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We Two Boys Together Clinging

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“No, no, NO!” Jim protested as he woke with a start. God, he was so angry at Frank for grounding him – he didn’t mean to burn down old man Rafferty’s chicken coop, and besides, all the chickens were outside at the time, so what-the-heck-ever!!

It took him a few moments to realize something was wrong. That he was lying on his back in the middle of some tall grass and not his own bed. And that the sky was pink.

Jim sat up abruptly and immediately regretted it – his head throbbed, and a second later he thought he might be sick. He turned over onto his hands and knees and breathed through his mouth with his eyes shut tight until the nausea passed.

“OK, Jimmy, calm down. Calm down.” He looked back up and confirmed that he was not hallucinating – the sky was, in fact, pink. He sat up on his heels to see what was what, but his view was obscured by the grass that surrounded him. He got to his feet to look around.

He was on the edge of a meadow that was perhaps two hectares in area, surrounded on all sides by trees. Off in the distance, he could see that in some places the grass was completely trampled down, but here, they were undisturbed except for the area where his body had lain.

He decided to investigate the open area and headed for it, the grass catching on his legs as he moved. When he neared the edge of the clearing, he nearly tripped over another kid.

“Hey!” Jim said. He was surprised to find this person just on the edge of the cleared-out area, seated in the lotus position with his hands folded and held before his face, eyes closed. He looked to be about Jim’s age, with pale skin, a dark, glossy cap of hair, and delicately slanted eyebrows. “Sorry – I didn’t see you there.”

The boy cocked his head and opened one eye, looking Jim up and down slowly. “Your apology is accepted.” He closed his eye and went back to… what it was he was doing: just sitting there looking all calm with his eyes closed.

“Sorry,” Jim repeated and then mentally kicked himself – he’d already apologized, but the kid’s attitude made him feel like he needed to. “I mean, hello.”

“Good day,” the other boy said, not opening his eyes.

Jim stood in front of him, his body casting a shadow across the other boy’s face. “I’m Jim,” he said, holding a hand out, because that’s what you were supposed to do when you met someone new, Frank had taught him.

“Jim Kirk,” Jim continued when the other boy gave no reaction. “Of Earth.”

The boy opened his eyes and stared at him expressionlessly. “Hello, Jim Kirk of Earth. I am S’chn T’gai Spock cha Sarek of Vulcan.”

Vulcan – that would explain the pointed ears, too. “No kidding? Vulcan? I mean, it’s nice to meet you, S’chun. Uh, S’choon... Um…”

“You may call me Spock, Jim Kirk of Earth. Vulcan names are difficult for less developed tongues to pronounce.”

“Less developed? Is that an insult?”

“It is a universally accepted truth that the muscular hydrostatic properties of homo sapiens’ tongues can prove limiting for certain types of phonetic articulation, including the Vulcan language. It is not a failing within you, merely an evolutionary reality. No insult was intended.”

“Well, um, all right then.”

“How is it that you came to be here, Jim Kirk of Earth?”

“I dunno – I just woke up in this field. The last thing I remember was being sent to my room for setting fire to an old chicken coop.”

“I too have no recollection of how I came to be here. My last memory is of retiring to my quarters for my nightly sleeping interval. I woke up here just over a standard hour ago.”

“That’s so weird. You think there’s anyone else here?”

“Negative. A cursory exploration when I first awakened in this place turned up no evidence of other beings in the vicinity.”

“Except me.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Except me – I was in the vicinity, right?”

“Indeed, I was including you in that assessment – no other beings in the vicinity other than you and I.”

“You woke up here, with me, and just left me there?”

“My intention was to return to you once I had made a thorough survey of the immediate area. I subsequently began to feel unwell and sat down to meditate. You woke earlier than I anticipated.”

“So you didn’t mean to leave me?”

“Given that we are, to all appearances, alone here, it would have been illogical not to attempt to forge some alliance with the only other person I have come across. My immediate survival might be dependent upon it.”

“OK then.” Jim looked around; except for birdsong and the steady thrum of insects going about their daily business, there were no other sounds in the area, and no evidence that Jim could see of other people just waking up here in the middle of nowhere. He had to come to the same conclusion that Spock had. “So what do we do now?”

Spock stood and brushed the dirt and twigs off of himself. Jim stared at him – he wore what looked like a big black poncho over a pair of black leggings and boots. Jim laughed. “What are you wearing?”

Spock looked down on himself. “My robes.”

“They look like a dress!”

“They are robes,” Spock corrected, “the traditional garb of my people. I might ask you a similar question, for your own attire is strange and appears to provide less than optimal protection from the elements.”

Jim looked down on himself. “It’s jeans and a t-shirt.”

“Impractical and illogical.”

Jim shrugged. “But comfortable.”

“We will see when night falls.” Spock set off in a seemingly random direction, leaving Jim staring after him.

“Wait up, Spock!”

They crossed the area of the field where the grass had been tamped down, the blades of it in swirled patterns in some places, merely crushed in others. Jim paused midway and looked down at it, puzzled. “Do you s’pose the alien ship that brought us here did all of this?” he asked.

“Are you referring to the flattened grasses? I do not believe the pattern is consistent with the footprint of any space-faring vessel.”

“How do you know?”

“For one, there would be a regular pattern to the disturbance of the grasses, and it would perhaps be in a more discrete area. No shuttle craft is this large, and no larger vessel would expend the energy necessary to land, deposit two youths, and then depart. It is wholly illogical.”

“You use that word a lot.”

“I have need of it a lot,” Spock answered. “Come.” He turned on his heel and headed off in the direction they’d been going before Jim had gotten distracted.

Jim hurried to catch up. “Come? I’m not your pet or something, you know. You don’t get to order me around.”

“Indeed, I’Chaya would be better suited to providing necessary support at this time.”

“I’Chaya?”

“My sehlat.”

“Your pet?”

“Affirmative.”

“You’d rather have a dog here than me?”

“Sehlat. I’Chaya would provide added protection, not to mention warmth in the night. I cannot say that I can guess at your contribution to our present circumstances, other than an increase in current noise levels.”

“Hey!” Jim protested, stopping.

Ignoring him, Spock kept walking.

“I can help out plenty!” Jim protested, hurrying to catch up. “I can fish, and make a campfire, and cook a perfect grilled cheese sandwich!”

“While the first two skills you mention will prove to be useful, I fail to see the relevance of the latter.”

Jim had to allow he had him there. “It’s still a skill.”

“We must find our way to civilization, that is our goal,” Spock said, ignoring him. “Once we have done that, we will be able to get a message to our parents that we are safe and well, and they can arrange for our retrieval from this place. But our primary concern at the moment is to locate a water source. We will travel in this direction, as it is the most prudent course to move downhill.”

Not finding a flaw in the plan, Jim kept his mouth shut.

The woods they walked into were, of course, alien, though the trees had many features that recalled those found on Earth. They seemed to be primarily the same type of tree, with very broad bases, trunks tapering gradually upward into wide and graceful limbs. The bark was pale brown and peeled, displaying a darker underpinning – like birch, Jim thought. The green leaves were tiny and graceful, almost like feathers, and there appeared to be green, bulbous fruits hanging on the branches. Jim was reminded of a Dr. Seuss illustration.

They walked for half an hour before finding a small stream bubbling along the forest floor. “Hey – good job finding water, Spock!” Jim praised him before climbing down the bank – it was steep but there were many roots to provide foot- and handholds. He drank his fill before realizing that Spock had not followed him down.

“Something wrong?” Jim asked, peering up at him.

“There is no means of purifying the water. What if there are harmful bacteria or protozoa?”

Jim looked down at the water, which flowed clear and clean over his sneakers, then back up at Spock. “I don’t see where beggars can be choosers here.”

Spock furrowed his brow. “I do not understand this colloquialism. Why shouldn’t a disadvantaged individual be offered choice? Their agency is no less valid, based on their circumstances. If anything, they should be accorded more respect, as they are oft-times marginalized by societies in general.”

“You use a lot of big words for a kid. How old are you, anyway?”

“I will adjusted so that you might have a point of reference; were we on Earth, I would be eleven years of age.”

“I’m nine, not that you asked. But what I meant before was that we don’t exactly have much choice about the clean water situation. It’s not like we’ve got any Pure-o Tabs or anything.”

Spock breathed out through his nostrils. “You make a valid point.” He turned and began to scramble down the bank toward Jim, picking his way carefully as if he was afraid of getting dirty. Jim watched his progress with a hand on his hip, his eyes following the Vulcan as he crouched at the water’s edge and drank carefully from his hand.

Jim joined him for another drink, then wet his head down with a few handfuls of water – the day had become warm, even under the forest canopy. “So we found water – what’s next?”

Spock stood and looked up at the sky. “From the position of the sun, I estimate that it is late morning or early afternoon. Our best bet is to continue following this waterway downstream in hopes of eventually finding signs of civilization.”

“I can’t argue with that,” Jim replied. “Because I wouldn't know anyways.” He smiled at Spock, laughed a little to lighten things up – Frank always said he was a funny kid.

Spock stared back.

Jim’s smile faded into a puzzled frown, then he sighed, turned around, and scrambled back up the bank.

----

“Crap!” Jim cursed as he tripped over yet another tree root. He was getting tired, and when he got tired he got clumsy and careless. He trudged to a weary halt, then sat down in a pile of leaf litter.

“What are you doing?” Spock asked.

“Resting. I’m tired.”

“Ah yes, humans have less physical endurance than Vulcans. It would be prudent for you to conserve your energies.”

“Also, I’m tired,” Jim said, annoyed. He was really getting fed up with this Vulcan kid’s attitude, always pointing out Jim’s human weaknesses and being bossy all the time.

“I do not believe repetition is necessary to get your point across, I heard you the first time and have made appropriate allowances.”

Jim sighed and counted to ten. His mom always said that was the thing to do when other people made you mad, and it was better than just tackling them to the ground and kicking them and stuff.

“It is getting late. Perhaps we should consider finding shelter for the night, at any rate,” Spock went on.

Jim looked around and saw that the shadows had, indeed, lengthened. “How about that old tree we passed a few minutes ago?” he said, recalling the hollowed-out trunk of a mostly-dead tree about three hundred yards back.

“An astute observation, Jim Kirk of Earth. While not ideal, the tree will provide shelter from the prevailing wind currents, as well as necessary camouflage from any predators that may exist in this woodland.”

“Predators?”

“I have observed the scat of no fewer than a dozen indigenous species in our travels, some of which are likely to be carnivorous. We must assume at least one of them might view us as a threat, if not prey. It would be sensible to prepare ourselves for that eventuality.”

“Prey? Holy crap, you think there’s things out here that’d eat us?”

Spock raised a delicately-formed eyebrow in the one expression on him that Jim had been able to figure out, the one that meant, “Well, duh.”

“I guess that’s to be expected from any adventure,” Jim said, mostly to himself.

“Adventure?” Spock said, his head cocked to the side. “Is that how you would classify this experience?”

“Well, sure, wouldn’t you? I mean, we’re on an alien planet, forced to rely on our wits to survive, striving to reach our ultimate destination despite insurmountable obstacles. It’s just like every single book I’ve ever read!”

“You have clearly been reading the wrong type of literature, and it has adversely affected your impressionable mind. My assessment of our current situation is as follows: We have been kidnapped by persons unknown and deposited on an alien, likely hostile, planet for purposes unknown. We have seen no sign of sentient beings or even settlement in this place in the ten kilometers we have covered thus far, and though we have discovered a water source, we have yet to solve the problem of feeding ourselves. In my estimation, we are more likely to die here.”

“See? Adventure!” Jim said, joking, but Spock’s words made him feel uneasy.

Spock made a little huffing sound and walked away.

----

Jim sat crouched in the hollowed-out tree’s shelter, using the piece of a flint-like rock he’d found beside the stream to strip a tree branch of its twigs and leaves. The wood was soft and very pliant – it was from one of the younger trees – and he hoped that wouldn’t prevent its being useful as a spear. It had taken him a long time to even find anything that was appropriate, since most of the trees here were so tall and their trunks so wide, it made climbing nearly impossible. He was beginning to work at one end of it, using the rock to cut a sharp point into the wood, when a rustling nearby made his heart leap into his throat. He jumped to his feet and crouched down low, the rock held above his head in a threatening stance.

Seconds later, Spock reappeared, and Jim let himself calm down – he was not a prey animal looking for a night’s meal after all.

“You’re back,” Jim said, relieved. He noticed that Spock held the hem of the front of his robe up, cradling something within it against himself.

