoyable," Spock repeats, testing the word carefully. "That is not a reaction you had previously indicated." And suddenly Kirk can't decide whether to beat his forehead against the wall or smack Spock upside the head—for a touch telepath, the man can be startlingly dense.
But Kirk refrains from either of those reactions and shakes his head instead. It's too late to undo the damage his admission has caused, but he mumbles a belated, "Forget it. It doesn't matter."
"On the contrary," says Spock. "It matters a great deal. If I have been operating under a faulty premise—"
"Look, fine. I'll admit I enjoyed it. Can we please move on now?"
Spock watches him, quietly indecipherable, and Kirk feels new tension settle beneath his skin. He's not about to admit that he can't stop thinking about it. Or that he wishes like hell it hadn't been a one-time thing. Except he's wondering if all this isn't showing on his face anyway, because the way Spock's looking at him now holds too much comprehension. The Vulcan's impossible brain is working it through faster than a computer, and Kirk wonders what conclusions are being reached.
"Captain," Spock says, taking an inexplicable step forward. "Would you describe the changes that affected me on Sarpeidon as insanity?"
"No, of course not," says Kirk. "You were… volatile, I guess. Losing your control. But you certainly weren't insane."
"So we can both agree that, while I was not myself, I was also not subject to any external whims or influences."
"I… suppose." Kirk almost trips over the words, he's trying so hard to figure out where Spock is going with this.
"We were trapped in a planetwide ice age, stranded with not only ourselves for company, but also the woman who rescued us. And can we not also both agree that Zarabeth was incredibly attractive, in many different respects."
"Hell yes," Kirk mutters, taking a moment to remember appreciatively. The woman had possessed plenty of pleasing qualities, to say the least.
"And yet," Spock continues, taking another step forward. "Despite her presence, I found my attentions fixated immediately, and unwaveringly… elsewhere."
It takes an extra moment for that observation to catch up with Kirk, and when it does he feels his face go slack with surprise. "Oh," he says intelligently. He would swear Spock looks downright amused, even though that left eyebrow is the only change in his expression.
"Perhaps we ought to find a more appropriate venue to continue this conversation," Spock finally says.
"Yes," Kirk agrees immediately, and already there's a new, noisy rumble of anticipation building up inside him. "Your quarters. Or mine. Fuck, I don't care, just get this lift moving."
Spock's fingers find the lift controls and dance across them, inputting the new instructions without bothering to break eye contact, and the turbolift hums immediately to life.
When Spock's hand reaches for him—just a tentative touch to the arm, warm contact through the gold uniform fabric—Kirk leans into it and smiles.