The buzz of insects was quieter in the evening than it was during the day. Right now, even though the sun had only begun its torturously slow descent a few hours ago, the incessant white noise had faded. It made it easier to concentrate.
Spock had paused in his work at the shuttle’s console and cast a glance behind him, where Jim was sitting silently at the ripped maw of their half of the shuttlecraft. The panel Jim held in his lap was large, sprouting tangled wires like an overgrown garden bed. They’d pulled the panel from the other crash site’s scanning array, and for the last few hours Jim had been attempting to repair it. Much of the time, Spock heard him mutter reminders to himself like “red wire into the main scanner input, reroute through blue conduit…”
Spock had largely ignored him, concentrating on his own repairs to the forward console’s controls, but as the background noise of the world around them began to die, he found the silence almost uncomfortable. This was rare for him, especially considering that in the six standard days that they had been on this planet, he had come to value silence more than ever. Once the sun set, he and Jim were forced into close proximity for far too many hours to avoid the freeze of long nights and the stalking presence of those alien beasts, so these moments where they concentrated on their separate projects were soothing for Spock. Meditative.
And yet, it was somewhere around the point that Jim stopped mumbling to himself that Spock had begun to feel the weight of that silence. He could not feel Jim’s emotions, not without direct contact, but a Vulcan’s emotional intuition was, by necessity, powerful. He felt more than he knew that something dark had settled on his companion. It was distracting.
Spock supposed it made sense. For six whole days, Jim had rarely complained, never once let on that he felt the massive weight of the task they were undertaking. Even Spock occasionally allowed the prospect of it to intimidate him, so he could only imagine that his human companion was feeling more than he let on. Jim put on a front of fearlessness and optimism, and Spock recognized it for what it was, but no one could maintain a constant mask. At least, no human could.
Making a decision, Spock stood from his seat and made his way to Jim, whose hands-- Spock noticed-- had stilled over their task. Jim turned, surprised, when he heard Spock approach. It was not the first time Spock had seen Jim’s expression unguarded, but he was struck by the vulnerability in his eyes, the quiet, sad slope of his brows, the part of his pink lips. It lasted only a moment, though. The second he met Spock’s eyes, the mask returned, features shifting, tightening, a strained smile presented to Spock like a peace offering.
“Getting bored?” Jim teased without mirth, eyes following Spock as Spock drew level with him and sank onto the floor beside him, mirroring Jim’s cross-legged position.
“I thought, perhaps you might be interested in sharing your thoughts,” Spock said, somewhat stilted. He didn’t really know how to do this. Spock was disinclined to discuss his own feelings, for obvious reasons, but it was basic xenopsychology that humans benefited from airing their fears, talking through their problems, and Jim had no one with whom to do so other than Spock.
They had made a deal to rely on each other.
“Well,” Jim started, looking at the panel in his lap. “I’ve made a lot of progress. I think with a little more tinkering it’ll be the patch we need to get our airborne sensors operational. First piece of the puzzle, and all that. We won’t want to weld it yet, not as though we have any equipment to weld it anyway , but--”
The moment he returned his eyes to Spock, Jim paused. Spock hadn’t been about to stop Jim’s status update, but it was apparently clear from his expression that this had not been the intended conversation.
“You weren’t asking about the scanner,” Jim said, and Spock nodded his confirmation, noting how immediately uncomfortable Jim seemed to become.
“We have discussed the shuttle repairs at length today,” Spock said. He didn’t appreciate when humans asked after his own emotional state, so he struggled with how to approach the topic now, “but I believe you may need to… talk.” Emphasising the word, he hoped, might suggest its meaning.
Jim canted his eyes up to the ceiling, taking a breath through his nose. “I’m fine,” he said, but the way his hand clenched around the edge of the panel said otherwise.
“If that is true,” Spock ventured, a knot tying itself in his gut, “then you are more resilient than I.” If Spock gave ground, maybe Jim would, too. So went Spock’s logic, at least. He did not like to admit to not being ‘fine,’ but ‘fine’ had variable definitions.
Jim’s head whipped around, and Spock met his eyes. He saw in their depth myriad emotions, but he didn’t know if Jim would give voice to any of them. Seemingly searching Spock’s face for something, perhaps insincerity, Jim’s brows pulled together. When he did look away, he let out a breath.
“It’s intimidating,” he finally said, as though it pained him to say the words aloud. “It’s not that I don’t think we can do it. Of course we can. I know what I’m capable of and I have a pretty good idea of what you’re capable of. I just-- I can’t stop thinking about ‘11.8’ months. And that’s after we reach that metal deposit. A year. More .”
Jim paused, casting a glance out the back of the broken shuttle into the forest. Out there, the leaves were slowly collapsing, rodents were digging into holes at the bases of the trees. Out there, a whole alien ecosystem lived on around its two tired intruders. “And Pike,” Jim continued, voice low, “and Carter, Taigen, Nelson… their families need to know. They need a Starfleet burial. A real one. Even if we manage to get back to our own time, we can’t promise them that.”
Spock looked Jim over quietly, noticing-- not for the first time-- that deep-running compassion in Jim that gripped the edges of every word, every movement, as though it were innate in him. A weakness, Spock’s mind provided on instinct, but he stilled the thought forcibly. He had seen nothing in Jim Kirk so far to indicate weakness. Compassion, sometimes, manifested in strength.
Silence hung between them for a few moments.
“My parents were both in Starfleet,” Jim finally said to fill that silence. Spock felt a tick of surprise. He hadn’t known that from his brief encounter with Jim’s service file, and this was the first Jim had spoken about his family. “Well, my dad’s career, but mom served on a few ships herself. They’ve always known the dangers,” Jim continued, “but my brother-- well, he was furious when I joined. I promised him I wouldn’t get hurt.” Jim chuckled sadly, looking down at the panel in his lap. “I mean, I knew it was a lie. He knew it was a lie. But the second he thinks I’ve died, he’ll never forgive me.”
“It is possible,” Spock suggested, drawing on that thread of hope that had tangled itself in his thoughts and refused to be plucked out, “that we will return to the moment in time that we left. We do not yet know the full nature of our situation.”
Jim scoffed. “And what are the odds of that?”
Considering the question, Spock performed a few quick calculations in his head. “Without more data, it is impossible to make an accurate guess. However, I might estimate that the odds are somewhere around 678,394.65 to one. That is a rough estimate,” he made sure to disclaim, just in case Jim ever felt like checking his math.
It was only when Jim looked at him that Spock realized the question had been rhetorical. He was about to apologize for the misunderstanding when Jim’s lips parted, a smile breaking over them like a rising sun. “Oh?” Jim asked, somewhat breathlessly, a chuckle falling from his mouth that sounded halfway to hysterical. “A rough estimate?”
Shaken by Jim’s reaction, Spock felt himself floundering. All he knew to do was answer the question. “Ah, Indeed. Once we know more, I will likely need to adjust--”
“Spock,” Jim said with an unnaturally wide grin, holding up a hand to stop him. That hand looked to be trembling, but Jim lowered it before Spock could comment. “Thanks. For, well-- for trying. No offense, but you aren’t exactly reassuring.”