“I believe I have found a food source,” Spock informed him, sinking to his knees on the ground and letting his robe fall open; inside were several dozen of the green fruits Jim had noticed in the trees.

“What – how did you – did you climb the trees, Spock? The first branches have got to be fifteen meters up!”

“Only thirteen.”

“Jeez, you coulda been killed! What if you fell on your head?”

“I was able to utilize my robes as a sling in order to ensure my safety. The younger trees are not so broad that I could not climb them easily.”

“You are the most annoying alien I’ve ever met!”

Spock raised an eyebrow. “Have you met many?”

“Shut up!” Jim paused to count to ten again, then picked up one of the green fruits.

“The fruit is thick and leathery and wholly inedible,” Spock explained, picking one up; he used his fingers to rupture the outer covering and expose the seed within. “But the seeds are quite large, though nearly impenetrable.”

“They look like walnuts,” Jim said. They did, though perhaps twice as large, their shells a darker brown than actual walnuts.

“I thought so as well.”

“They have walnuts on Vulcan?”

“Vulcan is a desert world; deciduous trees do not thrive there.”

Jim stared at him blankly.

“My mother has a fondness for walnuts,” Spock eventually explained. “They remind her of her girlhood.”

“Your mom grew up on Earth?”

“She was born there; it is logical.”

“Wait – is your mom a human?”

“She is.”

“So you’re half-and-half?”

“I am.”

“Like a mutt?”

“There is no need to use a pejorative.”

“If that means a name, I wasn’t. I mean, where I come from, mutts are great dogs – the smartest and the best. I mean…” His voice trailed off as the stormy look on Spock’s face persisted. “I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings, Spock. I think it’s cool. I really, really do.”

“Injured feelings are illogical.” Spock cast his eyes to the ground and would not look at Jim.

“You like to use that word a lot: illogical. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Jim picked up his rock and the nut that Spock had unsheathed and began to bash at the shell. It only took two good whacks to get it to split open, right along its seam. The kernel within resembled a more elongated walnut, though the meat had a slightly pinkish color to it. He freed both halves from the shell and held it in front of his nose. It smelled – nut-like, rich and oily. He popped a half into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully.

“Doesn’t taste all that bad,” he said, holding the other half out to Spock.

“We do not know if these are poisonous,” Spock pointed out.

Jim shrugged. “Tasty things usually aren’t.”

“That is an ill-formed hypothesis, based purely on your opinion.”

“Well, if I drop dead, you’ll know you were right,” Jim said, popping the other half of the nut into his mouth and picking up another to peel.

----

Jim splashed across the stream to crouch on the other side of it to drink; he noticed it was getting deeper the farther into the forest they traveled, as were its banks. “You should come over here to drink – it’s flatter,” he said to Spock.

Spock looked down his nose at the water burbling before him – it had only come to Jim’s knees, so it wasn’t as if he’d drown.

“Thank you, I prefer not to get my feet wet.”

“Suit yourself,” Jim shrugged as Spock crouched down, holding the folds of his robes/dress back so they wouldn’t touch the water. “Just be careful, because…”

Spock leaned forward, cupped hand outstretched.

“…the bank’s kind of steep there, and…”

Spock over-reached trying to access deeper, clearer water, overbalanced, and fell into the stream.

“…you don’t want to fall in,” Jim barely got a chance to say, because he was laughing way too hard.

Spock struggled to regain his feet, spluttering and coughing; Jim waded over to help him, but was shaken off. “I am capable of… of righting myself, thank you!” When he stood, his robes nearly dragged him down again, and he slipped on the rocks that lined the stream’s bed. Luckily, Jim was able to catch him by the arm and haul him to his feet. They struggled out of the water and Spock shook Jim’s arms off with an angry noise.

“I’m sorry I laughed, but I did warn you,” Jim said, biting his lip. Spock turned away. “Aw, come on, don’t be mad – you’d have probably done the same thing.”

“Vulcans do not get mad, nor do we laugh. We do not give in to our emotions.”

“Coulda fooled me.”

But Spock was not hearing him. Instead he scrambled back up the bank, presumably to return to the hollowed-out tree where they planned to camp for the night.

Jim returned to him about twenty minutes later, having found enough kindling and other supplies to try to start a fire. Spock sat with his legs pulled up against his chest, shivering.

“You should prolly get out of those wet clothes,” Jim advised. “You don’t want to catch a cold.”

“My relative body temperature should have no bearing on whether I succumb to a viral infection,” Spock told him through chattering teeth.

“Or, you know, you could not be shivering like a maniac,” Jim retorted. He laid down the supplies he’d found and began to clear an area for a campfire. There weren’t really that many rocks around, so he dug an indentation into the ground inside which he laid the sticks he’d gathered. Next, he packed some dried leaves around it and then used his rock to cut a notch into a large piece of bark he’d pulled off of one of the trees; he set the stick into the notch and began to spin it between the palms of his hands, hoping the stick he was using for a spindle wasn’t too green to create the friction he’d need.

Spock watched him, frowning. “That is a most primitive means of producing fire.”

“You think?” Jim asked, panting. “Well, if nothing else, you get warmed up just doin’ it.” He wiped the sweat off his brow and continued. The muscles in his arms were beginning to burn with the effort and he was about to give up when he spotted a finger of smoke rising from the notch. He increased his speed until it paid off, the dried leaves beginning to smolder beneath the makeshift fireboard. Bending forward over the firepit so far he was practically lying on the ground, he blew gently on the dull embers he’d created, feeding additional leaves to it until he had a healthy flame going. He added a few more of the smaller pieces of bark he’d gathered, not wanting to smother the flames with larger pieces of wood just yet. He waved at the flames lightly with the large piece of bark as they caught.

“Hey – go and grab a few of those larger pieces of wood will ya?” Jim said, gesturing vaguely at the deadwood that had fallen out of the large tree they were sheltering beside.

Spock hurried to comply, dragging over a very large branch that was far too heavy for Jim to manage and breaking a large piece off of the end of it. “That was most skillful, Jim Kirk of Earth,” Spock said, and Jim about fell over to be hearing an actual compliment coming from the kid.

“Thanks,” Jim said, accepting the wood from Spock and piling it carefully above the small flames. Minutes later, the fire caught on with the larger pieces, and Jim sat back to admire his handiwork.

Spock crouched down nearby, holding his hands out to warm them. “You should take your robe off so it can dry out, maybe,” Jim suggested.

“A prudent suggestion, Jim Kirk of Earth,” Spock said, unfastening it and removing it. He spread it out on the ground beside the fire then took up his former position.

“You can just call me ‘Jim,’ you know, Spock.”

“Jim is your given name?”

“My full name is James Tiberius Kirk.”

“A prodigious name. Tiberius was an important figure in Earth’s ancient history.”

“I guess,” Jim shrugged. “It was also my grandfather’s name.”

“Your parents honored him by ascribing his name to you. A sound practice.”

Jim wrinkled his nose. “I prefer just Jim, though. It’s my nickname.”

“I am unfamiliar with that term.”

“Nickname? It means a name that only your friends call you. You can call me it if you want.”

“I consider it an honor for you to allow me to utilize the diminutive form of your name. Jim.” He pronounced it slowly, as if trying it out.

“Do you have a nickname?”

“I do not.”

“Want one? I could call you Spocko.”

“I would not want that at all.”

“That’s cool.”

----

“I guess it’s getting pretty late,” Jim said some time later. Spock’s robe had dried and he was wearing it again. The two of them had spent the last hour gathering up leaves and piling them next to the hollowed-out tree to use as bedding.

“We should consider retiring for the night.”

They stood and went over to the tree, Jim arriving first and taking the spot closest to the tree itself. They lay down, stretched out on the ground. Jim was disappointed to realize the pile of leaves wasn’t really much of a cushion – the ground was still hard. But he hoped the leaves would act as a form of insulation, because Spock was right: his jeans and t-shirt, while practical during the heat of the day, provided little coverage in the cold of the night.

Spock took his own position beside him, perhaps three feet away. Jim stared up at the sky, catching glimpses of the stars above when the wind stirred the tall trees. “We really are far from home,” Jim said.

“That much is evident.”

“I mean, the stars overhead – they don’t even look a little bit familiar.”

“Constellations’ formations are a matter of perspective, but I concur that the experience of looking into the sky and not seeing that which is familiar is disconcerting. Do you often study the night sky?”

“All the time back home,” Jim said wistfully. “I’m gonna be the captain of a starship someday.”

“A worthy goal, though perhaps you should cultivate alternatives, in the event that you are unable to attend Starfleet Academy.”

“They have to take me – my Dad was a Starship Captain.”

“Was?”

Jim blinked at the sudden sting in his eyes – it had been a long time since he cried over his lost father. “He was George Kirk, and he commanded the USS Kelvin.”

Jim was aware of Spock’s head turning as he looked at him. “I grieve with thee.”

“Thanks.” He sniffed.

“Your father was a great hero.”

“I’m gonna be just like him.”

“That would be unfortunate.”

Jim sat up, angry. “What? My dad was a great man! He saved the lives of 800 people! Take that back.”

“There is no reason to upset yourself. I merely wish to point out that if your own life followed the identical trajectory to your father’s, you would meet a similarly untimely end. And that would be unfortunate.”

“Oh.” Jim sat there breathing through his nose to calm himself down. “Sorry.” Eventually, he settled down and lay on his side, waiting for sleep to come.

They didn’t speak again.

----

Jim woke the next morning curled up against Spock’s back for warmth and clutching some of the soft fabric of the turtleneck sweater Spock wore between his fingers; he used to snuggle up to his mother like this when he was a baby – he let go of the fabric self-consciously. He looked around and realized that Spock had removed his robe and had used it to cover them both in the night. Jim’s stomach rumbled, loudly.

“What is that noise?” Spock asked, instantly awake and alert. He sat up.

Jim’s stomach growled again and he sat up as well, a hand on his midsection. “That’s just my belly – it’s hungry.”

Spock frowned. “Have you no control over such biological functions?”

“Uh, no. Should I?” Jim yawned and stretched, looking around them at the dappled sunlight slanting through the canopy overhead. It was very early in the morning – the sun couldn’t have been up for more than a standard hour. He assessed himself – except for the need to urinate and the yawning pit in his belly, he was feeling perfectly normal. “Hey – I guess those nuts weren’t poisonous or whatever, huh?”

“The fact you survived the night unscathed bodes well,” Spock replied, standing and donning his robe again.

“Guess we know what’s for breakfast, then.” Jim said, shaking his sneakers out before pulling them on and rising himself. He stepped past Spock and headed in a direction opposite the river bank to take care of business. When he returned, he found Spock had managed to shell more than half of the nuts and had made two neat piles.

“Can I help?” Jim asked, and Spock nodded, resuming cracking the nuts and allowing Jim to remove them from their shells.

When they were done, Spock divided them into two piles, one slightly larger than the other. He took the smaller pile for himself. “Those are for you.”

“We should share equally, Spock. Here.” Jim held out what he guessed to be the difference in the palm of his hand.

“Vulcans do not require as much caloric intake as humans to subsist,” Spock informed him. He popped a nut into his mouth and chewed on it without expression.

“You sure? It’s not like there’s that much, and we should share equally.”

“I am quite certain.”

After breakfast, they cleaned up their campsite (“It’s what good scouts do, come on, Spock!”) and continued on their way again, following the stream as it flowed along, hoping they’d find some sign of civilization. At midday the land seemed to flatten out and soon they were aware of a thinning of the trees to their left.

“Oh, it’s a farm!” Jim exclaimed when they broke through the underbrush at the edge of the forest to emerge into bright sunlight overhead. The land opened up before them for several hectares, with plants growing in neat, evenly-spaced rows. “I grew up on a farm,” Jim informed Spock excitedly, though after a lifetime spent staring out at Iowa fields, he’d never thought he’d find another one quite so fascinating.

“I fail to see the relevance of the circumstances of your early childhood, though the presence of cultivated fields bodes well for us, indicating the presence of sentient beings on this planet.”

“And you know what else?” Jim said, refusing to let Spock’s haughtiness bring him down. “Farmers!”

“That is, in essence, what I just said.”

“Yeah, well, the farmer will have a communicator, and then maybe we can get off this dang planet.”

Spock looked more constipated than usual, which in the short time they’d known each other Jim had interpreted to mean he was trying not to roll his eyes.

“Let’s go find ‘em?” Jim prompted and led the way along the edge of the field.

