“Come on, Spock, put that superior Vulcan strength to use.”
Spock pulled back harder on the bowstring, though his face smacked of skepticism. “Jim, I object to this training exercise.”
“It’s not a training exercise. It’s recreation. Now shoot.”
Spock released the bowstring and Jim’s makeshift arrow lilted to the right, falling uselessly to the side of the tree where Jim had carved a sloppy bullseye earlier that day.
“My accuracy rating with a phaser rifle is 99.896 percent,” Spock said, almost moodily.
“Well, if we were playing target practice with a phaser rifle then I would be very impressed, Mister Spock.”
Spock handed him the bow, stepping to the side as Jim knelt to the stack of arrows he’d set beside him. They were standing nearby the shuttlecraft, if only because the trees were thinner here. Day’s heat would be beginning soon, which meant it was almost bedtime for Jim, but that was the only way Jim had convinced Spock to indulge him in an activity. “You can spend eight hours doing whatever you want. Let me have this one,” he’d said.
At first, Spock had resisted because he had no plans to go hunting, nor did he see how target practice with a crudely carved bow and arrow would benefit him in any way in the future, but when Jim had pitched it as a game…
Well, Jim had thought it would be fun. Spock, it seemed, did not agree. He stood off to the side with his hands on his hips as Jim drew the bowstring back, wiggling his fingers on the grip. Until he’d carved this thing, it had been many years since he’d used a bow, but he hadn’t been doing too badly in his solo hunts, all things considered.
“See, you have draw it back straight, not to the side. Don’t worry that it’s going to clip you-- it won’t.”
“I am incapable of worry,” Spock said, and Jim smiled. He let his arrow fly, and it smacked into the tree trunk, ricocheting off the second-to-inside ring.
“Ah,” he said, disappointed. “The bark’s too thick. Well, we can still shoot it. At least now I know I should make them sharper. Did you watch my stance?”
Spock shrugged slightly, a surprisingly human expression that had Jim grinning. “I did, but I do not see where my mistake lies in comparison.”
Jim handed the bow back and watched as Spock notched another arrow into place. He pulled it up, and Jim stepped in.
Moving forward, Jim rested a hand on Spock’s shoulder. He immediately noticed Spock tense, but the contact wasn’t skin-to-skin. He hoped that was okay. “Relax your shoulder,” he suggested.
Spock’s mouth thinned, but he did as he was instructed. Jim ran his hand down to Spock’s elbow, tucking it closer to his body. Then, unconsciously, he ran his loose grip from elbow to fingers, laying his hand over Spock’s to urge his fingers tighter.
The contact of their skin hummed again, insistent this time, and Spock shook off Jim’s touch. The arrow fumbled and fell as Spock released the bowstring and lowered the weapon, face tight.
“I’m sorry,” Jim rushed to say, pulling back with his hands held up in deference. He knew not to risk a touch like that, no matter how comfortable he was or how much he wanted to. “I wasn’t thinking.”
“It is of no importance. I was merely unprepared.”
Jim knelt to pick up the fallen arrow, guiltily holding it out to Spock. “Verbal direction only from now on,” he said with an attempt at an encouraging grin.
“Thank you. You have been very respectful of my personal boundaries.”
Jim felt a strange flush hit his cheeks. It was nice of Spock to say that, even though Jim knew intimately how often he forgot about them-- and how often he wanted to cross those boundaries on purpose. Since that massage Spock had given him after the ion storm and-- Jim could admit-- quite a while before that, he almost craved the feeling of Spock’s gentle hands. He had to be conscious of that if he were to combat these urges. Even and especially the unconscious ones. “I wish I didn’t forget so often,” he said, scratching his head, “I-- I’ve been told I’m a touchy person.” That was the only way he could explain it-- the way he was always grabbing Spock’s shoulder or patting his back, always risking longer contact when he knew better.
“Is that what you were referring to when you said you missed people?”
Thankfully, Spock was good at distracting him with nonsense like this. Jim rolled his eyes with a sigh. Weeks ago, and still Spock brought up that little phrase occasionally. “Are you still hung up on that? You know it wasn't anything against you.”
Spock reestablished his stance, not meeting Jim's eyes but focusing instead on the target. Jim noticed his shoulder and elbow were in their proper positions.
“I am aware,” Spock said, only a little frosty, and let the arrow fly.
Straight into the bushes.
Jim laughed loudly, doubling over and only looking up when he felt Spock’s glare on him.
“I'm so sorry,” he choked out. “You're just taking this so seriously.” he straightened up and tried to look apologetic. “Just relax. Breathe.”
Spock knelt and stuck another arrow in the bow, shaking out his arm before trying again. Jim didn’t mind that Spock had skipped Jim’s turn. It meant he was invested, at least. Spock straightened his back, still tense. He seemed to know it, too.
With a huff of breath out his nose, Spock cast his eyes to Jim. “You may assist me,” he said, which came as a surprise.
Jim blinked at him. “Really?”
“I do not believe I am a ‘natural.’ Please simply avoid my hands.”
Jim’s grin widened and he approached, a hand coming to rest on Spock’s shoulder as the other took his wrist, just along the line of the fabric.
“Why no hands? If you don’t mind me asking,” he said. He’d been curious for some time, especially because Spock himself had broken that rule more than once. In fact, they touched frequently, but Jim had come to understand that skin-to-skin contact was the kind that bothered Spock. And barring certain instances, almost always initiated by Spock himself, they refrained from it.
Spock allowed himself to be moved with Jim’s gentle pressure, eyebrows tight together. “Vulcan hands are far more sensitive than those of humans. We use them to sense thoughts and to establish physical intimacy.”
Suddenly, Jim was the tense one. He froze in place, meeting Spock’s eyes. “So, wait, just now--”
“You needn’t concern yourself,” Spock said, turning his eyes back to the target. Jim realized he’d stopped positioning Spock and hastily nudged Spock’s foot with his own, prompting him to widen his stance. “I would need to initiate a proper meld to hear your thoughts. However, unless my mental barriers are well-established, I can sense certain impressions and emotions.”
That was a bit of a relief, though Jim had originally been more concerned about the ‘physical intimacy’ part of the explanation. Spock had mentioned mental barriers before, and Jim doubted he ever left them less than ‘well-established.’ His mind flashed back to the times their hands had touched, when they’d had that first, awkward handshake, when Spock had healed the cut on his hand and when Jim had used the regenerator on Spock’s burn. He understood now why Spock had been so hasty to pull away each time. If touching someone’s hands was physically intimate, well, Jim decided he had better be more conscious of it from now on. He was doing well, restraining his physical urges when it came to Spock-- if only because he knew they would never be reciprocated-- so he would just have to add hand-touching to the list of what to avoid. The last thing he wanted to do was make Spock uncomfortable.
“It’s not just hands, though, right?” Jim stepped back, framing the scene with his fingers to ensure Spock was set up properly for his shot. He was, and talking seemed to help him shift his focus.
“No,” Spock said, fingers tightening on the grip as he let the arrow fly. It smacked the tree just above the target.
Jim cheered. “There you go! See, three shots and you’re already getting it.”
Spock lifted a skeptical eyebrow. “I hardly consider missing the target to indicate that I’m ‘getting it.’”
Shrugging, Jim stepped forward and took the bow from Spock’s hands, kneeling down for his own arrow as Spock stepped away.
