The soil is damp and cool beneath his palms and the back of his legs where they press against the ground. Spock shifts. The bindings which secure his wrists and ankles drag uncomfortably against his skin. The rope is rudimentary, constructed of tough plant fibers similar to hemp, but likely native to this planet. He will be able to break through it with time and patience, and he has both in scores.
They have been imprisoned for thirteen hours, ten minutes, and forty-two standard seconds.
Jim has not spoken in two hours and six minutes. He has not moved from the place on the adjacent cell floor where he slumps against the bars, the same position where a guard deposited him after his second interrogation. The guard returned Jim with a torn shirt and wet hair, stumbling and sputtering for breath. In his sleep, he occasionally coughs. Spock passed his interrogations in a meditative state, reassured that the primitive torture methods could do little physical or psychological damage which a healing trance could not remedy. But Spock is all too aware that Jim lacks the ability to shield, which Spock often takes for granted. He counts the number of times Jim inhales in a minute, focuses on the sound of him breathing to distract himself from the pain in his wrists as he flexes them to loosen the rope.
Spock keeps a precise log in his head of all events which have occurred since the away team beamed down to Mira II; he reviews it hourly. Recalling the data will provide a point of focus, once he is too exhausted to meditate.
One hour, nineteen minutes into scouting the foothills of a large mountain range, a group of armed natives surrounded the away team, relieving them of translators, communicators, and phasers. Interrogation lasted only six minutes and three seconds, before the leader shoved Jim to his knees and held a knife to his throat.
"Let my crew go," Jim rasped. Though Spock could discern fear in his voice, he did not display it in his body language. Spock doubts anyone else caught the minute waver in Jim's tone through his bared teeth.
"Spies," Uhura translated, whispering furiously in Spock's ear. "They think we're spies from the opposing faction. Their dialect is strange—I'm still working out the vowels—but I think he just said they intend to kill the captain as a warning."
She continued in conversation, forming her tongue around the ugly syllables, for it was ugly, this language and this group of people which intended to take Jim. Spock calculated the odds of the natives capturing him as well, saw them beginning to move back from the away team with weapons raised. He estimated that his chance for imprisonment rose significantly if he instigated a confrontation with the leader. It was not logical. It violated protocol, but Spock stepped forward.
"I will not allow you to take the captain," he spoke over Uhura's muffled gasp. "We are not spies. We are members of the United Federation of Planets, here on a peaceful mission. I order you to release him."
This culture was certainly pre-warp. Spock calculated the regulations he had just broken by speaking of the Federation. The leader turned his eyes to Spock, dark and ugly as his words, and uttered one syllable. Spock required no translation.
"With his death, you declare war upon the Federation," he said, lifting his chin defiantly.
"Spock," Jim called, but a native backhanded him across the jaw. The crack was audible, a sickening noise which twisted Spock's stomach. He detected the iron tang of human blood and raised a fist.
The leader made a motion with his hand, a jerk of the knife which flashed in the sunlight, and Spock felt a strong hand grip his shoulder. It pushed, and his knees met with the ground roughly beside Jim. His left kneecap struck a rock. The pain made it immediately apparent that the bone had fractured, but he did not wince. He looked to Jim from the corner of his eye and found Jim was looking back.
"Why didn't you just let them take me?" Jim whispered fiercely.
"You stand a better chance of survival if I am with you," Spock told him. The hand on his shoulder clasped tighter, and Spock stopped talking. He could shake it off, but he would not. If he moved, he suspected that immediate action would be taken against the captain. He would not see Jim wounded in front of the crew. He would not see him wounded at all.
The leader spit something. Uhura replied in kind and stepped back.
"He wants to strike a bargain: our lives for yours. They're going to leave one communicator," Uhura called to them. "We can contact the ship once they've taken you."
"Take the deal," Jim said.
"I'll have Scotty get a lock on you immediately," she said. "We'll beam you out first."
"Get yourselves back to the ship before you attempt any rescue," Jim said. "All of you. That's an order."
"Aye, sir," Uhura said, catching Spock's eye, and looked away. She was displeased with his decision to remain with the captain, likely ascertaining it was not made merely out of professional obligation. Spock told himself this did not matter, that remaining behind was clearly the right thing to do. It is what Jim would—
The sharp tip of a spear jabbed his side between his eighth and ninth ribs, just over his heart, and Spock took a deep breath to steady himself. He understood from watching Jim's movements that he was to stand. Jim walked several paces in front of him. Spock followed after him, with his hands behind his head. He waited for the sensation of his molecules breaking apart, kept his eyes steadily on the back of Jim's head, knowing the captain would be beamed up first if it was not possible to bring them back simultaneously. Only he never felt the tingling, never saw the swirls of light surrounding Jim's body. Their captors shoved them into the gaping mouth of a cave and down a steeply inclined path that hugged the wet rock wall. Spock calculated the thickness of the rock overhead: twenty feet, thirty feet, forty feet...too deep for the Enterprise's scanners to get a lock on their location. They were, as Jim would say, on their own now.
Eighteen hours since being taken captive, a guard arrives with food. Judging by the smell, it is animal flesh. It turns Spock's stomach, but he is uncertain when they will next be offered food. It is logical to eat what he is given. The guard does not unbind their wrists but throws a metal bowl on the floor of each cell and leaves. Spock shifts so he can lie on his side, arms painfully twisted behind him, and crawls toward the bowl with his left elbow and hip. He leans his face to its dented surface and bites the piece of meat nearest to him. The oily flavor is repulsive, but he chews and swallows and takes another bite. He consumes a third mouthful, then uses his abdominal muscles and elbow to return to an upright position. Turning his face into his shoulder, he wipes his mouth on his tunic and leans his head back against the bars.
He inhales deeply and returns to counting Jim's breaths, but the room is oddly quiet.
"Captain?" he calls. His own voice echoes hoarsely off of the cave's ceiling and walls. It is the first time he has spoken in over sixteen hours. There is no answer. He clears his throat and tries again. "Jim?"
Jim's response is more of a grunt than words, but Spock hears his own name in the sound. He experiences a flood of relief and exhales.
"There is food," he says quickly. "You must eat."
He is answered by a wet cough, the sound achingly familiar, and for a moment he is kneeling outside the warp core. Spock clenches his jaw and forces the image away.
"Jim," he tries again, "it is imperative that you eat. You are approximately seven feet from the bowl. If you lie on your side, you can reach it with little effort."
Jim coughs again, the same rattling sound, but manages to nod. Spock can just make out the motion of his head. Jim falls onto his side, his head connecting with the ground, and moans before shifting onto his elbow. He pushes himself to the bowl and lowers his face to it, eating greedily. When he is finished, he rolls onto his side and sighs. Spock has a view of his back, his bound wrists and ankles. The cave is dimly lit by a torch burning on the opposite wall, but it is enough for Spock to see that Jim's shoes are missing. Spock is still wearing his. The bottoms of Jim's feet are dirty, though they appear uninjured. Spock's eyes return to his hands.
"Jim," he says. "Are you able to come toward me? I am directly behind you."
With another groan of effort, Jim raises his head and begins the arduous crawl to the adjoining bars. The seconds tick past on Spock's mental chronometer: forty-one, forty-two, forty-three...before Jim is close enough that Spock could touch him if his wrists weren't bound. Jim rests his cheek against the ground opposite Spock. Spock lies on his side, and they stare at each other in the dark.
"How long?" Jim croaks. His dirt-streaked face is close enough for Spock to memorize the length of his nose, the curve of his lips. In the dim light, Jim's eyes might be any color. Spock conjures the distinctive shade of blue.
"Eighteen hours, thirty-six minutes," he replies and momentarily closes his own eyes until the color fades.
"I'm sure...they'll find us...soon." Jim's words come haltingly. "Think I...pissed myself."