Knowing this well, Spock couldn’t refute the comment. He looked out over the forest, perhaps in an attempt to avoid the vulnerable gaze of the man beside him. “My apologies, Jim. I understand this must be difficult for you.”
Jim didn’t say anything for a few moments. Rather, he began to twirl one of the wires of the panel unconsciously around his finger. His smile faded as slowly as the day’s encroaching dusk. When he did speak, he was quiet, barely audible over the stirrings of the world around them. “Well I can’t imagine it’s easy for you, either. Of all of us, you’re stuck here with me.”
Spock returned his gaze to his companion, but before he could speak, Jim shifted the panel off to his side and stood, only a little unsteady on his bad leg. “But that’s enough of that. It’s going to get dark soon. Want to make one more trip to the other site? We can snag a few more conductor wires to hook this panel up to the forward sensors.”
This was clearly another attempt to put on a front, but given that Jim had already expressed much this evening, Spock allowed for it. Jim was right, Spock was not reassuring, and by all accounts the two of them were strangers. Spock was, in fact, quietly relieved that Jim seemed able to carry his own emotional weight. If it did become too much, he would attempt next time to offer greater comfort than discouraging statistics and empty words, but it was possible this would be the last of their awkward conversations. He would not pry. If Jim needed help, he had to trust that the man would ask for it.
He stood as well and nodded his agreement. “Very well. Whenever you are prepared.”
And that was the key. Whenever Jim was prepared.
Routine was all that got Jim through those first weeks. Routine was safe, consistent, structured-- and necessary. He’d grown accustomed to it over the years he’d been in Starfleet, and now it saved him.
The first few days had been rough, of course. While in the tumult of mourning the loss of their crewmates and coming to terms with their situation, they’d also had to establish themselves, their camp and their relation to each other. Some of those tasks were easier than others.
Early on, they had sharpened a shard of the shuttle and strung it with the bulldog’s sinew to a branch, which functioned as an axe well enough to cut down the thinner trees for firewood. They had harvested more of those wide leaves to pad their bed, cobbled together cooking utensils from shredded shards of shuttle, mined the salt deposit they’d found and gathered oil from the trees. It had been the work of days, and only then were they able to adhere to any kind of schedule.
During the daylight hours, Jim and Spock devoted their time to collecting resources, exploring the landscape or stripping down the back half of the shuttle for parts. It was rough going with Jim’s leg still tender, still aching on each step, but he swallowed it as best he could and relied plenty on his crudely carved crutch. But he had to admit the payout was worth it.
One day, they wandered across a small pond with fish that turned out to be edible, if bony, and finally gave Jim a use for his carved spear. Another day, they spent a good few hours studying the insects, thoroughly distracted from foraging when they’d stumbled upon a kind of hive. Jim had laughed when one landed on his finger, holding out to Spock to examine even as he complained that the fuzz of its legs was tickling him. In those early days, Spock would startle each time Jim laughed, as though the sound were as foreign to him as the world they now inhabited. But, after a time, he seemed to get used to it.
When the day began to cool off outside, they would retreat to the cave, exploring the extensive system and attempting to find a path through to the metal deposit without wasting daylight. If Jim’s leg acted up or if the mood struck them, they would forgo exploring and bring what projects they could into their campsite, sheltered from the cold that encroached outside. It was a fairly perfect arrangement, as they spent as much time on Jim’s wishes as they did on Spock’s.
The shuttle wasn’t fixed-- not by a long shot, but they had begun assembling a construction plan to put it back together, at least enough to make it functional. And in the meantime they were surviving.
But ‘routine’ didn’t always mean ‘work.’ Everyone, even Vulcans, needed downtime. At least that’s what Jim tried to convince Spock to believe. At his urging, they would spend quiet evenings by the fireside, during which Spock would meditate and Jim would whittle his rough branches. He carved a bow and arrows, a ‘just in case’ backup to their phasers, and even began a special project that he hoped would make their time on the planet easier.
Each time that he laid down to sleep, at midday, evening, the deepest night and the first crest of dawn, Jim kept track of the standard days that passed with tick marks on the cave wall, where they had moved their camp closer to the lake. The marks weren’t intimidating at first, but as days turned into weeks and weeks into well over a month, Jim began to get restless. Impatient. Each day they worked until their fingers bled and they helped each other run the humming regenerator over their wounds, and they still had so little to show for it. A few repairs to the sensors, a blueprint to work off of when they finally had the materials to work with , and, well, that was it.
Jim saw it in Spock-- that overwhelming desire to leave this place, and he felt it in himself too. He would think about his mother and father, about his brother Sam, about the Farragut and his friends. But everything they did got them closer to getting home, so Jim just threw himself into it as he did everything.
And while their living arrangement and construction plan finally came together, this strange cooperative friendship they were developing took its own kind of work. After that first, awkward conversation, Spock hadn’t again asked after Jim’s emotional state, for which he was grateful.
There were days that, if Spock had asked, Jim would’ve broken down, giving into the fear and exhaustion that clung to him every day-- though he did his best not to show it. And there were days that if Spock asked, Jim would have snapped, tension tightening his words, maybe enough to shake their tentative balance with each other. No, it was best that Spock didn’t ask.
Besides, eventually the information just kind of came out on its own. They’d been washing their clothes in the hot spring one evening, sitting stiff in their jumpsuits as they scrubbed the grime from their sun-bleached uniforms, when Jim mentioned that his brother was a biologist.
It had been the bioluminescent stalks that made him think of it, how Sam would have walked into this glowing caldera and never left, intent on studying the minutest detail of each plant. He’d shared the information casually, and never expected Spock to ask questions.
But he did. He’d asked where Sam had studied and what he was doing now. He asked if Jim ever saw him, if he’d met his nephew.
It turned out that talking about Jim’s family was one way to talk through his feelings without directly addressing them. Emboldened by Spock’s apparent interest, he felt free to share more stories over time-- stories that helped fill those long, silent nights. Sometimes it helped ease the loneliness, other times it made it worse.
Spock was not much of a conversationalist, but he was a fantastic listener. One evening, Jim told him about the time he and his brother had taken the horses off the farm at midnight and ridden them all the way to the neighboring town just for kicks. He told Spock about how his mom had been furious, and how his dad had sent a subspace message from some starship out in the middle of nowhere, just to scold them. He told the story intermixed with laughter at the memory.
“Why do you find the situation amusing if you were reprimanded for it?”
Jim had waved that away, “Oh, they were only mad because they cared. You can fight with someone and still love them.”
“That seems illogical,” Spock had said, which made Jim laugh anew.
“Humans!” he’d said with a defeated flop of his hands, prompting one of those rare almost-smiles from Spock.
Ah, and those almost-smiles were so rare, rare enough that Jim made every attempt to provoke them. Not that Spock gave him much to work with, of course.
Spock didn’t answer direct questions about himself, at least not with direct answers. When Jim had asked Spock if he had any siblings, Spock had replied that “Vulcan family dynamics are different from those of humans.”
Given Jim was pretty sure siblings were a universal constant, he’d let it slide at the time. Figuring there must be a reason Spock didn’t want to talk about it. But even though he might not learn much about Spock’s life, their proximity certainly helped him learn things about Spock as a person.