“It’s refreshing,” Jim said, setting up. “Seeing you do something less than perfectly, I mean.”
Spock put his hands on his hips as he watched Jim’s arrow hit above the target’s bullseye. “I would not call this refreshing.”
Jim chuckled, “of course you wouldn’t.” He stepped back and handed the bow back to Spock. They only had three arrows left, aside from the ones that had flown into the forest, but Jim suspected Spock didn’t want to keep at this particular activity long enough to warrant retrieving them right away.
As Spock stepped back up to shoot and Jim backed away, Jim found he wasn’t quite ready to let the conversation fall off yet. “Poor aim aside,” he said, retrieving the thread of his thoughts, “I’m actually really interested in how this touch telepathy of yours works.”
Spock gave Jim a look over his shoulder. “May I ask why?”
Jim indicated with his hand that Spock should go ahead and keep shooting. Spock complied and fired one off. It missed, again, but it at least hit the tree.
“I don’t know. You’re the first Vulcan I’ve spent more than an hour with. And I think we know each other well enough at this point that you can let me in on a few of your secrets.”
“Vulcan telepathy is hardly a secret, Jim.”
“Well it’s news to me.” That was only half-true. He knew that Vulcans did have some kind of psychic abilities, and he’d heard of these mind melds that Spock mentioned, but the particulars of it all were new. “So, you said it’s not just the hands-- any skin-to-skin contact?”
“Indeed,” Spock said, falling into his stance easier this time. “Though, again, only provided my mental barriers are not optimal.”
“So the massage--”
“Did not bother me, as I was in perfect control.”
Jim felt his lips quirk at that. Of course Spock had been in perfect control. Jim had just been thankful he was too exhausted to get an erection.
“What can mess with your mental barriers?” he asked, partly out of curiosity and partly to divert his thoughts from that particular path again.
Spock shot, arrow hitting the tree, but narrowly this time, and not near enough the target to be notable. He took a breath and lowered the bow.
“Emotional distress, surprise, physical pain. There are many catalysts.”
Jim considered this. “So you really can’t touch anyone just, casually, can you?”
“I can. It is simply that my definition of a casual touch is different from your own. I view any skin contact to be an expression of intimacy. Humans do not feel the same.”
It made sense that, culturally, the attitude would be different. If humans could sense someone’s thoughts just by brushing their hand, he doubted most people would tolerate the contact with any frequency.
“That would drive me insane,” he said, shaking his head and reaching out as Spock offered the bow.
“Oh, just not being able to touch anyone. Or, being expected not to. Or,” he paused, thinking. “Or maybe more knowing that if I did, I’d feel their emotions. That would be a big responsibility.”
“It is,” Spock said, “but it is not so dire as you make it sound. So long as one maintains control over oneself, maintaining control of the impressions one receives is simple.”
Jim smiled at him, then set himself up and took his shot. It flew into the bullseye with a loud crack, and he cheered, pumping his hand in the air. “Aha! I knew I’d get it eventually.”
“I thought you were an expert at this device.”
Jim scoffed, “Hardly. But, I take some comfort in knowing I’m better than you.”
Spock’s lips twitched and he turned to the forest where the arrows had fallen. “I will retrieve the arrows. You would do well to sit down for a moment.”
“You want to keep going?” Jim’s surprise echoed in his tone.
Spock gave a noncommittal tilt of his head. “You keep insisting this is a game. I believe I have been told to ‘have fun.’”
Warmth spreading in his chest, Jim dipped his head to hide how happy that simple statement made him. What Spock was telling him was that he was already having fun. Along with that understanding, Jim came to realize that he could tell as much just by the way Spock had spoken. Somewhere along the line, he’d learned how to translate Spock-speak into plain old Standard. The thought brought him no small amount of pride.
“You’ll start enjoying yourself when you get your first bullseye,” Jim promised, playing along for now. Sometimes he didn’t mind indulging Spock in his emotionless persona, if only because he could see right through it, and it probably didn’t do much for the Vulcan’s ego to be called out all the time.
Though, as Spock returned and handed the arrows to Jim (both of them careful not to let their fingers brush), Jim caught Spock’s smiling eyes and knew it was a bit of a game to him too. No one’s looking , Jim had often wanted to say, you can let go sometimes . But this was Spock letting go.
Jim was grateful he was the one who was allowed to see it.
Jim didn’t know what Spock did while he slept during the heat of the day. All he knew was that Spock did not join him for his midday rest, and usually only spent a couple hours at his side during the dawn and evening. During the night, they needed to curl up to each other for warmth, but in the midst of that oppressive midday heat, Jim just lay facedown on top of the emergency blankets, on top of the furs and passed out. Spock said he didn’t need as much rest as Jim did, and that the heat didn’t bother him, but Jim never actually asked what he did to pass the time.
All Jim knew was that when the nightmares shook him awake again after their fourth standard day of shore leave, Spock was gone.
He shot up in bed, a hand flying to his racing heart. Gasping breaths to fill his fear-frozen lungs, Jim cast about for something-- a weapon-- no, a person. Spock. Something.
It took a good few moments for the air to reach his brain, for the world to catch back up to him. Settling into reality, Jim ran his hands through his hair, sweat dripping from the heat and the fear. The only light this far into the cave was the blue glow from the caldera around the corner, and it cast an unearthly hue on everything: the quiet, cold charcoal of their fire pit, the rumpled and empty blankets beside him.
Jim checked his communicator, contemplating calling Spock to come back, but he would be pathetic if he couldn’t handle his own nightmares anymore. He’d been having them nearly nightly since he was thirteen years old, but maybe it was because they had become less frequent that he was more affected by them now.
He almost never suffered a nightmare when he slept next to Spock. That was probably why his immediate instinct was to comm him. It was, maybe, a little pathetic. Certainly a little over-dependent, and it was enough of a warning sign that Jim decided he should put the communicator down and try to stifle the panic that had gripped him. He knew he depended on Spock for a lot-- they depended on each other, after all-- but that emotional dependency is what worried him. In a vacuum of human contact, it only made sense he would cling to whatever support he could, but it wasn’t healthy. And it wasn’t fair to Spock.
The blue glow drew him toward the belly of the volcano, so he stood on shaky legs and made his way inward. A dip in the water would do him good, and maybe he could go for a swim in the colder parts of the lake.
First, he shed and washed his clothes, torn and dirtied and sweat-soaked. The steady task of scrubbing, soaking and wringing felt good, soothing, and it provided at least a little distraction. Especially when his fingers found holes in the hems. It got him thinking that, one of these days, they were going to have to improvise some new clothes.
Jim thought with some amusement as he wrung out his shirt that he certainly wouldn't mind running around bare-assed in this heat, but he had a feeling Spock would raise objections, and frankly Jim didn't know if his starved libido could get used to a naked Spock. Already he’d spent enough alone time with the fabricated image of calloused, long-fingered hands running over him-- though he refused to give the shadowy figure in his fantasy a name or a face-- and he had a feeling anything more risque than the glimpse of Spock’s bare chest as he worked in the midday heat would kill him.
He laughed at himself, gratefully distracted, and slipped into the water, floating lazily along the ripples. Sometimes all he could do was laugh at himself. It was nearly inconceivable that all the way out here, two-thousand years before he was even born, on a planet with literally one other humanoid person, Jim-- hopeless romantic that he was-- would still find a way to fall in love.