Spock considers that Jim might have sustained head trauma or other internal injuries. He must find a way to determine if this is the case. The idea strikes him then, and he wonders at his own well being. Why did he not consider this earlier? He must act quickly, before Jim loses consciousness again and Spock is unable to wake him.
"Your hands," Spock says. "You must turn so your hands reach the bars."
"Tired..." Jim answers with a cough. "Tired of...my face...already?"
"I would sooner grow tired of logic," Spock tells him earnestly, "but you must turn away from me."
Jim lifts his head and winces when he attempts to pull up into his shoulder. "I can't," he says, letting his head rest on the dirt. "My head is...killing me."
"You must," Spock implores. Jim locks eyes with him, presses his lips together, and nods once. He takes a deep breath, clenches his jaw, and pulls himself upright. He scoots as close to the bars as he can manage. His fingers poke between them.
"There," he says, gasping. Spock shifts into the same position, so his back is to Jim's, and their fingers touch.
"Hell," Jim rasps, curling his fingers around Spock's thumb. "If I'd known...you wanted to hold hands...I would've tried it...a long time ago."
It is humor, Spock knows. Jim's amusement is palpable. Spock pushes down the pleasure he derives from their positions. He should not feel pleasure at all. Jim is injured, and they are being held against their will. His first duty is to the captain. He grasps Jim's fingers in return and holds on tightly.
"This will allow a shallow connection between our minds," Spock explains, "so I can monitor your vital signs."
"Okay," Jim concedes, and Spock concentrates.
He can feel Jim's pain and immediately pushes further, checking Jim's body for the extent of its injuries. As he expected, Spock discovers slight head trauma, a slow bleed on the frontal lobe. In all likelihood, one of the natives struck Jim. It explains his unconsciousness and his slowed speech. A concussion, Spock diagnoses. Jim has a small amount of fluid in his right lung. He is at risk for infection. Opening his eyes, Spock moves his fingers against Jim's in what he hopes is a soothing rhythm.
"What's the diagnosis?" Jim asks.
"You have sustained head trauma," Spock says.
"Awesome," Jim says.
"You must not sleep," Spock tells him, squeezing Jim's fingers again. "And you must not let go of my hands. Do you understand?"
Jim doesn't answer but squeezes in reply. Spock recalls what he knows of human head injuries. Jim must be kept calm. Spock must find a way to regulate his blood pressure. He must eat to maintain his sodium levels. It is difficult to fully meld through hands alone, but it is possible, Spock tells himself. He has never performed such a deep link without touching another's face, but it is possible.
"Will you allow me to go further into your mind?" he asks.
"Why?" Jim asks, and Spock feels Jim's anxiety through his fingertips.
"It will allow us to communicate without speaking, even if you should fall unconscious again," Spock says. "It will also conserve energy."
"Will you...see what's...in my head?" Jim's anxiety is laced with something Spock does not recognize. The feeling makes him frown and drop his chin. Jim...doubts himself? Is that what this sensation is? Curious.
"Some," Spock admits. "It is regrettable but necessary."
When it's fear that comes through their skin, Spock recognizes the emotion. He knows some of Jim's delinquent past from Admiral Pike. Perhaps there are crimes for which Jim was not disciplined, and he fears Spock will report them. He has heard from Nyota that Jim enjoyed a variety of romantic companions at the academy. Perhaps Jim does not wish for Spock to see that part of himself. Or perhaps Spock has not fully regained Jim's trust. He understands that his report following the Nibiru incident violated an unspoken agreement between friends. He will not do such a thing again.
"Captain," he says gently, "I assure you that anything I see will be kept between us. If you wish it, I will never speak of these things to you again. I will act as though I saw nothing."
Jim coughs up a laugh, which is incongruous with the emotions Spock feels from him.
"You'd lie...for me, huh?" Jim asks.
This time it is Spock who does not answer. Finally he says, "If it would put you at ease, I will show you one of my own memories."
"Okay," Jim manages, and Spock begins to whisper.
"Where are we?"
Jim's voice echoes through the large space. He turns in a circle, looking up at the dark ceiling looming overhead and down into each of the learning pits. Spock hears the cadence of young voices reciting theorems and equations in mathematics, physics, organic chemistry. Even though this is a mere memory, discomfort floods him, and he stands with his hands held together at the small of his back.
"This is the Vulcan Learning Center," Spock replies.
"So we're at your school?" Jim says, and he steps closer toward the rim of the nearest pit. "Which one are you in?"
"I am certain you can identify me among my peers," Spock says, feeling a bit smug at the bold declaration. Jim silently accepts his challenge. He squints at the young Vulcan below him, then shakes his head.
"This isn't you," he says and moves to the next one. He repeats this eight more times, occasionally looking back over his shoulder at Spock, who doesn't move from where he stands. This place was key to Spock's formative years, and it gives him satisfaction to see Jim Kirk there. He wraps the feeling around himself as Jim comes to the tenth learning pit and stops, kneeling down at its edge.
"This one," he says, pointing. He bobs his head to indicate Spock should join him. Ducking his chin, Spock crosses the room, waving through the maze of pits as he does so, and kneels beside Jim.
"How can you be certain?" Spock asks, tilting his face as he regards Jim's profile.
"Are you kidding?" Jim says with a grin. He points to the Vulcan child standing beneath them: arms at his side, rounded cheeks, and just a hint of fear in his too-human eyes. Spock looks down as Jim continues to speak. "I'd know those ears anywhere."
"I need not remind you that all Vulcans possess pointed ears," Spock says quietly.
"You were a cute kid," Jim says. The declaration causes Spock's mouth to twitch at the corner. He acknowledges this but doesn't allow the smile to form. "Good thing I didn't grow up here. I'd probably have chased you mercilessly."
"You would not be the first," Spock confides. "I was often teased."
"I don't mean to tease you," Jim adds, placing a hand on Spock's thigh and squeezing, though he keeps his eyes trained on the learning pit. Spock looks down at Jim's hand on his leg, then back to his younger self, and suppresses the twinge in his lower abdomen. "How many hours a day did you do this?"
"Six, followed by a one-hour respite for lunch, and an additional four in the afternoon."
"Damn," Jim says. "And I used to complain about having to stand outside to catch the airbus. How old are you right now?"
"Eleven years and seven months," Spock tells him.
"So I'm, what...eight and a half, right now," Jim says with a chuckle. He has not moved his hand. "I don't suppose you can merge our memories together, have me show up here and wreak havoc?"
"If you wish."
"I have never considered such a thing, but I see no reason why it should not be possible. Try imagining yourself entering, as you remember yourself at that age."
Jim's grin is bright, and he looks toward the room's entrance. Spock hears him gasp when a gangly boy strides in, wind-swept blond hair and a determined expression. Though he looks as many young humans look, Spock knows instantly from the way the boy moves, the tilt of his chin, the determination in his eyes, that this is Jim Kirk and no other.
"Holy shit," Jim breathes, squeezing Spock's thigh again and rising. He folds his arms across his chest and stands back. "Can they see us?"
"We are merely observers," Spock tells him, his body moving in tandem with Jim's so they stand shoulder to shoulder. "Unless you choose for us to interact with ourselves."
"No," Jim says. "No, this is...I want to watch this," he says as the younger Jim screws up his face and peers into one learning pit after another, circling each one like a bird of prey. Eventually, he comes to the one where Spock studies and sits on the edge, dangling his legs over.
"Hey," he calls. When Spock doesn't answer, he says it again.
"Your presence is distracting," Spock says to him. Jim kicks his heels into the learning pit defiantly.
"Sorry," the younger Jim says in reply, only it is clear from his intonation that he is not sorry at all.
"How did you gain entrance to this room?" Spock challenges.
"I just walked in," Jim tells him. "Through the door."
"You are not a student; therefore, you should not be here."
Jim answers by sliding down the curved wall into the learning pit and dusting off his pants. Spock looks affronted and steps back, clenching his hands at his sides.