Some of these things weren’t surprising. It was a given, for instance, that Spock was curious, even about the most innocuous things. He had a scientist’s heart, after all, and they couldn’t walk ten steps in the cave without Spock picking at the wall or scanning the moss.
He was also enthusiastic, for a Vulcan at least. He liked making discoveries, solving mysteries, fixing things-- all daily joys for the both of them. In this way, they had a lot in common, more than Jim suspected Spock would ever admit.
What surprised Jim the most, though, and what was perhaps the most welcome of his companion’s qualities, was that Spock had a very quiet humor about him, a subtle streak of impertinence that made him seem so human in his least guarded moments. Sometimes Jim was sure Spock was teasing him, remarking that, for someone who claimed to go camping most of his childhood, he was a terrible campfire cook-- or suggesting Jim had been unsuccessful hunting (as he’d attempted multiple times) because he couldn’t stay silent long enough to sneak up on anything. Both comments may have offended Jim if they’d come from anyone else, but in Spock’s deadpan they read as gentle barbs, speaking to a sort of comfort. As much as Spock insisted Vulcans didn’t joke, Jim was beginning to suspect he just told himself that for his own sake.
Perhaps the most important thing Jim learned about Spock, though, was that-- at the core of him-- Spock was good . And they bickered and disagreed but never because Jim doubted Spock’s intentions. All he wanted was to get them home, and Jim appreciated that.
Neither of them mentioned the fact that, once the shuttle was rebuilt, they had no idea how to actually make the journey forward in time. One step at a time was Jim’s logic. He couldn’t guess at Spock’s.
Almost two months passed on Alpha Novus V, and they passed quickly. Jim considered that both a blessing and a curse, depending on the day.
“Listen,” Jim said one night. He held the knife and a small knob of wood in his hand, whittling by the fireside and enjoying the delicate sparks that shot up whenever he flicked a bit of bark into the flames. “I feel like I’ve told you my whole life story at this point.” This was largely true. Jim had left out certain key points, namely the more traumatic and/or uninteresting bits, but he had told Spock stories nearly every night for weeks now, and he was getting tired of Spock seldom-- or rather, never-- sharing his own. “You’ve got to give me at least some clue about yourself. Your family, maybe?”
They’d walked a long way in the caves earlier that evening, and now they were resting, which was unfortunately still necessary with Jim’s stiff leg, a daily pain that never seemed to get better no matter how much time passed. Spock sat now on the bulldog fur, eyes closed and legs crossed, even though Jim had been talking far too much for Spock to get any meditating done.
As Jim watched, lowering his project, Spock took in a deep breath. Jim liked seeing Spock like this, calm and straight, illuminated in the glow of the fire. Unguarded. There was always a quiet dignity about him, but he never looked more handsome, more elegant than he did when he was relaxed-- especially when he’d stripped down to that black undershirt that clung to the lines of his chest and arms.
Spock cracked his eyes open and cast them sideways at Jim. “I fail to see why. Discussing your family brings you joy. Since I am incapable of that emotion, discussing my family is illogical.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “I see, so there’s some bad blood there that you don't want to get into. You can't fool me, Spock.” Spock had the dignity not to look annoyed, but Jim shot him a knowing grin all the same. He knew now that Spock was certainly capable of more emotions than he let on. The funny thing was, Spock knew Jim knew, and he still kept up the act. Jim liked thinking of it as a game. Spock likely thought of it as an annoyance.
“There is no ‘bad blood’ between myself and my family,” Spock said cooly.
“Then tell me about them,” Jim said with a flippant wave of the knife. “If it’s not a big deal…”
Spock shifted and uncrossed his legs, clearly aware that meditation was not in the cards tonight. Jim gave himself a little credit-- he had tried to temper his curiosity, but something about the warmth of the cave and the way Spock sat relaxed across the fire made him think he might be more willing to open up tonight.
Although, by Spock’s expression, it looked like Jim was forcing him to open up with a crowbar.
“Very well,” Spock said, resigned. “My father is Sarek, Vulcan ambassador to Earth.” His tone was far too formal for Jim’s liking.
Jim shrugged, “Well, I knew that . You’re going to have to dig a little deeper, Spock.”
An eyebrow shot up, almost comically fast. “How are you aware of my father?”
Jim didn’t realize until that moment that it might sound a little creepy. “Ah, well,” he said, turning back to his whittling. “I read it. I followed news of the Enterprise crew pretty closely when I joined Starfleet.”
He'd never outright said that serving on the flagship was his dream, but he didn't need to. It was every cadet’s dream. He only hoped Spock would accept that. It hadn’t been true at the time that Jim was overly interested in the Enterprise ’s science officer, though that was certainly true now.
Spock hummed gently, and Jim risked a glance back to him. “I should not be surprised that certain news stories would feel fit to mention the relation. He is an influential figure.”
Something in the way Spock said that ignited a spark of curiosity in Jim. It was almost resentful. “What’s he like?”
Jim sighed dramatically, twirling the knife in his hand before striking a strip of bark off the wood, “Of course. And let me guess, your mom is logical and your aunts and uncles are logical and, you know-- so on.”
Spock shook his head, looking down into the fire.
“In fact, my mother is not. She follows the path of logic more strictly than many other humans, but by Vulcan standards--”
“Ah!” The knife fell from Jim’s grasp and he raised his hand to his mouth, sucking the sliver of blood that beaded along the pad of his palm. He’d slipped in his surprise, and sliced himself pretty well in the process.
In a moment, Spock was at his side, grabbing his hand and examining the wound. Jim watched Spock’s narrowed eyes as he tilted the cut toward the firelight. That strange hum was back-- the one Jim had felt when they’d shaken hands, but it seemed muted now.
“You must be more careful,” Spock snapped, abandoning Jim’s side for a moment, just long enough to snag the medkit and fish around inside for the dermal regenerator. Jim attempted to wave him away, scooting backwards to avoid him.
“Hey, stop, I’m fine. We don’t need to waste the regenerator’s power.”
Spock glared at him. “It is vital you have full use of your hands. Please, let me.”
Jim pursed his lips, but stopped avoiding it, sitting straight and holding out his hand for Spock to take. He wasn’t even bleeding that badly, but Spock was very insistent. He held Jim’s wrist steady against his knee and ran the regenerator over the wound. His fingers were warm, gentle in spite of their urgency. Jim felt himself relaxing into the contact.
“Thanks,” he mumbled, if a little reluctantly. “I promise I’m alright, though.” If he’d wanted to, Jim could easily have operated the regenerator himself, but there was something very comforting about the touch of Spock’s hand, and something comforting about his worry.
“What is important enough that you would risk your skin whittling it?”
Jim smiled in spite of himself. Spock could be such a mother hen.
“It's a secret. And don't change the subject.”
“I am merely expressing my displeasure at your carelessness.”
Jim rolled his eyes. “I was surprised . Who knew you had a human mother?”
“I did. Many do.”
“Well, I didn’t. You’re so… Vulcan.”
Spock looked up from his task as the regenerator hummed and whined. “Thank you,” he said sincerely. “I endeavor to be.”
Jim’s lips broke into a small smile. “There can't be many half Vulcans, I’d imagine.”
“Indeed,” Spock responded. “I am the only one, of which I am aware.”
“What's it like?”
