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There is more green in his new backyard than in the entirety of Vulcan. He steps off the shuttle, hand clutching his suitcase, and tries to stop himself from gazing about in wonder. There are other Vulcans at this camp too, after all, and it wouldn’t do for them to see a blatant display of emotion.

None of his tormenters have come along, and T’pall is here. She is a year younger than him, and incredibly bright. The two often studied together, and he considers her to be a friendly acquaintance.

The sky is an endless, smokeless blue, the sun beats down with late July ferocity, and row after row of brand new science equipment glints in the white-walled labs, just waiting for him.

Although he doesn’t show it, it is the happiest he has ever been.

He darts into the kitchen at midnight, snatching jars and boxes and anything that wouldn’t rot away. Stuffs it in a bag, flings it over his shoulders, staggering under the weight even though he should be able, would be able, to carry ten bags of metal and food.

His father turns on the kitchen light and Spock flinches.

They are good months, peaceful. His head is clear, his future clearer. A spot at the Vulcan Science Academy would be all but secure once he completes his research project. He makes what he considers friends among the other young scientists at the camp, mostly human, occasionally Andorian or Orion. T’pall and him become quite close, by Vulcan standards, spending many a long day hunched together over equations and questions. His mother spends several of their comm conversations practically in tears, hands over her mouth. Smiling.

He takes apart replicator after replicator, puts them back together with shaking hands. Draws his fingers over the circuits and wires, trying to memorize every possible fail point and failsafe. His mother hovers behind him, clutching at the doorframe like it was the only thing keeping her upright.

The fungus comes slowly, and then all at once.

He could build a replicator blindfolded.

The adults are worried, the children confused, the Vulcans wondering why someone doesn’t hail Starfleet. Spock tries to call his mother, once. Nothing but static. He doesn't ask why. He knows, instinctively, that nothing good lies down that road. Instinct is illogical. He is the only Vulcan here who possesses it, he is told that time and time again.

He is the only one who makes it out.

The governor is making an announcement, the third one in as many weeks. The two previous were routine placations, followed by tips on stretching rations from days into months. Logically, today will be more of the same. Nothing has changed in the colony, and so nothing will change in the way the colony is being run.

Spock is uneasy.

He tries to express this unease to T’pall, then to his other Vulcan classmates, and finally to the Vulcans that made up the majority of the camp’s teachers. They all dismiss his unease as a hunch, an echo of humanity in his DNA, bereft of logic. They sooth him and reason with him and eventually he buries the nervousness beneath layers of sense and follows them to the square.

He wishes, for days, years afterwards, that he had fought harder.

They lock the gates and a man that Spock has never seen before stands before the colony (half the colony) and begins to speak.

The revolution is successful

He wakes up to those words for years.

The whine of phasers is all around them and the cicadas are buzzing behind, a symphony of shrillness. He lets himself fall, lets a boot crush his fingers, doesn’t scream, can’t scream, the world is white and red and shockingly green around him and he can’t breathe enough to scream. There’s a weight on his chest and a warmth streaming down his face and T’pall’s vacant, pine-trickling eyes stare at him with all the intensity of an earthquake.

He slams his eyes shut against the dust and the stare and the brilliant flashes of phasers, and listens to the sound of bodies striking earth. He goes limp, lets T’pall act as camouflage. His own heartbeat roars in his ears and there is noise noise noise and

Silence.

He leaves a bouquet of pure white lilies on her family’s doorstep. Thank you.

There is silence and iron for a long time around him. He feels as though he’s been buried alive. Then there is rustling. The sound of disbelieved gasps, emotional and desperate and frantically trying not to cry.

He lets his eyes fall open.

A boy stands besides a row of corpses, eyes bugging out of his head and shining with tears. He has snatched up a phaser and is holding it with jittery hands, as jumpy as a rabbit.

Spock inhales. In the silence it sounds like a foghorn.

Somehow, he finds the strength to speak.

“Get me out of here,” he whispers.

The boy stands still for a long moment. And then he reaches down and offers Spock his hand.

He reads Shakespeare, afterwards.

“What’s your name?” the boy asks after they have left the square behind, when they are crouching in a cave with three slices of moldy bread, a threadbare blanket, and a uncharged phaser between them. They can hear the cavorting of the hunting parties, searching for survivors.

This is before. Before they do some searching of their own. Before John and Kevin and Tom and Vrall and Amelia and Saturn and Wren and Lazarus.

Before they become leaders, parents, protectors.

It’s the two of them in a cave by themselves, scared out of their minds.

“S’chn T’gai.”

It’s bitter and petty. But humans have taken everything and they can’t have his name. They won’t have his name. They’ll die before they can pronounce it correctly and something inside him twists at the thought.

The boy blinks. Then he smiles.

“I’m JT,” he says.

Chapter Text

 

They crawl their way through muck and mud and rotten wheat, running at night just beyond the flashlight beams of Kodos’ men. They creep into empty houses and snatch whatever food they can find. S’chn T’gai gives most of it to JT.

“I’m a Vulcan,” he insists, time and time again. He can feel himself growing lighter. “I can go longer than you without eating.”

Malnutrition, dehydration, blood loss, severe intestinal injury, we have to operate.

Starfleet doctors lean over him as the gurney is wheeled down the halls of the makeshift hospital and he feels like he’s flying. There’s his mother’s face, tear streaked and pale as paper. He reaches for her but he’s whisked away and she’s left standing in the hallway. His father holds her up by the shoulders as her knees give way.

They find the first child in an empty house, three days after the massacre. He's a human boy, about six or seven by S'chn's estimate. His overalls sag over his chest and waist, evidence of quickly vanishing baby fat. He sits in the middle of the living room floor, sobbing seemingly without end. S'chn freezes in the entryway, unsure what to do or say. Immediately, JT is crossing the room and kneeling down next to the boy, all slow movements and gentle words.

“It’s okay,” he says, stroking the boy’s hair. “What's your name?"

"K-Kevin," the boy sobs.

"Hi Kevin. I'm JT. It's lovely to meet you. Are you hungry?"

An illogical question. Everyone was hungry.

Kevin nods and JT pulls a shriveled apple from his pack. Kevin wolfs it down without a second thought. S’chn's stomach pangs.That was to be their dinner for that night. As JT talks quietly to Kevin, coaxing him from the floor to the sofa, S’chn knows that they won’t be leaving without the boy. They would eat even less. He would eat even less.

Kevin throws his arms around JT

like Spock throws his arms around his mother when he’s finally awake and safe and nutrition is flowing into his veins. He sobs—huge, gut wrenching, shoulder shaking peals of emotion—for the first time in his life. The relief and pain and hunger slam into him like a battering ram or a thunderstorm.

His mother holds him, guides his damp face to her shoulder, holds him against her even though he lacks the strength to sit up on his own accord. He slumps bonelessly against her and he can be a child again, he can rely on someone else without the fear that they’ll snap his neck and eat what’s left of him, and the thought is grounding and relieving and terrifying.

JT looks over Kevin’s shoulder, locks eyes with S’chn and S’chn nods because what else can they do? They bring Kevin with them that night, when it is safe to leave the house. He clutches JT’s hand because JT is sun and optimism even though the fungus is creeping in everywhere. S’chn is silence. He leads them to the mountains, ears peeled for guards and civilians alike. At this point, they are equally dangerous. Anything taller than him is a threat.

They find a cave, cold and miserable and dripping with water and every bit of S’chn’s DNA screams at him to leave, to find warmth and acridity. But he leads the other two boys into the cave because it is safer than crouching under thickets.  

Kevin falls asleep almost immediately, the illusion of safety as effective as a lullaby. S’chn and JT sit together near the cave’s mouth, still in the shadows, still hunted things.

“There will be more,” says JT softly.

“Elaborate.”

“Kevin can’t be the only child who survived. There will be others. And their parents will be dead and there won’t be anyone else for them and—" he draws a shaking hand over his too-thin face. “And they’ll die. They’ll die, Shun.”

He pronounces S’chn’s name adequately for a Standard-wired tongue, but not perfectly and a ripple of triumph shoots through S’chn’s chest every time he here’s the soft, clumsy u.

“You cannot possibly be suggesting that we look for others.”

“That’s exactly what I’m suggesting.”

“We don’t have enough food,” says S’chn. “Not enough for one person, let alone three. Our odds of survival have dropped significantly just by taken in Kevin. And you wish to be responsible for more children?”

JT has a fire behind his eyes.

“I won’t let others die if I can save them,” he says.

S’chn looks away from him, past the planet, into the stars. Somewhere out there is Vulcan. He had logically begged his way onto Tarsus IV, cajoled his mother into signing him up for this summer camp. Now, he just wants to feel the desert warmth against his face, wants to soak in it, bathe in sunshine and never leave. He wants his home forever.

“Are we going home?” he asks his mother when the tears finally stop.

“Yes. Yes, sweetheart we’re going home. You’re gonna be alright, it’s all okay now. You’ll have your own bed, and all the food you could want, and us. And I-Chaya missed you, you know.”

“You are safe,” says his father. He rests a hand against Spock’s face and projects the images of home, warmth, light into his son’s mind.

Years later that, too, is taken from him.

He wonders what the universe will let him keep.

“If we have more people we can find more food,” says S’chn thoughtfully. “Division of labor would prove most useful.”

“Logic it however you want,” says JT. He yawns, loud and dramatic.

“Rest,” says S’chn. “I’ll stay awake and watch for guards.”

“Wake me up before the night is over, okay? You need sleep too.”

Vulcans don’t need nearly as much sleep as humans but S’chn doesn’t tell JT that. He knows that the stubborn human will argue the point and lose precious slumber. So he acquiesces. JT falls asleep after considerable fidgeting. S’chn turns his gaze back to the stars.

Somewhere out there, men and women with phasers and knives are searching for them. Searching for other children, other nonhumans, other, other, other. JT will pull them back out into the world to play chase with the monsters, to risk, to hurt, to starve, to die.

And yet.

And yet.

S’chn T’gai trusts the boy with every molecule of his being.

He picks up a chunk of rock and passes the long night hours working it into a point. A distant scream filters through the air. The smell of rot hangs thick over everything. His hands are freezing and he’s covered in filth and hunger claws at his belly like an angry sehlat. 

When the sun breaks, painting the sky with fire, S’chn holds up his makeshift knife. Pride works itself into a toothy grin and S’chn feels dangerous. He could rip through a man with this, destroy them before they can destroy him and Kevin and JT and whoever else they can find.

JT is determined to protect. He will go out there no matter what. So S’chn will be his shadow.

Chapter Text

They leave Kevin in the cave, tucked in the darkest corner with a heel of bread and instructions to move for nothing. JT embraces the boy before they leave, murmuring promises of a bedtime story. S’chn hovers in the background, clenching and unclenching his fists with impatient urgency.

He and JT set out right after sundown, when mosquitos hang thick in the air. S’chn can barely draw breath without a bug lodging itself in his throat. They run, keeping to the fungus-coated crops, looking for things to protect and things to eat.

He eats everything the doctors give him, mushy and unappetizing as it is, gulps it down without chewing. It all tastes of sawdust but it pours strength into his wasted muscles and that is all that matters anymore.

They reach the first house about an hour into their search. It is a tiny homestead, tucked into the corner of a dead wheat field. Wind chimes tinkle lightly in the cool breeze. With the darkness covering the putrid color of the fungus, it would seem like an idyllic country scene if it weren’t for the smell.

S’chn opens the door, shielding JT with one arm, brandishing his knife before him with the other. He scans the foyer. Nothing. He slips down the front hallway, peering into each room he passes. He trails his hand against the wall for guidance, not daring to turn on the lights. Their way is lit by the pale yellow of Tarsus IV’s moon. JT breathes softly next to him. He is not as quiet or contained as S’chn, the horror he feels obvious even from his silhouette.

An empty house, no one come to investigate the two intruders. It was obvious what had happened to the owners.

“The kitchen,” S’chn says, gesturing to a room at the end of the hallway. The two creep into the room and JT immediately darts to the fridge and throws it open. The light is shockingly artificial in the silent house, harsh against JT’s hollow features, illuminating every crevice where there should be flesh. He looks like a ghost.

The fridge is bare.

The fridge is full.

He stands for ten minutes, fingers growing numb from gripping the handle, just marveling at all the food before him. He reaches out with shaking hands and grabs an apple, then a hunk of cheese, then a carton of juice and then and then

He would have eaten anything.

His stomach revolts against the sudden onslaught and he jolts forward, choking on his own sick. He kneels on the kitchen floor, before the open fridge, vomit staining his trousers, and desperately tries to control his shivering.

JT frantically opens cupboards, rips drawers from the wall, gets on his hands and knees and peers under tables and chairs for a dropped grape or crumb. Anything. S’chn eventually throws caution to the wind and turns on the kitchen light. They prowl around the room like trapped things, pupils blown wide from the harsh overhead light.

JT finds a small tin in the corner of the pantry labeled “tangerines.” It’s a pull tab, easy to open, easy to eat. S’chn has never been more grateful in his life. JT does not open the can, holding it to his chest like a delicate thing.

“We’ll each eat half,” S’chn says. “We’ll find something else for Kevin, we haven’t eaten in three days.”

He assumes that JT’s hesitance to eat their prize comes from a moral quandary. But JT finally tears his gaze away from the can and looks up at S’chn, eyes red and wet.

“I’m allergic to tangerines.” His voice is very small.

Spock is often overwhelmed by the sheer variety and quantity of food the the Enterprise’s regulators can produce. Too many times he finds himself just staring at the menu. Everything is there, everything is safe to eat, he is safe in his own skin and the endless scrolling of “today’s new additions” is the most prominent reminder of that.

He snaps out of it eventually. He always does, and the crew assume that he is just taking his time to logically pick the most nutritious or the best tasting meal. He doesn't correct them. Spock consumes the correct amount of calories for someone of his weight, species, and activity level, and tells himself that Tarsus can’t affect him anymore.

On Wednesdays, he eats tangerines after lunch.

“I would ease your pain,” S’chn says. He pulls the tangerines from JT’s shaking hands and raises his left hand to the other boy’s temple. “May I?”

“You’re offering to do one of those mind meld things?”

“It might take your mind off the hunger for a moment.”

JT nods and then S’chn is in his mind.

It’s warmth and light and home and S’chn could drown in it. But he does what he is there for, projects the thoughts that this will be over someday and we’ll be safe and you’ll have everything you want that you’re not allergic to. JT laughs sardonically at that, muscles stretching into a smile beneath S’chn’s fingers.

He screams himself awake for many, many nights, screams out of dreams of that smile and how it broke.

He knows that they are t’hy’la the moment the connection is made and JT’s mind immerses him in everything gone and longed for. But he keeps his words locked behind his lips as he slips from the boy’s mind.

“Thank you,” says JT. He looks relieved and exhausted all at once, swaying slightly on his feet. “You should eat. I’ll go look for more.”

He leaves the room. S’chn pulls open the can and gulps down the sweet, syrupy fruit with a guilty relish. His stomach contracts painfully with the reminder of food but he keeps going. The can is entirely too small. S’chn drinks every drop of juice and licks the can clean for good measure. Then he drops the can unceremoniously on the floor and walks over to one of the many drawers that JT had opened and discarded.

It was full of kitchen utensils and the chef’s knives had caught S’chn’s eye. He counts five, each equally long and sharp and dangerous. They’ve even come with little sheathes. He puts four in his bag and slips one through his belt loop, feeling much more comfortable now than he felt with a hunk of rock.

“Shun?”

JT calls him from upstairs, voice quiet but urgent. S’chn takes the stairs two at a time, knife drawn, hands still sticky with tangerine juice.

JT is lying flat on the ground in the master bedroom, hand stretched under the bed, making soft noises at something hiding there. S’chn half expects another Kevin but then he drops to his knees next to JT and looks.

It’s a surprisingly well fed cat.

“You know we can’t—“ begins S’chn because the last thing they need is for JT to get attached to a cat.

“I know,” snaps JT and when he turns to look at S’chn he’s hardened his eyes, steeled himself against an oncoming hurt. “I’m not an idiot.”

His eyes snap to the knife.

“Give it to me,” he says. He holds out his hand. Oh.

It takes him a year to stop looking at I-Chaya and thinking “food.”

S’chn hesitates and JT sighs in exasperation.

“Look, I know that you’re Vulcan and you’re vegetarian but I’m hungry.”

“That’s not it,” says S’chn. “Just—Just let me do it, okay?”

“Why?” asks JT.

S’chn doesn’t tell him that the thought of JT covered in blood makes his stomach turn and his mind go white with rage.

“I just ate,” he says instead. “I’m stronger.”

He throws himself under the bed and pulls the cat out. It snarls and yowls, claws green lines down S’chn’s arms. It is trapped and directionless, futile against the grasp of a far stronger predator. The thought of stabbing it is revolting, the thought of eating it even more so.

S’chn drops the knife. Then he takes a deep breath and twists his hands. The crack of bone snaps through the moon-bright room and the hisses stop.

“Bloodless,” he says, numbness spreading from his hands to his throat. He can barely get enough air in his lungs to speak. “Painless. It’s a Vulcan technique.”

JT’s hands are feather-light on his shoulders. A finger brushes the back on S’chn’s neck in a flash of gratitude.

“Thank you,” he whispers.

Chapter Text

They find Tom on the outskirts of town. He’s hiding in an alleyway that’s more like a crevice, twisting away into the darkness between two buildings, overflowing with garbage. Tom blends in with the rubble around him, a creature of dust. He points a phaser out at the wider world and he meets them with a glare and a snarl. S’chn likes him immediately.

“We have a camp in the mountains,” says JT. “Wanna come?”

He holds his hand out and Tom appraises him silently for a moment before he stands and slips out from his hiding place. He speaks with the baritone of beginning puberty.

“Safety in numbers,” he says.