"I'm Jim," he says and thrusts out a hand. Spock looks at it sharply and narrows his eyes. He flicks them back to Jim's face.
"I am Spock," he says.
"What kind of name is Spock?" Jim asks flippantly, taking his hand back and shoving it and its twin into his back pockets.
"It is Vulcan," Spock tells him somewhat sharply.
"Is that where we are?" Jim asks, looking up.
"You do not know where you are?" Spock asks him, his tone shifting to neutral. "Where are your parents?"
"Where are yours?" Jim shoots back. "I don't need a babysitter."
"I did not mean to offend you," Spock says. "Since you are unaware of your surroundings, I surmised you might be suffering from memory loss."
"Who talks like that?" Jim says and laughs, his anger apparently forgotten. Spock looks bewildered, his eyebrows furrowing. "I guess my step dad won't find me on this planet. Want to explore?"
"I have an hour of study remaining," Spock says, "and I am familiar with the building's layout." He turns his back to Jim and correctly answers the question that the computer displays.
"Okay," Jim says, backing toward the steps. "I'll have to go exploring on my own then."
Spock answers the next question and does not look at Jim, who begins to ascend the staircase.
From his vantage point above the learning pit, Spock presses lightly on Jim's arm. "You are trying to goad me into joining you," he says.
"I was a little shit," Jim replies and nudges Spock with his shoulder. "I don't think you're going for it, though."
"I was a dedicated student."
"Who, you?" Jim says. He smiles brilliantly.
"The answer's plutonium," the younger Jim calls from the third step from the top, "just so you know."
"Correct," the computer replies and loads the next question.
The younger Spock turns around, and there is a flash of interest on his face. "How did you know that?" he asks.
"I'm a genius," Jim informs him as he reaches the top. He resumes his initial posture, both legs dangling into the learning pit.
"And yet you are unaware of your location," Spock says, stepping toward the stairs with a raised eyebrow.
"I'm on Vulcan," Jim tells him, "in the Vulcan Learning Center with you." He smirks.
"Indeed," Spock answers flatly.
"Are you gonna come with me or not?" Jim asks, raising both eyebrows. His fingers curl over the rim and he licks his lips.
"No," Spock says and turns back to the computer.
"Ugh," Jim exclaims and flops down on his back, one foot on the ground and his knee in the air, the other leg noisily kicking the top step. Spock answers another three questions before Jim begins to whistle off-tune. Occasionally, he coughs.
"You are attempting to irritate me, but you will not succeed," Spock says crisply and proceeds to complete his lessons, which takes an additional forty-nine minutes.
At some point, Jim and Spock sink to the ground again as they continue to observe their childhood memories interacting. Jim's legs are folded under him, Spock's straight. Spock is strangely content when Jim leans against him, his weight a warm pressure along Spock's right arm. Jim has never sat so close to him before. Ever since visiting Jim in the hospital, Spock has struggled with the impulse to touch him. It clashes with his conception of what it means to be Vulcan, yet he cannot deny that such a desire exists. He never acts upon these impulses, but he acknowledges them. Here, tucked away in the Vulcan Learning Center, Spock wants to tilt his head to the side, to rest it against Jim's. He is tired, and it would be pleasant to do so, but he resists. Jim does it anyway, and Spock's stomach flutters.
Across from them, the younger Jim periodically groans and flops over onto his stomach theatrically, letting his hands and arms drop into the pit.
"D'you think it'll hurt if I fall in?" he asks, and Spock categorically ignores him.
"I bet I can spit on your head from here," Jim offers.
Spock calculates the trajectory in his head, the probability of its success. From the way his younger self flinches, he has done the same and steps out of Jim's path. Jim laughs, and his child's laughter echoes like notes of music.
"I'm not really gonna spit on you," he says. "But I could if I wanted to."
Jim is snickering against Spock's shoulder, his head moving gently. The motion stirs the fragrance of his shampoo, which Spock inhales. It smells of apples. It masks Jim's natural scent, sharp and masculine, which Spock detects underneath. He shudders as he breathes it in again.
A low tone sounds once, and the curved walls of the learning pit go black. The younger Spock turns to the staircase and climbs it without comment. He pauses once he reaches the top, straightens his robes, and regards Jim at his feet.
"Come with me," he says. "We must locate your guardians."
"Whatever," Jim says and reaches out a hand for assistance standing. Spock sighs and takes it, helping him to his feet, then drops his hand just as quickly.
"Sneaky Vulcan. You just kissed me," Jim murmurs against his shoulder.
"Hardly," Spock says, though the thought causes him to glance at Jim's hands, folded on his lap. They are touching hands now, between the jail cells. Spock concentrates, and he is momentarily transported back to that dark, damp place. He can feel Jim's hands within his own: the callus on his middle finger, just above his first knuckle, where he pinches a stylus; the torn cuticle on his left thumb, a nub of skin Spock massages.
"Should we follow them?" Jim asks in his mind, and Spock immediately snaps back. As adults, he is the one to offer a hand. Jim meets him at eye level and nods toward the retreating figures. They follow wordlessly. Around them, other children climb from their learning pits and head toward the exit. Three Vulcans, a few years older than Spock, meet to their left. Spock watches as they converge on his younger self and the younger Jim.
"Spock!" the oldest, Stonn, calls. Spock's younger self freezes.
"I assume you have prepared new insults for today," he says and turns to face them. The younger Jim whirls around with a bemused expression.
"Affirmative," Stonn says.
Spock is uncertain why he chose to share this particular memory with Jim, who stiffens beside him as they watch, the smile falling away from his lips.
"This is your thirty-fifth attempt to elicit an emotional response from me," the younger Spock says.
"You are neither human nor Vulcan and therefore have no place in this universe," Stonn tells him.
"Are you for real?" Jim asks.
"Look, he has found a human playmate."
"Dude," Jim says. "Spock, let's go."
"Perhaps an emotional response requires physical stimuli."
With both hands, Stonn pushes Spock's chest. He stumbles backwards a few steps. Jim grabs his wrist to steady him.
"You're an asshole," Jim yells at Stonn. Spock yanks his arm away from Jim's grasp roughly.
"He's a traitor, you know, your father?" Stonn continues, taking a step toward them. "For marrying her, that human whore."
With a cry, Spock launches himself forward and pushes Stonn into the nearest learning pit, sliding down the wall after him. Jim follows him, ducking Stonn's fist, and pulls Spock out of the way before he can land another blow. He positions himself between Spock and Stonn.
"So you have brought a human to fight your battles for you," Stonn spits, wiping the green smear at his mouth.
"Aw, go ahead and hit him," Jim mutters and steps back. Spock grips Stonn's arm and catches his ankle, causing him to fall. Spock begins to punch him over and over, his knees clamped on either side of Stonn's chest. Jim nods approvingly. The fight ends when an instructor descends the stairs and raises a hand.
"Cease this behavior immediately," she says. Spock drops his arms to his sides, his chest heaving from exertion. He stands without looking back at Stonn and follows Jim out of the pit.
The scene fades, and Jim and Spock are alone in a gray expanse which stretches to infinity on all sides. Jim is quiet for a long time, chewing the inside of his cheek. He moves away several paces, exhaling.
"You could have shown me anything," he says.
Jim nods slowly. "Okay," he says. "My turn."
"You are not obligated," Spock says.
"My turn," Jim tells him again, and the gray shifts.
Spock is standing in a dimly lit bar. The air is still warm from a mass of bodies, yet the bar is currently unoccupied. A large man with a mop and bucket is cleaning the floor, slopping water onto the concrete and scrubbing at it before moving a few feet away and repeating the action. It looks to be an unsanitary method of cleaning. Surely they have a sonic model? Spock means to question the man when he spots a second figure seated at a table twenty-one feet from him.