As they walked, they passed several automated irrigators and a few robots that were busy weeding and testing the soil. They were a lot smaller than the ones back home, but Jim recognized their function. The plants in the field appeared to be vine-like, and grew to about knee height, so it was easy for them to see a great distance over the field.

“Jim, I see no sign of habitation here,” Spock pointed out when they’d gotten to the opposite side of the field.

“Yeah, me neither,” Jim replied. “You suppose the whole place is a robofarm?” Farms that were 100% run by robots were not uncommon across the Federation.

“That would be my guess,” Spock agreed.

“Shoot, I was hoping we’d be able to find someone,” Jim said. As adventures went, this was a pretty good one, but he was beginning to miss home a little, especially when it came to mealtimes. Which gave him an idea. “What do you suppose they grow here?”

“To speculate would be a wasted effort, but the absence of visible fruit on what are clearly mature or nearly mature plants suggests a root vegetable of some sort.”

“I was thinking they look like sweet potatoes. Should we have a look?”

“Procuring an additional food source would be prudent.”

“All right.”

Jim walked into the field a few meters, got down on his knees, and began dig. Or to try to – the soil was rich but on the heavy side. Luckily, he’d brought the rock he’d found the night before along and fished it out of his pocket to help loosen the soil around the base of the plant. Once he’d gotten enough of it cleared away, he tugged on the stems once, twice, and again, finally freeing a sweet potato-like vegetable from the earth.

“Jackpot!” Jim said, grinning up at Spock as he started in on the second plant.

Spock joined him and soon they had unearthed four plants, yielding about a dozen of the tubers. Jim was starting in on another plant – there was no telling when they’d be able to find more food and the nuts would surely get old fast – when Spock pulled on the hem of his t-shirt, sharply.

“I think our presence here has been noticed,” he said.

Jim followed where he was looking and saw that one of the agribots was approaching them, spindly legs picking its way carefully over the neat rows of plants, careful not to disturb any of them. As it got closer, Spock rose and stared at it unblinkingly, and when it was two meters away, he raised his right hand with his palm facing forward and his fingers separated in a V-shape that looked way uncomfortable to Jim.

“Greetings,” Spock said solemnly to the burnished face of the thing.

Jim thought it looked sort of like a grasshopper or something with all its legs sticking out in so many directions. Or maybe a praying mantis. Jim remembered one thing about mantises – that the ladies sometimes ate the men – and that kind of freaked him out. Grabbing the plants they’d just harvested by their stems with one hand and palming his rock in the other, he rose uneasily to stand beside Spock.

“I am S’chn T’gai Spock cha Sarek of Vulcan, and my companion wishes to be known as Jim. Will you inform your owners that we are lost with no memory of how we came to be here, nor means of returning to our home planets? While I cannot speak for my companion, I can say with certainty that my own parents will be alarmed to find that I am not currently at home. You can contact them on the Vulcan homeworld. My father is Ambassador Sarek and is well-known there.” He paused, staring into what Jim thought might be its eyes or ocular process or whatever (he never knew what to call them).

The robot made an unpleasant, high-pitched noise, not unlike the screeching of the old timey cable cars in San Francisco that Frank took Jim on once while Jim’s mom was at a meeting at Starfleet HQ.

Spock visibly winced and turned his head away, his eyes shut tight. “What an unpleasant noise,” he remarked to Jim, whose eyes remained on the robot, which had advanced on them suddenly, brandishing its front two legs at them.

“Uh, Spock?” Jim pulled at the sleeve of Spock’s robe. He saw that, although the bot’s legs were spindly and looked fragile, they seemed to me made of a very durable type of metal, and one of them looked awfully dangerous.

“Please stop making that unpleasant noise,” Spock said to the bot, but it ignored him and, if anything, the noise became louder and more shrill. When it took another lurching step toward them, Jim pulled Spock away just in time to miss being hit with what looked like some sort of cattle prod that had emerged from within one of the bot’s legs. It glowed blue and crackled in the air where Spock’s chest had been a moment before.

“Let’s get outta here!” Jim said. Backing away fast, he grabbed Spock by the wrist and pulled him along as he ran back in the direction they had come.

The agribot pursued them, though luckily they were able to outrun it. However, Jim saw out of the corner of his eye a second bot that had been working another section of the field had been activated and, if they continued on their current course, would surely intercept them. He veered off, Spock following, and they headed for the woods, the high-pitched noises from the bots fading into the distance as they charged through the undergrowth. The bots gave up the chase as soon as the boys reached some invisible boundary, turning around and returning to the field to continue their work as if nothing had happened.

Jim and Spock slowed to a walk and then stopped, Jim breathing hard and pressing a hand to a stitch that had developed in his side.

“That was a very near thing,” Spock commented mildly, though Jim thought he looked freaked out too – if the look of mild perturbation was any indication, and he had to guess that it must be, but who could tell?

“You can say that again,” Jim panted.

“Repetition would be illogical, as you have clearly heard me.”

“It’s a figure of speech, Spock – God, don’t you guys have those where you come from?”

“Vulcans, as a rule, do not rely heavily upon metaphor. We do, however, quote proverbs from our greatest philosopher, Surak, if the situation calls for it.”

“And what would he say in a situation like this?”

“I do not think there is anything that would apply to having to escape from a hostile agricultural robot whilst searching for food on an alien world. Though I must add I am not yet as fully versed in his teachings as other Vulcans older than me.”

“Don’t worry – you’ll get there,” Jim said with a bland expression on his face, patting Spock on the shoulder. Of course he was kidding, but naturally Spock didn’t get it.

“I have no doubt that I will learn as much as I must within the prescribed period of time. However, your confidence in my success is acknowledged.”

“Aces. Well, it’s good to see that agribots throughout the galaxy don’t take too kindly to folks poaching from their fields,” Jim observed.

“You have much experience with such matters?”

“I’m from Iowa – ain’t nothing there but farms and the ‘Fleet shipyards, and those are a lot harder to break into, let me tell you.”

“This Iowa – it is a farming community?”

“Well, Riverside is, and it’s in Iowa. In North America.”

“Oh yes, I recall my mother telling me about the fifty provinces of America.”

“States,” Jim corrected. “Iowa’s the Hawkeye State. Don’t ask me what that means, because I don’t know. It’s another nickname.”

“Such as Jim.”

“That’s right.”

“Why would it be necessary to have more than one name for a geography? Would it not be more efficient to use coordinates?”

“Yes, Spock, it would. But somehow, I don’t think coordinates work very well in school songs and stuff.”

Spock just stared at him with his head cocked to the side, as if giving the matter serious thought. When he didn’t make any other move, Jim looked down at the plants he still held in his fist. “Let’s see what we’ve got here.” Taking a quick count, he saw that during their flight, they’d lost a few; they now had about eight sweet potato-like things – enough to last them a couple of meals at least. He began to pull them from their stems and brush the dirt from them; when they got back to the stream he’d wash them off properly before cooking them. “Wish we had something to carry them in,” he said more to himself than anything, but Spock again proved his usefulness and held up the hem of his robe.

“We can place them here.”

Jim gathered them up and dumped them into the garment, positioning them to the side, then pulled the hem of it up and tied it off around Spock’s waist. The fabric was lighter than Jim had thought it would be, and very strong and flexible – not at all as stiff as it looked. The potatoes now sat on Spock’s right hip so they would not interfere with his legs as he walked. “There you go, now your hands are free,” Jim said with a smile.

Spock had a frown on his face, but he nodded. “A very efficient solution,” he said.

“Careful, Spock, your face might crack if you compliment me again,” Jim replied with a grin, and skipped away with a laugh.

They soon made it back to the stream and, with no other way to find civilization, set off downstream again. At mid-afternoon, Jim called a halt for a rest and after going down to the water for a drink, he looked up thoughtfully at the large outcropping of rock that loomed over the opposite bank.

“You know, I lost that piece of flint or whatever it was when the bots chased us away,” he said, more to himself than to Spock. “We’re gonna need another one later for breaking up nuts and stuff. I’m gonna go up over there and try to find another one.”

“Surely there are similar specimens on our side of the stream,” Spock pointed out, eyeing the water with distaste; since his dunking the day before, he’d been careful to avoid it more than was strictly necessary.

But Jim was already in motion, splashing across the knee-deep water. “Nah, I’ve been keeping my eyeballs peeled and all the ones I’ve spotted so far have been the wrong kind or else too small.” He began to climb. “And before you ask, Spock, keeping my eyeballs peeled is another illogical human expression for being on the lookout for something.” He glanced back over his shoulder and grinned.

Spock drew himself up to his full height and looked down his nose at him. “So I surmised.”

“Sure you did,” Jim said and returned his attention to his upward progress. When he got up there, he noticed that the ground was rockier than the side they’d been traveling on, though he didn’t see many of the types of rock he was looking for, which he could flake pieces off of so he’d get a sharper edge. He wandered away from the stream a ways, keeping his eyes on the ground.

He noticed there were some of the nuts from the trees lying around on the ground – a lot more than they’d tended to find on the side where he and Spock had been traveling. “Hey Spock!” he shouted back the way he’d come, “there’s a bunch more nuts over here!” He began to pick up a few of the larger ones – Spock said they were probably a good source of protein, and they should have as varied a diet as they could get (god, he sounded just like Jim’s mom sometimes) – collecting good ones in his t-shirt, all the while searching for another piece of flint that would come in handy. He heard Spock’s voice filter up towards him, but he sounded really far away and he couldn’t make out the words. Shrugging, he kept going, picking up a lot more nuts but coming up goose eggs on the rock front.

He was almost on top of the grizzly bear before he saw it, snuffling its face in some of the undergrowth and eating… something. Well, it was kind of like a bear. Sort of. It was as big as a bear, anyway, at least the one he’d seen at the Natural History Museum in Iowa City, and about as hairy. The face and head were a lot smaller, though, and looked more like a wild dog.

“Ooohhh, crap,” Jim said worriedly in a low voice, dropping his hands. All the nuts he’d collected fell to the ground as he backed slowly away.

Hearing the dull thuds as the nuts fell, the animal raised its head, sniffing the air. Its eyes locked on Jim’s. Jim squeaked and began to back slowly away, thinking that any sudden moves would probably be a bad idea. He took another step away, and so, interestingly, did the bear-dog, but then it crouched down, its chest brushing against the ground as it stared at Jim, one of its huge paws suspended in midair. Was it going to charge, or run away? Jim didn’t know. All he really knew was fear, all he could feel was his heart trying to beat its way out of his chest.

He took another step back; the bear-dog did the same. Jim swallowed, but his throat was way too dry all of a sudden, and felt like it was sticking to itself.

“WAAAIIIHOOO! WAAAAAAIIIHOO!”

Jim jumped and screamed in terrified surprise as something appeared in his peripheral vision. It was Spock, who had somehow found him, and was shouting at the creature and waving his arms. Probably as shocked by this turn of events as Jim was, the bear-dog startled, then turned tail and lumbered off into the forest.

Jim stood with his mouth hanging open, hand over his heart and panting. “Spock! What the – I mean – What? And –“ He felt like he might puke. “SPOCK!” he yelled.

“I see your conversational skills have not been reduced by this recent excitement,” Spock commented dryly.

“Don’t be a smartass! You almost gave me a heart attack!”

Spock took a step closer, concern written in the way his eyebrows furrowed together. “Have you a coronary defect you did not inform me of? Jim, I did not mean to cause you harm –“

“Relax,” Jim told him, “it’s another figure of speech. It’s just that – well, you jumping out like that scared me – a lot.”

“An unfortunate side effect, as my intention was to drive the creature away.”

“Well, it worked, but maybe give a guy a heads up next time, huh?”

“I will endeavor to do so, should it prove prudent. Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.” Jim crouched down and began to gather up the nuts he’d dropped. “That was some pretty quick thinking.”

“The beast is very similar to my sehlat, I-Chaya. While fearsome if their tempers are aroused, sehlats are generally easily startled away. I merely deployed a technique I learned when I was younger, during training for my kahs-wan.”

“Kahs-wan?” Having collected the nuts in his shirt again, Jim rose and began walking back towards the stream.

“It is a Vulcan rite of passage. All Vulcan children must endure ten days in Vulcan’s Forge without food, water, or weapons.”

“Vulcan’s Forge?”

“A vast desert populated by fearsome and deadly creatures.”

“Holy crap – how old were you?”

“In general, Vulcan children endure the challenge at seven years of age, though I undertook mine early.”

“Wow, Vulcans are hardcore.”

Spock shrugged. “It is our way. Do they have similar customs in Iowa?”

“Not unless you count dodge ball.”

