When Jim awoke, it was still dark, as it always was, though thankfully the glow of the firelight flickered over his eyelids and warmed the air around him. He took his time opening his eyes, feeling warm, satiated, strangely tired and something else that it took him a few moments of wakefulness to identify.
Worried? He was worried. Why was he worried? With a start, his eyes widened and he stretched out a hand to his side, though he could see Spock wasn’t lying there. That wasn’t unusual, but after last night it could mean a great many things.
He shot up, blankets falling from his bare chest, and settled his eyes on the fire. He breathed a sigh of relief when he saw Spock sitting beside the flames, legs crossed, eyes closed and fingers steepled. He was still shirtless, Jim noticed with more than a little appreciation at the fact. It also felt like a good sign, though he didn’t know why. Vague, sleepy thoughts of vulnerability floated through his mind.
Spock was deep in his meditation, Jim could tell, and he’d been told more than once not to disturb him in that state. So he slowly extricated himself from the blankets and grabbed a fur to drape over his shoulders.
It dragged along the ground behind him, but he didn’t care. Hunger prickled at his gut and, if he were being honest, he had always been a nervous eater. He shuffled over to their stores, which they’d been keeping in the tub of the emergency kit, and grabbed a handful of berries. When Spock was finished meditating, he’d offer to make him breakfast. A real one.
It had been a while since he’d slept with someone, longer than he cared to admit, so he’d almost forgotten the routine. It would only be gentlemanly to cook Spock breakfast, especially considering he had some incredibly pointed questions to ask, and a warm meal might help add some ease to the conversation.
Jim watched Spock silently, sometimes tossing the berries into the air and catching them in his mouth, one at a time. It was a pleasant enough distraction from going over things too much in his mind.
Namely, how do you ask a person with whom you’ve just had a strange sexual encounter if they’re interested in having more, less-strange sexual encounters. And does the wording of that question change if that person is the only other sentient lifeform on the planet? And does the wording of that question change if you want more than just sex?
Without knowing what exactly had happened last night, Jim was left to guess at Spock’s motivations-- and his desires. At some point during these last six or so months, Spock had apparently grown at least a fraction of the feelings Jim had. Jim thought back to the moment their foreheads had pressed together, to how much he’d felt and how he’d somehow known that it wasn’t just his feelings coming through. Spock had wanted him. So much that his famous Vulcan control had just dissolved. And Jim didn’t think that wanting was limited to a rushed handjob in the middle of the night.
At least, he hoped not. And that was where he was getting hung up. How much of this was hope and how much of this was real? Everything had happened so quickly and he didn’t know how to disentangle Spock’s emotions from his own.
Jim watched the firelight brightening the tips of Spock’s lashes as they fluttered in his meditation. He watched the steady rise and fall of Spock’s chest, gripped by a sudden desire to run his fingers through that wiry hair, plant a kiss on his lips-- a proper one this time, something more tender than desperate. He had missed his chance last night, hesitated at the look in Spock’s eyes that had seemed so scared and somehow still so indecipherable. But now he hoped.
Hope. How many times had it come through for him? He supposed maybe it would again this time.
Minutes passed as Jim listened to the softly crackling flames and worried the fur between his fingers, but it became obvious the moment Spock was about to extract himself from his meditation. Jim had watched the process before. His chest would expand with deeper breaths, his hands would relax and rest themselves on his knees, and after a few moments he would open his eyes.
Now, he did. And immediately met Jim’s.
“You’re awake,” Spock observed.
Jim curled the fur a little tighter round his shoulders, giving Spock a nervous smile. “So are you. Have you eaten?”
“I have not. Please, allow me to make breakfast.” Spock stood in a single, graceful movement and walked over toward the emergency kit, before Jim even had a chance to answer.
“I was going to do that,” he protested, but Spock had already grabbed the shard they’d been using to cook with, and now dug around in the kit for an armful of veggies.
“It is no trouble.”
“Right. I-- Thanks.”
Spock emerged into the ring of firelight with the makings of their meal, then reclaimed his seat in the sand. Procuring the knife from somewhere off to his side, he set to work slicing the greens. An awkward silence settled between them. Spock didn’t seem awkward. He was always like this after he meditated, calm and generally quiet. The difference here was that Jim usually knew how to fill the silence. Today, he had no idea.