This man is slouched low in his chair. He wears a white shirt and has blood on his face. Though his eyes are nearly shut, when he blinks, Spock catches the sliver of blue. The man is unmistakably Jim. He lifts a glass to his lips and holds a small figurine of a constellation starship. Small white grains pour from it gracefully.
"I didn't exactly make a great first impression on Cupcake," Jim says at his shoulder. Spock raises an eyebrow but doesn't look at him. He watches the white grains pile on the table, forming a small pyramid. Jim brushes it to the floor.
"Lieutenant Hendorff caused your injuries?" Spock asks.
Jim chuckles. "I kinda...well, I instigated it." He rubs his nose.
"That is no excuse. Did he face disciplinary action?"
"I don't think so," Jim says. "I never pressed charges against him. I don't know if Pike ever did."
"Admiral Pike was here?"
"This is the day we met." Jim points to a metal table not far from the bar. "He found me right there on that table, getting the shit kicked out of me."
"He was fond of you," Spock says.
"Yeah, well..." Jim turns and looks to the empty doorway. When he speaks again, his voice is low and gravelly. "You know, if I hadn't lost the Enterprise, he'd still be alive."
"You cannot blame yourself for Admiral Pike's death."
"Sure I can." He sniffs. He picks at his fingernails. Spock is uncertain what he should say, if he should say anything. He opts for the latter, hoping Jim's melancholy will pass, that it is merely a side effect of their surroundings. Still looking at his hands, Jim nods in the direction of the table where the younger version of him sits. "Aren't you going to come talk some sense into me?"
"If you wish it."
"Wear your instructor's uniform, would you?" He lets out a sardonic laugh. "I'd like to see my face when I see you like that."
"I do not understand your reasoning," Spock tells him. He stops talking when the footsteps come up from behind him. The younger Spock passes through them as if they don't stand in the room. He walks directly to where Jim is seated. Spock notes the changes in his own body in only six years. He was very thin when he instructed at the academy. There is a naiveté in his face, his expression haughty.
"Who the hell are you?" the younger Jim asks with one eye open. Spock stands before his table with both arms at his back.
"I am Spock," Spock tells him, and there is an odd flicker in Jim's eyes. He sets down the salt shaker and leans both elbows on the table, resting his head against a fist. He looks Spock over carefully, his eyes lingering on his face.
"Man," he says, a wet grin slicking over his mouth. "It's been a few years. I could have used you in the fight earlier."
"What's going on?" Jim whispers in his ear.
"I do not know," Spock replies.
"Sit down, will you?" the other Jim continues, lazily flapping a hand at the opposite chair. "You want a drink? Hey, Lew, get me two more."
"I am fine," Spock informs him.
"How'd you find me?"
Spock shakes his head. "I did not realize you would be here."
"So you're living on Earth now?" Jim continues, yawning widely.
Lew, whom Spock recognizes as the man who had been mopping, brings two beers to the table and sets them down. He casts a long glance at Jim and says, "Last one. Then I'm taking your ass home."
"Okay, dad," Jim says in a mocking tone.
"That is your father?" Spock inquires.
"My dad got blown up." Jim swigs from the bottle and wipes his mouth on his bare forearm. Spock does not touch his. "George Kirk? I'm sure you've heard of him."
"Of course," Spock says. "When we met as children, you did not inform me of your surname."
Jim shrugs and shakes his head in a combined movement which makes him look quite young. He drops his eyes to Spock's chest, undoubtedly recognizes the Starfleet insignia.
"They got to you," he says. "I didn't peg you as Starfleet material."
"It was a way out," he tells Jim. Jim appears to mull this over, sucking his lower lip between his teeth.
"How come I never saw you again?" Jim asks, leaning backwards in his chair. "I don't even remember how I got back from Vulcan."
"I do not recall you leaving," Spock admits. "I looked behind me, and you were no longer there."
"And I woke up in my room," Jim says.
"Captain," Spock whispers into Jim's ear this time. "It would appear our memories have created their own series of events."
"I didn't even know that was possible," Jim whispers back.
"So are you going to try and recruit me now?" the younger Jim asks, motioning to Spock's uniform.
"No," Spock says. "You are obviously familiar with Starfleet. I trust you are capable of making your own decisions."
"Maybe, but I'm not capable of getting myself home," Jim points out. "Are you sober?"
"I do not drink alcohol."
"Great," Jim says, sliding his keys across the table. "You can drive. Hey, Lew!"
The bartender pokes his head up from behind the bar where he is counting bottles. "Yeah?"
"Spock's taking me home," Jim calls. "I'll see you later."
"I don't want to see you in here tomorrow," Lew says. "You'd better be on that transport."
"Blow me," Jim mutters and gets unsteadily to his feet.
"I heard that," Lew shouts after them as Spock takes Jim by the elbow and helps him to the exit.
Jim and Spock watch them leave, and Jim's mouth drops open.
"Jim," Spock inquires. "What actually happened after you left the bar?"
"I don't really remember," Jim says, scratching behind his ear. "Lew took me home, I'm pretty sure. I slept in my clothes, cause I wore them on the shuttle." They both turn to look out the window when the motorcycle engine revs once, then again. "How are we supposed to follow them?" Jim asks. "On foot?"
"Imagine us at your house," Spock says, and the bar's walls slide down to puddle at their feet, revealing a small living room with a fireplace.
"Huh," Jim comments. "That's cool. I wonder if we're here yet?"
From upstairs comes a streak of curses followed by Spock's even tone.
"It would seem so," Spock says, and they head up the staircase. "This is where you were raised?"
"Yeah," Jim says. "Me and Sam. Haven't been back here in a while. It's incredible how real everything looks."
"It is as you remember it," Spock says. "We are in your memory. Therefore, it is logical it should look correct to you."
"I guess so." Jim skips the last step, taking a wide stance and reaching out a hand to pull Spock up with him. He leads him down the short hallway to the bathroom, peering in the open door. A very drunk Jim sits on the toilet seat. Spock holds his hand gingerly and dabs antiseptic on his split knuckles.
"That fucking hurts," Jim spits.
"So you have said," Spock replies.
"You're enjoying this."
"Perhaps." He affixes a bandage to the most severe cuts and lets go of Jim's hand.
"Thanks," Jim murmurs. Spock presses his lips into a line.
"Will you be sick again?" he asks.
"Dunno," Jim answers as he stands. He steadies himself with a hand on the counter. "Probably not."
"Brush your teeth," Spock instructs, "and I will help you to bed."
"No complaints here," Jim says and sways as he reaches for his toothbrush. Spock hands it to him and waits with a towel.
"Which room is yours?" Spock asks as Jim dries his mouth and lets the towel fall to the tiled floor.
"Uh," Jim says, holding up his index finger. Four seconds pass. "That one," he declares, pointing to the door on their left. Spock opens it, switches on the light, and leads Jim to his bed.
"Your clothing," Spock instructs as Jim sits down. "Remove it."
"Bad choice of words," Jim mutters beside him.
On the bed, Jim's face spreads into a smile. Spock recognizes the look. It is not innocent. He has seen Jim use it to his advantage both in the name of diplomacy and on shore leave. It is typically followed by Jim exiting the room with his choice of sexual partner. He has never given that look to Spock, who lowers his gaze.
"Are you getting out of yours, too?" Jim asks the other Spock, who remains frozen, leaning over Jim's body. Spock has imagined himself and Jim like this. He has imagined what it would be like to lie beside Jim, how Jim would reach out to touch him, how Jim would smile at him just as he's smiling now. Is it possible to experience jealousy over a dream? He watches himself raise a hand to Jim's face, push it back into his hair. He had limited experience at twenty-five.
"You are intoxicated and incapable of consent," Spock reminds Jim.
"Oh, I'm consenting," Jim tells him, hooking a thumb on either side of his pants and struggling to get them off. Spock focuses on the two-inch expanse of skin Jim exposes and feels his mouth go dry watching them. "Help me out here," Jim calls from the bed.