Oh, but that was being far too dramatic, he thought with a roll of his eyes, staring up at the small shine of blue sky visible through the top of the volcano. ‘Love’ was a different kind of word than the nonexistent one that fit what he felt for Spock. He liked Spock, a lot, and sometimes he’d have these little intrusive thoughts about what his chest hair felt like or how his arms had gotten stronger over the last few months and pleasantly filled out his faded blue tunic. But that was a mix of being sexually deprived in the company of an attractive person, and being socially deprived in the company of a person he got along with.
None of this was real, he kept having to remind himself. It was all a trick his mind was playing on him to help him cope with the loneliness. At least, that was what he had to tell himself to get through it. Part of him knew better, knew that whatever this feeling was would’ve surfaced anywhere, in any time, with enough exposure, but that was the part of himself he tried to take the power out of with his laughter. He was being ridiculous.
Jim floated there in the center of the lake for a good bit of time before making his way to shore to get dressed. His slacks were still drying and he'd left the jumpsuit back at camp, so he slipped on his briefs and shirt and perched on one of the rock ledges near the entrance, looking out over the lake. It felt weird to relax, when just months ago the urgency of their situation felt ever-present.
Of course he wanted to work, and was ready to do whatever it took to get home, but this place, this planet... he couldn’t bear to ignore it entirely, to concentrate on one pursuit and one pursuit only while they were here. Alpha Novus V (or whatever it was they would end up naming it) was scientifically fascinating, beautiful beyond compare. It felt good to take it all in, sometimes. Even he and Spock couldn’t work every waking hour for a year straight, though Jim was sure Spock was determined to try.
He huffed a little chuckle at that and stared into the water, finding patterns in the gentle ripples caused by floating leaves. Unsure how long he sat in silence, it took time for him to notice the sound of footsteps approaching.
When he did, he twisted at the waist just in time to meet the glare of the tricorder’s forward light.
“Jim,” Spock said as he approached. “You have not yet received your regulated eight hours of rest.”
Jim turned to look as Spock stepped over a few roots and stalks, making his way toward him. He looked sun-kissed, a flush of green standing out on his cheeks, even visible in the dim glow. Jim smiled, thinking to himself that Spock’s tone was reminiscent of his mother's, whenever she'd find him up late reading.
“I guess you have no choice but to court martial me,” he joked.
Spock looked unamused as he sat beside Jim on the rock, crossing his legs as Jim pulled his own knees up to his chest.
“Did the nightmares wake you?” Spock asked.
Smile falling from his face, Jim turned back toward the water. A need to fidget gripped him, so he plucked a leaf from the shrub to his side and began twirling it in his fingers. Spock never mentioned the nightmares. Jim didn’t even know Spock knew about them until now, but he supposed it made sense. They’d been sleeping in the same bed for months.
“Yeah,” he said, finding little point in lying. “They usually do.”
Spock contemplated it for a moment, then, in a voice that surprised Jim with its soft concern, “Would you like to discuss them?”
Jim met his eyes, though he found he couldn't maintain the look. There was something about the way Spock looked at him sometimes, like he could already see everything Jim was trying to hide, and-- more to the point-- that he accepted it.
It was a little too much for him.
“You don't want to hear me complain,” he said with a forced smile. “It's just a dream.”
“Dreams often have their basis in reality.”
Jim twisted the leaf in his fingers, plucking off the tip and tossing it into the water below them.
“Well, if you must know… I showed up naked to a cadet review.”
He could feel Spock’s blank stare.
Chuckling weakly, Jim plucked another piece off the leaf, worrying it between his fingers. “Sorry, bad joke. You really want to know?”
“I am asking,” Spock said as though it were obvious. And Jim supposed it was. When had this happened? Jim had told very few people about the skeletons in his closet, but somehow he felt as though he could confide in Spock, and that he should. Somehow he knew that Spock wouldn’t react with judgement or pity. He’d just be there.
It was nice, knowing Spock would be there.
Jim took a moment to think of how to phrase it, where to begin.
“Have you ever heard of the Tarsus IV massacre?” A hard stone sank into his stomach finally saying it aloud. How long had it been since he’d openly discussed it? Since Ruth, easily. He’d never even brought it up to Gary and they’d been together-- well, in some sense of the word-- for more than a year.
“I have,” Spock confirmed, which Jim should have guessed. It would be easier to ask what Spock didn’t know. “Four-thousand people were executed at the hands of a tyrannical governor. If I am not mistaken, the man was an advocate for eugenics.”
Jim nodded, suddenly unable to tear his eyes from the water. Unable, even, to blink. “Well,” he said with a hard weight in his stomach, “I could’ve been one of those four-thousand. Sometimes I wish I had been. Just because I won some kind of twisted genetic lottery doesn't mean I deserved to live any more than they did, but here I am all the same.”
“You were there?” Spock’s tone seldom contained outright emotion, but Jim could hear the subtle notes of surprise, even anger, in him now.
“I was,” Jim said, and the leaf he’d been twisting in his hands snapped. “I saw the moment he killed them-- my friend’s parents were in the crowd. Almost every night I see it, or some version of it. What, eleven years later? Sometimes it just feels like it’s never going to...” He stopped, collecting himself. Even recalling it in so few words was enough to bring the images back, the smell of disintegrated flesh, the rapid beat of his heart as he grabbed Tom’s arm and tried to force him away from the scene.
Silence fell between them, and Jim suddenly regretted saying anything.
Then, a gentle hand came to rest on Jim’s back, warm through the fabric of his thermal. “I grieve with thee,” Spock said, a formal weight to his words that made Jim think it must be a common Vulcan saying. The hand on his back, though? That was human, and it gave Jim human comfort.
“I understand now. Why, in our first days…” This time, Spock was the one to trail off, likely not knowing how to phrase it delicately.
“Why I was an emotional wreck?” Jim filled in with a half-smile, meeting Spock’s eyes.
Spock allowed his hand to fall, but it rested on the ground just behind Jim. “I will admit I did not understand your reactions.”
“Sometimes I don’t either,” Jim said, tossing the remainder of the leaf into the water and lowering his knees, extending his legs so they hung out over the water. “Some things just bring it back, you know? Losing so many people so quickly when we crashed… I don’t know. Sometimes they show up too-- in the dreams. Carter, Taigen and Pike. And Nelson. Sometimes Kodos is the one killing them.”
Spock didn’t seem to know what to say to that.
“Have you discovered any remedy?” he offered after a moment.
Jim almost laughed at that, a kind of half-chuckle falling out of his lips before he could stifle it. “Of course your first thought is ‘how do I fix this?’” he said.
Spock straightened up slightly. “My apologies. I did not intend the question to offend.”
“It didn’t,” Jim assured him, and just because he was vulnerable and lonely and scared he put a hand on Spock’s knee, leaving it there just long enough to draw comfort from Spock’s warmth, then removing it. “I want to fix it too.” He wondered briefly if he should say the next thing that came to mind, but he was already saying it by the time he realized it might be a bad idea. “It’s funny, the only times I don’t have nightmares are when I’m sleeping next to you.”
Spock stiffened, and Jim tensed a little himself. He should have known that it would make the Vulcan uncomfortable to hear that he was Jim’s own private security blanket. But it was true, and Spock had asked.
“On the contrary,” Spock said, words stilted as though he were reluctant to say anything. “You do have nightmares when you are beside me.”