“So,” he started, hoping the rest of the sentence would come out naturally. It didn’t. He closed his mouth, watched Spock’s hands delicately handling the knife, and decided he should probably focus his attention elsewhere if he wanted to avoid being distracted. So he turned his gaze to the fire, watching the gently sparking logs, white bark turning black in the flame.
“Are you all right, Jim?”
The question was a natural one to ask, given Jim was the one behaving strangely. Still, it surprised him.
“Sure,” he responded, trying for a casual shrug. Though the gesture may have been lost with the bulk of fur on his shoulders. “Why wouldn’t I be?” Ah, that was the ticket. If he turned the onus on Spock to bring it up, he wouldn’t have to figure out how to phrase it.
Spock studied him for a moment, then returned to his work. “You are not as talkative as usual,” he responded, which didn’t answer Jim’s question-- or solve his problem-- at all.
Jim curled a little deeper into his fur, unsure how to respond but deciding in that moment that all he could really do was throw himself into the situation head first. That was usually what he did best.
“About last night…” he started, and almost winced. What a terrible way to start such an important conversation. But there was nothing for it now. He’d struck the match and had to light the fire. “I, um. Well, you said we could talk in the morning. I’d like to talk.”
“Please,” Spock said, extending a hand by way of invitation. “I welcome your thoughts.”
Jim looked back to him then, studying his face. How could he be so collected when Jim was a mass of turmoil on the inside? Didn’t he have doubts? Reservations? Didn’t he have thoughts? Last night he had seemed so introspective, nervous. None of that was coming through now.
“Well, I guess I’ve got more questions than thoughts,” Jim said with a weak attempt at a smile. “Where-- where did that come from?”
“Where did what come from, precisely?”
“ That . You know. You . Shoving me down and having your way with me last night.”
Spock’s eyes widened, a reaction at least, and he broke their eye contact, setting down his knife and looking into the makeshift pan.
“It was not my intent to-- to have my way,” he said, sounding almost affronted. “I do not believe I misread your own intentions.”
“No,” Jim said, hurriedly, scooting unconsciously closer. “No, that was an expression. You didn’t misread anything-- not at all. I just didn’t think that, you-- you had an interest in me. Or anyone. Like that.”
And now Jim was blushing. He only hoped it wasn’t obvious in the warm firelight. He had never been good at talking openly about sex. And this situation was decidedly more abnormal than others.
“Last night was not meant to be about my gratification,” Spock said delicately. He stood again, retrieved the salt and tree oil, then resumed his previous position.
“Then what was it ‘meant’ to be about?”
Jim straightened. “Excuse me?”
“You expressed a need, and I endeavored to fill it.” Spock’s tone was as light as if they were discussing the weather. He made it sound so simple. But last night… last night had been the result of months of something growing between them. Last night had been layered with implications and possibilities. Last night had not been simple.
“That’s not all, though,” Jim said, unwilling today of all days to put up with Spock’s Vulcan opacity. “You-- I mean-- you wanted it too, didn’t you?”
He didn’t like the way this conversation was making him feel. Like somehow he’d taken advantage of Spock when really he’d been the one to try to pull away, to apologize.
“I--” Spock stuttered, finally some indication of mixed emotions. “What I want is irrelevant.”
Heart sinking, Jim felt a knot of guilt tying his intestines together. “It’s relevant to me.”
There was a moment of silence, during which Spock shuffled the pan onto its struts and set it over the fire. It began to sizzle before Jim continued, realizing that Spock would not. Though Jim probably should have taken more time to think about what to say, rather than asking the first question that came to mind.
“Was that your first time?”
Spock’s eyes shot up, and Jim saw the answer in them before Spock even opened his mouth. Suddenly, Jim felt even worse about himself. “That is also irrelevant.”
Blanket falling from his shoulders, Jim threw his hands in the air. “Stop telling me what’s relevant and what’s not. This is important , Spock.”
Spock’s mouth became a thin line as he looked into the fire. His hands were holding each other in his lap, fingers clenching, then unclenching subtly. Something was troubling him. Something was desperately wrong. And if Spock was to be believed, it was completely Jim’s fault. He hadn’t known Spock was a virgin, hadn’t known that Spock had done this for his sake. But did his ignorance excuse the fact that he’d just let it happen?
Jim ran over the events of the evening in his mind again, fast forwarding through the memory as he watched Spock struggle for words. He didn’t know what either of them had hoped to get from the encounter. Except, probably, that neither of them were thinking that far ahead. In the moment Spock had been all hot breath and wandering hands. He’d been so insistent, so determined. And Jim had been desperate for that. He didn’t even know how desperate until he’d gotten a taste.