"Spock," Jim whispers in his ear.
"Yes, Captain?" he asks, swallowing.
"I think we're about to have sex."
"That is my assessment as well."
"We've never had sex," Jim points out.
"Are we honestly going to stand here and watch ourselves do it?"
"Do you propose we leave this memory?" Spock asks, watching as his younger self places one hand on Jim's waist, his fingers brushing bare skin. He flushes.
"I propose we talk about why dream versions of ourselves are hooking up, when we never have," Jim answers.
"I expect it is a reaction to the stress of imprisonment," Spock says, attempting to keep his voice level as the other Jim's hands come to rest on Spock's forearms and trail over his hands to his fingertips. "A biological urge to mate."
"Except we can't reproduce," Jim says.
"Sexual activity between two men provides release," Spock clarifies. "The brain is satisfied."
"You have experience with that, do you?" Jim's tone is amused but not mocking.
"I am three years your senior," Spock says dryly. "And, as you are fond of pointing out, I am also half human."
Jim chuckles; Spock can feel his laughter all around them.
"I'm glad to know even Vulcans get horny," Jim says and bumps Spock's shoulder before disappearing from his peripheral vision.
"Your choice of words leaves something to be desired."
"So you're saying the only reason my brain and your brain have decided to have imaginary sex, inside a memory that doesn't exist, is because we're under a lot of stress?" Jim is standing directly behind him now. He exhales against Spock's skin.
"That is a possibility," Spock says. "However, I did not expressly state it was the only reason."
"Is there another?" The whisper is in Spock's ear. He hears the gasp of his own inhalation. Jim laughs again. "Is this a secret fantasy of yours or something?"
He watches the dream version of himself slowly remove his tunic while Jim bites his lip and lies back against the pillows, waiting. The air around them shifts and crackles. Spock detects a sweep through their shared mental energy, like fingers stirring a basin of water.
"You have thought about this," Jim says quietly. Spock bristles. "I can feel it."
"I will not be someone you cast aside after an evening," Spock tells him, more brusquely than he intended. Chastising himself for lack of control, he wishes the words had not left his mouth. They make him sound vulnerable and so very, very human. He desires to walk away, to put as much space between them as he can, but his legs won't move. Jim's hands gently close around his wrists.
"You could never be that," Jim murmurs.
His words cause something to dissolve in Spock's chest. He can almost hear the beating of Jim's heart accelerate, as his own does; it is more of a feeling than something he detects with his senses, as though Jim's heart surrounds them. Desire flutters through him at the thought. Jim's arms encircle him; on the bed before them, their younger selves form an unpracticed tangle of limbs.
Jim's breathing picks up as they watch their bodies slide against one another. He begins to pant in Spock's ear, pressing closer. Jim is aroused. Spock does not want to push Jim away, but he cannot risk worsening the bleeding. They cannot continue to watch this. The image before them abruptly fades.
They again stand in a void. There is nothing but the two of them, the air suddenly cold. Spock shivers.
"What happened?" Jim asks.
"The bleeding has not stopped," Spock says. "I will not endanger your life by allowing this memory to continue."
"Should we even be calling them memories at this point?" Jim asks, exhaling in what Spock can discern as disappointment.
"You are welcome to coin a more accurate term," he offers.
"Shared hallucinations?" Jim is trying to deflect with humor. He rests his chin on Spock's shoulder, traces a finger over the inside of Spock's wrist. "We could die down here, you know. Chances are we will."
Spock calculates that without immediate medical attention, Jim is correct in his deduction. The tightness in his chest returns. Jim coughs, and the room goes black.
Spock comes to with a short gasp. They are back in the jail cell. Spock holds tightly to Jim's hands, which have become cool and clammy. The back of Spock's legs and buttocks are numb. His left knee is swollen and pushing uncomfortably against the fabric of his pants. He cannot bend his leg without pain. His saliva is thick from lack of water. He tries to swallow, but he might as well be trying to swallow sand.
He is uncertain why their connection ended, since he can still feel Jim's life force. His own concentration must have slipped. Accessing his internal clock, Spock finds two hours and ten minutes have elapsed since they joined hands. They have been imprisoned for twenty hours and fifty-eight minutes. Spock should meditate, but he does not want to lose track of Jim's mind.
He runs a thumb over Jim's well-chewed nail and breathes deeply as he attempts to reestablish their connection.
It is harder to enter Jim's mind the second time, as though Spock is walking into a house he should recognize, but nothing is where it should be—including Jim. Spock looks for him in his bedroom in Riverside, in the house's back garden which is enclosed in some type of weather dome, in the home office. Spock calls for him, but Jim doesn't answer. Though it is merely a dream, Spock secures the front door when he leaves. He walks toward the road, the gravel drive crunching under his boots. He is moments from willing himself to San Francisco when something strikes the dirt at his feet. He turns to look over his shoulder at the house and sees Jim pitching rocks from the roof.
"Where'd you go?" Jim asks. Jim's voice is as clear as if he stands next to Spock. He throws another rock and watches it fall to the dusty front yard.
"Our situation has not changed," Spock answers.
"You mean my head's getting worse," Jim says pointedly. There is no benefit in concealing the truth from him, and Jim has figured out how to read Spock's emotions.
"Yes," he says.
"I thought that I might have freaked you out back there." With the flick of his wrist, a third rock goes flying. "Guess I figured that if I'm gonna die, I might as well go for it."
"You are not going to die."
"Aren't you the one who always says Vulcans don't lie?"
"I am not lying," Spock says. "I do not intend to let you die."
"Oh, really?" Jim says. His tone is amused. "How are you going to manage that?"
"I could lead you through a healing trance," Spock offers.
"We both know that won't fix anything," Jim says. "Not for me. But if you need it, you go."
"It would keep you relaxed."
"Listen," Jim says, and Spock is suddenly lying next to him on the roof. He feels the rough shingles against his back. "I don't want to think about what's happening to me. I've already done this once, and it's not easier the second time, believe me."
Spock had not considered this. He nods, and Jim takes his hand.
"Sorry you've had to see this twice," he says.
"There is still time," Spock tells him. "I would estimate the crew is working out a strategy for our rescue."
"Show me another memory," Jim says, and the blue Iowa sky shifts into a gray ceiling before Spock can think.
He looks down on the Kobayashi Maru simulation. Jim sits in the captain's chair wearing a cadet's uniform and a satisfied smirk. His teeth slice into an apple, and Spock feels a slice of betrayal.
"Seriously," Jim whispers, "this is the memory you chose?"
"How the hell did that kid beat your test?" someone asks behind them. Spock turns to see his younger self in his black instructor's uniform, his mouth firm.
"I do not know," that Spock answers and hurries out of the room. They follow him. His younger self waits outside the door where Jim will exit, standing proudly with his arms behind his back. Spock never waited for Cadet Kirk. He went immediately to Admiral Barnett to request permission to search the program's code for evidence of sabotage. He did not wait for Jim to exit, as he does now. He did not put a hand on his shoulder and watch Jim spin around to face him, as he watches himself do.
"Hey!" Jim says, his face brightening. He pulls Spock into an unoccupied classroom and steps into Spock's personal space. "What did you think?"
"You cheated," Spock says to him.
"I was brilliant," Jim corrects and touches the button at Spock's throat.
"But you cheated," Spock repeats.
"You're just upset because this test is your baby," Jim says and takes Spock by the shoulders. "Come on. Let's go celebrate."
Spock steps away from Jim. Frowning, Jim retracts his hands and crosses his arms over his chest.
"Okay," Jim begins. "I know you're pissed off right now."
"I am disappointed by your actions," Spock says.
"Isn't disappointment an emotion?" Jim asks and widens his eyes knowingly.
"Not only did you cheat, but you failed to divine the purpose of the test," Spock says. "Further, you abused our interpersonal relationship to do it."