Jim raised an eyebrow. “I think I know when I have nightmares, Spock.”
Spock pulled his arm back, clasping his hands in his lap as though trying to make himself smaller. “You may not remember them because I--” he paused, his own internal battle with what to say raging behind his eyes. “I alleviate them.”
Shifting, Jim turned to Spock and steadied himself with a hand on the sand. Spock was definitely uncomfortable, but maybe not for the reasons Jim thought.
“You are aware now of the particulars of my touch telepathy? The channel goes two ways. It is possible to project emotion without absorbing any. When you stir, you reach out to me and I reach back, so to speak.”
“You get into my head?” Jim felt a kind of anger flaring, a sense of powerlessness gripping him. Spock’s eyes widened.
“No, not precisely. It is more along the lines of my actions just now-- placing a hand on your back. An-- an expression of comfort.”
“But mentally.” Jim was struggling to wrap his mind around that.
Warring between discomfort and gratitude, he pursed his lips and turned away from his friend.
“I apologize,” Spock said again, and Jim held up a hand.
“Don't,” he said. “You were just trying to help. It's okay.” There was a pause, and it was likely Spock didn't need telepathy to know Jim was feeling a little conflicted. “It's just strange to me,” Jim said after a moment, “that Vulcans think holding hands is more intimate than touching someone’s mind.”
Spock shifted, a clear expression of unease. He, too, looked downward into the lake. Maybe the glow of this place soothed him as much as it did Jim.
“In fact, what I do for you is more intimate than is considered appropriate. I overstepped. However, I hope my intentions are at least understandable.”
Jim turned to him fast as whiplash, wondering if he needed to add mixed signals to his list of current problems. It seemed a little innocuous in comparison to time-travel and near-certain death, but still. Just yesterday Spock was asking him to avoid touching his hands, and now he was saying that he was, what, comfortable with intimacy? So long as it served a purpose, Jim guessed.
“I-- I mean, yes. I understand why you did it, but…” Jim trailed off. Sure, Spock should not have messed with his head without asking first, but at the same time-- “You say you didn’t see anything? In my head, I mean. You weren’t-- this sounds so ridiculous.” He rubbed his forehead, “You weren’t spying?”
“I would never without your express consent.”
Jim stilled. Spock had crossed a line, but he knew it and he was apologizing. Jim supposed, while they were stuck here together, boundaries might start to blur a little bit. In all honesty, that scared him more than anything.
But already Jim had crossed those boundaries in his own thoughts. Could he really blame Spock for crossing them in action? Besides, he had never slept more soundly than when he was next to Spock, at least not in recent memory. That wasn’t a bad trade. He just wished he’d known about it.
He had been quiet for a long time, during which Spock became steadily more straight-backed and stiff. Jim didn’t even realize until Spock spoke. “I understand you have requested I not apologize again. However, given the circumstances--”
Jim patted him on the back to silence him, a soft touch meant to convey the reassurance that Spock’s mere presence always conveyed to him. “Really, it’s okay. I was just surprised. I should probably thank you. Without sleep, this whole situation would’ve been even worse.”
“Would you like me to stop? I do not relish the idea of allowing the nightmares to run their course, but I will concede to your wishes.”
Jim considered that for a second. What did it matter to Spock if Jim had a few bad dreams? He really was much more worrisome than he ever let on. “No,” Jim decided, the idea of being cared about warming something deep in his chest. He’d never expected to find compassion and affection in the man beside him, but there it was. Whether Spock ever felt the same kind of affection Jim did, well, that didn’t matter. This was what mattered. “No, keep it up. Please. Like I said, without sleep this would all be so much worse.”
“We have to take care of each other,” Spock echoed softly, meeting Jim’s eyes.
Jim realized then that he was still touching Spock’s shoulder, and he was was reluctant to move his hand. Reluctant, really, to move at all. Spock’s expression was soft, lax, vulnerable, hued in soft blues that made him appear as alien as he did familiar. Jim hated how easily he could be captivated, how easily he could be convinced to forgive, to move on.
Somehow, he had to break the moment, before he did anything stupid. Oh, but he wanted desperately to do something stupid.
“Apostle Islands,” Jim said, dropping his hand and looking away. “We could name the planet Apostle Islands. It’s a national park in Wisconsin.”
Spock seemed to take a moment to redirect his train of thought. “As we are neither apostles nor on an island, I do not believe the name fits.”
“What are planets but the islands of space?” Jim postulated dramatically with an attempt at a smile.
“Jim, your philosophical musings are often lost on me.”
Jim laughed, “fine, fine, Mister Spock. I’m still waiting on your contribution to the name game.”
“I was unaware this was a game.”
“Might as well be. It’s shore leave, isn’t it? Everything’s a game.”
“For the next four days.”
Jim grabbed Spock’s shoulder to heft himself to his feet, then brushed the sand off his briefs. Spock followed, rising in one fluid motion.
“So you won’t play the name game. Any requests for our next activity, then?”
“Are you determined to stay awake?”
The way Spock deadpanned the question made Jim laugh. “It’s not like I meant to wake up early, you know.”
Spock’s eyes widened and it looked as though he was about to apologize again. Entirely unwilling to suffer any pity, Jim held up his hand to stop him. “How about a swim?” He suggested.
Jim didn’t fail to notice how Spock’s eyes raked him up and down, but much as Jim wished there had been anything lustful, or even appreciative, in Spock’s blank expression, there was not. “Were you not swimming before I arrived?”
With a shrug, Jim peeled off his thermal and tossed it over a tree branch next to his drying slacks. “Soaking, really. Besides, it’s more fun to go swimming with other people, and we haven’t done that yet.”
Spock looked skeptical, but Jim just quirked his lips, glanced over the edge of the ledge and shrugged. “Well, I’m going swimming.” With that, he stepped back a few paces, took a running start, and cannonballed into the lake.
As he sank into it, water rushing past his ears, he imagined the sound must have echoed fabulously in the cavern. Sure enough, when he came up for air, the birds were swirling about the place, their chittering echoing until it was a cacophony, their wings flashing like strobe lights over them. Jim turned his eyes to the shore and wiped the water from his face, wearing a smile that fell the moment he settled his gaze on Spock.
Pale stretches of skin revealed themselves as Spock pulled the tunic over his head in a motion that seemed slow, almost unsure. Then, shirtless and shining with flashes of the birds’ wings, he folded the tunic with gentle hands, careful hands. Jim watched the soft stretch of his arms as he set the shirt aside, watched the line of his spine curl when he knelt, watched the muscles of his back pull him upright again. Spock’s hands moved to the zipper of his slacks before-- as though a sixth sense had alerted him to Jim’s stare-- he met Jim’s eyes with a side-eyed look of his own.
Covering the moment with a smile, Jim tore his eyes away and slipped through the water toward the center of the lake. The birds settled again on their branches and the flashing of their wings faded.
His heart was pounding, but it had no reason to. He’d seen Spock shirtless a few times before-- it wasn’t like he was incapable of containing his libido. But there was something about how gentle Spock looked in the blue light, hair springing out of its tie from the humidity, his strong figure unusually pale against the black backdrop of rock. Maybe swimming had been a bad idea. He didn’t want to oggle Spock, but if this was how his body reacted when he just shed his shirt, he had a bad feeling about the rest.
