Jim still dreams of Tarsus IV. Rarely, but he has never managed to excise the dreams entirely. So when, on the ship to Vulcan-that-will-be, he dreams of Tom slumped over his body, their ribs digging into each other, breath fetid and smelling of rot, he is not surprised.
He has dreamed of Tarsus IV enough to know that it is a dream; this never happened. Tom lived. Jim almost killed some Vulcans to save him, but he lived, and is a xenoagriculturalist now, working on fungus-resistant crops, and he didn’t die starving and sacrificing himself for Jim.
This is a dream, Jim knows, but the white wisps of fungus like snow (Jim can’t stand the snow, lived on a planet where only the highest peaks get snow, a planet that is gone now, and he is on Tarsus-Vulkhansu-an Iowa shipyard) is thick in the air, and Jim can feel the rocky ground beneath him and Tom’s body above him, and he wakes screaming.
A face looms over him, and he lashes out at Kodos-Frank-Jim has never unleared fear.
The hand that catches his wrist is gentle, though, holding him carefully, and he is abruptly furious, angry at whoever would treat him with such gentleness, as though he is a child, breakable. He starts to fight, struggling against their grip, wanting to hurt them, to hurt , but they just pin him down, pressing their weight down on him until he can’t move.
Vulcan, he realizes suddenly, going still.
They don’t let him go, though, despite the fact that he couldn’t put up a shield right now to save his life. He feels flayed open, raw, like somebody pulled his skin off strip by strip and left his nerves exposed.
“Peace,” they say. “Peace, Captain. I am not here to hurt you.”
Jim presses his eyes shut, then opens them again, and this time they focus on the face above his, expressionless, cool. Spock. “You can let me go, now.”
Spock releases him immediately, the sensation not like he wants to get away from Jim but like he is simply acquiescing promptly to Jim’s wishes. Amazing, how he manages that. His weight disappears from Jim’s limbs, and he straightens, giving Jim room to sit up.
“Sorry,” Jim mutters, shoving a hand through his sweat-caked hair. “Didn’t mean to wake you up.” They are sharing quarters for the trip; Jim is the only human on the trip, and though nobody said it, they put him with Spock because they think Spock is the only one who can deal with him.
“No apologies are necessary,” Spock says, hands behind his back in the Vulcan version of at-ease. “I was not asleep. You appeared distressed. Are you well?”
“I—” Jim swallows. He hasn’t had to explain the concepts of nightmares to Vulcans in years, and he’s pretty sure when he did it on the ship, his explanation consisted of ‘My dreams fucking suck, leave me the fuck alone,’ which probably won’t work with Spock.
“You need not share personal information if you do not feel comfortable doing so,” Spock says, looking like he could stand there forever. He probably could.
“No, I—” Jim sighs. “Could you just sit? Humans don’t like it when people loom over them, generally.”
Spock sits on his own bed, only a few steps away, saying, “I appreciate the additional information on human socialization.”
“Right.” Jim knows why he had the Tarsus IV dream, has known since the loss of his third home that he would dream of the fall of his second, and so he always knows that this probably won’t be the last nightmare he has. “I know Vulcans don’t dream, generally. Has anyone ever explained nightmares to you?”
Spock is unexpectedly silent, then after a pause says, “My mother had nightmares, on occasion, generally when my father was on diplomatic missions. Perhaps she still does. I am unsure.” He looks discomfited by the confession.
Honestly, it makes Jim uncomfortable, too, thinking of T’Sai Amanda having nightmares. But he’s not going to go down that route, particularly not right now, while he still feels like his skin has been scrubbed raw. “There are a lot of reasons why humans have nightmares, but one of them is prior trauma.”
“You were dreaming about the destruction of Vulcan-that-was?” Spock asks.
Jim has dreamed about that, about a red planet imploding in on itself, Jim watching helplessly from above, reaching out but unable to save what he loves. “Not this time.” He swallows, his throat clicking dryly. “I was dreaming of Tarsus IV.”
Spock stares at him. He surprised a Vulcan about something that isn’t human emotion. Will wonders never cease. “You are not a listed Tarsus IV survivor,” Spock says finally.
Jim kind of wants to curl up and close his eyes until he’s supposed to get up, but he’s started this conversation, and he’s not going to get out of it now. “You read my personnel file, right? After the Kobayashi Maru ?”
“Yes, Captain. You graduated from the Vulcan Science Academy prior to entrance in to Starfleet Academy.”
“And before that?”