"I did not," Jim protests. Spock lifts an eyebrow, so Jim rolls his eyes. "It wasn't your email I used, okay?"
"So you coerced one of my technicians."
"Does it matter?" Jim says. "I won, so they have to let me on the Enterprise with you."
"I must report this."
"But you won't," Jim purrs and resumes his position not two inches from Spock's chest. He raises his hands to Spock's shoulders and slips them around his neck. Kissing Spock languidly, he murmurs against his lips. "Why don't we celebrate at my place. Bones won't be home for a few hours."
"I will meet you there," Spock informs him stiffly. "There are tasks I must complete before I can leave." Jim casts him a bright smile before walking down the hallway and out the front doors to the building. Spock hangs his head.
"You're still going to bring me up on charges," Jim whispers. Spock is quiet, but Jim takes his arm. "That's good," he says. "I deserved it."
"Your solution was creative," Spock admits. "It demonstrated original thinking."
"And it was cheating," Jim says.
"It is fortunate the cost of my actions was not your career," Spock says. "You are an excellent captain. I am honored to serve with you."
"Any way I can convince you to go back to being your usual, snarky self?" Jim asks. "I don't know if I'll make it through this if you lose it again."
"I do not understand."
"You know," Jim prompts. "Tell me I'm being illogical. Tell me that serving with me is a constant challenge because you have to deal with my irritating humanity."
"I do not wish to serve under anyone else."
"See, stuff like that," Jim says, "is making it really hard to tell myself I shouldn't kiss you."
"I will not risk elevating your heart rate," Spock says.
"You wouldn't object?" Jim asks, raising his eyes to Spock's. "If I weren't bleeding in—what'd you say, my frontal lobe?"
"That is correct."
"I found no error in your statement," Spock says.
Jim's eyes are bright and lovely when he smiles. Spock does not wish to look away from them, but he feels his own body begin to react to Jim's proximity. He takes a step back, but Jim's hands cup his face and draw their mouths together. Jim closes his eyes, but Spock's remain open. Around them, Starfleet Academy fades, and they stand along the waterfront in San Francisco. Jim turns his head, one hand still touching Spock's face, the other pressed to his chest. Their younger selves stand against the railing, looking over the water.
"I didn't mean it," the other Jim is saying. "You have to understand I didn't mean anything I said to you on the bridge."
"I regret my decision to maroon you," Spock tells him quietly.
"I'm so sorry about your mom," Jim says and places a hand on Spock's shoulder. His voice hitches. "Fuck, Spock, I'm so sorry."
"She was looking forward to meeting you," Spock says. Jim sniffs and nods.
"Me too," he says. They stand quietly for several minutes, and Jim slips his hand to the small of Spock's back. "Listen," he says. "I'm going to Iowa for a while, just until this all calms down. You're welcome to come with me."
When Spock turns his head, there is a single glistening tear streak on his cheek. He nods at Jim, and the scene around them begins to shimmer and warp. At first, Spock believes it is a trick of the imaginary sunlight, but he shortly realizes the optical illusion is caused by immense heat, radiating from the surface of the volcano. Jim clutches his arm as they avoid stepping off of the jagged black rock above the lava's surface.
"Shit," Jim swears. "Where the hell are we?"
"This is Nibiru," Spock informs him, motioning to where he kneels in a heatproof suit, opening the case that contains the cold fusion device.
"Oh god," Jim murmurs, looking at the lava swells which collide and send showers of bright red through the air. "Spock, I had no idea."
They listen as Spock informs Jim that he must be left behind, that the needs of many outweigh the needs of one. Jim catches his mouth in his hand. His jaw is tight. Before them, Spock outstretches his arms as he prepares for the lava to consume him.
"I am grateful you did not leave me to die," Spock whispers, though it is lost in the roar of the volcano, the wind overhead. Somehow, Jim hears him anyway and takes his hand.
Spock closes his eyes as his younger self is enveloped in swirling light from the transporter beam, and the three of them stand on the transporter pad. Smoke rises and curls from Spock's suit. Kneeling, he snaps off his helmet, allowing it to fall to the ground. Jim and Dr. McCoy rush into the transporter room. Jim's hair is wet, and his wetsuit leaves a trail of water as he pushes past McCoy. Jim falls to his knees, embracing Spock, and whispers against his neck.
"Don't ever do that to me again."
"Captain," Spock admonishes, though his arms come up to hold Jim in return. "You violated the Prime Directive."
"He's fine," McCoy comments with a roll of his eyes.
"Lecture me later, Commander," Jim whispers and helps him to stand. "My quarters, 2100 hours. We have a report to fill out. For now, I want you in sickbay for a full workup."
"Sir," Spock acknowledges and allows Jim to kiss him before they exit the transporter room with McCoy grumbling behind them.
They do not follow. Jim holds tightly to Spock's hand and remains on the transporter pad. Spock can sense the next memory Jim wants to visit, but the idea makes him feel sick. He shakes his head.
"I do not wish to see it," he says. Jim smiles at him sweetly.
"I have a feeling," he says slowly, "you might understand me this time."
He squeezes Spock's arm, and Spock is kneeling outside the warp core. His voice catches in his throat at the sight of himself crouched low to the ground, both hands against the glass.
"Jim," Spock says earnestly.
"How's our ship?" Jim asks, his voice weak.
"Out of danger," Spock assures him. "You saved the crew."
"And you used what he wanted against him," Jim says with pride. "That's a nice move."
"It is what you would have done," Spock says.
"And this...this is what you would have done." Jim raises his hand to the glass. "Kiss me," he says weakly. Spock brings his hand to match the arrangement of Jim's fingers and heaves a breath. Jim smiles at the sight of their hands touching, and looks back at Spock through bloodshot eyes.
"I'm sorry this is all we get," he says. "We were supposed to have years."
"I am grateful for our time together," Spock tells him.
"I want you to know how much you mean to me," Jim says. "Why I went back for you on Nibiru, why I couldn't let you die." His voice breaks, and he coughs, a horrible wet sound.
"Because you love me," Spock says simply, "as I love you."
Spock cannot help his mouth falling open at this simple declaration. Through the glass, Jim smiles in affirmation, and though it is pained and tear-streaked, his face is beautiful when he stops moving. Jim's hand falls away from the glass, and Spock leans his forehead against it. He takes several deep breaths. When he rises, he is calm but his eyes are murderous. He walks purposefully out of engineering, past Scotty and Uhura. Spock's eyes linger on Jim's prone form slumped against the door.
"I believe I understood your meaning," he says to Jim, who remains out of sight. He hears Jim coughing again, and for a moment he thinks Jim must be alive in the chamber and takes a step toward it.
Behind the glass, Jim remains unmoving, and Spock realizes it is his Jim coughing. It is not a part of the dream. The air reverberates with it. Jim is coughing in the jail cell where they both sit. Within the dream, Spock finds him slumped on the ground and dares to hold him, wrapping Jim in his arms, but the coughing does not stop. It only escalates, and then Jim's eyes slip closed.
"Jim," Spock instructs. "You must remain awake. Focus on my voice."
Spock's words are in vain. Jim does not respond. He lies still within Spock's arms. Spock cradles Jim against his chest and forces his own eyes open. He inhales the damp air of the jail cell, and squeezes Jim's limp hands, but Jim does not squeeze back.
"Jim?" Spock asks hoarsely. He presses Jim's hands again, chants the incantation to re-initiate the meld, but the connection will not form. Spock sucks in a shaky breath. Does he risk dropping Jim's hands? If he does, he may never reach them again, but Jim is clearly too far gone for Spock to reach his mind any longer. His internal clock tells him that they remained melded for an additional four hours and nine minutes.
He steadies himself, slowing his respiratory rate, and focuses. There is nothing through Jim's hands: no emotion, no signs of life. They grow cooler to Spock's touch by the minute. Spock berates himself. He should have attempted the healing trance. He should have forced Jim to enter it. Instead, he had honored Jim's wish to remain in the shared memories, and Jim...Jim had used that as his way of saying goodbye.