It was only when he was sure Spock would be done undressing that he turned back to the shore. Sure enough, Spock had stepped into the water by their little path, and now, thankfully, only his head was visible from Jim’s distance. The only problem with that was that Spock had taken out his hair tie. Those silky black locks, shining from the oil Spock often used, cascaded down his head and neck, the tips brushing the water and laying upon its surface like the branches of a willow tree. Jim breathed in a steadying breath and paddled over to him.
“Are you satisfied, Jim?” Spock asked, but he could tell from the tilt of Spock’s lips that he hadn’t been wholly opposed to the idea of a swim.
“Absolutely,” Jim replied without missing a beat, though the voice in the back of his head piped up that he wasn’t close to satisfied-- and never would be when it came to Spock. “Remember those first few weeks when you never listened to me? I’m glad you’ve come to understand that I am full of good ideas.”
Spock’s half-smile grew and Jim swam off to the side, unsure if he could handle Spock’s tender expression right now. So, he did the only thing he knew to do to wipe it off.
Shooting Spock a grin, he splashed him, a great wave of water rising from his hand and hitting Spock square in the face. Spock sputtered, slipping back, a hand coming to his eyes to wipe away the water.
“What was the purpose of that?” He asked almost angrily. He pushed the hair back from his face to keep it from dripping, and Jim realized he’d shot himself in the foot.
Yes, he’d seen Spock shirtless before, but not with wet hair, too. Ah, but he was in a bad state, wasn’t he?
“That’s what you do when you go swimming with people, right?” he joked to cover the moment, “It’s either that or--” Jim glanced at the other side of the lake, then back to Spock. “Race?”
“Last one to the other side has to cook dinner tonight!” Jim challenged, practically tossing himself onto his stomach and beginning to paddle. It took a moment before he heard Spock do the same.
Jim lost, in spite of his head start, but he lost laughing. The nightmare had left him fully now, and as he watched water run in rivulets down the side of Spock’s face and met those warm, dark eyes under dripping lashes, he felt calmer than he had before. Safer.
They made the most of the rest of the day, once they’d finished their swim. Spock suggested a walk, which Jim accepted gladly, and the two of them wandered the forest for a while. It felt good, to shed the weight of heavy conversations and focus on the skittering rodents around the trees’ bases. Jim kept trying to name them as Spock insisted he would never be able to tell them apart, and it felt as though something had settled in Jim’s heart. Something simple, Easy.
Unfortunately, distracted as they were, they neglected to keep an eye on their tricorder and wandered far too close to a sleeping bulldog. Casual stroll abruptly interrupted, they’d tripped over themselves to get to safety. Following the mad dash with a laugh of relief (on Jim’s end, at least), Jim had suggested keeping out of the depths of the forest if they were to walk around much longer. So, they picked flowers for their crewmates’ graves, mixing the larger pink and purple blooms on those fern-like plants with the button-like yellow flowers that dotted the slope of the mountain. As it began to get dark, Spock allowed Jim some alone time with the crew, which was kind. But Jim found he didn’t much care for the silence, the emptiness around him, so he didn’t linger there long.
Before the sun set entirely, he carved a sign for their cave, something he’d been meaning to do for a while. Haunched over his work to prevent Spock’s prying eyes, it didn’t take very long. The bark was just a thin, long sheet he’d pulled from one of the younger trees earlier, and the carving was, well, poor.
He hung it triumphantly in the comfortable warmth of Alpha Novus V’s sunset, enjoying Spock’s unamused reaction to adding signage to the tree beside their cave which read “Starfleet Command.” It hung angled right above the distress signal, which still blinked a steady red light. Honestly, Jim had almost forgotten the thing was there, but now it illuminated the lettering. Somehow it felt appropriate, and Jim even found it in him to laugh. “We’re technically the founders now, right?” he had said.
Spock had acknowledged the half-truth of that statement, but added that it was unlikely they’d be changing Earth’s history from all the way out here.
Jim had called him a spoilsport before they’d gone inside, lit the fire and played a few games of chess. Spock was getting better, but Jim still managed to trip him up with his strategy-- or lack of strategy, as Spock would call it.
It wasn’t so bad, only having one person to spend the day with. There were times-- much of the time, really-- his heart ached for his family, for his friends, and other times he was insurmountably grateful that the one person he had been stranded with was Spock. He remembered thinking at some point early on that he wouldn’t be able to stand 11.8 months with the Vulcan, but even as the task ahead of them added time onto that sentence, he felt the only way he could weather it was with Spock at his side.
Knowing the cause of Jim’s nightmares had changed something in Spock. He always sought to alleviate them, and he had been pleased that they had become less frequent, but now…
Now he knew the horrors Jim had seen even before the trauma of crash landing on this planet. Now he knew that he would never fully understand the sights and sounds that plagued his companion in his sleep, nor would most. Jim had endured a singular kind of tragedy, and Spock was more determined than ever to allow no thought of it to enter Jim’s unguarded mind.
That night, he shifted closer to Jim as they laid down beneath their blankets to sleep, granting unconscious permission to rely on him for warmth, comfort, anything. Jim had smiled at him as though he understood the gesture, and appreciated it, and it had not taken long for the man to curl onto his side and fall asleep, the gentle flutter of his lashes the only indication that he dreamed at all. Spock only ever slept on his back, but he found himself turning his head to the side that night as Jim slept, keeping careful watch.
This protective thrum of emotion below everything else had been startling when it first appeared, intense in a way he could not have anticipated. Almost possessive in nature. He supposed it was natural to wish to protect his only companion, to want to keep track of him, to want to be close to him. But the way Spock’s heart clenched with an unnamable longing when Jim clung to him at night was not natural. He had never felt anything like it until Jim came into his life, and so he spent that night, like many before, attempting to categorize the emotion, to understand it.
He had never been successful, and he doubted tonight would yield any greater revelation. Jim’s proximity was so often too much for his shaky control, his emotions too vibrant and his very nature too bright, so Spock could never seem to understand why he wanted Jim to be closer. And he wanted very much for Jim to be closer. Illogical, impossible, incomprehensible, but true.
At some point when the cold began to set in and the slight freeze tickled the tip of his nose, Spock felt Jim’s fingers curling into his sleeve as they often did, and the simple action was enough to pull Spock from his introspective thoughts.
He knew he could not cure Jim, nor could any amount of rest, but he had hoped that airing his fears earlier may have helped Jim overcome them. It was a silly thought, but Spock was disappointed all the same.
Spock studied his companion’s face. The blue glow that crept around the cave’s corners to their campsite illuminated him only slightly, just enough to make him visible. He looked pale, a trick of the light, but instinctively Spock wanted to comfort him.
There were nights Jim sought him out in his sleep for no other reason than his presence, so Spock waited to be sure it was a nightmare before jumping to conclusions, but he could tell by the movement of Jim’s eyes behind his lids that he was seeing something in there. Maybe speaking of Tarsus IV earlier had put the thought of it in Jim’s unconscious mind.
Jim shifted closer and pressed his face inelegantly against Spock’s shoulder where Spock could feel his hot breath sighing through the fabric. He shivered slightly at the sensation, considering pulling away when he noticed the minutest uptick in Jim’s pulse, which he could feel through the wrist against his arm. As Jim’s breathing became more rapid, Spock resigned himself to the fact that this was, likely, the proper time for him to intervene, especially now that he had Jim’s permission.