----

Jim finally found a rock to replace the one he’d lost and they were soon on their way. That night they camped early so that he could build the fire to roast the potato-things.

“It should maybe take an hour or so to cook ‘em, Spock,” he said once he’d set the potatoes beside the fire, but when he glanced over at Spock, the other boy was sitting with his legs crossed and his hands clasped before his face, as he had been when Jim met him the day before. “Sorry, sorry,” he whispered, “I didn’t know you were praying.”

“I am not praying, I am meditating,” Spock said without opening his eyes. “It is an advantageous way of ordering one’s thoughts and, for Vulcans, it is a necessary means by which we control our emotions.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Meditate? I have just said –“

“No, control your emotions?”

Spock’s eyes opened and he lowered his hands to his lap. “Many centuries ago, Vulcans were a warlike people, savage and ruthless, and slaves to our emotions. There were many wars that nearly destroyed our world. But Surak promoted the use of logic to control emotion, which led to an end to the suffering as well as a long-lasting peace. Today, every Vulcan learns these precepts from childhood, and the importance of emotional control and logic in maintaining a sound mind and body.”

“So, what – you guys don’t feel anything? Like one o’ those agribots?”

“On the contrary – we feel all of our emotions quite deeply, but, to put it another way, we do not allow our emotions to feel us.”

“I get it,” Jim said. He thought he did; he also thought doing something like that would be pretty hard.

“They are terms my own mother has used to explain it to other humans. I thought you would understand the concept better if presented thus.”

“She’s pretty smart, your mom.”

“She has an above average intellect.”

“Wow, don’t brag about her or anything, Spock,” Jim couldn’t help saying with a smile, but Spock, as usual, proved to be immune to teasing.

Jim turned his attention back to the potatoes he’d set near the fire – it wouldn’t do to let them burn. He turned them with a long stick he’d found and then stared into the fire for several minutes as the dusk around them slowly fell.

He could almost feel Spock returning to his meditation beside him, and he sat and watched him out of the corner of his eye for a while. When it became clear that he wasn’t bothered by Jim’s scrutiny, Jim took to outright staring. For someone two whole years older, Spock was about Jim’s height, though he was leaner and his legs were longer. Jim wasn’t sure how he managed to keep himself so neat – he’d had as many bumps and scrapes climbing down to the stream and back up again as Jim, so surely his clothes and skin ought to be at least half as dirty, but they weren’t. His hair was as neat as a pin, even after two days in the woods; Jim self-consciously tried to flatten down his own hair, put it into some kind of order, though he was pretty sure it was still standing up all over the place.

Jim sighed – even though Spock was sitting right next to him, meditating, he still felt lonely. He adopted the same position as Spock, folding his legs up and raising his hands in front of him. It felt weird, and it was hard to keep his hands up for more than a few minutes, so he just let them fall onto his thighs. He closed his eyes and breathed, in and out, in and out.

It didn’t make him feel any different or better or anything. If anything, it made him think too much – about how worried his Mom and Sam must be right now, and probably even Frank. At least, he hoped they’d be worried. He had threatened to run away when Frank had sent him stomping up the stairs to his room after the chicken coop thing, muttering under his breath and seeing red. That’s the last thing he remembered before waking up here – he must have fallen asleep or something.

Something...
How’d he get here anyway, and who would have done it? Suddenly, not knowing was the scariest thing he could imagine – surely his mom and Frank wouldn’t have let someone just take him. Did they know? Did they put up a fight? Were they even OK?

He opened his eyes, panicked, his heart beating so hard in his chest that he could barely breathe. He struggled to take a deep and calming breath and found it difficult. And his vision was swimming, going all white around the edges.

Suddenly, there were hands on him, on his back and arm, grasping at him, grounding him. “Jim,” Spock said to him, his voice calm but loud enough to cut through the panic. “Jim, you are having some sort of stress response,” he said.

“Spock?” Jim gasped.

“Try to calm yourself, Jim. Try to take deep, slow breaths.” Spock did so, to demonstrate. Jim looked into his eyes and mimicked him, breathing in and out, in and out, until the swimminess was gone and his chest didn’t hurt so much.

“Th-thanks, Spock. I don’t know what happened.”

“Do you not?”

Jim thought. “I – I just thought a little too much, that’s all.” Jim scooted toward the fire to turn the potatoes again, pulling one out to cool a bit so he could test it - his mom always put him in charge of roasting them for Thanksgiving, so he knew what to look for, even if they didn’t have an oven out here. He pinched it after a minute, but it didn’t give enough – it needed more time to roast. He glanced back at Spock, who was quietly cracking some nuts for their dinner, and watching Jim out of the corner of his eye.

“D’you ever wonder how we got here? I mean, who would take two random kids from different places and just dump them on this planet in the middle of nowhere?”

“I gave it much thought when we first arrived, but in the absence of adequate evidence to aid our understanding, I deemed it illogical to devote more thought to it.” He paused. “Was such conjecture the source of your current distress?”

“Kinda,” Jim admitted after a long pause. He could feel his ears burning from embarrassment and he couldn’t look at Spock.

“Such reactions in humans are not uncommon in high stress situations, and thus must be acknowledged as within normal parameters.”

“Y-you’re saying you understand?”

“I am saying I accept these shortcomings as a matter of course and will not allow them to affect my estimation of your character.”

“Is that sympathy, Spock?”

“Affirmative.”

“Then thanks.”

----

They stayed up until the fire had died down almost completely – this night was warmer than the one before, but Spock still took off his robe at bedtime so that they might both use it as a coverlet.

In the morning, Jim woke early to find himself once again curled up against Spock’s back with his hands clutching at his turtleneck, and realized he felt very warm. He sat up and immediately regretted it as the forest’s canopy swooped and spun overhead. He lay back down with a groan.

His movements woke Spock. “What is wrong?”

“I don’t feel so good,” Jim replied.

“Describe your symptoms.”

“I dunno, I just don’t feel good.”

Spock laid a cool hand on Jim’s forehead. “You appear to be feverish. Are you experiencing sensations of disequilibrium as well?”

“If that means dizzy, then yeah.” Jim moaned. “God, of all the times to get sick!”

“While we cannot rule out a viral infection similar to influenza, we must also consider your symptoms may have been caused by any number of items you may have ingested – harmful microorganisms or parasites in the water, or perhaps a negative reaction to the food we have consumed, or -”

“Yeah, I get it, Spock, but knowing what it is doesn’t really help does it? It’s not like there’s a doctor around.” He moaned again, knowing that they couldn’t afford to stop – they’d been walking for two days now, surely they’d find a town soon. He didn’t want to delay that – he wanted to go home. He struggled to sit up, wincing from the rush of blood to his head, which began to throb with a vicious and sudden headache he hadn’t noticed before. He dragged himself over to the nearest tree and sat against it, trying to breathe slowly through his nose to keep the nausea at bay.

“I believe resting in an inclined position is indicated for maladies such as yours,” Spock pointed out. He stood and shook out his robe, then pulled it on.

“If I just rest like this for a bit, I’ll be able to get up.”

“I do not think we will be going anywhere today.”

“Yes, we will,” Jim insisted, though the weakness in his voice did little to make him sound very convincing.

A bit of cold potato and some nuts from the night before made him feel a little better, so after breakfast he told Spock they should try to get as far as they could.

----

“Jim, we will stop now so you may rest.”

“I’m fine, Spock. Dunno what yer talkin’ about.” Really, Jim wished Spock would lay off – trudging through this forest feeling wretched was hard enough.

“You are on your knees,” Spock pointed out helpfully.

“Oh.” Jim looked around himself forlornly, then up at Spock. “I’m sorry.”

Spock’s hand was already on his forehead. “Apologies are unnecessary. Your body’s temperature appears to have risen,” he informed Jim with a frown. “I do not think it is wise to continue beyond this point.”

“OK,” Jim said and only managed not to faceplant on the ground because Spock helped him to sit.

“I will fetch something to cool you,’ Spock said.

He was gone for several seconds before Jim replied, “Sure, thanks.”

When Spock didn’t immediately return, Jim decided that maybe lying down for a little while would be a good idea. He was just so hot, and lightheaded, and he barely remembered what had happened since breakfast. Other than all the walking. And the sniping at Spock – who kept hovering and trying to check his temperature and make him rest – to quit it already.

Jim was just wondering where Spock had gotten to – it had to have been at least fifteen minutes since he took off for the stream – when he heard him clambering over the top of the stream’s bank.

“Jim, I have found a shelter on the far side of the stream,” he said with a slightly elevated tone of voice, which Jim thought meant he must be excited. “It appears to be currently uninhabited, but it will provide shelter. Additionally, perhaps it has other resources we might exploit.”

Jim was confused. “Shelter? What kind of shelter?”

“It appears to be a small dwelling – you might refer to it as a cabin.”

“Like a hunting cabin?”

“I cannot guess at its purpose, only that it appears to provide adequate protection. Given your compromised health, it is an ideal development.”

“Sweet, let’s go.” Jim lay where he was.

“Do you require assistance getting to your feet?” Spock asked after several moments of inactivity had passed.

“Yes, please,” Jim replied, a little surprised at how quiet his voice sounded in his ears.

Spock knelt down beside him and pulled him upright, then positioned it over his own shoulder. He held onto Jim’s wrist while slipping his other arm around the small of his back. Pushing with his legs, he managed to lever them both up until they were standing. Jim felt strangely lightheaded and heavy at the same time. When Spock took a step forward, he couldn’t quite bring his legs into synch with him.

“Jim, you must assist me – I cannot carry you across the stream,” Spock said, his voice tight.

“Sorry, sorry,” Jim said and concentrated on moving. When they got to the stream’s bank, Jim’s legs began to tremble as he regarded the climb down. Thankfully, the bank was not as steep here as in other parts of the forest, but still Jim would have to climb down and out again on the other side of the waterway. He sighed and sank to his knees, bringing Spock with him. “Sorry,” he repeated.

“Apologies are unnecessary. You will need to be on the ground to climb down anyway.”

“Good point,” Jim said. He crawled to the edge, then scrambled around and shimmied until his legs were hanging over. He felt around with his sneakers until he found a toe-hold. Spock hurried to climb down a bit farther than him, staying close in case Jim faltered. Jim’s entire body was now shaking with the effort and he could feel sweat pouring down his back. Spock hit the bottom first and was just reaching up to support the rest of Jim’s descent when the root Jim was standing on gave way. Lacking his usual strength or reaction time, he just went with it, falling atop Spock; the two landed on the ground with a soft oof from Spock.

“Ow,” Jim said weakly.

“Indeed.”

Spock pushed Jim off of him as gently as he could, then got him to his feet again. “I know it is difficult, but we must cross the stream. We will rest on the other side.”

“Rest? Yes, rest,” Jim agreed, his tongue feeling thick and clumsy.

They splashed across slowly – Spock was mindful of slippery rocks on the bottom – and he let Jim sink to his knees when they reached the edge. Spock then fed Jim some water from his cupped hands. The water was refreshing and woke Jim up somewhat – he hadn’t noticed how dehydrated he felt. He drank greedily as Spock kept feeding him the water.

After several minutes, Spock asked Jim if he felt well enough to go on. The promise of a warm bed – or heck, just the idea that he’d have a roof over his head – was enough to spur Jim on.

The climb up the opposite bank was both easier and harder. It helped that Jim could see how far he had to go, but his limbs got progressively weaker as he went and soon his entire body was trembling with the effort. Spock climbed right behind with his arms around Jim’s legs, easing his shoulder under Jim’s buttocks so he could rest at intervals and not fall. When they at last got to the top, Jim lay on the ground panting and shaking, unable to move. After several minutes, he felt a hand on his shoulder, shaking him.

“Jim, it is not far to the cabin –“

“Can’t, Spock,” Jim said in a small voice.

“I will help you.”

“I can’t, I just –“ Jim could feel tears falling down his face – and he didn’t even care that he was being a big baby, he felt too awful and he really just wanted his mom. “I’m sorry, Spock.”

Spock stood and looked off into the distance. “It is not very far,” he said thoughtfully, almost to himself. At length, he looked down at Jim. “I will carry you.”

Jim was too weak to speak; he hoped a doubtful look would suffice.

“Vulcans have superior strength to humans, after all. I will carry you.” Mind made up, Spock knelt next to Jim and once again hoisted him up. This time, he picked the other up piggy-back style, with Jim on his back and a hand under each of his knees. “As long as you can hold onto me, I will carry you.”

Jim felt so bad, and he was still crying, but he managed a whispered, “Thank you, Spock,” into the other’s ear as they set off.