For the second time, Spock is forced to accept the reality that Jim Kirk is dead.
Jim Kirk, who accepted Spock, who...loved him as he is, is dead. For it had been love. He can admit that here, now, to himself. There are no witnesses. He had never wished to feel that emotion, had never dared to associate it with Nyota; yet when he bestowed it upon Jim, he felt no shame in it. Sarek loved Spock's mother. Surely it honors her memory to love Jim.
But Jim is dead.
His captain is dead.
Spock drops Jim's hands. A cry breaks from his throat, a primal and animalistic moan. With all of his remaining strength, he wrenches his wrists apart, feels the ropes snap, the warm slick of blood as they slice his skin. He risks hemorrhage, infection, and possible compromise of whatever plan the Enterprise has for their rescue, but Spock does not care. His fingers now free, he begins to pull at the restraints binding his ankles, has them untied within one minute, thirteen seconds, and rounds on the cell wall. His fingertips are raw and pulsing.
The sight of Jim's body makes him ill, but he reaches his hands through the bars, touches the back of Jim's neck. Nothing. He strokes Jim's hands, but there is nothing apart from the sticky tug of his own blood along Jim's skin. Rising to his feet, Spock grips the bars and studies the cell configuration. The bars are forged of a strong metal, probably a native alloy. He rattles them and notes a weakness in the corner bracket, where the bars are affixed to the cave wall. He moves to kneel in front of the bracket despite the pain in his leg, studies where the bottom rung rests within it. There is no bolt or fastening device that Spock can see. It is either an oversight or shoddy construction. Glancing up, he observes that the top rung is only connected to the wall by the same type of rope he just tore from his own wrists and ankles.
If he can gain leverage, as little as an inch, he should be able to lift the bottom bar out of the bracket. With it free, in theory, he can push the entire wall of bars enough to slide his body underneath. Once he has reached Jim, he will reevaluate their situation and wait for a guard to investigate. He spots no surveillance devices, but they surely have some type of guard schedule.
He stands, bending at his waist, and curls his fingers around the bottom bar. Gritting his teeth, he pulls, feeling the strain of his shoulder muscles, the tendons in his forearms. He holds his breath and grunts, his face contorting, and there is a horrible grinding sound: the bar lifting free of its bracket. He drops them, and the bars hang free. He leans against the cold rock wall at the back of the cell to regain his breath.
His arms and fingers ache; he has likely strained several muscles. The trickle of blood from his wrists has slowed but not stopped. There is no time for further self examination. He must act while he still has strength. He crouches and shoves his shoulder into the bars, feels them swing forward slightly as the rope gives against his weight. There will not be enough room beneath the bottom rung for his body to slide under. He drops to the ground, winces at the pressure on his left knee, and begins to dig. The floor is earthen; he scoops away handful after handful, the dirt embedding itself uncomfortably beneath each fingernail and within the open cuts on his fingertips. He does not stop.
This is not logical, he tells himself. The captain is dead. Spock should ensure his own escape, and yet he keeps digging. If their situations were reversed, if it were Spock lying in the adjacent cell, he knows that Jim would never leave his body behind.
He digs with a renewed enthusiasm, hollowing out a curved area deep enough to allow hands to pass beneath the bars. He works despite the exhaustion which sets in, despite the parched feeling in his throat. No additional food has been brought, and they have not been offered water since their arrival. Still he digs, the motion soothing, for he tells himself that for every scoop of dirt he removes, he is that much closer to Jim. Hope keeps him motivated, the hope that he was simply too weak to perform a proper meld, that Jim is somehow alive.
Spock has no desire to assume command of the ship. Therefore, Jim must be alive.
It is logical that Jim be alive.
He digs for two hours and twenty-nine minutes, until his palms are raw, and he has dug as deep as possible, his fingers scraping the layer of rock underneath the sediment. He must do this now, before he grows any more exhausted, before the guards come back and restrain him. He lies on his stomach and pushes against the bars, moving them forward, until his head and shoulders rest in the scooped-out earth. The bar passes over them and pins his hips. He brings his arms firmly against his sides and squirms, using his abdominal muscles and legs to push himself forward. The bar catches on the fabric of his uniform; he feels it tear, but he continues to inch underneath. Once his shoulders are free, he works his arms under and out, one at a time. Resting them on the ground in front of him, he arches his back as he pulls his legs free.
He does not bother to wipe the blood and dirt from his hands before rushing to Jim, checking for a pulse. It is weak but discernible. Spock's heart begins to race. Pressing fingers to each of Jim's meld points, he begins to whisper, "My mind to your mind. My mind to your mind…" over and over until the connection flickers. There is only darkness, but Spock speaks into it, hoping Jim will hear him.
"Do not leave me."
He unties Jim's wrists and ankles, settles on the ground with Jim curled against him. He must be kept warm. Spock lowers his face to Jim's forehead, resting his cheek against it, and slowly rocks as he remembers his mother rocking him as a child. He recalls the soft feel of her hands, how she would stroke his cheek. No one has ever dared touch Spock as his mother did, except for Jim. Nyota had always been respectful of his heritage, a trait he appreciated in her. He was glad for the physical distance she maintained between them in public, for how little she touched him outside of intimacy. But Jim has always been free with his touches: a hand on Spock's arm in the corridor just off of the bridge, a brush at the small of his back when he leans next to Spock to look at a reading on the computer.
He hears the words from Jim's lips, reeling in the knowledge that Jim knew. Jim knew what their hands touching meant. It had not, any of it, been unreciprocated.
Because you love me, as I love you.
He continues to rock Jim's body until footsteps sound in the distance, the faint staccato of boot taps along the cave floor which echo eerily around them. He carefully lowers Jim to the ground, positioning an arm beneath his head, and stands unmoving against the bars. The guard comes into view and peers into Spock's cell, his eyes widening when he realizes it is empty. He unlocks the door and steps inside, walks quickly to the hollowed-out area and kneels down in front of it. Spock takes the opportunity to reach between the bars and deliver a nerve pinch, catching the guard as he falls. Snatching the keys from his belt, Spock quickly unlocks the door to Jim's cell, lifts Jim from the floor, and starts down the corridor.
Unarmed, with Jim injured, Spock estimates immediate recapture if they are discovered. They must remain unseen. With the guard unconscious, no one will be aware of their escape for some time, perhaps as much as a half hour. It provides him with ample time. Hoisting Jim higher on his chest, Spock begins the climb up the steep, curving path to the cave entrance. When he comes to a fork in the corridor, he presses his ear to the cave wall but hears no footsteps approaching, though he can discern voices in the distance. He cannot tell where the voices originate. He chooses the corridor to his left, and the voices fade. He takes a breath and holds Jim closer.
If he can find a computer, he can contact the Enterprise on an emergency channel. However, the planet's inhabitants appeared primitive, with rudimentary weapons, and he doubts they have even harnessed the microchip. He rebukes himself for not having searched the fallen guard for a weapon. He is surely compromised.
He recognizes rock formations as he walks, retracing the route out of the cave, finding each step painful. He favors his left leg and shifts so that Jim is positioned over his right shoulder. The corridor is narrow, the ceiling low. Water drips onto his face and the back of his neck, causing him to shiver. He moves as quietly as possible. To his chagrin, he spots nothing which looks like computer technology.
They are halfway to the surface, the air sweeter, ambient light increasing, when Jim coughs. It echoes like a beacon signaling their escape, so Spock claps a hand over Jim's mouth, trying to project an apology as Jim struggles for air. Spock remains where he is, leaning against the wall to ease the pressure on his leg, until he is certain no one came to search as a result of it. He removes his hand from Jim's face and continues walking.