Ready to roll to his side, Spock shifted slightly, but Jim’s fingers curled tighter, a fist against his arm. Then, when Spock had stilled, Jim rolled forward, pressed flush against Spock’s side. Spock clenched his hands where they lay over his stomach, startled by the sudden warmth against him, the hand that moved from his sleeve to his chest, the heavy weight of Jim’s arm over him.
Jim smelled of the aloe he’d spread earlier along the sunburn of his neck and shoulders, and his hair carried the delicate scent of sweat. Something in Spock ached as he breathed it in, but he was in no place to examine the feeling now. He tried once again to extricate himself.
With a small noise of protest, almost inaudible, Jim clutched Spock harder and laid his leg unconsciously over Spock’s lap.
Spock stilled instantly as Jim nuzzled into his shoulder and released a humming sort of sigh. For a terrifying moment, Spock’s mind went blank. Then, the realization that this wasn’t a nightmare smacked into him with a force that knocked the air from his lungs. Though it was subtle, Spock could feel the beginnings of an erection against his hip.
Mouth suddenly dry, Spock swallowed, apparently obvious enough for Jim to feel. That hand on his chest moved slowly-- agonizing in its tenderness-- to the collar of Spock’s shirt and gripped it, knuckles brushing Spock’s skin in a touch that felt like fire. Against Spock’s shoulder, Jim let out a quiet, hot mmf , and his hips-- his hips hitched softly against Spock’s thigh.
In spite of Spock’s barriers, he could still feel certain impressions through the touch of their skin and over the tentative mental link that existed between them, and he willed himself to stay as still as possible lest he wake the man beside him. Nightmares, he understood and could alleviate, but sexual desire? Through their contact, Spock could feel a flood of instinct and want, uninhibited by the waking mind, something powerful enough to pound at Spock’s barriers, which, in moments, felt as though they might break.
But, of course, this was a human need like any other-- food, water, companionship, relief-- he knew Jim was lonely in ways he could not ease, but this . This had not occurred to him. Of course Jim required sexual stimulation. Perhaps he had even been addressing the issue himself, alleviating his needs with his own hand during the hours of the day he spent outside Spock’s company. The thought brought a heat to Spock’s cheeks.
Jim’s body seemed to gravitate toward friction, moving so softly it would be almost unnoticeable if Spock weren’t hyperfocused on where their bodies touched, on Jim hardening against him.
He realized he had forgotten to breathe.
Unclenching his hands where they gripped each other, white-knuckled over his stomach, Spock tried to focus-- meditate, even-- focus himself inward rather than outward, but as Jim’s hand dragged against his skin and pulled down the collar of his shirt, he realized that his inward self was no more at-peace than his outward. Jim let out a small, sleepy groan, lips open against Spock.
Horrified, heart pounding, Spock felt what could only be arousal, a heat that spread from his stomach into his groin and seemed to throb within him. Unbidden, against his will and all his control, he felt himself harden.
It was rare that feeling the emotions of another could cause a physical reaction, even with his mental walls crumbling by the second. Even so, he attempted to tell himself it was simply Jim’s impressions affecting him through the touch of their skin, through the mental bond that often formed between two people in close proximity.
But he would be a poor Vulcan indeed if he could not distinguish another’s emotions from his own. The stirrings of physical desire were not solely Jim’s, but Spock’s as well. He was not nearing his Pon Farr, nor did he know if he ever would, so there was no explanation for this reaction. Especially not with so slight a stimulation as the rapid breathing beside him or the erection against him. Except, of course, that beside him lay Jim Kirk, who was perhaps singular in the way he affected Spock.
And that was, after all, the key, wasn’t it? To the very emotions Spock had been attempting so unsuccessfully to understand. Now the answer appeared to him in startling clarity.
This had been building for a long time. A feeling of vague longing that had mounted upon itself day by day with each accidental brush of their hands, with each gleaming smile in the sunlight, with each night spent sharing the warmth of each others’ bodies. And now it manifested into one coherent desire-- a desire he could not allow himself to feel, let alone act upon.
Because this was Jim , who Spock could care for but could not become attached to. Because Jim was the only other person on this planet. Because Jim was human and male and not Spock’s intended and a thousand other things that warned Spock away from him.
But, still, it was Jim . And Spock wanted Jim to be close, in any way he could be-- every way. He attempted to pull out of these thoughts, to center his mind even as his desire mounted with the breath and the body against him.
Jim was unconscious, Spock reminded himself forcefully, some fantasy playing out in his mind while he drifted toward the nearest warmth. In that moment, Spock understood. He wanted Jim. Perhaps he had wanted Jim much longer than even he knew, and clearly in ways that he had not prepared for, but Jim--
Jim simply wanted . And though Spock stung with arousal at the feeling of Jim rutting gently against him, the thought that Jim did not know what he was doing was enough to stifle those dormant urges that had only now begun to awaken. Pained by the realization, he forced himself to pull away.
He didn’t get very far before Jim stirred and instinctively tightened his grip on Spock’s shirt, stilling him. Just as Spock was about to consider another tactic, the steady thrum of Jim’s emotions changed, no longer a heady background noise but louder, more insistent in the way they touched Spock’s mind. Spock went motionless, and then, to his dread, Jim began slowly blinking himself awake.
Spock could feel the wheels turning in Jim’s mind as his eyelids fluttered, could feel the world catching up to him as he focused on Spock’s face, glanced once around the cave and settled again. When full consciousness returned to Jim, it was in one, glaring moment. In the dim glow of light, Spock watched Jim’s eyes widen in horror.
Through the skin against his own, Spock felt flashes of Jim’s emotion, painful in their intensity: embarrassment that sank into his stomach, fear rolling in like thunder, a flash of anger-- directed at Jim himself-- and still, yes, desire . And as those waves crashed into Spock, overwhelming, he felt that desire directed toward him , something instinctual and animal and lustful that he could feel Jim trying to beat down but all the same it left him breathless. Jim didn’t just want; he wanted Spock.
They lay suspended in time for a moment, Spock attempting to absorb this revelation just as Jim attempted to suppress it. His own breath quickened and he stared into those wide, terrified eyes, unable to believe for a moment that his interpretation of these emotions was correct, but he could see it in Jim’s naked expression as he pulled away his hand.
“Spock,” Jim rushed to say, and of course it was Spock’s name that tumbled from his lips first, sounding nearly desperate, half-choked. “I’m so sorry, I-- I am so sorry .”
Jim shuffled backward and raised himself on his hand as Spock mourned the loss of contact, the loss of that affirmation. Jim wanted him. Jim wanted him with an intensity that set fire to Spock’s blood. And all Spock wanted was to feel that desire again, and to feel it satisfied.
An intention solidified in his mind, even as part of him screamed that it was a violation, illogical, unreasonable, ill-conceived--
He lifted himself up, then found Jim’s hip with his hand and shoved the man over onto his back.
Jim gasped, choking out, “What are you doing?” before Spock, in one swift motion, climbed onto his lap, legs straddling either side of Jim’s hips, hands framing his midsection. The blankets fell from his shoulders as he instinctively pressed down against the groin beneath his own.
It was like lightning, the spark that lit in him with the barest brush of friction, shooting through him and half-blinding him. This was pleasure , but in a way he’d never experienced it.
A surprised ‘ah’ fell from Jim’s lips, sharp and breathless, echoing in the quiet of the cave and he jerked beneath Spock, eyes falling onto Spock’s with a look that was torn between lust and hopeless confusion.