Spock frowns. “There are a number of published articles listed, but no other information is provided prior to that. However, that is common for personnel files; unless information is necessary for actions to be taken, it is sealed from public access for privacy purposes. However, a notation should have been left regarding your being a Tarsus IV survivor, as there is a notation regarding your being considered part of the Kelvin last-run population.”
“The fact that I’m a Tarsus IV survivor isn’t in my personnel file because I never went through Starfleet intake. Rather, I remained on the first response ship, the Vulcan research vessel T’Nar , until my entrance into the Vulcan Science Academy. The publications that you saw, they’re all associated with my name and file now, but when I originally published the first three, they were done under another name. Kevin T’Nar.”
Spock stares at him. “You are Kevin T’Nar.”
“Yeah.” Jim looks down at his hands. Rough, scarred, with a cigarette burn scar just at the edge of his wrist. “Anyway, that’s what I was dreaming about. And I’ll probably do it again before we arrive, so just wake me up or throw something at me or whatever if I start screaming.”
“That does not seem conducive to sleep,” Spock says.
Jim has the abrupt, almost painful thought of how much he’s missed Vulcans. That’s such a fucking Vulcan thing to say, and he wants to cry at his loss, the loss of all of them. Instead, he says, “It’s not something humans can control, Spock, believe me.”
Jim approaches Starfleet Command the day after T’Sai Amanda approaches him regarding the Vulcan Science Academy.
He expects a fight of some sort, arguments that he must complete his time at the Academy or receive additional Command training before being adequately prepared to captain a vessel for any extended period of time, but instead Admiral Bartlett stares at him for 1.34 minutes before saying, “I have to say, I’m surprised the Vulcans want a human to help with their kids. It’s been made pretty clear they’re suffering our help only because they need it, not because they particularly want it.”
“I am a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, and prior to that briefly resided with a contingent of Vulcan researchers,” Jim says stiffly. “As such, I am viewed as somewhat less of a outworlder.”
To his surprise, Admiral Bartlett bursts into laughter, saying, “You’re the Vulcan Science Academy grad? The science faculty practically came to blows over who would get to work with you, and you went for Command track of all things.” He waves a hand. “Your ship is grounded for at least a couple months to repair the damage from the battle, and I looked at your Academy file; it looks like you’re only still at the Academy because you want to be. You want to go help the Vulcans, feel free.”
T’Sai Amanda approaches him in the cafeteria the next day, standing behind the chair across from him with a tray in her hand. “May I join you?” she asks in Standard, adding, “I feel like speaking Standard without any looks of judgment.”
“Of course.” Jim would never deny T’Sai Amanda anything, he thinks; she has been his hero for so long, he will probably never be rid of that feeling.
T’Sai Amanda sits, setting the tray down in front of her. She has plomeek soup on it, same as him, and she picks up a spoon but doesn’t begin eating yet. Instead, she says, “Spock informed me that you have been having nightmares.”
Jim is torn between laughing and groaning, and instead manages to repress it down to a sigh. “Spock has no sense of discretion, does he?”
T’Sai Amanda smiles, eating a spoonful of soup to cover it. “He actually does,” she tells him, sounding amused. “When it comes to emotions, however, I’m afraid he believes that I can fix all problems. A concept I must admit flatters me enough that I never particularly discouraged it. We need not talk about your nightmares if you do not wish to, though I am open to speaking about it if you would like.”
Jim doesn’t want to talk about it, or so he thinks, but when he opens his mouth he finds himself saying, “I have lost two of my homes, and perhaps I had no claim to either of them, but I sweated and bled for both, and yet both are gone, their inhabitants dead.”
“Two?” she asks gently, eating her soup in easy, even sips as though what they are speaking of is of no concern. Jim appreciates it. He doesn’t think he could talk about this, otherwise.
He’s not sure he can talk about it, period. But he forces himself to swallow and say, “I am a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy, as you are aware. Prior to that, prior to my residing on the research vessel T’Nar , I was on Tarsus IV.” He swallows a gulp of lukewarm plomeek soup. “Before entering Starfleet Academy, I had not set foot on Terran soil since I was twelve years old.”
T’Sai Amanda’s hand presses to her mouth, her head ducking so that her headscarf shades her face. From across the room, Kevet-dutar Sarek’s head lifts, his eyes focusing on the two of them. He stands, walking over to stand next to T’Sai Amanda; his impassive gaze fixes on Jim. “You are distressed,” he says in Vulkhansu, and despite the fact that his eyes never leave Jim’s face, it’s clear it’s talking to his wife.