“What would you have me say?” Spock finally said. His voice was low, tired almost, all the composure of his meditation leaving the lines of his shoulders.
Jim honestly didn’t know what he wanted Spock to say, but he needed more than ‘it’s irrelevant.’
“The truth,” he said finally. “Just… be honest with me and I’ll be honest with you and we can figure this out. Okay?”
Spock took up the knife once again and stirred the vegetables a few times, likely requiring some kind of occupation for his hands.
“I have told you the truth,” Spock replied, obviously and purposely ambiguous. Jim was getting more than a little fed up with his evasiveness.
“But not all of it, right? I-- Spock, I felt you last night.” Raising a hand to his face to cover his embarrassment, he screwed his eyes shut for a moment. “I mean, I felt your-- your emotions. I know there’s something else. I know there is.”
‘Something else.’ Was that the best way he could phrase the intensity of what he’d felt in Spock’s mind? ‘Something else’ had felt a lot like what he felt. Like affection, passion and longing-- a longing that extended beyond what had just transpired between them.
Spock looked embarrassed, cheeks and ears flushed green, unable, it seemed, to look Jim in the eye.
“The truth, Jim,” he said lowly, as though he were in pain, as though he had to force the words from his lips, “is that you have an uncanny ability to affect me. In ways that I am unable to address. I have never experienced this-- this feeling. And it is uncomfortable. Illogical. To-- to want to be closer to you when our proximity is already overwhelming. To want to fulfil your needs when I am unsure of my own.”
Jim listened, chest tight as his heart tried to stop beating. Though Spock’s tone was clipped and formal, and his face forcefully impassive, Jim could tell he meant every word. For once, he’d dropped his mask. Most of the time, Jim craved moments like this-- moments he saw Spock as he was, under everything. He’d never seen Spock so honest, and now that he’d asked for the truth he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear it. He waited and, after a short pause, Spock continued.
“However, what I want is irrelevant in this case, as we cannot establish a sexual relationship.”
Jim’s eyes narrowed at that, part confusion and part suspicion. Yes, it would probably be a bad idea to ‘establish a sexual relationship,’ but should not and could not were very different things.
“Cannot?” Jim echoed, “It seemed rather easy last night, wouldn’t you say?”
“Easy,” Spock said, hard edges to the word, hard edges to the lines at the corners of his eyes, hard edges to the clench of his shoulders. “Yet inadvisable. You cannot tell me you are unaware of the uniqueness of our situation.”
“It’s irrelevant,” Jim shot back, eyes leveling.
Spock’s face hardened, “In fact, it is extremely relevant. I acted irresponsibly, putting your needs above the mission.”
“ My needs?!” Outrage flooded him, and he shifted forward, slamming a hand on the ground between them. “What about yours? I don’t recall you complaining when you were writhing around on top of me.”
Spock met that with icy silence, staring straight into the fire.
Suddenly furious,Jim shuffled out of the fur, reaching out to grab Spock’s shoulder and turn him, force him to look him in the eye. Spock couldn’t be allowed to hide from this. Not after last night.
But through the contact of their skin Jim could feel anger and fear rising like a tide, most definitely not his own. It froze him in place, the buzz that traveled up his arm, spikes of energy that shot through him. It hurt , but he didn’t know if the pain was physical.
“Very well,” Spock said coolly after a moment, taking Jim’s wrist and forcibly removing it from his shoulder. “ Our needs. If that pleases you.”
Jim straightened and, with a clench of his fists and a clench of his jaw, he struggled to his feet. He needed to move, so he walked a few steps away from the firelight. He took a few deep, steadying breaths and put his hands on his hips, staring into the dark of the cave. It was easier than looking at Spock right now.
It took him a few seconds to collect his thoughts before he trusted himself to speak. “I don’t think what happened between us had anything to do with needs, all right?” he said, stumbling already over what he was trying to say. “I-- I wanted it. Enough that when you gave it to me I just let you-- and maybe I shouldn’t have. But you can’t tell me you didn’t want it too.” He turned. “So here’s what I want now.” Spock’s spine was straight, and he stared at Jim as though expecting him start shouting at any moment. But Jim’s voice smacked of despair, not anger, when it came out next.