He thanks Tom, over and over again, as they lie side-by-side in sterile, sunlit sheets. And finally they can exist as more than surviving things in the dark and bloodletting things in the light. Tom climbs from his bed, careful not to pull out any wires. He crosses the few feet between them. He winds his too-thin arms around Spock’s too-thin shoulders, and is very careful not to touch Spock’s stomach.

Spock still doesn’t give up his name, not even to the child who held his organs together as they raced the moon back home. It is his last, best defense.

Tom manages to kill a rat as it skitters from home to home. JT picks it up gingerly and puts it in his backpack, nestled beside the house cat.

“Nice shot,” he says to Tom, who nods tersely.

“It’s running out of charge,” he says, turning the phaser over in his hands with a furrowed brow. S’chn slips off his backpack and pulls out one of the knives, passing it wordlessly to Tom.

“Thanks,” he says, securing it to his belt.

“You’re welcome,” says Spock. He goes back to rummaging through the refuse piled against the muddy bricks of an empty home. It’s all metal and cloth and burned things, nothing to eat or use.

JT pulls something out from beneath the charred wooden remains of a cabinet. It’s an old-fashioned book, paper cover spattered with mud and ash. JT smiles softly and cradles the book to his chest as gently as he had held Kevin.

“What’s that?” asks Tom.

“Shakespeare,” says JT. “Complete works.”

“Why’re you taking it?”

“It’s something to do.”

S’chn hears the layers behind JT’s words. It’s something else to think about. It’s something with which to forget the hunger. It’s something to keep Kevin quiet when he starts crying.

Sometimes, when the away missions are quiet and the observation deck is quieter, when he can’t distract himself with the stars and their wild unpredictability, Spock is overwhelmed with the reality of what had happened to him. This isn’t frequent, and he can usually bury the thoughts behind lists of what must be done, let his duties to the Enterprise wash away the memories of clawing, aching hunger.

But some days it grows too present and nothing will fill his stomach. He feels dwarfed by the vastness of space and the thoughts that somewhere, somehow, it is happening again. Infinite diversity, infinite combinations, infinite starvation.

When this happens, he pulls out a careworn copy of the Bard’s complete works and loses himself in ancient words from a starless Earth.

The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.

Shakespeare’s words have become JT’s words and although the loss burns into him, it sweeps him up in the memory of his t’hy'la's mind and his thoughts go still, if only for a moment.

The four of them sit around the burning coals of a cookfire, smoke masked by the dove gray dawn. JT cuts the skins from their meal with skilled hands.

“You grow up on a farm or something?” asks Tom.

“My brother taught me how to skin a squirrel,” says JT. “Same principle, really.”

He chops the meat into pieces and skewers it on sharpened sticks. The food cooks quickly and soon JT, Tom, and Kevin are scarfing down their portions. JT hands S’chn his share with a soft look. His hand rests against S’chn’s wrist and there’s a surge of protection and sympathy, intermingled with the unique signature of JT’s mind.

He pulls away and S’chn forgets to breathe for a moment.

Vulcans have scorned meat for so long that evolution has crept through their systems and snatched up the ability to digest it. But S’chn is half human.

His mother has saved his life.

He sinks his teeth into the scraps of meat, feels the grease bubble around the corners of his mouth. S’chn almost chokes on it, feels his whole body contract in a violent shudder, retches violently. But he keeps it down, miraculously. Chokes down the next piece, and the next, and the hunger decreases from a roar to a scream.

He is disgusted by himself, feels like he has grown rotten from the inside out, doesn’t want to think of all he has eaten to beat back starvation. He buys the hottest peppers he can find, eats them one after another, tries to burn the taste of charcoal flesh from his tongue.

“Want to hear a story?” JT asks Kevin as the rising sun casts marigold light over the cave floor. Kevin nods sleepily, curls into JT’s side as the older boy pulls out The Complete Works. He turns pages rapidly, bypassing the tragedies, and eventually selects a play. S’chn leans over his shoulder to read the title. Twelfth Night.

The words find a home in JT’s mouth, curl themselves naturally through his playful, lilting voice. He gives each character a different tone, a repressed falsetto for Viola, an overly-masculine bass for Orisono. Kevin stops him frequently to demand an explanation for a word or phrase. Although there are no annotations in the folio, JT instantly has the answer for every query.

Eventually Kevin nods off against JT. He stops reading, folds back a page to mark their place, and sets the book down next to him on the cold, stone floor.

“Wow,” says Tom. “I studied a few of his plays in school and even I barely understand half of Shakespeare’s shit. How did you manage that?”

“I always liked the classics,” says JT. He draws a finger through the dust on his arm, considering his next words carefully. “They’ve existed for so many years, in so many forms, and yet they still speak to us. I find that remarkable.”

“Yeah, cause a crossdressing shipwrecked noblewoman is so relatable.”

JT rolls his eyes and launches into an enthusiastic explanation of human nature and how it relates to literature. His hands accentuate his excited words, although he keeps his voice low so as not to wake Kevin. Tom counters him playfully, and S’chn is content to listen, letting the words carry his mind away from the rolling in his stomach.

He looks at JT, face lit up, excitable and earnest, and wonders how anyone could have deemed him unworthy to live.

He learns that Kirk has a secret stash of paperbacks in his quarters, an impressive and well-loved collection. They start up a kind of book club, pouring over Austen and Achebe, eventually landing on Shakespeare.

Kirk asks him one night, as they discuss Hamlet’s motivations over a fast-paced game of chess, what his favorite play is.

“Twelfth Night,” Spock answers without hesitation.

There’s something far away in Kirk’s eyes, but it is gone before Spock can quantify it.

“I haven’t read that in years,” he says. “How does it go, again?”

Chapter Text

The girl is a short, fragile thing with the grin of a wildebeest and the eyes of a hurricane. They don’t even see her before she is leaping from behind the velvet-upholstered couch and grabbing Tom by the forearm. She yanks him against her, presses a small steak knife against his jugular.

“Get out,” she says. Her voice is high pitched, twisted with loss.

JT holds up his hands. S’chn fights the urge to go for his knife. Tom shivers slightly in the girl’s grasp, eyes blown wide, taking short, shallow breaths against the knife. One wrong move and all of their scrounging and hunting wouldn’t even matter. One wrong move, S’chn thinks grimly, and the new girl is good as dead. The four stand, for a moment, at an impasse.

“We have a camp,” says JT. He pitches his voice low, soothing, the same voice he uses when explaining a difficult word to Kevin during their daybreak story sessions. “We’ve been gathering food, protecting each other. Would you like to come?”

“This ain’t a trick?” Amelia demands.

“Do we look like we’ve been eating?” asks S’chn bitterly.

Her eyes flick from JT’s face to S’chn’s.

“Prove you were on the kill list,” she says.

S’chn pulls his dirt-matted hair away from his ears, cringing at the feel of the unwashed strands beneath his fingertips.

“I’m Vulcan,” he says.

She releases Tom instantly and he jerks away from her, his feet scrambling for purchase on the richly carpeted floor. JT catches him around the shoulders.

“You alright?” he asks him softly. Tom nods shakily.

Amelia has turned her back on the boys and is pulling back a floor length curtain.

“It’s okay, Wren. You can come out now.”

The children of this planet are dying, slipping away on the waves of a plague. McCoy drives the medical team to their last minute of wakefulness, keeping the replicators working constantly to produce gallons of coffee. Spock does the same for the science team, performing test after test on every aspect of the environment that they can conceive.

He sees the children himself once. The plague has driven their metabolism to hummingbird levels, wasting them away even as they consume banquets fit for kings. They are skeletons, crying, starving things. This is what they are fighting to save. Sweep up the bird bones into a living being again.

Wren’s eyes are big and earnest, entirely too innocent. She is skinny but not skeletal, her waist length brown hair still shining and clean. Her relation to the exhausted, painfully thin girl is obvious in an instant. If death claimed her, she would look exactly like her older sister. Clearly, said sister had given Wren the world.

JT is far softer with the knife girl after seeing Wren. He puts his hand around the girl’s shoulders, offers her a few pieces of dried banana they had found two houses ago. The girl hesitates, looking from the offered fruit to Wren and back.

“Eat,” says JT, firmly. He presses the food into the girl’s hands.

She eats the banana slices like ambrosia, savoring them for several long moments. It was just five slices, and yet she makes them last for an eternity.

“What’s your name?” JT asks eventually.

“Amelia,” says the girl.

He cannot look at the children for more than five minutes. He takes in the hollows and bruising and painfully taught skin and he has to turn away, because he can only see Wren wasting away despite Amelia giving her the world, can only see what happens when everything isn’t enough.

Kevin is glad for a playmate and JT is glad for a kindred spirit. Amelia is invaluable. She plans and plots and gives increasingly ingenious last ditch efforts as the days stretch into weeks.

“I don’t believe in no-win scenarios,” she says, even as they grow weaker and weaker.

She has all of JT’s optimism transmuted into anger.

Somehow, after weeks of pumping nutrition fluid into skeletons, after weeks of keeping hearts beating around empty stomachs, after weeks of wiping away too many tears, of holding too many tiny, shaking, porcelain-bone hands, the Enterprise crew manages to find a cure. Starfleet has sent additional disaster relief and counseling specialists for their victims and their families.

Between the two of them, JT and Amelia keep their little group alive through the first few weeks. S’chn doesn’t think about what he must look like now, doesn’t think about how shattered his mind must be. He just keeps going one day at a time, filling his stomach with whatever he can find, filling his mind with stories and light in an attempt to chase away the smell of iron and the buzzing of flies. S’chn doesn’t look at the bodies they pass on their scavenging trips. He can’t look, because one time his stomach growls as they pass a particularly fresh kill and he realizes with a sudden jolt of clarity that he’s a monster, now. They don’t reach that level of desperation, but the hunger comes crashing down around him whenever he smells blood. He won’t do this. Never, not ever. He tells himself that again and again, even when he hasn’t eaten in four days, even when Wren’s ribs cut into the air despite all Amelia’s efforts.

He melds with JT more and more, formally and informally. When they sit at the mouth of the cave to watch the sunrise, S’chn brushes their wrists together to exchange silent words, uses the other boy’s mind like a balm against the fever of his own thoughts.

Spock sits in an arboretum, meditating, after the mission is finally over. The crew have been granted a few days of shore leave as a physical and emotional respite. Spock uses the time to shove S’chn back into the recesses of his memories. He is not that skeleton child anymore.

A woman enters the garden and sits down, cross-legged, next to Spock.

“You’re with Starfleet, right?” she asks.

Annoyed at being so thoroughly jolted from his meditation, Spock keeps his responses brief.

“Yes.”

“You were the head scientist treating the Hummingbird Plague?”

“Yes.”

“I’m Amelia Coltrane. I’m the head therapist on the case.”

Spock is silent. If she wants to tell him more, she will. He sees no need for prompting.

“You seemed pretty shaken up when you came in to see the kids. I’ve never seen a Vulcan act like that before.”

Silence.

“Actually that’s a lie. I have seen it before. But he was dying, and about fourteen, so I think it was excusable.”

Silence.

“Had a giant hole blown through his stomach. It was a miracle he survived.”

A breath. His heart was a train engine in his ears.

“His name was Shun. He never was very good with kids.”

Chapter Text

They go for his hands.

His scars are too thin and faded for human eyes to see, and he is grateful for that because his mother can look at him without the constant reminder of Tarsus. But he can see them still, spider webs or lightning lines, ephemeral and always on the verge of fading entirely. As can his father. And, despite decades of learning Surak’s ways, Sarek lights up with guilt whenever he sees his son’s palms.

Splitting up was a stupid idea but the sky was already melting into morning and they hadn’t found so much as a crumb. JT is swaying on his feet, thinner than any of them due to his eternally long list of allergies. Amelia is running her hands through her hair, strands catching on her long and half-chewed nails. S’chn is on the verge of just lying down and seeping into the earth. Done with the world and one with it.

But they have Kevin and Wren to think of, and Tom watching over them, so they press on, split up because that’s all they can do.

S’chn pushes open the front door of a rundown house. He doesn’t even bother to tiptoe anymore, thin enough that he could stomp as much as he pleased and barely make a sound. He does keep to the walls and shadows though. It’s instinctive, it’s safe.

He doesn’t expect anyone to be lurking behind the living room doorway. He doesn’t expect the hand on his arm or the voice in his ear. Doesn’t expect to be slammed into the carpet. Doesn’t expect the weight on his shoulders and knees, pressing him into the ground as two of Kodos’ men scream incoherent questions at him.

He spends the first few weeks in the middle of the room with all the lights on. This is what it means to be safe, now. His mother brings him food (not enough, not nearly enough but it is all he can eat before he gets sick) and butterfly touches on his shoulders, and bandages, regenerators, ointment, anything she can think of for his hands.

They ran and hid for so long that S’chn forgot what exactly they were avoiding.

“I heard about a buncha brats on the kill list running around like dogs,” sneers one of the guards, a giant freckled man who has more fat on his right arm than S’chn has on his whole body. S’chn snarls, spits in his face, kicks and twists and claws, but the two pin him down easily.

“Jesus Christ, stop squirming.” The other guard—muscly, dark haired, lithe—backhands S’chn across the face. “This can either be easy or difficult, up to you.”

S’chn doesn’t answer, just glares up at them with all the ferocity he can muster, shoving down the wild, howling fear and locking it away in the back of his mind.

“Tell us where the others are,” says Freckles. S’chn doesn’t move, doesn’t speak, just starts flinging up walls around his mind. This won’t hurt, he tells himself as Freckles holds up the knife that he had wrested from S’chn. This won’t hurt. Pain is a thing of the mind, pain is a thing of the mind, this won’t hurt, this won’t hurt, this won’t hurt.

“Suit yourself,” says Freckles, and draws the blade over S’chn’s cheekbone.

It doesn’t actually hurt, much. He is vaguely aware of the burning sensation of metal splitting skin, but he hides himself in his mind and he is safe.

His father spends long hours helping Spock reconstruct his tattered mindscape. They don’t speak about the memories unearthed and reburied in the process, but his father always ends the melds with a gentle wave of encouragement. Spock knows that there would be no shame in talking about Tarsus, but he fears that once he starts, he’ll speak till he’s dead.

“Holy shit,” says Freckles, and he looks at the blood smeared across S’chn’s face with something akin to wonder. “Dude, it’s green.”

Muscle lets go of S’chn’s shoulder for a moment to wrench his hair back, exposing his ears. He stares down at S’chn for a moment, carefully contemplative. Then he lets go and S’chn’s head hits the floor again unceremoniously.

“He’s a Vulcan.”

“Wh—no—really? I thought they were supposed to be like—emotionless. And jacked.”

Muscle snorts dismissively.

“Jacked or not the little fucker’s not getting up any time soon,” he says.

“Probably not tellin’ us nothing, either. Look, just kill him and we’ll find the others ourselves, they’re probably not far.”

“No need. Give me the knife.”

The viridian-soaked blade switches hands easily enough and S’chn surges up, tries to find an opening. But he’s weak, and hunger screams not just in his stomach, but in his arms and his head, and the two men fling him back to the carpet easily enough.

“Took a xenobiology course in college,” says Muscle. “Guess it wasn’t a useless elective after all. Hold him down.”

He kneels next to S’chn and turns over his wrist.

For a split second, the hunger and the weakness and the slice on his cheek are all muted. All he feels is pure, unadulterated horror.

Then the guard slashes a line down his palm.

“I’m sorry,” says his mother, when he flinches away from the stinging ointment. She rests her hands on his forearms and sighs, tears pricking at the corners of her eyes. “I’m sorry.”

She says it again and again, in a thousand different, wordless ways. Months pass, years pass, and the guilt still clings to Amanda like a robe. On the day that Vulcan collapses, he reaches out to her with scarred fingers and sees the apology in her eyes right before she goes over the cliff.

The walls in his mind crumble like dust and there’s nothing but raw pain tearing through him. S’chn screams desperately, resuming his struggles, spiraling. He doesn’t know which way is up and which way is down and the guard just keeps carving away at his hand and stop stop stop stop.

He says those last words out loud, screeches them like a dying creature and the guard pauses for a moment. The screams become whimpers and S’chn turns his head to look at the mess of green pooling across the ground with a morbid fascination.

“Okay, we’ll stop.” Muscle positions the knife over S’chn’s unharmed hand. “Tell us where the others are.”

It’s tempting, because they’ll kill him and then he’ll stop hurting. But JT flashes in his mind, sunny and laughing and skinny, book held delicately between his fingers, and he would break, he would break so easily, and S’chn can’t have his t’hy’la’s blood on his conscious.

“No,” he whispers and the guard drives the knife directly through the middle of his hand.

He hears the sound of wood splintering before the pain registers. When it does, he nearly screams himself mute.

The guard pulls out a second knife and starts working at S’chn’s fingertips and at this point he just lets himself fall away, goes somewhere deep and dark and lonely in the middle of his mind. Maybe this is what death felt like, except there is still a fuzzy awareness of everything and he hears Freckles say that maybe they were going too far and Muscle countering that they weren’t going far enough.

Muscle slaps S’chn across the face and he snaps back into himself.

“Talk,” says Muscle. “Or I start cutting off fingers.”

S’chn wills himself back into that dark place but it isn’t working, it isn’t working, and he is going to have to watch this, he is going to have to feel this.

Muscle holds up his hand in a mocking approximation of the ta’al.

“Live long and prosper,” he says.

S’chn makes one last, feeble attempt to throw up any sort of mental defense as the knife arcs through the air.

And then suddenly there’s shouting and a slammed open door and the knife is reflecting a brilliant light. Muscle drops like a rock and the pressure on his shoulders vanishes, replaced by a heavier weight across his chest.

Amelia pulls Freckles’ body off of him and JT flings his phaser to the floor. He drops next to S’chn and slips his arms around him, helping S’chn sit. He rocks back and forth, one hand against S’chn’s face. Comfort, warmth, affection, god I’m sorry I wasn’t here sooner, I’m so, so sorry.