“I am often distressed,” T’Sai Amanda replies in the same language. “We lost our home.”
“You are particularly distressed.”
T’Sai Amanda sends Kevet-dutar Sarek an indulgent look. “Captain Kirk shared some personal information with me, information that made me upset for him. Information that is of no concern to you.”
Kevet-dutar Sarek’s fingers brush the edge of hers, a gesture that would have looked accidental if it weren’t for the meaning it held for Vulcans. “All information that concerns you concerns me, adun’a.”
“I mentioned my having been on Tarsus IV,” Jim says, unwilling to let this continue.
Kevet-dutar stares at him for a minute, then says, “You are the discrepancy between the Starfleet public Tarsus IV survivor list and the Vulcan Public Communications Log list.”
Jim rubs at his eyebrow, where his head is starting to prickle with a headache. “Do all Vulcans know the Tarsus IV survivor list?”
“It is part of the current Vulcan educational curriculum. Additionally, as Vulcan ambassador to Terra, and due to the high proportion of Terran citizens on Tarsus IV, I familiarized myself with the Vulcan involvement in the incident. However, I erroneously did not connect you with the child raised on the T’Nar .”
“It’s not part of Starfleet’s records,” Jim tells him, “so it’s not in my personnel file. My Starfleet one, at least.” He sees Spock enter the cafeteria from a door across the room and, catching his eye, gestures him over. He doesn’t know how often Spock actually gets to interact with his parents, but it can’t be much, even now, given how busy they all are.
Spock approaches, walking over to stand behind the seat next to Jim’s, across from the kevet-dutar’s. He nods to his parents. “Ko-mekh. Sa-mekh.” He glances at Jim. “Captain.”
“Commander. I was just getting to know your mother, who I think was about to start regaling me with stories of when you were illogical as a small child.”
Spock turns a betrayed look on his mother, who swallows a laugh to say, “Those stories will have to wait, I think. Perhaps next time, Captain.”
“Jim, please, T’sai Amanda.”
It looks like she winces. “Then you can call me something a little less formal, as well.”
That idea makes Jim uncomfortable, so he suggests, “Lady Grayson?”
Definitely a wince this time.
“How about just Amanda,” she suggests. “After all, if I’m going to show you baby pictures, I’d like to think we should be at least somewhat friendly.”
“Amanda, then.” Jim glances at Kevet-dutar Sarek, who very pointedly does not offer the use of his own name, then looks back at T--Amanda. “I look forward to those baby pictures.”
Spock’s baleful look turns on him. “Captain. Such would be inappropriate, given our relative standings--”
“I’m sure you were a logically adorable child,” Jim reassures him. “And wouldn’t it be logical for me to be made aware of what Vulcan infants look like, in the name of science and cultural exchange?”
“I am a Vulcan-human hybrid,” Spock says stiffly. “While my physiology is nearly indistinguishable from that of a full Vulcan, it is not truly identical. Thus, using images of myself as a child would not accurately portray the appearance of true Vulcans.”
Jim restrains himself from rolling his eyes through years of training by Vulcans and also the knowledge that Amanda would probably not be able to keep from laughing aloud if he did it. Instead, he says, “First, Spock, you’re a real Vulcan, and fuck anybody--sorry, Amanda--who says otherwise. Second, if you are, as you are insinuating, unique, seeing images of you as a child would be even more logical, as no publicly-accessible image could provide me with the same information.”
Amanda smothers a smirk in the drapings of her headscarf, before saying, “There is nothing to forgive. I would say the same thing, if it weren’t impolitic for the wife of an ambassador.”
“It wasn’t what I was saying,” Jim explains, “just the language.”
“As I said,” Amanda replies, then eats another spoonful of soup.
Kevet-dutar Sarek kind of looks like he wants to fuck his wife right there, in the cafeteria.
Jim pretends not to notice.
Despite the logic of it, Jim is dubious about this plan for him to help a thousand Vulcan children cope with the loss of their planet, particularly given that he hasn’t slept a night without a dream about Tarsus IV since boarding the vessel to Vulcan-to-be, so clearly he never fully succeeded in the coping aspect there. The fact that every other Vulcan aside from Spock and possibly the Ambassador seem to be somewhat dubious of this plan as well does not encourage Jim to think well of it.
This lasts until the moment Jim steps off the vessel into oppressive dry heat, sees a crowd of dozens of Vulcan children staring at him, and thinks I will keep these children alive if it’s the last fucking thing I do .