“I like you, Spock,” he said, hating himself for having to admit it now, when the lingering feeling of Spock’s anger still burned a hole in him. “And I would like you even if you weren’t the only other person for lightyears I could hold a conversation with. I know that for a fact because sometimes I can’t hold a conversation with you and I still like you. Do you see what we’re up against here? We’re trying to rebuild a shuttle that’s in pieces-- most of which are completely unusable. We have no equipment, no materials except the ones that are maybe on the other side of this damned mountain. If somehow we manage to get off the ground a year from now, who can say if we’ll make it into space? And if we do, who can say if we can navigate the wormhole web when we don’t even know where to begin? We might be on this planet for years. We might never make it home. We need to survive, Spock, but survival doesn’t mean anything if you aren’t living , too. I want to try this.” At that, he spread out his arms to eclipse the cave, their strange, makeshift home. “I know it’s not a good idea. I know it’s illogical and ‘inadvisable,’ but it’s what I want. And after what I felt from you last night, I-- I think it’s what you want. We deserve to find a little happiness out here, right? Do you...” Jim paused, arms falling lamely to his sides, momentum failing him and turning into one quiet, sad plea. “Do you want that too?”
The smell of smoke reached his nose and he cast his eyes to the pan over the fire. Spock seemed to startle out of a kind of reverie, following Jim’s eyes and using a strip of blanket to remove their burning breakfast. He practically tossed the pan to the side, then took a deep breath of his own.
The moment hung long between them.
“I believe it would be prudent to distance ourselves,” Spock said.
And that looked to be it. Jim’s heart sank.
“That’s not what I asked.”
“Our emotional dependence upon one another is unhealthy--”
“That’s not what I asked!”
“And yet that is the only answer I am capable of providing. I apologize if it is not to your satisfaction.”
Expression souring, Jim felt the rage rise back up.
“And here I thought this was all about my satisfaction ,” he spat.
Spock said nothing, even though Jim could practically feel the unsaid words hanging in the air between them. So much Spock wanted and couldn’t-- or wouldn’t-- admit to wanting. But Jim wasn’t going to force him. Spock had already constructed some bizarre narrative where this was all Jim’s fault, and Jim couldn’t let himself play into that.
“Fine.” Jim turned again, kneeling to retrieve his crumpled shirt, then moving onto Spock’s. “Just sit there, then. I need some air.”
“You haven’t eaten,” Spock’s voice carried no inflection. No indication that he felt any of the pain Jim was feeling. Though by his words Jim wondered if some part of him wanted Jim to stay.
Want. What good had wanting gotten either of them?
“I’ve lost my appetite.”
With that, he stalked off in the direction of the lake, thinking he could probably do with a little serenity right about now.
Times like this, Jim was used to having someone. Anyone. When Ruth broke up with him, he’d run to Gary with his troubles. Years later, when Gary had broken his heart, he’d called his brother. This situation wasn’t exactly parallel-- there was nothing between Jim and Spock to break-- but Jim would have given anything he owned (which was, what, a couple of stiff furs and a pile of berries and leaves?) for some kind of sounding board. Some kind of comforting presence or sage advice.
He wanted to call his mother so she could remind him that life took time. That no problem was insurmountable with patience and work. He wanted to sit with Sam and play with his nephew to remind himself that there were things in the universe that were so much more important than his own problems. He wanted to visit the Farragut ’s observation deck with Carter and just complain for a few minutes, knowing she’d be on his side, maybe even throw some creative insults out. She’d always been good at creative insults.
Instead all he had was himself-- himself and his angry, stewing, despairing thoughts, plus that gaping hole of loneliness that was going to be a lot harder to fill if he never spoke to Spock again, which was looking likely.
So, he washed their clothes, scraping all evidence of the night before from the fibers with his fingernails, all the while thinking in circles to himself.
Spock had come onto him . Jim couldn’t control his wet dreams-- it wasn’t like it had been his intention to force Spock into an uncomfortable situation. And he hadn’t . Spock had been the one to straddle his lap-- the first to touch, the first to hike up Jim’s shirt and lean over him and fist his fingers...
Jim let out an angry sigh, trying to put the resurfacing feelings of last night from his mind. He had to dissect the situation, not relive it.
It had been one thing when Jim thought Spock didn’t have a sex drive. It had been one thing when Jim had thought Spock wasn’t-- nor ever would be-- interested in him the way Jim was interested. Jim could’ve been content like that. He had been content like that.