“Go to the bathroom, get some bandages, antiseptic, anything you can find,” JT says to Amelia, voice remarkably steady.

His eyes never leave S’chn’s.

“It’s over,” he whispers. “It’s over, you’ll be okay, it’s over.”

“It’s over, it’s over, it’s over,” says his mother as he shivers uncontrollably. There are circles under her eyes, her sleep interrupted by Spock’s night terrors for the fifth night in a row.

“I request to meld with you, son,” says Sarek. “I believe I might be able to guide you to sleep.”

Spock nods hazily because he is exhausted, because his parents are exhausted, and Sarek rests his hands lightly on Spock’s meld points.

That’s the first time his father sees Muscle and Freckles and what they did to his son, though it won’t be the last. Injuring another’s hands is a taboo that dates back to pre-Surakian times, one of the highest possible crimes on Vulcan. There is fury etched into the lines of Sarek’s face when he pulls out of the meld, and he keeps his hands on Spock’s face for another moment as Spock tumbles into sleep. The last thing he feels is an overwhelming surge of protection and safety.

“You didn’t tell them,” says JT. “You’re so strong, Shun, I don’t understand how you’re so strong.”

Pride ripples through JT’s fingers and S’chn leans into the feeling.

“You killed them,” he says, voice raspy and wonder-filled. A hole opens up inside of him because that was supposed to be his job, because JT had needed to do this because of him.

“Yeah,” says JT. His arms tighten and there is exhaustion and pain and love and so many other emotions that S’chn is dizzy from following them. “Yeah. I did.”

Chapter Text

 

Amelia returns within a few short minutes, arms loaded with medical supplies. She throws them to the floor and darts across the room, yanking the curtains shut. Her movements are deft and sure but she trembles as she moves, the horror plain in the jerkiness of her legs.

Once the curtains are drawn, Amelia flicks on the light. Immediately, her hands fly to her mouth.

JT sobs, the sound strangled and muffled against the silence of the room. His hands ghost to S’chn’s wrists, alighting there softly like JT doesn’t know how to touch S’chn without hurting him.

Amelia falls next to them, landing heavily on her knees. Her hand hovers over the knife hilt still sticking from S’chn’s left hand.

“Get it out,” says S’chn. His voice is rubbed raw. He can’t look away from the knife, eyes drawn to it like magnets. He tries to brace against the pain but his hand just twitches feebly around the blade and he chokes down a wave of bile.

“Look at me.” JT rests his hands against S’chn’s temples. “Don’t think about it, just keep looking at me. I’m right here. I’m right here and you’ll be okay. I promise.”

JT’s mind brushes against his, questioning and scared, and S’chn seizes it because it's the only warmth in this place.

Spock is freezing.

The flecks of ice are knives against his skin and he wants to bury himself in the snow. But he keeps going because he’s never been the type of person to give up. His communicator chirps in his pocket and he fumbles for it with half-gone fingers.

Kirk’s voice pours into the howling wind, staticky with separation and signal jamming. But Spock gets the gist. They’ll get him out. Somehow they’ll get him out.

The odds that he'll die are two thousand five hundred and sixty three to one.

He'll make it.

He can feel JT rattling around inside his head, searching for something. Normally, S’chn would be hyperaware of everything about a meld, but the pain is pulling a veil over his thoughts and he can barely keep himself breathing. JT finds what he’s looking for easily, wrapping around it, enveloping something in the middle of S’chn’s mindscape.

“Pull it out,” he says to Amelia. “Now.”

And then S’chn realizes what JT has done.

The V’karnba had demanded a sacrifice to prove the Federation strong.

Demanded someone of rank, someone valuable. Kirk was the captain, and therefore necessary for negotiation. But, in their minds, second-in-commands are only useful for appeasing their gods. One moment they were negotiating, Kirk shouting in sudden panic as he realized the implications of the V'karnba's demands, and the next—

Spock doesn’t know where he is, doesn’t know how he got there. All he knows is that the Enterprise will get him out. He has to keep believing that.

"No–"

But before he can stop her, Amelia pulls the knife from his hand.

And JT screams.

S’chn untangles JT’s warmth from his pain center, flings him from his mind entirely. Shucks himself of all the comfort and love his t’hy’la provides because it’s not worth it, it’s not worth causing this beautiful creature any more pain. S’chn’s mind is poisoned with steel and blood and it will spread like a virus, infect anything it touches and not you, not you—

“Not you,” he whispers as the pain slams back into him. He welcomes it.

JT is leaning over him, face streaked with tears, hands stained with S’chn’s blood.

“It’s out.” Amelia throws the knife away from them.

“Do you have any painkillers?” asks JT. His voice is bordering on hysterical as he strokes S’chn’s hair.

“N–no.”

He has survived more taxing things than this.

Vulcans were not meant for snow. He was not made for this place. He stuffs his hands under his arm pits, tucks his chin against his chest, makes himself as small as possible. The wind snatches at his hair, whips it around his face. His second eyelids close tightly against the stinging snow and he stumbles, half-blind, through knee-high piles of the stuff.

He will live.

He has survived two genocides.

Snow won’t be the thing to kill him.

Kirk’s worried voice comes through the communicator again, McCoy shouting expletives in the background.

“–eep moving—you out—alive—please.”

“He’s hurting, Amelia.”

“I can’t do anything."

Her face is in S’chn’s field of vision then.

“I’m going to put disinfectant on your hands and bandage them up,” she says. She keeps herself slow and level, trying to etch as much comfort into her voice as she can, but she can’t blot out the horror that’s evident in her face. “It’s going to hurt.”

S’chn nods and turns his head into JT’s hollow chest, squeezes his eyes shut so he doesn’t have to see what’s happening to him, so he doesn’t have to look at his hands anymore. It occurs to him that he might lose them after all of this is over, they’re so, so wrecked and regenerators can only do so much. He’d be trapped in his own mind.

JT flutters at the edge of his thoughts and he slams down every type of shield he knows how to create. His t’hy’la becomes nothing more than a moth against a window. Then there is a cold, stinging spray against his fingers and he’s drowning.

“Shun you need to stop screaming.” It’s Amelia, voice frantic and peppered with tears. “They’ll come looking for us.”

He tries but he’s losing control of everything.

JT presses a shaking hand over S’chn’s mouth, guilt burning from his fingers.

“I’m sorry,” he whispers. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry,” the communicator says, inches from his face. Spock lies in the snow, thinks wildly of the time that JT had explained snow angels to him. He could make one now if he could move his arms.

“Spock, talk to me,” Kirk says. Spock can’t move his mouth. “Spock? Spock, answer me, that’s an order.”

Mutiny. Finally, he had paid his captain back for that shouting match after Vulcan.

Spock’s eyes fall shut and this feels so final. He’s back in a field of crushed and moldy wheat, starving and bleeding and sure that he’ll never be warm again. Back on a bloody carpet with hands against his mouth and screams pouring from his throat like he’ll never be whole again.

Finally, Amelia secures the last bandage in place.

“It’s over,” she gasps. The three of them are shivering messes, clinging to each other, spattered with green. “It’s over.”

S’chn lets himself be still for a moment. JT’s arms are wrapped around him and Amelia is running a bloody hand through his hair and he’s safe. And someday the pain will be gone.

But the sun is half risen and they have to go. Leaving is stupidly dangerous but staying here would be even more so. Amelia and JT pull S’chn to his feet. He winds shaking arms around their shoulders but puts most of his weight on his own feet.

“Did you find any food?” he asks. Because if they had split up for nothing he might just burst into tears right here and now.

“Yeah,” says JT. “Three cans of green beans, two of apples. Under a bed if you can believe it.”

It’s more than they’ve eaten in a week and S’chn would go through all of that again if it would mean getting one more can of food. It was worth it. He tells himself that as they stagger down backroads and through barns, as the pain threatens to overwhelm him with each step. It was worth everything.

He doesn’t know how long he lies there, waiting to stop breathing. But there’s a whirl of sound and warmth and then voices fill his ears.

“Spock!”

“Oh God.”

“Is he dead?”

“He’s not moving–"

“Everyone out of the way! Move!”

He opens his eyes to see McCoy hovering over him with a tricorder in one hand and a heating blanket in the other. The Doctor throws the blanket over Spock’s shiverless body. Heat prickles painfully through him as his blood slowly starts circulating properly. McCoy heaves Spock onto a stretcher, shouting for more blankets.

They’re in the sickbay soon, behind a privacy curtain and McCoy is pulling off Spock’s soaking uniform with a calm and unembarrassed professionalism, replacing his clothes with even more heating blankets. He inserts a needle into the crook of Spock’s elbow, attached to an IV line the pumps warm saline into his veins, warming him from the inside out.

He lightly grabs Spock’s arm and pulls his left hand from under the blanket, running the tricorder over it. It beeps loudly and McCoy looks at the readings with a frown.

“That shouldn’t happen from frostbite,” he mumbles, more to himself than to Spock. He clears his throat and looks at Spock with a worrying level of sympathy.

“Spock?”

“Yes, doctor?” asks Spock, voice hazy with exhaustion.

“Have you ever had any serious hand injury in the past?”

“Yes,” Spock says shortly. “On both my left and right.”

“I have to ask you this so I know how treat your frostbite. Do your hands experience similar pain levels as Vulcans or humans?”

“Vulcans.”

McCoy winces, strides across the room, and pulls a complicated looking piece of equipment from a cupboard.

“Good thing I requested this then,” he says and starts to run the machine slowly over Spock’s hand. “It’s specifically designed to treat hand injuries in Vulcans, much more sensitive than a dermal regenerator. I thought it would be useful considering all the shit we get into on the daily.”

“I am grateful,” says Spock. It is, indeed, a relief that he would not have to sit through several sessions of painful regenerations like he had after Tarsus.

“You’re welcome,” says McCoy as the dead tissues in Spock’s hands slowly start to come back to life.

Jesus Christ.” Tom is white with shock. JT and Amelia carefully help S’chn through the cave opening and lead him to a pile of blankets. He curls up on his side, trying not to brush his hands against anything. Kevin and Wren look at him with wide eyes, shocked to see the impervious Vulcan so weak. He might care about that if he wasn’t in so much pain.

“What happened?” Tom asks.

“Ran into some of Kodos’ men,” says JT. He flops down on the ground and starts pulling out the cans he had managed to squirrel away. Tom looks sick. He reaches for his portion of cinnamon infused apples mutely as Kevin and Wren skitter away to the back of the cave to enjoy their own breakfast. Tom pitches his voice low, so the little ones cannot hear what he says next.

“They tortured him?”

“Yeah.”

“Why his hands?”

“Vulcan thing,” JT says.

“What does that—"

“I am in as much pain, Tom, as you would be if I pulled out your eyes,” says S’chn. He doesn’t want to hear the recount of his own torture. He especially doesn’t want to hear JT talking about how he had murdered two men for S’chn’s sake.

“Jesus,” Tom repeats. He opens his mouth, then closes it. There is nothing more to say, and silence falls swiftly and unforgivingly over the cave. None of them can make this better.

“How are you holding up?” asks Kirk. His right arm is in a sling and his smile is missing a tooth, both injuries undoubtedly sustained during whatever daring rescue the Captain had mounted.

“I am well,” says Spock. “Doctor McCoy wants to monitor my hands for another day.”

“Frostbite?”

“Indeed.”

“That can’t be fun,” Kirk says, wincing.

“It is not.”

“Do you need anything? I can read to you if you want. I know Vulcan hands are really sensitive, you probably don’t want to hold anything right now.”

“Your concern is appreciated but unnecessary. I will have the computer read to me. You do not need to burden yourself with this over your other duties.”

“It’s not a—look, Spock, we were really worried about you. I was really worried about you.”

Spock looks at Kirk and sees that the human is earnest. He imagines for a moment what it must have been like on Kirk’s end. Hunched over a faulty communicator, listening to Spock’s voice slowly get fainter and fainter before stopping altogether.

Kirk must have thought Spock dead.

“If that is the case, then I welcome your assistance,” says Spock.

Kirk’s smile lights up the room. He reaches into his shoulder bag and pulls out a copy of Twelfth Night and Spock doesn’t have words anymore. He starts reading, playful, animated, adding his own enthusiastic commentary to the twists and turns and Spock—

S’chn—

Aches.

T’hy’la. The word whispers insidiously into Spock’s mind and he shoves it away, disgusted with himself. That word was only meant for one, for someone long ago tortured and murdered and most likely eaten. Jim is not JT, even if they both have the same beautiful way of reading.

Chapter Text

Antiseptic, bandages, screaming. Antiseptic, bandages, JT and Amelia taking it in turns to press dirty cloths over his mouth. Antiseptic, bandages, the guilt in their eyes, the youngsters huddled in the corner of the cave. Antiseptic, bandages, JT whispering Shakespeare into his hair.

Antiseptic, bandages, screaming.

Antiseptic, bandages, and S’chn bites down on his own tongue

He has to be stronger than this. So he slams into the pain until his teeth are stained with his blood, curls his screaming fingers around the spine of a book, the handle of a knife, the curve of JT’s face. Live, he thinks fiercely. He doesn’t know who he’s talking to anymore but the hunger is falling away and all that’s left is live.

“Please,” says JT one night, as S’chn grinds his fingers into the stone floor of the cave one at a time. “Let me help.”

“No.” He will never hear JT scream like that again.

Kirk is choking on air, leaning weakly against the sealed glass of the radiation chamber. Spock can do nothing but press his hand against the door. He can feel tears gathering in his eyes, not at Jim’s death, but at his own helplessness to do anything to stop it.

If he could reach him, if he could open the door, if he had just been here two minutes previously. He could have done something, he knows he could have done something. Jim’s last words are choked with pain and fear, and a faint memory stirs at the corner of Spock’s brain but he pushes it away.

The sadness falls away with Jim’s hand and there is nothing left but rage.

JT holds him like a song or a word, something powerful and easily extinguished. Gone in the pause between breaths. S’chn leans into his embrace, welcoming him into the outermost shell of his mind, and hates himself for needing that much.

S’chn leaves the cave for the first time after a hazy week of pain and words, hands wrapped with enough bandages to keep his blood hidden, hair matted around his ears. And he looks human, with anger painting every twitch of his face, and that is enough.

It’s him, and Tom, and JT as a hovering care at S’chn’s shoulder. They creep further into town than they ever had, the fringes picked clean by carrion and men. They slip, eventually, into an elegant, shuttered house. S’chn is tense, knife gripped like a lifeline between thick and clumsy fingers. Each breath is carefully controlled so as to be as quiet as possible. He wants to scream at Tom and JT, with their steam engine exhales and their jet plane inhales.

They don’t split up, even inside the house, moving as one unit from the foyer to the kitchen.

There is a body on the floor.

He scrubs soap over his lips.

It’s a woman. Her hair is golden, loosely curled, spilled across the tile floor. Her face is frozen in an expression of surprise, mouth open slightly, blood trickling from one corner of her coral painted lips. She looks healthy, beautiful, strong. She and Tom could be two different species, his skeletal frame alien to her pink plump cheeks. There is a hole in her heart.

“Someone got here before us,” said Tom. “Killed her. Must’ve been recent too, she’s still warm. She was on Kodos’ good list, it looks like.”

“They will have taken all the food,” says S’chn. “We should go.”

“Not all of it,” says Tom. He looks down at the woman with a calculating eye. S’chn understands in an instant what he is implying. His mouth goes dry.

“No,” JT says. “Never. We can’t do this.”

“We’re dying.”

“And this would kill us.”

JT turns firmly away from the body. S’chn curls his hand around his midsection because even though the thought makes him want to hurl, it’s still meat. It’s still food. And they are growing so, so thin. He presses his thumb into his palm, and the screaming jolt of pain drags his mind away from the emptiness in his stomach.

His principles can vanish with a half-sobbed word, that is something that Spock has always known about himself. He breaks Khan’s arm over his shoulder, and the shout of pain is like lightning, like death, like a t’hy’la’s mind-meld.

He remembers his father sitting cross-legged on a meditation mat, silently taking in his son’s bruised face.

“They told me I had no place in this universe,” he had said, young and small and knowing nothing about true cruelty.

“Violence of any sort is illogical,” Sarek had replied.

And Khan is still screaming as Spock forces him to the hovercraft’s roof, raining punch after punch down on the man’s face. All logic is gone, eclipsed by fury.

Logic vanishes with goodbyes, that is another thing that Spock has long since known.

They leave that house without a second glance, slip through the garden and its moldy hyacinths. Dart across the glass-strewn street and into the dusty front yard of the next house. JT swings open the front door and ducks. A man is bearing down upon him, fed and clean and chosen. The beam of his phaser barely misses JT’s head.

S’chn doesn’t think. He just swings—

–down and down and down until Khan’s nose is spilling blood over his white lips. But then there’s someone calling his name.

“He’s our only chance to save Kirk!”

Hope purges his system of violence and Khan is coughing and spluttering underneath him but he will live.

And the man is like a gutted fish, hand going to the gaping slash over his throat. His eyes are wild with life. S’chn thinks that, pinned on the carpet, he must have worn the same expression. The look of a creature kicking out against death’s grasp.

It is a very short battle.

The man falls to the earth with a dusty sort of finality and S’chn is left staring down at him, scarlet staining his bandages. His first thought is that it will be perfect camouflage. His second thought is that this was nothing like killing the housecat.

JT pulls the knife from S’chn’s numb fingers.

“Thank you,” he whispers. The same words. How many more times will they kill for each other?

“Fuck,” says Tom. “Fuck!”

He kicks the body, hard.

“Stop it,” mutters JT, not looking away from S’chn.

“Why the fuck are they doing this to us?” asks Tom, furiously. "This" is a placeholder for a million things.