Spock considered the question as he switched off the regenerator, releasing Jim’s hand.
Jim glanced at it. The skin was red, tender, but largely healed. Truly, he felt the lingering warmth of Spock’s fingers more than he felt any residual pain.
“Trying, at times.” Spock answered, surprising Jim with his honesty. “Vulcans tend to view my human heritage as an impediment. The unsubstantiated prejudice of certain officials was, in fact, my reason for joining Starfleet rather than attending the Vulcan Science Academy.”
Jim grinned, proud of Spock for standing up for himself, though Jim had little to no right to that pride. “Rebel.”
Spock’s lips quirked and he met Jim’s eyes. “While intended as a joke, your statement is accurate.”
Jim sized Spock up, secretly thrilled, heart thrumming at the thought of staunch and dutiful Spock rebelling against anything . “Never would have guessed. You love rules and regulation more than anyone I’ve ever met.”
“To an extent,” Spock replied, resuming his position on the fur. “You may find that what Vulcans see fit to deem logical is not always so.”
Jim snorted. “I'll remind you, I've spent nearly two months with one such Vulcan. I'm aware.”
Spock looked indulgently at him, then restored his hands to their meditative steeple. Jim was going to allow him silence, as he'd taken plenty of Spock’s time already, but Spock surprised him when he spoke up.
“When I chose to follow Surakian teachings,” Spock said softly, “I understood there were other options available to me that weren’t available to many of my kin. I have always had the option to live as a human if I desired. Granted, such a choice would have had its consequences, but there were times that it appealed to me.”
Jim stared at him, trying to imagine a Spock that would consider living a human life. His mother’s influence, Jim supposed, or maybe part of Spock knew he might have it easier in a world with more individual freedom. But Jim didn’t give voice to any of this. Spock continued, voice still calm and even. “However, in spite of the flaws in my culture, I am confident this was the proper choice.”
This was more than Spock had yet said about himself in the entirety of the time Jim had known him. It seemed he’d read Spock’s mood right, somehow. Maybe he was willing to open up tonight.
“Oh?” Jim asked, “why is that?”
Spock pursed his lips slightly and seemed to take a long time to answer, allowing the gentle crackling of the fire to rise up in the silence, echoing off the cave walls. When he did speak, he met Jim’s eyes. “When I was a child, I lost my pet sehlat,” he said. Jim didn’t know what a sehlat was, but he kept his mouth shut. Anything to keep Spock talking. “I-Chaya was his name. He had protected me from a wild le-matya-- a predatory creature-- during my kahs-wan.” At Jim’s confused look, he elaborated. “The kahs-wan is a ritual that all young Vulcans undertake, a rite of passage. I should not have allowed I-Chaya to come. At first, I was distraught.”
Jim leaned forward, elbows on his knees, eyes tracing the harsh line of Spock’s brow. He was trying to see any trace of that emotion in Spock’s expression, but he came up empty. Spock continued without acknowledging Jim’s gaze. “I believed it may be a sign, especially after the cruelty of the other Vulcan children that I had endured leading up to the ritual. It seemed to be proof that I was not meant to follow the path of logic. However,” here Spock paused, and Jim could see him weighing his words, something shifting behind his eyes as they caught the orange firelight. “It was only through logic that I was able to overcome my grief and fear. I-Chaya’s death helped me to understand that logic allows one to master emotion, but it is only through that mastery that one can truly honor emotion. Examine it from all angles, with all perspectives, and find a place for it in the fabric of the mind.”
Spock took a breath through his nose and settled slightly on his cushion of furs, as though he’d been holding tension invisibly within his body that only now let loose. “I apologize-- I believe that was a very long answer to a simple question. I am confident that logic was the proper choice because it always has been. Logic has served Vulcan kind, and myself, in a way that no other philosophy could.”
“And if it ain’t broke,” Jim said with a small smile. Spock looked to him, eyebrow up. His hair was getting long, Jim noticed then, so that eyebrow disappeared into his bangs. There was something endearing about it, he thought. At Spock’s sustained look, he chuckled. “Another expression. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
And there it was, another half-smile. It was soft, and it could have passed for a trick of the light if Jim wasn’t sure he’d seen the lines at the corners of Spock’s eyes crinkle, but it was there. Jim’s heartbeat faltered at the sight.
“Surprisingly logical,” Spock said, and Jim felt a strange, unearned sense of pride well up in him.
“Humans have that potential, you know,” he said casually, taking up his knife and block of wood once more, vowing to keep a better hold on the blade this time. “We can be more logical than you give us credit for.”
“Oh?” Spock said, and Jim knew he didn’t misread the playful tone of Spock’s voice, even though he wasn’t looking at the Vulcan’s expression. “Then where is the logic in keeping the nature of your woodworking project a secret? As we spend the majority of our time together, it is likely I will figure it out.”
Jim’s grin widened. “You really want to know?”
He felt Spock’s eyes on him. “I will admit to some curiosity.”
“Then you’re just going to have to wait,” Jim said, a little triumphant. There was little privacy between them anymore, and it was possible Spock would figure it out, but Jim took a special kind of joy in having some secrets, as inconsequential as they were. “Or, maybe, you could tell me a little bit more about your rebellious Vulcan tendencies and I’ll consider an information exchange.”
Spock looked to consider the thought. “Somehow I doubt you will tell me, even if I do participate in this ‘exchange.’”
“You caught me,” Jim said, shaving of a strip of wood and flicking it into the fire. “But don’t get impatient. At the rate I’m going, I’ll be done with this in just a few short months.”
Spock scoffed, and Jim grinned down at his hands. Sometimes, Spock could’ve passed for human. Jim knew better than to tell him as much, though.
Even with a thick fur throw and two emergency blankets, still Spock allowed Jim to curl against him at night. It was self-serving in a way. The cold was still biting, and while the human’s warmth was not comparable to his own, it was its own kind of comfort.
He seldom slept during the coldest hours, and seldom meditated given Jim’s distracting proximity, but he did take advantage of the time to think. And, as the nights had worn on, Spock had found another purpose.
Tonight was one such night. Spock saw his breath fog the air before him, though it was quite dark with the dying fire and the faint glow of the volcano’s chamber around the corner. He laid on his back, as he typically did, blankets up to his chin, and Jim laying on his side beside him. As Spock went over calculations in his head-- square-footage of sheet metal required to rebuild the craft, weight of said metal before adding equipment, insulation and environmental controls-- he felt quiet fingers curling into the fabric of his thermal shirt. Jim sought him out like this in his sleep sometimes. Almost always when the nightmares were coming on.
Jim never spoke of it, but Spock would often feel the body beside him gripped by fear, twitches in his muscles and tightening in his eyes. When Spock lowered his barriers even slightly, he could feel that fear radiating like heatwaves. He could not guess to the nature of these nightmares, but they troubled him-- for more reasons than his own comfort.
Some weeks prior to tonight, Spock had first decided to alleviate them. Touch telepathy was a responsibility, and he would never violate someone’s mind, but he could project without absorbing. So he had been doing. It took only a gentle finger on Jim’s temple, a small, open channel between them, and he could send impressions of calm into his companion’s mind.