But now. Now he was furious, feeling guilty and tired and alone, but as he scrubbed his hands red and the argument’s fallout caught up with him, he began to second guess himself as he always did.
This wasn’t the result of malice. He knew that. For all Spock’s stubbornness, he did care about Jim. It turned out, he cared about Jim a lot . That right there was more than Jim had ever hoped for. But it was also the problem. He cared about Jim and Jim cared about him, and the second they became aware of that fact, Spock shut down. Jim wasn’t angry that Spock had rejected him-- he had dealt with rejection enough times in his life. What frustrated him was that they could have something. They both wanted something. But Spock, when offered fulfilment, denied it to himself and, in fact, suggested stepping back even farther , when all either of them wanted was to be close. Why?
Spock had tried to frame it as ‘filling a need.’ Maybe, at worst, ‘acting on impulse,’ but those were just excuses for allowing himself to feel an emotion for once.
No, this was all about fear. At least Jim could understand that much. Hell, he had plenty of those fears himself. If they built something together, a real relationship, it might fall apart. Then where would they be? Or, it could work out, and work well, and they’d return to their own time and have to go back to their lives as they were before each other, learn to live without each other. Or, still, there was the ever present possibility that one of them could die. Even now Jim didn’t know if he could go on without Spock, let alone if anything more grew between them. The very thought of it made his chest ache.
From all sides, adding something like romance into this equation spelled disaster. And yet, to Jim at least it made sense. Why deny themselves the rare and beautiful opportunity to choose, when all other freedoms had been taken from them? Why deny themselves the opportunity to happiness when they could easily never make it home?
But Spock saw it differently, and he had his own reasons for seeing it differently. And, really, how many times had Jim repeated those reasons to himself? He’d spent hours, days trying to convince himself that these feelings he had for Spock weren’t real, if only because he knew they shouldn’t be. Jim had told himself that they were getting too close. Jim had promised himself to step back. Jim had reprimanded himself for needing Spock-- his help, his company, his humor, his touch.
Maybe it was best to train themselves not to need. At least, not to need each other.
If only Jim knew how to stop himself from wanting , too.
After some time, and a long soak to calm himself down, he did return to their camp. Spock was still there, as it was probably still too cold for him to go very far in the other direction. Jim was grateful for that. He’d spent the better part of a couple hours trying to come up with something to say, and he thought he might lose his nerve if Spock hadn’t been right there.
At his approaching footsteps, Spock looked up. He was in the proper position for meditation, but it was clear he’d just been sitting and thinking. Jim could relate.
“Jim,” Spock said in greeting. It was almost meek, as though he were prepared for another monologue.
Well, Jim had to hand it to him. Spock knew him well.
Without a word of greeting, Jim made his way to the fire, which had burned down to a dim glow, and sat to Spock’s side. He crossed his legs, put his hands on his knees, and finally dared to look at the man beside him.
“Listen,” he said-- no preamble, trying to keep every ounce of emotion from his own voice. Even looking at Spock was hard, though. His eyes fell at once to the man’s lips, to the set of his jaw, the slope of his neck where Jim’s fingers had--
“I am listening.”
Jim shook himself out of it, focusing on Spock’s eyes. Nothing else. “Okay. I-- I understand.” By the look Spock gave him, he hadn’t been expecting that. Jim powered on ahead, barreled forward in case his nerves kicked back in. “You’re scared, and that’s-- that’s okay. This, us, everything, is terrifying. I feel it too. And the only way I know how to deal with fear is to power through it, keep going no matter what. But that’s me. That’s not you . You deal with fear by putting it in a box and putting that box in the back of your mind and leaving it there collecting dust. And I can’t-- I don’t want you to compromise yourself. You’re trying to do the-- the logical thing. That’s admirable. It really is. So, what I’m saying is…”
He paused, forcing himself to look away from Spock so he could rub his forehead where a definite ache was forming. “What I’m saying is, you win. But if we’re doing it your way, then we’re doing it your way. You want distance, and maybe you’re right. Maybe that’s what’s best. Maybe we are overly dependent on each other. If we’re going to get back home, and if we’re going to be okay once we get there, it’s best we-- we keep this professional. All function, no form.” He dared a look back at Spock for his reaction, seeing something akin to sadness in the slope of his lips. “So,” Jim continued, “we’ll work together just fine. We always do. Just, that’s it. That has to be it.”