----

Later, Jim would not remember Spock hacking the lock on the cabin’s door, or being deposited onto what turned out to be a very comfortable bed, or very much at all for the first whole day they stayed there. He did remember Spock bringing him cool water, and feeling both cold and hot in turns, and Spock singing to him in a strange language he thought must be Vulcan.

When he woke in the middle of the night, shivering and so out of it he almost didn’t realize his eyes were open, it was to find himself lying on his side with Spock beside him, clutched in the other boy’s arms. As he had the previous two nights, Jim found himself with his fists full of Spock’s shirt, and quickly let it go lest the other boy be offended. But Spock didn’t seem to mind, and reached down to take Jim’s hands in his, holding them against his chest. Jim took hold of the soft material again and soon fell back to sleep.

The next time Jim woke, he was lying on his back, so weak he could not move. Spock sat next to him with Jim’s hand held in both of his, staring at fifteen fingers intertwined.

“Don’t cry,” Jim tried to say – he thought he managed it, but he couldn’t really tell. Probably not, because Spock didn’t react and there were big, fat tears falling on Jim’s wrist.

The next time Jim woke up, Spock was sitting next to him with his back against the headboard, a hand resting atop Jim’s head, asleep. Jim turned onto his side and buried his face in the space between Spock’s hip and the pillow, and closed his eyes with the realization that he didn’t feel like he had a fever anymore, and this time he was just falling asleep.

----

“I will bring you some food.”

Jim blinked at the bright sunlight that streamed into the cabin through the shutters Spock had just opened and tried to push himself up in the bed so he was sitting. He didn’t quite have the strength for it, so he settled for kind of a half-sitting, half-lying thing.

“Are you hungry?”

Jim nodded his head. “What time is it?” he asked. His voice nearly gone, but it appeared to be laryngitis and not the alarming weakness he’d felt before; he wasn’t even sure how long he’d been out of it.

“It is two hours before sunset – you were incapacitated for more than a day.”

Jim tried for the sitting up thing again and Spock came over to help him. “Man, I feel awful,” he said, but at the alarmed expression on Spock’s face – an actual expression that the other boy did not even try to conceal – he added, “but I feel a whole lot better than before.”

“That is fortunate. We will stay here until you have recovered your strength. There are numerous freeze-dried provisions, and the means to reconstitute them, in addition to a camp stove. We will be quite comfortable.”

“Just like playing house,” Jim said with a smile. At Spock’s cocked head and confused expression, Jim said, “Never mind.”

“There is some sort of amalgamation of cereal grains and nuts – it is similar to the muesli my mother favors. Would you like some?” Spock didn’t wait for an answer – he handed Jim a packet of the stuff he’d brought over from a small kitchen-like area on the opposite wall. Whatever it was smelled awesome and made Jim’s stomach rumble; he noticed there were some of the nuts they’d been eating included in the mix, as well as a dried fruit that looked like mango. “Your digestive system appears to be expressing an opinion on the matter,” Spock pointed out.

“Was that a joke, Spock?” Jim asked, pouring out a handful of the muesli and shoving it into his mouth.

“If you like.”

Jim grinned and handed the packet of cereal to Spock to share. “Thank you, I have already eaten,” Spock said, rising and going to pour Jim a cup of water from a pitcher on the counter. Jim drank it down greedily and Spock got him another. He finished that and ate another handful of the cereal, and then his eyes started getting droopy. He shook his head to clear it.

“You should rest,” Spock said.

It was a measure of how weak his illness had made him that Jim readily agreed. He scooted down further under the blankets and pulled them up to his chin.

When Spock sat down on the bed beside him, Jim turned over onto his side and curled up beside him; Spock inched closer so that they were touching.

“Spock? Tell me about Vulcan – what’s it like?”

“It differs from Earth in many ways. I shall endeavor to frame my description in terms you will understand. Have you ever been to a desert?”

Jim shook his head. “Nuh-uh.”

“We have very few oceans and the water is mainly underground, so much of the planet is very hot and dry. Much of the flora and fauna have adapted to it, of course, evolving a number of natural defenses.”

“Like cacti?”

“Exactly. The planet’s mass is larger than Earth’s, so there is a gravity differential that would make you feel very heavy and lethargic. Also, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, contributing to the effect. I am given to understand that it takes humans a long while to acclimate to conditions on the planet.”

“Doesn’t sound like a very fun place to grow up.”

Spock did that not-shrug thing with his head. “When Vulcans visit other planets, those with lower gravity and a more oxygen-rich atmosphere, we are often many times stronger and faster, and possessed of superior endurance when compared with indigenous species.”

“Kinda like Superman. Can you fly too?”

“You are being facetious.”

“I wasn’t,” Jim yawned. “What’s ‘facetious’?”

“A word many humans should be quite familiar with. But you are sleepy, you should rest.”

“Don’t you want to know about Earth?”

“I have been to Earth on two separate occasions.”

“Oh. Well, how ‘bout Iowa, then?”

“Is it very appealing?”

“It is now that it’s so far away.”

----

Jim slept until the next morning. When he woke, he was ravenous. And, he decided, very smelly. Spock wouldn’t let him help with breakfast – more muesli and some stale but tasty cookies that reminded Jim of animal crackers – and when he decided to go down to the stream to bathe and wash out his clothes, Spock just frowned at him disapprovingly. He pointed out that, unlike Spock, he had managed to get his clothes very dirty, and he welcomed the opportunity to wash the odor of illness from his skin as well. Spock reluctantly allowed it, then found what looked like a bar of soap – whoever the aliens were whose one-room cabin they were using, they seemed to have left all the comforts of home here – and Jim grabbed an old blanket from a pile in a closet to use to dry and cover himself when he was done.

The water was cold, so Jim made quick work of it, but as he was rinsing out his hair, he felt something move past his ankle, something quick and silver-black.

“Hey, Spock, there’s fish down in the stream!” he informed his friend excitedly upon his return to the cabin.

“Yes, I noticed them yesterday. Apparently, the waters are deep enough here to support larger specimens. I see it as a sign that we are approaching a more substantial waterway – we cannot be more than one to three days’ journey from a settlement.”

“That’s good news,” Jim said, “but Spock - fish. Yum yum yummy.” Jim rubbed his belly with his free hand that wasn’t holding the blanket closed around him and grinned. “I’m gonna make us a spear and go fishin’!”

“Do not trouble yourself on my account, Jim. I do not eat meat.”

Jim was confused. “But it’s not meat – it’s fish.”

Spock sighed. “You really are quite recovered.”

“Huh?”

“You have resumed asking me innocuous and badly-informed questions, therefore I assume your illness has not had any lasting effects on your mental faculties.”

“Aw, Spock, you say the nicest things.”

----

“Speak to me of Iowa,” Spock said as Jim was attempting to light the camp stove. He couldn’t get the hang of the alien fuel source – if it was like the induction coils back home, he couldn’t figure out what sequence to use with the dials and buttons to get it started.

“Well, it’s, um, kinda flat. And wide open, you know? I mean, you can see for miles and miles across the fields. We farm a lot there, and, um, my house? It’s on a farm, but we don’t really grow anything ourselves since my Mom’s in Starfleet and my stepdad’s a teacher so we lease it out to another guy, and he grows soybeans. Aaaand… oh, you can see the river from my front porch, and in the summertime we go fishin’ and swimmin’ down there and it’s really fun. I think you’d like it a lot.”

“What is your schooling like?”

“I dunno – I never really gave it much thought. Just, you know, you go to school, you sit in a classroom and they talk at you and you learn stuff, and usually it’s kinda boring. But that’s because you already know most of it.”

“Why would they re-teach you things you have already learned? That is very illogical.”

“It’s not that they’re re-teaching me anything, I just kinda know it all already – I like to read. A lot. Mom says I should skip a couple grades but I don’t know about that.”

“Why would you not wish to be educated at a level that matches your intellect?”

“There’re bigger kids in those classes, and they like to push the littler kids around, you know? I don’t want to be walking around with that bullseye on my back. You prolly think bullying’s illogical huh?”

“I am not unfamiliar with the concept of bullying.”

“No kidding?”

Spock sighed. “It appears to be a universal constant.”

They were silent several minutes, thoughtful, but at last Jim got the stove to start – what he thought looked like the on switch was actually the temperature control.

“You have a girlfriend back home, Spock?” Jim asked, because that’s what guys asked other guys. Or so Sam always said.

“I share a pre-marital bond with a girl of my age named T’Pring. We are not close.”

“Pre-marital – are you saying you’re engaged?! But you’re just a kid!”

“It is our custom. And it not quite the same thing, not as you understand the term.”

“Then help me understand the term.” Jim placed what looked like a frying pan – at least, it was flat and appeared to be made out of metal – atop the stove and let it heat. He’d caught two small fish earlier that day, and had spent an hour trying to figure out how to cook them when Spock suggested he try to extract some oil from the walnut-things they’d been eating. He only had a little bit, but he thought it’d be enough. He’d also found a knife to gut the fish with, and though he’d done a pretty bad job of scaling them, they looked like they might be tasty – it sure beat nuts and old, cold sweet potatoes. Spock had also found something that looked like a vegetable stew for himself.

“Vulcans are not married as you know it – we are bonded. This means that there is a two-way link between our minds, through which we can share our thoughts and experiences, as well as communicate.”

“That sounds pretty cool. Though I guess you’d have to really like the person to let them inside your head.” The pan seemed hot enough, so Jim added his oil and then the fish. They gave a satisfying hiss as they began to cook. Jim shook the pan like he’d seen a chef do once on a holovid.

“Indeed,” Spock said in a manner that made Jim wonder if he hadn’t found a sensitive topic.

“You don’t like her?”

“She is in all ways an exemplary Vulcan.”

“You say that as if it was a crime, Spock.”

“I apologize, I do not wish to cast aspersions. I just – I share no affinity with her, and she…” Spock looked down at his feet, his cheeks coloring, before saying in a low voice, “she is not my t’hy’la.”

“A t’what?”

“T’hy’la – it is a very special type of bond, one that the pre-Surakian histories reference. I read about it last school term, and found the idea of it most appealing.”

“What’s it mean?”

“It is the closest type of bond two beings can share – beyond a familial or marital bond. It is all of those things and none of them - it is – I am finding it difficult to explain using Standard.”

“It’s soulmates,” Jim said after thinking about it. “My mom said she had that with my dad – my real dad. It’s something real special, she said. Something not everyone gets to have.”

“I believe she is right. I also believe it is too late for me, for I am already promised to T’Pring. I will never meet my soulmate.”

Jim felt sad that Spock was sad. “That’s OK.” He leaned over and kissed Spock on the cheek. “You could be my t’hy’la if you wanted.”

xXxXxXx


Chief Medical Officer’s Log, Stardate 2261.156

We are back in orbit around Epsilon IV, having successfully delivered the needed medical supplies to the Andromeda system, and assisted with the outbreak of Cartalian Fever on the planet’s main continent. It was a particularly virulent strain, but I’m confident the planet’s medical infrastructure will be able to combat it now that we’ve provided necessary guidance and protocols. Coincidentally, we’ve been dealing with a mild outbreak of Levodian Flu among the Engineering staff, though beyond high fevers, it’s nothing my team can’t handle.

I am looking forward to finally meeting the Septí people of Epsilon IV, as it is a rare thing to encounter a population so free of disease. What is their secret – is it genetics, their own medicine, or some combination? I can’t wait to figure it out for myself.

Captain Kirk and Commander Spock have been there a week already, having stayed to begin diplomatic talks with planetary leaders, at their invitation. Apparently the Klingons have been saber-rattling again, and the Septí have decided they’re just too close to the Neutral Zone for comfort. I don’t know what all the fuss could be about – the planet is in a strategic part of the quadrant, we want them to join the Federation, they want to join the Federation – it ought to be a no-brainer.

Speaking of no-brains, I’m sure that Captain-slash-best friend o’ mine will find some way to cock this all up. Not having him around to keep an eye on is giving me hives. Here’s hoping his new bondmate will keep him in line, but sometimes that wily Vulcan’s about as pig-headed as…

“Computer, strike the last fifteen seconds of the log entry, from ‘no-brainer’ on, OK?”

“Affirmative.”

“Close log entry and save.”

“Acknowledged.”

Leonard McCoy sat back in his chair and stretched his shoulders and back, cracking his joints with great satisfaction. The work on Andromeda IX had been back-breaking and non-stop, and he’d enjoyed every minute of it. He loved when he could use his and his team’s expertise to help people, and the fact it was on such a grand scale made it twice as rewarding. The week they’d been planetside had practically flown by, and he hadn’t given the fact his two best friends were still out of contact with the ship a thought until he’d begun to record his log entry.