Now, he felt Jim’s grip on his shirt tighten, just as Jim made a sound in the back of his throat. Spock considered sometimes letting the nightmares run their course, but as he glanced to the sleeping man beside him, he found he could not. It was, perhaps an emotional decision, but he did not like seeing Jim in distress.
Spock gently dislodged Jim’s grip and rolled onto his own side, mirroring Jim’s position. Without Spock to cling to, Jim’s hand came to his own shoulder and he fisted his fingers, face contorting, eyes moving rapidly behind their lids. Spock did not know what Jim was seeing.
He lifted one finger, and placed it gently against Jim’s temple. Closing his own eyes, he began to project. In those first weeks, he had simply exuded a sense of calm, some soothing force he’d hoped would help. After a time, he came to know the images that made Jim happy-- the farm in Iowa, the mountains of Yosemite. And though he’d never seen these places in person, he could send the impression of them into his companion’s mind. He did so now, urging Jim’s thoughts toward his family, his mother’s vegetable garden, his childhood pony-- settings and characters from stories Spock had heard spoken with infinite love.
Jim stilled, breath evening out, fingers relaxing around his own sleeve. Reluctantly, Spock removed his hand and resumed his position on his back, forcing a few inches of space between himself and Jim. The contact had been simple, short-lived, easy, and Jim would be happier for it. Spock confessed to some trepidation within himself-- unsure each time he did it if this simple touch could be considered a violation, but if it helped Jim’s mental health then it could only be beneficial. Logically, it was important to their productivity that Jim receive adequate rest, and remain untroubled.
That was Spock’s justification for continuing the practice, though in his heart he knew better. The reality of their situation was overwhelming, sometimes even for Spock himself, so he wanted Jim’s dreaming to bring him some peace. And, well, perhaps there was some part of Spock that relied on Jim’s easy smiles and confident words-- it gave him strength to see Jim’s strength.
Fingers reached across the distance between them once again, a hand on Spock’s arm, a mumble spawned by some dream tumbling out of Jim’s mouth. Spock did not break the contact this time.
He had not yet told Jim that he sometimes did this, that he spent his nights soothing Jim’s unconscious worries, but he hoped that instinctively Jim might know he could come to Spock with any need, and Spock would try to fill it.
And that was almost definitely an expression of emotion, likely something he should attempt to cease. But Jim slept silently beside him, and that was worth lying to himself every once in a while.
“Wait, stop stop-- it’s another dead end,” Jim said with a sigh, drawing Spock’s attention to the tricorder. Spock leaned over, scanned the screen, and let out his own kind of sigh.
“It would seem so. Would you like to follow this one to its terminus?”
Jim glanced back at the tricorder, pretending to think about the distance and time, rather than thinking about how much pain he was in. It was so frustrating, knowing he could only walk a couple hours at best before it just started throbbing, especially without the crutch he insisted he didn’t need anymore. He hadn’t told Spock as much, coming up with excuse after excuse to stop after some time, but he suspected Spock knew and was simply sparing Jim his pride.
“I suppose we might as well. Who knows, we might find something interesting,” he said, thinking his leg could probably handle it. It was only another half mile or so, according to the tricorder. Then they could trudge back to camp and cross another cave off their list of ways to get through the mountain.
That metal deposit had been dangling in front of them like candy on a string for almost two months now. It really was their only hope at rebuilding the craft, as only some of the aged half of the shuttle was even usable. At this point, they’d done almost all they could without more materials. Nothing had been soldered or welded into place yet, (they wanted all the pieces of the puzzle before wasting power putting them together), which caused them both their own grief. Spock liked being able to fix things, Jim had come to understand. And while Jim could function in the face of certain mysteries, he wasn’t overly thrilled about them.
“At this rate, we’re never going to make it through,” Jim lamented. “what if none of these caves lead to the other side?” The question had been rolling around for a few weeks now, but he'd been afraid to say it aloud. Frustrated as he was, it had just tumbled out.
“If that is the case, we will find another cave system farther away. Or we will construct equipment to take us over the mountain. If that fails, we will make the journey around the mountain range. It will not be pleasant, but it is possible. There are options, Jim.”
Spock only ever used his name when he was attempting to be either condescending or comforting. As his tone leaned toward the latter, Jim glowed a little. He liked this even ground that they were on and he suspected Spock did too.
“I know, and obviously we aren't giving up. I'm just-- I’m starting to feel impatient.”
“I can sympathize.”
“I just can’t wait to get back to my job, you know? People. I miss people.”
Spock did not respond, merely continued walking somewhat stiffly. Often the silence between them was comfortable, but with Jim’s words something settled between them that was decidedly not. Jim felt fit to fill it.
“What are you most excited to get back to?”
“Excitement is a human emotion,” Spock responded, and Jim narrowed his eyes at him. His words were coming out short and hard again, the way they were any time they disagreed. What had set him off now?
“Indulge me,” Jim said flatly.
Spock glanced sideways at him. “I suppose I will also be pleased to return to my work. There are several ongoing projects that require my attention.”
“Yeah,” Jim said, “I bet there are.” Spock wasn’t giving him much, which wasn’t wholly unusual, but in spite of that ‘human emotion’ nonsense, it was obvious the man was upset.
They walked in silence for a little while, then Jim spoke, a flash of inspiration that was accompanied by a strange trill of nerves.
“Do you, you know, have anyone waiting for you back home?”
Spock seemed surprised by the question if those eyebrows were anything to go by.
“You have already inquired about my family.”
Not that he’d gotten much for it. “That’s not exactly where I was going,” he said, then, “well, okay, maybe a little. I meant more romantically . You know, a partner.”
“That is a very personal question,” Spock said almost cautiously.
“Sorry,” Jim said, wondering why that answer disappointed him, aside from the fact that Spock was being opaque again. “Forget I asked.”
They were quiet for a moment, but then Spock surprised Jim once again, as he had a habit of doing. “I am... disinclined to pursue romantic relationships,” he said. Which wasn't exactly an answer, but was enough of one. Jim supposed it made sense that Vulcans would be, on the whole, aromantic or asexual, since feeling emotion was involved in both. But baby Vulcans had to come from somewhere. He realized suddenly that he didn't know if he would've been glad to hear that Spock had someone in his life or not, so maybe Spock’s non answer was as good as he could get.
“Ah,” Jim said, “I was just curious.”
“Curiosity is not a negative quality. However, I do not understand why you are curious about my personal life.”
“We’re going to be on Alpha Novus V for a long time,” Jim responded somewhat defensively. “I don’t think I’m out of line wanting to know more about the person I’m stranded with.”
Spock considered that. “Perhaps not. However, since it is clear you do not consider me adequate company, I trust you understand my surprise.”
Jim’s steps stuttered and he gave Spock a hard look. “Excuse me?”
“I am referring to your earlier admission-- that you ‘miss people.’”