Spock stared impassively following Jim’s speech, seemingly digesting it all. Jim couldn’t believe he of all people was delivering an ultimatum. But this was what Spock thought was best for them and Jim wanted to respect that, even if he hated it. And he hated it. Already his thoughts turned down dark corners. He couldn’t tease Spock anymore, couldn’t draw out those near-smiles with a joke or a gentle barb. He couldn’t touch, not even the brush of their shoulders as they walked through the forest. The target practice, the swimming, the companionship they’d developed-- it had to go. Of course it had to go. It was logical, wasn’t it? Yes, it hurt now, but when they returned to their own time and to their separate lives, it would be easier. They could part ways without having to rip themselves apart.
Even if it felt like something was ripping out of Jim right now.
They didn’t have the option of avoiding each other, so that left only one solution. Not lovers, not friends. Just this. Whatever this was. It left a hollow feeling in his chest.
“I apologize for causing you distress,” Spock said, “That was not my intention.”
“Please,” Jim entreated, “don’t.”
Spock paused and considered, face unreadable as it had ever been. “I accept the terms you have laid out,” he said, as though signing some kind of contract. “And I am grateful you understand my logic.”
“I never said that,” Jim all but snapped, trying and failing to restrain the anger that was still right there under the surface. Ah, and he had done such a good job beating it into submission, turning it into a quiet sadness instead. “I said I understand how you feel.”
Spock obviously did not know what to say to that. Jim tossed him his clean shirt, which had been laying in his lap, then nodded toward the cave. “Before it warms up out there, we should get a move on clearing that cave-in. If you don’t mind, I’d like to cancel shore leave.”
Nodding, Spock held his shirt in his lap for a moment, only the delicate clench of his fingers around the fabric to signify any emotion at all. “Of course. If you will allow me a few moments, I will meet you there presently.”
Jim didn’t ask what he needed the time for. Mere hours ago, he would’ve pestered, but now-- now he had to reign himself in. Distance, his mind kept repeating. Distance.
So he stood, grabbed their equipment and walked back toward the chamber. He felt sick to his stomach, aching all over, exhausted, but maybe he’d take a leaf out of Spock’s book and try his damndest not to feel anything at all.
In his own way, Spock had mourned Captain Pike. Not outwardly, the way a human would expect, but by meditating often over the emotions his death inspired, and by honoring his memory the best way he knew how, he had managed to find a sense of peace within himself at the loss.
This loss was much more difficult to categorize, to understand and honor, because Jim was not lost wholly. He still existed within the sphere of Spock’s life. He still worked alongside him, diligently clearing the cave-in, diligently mapping the wormhole web, diligently throwing himself into every task he took on. But something was missing. This was not the same Jim he had grown to know the past six months.
Time ticked forward, counted with the tallies on the cave wall that Jim carved faithfully each standard day. Spock saw few smiles on Jim’s lips, and none prompted by any action of Spock’s. The clever wit and confidence that had been so encouraging was replaced with quiet, staunch duty. Not hopelessness-- Jim had not nor would ever give up-- but the fire had left him.
It was the loss, then, not of Jim, but of whatever it is they had shared, that truly affected Spock. Especially knowing that it was his doing.
Jim had said Spock was scared, and perhaps he had been right. But logic had always been Spock’s safety net when fear took hold, and he could not understand why it wasn’t working now. Everything they were doing was logical. Putting distance between themselves was logical. And, true, Spock was no longer as afraid as he had been that morning he’d woken up beside Jim and realized what he’d done. But whatever it was that replaced that fear was overwhelming in its own way, and it bore deep into him every time he looked at his companion.
The sound of stones falling on sand echoed throughout the cavern as the two of them lifted broken rock from their slapdash mining cart and deposited it in the open air of the caldera. They were making headway, but Jim seemed to tire easily.
Spock did not mention his leg, nor did he suggest Jim rest. Jim was capable of making his own decisions, and it was not Spock’s responsibility if he pushed himself too far.
He did, however, ensure he himself took the heaviest of the rocks first. It was practical, he decided, because of his superior strength. It had nothing to do with care and concern.
A little ways away, somewhere to his left under the wide swath of blankets, Jim was shivering. They had passed colder nights together recently, unwilling to curl against each other for warmth as they had done for so long. Or, perhaps it was less that they were unwilling and more that they knew it would be unwise.