He opened a communications channel. “McCoy to the Bridge. Any contact at all from the Captain or Commander Spock?”

“They have not responded to our hails, Doctor, but don’t forget they were supposed to be on leave once their meetings with the Prime Minister were concluded,” came Uhura’s calm reply. “Shall we take it as a good sign?”

“Not in this universe, Lieutenant,” he groused, and she chuckled to herself.

“Maybe Jim got Spock to agree to take that overdue honeymoon he’s been threatening him with. I hear Epsilon IV is very beautiful.”

“From your mouth, etc.” Len still didn’t like the radio silence from Jim Land; he never did.

“We’ve received confirmation of your meeting with the planet’s Minister of Health at 13:20 ship’s time, Doctor,” she reminded him. “Have you decided who you want to take along on the landing party?”

“Is that your way of invitin’ yourself along?”

“Not at all, I’m just curious,” she answered, clearly put out by his comment.

“I was just kiddin’, Ny, if you were here, you’d see the smirk on my face. Would you come? In case my universal translator goes on the fritz again?”

“You know I would love to – anything to get out of this chair.”

“I hear you.”

Important ship’s business, Lieutenant?” Len could hear Sulu pipe in at the other end of their conversation.

“Tell that acting Captain to mind his own bidness,” Len said, “or I won’t bring him any plants or flowers back.”

Nyota giggled. “You can tell him yourself if you like.”

“Aw hell no, I just like to snark at folks from afar. I’ll see you in Transporter Room 4 in an hour then?”

“I’ll be the one with bells on. Uhura out.”

Len smiled to himself and then went about packing up his field kit – there was no reason to go down to the planet unprepared – he was a doctor and a boy scout.

----

“Doctor Leonard McCoy, it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance,” Doth-ahn Naaamens, Minister of Health of Epsilon IV, said in lightly accented Standard.

Len was relieved not to have to use his translator. “The pleasure is all mine, Your Excellency,” he replied with a genuine smile. The Septí were a beautiful people, tall and graceful, with large eyes of varying shades of blue and green set into angular faces that featured high cheekbones and lush lips. Minister Naaamens wore her lavender hair in an intricate series of braids that were looped around her head, and decorated with colored stones and bits of metal. She was stunningly beautiful, her dark golden skin shining in the speckled sunlight from a nearby window of the research hospital where they were having their first meeting. “I look forward to learning more about your people’s medicine, particularly the reasons you have remained disease-free.”

“We have devoted many, many resources to medicine over the centuries,” Minister Naaamens replied, her face serene. “If our learning can benefit our new Federation allies, we are only too happy to oblige.”

“Guess it wouldn’t hurt your application either, would it, Excellency?” Len nearly winced at his own impertinence – when was he going to learn how to keep his mouth shut?

But Minister Naaamens laughed, an almost musical sound; the humor playing across her features and in her eyes making her seem less otherworldly and somehow relatable. “Come now, these are matters for politicians,” she admonished him, laying a hand on her breastbone. “I myself am merely an old country doctor with a very inflated title.”

Len felt immediately relaxed – he thought he could relate to this woman. “Let’s see how much trouble a pair of old sawbones can get into then, shall we?”

“Sawbones?” she said, mulling the term in her mind. “Is this a surgical reference?”

“A very crude one, Excellency, but I’ll be happy to explain it to you later. I believe a tour of this facility was the first item on the agenda?”

----

The tour took the better part of three hours and was followed by a reception in the rooftop garden of the hospital. McCoy, M’Benga, Uhura, and two security personnel were joined by some researchers that Minister Naaamens had invited along. The sun was beginning to set in the distance, and Len stood near the balustrade taking in the sight. Though they were in the capital city of the northern continent of the planet, this was a people who had integrated nature into their urban spaces, with vast amounts of parkland and greenways scattered throughout the city. The atmosphere was clear and unpolluted, and the building they were on was many stories high, so that McCoy could see well into the distance to suburbs that gave way to rolling hills and the suggestion of a vast forest beyond.

“This place is beautiful,” Nyota said at his elbow, echoing his own sentiments.

“You can say that again – it’s like some sort of modern Eden. There’s virtually no pollution– I know, because I checked with a tricorder. Whatever they’re doing here, they’re doing it right.”

“I can’t wait to see the city – Doctor Buuurek has invited us to dinner at a restaurant in the city center. Will you come, or will you head back to the ship to do boring paperwork?”

He did not miss the friendly rebuke there, but he rose to the bait willingly. “I am not a workaholic, regardless of some people’s opinions on the matter!” She laughed at him. “Fine, yes, I will join you all for dinner.”

She actually clapped her hands delightedly, as if she’d won some great prize.

Thirty minutes later, they all were collecting themselves to set out for their dinner, and Len stopped to bid goodnight to Minister Naaamens, who would not be joining them.

“I will be unable to attend, but I hope you will enjoy our hospitality and our cuisine. I am told it is enjoyable to humans, and very similar to Earth’s.”

“Oh? Who told you that?”

“Why, your Captain Kirk, when I met him some days ago. He and his husband are most charming, though I did not have occasion to speak with them for very long.”

Mention of his friends made something twist in Len’s gut, but he was relieved he wouldn’t have to be the one to bring the subject up with their hosts. “I’m glad you bring them up, because we haven’t really heard from them since we returned to your planet.”

Minister Naaamens frowned. “I was under the impression they were to take a holiday here once their business was concluded.”

“Oh, they were, but to not have heard from them is… a bit unusual.”

“I understand completely, Doctor. I will make the necessary inquiries of my colleagues within the Ministry of External Affairs and inform you just as soon as I know anything.”

“You’re too kind, Excellency.”

----

The restaurant they were taken to was an open-air affair in a city park, and though it was a cool night, a series of heat lamps kept the immediate area where they were seated warm and cozy. Their table was in a semi-private, walled-off garden where night-blooming flowers perfumed the air. Len watched in amusement as a small, cat-like mammal stalked what looked like a moth along the retaining wall.

“This is the most lovely planet I’ve ever been on,” Nyota said, drinking from a glass of a local wine that was a beautiful, deep green, “and I’ve been to Risa twice.”

“It does seem too good to be true,” Len said, taking a glass of wine for himself.

“Ugh, do you have to twist everything around to be a potential threat?”

“What? It’s how I’m made. I’m just twisted.”

They both laughed and joined their party at the table. Nyota suggested their hosts order for them, and while they waited for the food, conversation turned to everyone’s work and other interests.

“Do you have many holidays here?” M’Benga asked Doctor Buuurek towards the end of the meal. “I’m always interested in how other peoples celebrate them. My father was a cultural anthropologist.”

“We have several, some more important than others, just like any other culture,” Doctor Buuurek replied, toying with the stem of his wineglass with long, graceful fingers. Len noticed, not for the first time, that each of his six fingers had an extra phalange, making them much more flexible than a human hand; he wondered what kind of advantage that gave the Septí in a surgical context. He became momentarily distracted by these thoughts, and when he once again picked up the conversation, he found himself a bit lost.

“We have just celebrated one of our most important holidays, actually. Song-paaai tyb-golling, we call it. The translation is something like ‘Children’s Day’ in Standard.”

“Many cultures have a similarly named holiday,” M’Benga said. “What is the significance of yours?”

“It is the celebration of youth, and a time of great joy. There is an outdoor festival held in field in the Yukaa-ai Province north of here to commemorate it. In fact, the festival just concluded – it is a pity you were not here five days ago or you might have seen it. Those who attend choose to wear very elaborate headdresses – the level of creativity is also astounding. Many try to outdo each other and it can be quite amusing. There are contests, even. Of course, there are more prosaic entertainments as well as games and traditional foods and sweets. At the conclusion, those who would do it drink of the Song-paaai Trosta.”

“What’s that for?” Nyota asked.

“It is a ceremonial chalice – many hundreds of years old, and very beautiful, very revered. Those who drink of it are the most honored of the festival, for they are pres-taib – twice blessed.”

“Some sort of good luck, then?”

“Yes,” Doctor Buuurek said with a smile, “that’s right. It is most exciting to be called, it is the reason everyone dresses up in their finery.”

“Sounds a little like Halloween back on Earth,” Len said. “All the children dress up in costumes and go around gathering treats from their neighbors. Last year, my little girl was Alice in Wonderland.”

Doctor Buuurek fixed Len with an intent look. “You have children?”

“Just one – Joanna.” He pulled out his comm and showed the man a photo. “Where I come from, if you ask about someone’s kids, you get stuck looking at loads of pictures. But since we’re only newly acquainted, I’ll only make you look at the one.”

Buuurek took the comm in his hand and gazed at the photo with a wistful expression on his face, almost sorrowful. “It has been… a long time since my own children were so small,” he said, then handed the comm back. “A long time.”

“Well, you’ll have grandkids soon enough, eh?” Len said, pocketing the comm.

Doctor Buuurek quickly changed the subject.

----

The next day, Len and M’Benga were joined by three of their colleagues from aboard the Enterprise – a geneticist, an epidemiologist, and a surgeon – to assist in the study of the Septí, who were very accommodating. Five volunteers – all of them staff at the hospital of varying ages – waited for them in the lab that had been given over for their use, and equipment had already been delivered from onboard the Enterprise. None of the tests were more invasive than taking a blood sample or a full-body scan, and so they made very short work of it.

The day progressed toward afternoon and their analysis was yielding preliminary results when Minister Naaamens entered. Len dropped what he was doing and went to speak with her.

“How goes your research?” she asked with avid interest.

“We’re just getting started, so it’ll be a few hours. Look, I was hoping to also examine one of your children – no one very young, pre-pubescent if possible.”

“I’m afraid that will prove to be difficult. I am sorry to disappoint you, Doctor McCoy.”

“Well, it’d give us a more complete understanding of your people, but if it’s difficult to get parental consent, I understand.”

“Thank you for your understanding,” she replied, but he couldn’t help but notice her grave expression.

“Is something the matter?” Len asked her.

“I find I do not know if I can answer that question, Doctor. You see, I made inquiries with my colleagues at the Ministry of External Affairs as to the whereabouts of your Captain Kirk and Commander Spock, and I’m afraid the news is not good.”

Len felt a pit open up in his gut about the size of one of Jupiter’s moons. “Please tell me everything.”

She indicated a nearby table and both of them took a seat. “I have learned that, seven days ago, Captain Kirk and Commander Spock were present to witness the signing of the Letter of Intent for our planet to join the Federation, as scheduled. Undersecretary Yuuurk, who acted as their liaison, made arrangements for accommodations for them in the Yukaa-ai Province.”

“The Yukaa-ai Province – that’s where that children’s day festival is held, isn’t it?”

She smiled wanly. “That’s right – it is very famous. Yuuurk suggested they attend and then explore the province, as it is our most beautiful and pastoral. Captain Kirk was very enthusiastic to do so.”

“And?”

“They arrived at the hotel, but never returned to it at the festival’s conclusion.”

Len could feel his hands clenching into fists and he closed his eyes to contain his emotions; this was a very important local official, it would not be professional to lose it in her presence. “Seven days ago?” he managed after breathing loudly through his nose for a moment.

“We are most sincerely sorry for this oversight, Doctor –“

“No. No, Excellency, you had no way of…” his voice trailed off as his mind reeled, “no way of knowing the kind of shenanigans those two knuckleheads are capable of. You got any wild, mind-altering plant pollen or space pirates hereabouts? It’s a particular talent of theirs to –“ He literally bit his lip mid-rant; he was too worried about the safety of his friends to let his anger at them delay action. “I apologize.”

“Do not,” Minister Naaamens said, laying a cool hand on his wrist, “your concern for your friends is commendable. You should know that all efforts are being made to determine their whereabouts. If you will be patient, we will find them. People do not just go missing on Epsilon IV.”

The fact she was incensed and so passionate about finding them made Len feel marginally better. But only marginally.

xXxXxXx

Jim woke curled up next to Spock for warmth as he had the last several nights, but this time, the other boy’s arm was slung over him protectively, and the warmth between their bodies and under the blankets was pleasant in the cool air of their cabin hideaway. He wanted to snuggle right up to his friend, like he used to do when he and Sam would share a sleeping bag on camping trips when he was little, but he really, really had to pee.