Ah, suddenly he understood why Spock had become a little frosty. He stopped, putting a hand on Spock’s shoulder to halt him as well. “I didn’t mean it like that.” Spock looked him over, face impassive, listening. “Just, you probably understand-- you’ve been on a starship for four years. There’s always something going on; people in the corridors, the rec room. I miss that-- that movement. And, yes, conversation. You’re not the chattiest person, which isn’t a bad thing,” he rushed to add. “It’s just different. It’s been hard to adjust to seeing exactly one other person every day. And, listen, Spock.” He paused, shrugging. This was edging into dangerous territory, but he couldn’t stop himself now. “I used to call my family once a month at least, even if I had to schedule time to do it. I know it’s only been, what, nine weeks? But I feel it. I think about them all the time, what they’re doing, how they’re doing, whether they have any idea I could be alive--” Jim stopped himself. It was a testament to how comfortable he’d become with the man beside him that all of that had just tumbled out. He’d been trying, really, to hold it in, but sometimes he just couldn’t. If anything would convince Spock that Jim considered him ‘adequate company’ confiding in him like that-- especially accidentally-- should’ve done it. But he bit back on the rest of it, huffing a breath out his nose. “My point,” he said, “is that I’m used to people. A lot of people. Different people. Strangers, family, friends, crewmates… You understand, right?”
Spock’s lips were thin, but he didn’t look angry or offended anymore, which was good. More as though he were thinking. “I understand,” he said softly. “I do not empathize, but I understand. As a social person, this is no doubt difficult for you.” The inference there was, obviously, that Spock was not a social person.
“Thank you,” Jim said, a little frustrated but also relieved that Spock wasn’t going to get into a fit about this. “It’s not like I don’t like you, Spock.”
Spock’s eyes narrowed, almost suspicious at the admission, even though Jim found as he said it that it was true. He didn’t not like Spock. In fact, he liked Spock quite a bit. He’d never thought of it in exactly those terms, simple as they were, but it was true. Somehow, they had forged a kind of friendship. When had that happened? “And,” Jim continued, if only to cover his own stumbling thoughts, “I think we make a good team.”
With the lines at the sides of his lips relaxing and the tilt of his brows drooping, Spock seemed to absorb Jim’s words. “Indeed,” he said. “I apologize for misunderstanding the intention behind your earlier statement.”
“No harm done,” Jim said, slapping Spock good-naturedly on the shoulder and gesturing with the tricorder in his other hand to the cave before them. He wanted to move from their conversation about as much as he wanted to move forward down the path. “Now let’s see what’s at the end of this tunnel. I wouldn’t mind getting back to camp before it gets cold.”
Spock nodded, and they continued on. The silence that lay over them now was a little more akin to the kind Jim liked to hear.
Unfortunately without the benefit of distraction, his leg did begin to bother him quite a bit more. He kept telling himself that it was just another quarter mile, but that wasn't figuring in the long walk back. Maybe he should've planned it out better.
By the time they reached the end of the cave, he was exhausted. Enough that he didn't even register what the sight of it meant.
Rather than a sheer wall or a tapering off of a walkable trail, what they saw was evidence of an old cave-in. Boulders, stones, slabs of rock. To Jim, it read dead end.
To Spock, too, it seemed. Spock grabbed the tricorder from Jim's hip, disregarding that it was still strapped to Jim's shoulder, and plugged in a note at their coordinates. “Very well,” he said, letting it fall again to Jim's side. “We should return presently.”
Partly out of a desire to linger a moment and rest, and partly out of a sense of curiosity, Jim took up the tricorder himself. They had been walking a very long time. There was a possibility...
“Spock,” Jim said, even as Spock had begun to walk away. “Wait a second.”
“Do you require rest?”
Jim was a little embarrassed by the question, if only because he thought he'd done a pretty good job hiding it. “No,” he lied, “Look at this.”
Spock came back to his side, looking over his shoulder at the tricorder screen. “Can you specify what it is I am looking at?”
Jim pointed to the map, which displayed both their travels throughout the cave system and the tricorder’s scans. “Look, there’s not much space between this dead end and the other side. 6.43 feet, according to this.”
“Indeed. We have, however, encountered dead ends that came closer. Without a drill--” and then it hit Spock, just as it had hit Jim. Spock’s eyes shot up to the cave-in, the rock that was solid enough to block their way, but nowhere near solid enough to require a drill.
They could, potentially, clear the rubble.
“It would take months,” Spock said, and Jim could see the calculations running behind his eyes. “And there is no guarantee that there is not solid rock between us and the other side.”
Jim pulled up a cross-section of the volcano on the screen, zooming into their location. “No, but look at this, we’re only about fifteen feet above where it registers the ground on the other side to be. And the metal deposit is right there . Spock,” he turned to Spock, only realizing now their proximity. Even in the dim light of the tricorder and its flashlight, he could see flecks of gold in Spock’s deep brown eyes. He blipped over what he’d been about to say for a second, distracted, but reigned himself back in. “I-- we’ve been all through these caves. We’ve got, what, two? Three options left before we have to start looking somewhere else? Is there any harm in trying?”
“Time,” Spock said, drawing back and taking the circle of his warmth with him.
Jim shrugged. “And how much time will it take to make climbing equipment from scratch? Or go backpacking around a whole mountain range?”
Spock seemed unconvinced, and Jim sighed, not wanting to play this card but supposing it was one more tick on his side of the scoreboard. “And,” he said, swallowing his pride. “With my leg... honestly I don’t think I could get very far either route-- and I’m not letting you do it alone.”
Spock’s eyes fell to Jim’s leg, which he probably knew Jim had been favoring for some time. He brought his eyes back to Jim’s. “You make a logical point.”
“I usually do.”
“I would be reticent to agree to that, but perhaps we could discuss this as an option. For now, we should return.”
Jim agreed, but damn if there wasn’t a line of pain shooting from his calf to his lower back. He swallowed it and nodded. “Right. Let’s go.”
While reluctant to admit it, Spock could not deny that he typically found these walks through the cave system pleasant. While much of what they did had a sense of urgency behind it, exploring the caves felt more like a routine science survey than anything else. Occasionally, they would make discoveries such as insects they never saw closer to their oasis, or mineral deposits that seemed to become more frequent the farther they ventured in.
When they discovered plants, whether moss or reeds or more bioluminescent stalks, Jim would almost always pick a sample. At first, Spock thought he was collecting them for study, but Jim would merely turn them over idly in his hands as they walked before discarding them somewhere down the line. He did the same with flowers in the forest, or interesting-looking weeds.
It was a peculiarity, if somewhat endearing.
And so the study was pleasant, of course, but more than any of this, Spock found he rather looked forward to the conversations they would have as they walked. Jim had a fondness for storytelling. He would recall his friends at the academy, faceless nobodies to Spock but for the fact that they had some influence on Jim’s life. Jim would speak fondly of their name-calling, uncreative though it may have been (“Stack of books with legs”? Truly?) and express a hope that they were alright, “ when ever they are,” Jim had once said with a chuckle.
Jim had a remarkable ability to find humor anywhere. Spock appreciated that.
It was, however, becoming clear that for all he enjoyed their conversations, and for all this was more socialization than Spock could recall engaging in, it was not quite enough for Jim.
Spock tried not to take it personally, a feat which should have been easy given that he had never taken criticism personally in his life. But even when Jim had reassured him, he couldn’t help shaking the-- the feeling . The feeling that Jim was steadily becoming more important to Spock, while Spock remained an orbiting body to Jim’s life-- existing here only because of circumstance.
Such thoughts were illogical, made moreso by the fact that they stung with an emotional pain. He suppressed the feeling as much as he was able, but with meditation time restricted and Jim occupying not just his thoughts, but his space as well, it was challenging.