“I don’t know,” says JT. “I don’t think we’ll ever know.”

“It is highly illogical.”

That’s all he can say, the words falling from his tongue automatically.

Kirk opens his eyes.

Sometimes violence was logical. If nothing else, it had let this man live. And any system that let Jim die must be broken.

He reads Hamlet as Jim slowly relearns how to use his body.

“Isn’t this illogical?” asks Jim amusedly.

“Outstanding debts are illogical. I am simply returning a favor that was bestowed upon me at an earlier date.” Spock doesn’t miss a beat.

Jim throws back his head and laughs, wincing a little at the sudden movement.

Tom rifles through the man’s pockets and there is food and medicine and painkillers—two tiny pills in a bottle—and S’chn swallows them without a second thought. The pain is gone for the first time in a week and it will be so, so much worse when it comes back. But for now, he can think clearly again.

The man is dead. S’chn had killed him.

And because he is dead, they will eat well tonight.

Kevin and Wren don’t question the food, they never do, and S’chn knows that if they had taken the woman they could’ve dressed her up as a chicken and they would’ve gone along with it.  He files that away for the future and this time there is no pain to distract him from the thought.

“I heard what you did to get Khan’s blood,” says Jim one day after Spock bookmarks and closes Hamlet.

“It was the only way.”

“I know that Vulcans hate violence. I know how hard that must have been for you. I—Just—Thank you, Spock. Thank you for my life.”

“You are quite welcome, Jim.”

And it’s on the tip of his tongue—this isn’t the first time, I’ve killed someone before to save someone else and he died anyway and I can’t lose you too—but it dies swift and fast when he sees Jim’s lips break into a soft smile.

He can’t ever shatter that happiness.

JT asks to meld with him, and S’chn finally lets him beyond the outermost layer, no longer fearing that the other boy will tangle himself in S’chn’s pain center. He can feel the worry and warmth behind JT’s request, can feel the gratitude and the apology and he pushes back a single thought

you did the same thing for me.

He pulls JT down into his mind, pain-free if only for a sunrise, and spreads out the tapestry of stars that makes up his subconscious. S’chn shoves the thoughts of food and pain and murder down into the wide-open void where they are masked by the darkness of space. He catches JT in his arms and together they spin, whole and unbroken, around a dying star.

Chapter Text

The wind carries with it the smell of smoke, and JT pauses in his enthusiastic rendition of Malvolio’s letter-reading. They are on their feet immediately, nearly tripping over each other to get to the cave’s mouth. Amelia sticks her head out first, looking out over the craggy cliffs. She stops breathing.

“The town,” she gasps.

They all follow her out of the cave, unmasked by the sun, but it doesn’t even matter anymore. The guards will have more pressing matters on their hands. A plume of smoke billows into the air, carrying with it the smell of burning things and their collective hopes.

“The warehouses,” JT says. “All the food that Kodos had stockpiled.”

“It’s gone,” says Tom. He slumps to the ground in shock, leaning against the wall of the cliff, hand shaking over his mouth. “It’s all gone.”

Everything is still. The only sound is the wind and the world, screams and bangs filtering through the cool mountain air. And it’s over. They’re dead.

And then, everything crashes into place.

JT is pulling Tom to his feet, herding them all into the cave.

“Get everything packed away.” He shoves the book and the medkit into his own pack, slinging it effortlessly over his shoulders. “We have to get out of here.”

The PADD slips from Spock’s numb fingers and crashes to the floor. The words on the screen burn into his eyes and he slumps into a chair, clutching the arms with shaking fingers. He closes his eyes, trying to lose himself in a meditative state but his mind is full of green and red and moldy wheat and burning flesh. He rests a burning hand over his stomach and tries to will away the phantom pain but its too deeply ingrained in him by now and there’s nothing to do but ride it out.

He leans over to grab the PADD, hoping illogically that he had misread the memo. Or that it has changed in the past five minutes, that an emergency has disrupted the need for a routine survey mission. But the words are still there, the most horrific three months of Spock’s life reduced to a few simple, clinical lines of text. Historical background, calm platitudes, an optimistic outlook on future colonization attempts. Their orders. Assess Tarsus IV for lingering signs of fungal growth.

“Go go go, we have to go, move move move.”

JT hooks his arms around Kevin’s back and balances the boy on his hip. Kevin buries his face in the crook of JT’s neck. He has learned to cry quietly.

S’chn picks up Wren without being asked, and the six of them leave the cave bare, the only signs of their presence a scattering of animal bones and ash.

They climb up the natural paths of the cliffside, reliant only on their wasted and screaming muscles. Amelia and Tom are supports for the steepest parts, but there are still times that S’chn slips and he is forced to grab a crevice or a bent tree. By the time they reach the top, S’chn’s lip is split open from biting down on it so much.

They are drenched in sweat by the time they reach the top, and S’chn’s heart is a hummingbird in his side. He refuses to calculate how many calories they’ve burned getting here.

There are already people congregating at the base of the mountain, colorful specks that bash violently into one-another and smell of fear and shit and blood. There is that same harsh, banging sound that they had heard before and S’chn struggles to place it. It reminds him of the fireworks show his mother had taken him to see once, on Earth, a million years ago. That same thundering crash that reaches into your lungs and squeezes them until you’ve forgotten how to breathe.

“Gunshots,” whispers JT. “I recognize the sound from an old holovid. The phasers must be out of charge.”

S’chn thinks of the tiny metal bullets and the gaping, yawning wounds from his history books and he sees himself, glassy eyed and drenched in emerald. There is no way off this planet, but at least a phaser would have killed him in a microsecond.

He wants to declare himself emotionally compromised and refuse to beam down to the planet. But then he would have to explain why, and he can’t think of any excuse except the truth. And he can’t imagine looking Kirk in the eye and telling him that he had been starved and tortured and half-murdered as a child. Can’t imagine how the crew would treat him, because a starship is a small place and rumors are winged.

So he breathes himself back to normalcy and forces the shakiness from his legs. The pain is still sharp in his hands but he ignores it and reports to the transporter room.

They beam down to what was once a bustling town, then a food source, then a bonfire. The houses are wooden skeletons, doors hanging off the hinges or gone all together. Ash and mold become one in the streets, scattering over Spock’s shoes with a faint gust of wind. The smell is gone, he thinks stupidly as they stand in the tomb of a colony. He had expected it to linger, but all that is left is dust.

The away team is solemn as they move through the town. Kirk leads with a snappish efficiency, directing officers to fan out and start taking samples.

“Let’s not stay down here any longer than we need to,” he says.

“Don’t know why Starfleet wants to set up shop here,” says McCoy. He runs a tricorder over a house’s crumbling stoop. “There’s plenty of other planets and this—it feels almost disrespectful.”

McCoy glances at Spock, clearly expecting a retort about the illogic of ghosts and disrespecting the dead, but Spock’s tongue is too big for his mouth and he can’t even pretend that he’s normal. He feels marked as a victim, feels like he’ll dissolve into his fourteen-year-old self again if anyone looks at him for too long.

They start down the other side of the mountain. S’chn’s arms are growing numb from Wren’s weight and he bangs his shins on every other rock. Exhaustion is pulling insistently at his eyelids so he lies to his brain, tells himself that he can sleep in just one more hour. He can stay awake for just another hour.

“Hey! You!”

S’chn freezes, back to the voice, hunched protectively over Wren. This is it, he thinks. They’ll kill us and eat us and I never got to tell mother goodbye. He wondered, wildly, as footsteps crashed towards them, if it would be like falling asleep.

“You have to run.” It’s JT’s voice, and that makes S’chn unfreeze and turn around, because his t’hy’la sounds unafraid.

Four children stand slightly uphill from them, watching them with a wariness that S’chn recognizes easily. It would be a giveaway even if they weren’t emaciated and hiding in a cave. They were on the kill list.

“Why?” asks the one in front, a preteen girl.

“The town is on fire,” says JT. “People are running, they’re coming to the mountains. The food stores are gone. We have to go, and we have to go now.”

The girl turns to her companions.

“Get in the cave, grab everything.” She spins back to JT, her hair flying around her head like a dark halo. “What’s your name?” she asks.

“JT. You?”

“Lazarus,” she says. “Thanks for the warning. Wanna join up?”

JT nods, and then the other children are running from the cave. A tiny boy with dirty, broken-feathered wings hands Lazarus her backpack.

“Thanks Vrall,” says Lazarus. “Right. Let’s go.”

“Let’s go,” says Jim eventually, after the town has been examined. “Move out in eight directions. Far as we can tell the fungus originated here, so we should comb this area thoroughly and then send groups to randomly inspect other points on the planet.”

Jim, Spock, McCoy, and ensigns Giovanni and Echo head for the mountains.

It is remarkable how quickly and painlessly they could be scaled, now that he is thirty, strong, uninjured and unburdened. They take samples as they go, each coming back negative for fungal growth. With each reading Spock’s stomach grows more knotted. One positive reading would be just cause to abandon the mission, and all future colonization attempts. A microbe that had survived sixteen years post intensive spraying with little organic material would be far too dangerous to mess with.

They are up and down the peak within the hour, standing at the edge of a vast, grassy plain.

The grass cuts into their legs and arms as they run, the sound of bugs’ wings a constant song around them. They each manage to catch a few of the skittering things as they dart across the plain, gulping them down without a second thought. They could be poisonous. The ten of them could drop to the ground coughing up bloody foam any second now. But that would be preferable to starving.

They run for hours, not speaking, ignoring the screams in the distance. Even Vrall runs, though S’chn knows from watching his gait that ground movement doesn’t come naturally to him. S’chn wonders if he even can fly, or if someone had broken his wings. They pass from the plain to a dark forest, and S’chn feels much safer now that the sky is hidden.

“We need to find somewhere to rest,” says JT, between gasps of pain. No one disagrees with him. The leaves are turning gold from the setting sun, the mosquitos are coming out to nip at their arms. Soon, it will be too dark to see anything at all.

There is a hole in the ground, beneath a raised tree root. JT squirms inside, ignoring S’chn’s mumbled warning that it could be dangerous.

“Everything bigger than a rat’s dead already,” he says callously. “What’s the worst that can happen?”

He disappears from view within seconds and then he calls out to them, voice muffled by the earth.

“Come check this out!”

It’s an old den of some sort, claustrophobic but capable of holding ten people. S’chn puts Wren down next to her sister and sinks to the floor, exhausted.

“So,” says JT, as they unpack and share what few rations they have. “Introductions.”

“Sirs?” Ensign Echo’s voice is high pitched, a bit tremulous. “I think you should see this.”

She’s standing in front of a familiar hole in the ground. There are scuff marks around the entryway, empty hypospray vials, a cast-aside shoe.

“Should we go inside?” asks McCoy. “Historical curiosity and all?”

Jim closes his eyes, rubs a hand over his face.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” he mutters.

They wiggle inside one at a time, and Spock’s memories roll inside his head like marbles. Crawling through this same passage hundreds of time, blood-soaked, starving, shivering violently because killing never got easier no matter how necessary it was. Then being carried, Amelia stroking his hair and babbling nonsense words, Tom’s hands firm against his stomach.

“Jesus Christ,” says McCoy once they emerge in the makeshift home.

It’s exactly how he remembers it. Medkits and bandages scattered across the ground, rumpled sheets that had acted as beds covered in dirt and old blood. John's stuffed rabbit is propped carefully against the dirt wall, and JT’s book had been left on its owner’s bed, bookmark still in place.

Jim kneels down to inspect a stained orange backpack, running his fingers over the straps. There’s a look of abject horror on his face.

“They were kids,” says McCoy, picking up John's rabbit carefully. “Little kids.”

S’chn knows Lazarus and Vrall already. Then there’s John, an eight-year-old boy with a soft smile and a stuffed rabbit that he clings to like it’s his only lifeline. And Saturn, who says her name and nothing else.

The five from his group make their own mumbled introductions, already nodding off to sleep now that they’ve eaten and are stationary. He goes last, speaking in a voice that’s raspy with thirst.

“My name is S’chn T’gai. I’m fourteen.”

“Wait, how do you pronounce that?” asks Lazarus, slightly more awake. She sits up to get a better look at S’chn.

“S’chn T’gai,” he repeats, slower this time.

“S … Shin Tuhgai?”

“No.”

“We mostly call him Shun,” says JT sleepily.

“What kind of name is that?” asks Lazarus.

“Vulcan,” he says, pulling a hunk of hair away from his left ear. She blinks rapidly, surprised at the admission. Her eyes flick from his face, down to his bandaged hands, then back.

“Oh,” she says quietly.

“Yes,” he replies, lying down.

“Sorry.”

“It wasn’t you.” And then there is silence.

“Are you alright?”

He has returned to his quarters covered in dirt, a thin scratch over his right eyebrow, shaking like a leaf in a thunderstorm. Uhura, who had been lying on his bed, puts down her PADD and is next to him in seconds. She looks at him with unconcealed concern.

They will be stationed over Tarsus for another week, and he can’t declare himself emotionally compromised. It is only logical to confide in someone, and while Uhura is not and never will be his t’hy’la, she is the closest equivalent.

Uhura kisses him, gently, questioningly and he doesn’t want to wreck what they have but he can’t keep this to himself anymore. He holds her for a long moment, trying to find the right words. But his brain is short-circuiting and the only thing he can say is a simple statement of the facts.

“I was on Tarsus."

Her arms tighten around him.

Chapter Text

The gunshots and screams pin them in the cave for three days, huddled together when the noise grows particularly close, arms wound around shaking bodies and lips breathing near-silent words of comfort, as each tried to persuade the others that they would be okay. They would get out. They would live. S’chn doesn’t believe his own words but he says them anyway, through lips cracking with thirst as they run out of water, over the growling of his stomach when their meagre rations vanish. JT reads Measure for Measure for hours on end, in a breaking voice.

The miserable have no other medicine but only hope.

That line sticks with S’chn and he repeats it to himself again and again as time begins to blur into a hazy watercolor. He leans against the dirt-packed wall, JT a solid warmth at his side, and closes his eyes as he tries to slip into a meditative state. But there’s too much pain, too much hunger, and every time he manages to push down the aching fear, a soft sob or a sudden scream slams it back into him.

Uhura’s arms are an anchor as he holds himself together, the muscle against his shoulders a firm reminder that she isn’t starving, that they aren’t dying. She doesn’t say anything after his revelation, just inhales shakily. He knows that she’s trying to formulate a response; she’s so careful with him. Always has been.

“I’m so sorry,” she says at last. “That you went through that. That we’re back here now. God, Spock, why didn’t you say something? You shouldn’t have gone down there.”

“I did not want anyone to know,” he admits.

“You stay up here tomorrow,” she says. “Don’t—don’t keep doing this to yourself.”

She draws back from him, looks at him full in the face, unwavering. Her eyes are shining with tears and the force of his love for her rushes over him like cold water.

“I will perform my duties as I always have,” he says. “I do admit to having had an emotional need to confide in someone, but I have satisfied that.”

“Have you?” she asks.

She breaks her grip on him and he focuses on the roundness of her face.

Her fingers find his and she guides his hands firmly to her temples.

“Show me,” she says.

But they have to leave eventually. It is to end in bullets or starvation. S’chn prefers the former. Amelia, Lazarus, JT, S’chn. It’s a strong group—daring and ferocity and caring and death. Amelia changes his bandages before they leave, and he has to look away because the wounds are starting to scab over, ugly and violent. This could happen again, to him or to another.

This will happen again, he thinks as they huddle at the mouth of the tunnel, trying to gather the courage to leave.

It is to end in bullets or starvation. Or knives, or whips, or being burned alive, or begging for mercy, screams drowned out by laughter. He brushes his wrist against JT’s.

Not you, he thinks fiercely. JT takes that thought and spins it around.

If I live, so do you.

Okay. S’chn pulls away and they slip into the night.

His thoughts are undirected, a whirlpool that had started the instant they got their orders. Brilliant light and blank eyes and an order that he still hears in his nightmares. Bile in his throat and flesh on his lips and sympathetic eyes watching him across a campfire. Stories and fear and warmth and a mind that sprawls before him, the only solace in this place. Steel against his fingers and blood and fire and he’s screaming loud enough to rend the sky in two as they threaten to cut off his fingers.

The feeling of dragging a knife across human skin and there’s blood on his face and dripping down his arms and thank you, thank you, thank you. And more fire, charred flesh, and he’s going to be sick, he is sick. Tiny fingers and trusting eyes, thankful for meat that they think came from a deer.

A small boy with his wings crumpled and

A young girl coughing up blood and

We have to do something we have to get something there has to be medicine somewhere on this god-forsaken planet. Lips and light and not you not you never you please please please.

Humans are easier to break.

A firework goes off and he’s dying.

The woods are full of rustling and murmurs. A hysterical laugh peels through the night and abruptly ends. They don’t even know what they’re looking for as they slip-slide over the branches and through the brambles, as light and as elegant as the shadows that surround them on all sides. S’chn has steeled himself for the worst, made himself cold. Anything to eat, he tells himself as they round another bend with no sign of edible plants or small woodland creatures. Anything at all.

And then they stumble into a clearing quite by accident and a man lunges for them, fed for the past month and already thinking like S’chn. He gets an arm around Lazarus’ neck and she punches her small fist clean through his windpipe.

She can’t be entirely human, that much is clear, and he almost asks what alien genes lie in her DNA. But her species is as much of a cloak as S’chn’s name, so he lets the query die on his lips as the man twitches once, twice, and goes still.

They stand there for several long minutes, too drained to cry or scream or curse the gods. No one wants to be the one to suggest what they all know is necessary.

“There’s nothing else,” Amelia says at last. Lazarus nods shakily, wiping the man’s blood on the hem of her tattered skirt.

“Okay,” JT whispers, drawing his knobby arms around himself. “Alright. Let’s build a fire. Find dry wood, nothing too green. We can’t have smoke. Quick as possible, let’s get this cooked and back to the others. We’ll say it’s a deer.”