Easing himself out from under Spock’s arm and the covers, he shivered through pulling his sneakers on, but by the time he got to the door he was beginning to acclimate to the temperature. The sun had not yet risen, and the planet’s moon was waning, so it was hard for Jim to pick his way around the cabin into the woods far enough so he could do his business. When he got back, he noticed a large, shadowy thing in the clearing next to the cabin and stopped short in his tracks. He hadn’t forgotten the large bear-dog-looking creature they’d encountered days ago, whether Spock thought it was fearsome or as tame as his pet sehlat or not, and he wasn’t prepared to try to scare one off if it was. But whatever-it-was was awfully close to their cabin, and he’d left Spock sleeping inside. He’d also left the spear he’d made for fishing the night before inside, and he cursed himself for not thinking to grab it before he left.

Momentarily paralyzed by indecision and not a little fear, Jim was crouched down, considering his options when the creature suddenly seemed to get larger, it’s shadowy limbs – wings? – or something stretched out around it and then it folded in upon itself as it crouched down again. Then it cleared its throat.

“Spock?” Jim called, his voice low and still scratchy from his illness.

“Jim, if you thought your powers of stealth were well-developed, you are mistaken,” came the reply.

Jim walked across the space between them to stand over Spock. “What are you doing out here?”

“I became restless when I woke and discovered you had gone, so I came out here to wait.”

“Oh. Well, do you want to get back to bed? It’s too early to get up,” Jim said with a yawn.

“I wanted to look at the stars,” Spock said. “Early morning can be advantageous for viewing, as there is less atmospheric disturbance. Will you join me?”

“Sure.”

Spock held open the blanket he’d wrapped around himself – that’s what Jim had seen him doing a minute ago when he thought he was a fearsome creature – and Jim sat beside him, pulling his end around them both. He wrapped his right arm around Spock’s left to keep warm and looked up at the sky along with his friend.

“What are we looking for?”

“40 Eridani A. It is the star around which Vulcan orbits.”

“How do you know when you find it?”

“It is part of a triple cluster of stars, and so would be quite distinctive in the sky.”

“Can you see it?”

Spock was silent several moments while his dark eyes took in the sky. “I cannot,” he said slowly, and then looked away, off into the darkness.

Jim watched the side of his face for several minutes, the way the muscles in his jaw worked as he clenched it and as he swallowed. “It’s OK to miss home, you know,” he said to Spock at length. “Logical, even.”

“I –“ Spock paused, apparently unable to speak. “What do you know of logic?”

“Only what you’ve shown me, and I think that missing the place you’re from is natural when you’re scared or far away.”

“Fear is an illogical emotion.”

“So’s crying, but it didn’t stop you when you were taking care of me the other night.”

“I did no such thing. Your fever was clearly high enough to cause hallucinations.”

“I know what I saw.”

“And I know what occurred. Clearly one of us was in his right mind and the other was not.”

Jim pulled away from him. “You take that back!”

“It was an utterance and non-corporeal – it is impossible to ‘take’ it anywhere.”

“I know what I saw,” Jim insisted, “and why are you so hung up on it anyhow?”

Spock straightened his spine and looked down his nose at Jim. “It is not the Vulcan way to allow one’s emotions to overtake one. I do not expect a human to fully comprehend the matter.”

“I comprehend plenty, and it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” Jim retorted. “Guess you’re more human than you like to think you are.”

Spock stood up and let the blanket drop to the ground. He glared at Jim for a moment and then turned away, walking back into the cabin, leaving Jim wondering what the heck had just happened.

xXxXxXx


Chief Medical Officer’s Log, Stardate 2261.158

The disappearance of Captain Kirk and Commander Spock continues to perplex the locals, and ship’s scans of the planet have been inconclusive. The planet security forces are investigating, and acting Captain Sulu and I will be meeting with them tomorrow to learn what their investigation has yielded. With nothing else to do in the meantime and unable to sleep knowing those two dunderheads are out there in the wilderness or worse, I’ve continued with the team analyzing the biological samples we collected from the Septí yesterday. At least it’ll keep my mind occupied.

----

“Doctor McCoy?”

Len looked up from the analysis on the Septí people’s cellular growth rate he was reviewing to see Doctor Fatima Birol, one of the geneticists from Sciences, standing in his doorway. “Doctor Birol, hello,” he said. He glanced at his chrono – it was 0330 ship’s time, and he was still too antsy to sleep. He wasn’t sure if it was a good or bad thing that his colleague seemed to be in the same boat. “Have a seat – can I get you some coffee?”

She took a seat in the chair opposite his desk and nodded. “Sure – black, no sugar.”

“Hardcore,” Bones commented as he dialed up their drinks, “I like it.” He himself took it light and sweet, but he admired anyone who could stand it black. “Now to what do I owe the pleasure?” he asked as he handed her a steaming cup and sat back down.

“I sent you a supplemental genetic analysis before I came down here – did you have a chance to have a look?”

“I did not,” he said and launched his email. He clicked on the attachment she sent and had a look. “What am I looking at here – it’s not Septí.” He knew this because he’d been studying their genetic makeup earlier in the evening.

“No, it’s not. It’s from one of those little cat-like animals that were all over the place – what did they call them?” Len shrugged. “Anyway, my daughter loves cats, so I collect DNA samples. Call it a hobby.”

“Strange hobby.”

“But prescient this time. Take a look at the mitochondrial markers.”

Len did as she suggested, then flipped his screen to take a look at the one of the Septí women he’d been looking at earlier. His eyebrow went up. “Am I seeing what I think I’m seeing?” he asked.

“I ran the sequence twice,” Fatima replied. “Weird, huh?”

“To quote a friend of ours: ‘fascinating,’” he replied.

----

Len was early for his appointment with Minister Naaamens the following morning, and sat waiting outside her office fiddling with the PADD he’d brought along with the reports that added up to a whole lot of crazy.

“Doctor McCoy, what a pleasure it is to see you,” she said with a smile and warmth that was genuine.

“Same here, Excellency,” he said truthfully.

“Doctor, if you don’t think it impertinent of me, I would like it if you would address me by my given name when we are alone. ‘Excellency’ is just too formal for me. Do you mind?”

“Only if you call me ‘Len,’ Doth-ahn,” he replied.

She beamed at him, blue-green eyes twinkling. “Now, I understand that you have preliminary results you would like to present to me?”

“I’m afraid I have more questions than answers, Doth-ahn.” He glanced down at the PADD – he hadn’t activated it, but the gesture helped to center him. “How long have you been here?”

“In the city? I grew up here.”

“You misunderstand me. How long have the Septí people been on Epsilon IV? Because it’s clear to me you are not native to this planet.”

The smile left her face to be replaced by a carefully neutral expression. “Is it clear?”

“When comparing the mitochondrial DNA sequences of the Septí people with that of other creatures we’ve observed, it becomes clear…” he fired up his PADD in order to show her; he knew she was a scientist and, even if this wasn’t her area of expertise, she’d be able to follow along.

“We have been here for just over four of our centuries,” she interrupted.

“Really?” He sat back in the chair he was in, letting the PADD rest in his lap. “Then I suppose you also know about the cell regeneration your people experience –“

“Yes, Len. The reason we do not fall victim to disease is the simple fact that our bodies do not allow it. We do not know why – it has been this way since we colonized the planet – but whatever it is, it has also rendered my people infertile.”

“That’s why you wouldn’t let us examine a child – you don’t have any.”

“Correct. I and a few dozen others were the last generation of children born to the Septí people. You see, hundreds of years ago, we lived on a planet we called Septí iil, five lightyears from here. We were a foolish and vain race then, exploiting our planet’s resources and polluting it – and ourselves – until we were on the verge of extinction. And one day, a group of forward thinking scientists decided to do something about it. They sent ships out on exploratory missions, to find planets capable of sustaining us, and they found this one. We moved here, but it was at great cost. Whether it was the pollutants or the chemical weapons used during our last wars, we learned shortly after we got here that we could no longer produce children. But when it also became clear that we would not die, it became an easier burden to bear.’

“But no children-“ Len was speechless – he couldn’t imagine his life without his beloved daughter in it.

“A grave sacrifice, yes. You do not understand the depth of pain you would experience from the absence of something until it is truly gone,” she said sadly. “It is the origin of our Children’s Day festival, actually. We use that time to reflect on the meaning of childhood to all of us, and to remember it. That is why we partake of the Song-paaai Trosta.”

“The Song-paaai Trosta? What is it again?”

“It contains a liqueur distilled from the O-orabi nuts that are indigenous to the planet. At high concentrations, they produce a psychoactive effect, causing whoever imbibes to regress to their childhood. For one day, those who take it can relive that time, the happiness and the innocence. We embrace this, because if we cannot have children of our own, at least we can relive that joy, remember it. Do you see, Len?”

“I think I do. But why did you allow us to study your medical practices if you knew this all along? There would likely have been no impediment to your entry in the Federation. Why this subterfuge?”

“Can you not guess?” she asked with a sad smile.

“You hope we can find you a cure.”

“Yes. You see, we may not appear to age, but we do, very slowly. And eventually, we will die out. Some of those who were our elders already have.”

“That’s a tall order, Doth-ahn.”

“One I think you are up to.”

“Well, I’ve pulled more dramatic saves out of my butt in my career,” he commented wryly, mentally lining up the kinds of resources from on board the Enterprise that he might need to study the problem.

They were interrupted by a knock on the door, and the entry of a man that Len had not met before. He was shorter than many of the Septí Len had encountered, but more powerfully built, with golden hair pulled back into a single braid at the back of his neck.

Doth-ahn stood to greet him. “Yuuurk, what brings you here – has the search for the Starfleet officers yielded anything?”

Len’s ears perked up and he stood as well.

“Yuuurk is in charge of our Security forces, and was liaison to your Captain Kirk and Commander Spock,” Doth-ahn explained.

“Please tell me you’ve found them?” Len said.

“We have not, Doctor. But we think we know where to search.” He crossed over to a computer terminal built into the far wall and accessed what looked like some sort of security footage. “This footage was captured from a pair of agribots on a farm in Yukaa-ai province five days ago.” He pressed play and, though the footage was grainy and low-res, Len saw onscreen two people who were clearly Jim and Spock – alive, well, and…

“Are they digging? In a field?” Len asked incredulously.

“It would appear so. The farm grows llandra, a staple crop here on Epsilon IV. When the ‘bots approached the Starfleet officers, they fled, as you see.”

Len’s eyes were almost bugging out of his head watching Spock address the ‘bot with the ta’al and Jim pulling him away. “Where is this place anyway?”

“It is very near to where the Children’s Day Festival is held each year,” Doth-ahn replied.

“But what would make them just wander around the countryside instead of heading back to their hotel and their nice, warm beds?”

Len noticed Doth-Ahn and Yuuurk exchange a look. “What?”

“There is a possibility that your friends partook of the Song-paaai Trosta during the festival,” Yuuurk replied.

“Ah jeez,” Len groaned, pinching the bridge of his nose with his fingers. “What would the big deal be then? They’d act a fool for a few hours, right? Not that that would be all that unusual…”

“There is a side effect to the liqueur I have not explained,” Doth-Ahn said. “When those who take it regress in age, they have no memory of their former lives. They think they are the age they regress to, and only retain their memories up to that point.”

Len stopped his mouth from falling all the way open, but just barely. “You mean they’re out there in the wilderness, alone, with no idea who they are, and they think they’re a couple of kids?!?”

“Essentially.”

“Aw, hell’s bells!” Len exclaimed as the two Septí literally jumped.

xXxXxXx

“Your insistence on observing this unimportant practice is illogical and is delaying our journey,” Spock said.

Jim gave him a stern look. “It’s only polite to leave a thank you note for the people whose cabin this is,” he told the Vulcan, then turned his attention back to the note he had been leaving on a disused cookie wrapper with a writing stylus he found that resembled an old-fashioned ballpoint pen. “Anyway, for someone who always knows everything, I’d think this would be something you’d insist on.”

“’Appreciation’ has two Ps.”

Jim rolled his eyes, finished writing, then squashed a second P between the first one and the R. He left it on the pillow on the bed, the sheets of which he’d changed – even though he didn’t know where to wash them, so he’d left them in a neat pile in the kitchen. He bent over and hefted the cloth sack he’d also found – packed with filled water bottles, extra food, a portable fire lighter, and a small blanket – onto his back, then lifted the spear he’d made the day for fishing. Spock did the same with a similarly filled sack, and they took their leave.

“Goodbye, cabin,” Jim said with a small wave as they set off towards the stream again. “You probably saved my life.”

Spock huffed next to him but didn’t say anything.