Today, along their walk back from the caved-in dead end, Spock mulled over these thoughts, comfortable in their silence yet uncomfortable with the revelations that silence brought.
However, Jim was not quiet for long. Merely a half-mile into their trek back to camp, Spock became aware of harsh breaths coming from the man beside him. With each step, Jim sucked air between his teeth, quietly enough that a human may not have noticed any difference. Spock did, however.
He did not want to mention Jim’s injury. For some reason, it caused Jim embarrassment, contrition even, but he was clearly in pain. In the blue glow of the tricorder’s screen, Spock could see sweat beading from Jim’s hairline, despite the fact that the cave was starting to cool with planet’s night.
Spock turned away. It was not his place to say. Jim knew his own limits.
At least, until that moment Spock thought he did.
“Ah!” Jim finally vocalized a few minutes later, step faltering. Spock immediately reached out to steady him, even as Jim leaned against the wall of the cave, looking pale.
“Jim,” Spock said, holding Jim up against the wall to make it easier to take pressure off his leg. “Are you injured?”
Jim let out a strained laugh. “No more than usual,” he said.
“You need to rest. Please, sit.”
He helped Jim sink onto the ground, kneeling with him, only releasing his shoulder when Jim was settled with his pained leg outstretched. He winced. “Spock, it’s getting cold. We need to get back, light the fire--”
“There is time to rest.”
Jim leaned his head against the wall and closed his eyes, frustration knitting his brows. “I’m sorry, Spock. Just… give me a minute. This is so humiliating.”
Spock sat back on his heels, giving Jim a hard look. “In what way is this humiliating?”
Jim huffed, fingers clenching on the ground. “I should be able to handle it. I’m stronger than this.”
“Jim, may I remind you of the origin of your injury?”
“I’d prefer you didn’t.”
Spock ignored both the words and the derisive laugh in Jim’s voice.
“You fell from an impressive height, splinted your own leg--”
Jim held up a hand. “Spock--”
“--And dragged yourself nearly two miles. After suffering undue pain by a malfunctioning bone-knitter, you refused to allow yourself time to heal naturally and set about foraging for resources, caring for our ailing captain--”
“-- And saving my life.” Spock paused. Jim had opened his eyes and was looking at Spock with some unreadable expression. “I have been attempting to respect your illogical human pride, but if you continue to treat your injury as a sign of failure I cannot promise I will stay silent.”
Jim blinked a couple times, clearly taken off-guard.
“I-- Ah…” he stopped, scratching his head awkwardly.
Spock probably should not have spoken so much, nor allowed himself the frustration, but the words were out now, and he found he did not want to take them back. “It was not my intention to cause you discomfort.”
“I know that,” Jim said, rushed, “I just…That was unexpected. I didn’t think you thought much of me.”
Spock’s eyes narrowed. He had believed that he was transparent to the point of embarrassment-- obvious in his respect for the young man who sat before him now, but somehow he had succeeded in hiding his growing attachment. Unfortunately, he had done so to Jim’s detriment. He could hardly believe that Jim could be unaware of his regard.
“On the contrary,” Spock said, attempting to convey sincerity without conveying too much else. “Your strength is admirable.”
Jim didn’t seem to know what to say to that. He ducked his head as though attempting to hide his smile. For as much as Spock appreciated it when Jim talked, he found a certain satisfaction in striking him speechless.
“Are you able to continue on?” Spock asked, graciously saving Jim from the trouble of responding. He had come to understand Jim’s myriad insecurities, and now hoped to alleviate at least this one.
“I-- I’m not sure. Let me try. Help me up?” Spock took Jim by the forearms and met Jim’s eyes. Jim nodded a confirmation, and Spock stood slowly with him. The moment Jim bent his leg to get it under his body, he slipped, back scraping along the wall. Spock did his best to steady him, but Jim sank back down to the floor.
“Okay,” Jim said, taking a breath. “Okay, maybe I overdid it. A little.” Spock raised an eyebrow and Jim sighed. “Or, more than a little. Why don’t you get back to camp. You can get the fire going and keep warm. I’ll catch up.”
If it were possible for Spock to raise his eyebrow further, he would have. However, he simply maintained a steady gaze. Jim seemed to pick up on what Spock was attempting to convey.
“You’re not going to leave without me,” he said with some hint of exasperation.
“I believe it was you who said we must take care of each other,” Spock replied.
The strain in Jim’s shoulders eased, and suddenly he looked sad. A pause settled, and Spock wasn’t sure why. At least, until Jim spoke, voice quiet. “That was Pike, actually. One of the last things he said to me.”
“An order?” Spock didn’t know how that felt. Part of him felt a sense of renewed loss, that in some of Pike’s final hours he had thought of the well being of his crew. Another part of him was almost disappointed that the sentiment had not been Jim’s own. Illogical. Words were words, no matter where they came from.
“No, no,” Jim said with a wave of his hand. “More a suggestion, I guess. A… strong suggestion.”
Spock felt his lips twitch. He remembered the captain’s propensity for strong suggestions.
“Then it would not do to disappoint. Allow me to help.”
“Jim. Please, let me.”
Jim met his eyes, and Spock saw the resolution fading from his expression.
“Ah, fine,” Jim said, rubbing his eyes with one hand. A little dirt from the cave floor smeared onto the bridge of his nose, but Jim didn’t notice. “What do you suggest?”
“I could carry you.”
“All that way?” Jim gestured down the cave, indicating how long it had taken to get here in the first place.
“Vulcan strength is greater than that of a human. It would not be difficult.”
“Spock, the only thing that could make this more humiliating would be you carrying me out of this cave.”
“As there would be no one to witness this, and I have already expressed that I find nothing humiliating about your situation, your concern in that regard is entirely illogical.”
Jim squinted at him in a way that suggested to Spock that the argument had been won. Attempting to suppress his pride at that, he turned around. “Put your arms around my shoulders.”
Jim hesitated, and Spock looked over his shoulder.
“You don’t really like… touching,” Jim said. “I mean, I know I forget sometimes, and sometimes you don’t care, but this is, well, quite a bit of touching.”
“I am aware of the necessity of our physical contact. I assure you my mental barriers are sufficient.”
Jim sighed, resigned. “All right, all right.” He placed his arms over Spock’s shoulders, crossed over Spock’s chest, and Spock effortlessly lifted him. When Jim was upright, he knelt and fit his own arms under the crooks of Jim’s knees, then without preamble set off down the cave.
Jim was correct that this was, indeed, a great deal more physical contact than he was used to, but none of it was skin-to-skin, and it was worth it to get Jim to a place where he could rest comfortably.
As they walked, Jim rested his head against Spock’s shoulder, breathing steadily, the heat of it seeping through the fabric of Spock’s shirt. “Please don’t tell anyone about this. I want to be a captain someday,” Jim said quietly.
“And how does allowing yourself to rely on a fellow officer preclude you from becoming captain?”
“A show of weakness?”
Spock considered this. Jim was exhausted, physically weak, but in no other way Spock could sense. Yet there was little way to change Jim’s mind.