S’chn encircles JT’s wrists with his fingers as they begin to gather kindling from the edge of the clearing. He floods the other boy with what little strength he has left, it’ll be okay, we have to do this, it’s sick but we have to do this.

JT’s mind is numb.

“Guess we’re dead now, huh?” he mumbles, pulling his arm away.

Uhura rests her forehead against his collarbone and wraps her arms around his waist. There’s nothing but love and sorrow pouring from her skin, no underlying hint of disgust or revulsion or anger. She lets go of him with one arm to grab his left hand, glides her thumb over his palm, trying to rub away the memory of the knife.

“I should’ve known,” she whispers. “The signs—there were signs and I never—"

“Most people would not jump to the conclusion that someone they care about was a part of something so terrible. The odds of it happening are slim. It is only logical.”

“Don’t say ‘a part of’ like you were condoning what happened to you.”

He nods slowly. It’s like she can sense his skepticism.

“You don’t—you were a kid, Spock. It was sixteen years ago, you were what, fourteen?”

“Yes.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“You saw what I did.”

“Yes.”

Her grip grows tighter still, like she’s trying to squeeze all the pain out of him and remake him into something whole. It’s useless, he wants to tell her, I’ve already tried. But the words are stuck to his tongue.

“You saved those kids, S’chn T’gai Spock. You’re the strongest damn person I know. Don’t let anybody tell you different.”

Hearing his full name shatters something inside of him and he slowly brings his arms up to circle her back. He doesn't cry, although he feels her tears trickling over his skin. He just holds her, holds her as the Enterprise circles the planet that almost claimed his life, and it is quiet.

Saliva pools in his mouth at the smell of roasting meat and he forces himself to look at the campfire so he knows exactly what will save him. JT and him are sitting back to back, the other boy peering into the dark canopy of the trees, alert for anyone who might be drawn by the smell.

“I can’t breathe,” JT says.

“I know.”

“I thought—I thought we wouldn’t have to—but as soon as I saw the warehouses go up I knew we’d have to do this. God, Shun, he had a life. He probably had family, and kids, and fuck, he was just trying to survive, like us. He wasn’t on the kill list, yeah, but that doesn’t even matter anymore does it?”

“He’s only been hungry for three days and he tried to murder us. By all laws of logic, we have the moral high ground,” says S’chn. He doesn’t believe himself. But JT is shaking apart and the confirmation that they’re all monsters is not what his t’hy’la needs to hear right now.

“That’s bullshit and you know it.” JT doesn’t even sound angry.

“Yes,” he admits.

“I’m scared, Shun. I don’t want to do this.”

“I know, ashayam.” Lazarus pulls the meat off the fire, wrapping it up with efficient and trembling hands. JT doesn’t ask what the Vulcan word means, just heaves a shuddering breath. S’chn gets to his feet as Lazarus turns away from the fire.

“Let’s go,” says Amelia softly and the four of them leave the fire burning as they slip away. S’chn doesn’t care if the forest goes up in flames. Perhaps that would be for the best. Someone would come searching, and find nothing but skeletons and ash. Tarsus IV would be nothing more than a mystery, and he wouldn’t have to tell his parents that he had eaten a person.

That conversation happens about a week after he gets off the planet, the story stuttered out half through words and half through melding, and his mother just strokes his overlong hair and murmurs platitudes: it’s okay, it’s okay, you’re alive because of that, and so are eight other children and it’s not your fault. I don’t blame you. Sweetheart, it’s okay, it’s okay, just breathe, just breathe. Shhhhh

He can feel the involuntary prickles of disgust at the corners of her mind and he shies away from her hand, buries himself beneath a pile of blankets, because his own mother knows that he’s a cannibal and won’t ever be able to look at him without knowing that.

His father explains to him, later, that humans often feel emotions tangential to the conversation they were having, that the disgust wasn’t at his admission but at the fact that he had been in that position to begin with, that he had been forced to make that choice.

It is a commonly held belief that Vulcans can’t lie.

Spock knows better than that.

They are heralded as heroes when they return to the cave with enough meat to last for a week, if they stretch it. The children are practically sobbing with gratitude as they stuff it into their mouths, juice dribbling down their chin. They don’t for a second question JT’s bright-eyed story about how they’d herded the deer into a clearing and brought it down with only their knives and their wits. His smile is so genuine that S’chn almost believes it himself.

He hands Tom his portion and deliberately brushes their wrists together. It’s not deer, he pushes to the front of his mind. Tom deserves to know, deserves to make that decision for himself. S’chn pulls away and Tom looks up at him with a soft smile that doesn’t quite mask the horror in his eyes. He tucks in with considerably less gusto than the others.

S’chn unwraps his own portion and swallows it down, mentally recites all of Surak’s laws that he knows. His mind is a wall and this is a pebble, he won’t be brought down by this.

He throws up everything he eats for two weeks, has to be hooked up to an IV just to stay alive. For months after, everything tastes like charred flesh and he can’t sleep after a meal without seeing that man’s wild eyes as he choked to death on his own blood.

His mind is a wall. The man is a pebble.

He bites down on a bar of soap, eats the most revolting fruits he can find, but the taste always finds its way back to his tongue.

JT smiles and laughs through the entirety of the meal. The children drift off easily that night, full bellies far more soothing than sobbed words of comfort. The others huddle together at the far end of the cave. Lazarus puts her head between her knees and whines, a soft keening noise like a murdered fawn. Amelia and Tom are wordless pillars next to her, hands soft against her back. JT murmurs anything and everything he can think of to make this better.

S’chn sits in the middle of the cluster, closes his eyes, and pictures a peaceful sunlit forest, pictures rolling dunes under a million stars, thinks of what they’ll all be when they’re past this. The others grab at his arms, drawing from him the thought that there will be a future.

“You can’t go back down there,” Uhura says, after an eternity of peace and hunger. Her breath is warm against Spock’s skin.

“I am the Chief Science Officer,” he says. “It is my duty to ensure that any and all scientific missions are carried out to their fullest potential.”

“You know that no one would make you do this if they knew you were a survivor,” she says. “Starfleet wouldn’t have even given us this mission. Your job requires a lot of things but this is not one of them.”

“I do not wish for Starfleet to know,” he says.

“So just tell Jim you’re emotionally compromised. Make something up. Or hell, tell him the truth and have him make something up for you.”

“I will consider it.”

“Okay,” she murmurs. She presses her lips softly against his. “That’s the best I’m gonna get from you right now, so okay. I’ll take it.”

Hours later, JT and S’chn lie curled together on a pile of old blankets. JT’s face is buried in S’chn’s shirt, which is growing damp quickly. He cries silently. Transmutes his sobs into shaking shoulders and soft hiccups, fingers clutching at the blankets, at S’chn’s shoulders, at anything that will give.

This is a storm and S’chn is a rock, an unyielding constant in the face of a hurricane. He slings a bony arm over his t’hy’la’s shoulders and says nothing, is nothing.

He is nothing.

It’s a surprisingly comforting thought. He could float away right now if he wished, swirl away from this planet and never come back, breathe out and just not breathe back in.

“Don’t leave me,” says JT, each word cut in two by a hitched breath.

But for that.

Chapter Text

They don’t leave the burrow for a week. The air is a warm, damp blanket around them, holding all the smells of the cave against their noses. The stench of meat is inescapable, the reminder of what they are doing to survive ever-present, even between meals. S’chn curls in the corner and tries to meditate most days. JT sits next to him, trying to maintain a smile, trying to maintain a story, trying and trying and trying. It takes everything out of him, drains him down to his bones and the manufactured gleam in his eyes.

S’chn tries to pour what little comfort he can back into his t’hy’la, guiding JT’s fingers to his arms and telling him stories with mind and mouth together. Reconstructs his home, reconstructs the histories that he knows and the legends that he’s learned.

But all the made up and re-spun beauties and horrors of his home world can’t stop JT from crawling into himself. And with each meal, that’s exactly what he does, spins a dark place around him where he can be safe. S’chn feels it when they meld, senses the bright flicker of a mind buried beneath wall after wall to shut the pain out. It’s the same dark place he had gone to when a knife had been buried in his hand, and he’s terrified.

Spock is woken the morning after his confession by the shrill beeping of his comm. He rolls over and snatches it from his bedside table, awake in an instant. He flicks it to video, aware of his bedhead but also aware that he looks awake despite his unkempt appearance. Humans, he learned in his academy years, are terrified of those with such power.

Amelia Coltrane stares unflinchingly up at him from the screen, arms crossed over her chest.

“It’s all over the news,” she says without preamble. “The fact that Starfleet’s considering recolinization.”

“Is that so?”

“They’ve also been saying that the Enterprise is running a mission there now,” she says. “How are you doing?”

“I am adequate.”

She sighs, drumming her fingers on the tabletop before her. Her brow is creased in worry.

“I wish I could be there,” she says.

“I do not. You are best where this place cannot touch you.”

“Too late for that, Shun.”

She had tried calling him Spock one, when they had first found each other. He had tried calling her Amy. It felt starkly inappropriate. They were themselves, in a myriad of forms and a myriad of names, and only one of those names could be said in the context of their relationship.

“Once you’re done with your tests they’ll start shuttling up diplomats, news crews, farmers, early colonists. I’m coming then.”

“I’ll be gone—"

“I know. It’s for me. I have to see this place again. I have to know that there’s hope for it. There’s layers and layers of security, it’ll be different this time.”

“I do not understand Starfleet’s need to build over the dead.”

“It’s a human need. For some of us at least. We need to prove to ourselves that ghosts have no places in our hearts. To prove that what killed them can’t kill us, and that we’ve learned from tragedy.”

They’re almost out. A week and a half of barely enough calories and a youthful optimism from the children. They need more. They’ll always need more. Wren, Kevin, Vrall, and John remind them of that incessantly.

“You gonna get another deer?” asks Vrall one day, tapping Lazarus on the arm rapidly. “We’re almost outta this one.”

Lazarus takes a shuddering breath and nods. She cards her fingers through Vrall’s feathers and casts a helpless look at the older members of their little group. The kids don’t see it, happily oblivious as they dream of food.

“Tomorrow,” says Lazarus. “We’ll be fine for one more day.”

The reading that night was more somber than usual, JT’s eyes flickering constantly between the book and the mouth of their hovel. S’chn reaches down to encircle his wrist, but has to let go before a second has passed. JT’s thoughts are a hurricane of can’t and won’t and not again and S’chn retreats to his corner.

They have to. They have to. They have to.

“I’ll take first watch,” JT says casually, tossing the book aside once he’s finished with that night’s scene.

Spock drops the matter. He’ll never quite understand the human race’s peculiar brand of logic.

“Have you found anyone else?” he asks. Amelia had been looking for survivors for several years now, with no luck besides meeting Spock by blind chance.

She shakes her head.

“You?”

“I am not actively looking,” he says.

His comm beeps again. Jim is calling him, no doubt with some development regarding the mission.

“I have to go,” he says. “Live long and prosper.”

She repeats the farewell with an ironic twist of the lips and he switches over to Jim.

He looks like a shuttle-wreck, hair snarled around his ears, dark circles smeared like bruises under his eyes, yesterday’s uniform haphazardly straightened out over his shoulders. He has a week-long awakeness about him, a look that he has worn many times in the middle of a crisis, but never during a routine survey.

“Starfleet wants us to hurry this up,” he says.

“Captain, without extensive sampling, we cannot be sure if the fungus has been completely eradicated.”

“I know, I know. I’ve told them that a dozen times but they are adamant about their course of action. Seems like the news about the project broke and they don’t want to look wishy-washy by taking too long.”

“They would look more cautious than ‘wishy-washy,’ as you put it.”

“Believe me, I yelled at them for hours but they wouldn’t budge. Look, ready or not they want the first ships to touch down here next week, at the latest. I want you to reprioritize your scanning. Stop the thorough searching and start looking at the most likely places to hold fungus. Work your men as much as you can.”

“Affirmative.”

The pain is coming back, thorny and insidious in his hands. He wants to get off the comm before his mask cracks.

“Sorry to ask so much of you, Spock.”

“Apologies for aspects of the world that you cannot control are illogical, Captain. I will remain steadfast in my duties.”

Did that sound like himself? At any moment S’chn might slip through, angry and demanding answers from the organization that had failed him a dozen times over and he needs to get off the comm now.

“I owe you one. Kirk out.”

Spock waits for the screen to go dark and then he curls his hands into fists and bites down on his tongue.

When S’chn wakes up to take his watch, JT is gone.

He moves in a daze to the mouth of the passageway, tilts his head back as if JT is hiding, calls out in a half-whisper. No response.

He should have said something, should have thought something, should have done something. He remembers JT’s desperate thoughts, tries to sort through them for a sign of where his t’hy’la has gone, tries to keep the burnt metal taste of panic out of his throat.

One thought jumps out like lightning.

Maybe they’ll want something else for food.

And he knows.

He knows what JT intends to offer up and no, no, they’ve already sacrificed too much of their innocence. This is the point where S’chn draws the line. He refuses.

He throws down all his shields and lays his mind bare, flings out a scream of thought and finds a slim fiber twisting away into the dark.

He shakes Amelia awake, mumbles a pathetic excuse, and scrambles up the tunnel. The rocks dig painfully into his palms but he ignores them. He scrapes a knee, drawing green across his skin, marking himself as a target, but he ignores this too.

He stands in the night, the starlight catching the fearlessness and the feralness in his eyes and teeth. He has but a knife, yet he could conquer the world. S’chn runs faster than he ever has in his life, tearing through thickets that skitter across his skin, across freezing rivers and past smoky clearings. He notices, after about five minutes, that he has forgotten to put on his shoes. Smears of green stand out starkly against the dead grass and S’chn thinks for a moment that he’s stomping life back into Tarsus.

He follows the faint impression of a bond—and that’s something he’ll have to talk with JT about later but not now, not now—feels JT’s terror turn his stomach as if it were S’chn’s own.

Two days later Spock is walking back from the mess, having consumed exactly as much food as necessary, not a bite more or less. He is still proud of himself for that, even though pride is illogical. He intends to go straight back to his room and read over that day’s reports, though he’s sure all the results have yet again come up negative.

Sobbing filters under the door of a darkened ready room and Spock freezes in his tracks. He knows he shouldn’t listen in—he’s not, really—but he can hear raised voices and crying, and he’s punching in his override code without a second thought. There have been one too many abused crew members for him to walk past such suspicious sounds and do nothing.

As soon as the door whooshes open, he knows he’s made a mistake.

Jim and McCoy sit side-by-side, a nearly-untouched bottle of (illegal) alcohol sitting between them on the table. McCoy’s arms are flung across Jim’s back in an awkward hug, and Jim lifts his head from McCoy’s shoulder as Spock enters the room. His eyes as red as his face, tears and snot commingling on his cheeks. When he speaks, it’s with a thick and breaking voice.

“How much did you hear?”

“Captain, I apologize.” He’s already backing through the door. “I heard arguing and I wanted to make sure—”

“Did they not teach you the meaning of a fucking locked door on Vulcan? Get out.”

“Captain, I—”

“Get out!”

His voice shoots up several decibels and Spock all but flees, leaving the two men alone in the ready room.

S’chn skids to the halt at the edge of a clearing and almost screams.

A well-fed, uniformed man has JT pinned to a tree. He’s running one hand across his chest, while the other fumbles at his waistband, the intention clear. JT’s eyes are slammed shut, tear tracks plain in the dust on his face. S’chn reaches out for his mind and finds it dark.

A bag has been tossed to the ground beside them. It’s overflowing with cans. The end result of this transaction.

S’chn doesn’t waste another second. He runs into the clearing with a battle cry, and before the man can even turn around, S’chn draws the knife across his throat. He screams, a gurgling, desperate sound. S’chn feels no pity, almost relishes in the blood pouring over his hands.

JT hits the ground almost as hard as the man. He leans heavily against the tree, shivering like an earthquake. His face is covered in crimson. S’chn drops the knife and kneels before his t’hy’la, reaching for him with bloody hands.

JT flinches away and S’chn drops his hands. Of course he would be wary of touch right now.

“Why did you do that?” JT asks.

“To save you.”

“I didn’t need saving.”

He starts to pile to cans in the bag, moving robotically. He refuses to look at S’chn. S’chn tries to project as much comfort as he can, staying perfectly still.

“He was going to rape you.” JT freezes. “You know that, right?”

“It wasn’t—I asked him.”

“JT, look at me.” His t’hy’la meets his eyes, reluctantly.

“If that had happened to me, what would you have done?”

“I would have torn him apart.”

“You’re younger than I am.”

“I’m different,” JT says quietly. S’chn shakes his head slowly, deliberately.

“We have food now,” he says. “You didn’t need to do that. If you found a guard with food you could have just—”

“I’m so tired of killing, Shun, I’m so fucking tired. This was a way to feed us without murdering someone. You took that away from me and I can’t—I don’t—I won’t ever forgive you. No one deserves to die.”

“He did.”

JT shakes himself to shreds. I won’t ever forgive you plays again and again in S’chn’s head. But he just silently gathers up the cans, sheathes the knife, and waits until JT has the strength to stand.

Chapter Text

They go to a river to wash the blood away and the cold water is life against S’chn’s fingers. He unwinds the soiled bandages and lets the river sweep them away, stares down at the split-open scabs that dot his palms and fingers. The injuries were so close to healing and now they are once again raw from the force of gripping a knife. The adrenaline pours away and S’chn slowly becomes aware of how much pain he’s in.

He shivers as the water swirls away red and green as one, pulls his hands from the stinging stream and curls into himself. JT rests a trembling hand on S’chn’s shoulder.

“Does it hurt?”

S’chn nods. Here, without small eyes watching him, he can allow himself to be weak.  JT sighs and throws his whole arm around S’chn, pulls him closer. S’chn stares fixedly at the moonlight glinting off the river.