The mouth of the cave comes into view, and Spock counts two guards. They face the outside, looking across a clearing to the woods, and they do not look at one another. They stand approximately fifteen feet apart, enough space that Spock should be able to deliver a nerve pinch to one, then turn and disable the other before he can be harmed himself. He wills Jim to remain quiet, resting him in a dark alcove, and makes quick work of both guards, who do not so much as cry out. He relieves them of their knives, tucking one into his belt. With Jim in his arms, he heads for the nearby woods, toward the foothills where the natives first surrounded the away team. It is difficult to move quickly while carrying Jim's additional weight, and the pain in his knee grows worse with each step, but Spock has no choice.
Starfleet protocol states that in the event a member of an away team becomes separated and has no means of communicating with the ship, he should return to the last-known point of contact. Spock does this, tucks them in between two boulders, out of view should any of the natives enter this part of the woods. He rests his head against the rock. The sun is hot. He hadn't realized his own shaking and basks in the light. His body temperature is dangerously low and he gratefully absorbs the heat, feeling the tremors lessen as the minutes pass. He hugs Jim to his chest, resuming the slow rocking he had initiated in the cell, daring to thread his fingers through Jim's tangled hair. He lowers his mouth to Jim's dirt-smeared face and kisses his forehead, feeling the tickle of the short hairs against his nose.
Do not leave me.
The last thing he remembers is the gritty texture of dirt on Jim's skin, as he caresses it with his lips.
Spock knows he is in a medical facility from the way it tastes: a stale, antiseptic flavor that hovers in his mouth and nose. Upon opening his eyes, he counts seven seconds before he is able to focus on his surroundings. He concentrates on the ceiling, watching as a familiar crack appears in the paint, detects the notes of McCoy's cologne. Spock is relieved to be back on board the Enterprise, though he has apparently lost track of time.
The dry, recycled air of the ship is like inhaling dust with every breath. He coughs, his body tensing as he does, and he notes the absence of pain in his leg. His injured kneecap is healed, and he is able to flex his hands without pain. Has he been in a trance? He has no recollection of entering one, only the ghost of memories which cannot be his own.
Spock thinks back, accessing his internal logs. He and Jim were imprisoned twenty-seven hours and thirty-six minutes before Spock made their escape, but he has no sense of how long they waited for rescue. He doesn't recall beaming back onto the ship but can feel the boulder along his spine, thinks of his lips pressed to Jim's forehead. He brings a hand to his mouth.
"Good, you're awake."
The voice belongs to McCoy. Spock quickly returns the hand to his side and closes his eyes.
"What is the captain's condition?" he asks.
"Internal bleeding is a lot easier to treat than radiation poisoning, let me tell you," McCoy says lightly. "He's still unconscious, but he should be coming around anytime. I repaired the damage to his brain; I'm just waiting for the swelling to go down."
Spock hears the sigh of relief escape his own lips. McCoy grunts as he scans the monitors over Spock's head, frowning at the output.
"Where is he?" Spock asks.
"He's just across from you," McCoy says. "You saved his life. Again."
"Your medical expertise is surely a contributing factor," Spock says and chances a look at the doctor. McCoy gives him a wide-eyed expression. He is quiet for a minute but gives a barely discernable nod.
"It could be a few hours before he wakes up," he says, his tone softer. "You should eat something."
"I am fine," Spock answers.
"Vulcans," McCoy mutters. "As long as you promise you'll eat a full breakfast in the morning."
"I will eat when my body requires it," Spock informs him.
"Well," McCoy says, smoothing his tunic. "I'm headed to the mess. Nurse Chapel will keep an eye on your monitors."
"He needs rest, Spock."
"I understand," Spock says, closing his eyes.
McCoy's exhale is exaggerated, but Spock supposes it is related to his affection for Jim. Spock nods and feigns sleep until McCoy has exited the room. He hears the door slide closed, and the air clears of his cologne. He scans the room, determines that no one is watching him, and sits up. He swings his legs over the side of the biobed, gingerly touches them to the floor. They sway under his weight only momentarily; he steadies himself with a hand on the bed and inhales deeply. He reaches Jim's side in only four steps and lowers himself into a chair beside the bed.
Will Jim recall what transpired between them in the cave? Will he still desire it? Spock longs to take his hands, to feel their warmth, to once again be connected to Jim's thoughts and feelings. He has never wanted to join his life to another person's, believing it unnecessary. Looking at Jim, he knows he was wrong. He is unable to pinpoint the moment when Jim Kirk's life became essential to his own, when separation was no longer a possibility. Spock supposes it has been building since the moment their eyes first met across a sea of red uniforms.
You could never be that.
Over the past three years, Spock has taken Jim's lack of action to mean a lack of interest, but he is glad to be wrong. Even if Jim does not wish to further their relationship, at least Spock has the knowledge that his affection is returned. He contents himself with that thought, pleased to be at Jim's side.
He is startled by the sight of Jim's blue eyes regarding him from the pillow. Spock blinks, gives a momentary glance to the monitors. Jim's condition is stable. Spock should page McCoy back to sickbay, but he doesn't so much as look at the intercom.
"I could feel you," Jim says, his voice thick with sleep, "in my head."
"Captain," Spock says, ducking his chin. "I regret the invasion of your privacy, but I was attempting to monitor your life signs."
Jim presses Spock's hand, and Spock stops talking. "I know," Jim says. The thoughts which pass into Spock from Jim's skin are just as warm and inviting as they were in the cave, and it sparks hope. Spock turns his hand over, so his fingertips brush Jim's palm. He dares to stroke it and is satisfied to see a faint pink blush appear on Jim's cheeks.
Jim pats the bed. Spock hesitantly settles next to him and pushes a button to activate the privacy shield. Jim adjusts the pillow so he can sit upright. Their arms touch from shoulder to wrist, but Jim no longer holds his hand.
"I vowed to share nothing I saw," Spock says, sensing Jim's unease through their forearms. "I will honor that promise."
"I meant everything I said," Jim tells him, pulling at a thread on the blanket.
"As did I."
"Yeah?" Jim asks, turning his head. His mouth is only inches from Spock's, but Jim does not move closer. Spock remains still.
"I have no desire to serve anyone else," he says.
"What do you desire?"
"Your safety," Spock tells him.
"Well, as long as you're with me," Jim says, "looks like I come out of things okay."
"Then would you agree it is logical," Spock says quietly, as Jim twines their fingers, "that I remain by your side?"
"Eminently." Jim squeezes his hand, and Spock lets out a moan. "This is pretty hot and heavy by Vulcan standards, huh."
"Indeed," Spock manages. He shivers as Jim drags a nail along Spock's index finger.
"So I guess what we were doing in the cave was basically..."
"Necessary for your survival," Spock supplies.
"I was going to say pornographic," Jim offers. He brings their hands to his lips and kisses the tip of Spock's middle finger, drawing it into his mouth. Spock feels a surge of heat low in his belly and inhales sharply, clenches his teeth to keep from moaning again. Even Nyota had never dared to touch his hands in this way. Jim pulls off with a wet sound.
"What about that?" he asks. The lust which pours into Spock belies Jim's innocent expression.
"That was..." Spock pants, not quite able to catch his breath. "...intimate."
"If I'd known what was in your head all this time," Jim whispers, "we could have been doing this years ago."
"A regrettable oversight," Spock agrees. Jim smiles, cradling Spock's hand in his. He brings it to his temple.
"Do it," he whispers. "I wanna feel you again."
So Spock does.
When McCoy exits his office for the night, having finished the pile of administrative work stemming from this latest Jim Kirk Medical Incident, he's not surprised to find Spock still in sickbay. He's asleep beside the captain. Spock's face is pillowed on Jim's chest, and Jim's arms circle him protectively.
"What is this, a med bay or a honeymoon suite?" McCoy mutters, shaking his head as he reactivates the privacy shield surrounding the bed. He enters his lock code for the main door, fighting the smile at the edge of his mouth. "About damned time."