He told himself with increasing frequency that the things he did were for Jim’s mental health, to support him in order to maximize his usefulness. Though that may have been a benefit, it was not the core reason. Spock knew this, but as Jim rested against him, projecting his insecurities, Spock allowed himself to lie to himself one more time.
Jim enjoyed storytelling. This would make Jim happy.
“I once carried Captain Pike for ten miles in order to reach the nearest medical facilities,” he said gently.
Jim raised his head, and Spock felt Jim’s laugh against his back. “You didn’t.”
“Vulcans do not lie, Jim.”
“It’s an expression,” Jim said with a chuckle. “So what happened?”
Spock felt a warmth in his chest, illogical given the dropping temperatures in the cave. “It was two standard years ago,” Spock began, familiar with the structure of storytelling only through exposure to Jim Kirk. “And we had been called to an assignment on Federation Colony Magnus III--”
“I remember that report,” Jim interrupted, sounding a little confused, “wasn’t that just a routine training exercise?”
Spock’s lips quirked, though Jim couldn’t see it. “It was meant to be,” Spock replied gently. “A batch of new recruits had recently been assigned to the Enterprise , and it was important to Captain Pike that they receive extra crisis training-- due to the often unique predicaments we find ourselves in.”
Jim chuckled at that. It was likely, if Jim remembered details even from the Enterprise ’s training reports, he was familiar with the more outrageous of situations the flagship had encountered. Spock continued on.
“The captain made a large show of explaining the difficulty of the training to our recruits, then allowed them some time to prepare while he and I walked the course to ensure everything was in place. In spite of what he had told them, he assured me that the obstacles were actually simple, and he doubted anyone would fail. It was only the first stage, after all.”
Spock felt something rising in him at the memory, a sad sort of feeling. It was not difficult to talk about Captain Pike, necessarily, but there was a certain nostalgic pain that accompanied memories of him. Spock filed those feelings away for later meditation and concentrated on the story.
“We walked the obstacles-- the swamp we had filled with Denebian slime devils, the climbing course that mimicked a tilted starship, the antigravity chamber-- and then we made our way to the ropes course. Below the ropes, a bed of Tellarite Briars had been placed.”
“No,” Jim said in disbelief, predicting what was about to happen. Spock could feel the man’s smile against his shoulder.
“Indeed, the very same briars that exude a natural paralyzing agent when disturbed,” Spock said. He stepped gently over a few rocks in their path, tightening his hold around Jim’s thighs as he did so. Jim’s arms pulled themselves a little closer around Spock’s chest and Spock felt himself swallow.
“At any rate,” he said, regaining footing on the flattened path and regaining the footing of his tale. “The captain insisted we test the ropes course to ensure each of the ties was secure. We did so. I crossed first with no incident, of course--”
“Of course,” Jim echoed with a rumbling little laugh that Spock could feel against his back.
“But when Captain Pike mounted the first rope, he became aware of one of the training moderators testing the weight of the final platform. From what I understand, the two of them had once been very well-acquainted. He maintains-- maintained-- that any man would have fallen for her. It turned out that he fell quite literally.”
Jim barked a laugh against Spock and patted his chest with what Spock could only consider glee. “Right into the briars?”
“Right into the briars,” Spock confirmed.
Jim ducked his head between Spock’s shoulder blades. “Augh, he must have been so embarrassed.”
“Indeed. At first I assumed he was suffering an allergic reaction, but the red tint to his skin turned out to be a blush of embarrassment rather than a rash.”
“So what happened?”
“I extricated him from the briars with the help of the moderator. None of us were equipped with communicators so I took it upon myself to carry the captain back to the medical facilities that had been set up for training. Though I am certain Captain Pike was mortified, our rather dramatic appearance at the training grounds did what he had attempted to accomplish in the beginning. The recruits were terrified. If the course had felled the captain, how would they fare?”
“Of course, they didn’t know about his weakness for cute moderators, did they?”
Spock felt himself dangerously close to an expression, his face warm and lax with the comfort of knowing that Jim couldn’t see him. He seldom spoke this much, but it was pleasant, engaging in conversation wherein he could prompt laughter. He decided that, if Jim wanted, perhaps he would attempt to tell stories more often.
“They did not. Nor did any have the same weakness, as it turned out. Each completed the course without incident. When Captain Pike regained use of his limbs, it took him quite a few more training exercises to regain their full respect.”
Jim’s nose was pressed against Spock’s spine, warm breath coming out in even waves, matching the gentle rise and fall of his chest that Spock could feel against his back. He felt some of the humor drain from Jim then. “But he regained it, all right,” Jim said with surety, “There’s not a captain in the Fleet people respect more.”
“Indeed,” Spock replied, the sadness in Jim’s voice weighing down his own. He thought, perhaps, he should allow them silence. It seemed his goal-- to cheer Jim up-- had not been achieved.
But then, Jim placed his chin on Spock’s shoulder, looking sideways at him, far too close for comfort. “Say, Spock,” Jim said, breath ghosting across Spock’s cheek. Spock felt himself stumble slightly, but he hoped Jim wouldn’t point it out. Thankfully, Jim simply continued his thought, hands a little tighter around Spock’s chest, but nothing more. “I’ve always wondered, and the mission reports were so vague-- what happened on that planet in the Lodiris System… ah, what was its name?”
“That’s the one! Where the crew ran into those mind-reading aliens? I feel like the reports left out some key details.”
“For good reason, I assure you,” Spock replied. That particular mission had been needlessly exposing, and that was coming from a telepath.
Jim laughed heartily. “Come on, I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
Spock and Captain Pike had spent hours deciding what to include in those mission reports and what to leave out. That he should consider violating that agreement now, even if it was just to one person, said a great deal. More than Spock was comfortable unpacking. But he trusted Jim, and-- really, who would he tell anyway? It was likely the story would be forgotten by the time they returned. If they returned.
So, Spock sighed and began the story, continuing down the path with Jim’s gentle weight against him.
By the time they returned to the campsite after a few more tales from the Enterprise ’s more notable adventures, Jim seemed perfectly distracted, resting comfortably against Spock with his arms lax over his shoulders. Spock lowered him to the cushion of the blankets and allowed himself a small smile.
“Thanks,” Jim said fondly, eyes meeting Spock’s with a look that was becoming familiar, but still unidentifiable.
“You are quite welcome, Jim,” Spock said, voice softer than he meant it to be. He was grateful for the darkness of the cave, illuminated only by the faint blue glow of the nearby cavern. Sometimes if he looked at Jim too long he worried what his expression might reveal.
Respect, regard, attachment-- all words he used in his own mind that sounded much more logical than what this feeling actually was. Fondness, affection, desire--
Spock moved to the fire as that thought entered his mind, setting up some logs and gathering some of Jim’s wood shavings to use as kindling. He silently set about his task as he heard Jim flop backwards onto the blankets.
Desire. Where had the thought of desire come from? Jim was his friend. There was little more he could want or expect. Spock filed that word away for later reflection. The fact that it had even come to mind was troubling. He was not capable of desire in any sense. At least, he never believed himself to be.
But as he remembered the warmth of Jim draped over his back and the softness of Jim’s breath against his shoulder, he realized that where there was a capacity for fondness, there was a capacity for longing.
Strange, uncomfortable, not thoughts worth dwelling on now.