Jim had said it himself, ‘we have to take care of each other,’ and maybe this was part of it. Food, water, companionship-- relief . Spock’s hands, trembling slightly, moved to the zipper of Jim’s slacks, pulling it down with equal parts hesitancy and determination.
“Spock,” his name again, now folded in the depths of a dangerous moan. “What are you doing ?” The strain of his voice was as obvious as the bulge in his briefs, and Spock wanted to reply but couldn’t, not with words. Even he wasn’t sure what he was doing.
Jim’s hands came to the fabric of Spock’s shirt and clutched the folds, half pushing Spock away, half tugging him forward, though without any intentional force in either direction.
“Please,” Spock said, surprised at the choke in his own voice. “Let me.” He lifted himself and prompted Jim to lift his hips with two gentle, shaking hands. He didn’t want Jim to feel his fear, wanted only to slide his fingers against Jim’s skin and absorb that feeling-- being wanted, wanting, aching.
Jim drew his lower lip between his teeth and complied, allowing Spock to tug his slacks and briefs over the hump of his rear and down his thighs. Spock’s determination stuttered at the sight of him.
Erection exposed, laid out in the dim light, Jim looked beautiful, lean from months of labor, a tantalizing line of fine golden hair reaching from bellybutton to groin. Spock lost his breath for a moment, regarding the expanse of his skin, the stretch of his tight, torn thermal shirt along his chest, the jagged line of white where his hip wound had healed. Jim’s fingers tugged weakly at Spock’s shirt, urging Spock into action.
Then, “Are you sure?” Jim whispered, as though the question had cost all his control to ask. Spock met Jim’s eyes, the wide shine of his pupils, staring at Spock as though he was hungry for him.
No, Spock wasn’t sure; he was terrified. But he was hungry, too.
One hand went to Jim’s shirt, shoving it up his torso, exposing him further before Spock splayed his fingers over Jim’s stomach. His other hand curled without a second thought (for if he thought twice he may have convinced himself to stop) around Jim’s length. Jim stifled his gasp with a hand over his lips, the other fisting tighter into Spock’s shirt. The sound of muffled breath and the thick weight of Jim’s erection made Spock’s own strain against the front of his slacks, and he pressed himself down against Jim’s legs, completely unconsciously.
His grip around Jim tightened as he tried to bite down the raw, gasping sound that came from him. Then, almost in an effort to distract himself, he began to pump his hand slowly, sensitive fingers feeling the strain of skin, the steady hardening, the roll of Jim’s hips that eked just a little more friction out of the touch.
Jim’s hand dragged itself from his lips and came around to the back of Spock’s neck, pulling him down. Elbow falling to the side of Jim’s head, Spock steadied himself, his hair hanging like a curtain against the dim blue light until Jim’s fingers stroked that hair back and tugged, grasped at the nape of Spock’s neck. Their breath mingled, foreheads almost touching, and Spock wanted so much in that moment-- he wanted Jim to touch him, to bring his lips to Spock’s, to clasp their hands-- but he concentrated on Jim’s pleasure, Jim’s need. Slow, deliberate movement, loosening then tightening his fist to affirming gasps and shudders from the man below him.
Then Jim uncurled his fingers from the folds of Spock’s shirt, coming to the button of Spock’s slacks and undoing the fastening with surprising dexterity given his compromised position.
“Jim,” Spock warned, pulling his body back just enough to discourage Jim’s reach, though he did not want to dislodge the hand that still gripped and pulled at his hair. “Don’t.” He was embarrassed by the thinly veiled lust in his voice. Did Jim know how much he wanted to feel those rough hands against him? Did Jim understand why he couldn’t? The moment he allowed Jim to give him pleasure, this was no longer for Jim’s sake, but for his own. He couldn’t, didn’t deserve--
“Please,” Jim said, a half-whisper, “let me.” The echo of Spock’s own words, said so sweetly, so close to his lips, nearly undid him.
In that moment, Spock could deny Jim nothing. He moved forward slightly, slowly, granting silent permission, and Jim cupped him through his briefs. The touch, obstructed even as it was, sent his blood rushing south. The rhythm of his hand faltered, but he gripped tighter, giving a purposeful pull that drew a quiet groan from between Jim’s lips. Jim slipped Spock’s erection out of his briefs, no hesitation in his movements as he wrapped his fingers around him.
Spock gasped, nearly a groan, forehead falling against Jim’s, the speed of his fist failing as he bucked into the touch. Then those fingers began to move and Spock’s whole body shuddered.
Jim exhaled a breathy whine as he explored the ridges of Spock’s penis. His thumb brushed the tip and his hips jerked forward as though he’d felt it himself. Touching Spock actually excited him. Spock could feel it in Jim’s mind, a mounting pleasure through exploration, delighting in the differences in their anatomy. Jim tilted his chin to nip at Spock’s bottom lip, rough fingers tightening. Now Spock was the one to allow a bare whimper to break through.
Jim grunted his pleasure at the sound, breath hot as his lips sought Spock’s. Spock pulled back as much as he was able, mirroring the movements of Jim’s hand as he did so-- a distraction. He couldn’t allow himself a kiss. If only because he wanted one with such desperation it frightened him. The idea that he was allowing something so intimate, rutting into each pull of Jim’s hand, gasping sounds that beat bare echoes against the walls of the cave-- it was too much. He had taken too much when he should have been giving, and a kiss? A kiss would ruin him.
With a huff of disappointment, Jim tried again to bring his lips to Spock’s, curling his fist around Spock’s erection and making Spock bite his lip against the sounds he wanted to make. Spock twisted his own hand and Jim’s head fell back, letting out a groan as his spine curled.
“Spock,” he breathed, though he didn’t complete the thought. Spock panted for breath, Jim’s breath, his hips rolling in time to the beat of the body below him, the pressure inside him building even as he felt it building in Jim. And he felt it-- the thrill of desires satisfied, the aching, pulsing need for release, the longing for more. More. The word beat against his mind as it rolled off of Jim in waves, body and mind screaming it. What more could Jim want? Even this was beyond anything--
Jim rolled his hips under him as their speed increased in time, and Spock could feel pressure building in his groin, a feeling of pooling heat and aching static. It clouded him, thoughts failing, replaced with instinct and necessity. Powerless against the flood, Spock lurched forward, free hand coming to Jim’s head and tightening in his hair to shove their foreheads together.
Without thinking, he opened the gates of their mental connection-- not a full meld, but enough to feel bright bursts of emotion from Jim’s mind, waves of awe and gratitude, waves of bliss and longing, lust and affection, waves Spock wanted to sink into because they were the same as his own. In that moment, he didn’t care that Jim might have a window into the depths of his feelings for him, he just wanted to be as close as he possibly could to that bright light that always shined from within Jim’s soul, offering warmth and refuge, peace. Spock wanted Jim, everything Jim was, and he needed him.
Through the mental connection, Spock felt that ‘more’ again, louder as though Jim were shouting it, and he wanted to give it to him, whatever it was. Anything. Anything.
And then Jim’s hand tightened and tangled in the long strands of Spock’s hair, and he forced Spock’s lips down onto his own, a kiss that was sloppy with heavy breaths and too much tongue, but one that set Spock aflame all the same. He surged into it, logic undone along with his restraint, swallowing Jim’s moans into his own mouth and feeling something burst in his mind-- Jim’s mind.