“I don’t hate you,” JT said quietly. “I know it may have seemed that way but I don’t.”

“But you still can’t forgive me.”

“Yeah.”

It feels like something is caught in his throat, pressure building in his jaw and behind his eyes. But he says nothing, just curls himself even tighter. He can feel JT’s emotions swirling like a sandstorm. He doesn’t want to add his own hurt to the chaos.

“How did you know where to find me?” JT asks softly.

“I believe that we are t’hy’la,” says S’chn. His heart is raw and defenseless in his hands, and he holds it out to JT like the most precious of gifts.

“What does that mean?”

“The word ‘soulmate’ is the closest equivalent in Standard.”

JT goes very still.

The ships orbit the planet like carrion birds, pouring their passengers down to the dusty surface. Biologists and historians, farmers and writers. Spock doesn’t talk to any that have publicly branded themselves as survivors. They had been on Kodos’ good list. They had been the enemy for three terrible months. They would have eaten him if they had had the chance.

He knows that they were just trying to survive, knows that he himself was just as guilty. That doesn’t make it any easier. When he looks in the mirror, he sees a fourteen-year-old corpse with bloodstained lips.

He works instead with the scientists, who busy themselves with dirt samples and old records. They’re trying to understand what had happened here, trying to ensure that it never happens again. Spock and they speak a common tongue.

Jim disappears to the surface for long hours, frequently spending his time with the small group of survivors, nodding seriously as they spill their stories. He is glad that the captain has chosen a different area on which to focus, as it makes avoiding him all the more easy. But irrational anger shoots through him at the thought of Jim speaking to those on the live list, and Spock cannot help but feel judged and marked and watched all at once.

“Figures,” JT says softly.

He pulls away from S’chn, shifts his weight so that he’s facing the other boy. S’chn drags his gaze from the river, meeting JT’s eyes as nervousness coils within him.

“I love you,” says JT and it hurts. It hurts to know that they could be something beautiful were they away from here. “I wish I didn’t but god, I love you so much.”

The bond stretches between them, fragile as life, and S’chn floods it with affection and sorrow. JT takes in all his emotions with a look of wonder.

“How are you doing that? We aren’t melding. You aren’t even touching me.”

“It’s because we are t’hy’la. We have melded frequently enough that a rudimentary bond has formed between us. I suspect that it can transmit emotions, but not full-formed thoughts. When we leave this place, we can choose to have a Vulcan healer strengthen and cement it.”

“When we leave?”

“Yes.”

There will be a future for them. Even if JT casts him away once they are safe, they will each build their own life. They haven’t killed in vain. They haven’t eaten a man in vain. JT hasn’t offered himself up in vain. The universe cannot allow such an unfair outcome to exist.

JT leans forward and rests his forehead against S’chn’s clavicle. His skin is damp from the river. His breaths are warm against S’chn’s skin and S’chn slowly wraps his arms around him, giving him ample time to back away.

They sit like that for a moment, and S’chn can pretend for a moment that this is peaceful. The forest is blessedly silent, the smell of blood washed away, the smell of fungus a faded constant. They could be on Earth. But they don’t have much longer to forget. Dawn will break soon, and there are many that would see the two children huddled by the river as a perfect meal.

“We’re going to die here,” JT mumbles against S’chn’s shoulder, and all of his glorious futures dissolve into dust.

On the fifth day of the colonization efforts, Spock meets Dr. Thomas Leighton. He’s all business, describing his work on anti-fungal GM crops with a confidence that suggested dozens of similar presentations. Normally, Spock would be fascinated, asking questions and spurring ideas. But when he talks to Dr. Leighton, all of his focus goes to the mask that covers half his face.

None of them had seen the torch coming. Tom would have made it off Tarsus unharmed had he not carried S’chn back to their hovel.

He concludes the discussion with Dr. Leighton without an ounce of his usual elegance and retreats to the edge of the colony, where Amelia has taken residence in a roomy tent. The door flaps have been drawn back and she is sitting cross-legged on the floor, scribbling away at a PADD.

“Shun, hey.” She locks the PADD and sets it aside, then crawls out of the tent to stand in front of him.

“Good afternoon.”

“What’s up? You look shaken. Do you need to talk?”

Her brow is creased with concern.

“In a sense, yes. How did you know it was me, when you first found me again?”

“Did you find–”

“Perhaps.”

That gets her attention. She stands up straight, folds her hands in front of her, and starts rattling off information.

“You seemed way more emotionally involved in the hummingbird plague than most of your crew mates. It wasn’t obvious to them, don’t worry, but I counseled quite a few Vulcan patients after Vulcan’s destruction. I learned how to read the emotional tells of your species fairly quickly. And when I looked at you, I knew that I was looking at someone who was experiencing a reminder of past trauma. Once I realized that, it wasn’t hard to figure out.”

Spock nodded, slowly.

“I believe that I’ve found Tom. Will you talk to him?”

When they finally let go of each other, JT has slipped on the mask of the fearless leader once again. He pulls off his sweatshirt and shirt, then replaces the sweatshirt and starts tearing the shirt into strips.

“We need to bandage your feet,” he explains.

“Let me–”

“You’re a Vulcan and you’re already shivering. You need all the layers you can get. And we can’t leave a trail of blood back to our hideout, so don’t even suggest that I put my shirt back on.”

S’chn shuts up and JT hastily winds the makeshift bandages around his feet.

“I’ll put some ointment on the cuts when we get back, god only knows what shit’s on my shirt and on the forest floor. Next time you mount a daring rescue, please put your shoes on first.”

S’chn grants him a pulse of amusement and JT smiles.

“That’s actually kind of awesome,” he says.

And the peace is broken with a high-pitched, desperate scream.

It’s a child.

JT is on his feet in a moment, dragging S’chn up after him.

We can’t, S’chn thinks through their contact.

We have to.

In one way or another, that is the essence of survival. We can’t but we have to. And JT grabs that logic by the throat and forces it to save someone.

They sprint through the forest, over branches and under them, closer and closer to their hideout. Nausea bucks in S’chn’s stomach. Someone had found their home, he’s sure of it. Someone is hurting the others. JT puts on a burst of speed and S’chn follows, his t’hy’la’s anxiety multiplying his own a hundredfold.

They come up short, about two hundred meters away from their home. The sound of bones breaking snaps through the air, accompanied with the methodical pounding of a rock against skin.

Fury courses through the bond and JT surges forward with nothing but his fists and his teeth. S’chn is a second behind him, the knife still coated with its last kill.

Vrall lies on the forest floor, mouth gaping open with ragged gasps. His wings are shattered around him.

Spock observes the conversation of Amelia and Doctor Leighton from a distance. He makes himself look busy, tinkering idly with a sample of dirt, but his eyes never leave the two. It doesn’t take more than five minutes before Amelia is leading him over in Spock’s direction. He rises and nods politely to Doctor Leighton.

“Doctor—Coltrane, was it?—said that you wanted to talk.”

“To both of you, that is correct.”

They find a quiet tent away from the hustle and bustle of the colony, and sit cross-legged on the ground. It’s almost like being back in the cave, telling stories to past the time, before S’chn was tortured, before the village burned, before everything fell apart for real.

“Well, what is it? I have to get back to my work.”

Amelia opens her mouth but Spock speaks first, cutting to the chase.

“Have you been on Tarsus before, Doctor Leighton?”

The blood drained from his face.

“How did you—they said those files were sealed, they said I was safe.”

“You are, Tom,” Amelia says. She leans forward, concern and compassion dripping from her voice. He stops mid-panic, and whips his head between the two of them with something like wonder on his face.

“Doctor Amy Coltrane,” he says slowly. “Amelia?”

“Yes. It’s me.”

“Shun?”

Spock nods, and then Tom’s arms are wrapped around them both and he is sobbing.

“I thought I’d never see you again,” he hiccups. “I thought I’d have to do this alone. God, I didn’t know who to turn to, I didn’t know what to do—”

“What are you talking about?”

“I—I found him.”

S’chn has the element of surprise and he kills the first man easily, burying the knife between his ribs. JT tackles the second with a scream, wrenching him away from Vrall and sending them both to the ground. The man drops the rock but he still has his fists, and he hits JT hard enough to dislodge him. He scrambles to his feet, kicking JT under his chin when he tries to stand. S’chn stalks forward, knife held in front of him. The man’s eyes flash in fear.

He’s a civilian. Skinny, un-uniformed, hair a scraggly mess. But he had all but ripped Vrall’s wings from his back, tortured an eight-year-old for no reason that S’chn can see. He deserves to die as much as Kodos’ men.

He puts a hand in the center of JT’s chest, pinning him to the ground. With the other hand, he snatches up the fallen rock and holds it directly above JT’s head.

“One more step and I bash his head in,” he snarls.

The world freezes for a moment. JT’s eyes find S’chn’s and there is panic there, flowing through the bond from both ends. All he can see is his t’hy’la’s brains dashed across the forest floor, all he can hear is JT gasping for air.

We’re going to die here.

“Why are you doing this?” JT asks. “We’re children. Why did you hurt him?”

He points to Vrall. The boy is trying feebly to sit up, crying out with every twitch of his wings. He’s a broken mess. S’chn doubts he’ll ever fly again.

“We have to,” the man says. There’s a manic brightness in his eyes and he speaks with a half laugh. “Kodos said, before he burned the village, he said to kill everyone that ought to have died and he’d call Starfleet and let us all go free. You little brats are killing us all. Come on, didn’t anyone ever teach you about the greater good?”

“Yes,” says JT. His voice is so soft that S’chn can barely hear him.

In one fluid motion, he reaches up, yanks the man’s head down, and bites into his throat.

Hope flies through Spock at Tom’s declaration. Inside him, a beaten and broken child steps onto the hot sands of his home world, amazed at his own strength. He had pushed away the belief that JT could be alive for so long. Kodos had had him for three days at least and he had been so weak to start.

He didn’t like to think about what might have become of his t’hy’la because his mind just goes to knives and whips and fire and broken blue eyes.

But if anyone could survive, it would be him.

“JT?” he whispers.

“No. No, um. I think it’s Kodos.”

And JT dies all over again.

Chapter Text

 

JT wipes the blood from his mouth and shoves the man away from him. He stands shakily, knees knocking together as he tries to reclaim the air that the man’s body had knocked from his lungs. The bond shivers with self-loathing.

Vrall reaches up weakly, grasping at the sky. JT and S’chn lift him between them, gingerly, trying as best they can not to jostle his shattered wings. S’chn keeps the bag of food slung securely over his shoulder. None of them speak. This is another blow in a long beating, and they can do nothing but brace themselves for the next.

Vrall whimpers all the way back to the burrow, tears shimmering under the same moonlight that had given S’chn so much strength.

They lay Vrall down on his stomach when they reach their home, and wrap the wounds in bandages and water, the only kind of medicine at their disposal. Vrall rides on an exhaustion born of pain, eyes drifting in and out of focus as they tend to his back. Lazarus hovers by the boy’s head, slipping water and applesauce between his lips in his rare moments of lucidity.

Amelia and Tom keep the children quiet in the corner, clearing away ample room around the deathbed.

Because this is what this is. Each bandage is an umbrella against a hurricane. Vrall’s golden blood paints them all in light and they can do nothing but press down harder and harder.

“What do you mean?” whispers Amelia in horror. Tom pulls away from them, hastily swiping a hand over his eyes.

“I was at this play. Shakespeare. I know, I know, I never liked—that’s not important. Well, the main actor, Macbeth he was—he was Kodos. I know it. I’ll never forget his voice.”

“Did you get a recording?” Spock asks. He feels like he’s outside his body looking in. Starfleet had told them that Kodos had burned, swirled away into the same ash that had consumed Tarsus itself. A fitting end for a megalomaniac. Fire makes everything the same. Those words were parroted again and again on the television, and each time Spock had wanted to hit something. Because that man had ordered their deaths again and again, held back help for others as incentive to murder children, given his t’hy’la the most excruciating death he could dream up. He deserved far worse than to be set free by fire.

Tom pulls a PADD out of his bag, navigates easily to a voice recording, and presses play.

“Is this a dagger I see before me?”

The voice is warped with age, but the single sentence sends Spock back to a crowded stadium built for games and repurposed for dying. He sits bolt upright, leaning away from the PADD like it’s a venomous snake. Amelia doesn’t fare much better, slamming her hand down on the pause button with a white-knuckled hand.

Kodos deserves a far more painful death than fire.

That doesn't mean he deserves to live.

“I don’t wanna die,” Vrall mumbles once, three hours into the bleeding. His eyes are clear for once, alert. He is fully aware of what is happening to him, fully aware that infection will get him if blood loss doesn’t.

“You won’t,” says JT. He cards a hand through the boy’s hair, spreading gold across the black strands like he’s crowning him king. Vrall looks beyond JT, stares directly at Lazarus. She huddles by the entrance, clutching a butcher’s knife hard enough to brand the handle into her palm.

Vrall had been Lazarus’ second in command before the town burned. And now she can do nothing to save him but will away imaginary monsters. S’chn can practically feel her anger at her own uselessness.

“I don’t want to hurt, either,” he says to her. “I want it all to stop.”

She drops the knife and hurries across the hovel as fast as she can, nearly bowling JT over in her haste to get to him.

“No,” she says fiercely. “You can’t have both, not now. So you’re gonna live, alright kid? Someday you won’t be in pain. If you’re dead, you won’t be able to enjoy that.”

His whole body ripples as a sigh tears through him, as violent as a seizure. Lazarus presses down on his back.

“I’m never gonna fly again.”

He’s not looking at Lazarus anymore, and she uses that to her advantage, covering her eyes with one golden hand. She allows herself a single moment to break down.

“What are we gonna do?” says Tom.

“Contact Starfleet, have them bring him in,” says Amelia without hesitation. “He can’t go free.”

“I don’t want to destroy an innocent man’s life based on a hunch,” says Tom.

“They’ll be discrete. One DNA sample, that’s all they’ll need.”

“It is him,” says Spock.

“Are you absolutely sure?” asks Amelia.

“Positive.”

“You can’t know that,” she insists. “You can’t. Tom said that it was him, that kind of thing can prime your thinking. You were looking for it to be him.”

“I would never look for that man to be alive,” says Spock. His voice has frozen over. “Ever.”

“I know that look, Shun,” she says. “You can’t kill him.”

“Why not?”

He’s fourteen and lying beneath a pile of corpses; he’s fifteen and discretely hiding his birthday cake so he doesn’t have to choke it down; he’s sixteen and he’s curled in the corner of a supply closet at school because small spaces are safe. Fourteen and terrified, twenty and terrified, thirty-one and terrified. Tarsus had never let him go. Kodos had never let him go. When all distractions are removed and there’s nothing but the blackness of his bedroom, he can still hear his voice ringing through the silence.

This man is Kodos. Of that, Spock is certain. If there’s anyone in the universe that deserves death, it is him.

“The others who made it deserve to know that he has been brought to justice. And you don’t deserve to go to prison for Kodos’ death. You can’t have it both ways.”

“What happened?” JT asks when Vrall has slipped back under. “Why did he leave?”

“He went after you,” says Lazarus. “He wanted to be helpful. I don’t think he likes being one of the little ones, now.”

“I’m so sorry,” says JT. “I didn’t think he would—”

“None of us did,” interrupts Amelia. “It’s not your fault.”

“Hell, you probably saved us,” says Lazarus, gesturing at the can-filled duffle bag.

The bond shakes with guilt and S’chn tries to replace it with anger at the men who had really done this. JT just draws it in, directs it at himself. S’chn locks away the anger in the back of his mind, projects a blank slate as much as he is able, tries to remember his schooling.

He doubts any of his teachers were preparing them for this.

“How did you get this, anyway?” asks Tom.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” mumbles JT, wrapping another layer of bandages around Vrall’s right wing. Lazarus frowns, flicks a calculating eye over JT. Keeping out of his sight, she leans forward and pokes his shoulder.

JT flinches.

There’s a look of complete and utter grief on Lazarus’ face when she pulls her hand away.

Spock’s comm rings, loud and long, and the three of them jump in surprise. Spock pulls it quickly from his belt, glancing down in surprise at the ID. Jim and he haven’t spoken in days. Official business, then.

“Spock here,” Spock says crisply, privately glad that he didn’t have to answer to Amelia’s reasoning.

“Spock, hey. Can you get up to the Enterprise ASAP? We have to play nice with some visiting theatre troupe, and you’re always better at the technicalities of getting the ship ship-shape.”

“That was terrible, Captain.”

“I try.” Warmth curls in Spock’s chest. It’s nice to have at least a semblance of their old banter back.

“Why do these actors wish to visit Tarsus?”

“They said that they wanted to put on a show or two to lift our spirits. I think they’re in it for the notoriety, but the higher-ups made it clear that I’m not allowed to insinuate anything of the sort in their presence.”

“What is the name of this troupe?”

“The Karidian Players. Apparently they’re very famous in literary circles; they do lots of original-pronunciation Shakespeare.”

“I’ll have to catch a show, then. Be up in ten. Spock out.”

He flips his comm closed and turns back to the conversation. Tom has gone white.

“What’s wrong?” asks Amelia, but Spock knows before Tom can ever speak.

“Anton Karidian. The lead actor. That’s Kodos.”

They hunker down that night to a lullaby of Vrall’s breathing, all listening for a catch or a cry, using the fact that he was still alive to comfort themselves enough to fall asleep. Lazarus and JT keep watch over his thin body, talking quietly in the flickering lantern-light. S’chn watches them with slivered eyes.

“There was this girl,” says Lazarus. “She was a part of my group, for awhile. She was beautiful, before all this happened, and she knew it, too.”

“I don’t need a lecture,” says JT.