Space. Distance. Applied physically as well as emotionally.
But tonight, Jim was shivering, and Spock knew it wasn’t just the cold. He could tell by the quiet mumble of Jim’s voice, the way he clutched at his own shirt the way he used to clutch at Spock’s.
He knew that with one careful touch, he could stop whatever nightmare plagued Jim’s sleeping mind. He knew that with a gentle finger on the pulse in Jim’s temple, he could do one small favor for this person who was so important to him.
But it was because Jim was important to him that he had to restrain himself.
It should never have gone this far, he thought. Spock had allowed himself to need Jim, just as he had allowed Jim to come to need him.
It should never have gone this far.
He let the nightmare run its course and pretended to be asleep when Jim shot up in bed, clutching his chest, breath heaving with whatever hell he’d awoken from.
It was Spock’s turn to make dinner. Jim silently sat on their bed, eyes scanning tricorder readings for some kind of pattern to the back half of the shuttle’s decay in relation to the wormhole it had fallen from. Spock only knew this because he had asked earlier, and Jim had answered in stoic, professional tones.
Spock had tried to train himself not to ask, not to initiate conversation if Jim did not, but even when they discussed the practicalities of their mission Spock clung to the sound of Jim’s voice-- that voice that used to tell him stories during quiet evenings, used to laugh around mouthfuls of food, used sing off-key Terran songs he only knew half the words to. In many ways, Spock hardly recognized that voice when Jim spoke now.
Spock dug through the emergency kit, finding a fair stock of mushrooms and roots, a handful or two of greens. It would do. Digging deeper to ensure he’d gotten all of them (as it was hard to tell in the dim light) his fingers found the top of a small knob of wood. He pulled it from the depths of the kit and held it in his hand. The white bishop from their makeshift chess set. Of course, Jim had buried the pieces in here. They no longer utilized them, but the set had been the result of months of hard work. Distantly, Spock was glad Jim had not thrown them out entirely.
Spock clutched the bishop in his palm for a moment, an emotion he didn’t dare identify attempting to break through. Then, he set it back inside, took up his armful of food, and replaced the kit’s lid.
Shivering slightly in the cool breeze of early morning, Spock ducked inside the shuttle’s shell, plugging in auxiliary power and calling up their scans from the last ion storm. He had offered to gauge the intensity of the wormholes they’d passed through, to continue Jim’s work and see if he could find a clue as to why they had been sent to this particular point in time.
Jim had agreed that it was a good use of daylight, then announced his own plans to go gathering. Before Spock could request his presence (even though he didn’t need his help), Jim had grabbed his spear and his bow and arrows and gone out into the forest alone. Jim often went out into the forest alone anymore. Spock had watched him retreating through the trees, a communicator he wouldn’t use clipped to his belt. He walked stiffly, leg clearly causing him pain, but the desire to leave Spock’s company was apparently enough motivation to make him move past it.
Suddenly, Spock realized he had called up the map and had yet to even look at it, eyes unfocused on the screen while he lost himself in thought. Knowing he would be distracted if he didn’t, he brought up the planetary scan, found Jim’s lifesign and kept watch on the surrounding area. If any bulldogs got too close, he would know.
They still had to take care of each other.
The mouth of the cave looked different. It took Spock a few moments to understand why, and a few moments longer than that to understand how it made him feel. The “Starfleet Command” sign that Jim had crudely carved and nailed to the nearest tree was gone, as were the two bouquets of dried flowers that Jim had hung on either side of the opening.
Jim had told him when he’d picked those flowers, weeks ago on the first day of their shore leave, that it might be nice to bring some comforts of home into the cave. He had laughed about the human urge to nest, and told Spock the story of his first time away from the farm. It had been a good, calm day. Spock remembered the sun glinting on the golden crown of Jim’s head, the way he’d shined easy smiles over his shoulder as Spock had followed him through the trees.
It seemed, now, that Jim had second-guessed the necessity of decoration. Spock should have been pleased-- it was a logical way to think and act. But it did not feel natural. Unsettled, he went about his day, wondering at the logic of wishing someone to be the exact opposite of what he had asked of them.
Air. Spock could feel it when he raised his hand to the tiny crack in the wall of stones that still barred their way. It drifted quiet and cool over his palm, like a sigh, and carried with it grains of sand that slipped down its stream to Spock’s feet.
Months of tireless work, and they’d finally broken through.