Of all things, that had been the begging need in Jim, the nameless ‘more,’ he’d wanted. A kiss, which seared sweetly and satisfied such an innocent desire. Then, finally, relief.
Jim broke the kiss as an aborted cry tore itself from his lungs. Then with a painful tug on Spock’s hair, he came, his erection pulsing in the grip of Spock’s sensitive fingers as he spilled himself between them. Spock followed the moment Jim’s grip tightened around him, thrusting desperately into his rough fist. Jim’s name left his lips in a groan as his mind blanked out, chasing a feeling that sent him reeling, a burst of bliss so hot and hard it felt like agony.
And, slowly, it faded. Spock continued to pump his hand, slowing as Jim’s rhythm around his own erection slowed. Semen dripped between his fingers and slicked his grip, easing the friction of those last, lazy pulls. Jim’s fingers went slack before his hand fell to his stomach, and Spock heard himself, as if from far away, let out a quiet whine at the loss of contact.
Dizzy with the wet heat of Jim’s breath, Spock dropped his head to Jim’s chest, which rose and fell rapidly, the sound of his pounding heart an unsteady rhythm. Spock dragged his hand up Jim’s stomach and gripped Jim’s shirt, fingers fisting into the folds as he tried to regain his mind, to clear the flash of white that still seemed to blind him. The hand in his hair released its vice grip and began to stroke the crown of his head, gently soothing.
Jim’s touch was soft, his fingers trembling slightly, his emotions slipping like fallen leaves along the stream of their connection. His breath came in shallow bursts against Spock’s hair, evening out moment by moment, the high of release ebbing away, replaced with something else-- something it took a moment for Spock to identify.
He began to feel Jim’s heartbeat slow, but his own was still beating far too quickly, more nervous now than he had been when this started. Instinct, desire, only took him so far, and now-- now whether he willed it or not, everything would change.
With effort, Spock lifted his head, but he found it difficult to meet Jim’s eyes. Using the hand on Jim’s chest, he steadied himself and pulled himself upward, something in him yearning to remain as Jim’s hand fell from his hair.
The sight of the man beneath him seemed unreal, too vulnerable, too stimulating, too much. Jim was always too much, but now he was ethereal in the dark blue light, shirt rumpled and hiked up to his chest, hair a mess, the slope of his skin from ribs to abdomen to hip splattered in his own seed and Spock’s. But he wore a look of vague concern, a concern that Spock could feel now as clearly as though it were his own.
“Spock,” Jim whispered, voice barely more than a croak, “are you okay?”
“I am.” Spock said, admitting to himself even as he said it that he was not. “I apologize for my lack of-- of delicacy.” Words suddenly felt awkward in his mouth, saying and meaning nothing in comparison to what his actions moments ago had meant.
Jim’s face bloomed into a soft, lax smile. He rested a hand on Spock’s thigh, and the gentle brush of his fingers over the fabric of Spock’s slacks was so kind it almost undid him.
“Don't get me wrong,” Jim said, and the tenor of his voice felt like ripples lapping a quiet shore, nothing like the tidal waves he’d moaned into their kiss. “I'm not-- I’m not complaining, but where did that come from?”
Spock’s mind supplied that it had come from desire, from wanting, from this growing bond between them that Spock couldn’t define, from a place deep inside him that whispered a word he was far too distracted now to explore, from proximity and compatibility and possibility-- infinite possibility that terrified him in ways he could hardly begin to convey.
“This is a conversation best suited for morning,” he said instead of giving voice to his vulnerable thoughts. “I woke you. You should rest.” He clamored off of Jim, the cold of the cave finally hitting him without the warmth of their bodies pressed together.
“Again, not complaining,” Jim said with a smile, sitting up gracelessly and pulling off his shirt. His muscles flexed as the hard lines of his chest and shoulders became visible. Using the fabric, he wiped himself clean.
Realizing he was staring, Spock removed his own shirt before Jim could notice his gaze and tucked himself back into his slacks, still sensitive even to his own touch.
Tomorrow, he thought by way of distraction, he would wash their uniforms in the spring. In the meantime, the chill was starting to get to him, and he was having trouble thinking of anything to say that didn’t reveal too much. Even revealing himself physically was uncomfortable now that the frenzy had passed. What had he been thinking?
Ah, but that was exactly the problem. He hadn’t thought . He’d felt , and he’d chased that feeling with an impulsiveness that caused his cheeks to flush with shame.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Jim was already looking at him when Spock finished folding his thermal. The cold caused goosebumps to prickle Jim’s arms, pebble his nipples. He had a slope to his back and a crumpled shirt in his lap, and a look of worry in the blown pupils of his eyes that Spock hated to see.
“I am quite well, Jim. Please, rest. We will speak in the morning.”
A flash of something passed behind Jim’s eyes, but it was only a flash. Then, he was giving Spock one of those frequent, encouraging smiles, though this one looked far away.
“Of course,” he said, and lifted his hand briefly off the ground as though about to reach out. Spock sucked in a breath through his nose, and Jim met his eyes, parted his lips to speak, then second-guessed whatever it was he had been about to do, to say. His hand fell back into his lap as he turned back to his shirt. Spock watched as Jim’s fingers squeezed the fabric slightly before he tossed it gently to the side.
With another look in Spock’s direction and a quietly sad expression that forced a fresh feeling of longing from Spock’s heart, Jim laid back down and pulled the blankets over his bare shoulders. “Spock, come on, it’s freezing out there,” he said, holding the blankets up like a tent.
Spock’s heart had not yet slowed, a rapid drumbeat in his side that practically hurt, but he could not let on that he was distressed. Jim’s eyes eked hope, fondness, a look too loving for Spock to be allowed-- and a look he could not bring himself to destroy.
“Of course,” Spock said as he slipped back under the blankets himself, the air inside them still warm, smelling of sex and Jim’s sweat.
Spock laid his hands on his stomach, resuming his position before all this started. Jim did not touch him, but Spock felt the curl of fingers mere millimeters from his skin, as though Jim wanted to reach out, but refrained. Spock was grateful for that.
“Spock, I--” Jim started, which drew Spock’s gaze toward him. Their eyes met for a moment before Jim looked away. “Ah. Well.” With a small pause, he restarted. “Good night, then,” he finally settled on. Spock found he could not allow himself to wonder what Jim had wanted to say.
“Good night, Jim,” he said, voice choked with emotions he could hardly begin sift through.
But he had to sift through them. They insisted, pounding against his mind the way his heartbeat pounded in his side. Fear was the first to make itself known, beginning to cloud his thoughts like a storm, darkening (though not fully destroying) the bliss he’d felt for those brief minutes-- bliss that surged again at the return of a single thought: Jim wanted him. Spock did not know he was capable of feeling both ecstasy and anguish at once, as he did now, but before Jim he hadn’t known he was capable of desire, either.
At this thought, shame cast a shadow over the rest of his roiling emotions, encroaching like an eclipse and making him shiver with sudden cold. Desire was the basest of impulses, and Spock had allowed himself to get swept away by it. Here, of all places, where it was more important than ever he keep himself in check. And with Jim, of all people, who was more important than…
More important than anyone.
This feeling was dangerous. The soft, quiet, beautiful man beside him was dangerous. And Spock could handle the threat of this world-- be it nature or creature or starvation or the futility of rebuilding-- but he did not know if he could handle this.
It took him many hours to fall asleep.