“Yeah, you really do. Anyway, she used that to her advantage. Traded favors with the guards, got us food. She was the one who really kept us alive, me, I was just the fighter. And then one day, one of the men decided that he didn’t want to give up his rations for the day. He raped her like usual, and then stuck a phaser down her throat.”

There is a long silence.

“You can’t undo what you’ve done. And God, I wish you could kid, you’re what? Thirteen?”

“Twelve.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I wasn’t—Shun got there in time. Stabbed the guard, grabbed the food.”

Lazarus nods shakily, then gently wraps JT in her arms.

“Don’t ever do anything like that again. That can’t be your last memory.”

“It’s what I’m good for,” mumbles JT.

“Who the hell told you that?”

S’chn wants to leap up and demand the same thing, wants to have a person to destroy. JT is the closest thing to hope he has, and the idea that anyone had told him—or shown him—that he deserved to be—

“My stepfather.”

Lazarus goes very still.

“JT, this is very important. What exactly did your stepfather do to you?”

“You training to be a social worker or something?”

She doesn’t take the bait.

“Alright, fine. He didn’t rape me, if that’s what you’re asking. He just—he says things sometimes. Tells me what he thinks I’ll need to know for ‘my future career.’ That’s what he always calls it. Says that I’ll never amount to anything else so I’ll wind up—you get the idea.”

“When we get off this planet, you need to tell someone.”

JT scoffs.

“If you don’t, I will. I won’t let that man anywhere near you. My parents will be glad to take you in. You deserve a better family. You’ve been through enough.”

JT finally returns the hug.

“You might as well come over here, Shun,” he says, voice muffled a bit by Lazarus’ shoulder. “I know you’re awake.”

Shun sits up, ready to reiterate everything that Lazarus had just said.

At the same instant, Wren sits bolt upright and starts to cough. When she pulls her hand away from her mouth, her fingertips are scarlet.

“Detain him,” says Amelia. “Please, Shun, just lock him up. Don’t go any further than that, promise me.”

“I will do what logically must be done,” he says. “I cannot promise that violence will not be necessary.”

“Promise that you won’t make it necessary.”

And he sees JT, guilty and disgusted for killing in self defense, for letting others kill in his defense. He had felt so much. And he knows that his memory would hate Spock should he kill Kodos.

Fine then.

“I promise.”

He performs his duties as well as he is able, compartmentalizing away the fear and the grief until all that’s left is the love for his work. The Enterprise is a well-oiled machine by the time the actors step aboard.

Kodos leads the procession, all smarmy smiles and beautiful words. Some were his own, some were Shakespeare’s. Spock nearly loses control when he slips into Duke Orsino.

He shakes Kodos’ hand, squeezing slightly too hard. Bile curdles in his mouth, but he nods respectfully and grinds his teeth until the man stops touching him.

“And you must be Captain Kirk!” Kodos says joyfully, launching into an enthusiastic handshake. “Thank you so much for your service, young man. Earth would be a dark place indeed without people like you.”

“My crew deserve at least ninety percent of the credit,” Kirk says with a wide smile.

“So modest. But greatness often is, is it not?” He moves along, following a yeoman to his chambers, the rest of the company trailing behind, marveling at the Enterprise as they went.

The receiving party breaks parade rest and disperse, each heading back to their duties. Spock stands still for a moment, feeling as though he has just been hit over the head with a metal pipe.

“You looked ready to punch that guy in the face,” says Uhura.

“I was. We need to talk.” She nods and gently takes his arm, steering them both towards the hallway.

“Spock, where do you think you’re going?”

Jim has his arms crossed over his chest, and a scowl to rival McCoy’s plastered across his face.

“My apologies Captain, I will return to the bridge in approximately ten minutes.”

“You’ll return to the bridge now, you’re not paid to sneak around with your girlfriend during your shift. You have the conn anyway, there’s something I need to do down on the surface.”

He storms off without leaving room for argument and Spock can’t help but feel that he has somehow wrecked their friendship for good.

“Wren, Wren, look at me sweetheart, look at me. It’s gonna be okay, it’s gonna be okay.”

Amelia rubs circles into her sister’s back, whispering prayers and pleas and words of comfort. The others just sit in silence, clinging to each other, to their blankets, to what little hope they have left. Vrall gasps raggedly on the ground.

A day has passed since Wren started coughing, two days since Vrall started bleeding, and S’chn knows that both of these things shall end soon. He knows that they’ll all end soon, that whatever sickness had swept over Wren would soon claim them all. When Starfleet does come, they’ll find a cave of corpses, if they find anything at all.

They all do what dying people do. They speak, or they write, putting their thoughts into the world before they’re lost to the soil. They pass around Shakespeare and a half-empty pen and they scribble in the margins, signing their names on history. S’chn immediately flips the page once he’s written his note, hiding it from the others.

Mother, I’m sorry I couldn’t be more human. Father, I’m sorry I couldn’t be more vulcan. I just wish I was warm again. I’m so, so sorry you had to lose me like this. -S’chn T’gai.

JT sits sandwiched between S’chn and Lazarus, staring fixedly at the entrance. He writes only a few words in the book, before he speaks.

“I’m going to go back to the village. The hospital was at the very edge of the colony, and made of stone besides. It’s probably still standing.”

“It’ll be empty,” says Lazarus. “Raided. It’s a suicide mission.”

“Staying in this cave is a suicide mission. We’ve all just written our notes.”

“I’m coming with you,” says Lazarus.

“No.”

“I’m coming with you,” says Amelia.

“No.”

“I’m coming with you,” says S’chn. His words are immortal even if he is not, and that makes him brave.

“Okay,” whispers JT, and leans into him as the book circles around the lantern.

Chapter Text

They leave at dusk, when all is lavender in the last light of the setting sun. The world is as washed out and fuzzy as S’chn’s head has become. The bond fizzes with energy between him and JT, unable to settle and grow. This could be all that they ever have. And he aches. Because they could have been beautiful. They could have taken on the universe, written their story in the space between stars.

This disaster would be discovered a month from now, two months from now, and JT and S’chn’s story would written in red and green on the dusty ground. No one would know what they had meant to each other.

JT wraps his fingers around S’chn’s wrist as they walk, a wordless comfort. S’chn tries to pour all his love and fear and gratitude into the other boy. JT turns to him and smiles, a watery thing, a beautiful thing.

“It will be alright,” S’chn whispers and it will be. It will be. It will be.

“What’s wrong?”

Uhura confronts him immediately after his shift is over, puts her hand on his back and steers him into an empty conference room.

Spock blinks at her. He had explanations and plans and his entire mental argument all drawn up and ready to present, but the words have died on the back of his tongue.

“Anton Karidian,” he says instead.

“Yes? What about him?”

“He’s Kodos.”

Her mouth falls open, slack and speechless, and she holds her hands out to him like an offering. The world hangs still, and then fury smashes into her. Her gasp becomes a snarl, her hands become claws. She wears anger well.

“I’ll kill him,” she says. Spock can do nothing but nod as she steps forward and wraps him in her arms. He’s trembling, he notices, and she seems to note that too because she grips him harder, runs a hand through his hair.

He tries to hold himself together but it’s like being under a pile of corpses all over again, or hiding in a mountain with JT’s hand in his, waiting for the guards to drag them into the sunlight.

Disaster hangs in the air like ash.

By the time they make it to the hospital, the night is nearly gone. They step through an empty doorframe, and the crunch of glass beneath their shoes sounds like breaking bones in the silence of the hospital. JT flinches slightly, his fingers spasming against S’chn’s wrist.

“This way,” he mumbles.

“You’ve been here before?”

“Allergies. Ate an pie with some orange rind in it one time, nearly choked to death on my own tongue. Hey, I should probably pick up some hypos for that, then I can eat whatever.”

S’chn nods numbly. He doesn’t want to see JT gasping for air but it’s better than starving.

He’s justified so much pain that way. Eating a cat is better than starving. Losing his hands is better than starving. Killing a man is better than starving. Eating a man is better than starving. S’chn follows JT to the medicine stores. It’s been looted, that’s obvious from a glance. But there’s equipment still, and hypos—antibiotics, regenerators, stabilizers. JT bursts into relieved tears as his grabs whatever he can and shoves it into his orange backpack.

“We’re actually gonna make it,” he says. “We’re gonna live, Shun. Vrall’s gonna live and Wren’s gonna live and—and you’re gonna live too. And maybe me.”

“Definitely you,” S’chn corrects.

JT throws his arms around S’chn’s neck and kisses him.

It’s painfully gentle, painfully promising, hesitant and soft and over before S’chn can even blink.

And he carries that kiss with him for years, remembers the tears on JT’s cheeks and the fierce determined happiness coursing through the bond and the bitter unfairness of the aftermath.

For now though, they’re alive. JT pulls away in a heartbeat and they stand in the silence of the hospital, this thing between them finally spoken.

“When we’re out of here, I won’t let you go,” JT says. “I promise.”

“And I shall do the same for you.”

JT smiles, hikes the bag farther up on his shoulders.

“C’mon,” he says. “We should get going. Don’t like traveling in the day but we can’t wait much—”

The sound of shattering glass hits them like a bullet.

“Hey, Spock.”

Kirk catches him in a rare moment that Uhura isn’t standing guard, in the hallway between shifts. His voice is tired, worn-down. He smiles wearily at his first officer.

“Sorry for blowing up at you earlier. It’s been—It’s been a rough few weeks, for me.”

Spock bites back a scathing retort — something along the lines of “well at least you haven’t been reliving a genocide,” and nods cordially in response, a wordless acceptance. He wants this friendship with Jim to work, wants that deep understanding that his older counterpart had described. And he really, really doesn’t want to explain Tarsus to Jim. Somehow, he feels like he won’t get it. That he’ll treat Spock like a delicate thing, and Spock knows that he is so much stronger than that.

So he doesn’t tell Jim how much his actions had hurt him, doesn’t tell Jim that he really should be off-duty, doesn’t declare himself emotionally compromised. Just nods and waits for orders. He can work, if nothing else.

“The Karidians are putting on a show tonight,” Jim says. “Macbeth. Down on the surface. You up for it?”

“As always,” Spock says. The thought of seeing Kodos up on stage, plunging a knife into King Duncan’s gut, makes him want to hurl.

“Great, great,” Jim says, almost to himself. He claps Spock once, on the back, and heads off down the corridor.

McCoy appears at his side instantly, murmuring something into Jim’s ear, anger and concern playing a strange dance over his face.

They freeze.

“Window,” JT whispers. “Over there.”

They pry open the rusty latch and push the window up. It sticks halfway up, but there is still ample space for JT and S’chn to wiggle through.

S’chn thinks for a minute that they’re home free, his heart hammering in his side in the aftermath of an adrenaline rush. He smiles weakly at JT as his t’hy’la adjusts the backpack on his shoulders.

There’s a shout from the window and S’chn turns to see two armored men staring right at him.

“Run,” he says. “Run!”

JT doesn’t need to be told twice. They’re down the street like two shots, the backpack banging against JT’s back as their feet slam against the pavement. They’re eerily in sync, but S’chn doesn’t have time to think about that. He barely has time to think at all, his world reduced to running, to instinct. Leap the fence, crash through the brambles, keep away from open spaces that would make them an easy target. Try to make it to the mountains.

There’s a shout of frustration, the sound of a firework, and something hot goes whizzing past S’chn’s face.

“Shit, they have guns,” gasps JT. “Zig-zag, don’t run straight.

They dart into the small woods at the base of the mountains, flying between trees, around boulders. The men’s footsteps gradually begin to crash into the distance, their bulk making it impossible to keep up with the starved-skinny children. Triumph curls in S’chn’s chest.

JT reaches for him as they run, grabs S’chn’s wrist and sends him a thought.

Cave. They need to find a cave. It wouldn’t be safe to sprint across the open field that leads to their home.

“You shouldn’t go,” says Uhura that night, staring him down as he pulled a dress shirt on over his head.

“I already informed the captain that I would be there,” Spock replies, smoothing out the creases. “My absence would be suspicious.”

“You should tell him,” she says. She reaches forward, traces her fingers down his gently. All he feels is sharp steel.

He pulls his hand back and she draws away, biting her lip.

“Look what this is doing to you,” she says.

“I cannot tell him,” he says. “I shall carry on and then I shall put this behind me.”

“I don’t think it works that way.”

Her eyes dart down to his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he says. He doesn’t know what else to say.

“It’s not your fault,” she says. “It was never your fault.”

He nods slowly, clasps his hands behind his back.

“We shouldn’t be late,” he says.

“Is there any way I can convince you not to do this?”

“No.”

“Why not? Tell Kirk you’re sick, if you can’t tell him the truth.”

“There are other survivors,” he says, all in a rush, and she stares at him in confusion.

“Yeah, I know. You’ve been avoiding them like the plague.”

“Other massacre survivors,” he clarifies. “They were with me.”

“Oh. Oh god, do you think—”

“I think that Kodos wants us dead. I don’t know if he knows who we are but if he does, I need to be there to protect the others. They aren’t with Starfleet. They don’t have any training.”

“Okay,” she says, and she mirrors his posture, drawing herself pencil-straight. “I still think you should tell Kirk and get that bastard thrown into a pit of fucking lava, but okay. I’ll go with you.”

The opening to the cave is barely large enough for them to fit through, and the inside is freezing from lack of sunlight. S’chn presses his shivering body into the stone wall, gnashing his teeth together to stop them from clattering. Even the slightest hint of noise would be enough to kill them.

JT slips the backpack off and curls beside S’chn, twining their fingers together deliberately. He turns his face into S’chn’s shoulder and together they stew quietly in their fear. S’chn’s chest is tight and his mouth is dry and he can practically feel death on his shoulder.

For a long time, it is silent but for their shuddering breaths and their thoughts. S’chn feels like he’s been buried alive, encased in the earth. Their bodies would never be found down here, he thinks, closing his eyes so he can’t see the darkness around him. His parents would never know what had happened to him. They’d probably think him a survivor’s meal.

Then there’s the loud beeping of a tricorder and a cry of triumph from above him. JT presses one last, frantic kiss against S’chn’s lips before fingers tangle in their hair and they are pulled into the sunlight.

Amelia and Tom are there, of course, and Spock keeps an eye on them as he takes a seat next to Jim. The captain seems oddly on edge, gnawing nervously on his fingernails, but Spock cannot enquire into his mental state before the curtain rises and the play begins.

Spock would question the wisdom of putting on such a gruesome play at the site of the worst massacre in living memory, if he didn't know who the lead actor actually is. Kodos seems to almost relish the fake blood pouring over his skin, a far cry from the regret that Macbeth is supposed to feel. His dagger chasing is a preparation for war, his “come, let me clutch thee” a battle cry. And when he orders Banquo’s death, it holds no sorrow at all.

Banquo dies with a frantic scream at the hands of a man just following orders. As he bleeds out, a small child turns and sprints pell-mell off stage and S’chn—Spock, can barely breathe when the house lights come on.

“We’ll be back in half an hour!” a teenager—Lenore, that was her name, she played the first witch—calls out cheerfully. The curtain falls and the audience shakes itself from its stupor. Spock excuses himself and takes off through the rows, weaving between chairs until he reaches Amelia and Tom.

“It’s him. I know it’s him. You two saw it too,” says Tom.

“Not here,” says Amelia, getting to her feet. “We don’t want to be overheard. Not in this company.”

They slip from the auditorium and find a quiet side-room, a lounge of some sort. Couches and tables have been haphazardly pushed in, awaiting their permanent placements by a more careful moving team.

“Okay,” says Amelia, slumping into one of the couches. “It’s him.”

“So what do we do about it?” asks Tom.

Telling Jim made logical sense but he just couldn’t.

“We contact an admiral,” he says. “Someone with high-enough clearance to know who we are in the first place. Minimize fallout. I don’t think any of us wants our identities known to the public.”

The door creaks open.

“I hardly think,” says a quiet voice. “That that is the best course of action for you to take.”

Kodos closes the door behind himself with a smirk. His phaser is pointing directly at Spock’s head.

They’re dragged from the cave like animals, kicking and spitting all the way. S’chn frantically slashes at the men with his knife but it glances uselessly off their armor.

“That’s enough of that,” says the taller of the two, the one who has S’chn by the roots of his hair. He reaches down with his free hand, grabs S’chn’s wrist, and twists.

The bone snaps like a twig.

S’chn screams. The knife falls to the ground and the man picks it up, twirling it in his fingers effortlessly. He pulls S’chn’s wrist closer to himself, inspecting the bandaged hand, and S’chn cries out as he jostles the broken bone.

“Stop it!” shouts JT, struggling against his own guard, a short, squat man with a wispy beard and an ugly sneer.

“This is mighty strange,” says the tall guard, running his fingers over S’chn’s bandages. “What’re your hands all bandaged up for?”

“Cut ‘em off and see,” says the short guard with a laugh.

“Cut him open and see, more like.” The tall guard rests the knife at the edge of S’chn’s palm.

No. Nonononononononono. This can’t be happening to him again. His ears are ringing and the world is green and this had hurt so, so much last time.

stophimstophimstophim, he screams out in his mind, hoping against hope that JT would hear him, that JT would save him.

“No! No don’t, please! Please don’t hurt him, please.” JT thrashes frantically in the grip of the shorter guard, reaching desperately for S’chn.

“Shut up.”

The man makes a quick slash with the knife, parting the bandages and S’chn’s skin as one. He inspects the cut clinically even as S’chn falls apart, even as his knees give out and he crashes to the ground as a screaming mess.

“You’re a vulcan. Son of a bitch.”

He presses down with his thumb and S’chn shrieks, kicking out ineffectively, pushing against the guard with his left hand. He barely seems to notice.

“You’re the bastard that killed Fitzmer and Zilf. We found green blood everywhere. Weren’t a pretty sight.”

He pauses, considering the sobbing boy behind him, the twitching vulcan beneath him, and nods to himself.

“Reckon we deserve a bit of revenge for that.”

And then he’s slicing everywhere, long cuts across S’chn’s palm, his fingers, the back of his hand. The world is dissolving into fragments of pain, swirling away into dust and flames, and didn’t they want him dead?

“Kill me,” he manages to gasp out between screams, between struggles.

“Eventually,” the guard replies, flicking another line across S’chn’s hand.

“Stop it! I killed them, okay? I killed them! Let him go!”

The tall guard lets go of S’chn abruptly and he falls into a boneless slump, cradling his right hand against his chest. JT’s mind is a whirl of apology, desperation, and a faint hint of pain. He had felt S’chn’s wounds, if only a little. Panic curls in S’chn’s chest. They had ripped him apart based on a suspicion. And now JT was staring them down, tears still shining in his bright blue eyes, flat-out admitting to killing their comrades.

The guards look at JT and burst out laughing.

“You ruined my perfect world,” Kodos says. He’s trembling in fury, and although his face is lined with age, his movements are terrifyingly graceful. He stalks forward, keeping the phaser trained between S’chn’s eyes.

“You ruined it yourself,” says S’chn. He’s going to die.

“You—If you had just given up when you were supposed to, everything would have been fine. Tarsus would have been a success. You ruined everything.”

“You were the one who refused to call Starfleet,” says Amelia, her eyes full of fury. “That isn’t on us.”

“I would call Starfleet when all the impurities were scrubbed out. That was the deal. So many good people would be alive today if it wasn’t for you,” says Kodos. He takes another step, places the phaser directly against S’chn’s forehead.

S’chn smiles. He lets the hidden knife slip from its spot against his arm. With one fluid motion, it’s in his hand and against Kodos’ throat.

“Six thousand, eight hundred, and fifty seven people would be alive today if it wasn’t for you,” he says. He’s going to die.

He’s going to go out slaying a monster.

He’s going to go out saving his friends.

There are worse ways to die. And he’s glad that he’s dying at thirty-one and not fourteen because at least this way he meant something.

“You couldn’t kill a fly, kid,” says the shorter guard, snickering still. He pushes JT to the ground next to S’chn, and JT immediately grabs ahold of S’chn’s arm. His emotions are a flood but he seems to fight through his own fear, because S’chn is bombarded by wave after wave of love and affection and safety.

“Whatever. That was such a funny lie that we’ll leave your friend alone. God, I haven’t laughed that hard in ages.”

“Bring ‘em both back, then? Seem awfully attached to each other, sure the boss could use that.”

“Nah. He said only one. Too many mouths to feed otherwise.”

They’re both going to die. S’chn realizes that with sudden, almost serene clarity. He feels like he’s floating over his own body, like all the terror is no longer his, like he’s watching a play. One of them is going to be tortured to death—and it will probably be him because they know about his hands—and the other will be shot like an animal, right there in the dust.

He looks at JT, memorizes his face. This will be the last beautiful thing he ever sees.

He wants to go home.

“Which one, then?”

“Humans are easier to break.”

JT sobs, once, a strangled choked sound that he quickly cuts off.

“Please don’t kill him,” he says, desperately. And S’chn wants to join in because JT doesn’t deserve to be in any more pain. They’re both going to die but JT deserves a quick death, even if the universe grants him nothing else.

“No can do,” says the taller guard. He levels his gun at S’chn’s torso.

“Vulcan hearts are where our livers are, yeah?”

“Stomachs, I think.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

The guard shrugs, adjusts his aim, and fires.

JT screams. He sounds very far away.

S’chn gasps like a gutted fish, staring wide-eyed at the gun smoke because he can’t move his head, he can’t move his arms, he can’t move anything.

JT is pried away from him, his crushing fingers leaving stinging lines on S’chn’s arms. He’s still screaming. One of the guards grabs S’chn’s green-soaked shirt, says something in a low and taunting voice, but S’chn can’t hear him. He waits for a second bullet, waits for the pain to stop. He waits for oblivion. It never comes.

The world turns to static.

Kodos freezes. S’chn can feel the gun barrel wavering slightly on his forehead and he smirks slightly. He refuses to make the first move. He’ll push down only when his skull splits open.

They’re at a standstill.

“Clever,” says Kodos. His voice is strained. “Very clever.”

“Get your hands off of my first officer,” a voice replies from the door. “Immediately.”

Kodos turns his head over his shoulder and S’chn follows his gaze. Jim is standing in the doorframe, clutching a phaser with white knuckles. Danger is coiled in his muscles, brimming in his eyes, curled neatly into his voice.

“Captain Kirk,” says Kodos, all warmth and honey. “You should be telling your first officer to get his hands off of me. He just—he just jumped me, making all kinds of ridiculous accusations. I’m sure this is all a big misunderstanding, but I doubt it’s one you want to exacerbate.”

And for a moment S’chn is sure that Jim will believe him, that the world will believe him, that Kodos will walk free without a single person to stop him.

“I will repeat myself only once, and then I will shoot you. Get your hands off of my first officer, Kodos.”

S’chn can’t breathe.

“What—the nerve of—who the hell do you think you are to make such ridiculous accusations?”

“Captain JT Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise.”

S’chn barely registers the phaser slipping from Kodos’ hand in shock, barely registers the three security officers tackling the man against the wall, barely registers Amelia and Tom’s gaping mouths.

Kodos is dragged from the room, hollering all the way. Amelia squeezes S’chn’s shoulder gently.

“We’ll talk later,” she says, then she and Tom slip from the room.

In all the excitement, S’chn still hasn’t moved. His feet feel like they’ve been rooted to the ground.

JT smiles sheepishly up at him.

“Sorry about that. Suppose you want an explanation, huh?”

The world turns to static.

Chapter Text

Dust coats his tongue and his lungs and he lies limp on the ground, staring up at the endless blue sky. There’s only one sun, glowing not nearly warm enough against his second eyelids, and he wasn’t meant to die here. He hears the call of his people as a faint hum in the back of his head, soothing and gentle, and he wonders if they’ll feel it when his life is snuffed out.

The hole in his stomach pumps blood sluggishly over his chest and it hurts with every twitch of his body, radiating like lightning or flame across his entire torso. The hunger is secondary for the first time in a long time, but it’s still present. A vulture waiting to finish him off if the lion does not.

The pain in his hand overshadows everything else, a continuous scream of fix me fix me fix me. He wishes that he could tell his body to silence itself, that no help is coming, that the alarm system can shut itself off. He turns his face into his arm and squeezes his eyes shut.

He just wants to die.

He can’t stop the pain but maybe he can stop his heart.

There’s a look of worry on JT’s face when S’chn doesn’t respond.

“Spock? Hey, are you alright? I’m sorry that you got caught up in that—I’m really, really, sorry. I didn’t expect him to go after anyone except me.”

His tongue feels glued to the roof of his mouth, his vocal chords are frozen shut. The world is a blur around him.

After Tarsus, he had begged his parents, the doctors, Starfleet, anyone who would listen, for information about JT. And time and time and time again they had known nothing, said nothing. So he had resigned himself to his t’hy’la’s death. He had shoved JT out of his mind along with the starvation, the torture, the taste of flesh, tried to bury it all beneath the sands of Vulcan. Stitched the puzzle pieces of himself back together.

If coming back here had strained and stretched those stitches, then JT has ripped them apart entirely.

“Talk to me,” JT says, and he reaches down to pull the knife from S’chn’s hand.

He tries.

“Say something.”

He tries.

“Please?”

Panic is bubbling on JT’s face as he drops the knife to the floor, as he reaches out to grab S’chn lightly by the shoulders. S’chn looks into his eyes and sees no trace of recognition. He wants to laugh, as JT keeps asking him to speak, wants to laugh at how obvious this all was in hindsight.

He doesn’t know how long it will take him to overcome the instinctive fear of death, how long it will take him to seize enough control of his body to stop his heart. And every second that passes is another drop of agony. His death won’t be calm, or peaceful, or easy. He’s going to suffer.

He reaches into his mind and finds the slim bond connecting him to JT. It hums, fragile and delicate, between them. He can feel his t’hy’la’s panic growing as he is dragged away, can feel a throbbing pain in his back and head from where the guards had kicked him as he tried to escape. JT is going to be tortured to death. He doesn’t need S’chn’s pain on top of his own.

He doesn’t want to do this.

Fear is already an animal in his chest, pacing back and forth and sharpening its claws on his ribs. He knows that once the link is broken it will only grow stronger, that his mind will lash out at him for ripping away his main source of comfort. But JT’s pain will be doubled if he does not do this.

He grasps the link and begs the universe for words, just for a moment, just to say goodbye. He only wants to tell his t’hy’la how brave he is, how loved he is, and remind him that all of this will be over soon. Just to give him something to cling to in his last few—days, weeks, please don’t let it be months.

The link opens and grows and then he’s in JT’s mind.

S’chn?

He can remember his name. Even if he cannot pronounce it properly he can hear it. He has held S’chn’s identity in his mind for all this time.

S’chn, I’m scared.

I know. I know t’hy’la. It will be alright.

He pushes down the fear with all his strength and floods the bond with safety and warmth. JT seizes it like a lifeline.

God, don’t leave me don’t leave me don’t leave me please S’chn please please please

The words are becoming garbled with pain. It blossoms in JT’s gut and his hand, bounces back and forth between them, mounting in intensity with each loop. S’chn closes his eyes, rides it out as best as he can.

Don’t leave me.

He feels it as JT is flung against a cold floor at the feet of a maniac.

Don’t leave me.

He feels it when the whip cuts through the skin of his shoulder blades

Don’t leave me.

He feels it when the lashing pauses long enough for a brand to be pressed into his stomach. JT and S’chn scream as one.

No I can see what you’re thinking and you’re wrong I’ll take all your pain and more S’chn please don’t leave.

T’hy’la.

There’s a phantom laugh in his ears and a phantom hand tracing over the burn on his stomach and S’chn curls himself tighter, a sob bubbling up in his throat. And alright. He’ll stay. He’ll hold his t’hy’la through everything. Because clearly he needs the comfort as much as S’chn does.

Don’t cry. Just breathe with me. We can do this.

He tries to draw as much pain as he can into his wrecked body but they both still feel it when Kodos lands the next lash directly over JT’s stomach.

We can do this.

“What’s wrong with him?”

Doctor McCoy has come into the room. When had that happened? He’s shining a penlight into S’chn’s—no, Spock, your name is Spock, Kodos is gone and you don’t need to fight anymore. Calm down—Spock’s eyes. Spock shoves the penlight away and shakes his head.

“I am adequate, doctor.” It’s the first thing he’s been able to say since JT—Jim—they’re the same person how did he not see that they were the same person—since Jim burst into the room. The response is automatic, said a million times after away missions, after fights with Nyota, after his entire planet came crashing in on itself. He needs a constant right now to remind himself that the universe hasn’t ended.

“Yeah, I don’t think so. Sickbay, both of you.”

“Bones, I’m fine.”

“No you’re not. Now I don’t know what’s been going on between you two, other than him walking in on us the other day Jim and honestly grow up. You know as well as I do that two people shouting in an abandoned room is suspicious. But what I prescribe is me checking you both for signs of shock and then you two sitting down and talking to each other.”

He flips open a communicator.

“Three to beam up,” he says.

When they rematerialize on the ship, Jim immediately starts protesting.

“They were just supposed to break for intermission, everyone’ll be worried,” he says. “Someone needs to talk to the crew, someone needs to explain to the other actors. Unless—Bones, do you think they already knew? And if they did, do we need to arrest them too? Surely, I mean, they would be aiding and abetting a mass murderer. We should probably interrogate them. Yeah, I need to talk to a security team.”

“Jim, breathe. We got Sulu to take care of the aftermath, remember?”

Jim nods, draws his arms around himself.

“Please contact Lieutenant Uhura,” Spock says to McCoy. He still can’t look at Jim, not without the right words. “She will be concerned about my wellbeing.”

“Yeah, sure.”

As they walk McCoy pulls out his communicator and starts mumbling reassurances to Nyota. Spock can practically feel the confusion rolling off of Jim and he takes a moment to ensure that his shields are reinforced. This conversation will be emotional enough without feeling Jim as well.

Although part of him wants nothing more than to initiate a meld immediately, weave back together the broken bond, tell Jim that he’s here, that he’s alive, that Jim doesn’t have to be alone anymore.

They wind up sitting side by side on a powered-off biobed in the sickbay. After a quick examination and a promise of a later conversation with Jim, McCoy had turned up the temperature, drawn a privacy screen, and left the two of them alone.

Spock is grateful for the heat as he feels himself begin to relax infinitesimally. Jim seems to agree, leaning back against the wall and bringing his feet up to rest on the bed. He’s throwing off an air of casual confidence, but Spock knows him as both JT and Jim, and one look at his face shows that it’s all a front.

“Can you talk now?” he asks. “Or do you want me to explain myself first?”

“I can talk,” Spock says. He can’t stall forever.

“Alright.”

There’s a long silence between them while Spock gathers himself and Jim fidgets nervously beside him, but there’s no impatience or annoyance, just concern and caring.

“I knew you before,” he says finally. And curses himself a bit that those are the first words he says to his t’hy’la because they feel so inadequate but Jim is looking up at him, confused and hopeful and so beautiful that he doesn’t know what else to say.

He lies there for hours, muffling his screams in his elbow as they cut into JT again and again and again. He mumbles equations and quotations and everything he can pull up from his schooling, anything to drag his t’hy’la’s mind away from what is being done to him. He starts to recite Surak when they force JT’s head under ice-cold water, and keeps going for the next hour, trying futilely to teach JT the basics of shielding.

And then eventually it becomes nothing but a stream of I love you, I love you, you’re so brave, I love you, it’ll be over soon, I love you. He stares fixedly at the moldy wheat that cradles his body, draws in breath after breath, well aware that each could be his last. JT won’t stop screaming.

He intends to keep the link until he’s dead. Intends to stay alive as long as possible, because if he dies then there’s nothing to keep JT’s mind off of the pain. And he would have kept going if Kodos didn’t stomp directly on JT’s right hand five hours into the nightmare.

JT shrieks and the pain ricochets through both of them like a wildfire. And when S’chn feels the touch of actual flame against his mangled fingertips, when he realizes that Kodos is using his pain as JT’s weakness, when he realizes that his t’hy’la’s agony would only continue to grow as long as they are joined, he knows what he must do.

He reaches out again and grabs the link.

Don’t. Please don’t.

But JT can’t endure this, and S’chn can’t endure this, and this is all he can think to do.

I love you. I’ll see you again in the stars.

And then he breaks the bond.

“What do you mean?” asks Jim, in a voice barely above a whisper. Spock looks up, finally, looks him full in the face.

“I thought you were dead,” Spock says. “All this time, I thought Kodos had killed you.”

Jim shakes his head. Tears are welling up in his eyes, the same bright blue eyes that Spock had seen broken and laughing and terrified so many times before and how had he not realized—

“No. No way,” Jim says. “No, I—I saw you die. The odds of this happening are—it’s not possible.”

“I know,” he says, because he had calculated the odds himself.

“S’chn?”

He had chosen to go by that name because it was so uniquely Vulcan, because he thought that JT would die before he could say it right, because he wanted one small bit of revenge against humanity. And here Jim was, defying impossibility once again.

Spock nods and then Jim’s sobbing into his shoulder, clinging to him like he’ll never let go. Spock wraps his arms around Jim’s back and hides his face in the crook of his neck. He can feel a few tears trickling down his own face, not the waterfall of after Tarsus, but surprising to him nonetheless. It seems that he cries when he realizes that everything will be alright.

“They didn’t tell me anything,” says Jim when he finally gains enough control of his voice to speak. “I didn’t know who was alive; I thought that all of you were probably dead. I thought I had been—I thought that Kodos had t-tortured me for nothing.”

“Everyone lived,” says Spock, and that triggers another wave of sobbing. “You saved us all through your silence.”

Jim nods against his shoulder and Spock feels relief pouring through his skin, relief that everything that had been done to him had meant something.

“You’re the strongest person I know,” says Spock and Jim just curls closer to him.

Spock doesn’t know how this will change things between them. He knows that he will spend that night rethinking every interaction he’s ever had with his captain. He knows that there will be several long and painful conversations between them about everything they had learned about each other on Tarsus.

And he knows that right now, he’s holding his t’hy’la. And that is enough.

He lies in the dust and tries to die. Tries to slow down the beating of his heart and the pumping of his lungs. He comes so close, again and again. But every time his vision starts to fade, panic brings his vitals swarming back to life. Eventually he gives up on purposeful dying. His wounds will take him soon enough.

He’s dying.

He doesn’t want to die.

He looks up at the sky and it’s the wrong color, the wrong sun, the wrong ceiling to die under. He had always feared dying young—the doctors had never been entirely sure that his hybrid DNA would hold up to age. But he had always thought that he would at least have his parents and his planet around him. And that dying would be like falling asleep.

But it hurts and he’s cold and he just wants his mother.

This isn’t peaceful.

He just hopes that any scavengers that find him deem him too skinny to be worth eating. He wants to give his parents a body to bury, if nothing else.

He hopes that Kodos leaves JT’s body alone, when he’s destroyed the child inside it. There’s a raw wound in S’chn’s mind where JT had been anchored. It lashes out in fear whenever he tries to touch it, but he can’t seem to stop running over it again and again, looking for any infinitesimal trace of his t’hy’la. It only makes the cold worse, the pain worse, the brand searing into his stomach and the whip cracking over his back every time he pokes at the spot.

He gives up on comfort from that, too, eventually. No comfort in death and no comfort in the sky and no comfort in JT, so S’chn just closes his eyes and lets himself go limp. He will lie here for hours more, and then he will die. The world becomes his gut and his hand and the backs of his eyelids. He can hear nothing but the beating of his own heart.

And he isn’t hungry anymore.