Helped save my life,” Jim amended, and increased his speed to catch up with Spock. The Vulcan had been testy all morning, ever since stalking off over their argument earlier, and Jim had tried to be his usual easy-going self, but it was getting hard.

They walked for the first hour in silence. In the second hour, Jim began singing nursery rhymes just to fill the void, though that got old after 30 minutes. Fifteen minutes later, he couldn’t stand it and began chattering.

“Hey Spock, what’s the first thing you’re gonna do when you get home?”

“There are no assurances we will ever get home,” Spock intoned.

“You know why I like you? Your cheery personality.”

When Spock gave him a dark look, Jim returned it with an expectant one, and Spock was forced to answer, “I expect I will return to my studies.”

“School? That’s what you’re looking forward to when you get home?”

“The fervent pursuit of an education is the duty of every child in an evolved society.”

“Not where I’m from,” Jim said.

“Yes,” Spock agreed.

Jim refused to take the bait. “The first thing I’m gonna do is have a cheeseburger. No, the first thing I’m gonna do is hug my mom, then have a cheeseburger. No, hug my mom, take a hot shower, then have a cheeseburger. In that order.”

“At least you know your mind,” Spock remarked blandly.

Jim scowled and they walked on in silence for another half hour. Eventually, Jim was unable to keep his anger and frustration with Spock to himself. “You know, Spock, I dunno what’s bothering you, but you’re being awful mean. I thought we were friends?”

“Friendships are illogical.”

“Everything’s illogical to you!”

“Where humans are involved, that can be no surprise.”

“You know, I’m getting kinda sick of you saying bad things about us humans. You’re half human, don’t forget.”

“I fail to see how the facts of my heritage would disappear from my awareness.”

“What are you then, ashamed of it?”

Spock stopped walking abruptly and glared at Jim. “I am not ashamed. However, I long ago accepted the deficiencies my human half has brought to my character, and daily strive to overcome them. The effort taxes me more than anything else, and it is a situation you could never understand.”

Jim was surprised by the vehemence of Spock’s words, and their content upset him. “I think you are ashamed,” he said in a soft voice. “I think you wish you weren't half human. Doesn’t that hurt your mom’s feelings?”

Spock narrowed his eyes and his face went pale. “What did you say about my mother?”

“I think it would make her very sad to know you hate being human like her.”

Jim should have seen it coming – he certainly knew Spock was pissed off – but it was still a shock when the Vulcan launched himself at Jim with a roar, tackling him to the ground and knocking the wind out of him. As Jim struggled to breathe, Spock was on top of him, grabbing him by the shirt, his hands pulling the fabric taut. Jim struggled to get his breath back, but the angry Vulcan on top of him made it difficult.

“Spock!” he wheezed, batting at the other’s arms with his hands, and kicking at his back with his knees. “Stop it!” He struggled some more, but he just couldn’t catch his breath. Finally, he gasped, “Spock… I’m your… friend!”

He wasn’t sure if that was what did it, but something came over Spock’s face then, and he practically jumped off of Jim. Jim lay on his back, coughing and gasping. When he finally sat up and looked up at Spock, the other boy’s cheeks and ears were tinged a bright green.

“I have harmed you,” Spock said, his voice high and tight; Jim thought he might cry.

“I made you mad on purpose.”

“It is inexcusable.”

“I’ll be fine.”

It is inexcusable.” With that, Spock turned and ran away downstream before Jim could say anything else.

Jim sat up, removed his pack, and got a drink of water from one of the containers they’d borrowed from the cabin. He picked up his spear, relieved when he saw that the fight with Spock hadn’t broken it. He got to his feet and brushed himself off. Not too far away was a large, rocky outcropping, and he went to sit down on it. He figured he’d wait here for Spock to cool off and come back so that they could be on their way again. Spock thought they might find a town pretty soon – within a day or two – and they couldn’t afford to waste time.

Jim sat back on a boulder with his hands resting behind him and tilted his head back to look at the sky. It was as pink as it ever was, the fluttery canopy of the not-walnut trees casting dappled shadows across his face. Far overhead, a flock of some kind of birds flew by and he could hear their calls. They reminded him of Canada geese, except their calls were more musical than honking.

He sighed. He’d really messed it up with Spock and he knew it. Sure, he’d known the Vulcan was on edge ever since their stargazing that morning – not that Jim could understand why, exactly, but he’d pushed Spock, been extra annoying on purpose, and here he was. But what Spock had said, and the way he said it – it really did make Jim sad to think that Spock hated something about himself he could neither help nor do anything about. From where Jim sat, it was pretty cool that Spock was half-and-half; it made him unique, and special. It also made Jim think about Spock’s mom and the adventure she must have been on to wind up on Vulcan, which sounded so much different than Earth. She must have had to be pretty brave, because if the rest of the Vulcans were as uptight as Spock seemed when Jim first met him, she sure had her work cut out for her. For Spock to hate his human half must make her very sad, and Jim knew too much about sad moms not to have said anything.

He thought he should tell Spock to tell his mom he loved her. Once he apologized to him for bringing it up and making him mad.

A light breeze behind him cooled the sweat on Jim’s back and made him shiver. He reckoned it’d been long enough for Spock to cool off, and so he trained his eyes downstream to watch for the other boy’s return. When he did not see him for several more minutes, Jim decided to go and look for him. If Spock was so mad that he’d leave Jim behind, Jim didn’t want to give him too much of a head start – that Vulcan could walk really fast. Jim slung the bag he carried over his shoulder and set off, swinging his spear along like a walking stick and humming softly to himself.

He was almost on top of the bear-dog thing before he realized it, his sneakers practically sliding in the leaf litter as he came to an abrupt stop.

Jim’s mouth went dry as the creature turned its head and looked at him; he was close enough to see its black nose was wet and glistening in the sunlight as it sniffed the air. This one was a lot bigger than the one he and Spock had seen days ago, probably by at least half, and came up to Jim’s chest. Compared to this one, the one they’d seen before was probably an adolescent, and if these animals were like the bears Jim had seen in holovids, if they could stand up on their back legs, this one would tower over him.

Jim took a slow step backwards; the bear-dog stepped forward, and Jim could see its lips curl in a silent growl. He swallowed nervously, his hands fisting reflexively, which was when he remembered he was carrying a spear. Hefting it up in his right hand, he anchored it under his armpit and pointed it at the beast. “Stay back,” he said, not so much commanding it as begging it not to do anything. The animal took another step forward, then another.

“WAAAAIIIHOOOO!”

Jim heard Spock’s shout come from somewhere behind the animal, and both of them looked up in shock.

“Spock! No!” Jim called.

“Shoo! You will leave us at once!” Spock commanded, advancing on the animal. Jim could see its hackles rise and bristle.

Suddenly, with a loud roar, the bear-dog rounded on Spock and charged him. Spock brought his hands up to fend it off, but the thing’s jaws sank into his left forearm. Spock screamed, falling onto his back. As he did, he brought his legs up and pushed them out, rolling back and kicking the animal off of him. He kept going and rolled to his feet, but the animal was shockingly fast despite its size, and gave him almost no time to prepare for its next attack. This time, just like the holovid bears Jim had seen back home, it stood on its back legs and swiped at Spock with one great paw.

“Spock!” Jim screamed as Spock’s head whipped to the side from the tremendous force of the blow.

Spock went down; the animal was on him in under a second, sinking its jaws into Spock’s shoulder. Spock screamed in agony. Jim hefted up his spear and charged.

The animal was about a million times bigger and stronger than Jim, but he didn’t care. His spear glanced off its thickly furred flank the first time he charged at it, then it rose on its hind legs again with a roar and swiped at Jim’s head. He was ready, though, and ducked beneath it, stabbing the spear up as he did and feeling it slide home in the soft flesh under the thing’s arm. The bear-dog howled in agony and rolled away, taking the spear with it, wrenching Jim’s arms painfully. Jim could see the spear splinter and fall out, the animal’s blood flowing red and thick into the lighter brown fur of its underside. Jim stood, his hands up and ready for a fight as the bear-dog shook its head, limped a bit to the side, turned its head towards Jim and roared. It advanced again, rearing back, and Jim could see the whites of its eyes as it looked down on him, crazed by rage and pain. It pulled its paw back again, claws glistening green with Spock’s blood, and Jim didn’t even have time to think about what he’d do next –

Suddenly, the animal’s entire body shuddered as something hit it, hard, from behind. It fell forward on all fours again. Another blast and a flash of light – Jim thought it must be a phaser – hit it square in the side, sending it to the ground with a crash; it didn’t get up again.

Jim looked up with widened eyes as a man in a red Starfleet tunic began to run towards him, shouting something Jim didn’t hear. He ignored him, turning around and running to Spock instead.

“Spock!” Jim screamed, falling to his knees beside his friend. He pulled him into his lap like Spock had done for him when he was sick. “Spock,” he said again, and his friend’s eyes fluttered open. His face and neck was slick with green blood that flowed freely from the injuries inflicted by the animal. “Spock,” Jim sobbed, hands hovering over his friend’s face but afraid to touch him, afraid he’d make it worse.

Spock’s mouth moved as he tried to speak, but Jim could see that his jaw was dislocated and mangled, hanging at an odd angle. “No, Spock, noooo,” Jim wept, resting impotent hands on his friend’s hair and hip and lowering his head as the tears flowed hot from his eyes.

“Jim!” another voice was saying, but Jim ignored it. Then strong hands were pulling on his shoulders. “Let me see him, Jim,” said the voice and Jim looked up to see a tall man crouched beside him with a black bag of some sort. “God, you don’t even recognize me, do ya? I’m a doctor, let me help him.”

At the sound of the word “doctor,” Jim sat back and let the man ease Spock to the ground. As the doctor waved a tricorder over him to evaluate Spock’s injuries, Jim sniffled. “Is – is he gonna die, Mister?” he asked, his voice catching on the last word.

The hard expression in the doctor’s brown eyes softened as he looked at Jim. “No,” he said with a soft voice. “No, he’s going to be just fine, son, but we need to get him to the medical bay.”

Jim wanted to believe him, so he nodded, and Spock looked up at Jim with eyes clouded with pain. “I’m sorry, Spock, this is all my fault,” Jim whined.

Spock’s hand inched along the ground toward him and Jim took it; when he felt Spock squeeze it, he knew he was forgiven.

“McCoy to Enterprise. Three to beam directly to sickbay.”

xXxXxXx


Chief Medical Officer’s Log, Stardate 2261.160

Captain Kirk and Commander Spock have been safely retrieved and are resting comfortably. The Commander’s injuries, were serious, but we arrived just in time, and he came through his surgeries with no complications; he remains in a self-induced healing trance in sickbay. The substance that caused their mental age regression seems to have metabolized out of Captain Kirk’s system, and he too should make a full recovery. The Captain has full memory of the events that transpired and I find I can’t wait to hear about it – once the Commander has awakened, naturally.

----

“Bones! To what do I owe the pleasure?” Jim said as Len entered his quarters. He eyed the bag Len carried slung over his shoulder uneasily.

“Just checking in,” Len said, laying the bag down and pulling his medical tricorder out of it. He held it up and began scanning his best friend.

“I feel fine,” Jim protested. “You can feel free to clear me for duty anytime now.”

Len gave him his patented Exasperated Expression #16. “Only yesterday Scotty caught you scootering around Engineering with Keenser – you’ll excuse me if I want to delay any decision about your suitability to command for another day or so.”

“Aw, come on, Bones,” Jim pouted, “I haven’t had the urge to pull pigtails in at least twelve hours.”

“Whatever. Your husband should be coming out of it anytime now. I thought you might want to spend a little time with him.”

Jim’s demeanor immediately changed. “He’s going to be OK, right? That drug or whatever it was has left his system?”

“Took a little longer with his Vulcan metabolism, but yeah, I found no traces of it in his system this morning.”

“Good. As much fun as it was to relive certain aspects of my own childhood, Spock as a kid was kind of a pain in the ass.”

Len snorted. “Remind me to tell you the one about the pot and the kettle.”

“He saved my life, though,” Jim went on, ignoring him.

“You saved his too, if I recall.”

“Guess that’s what spouses are for.”

“No, spouses are for cuddlin’ and lovin’, not trekking across unknown planets with.”

“To each his own, Bones. At least we finally got that honeymoon in, eh?”

“I think Spock might have a different opinion on that.”

“So, any clue what it was we drank? I just thought it would make us a little less inhibited, not do what it did.”

“Speaking of that – you ought to know better than to drink random alien substances, Jim.”

“It was all in the name of diplomacy!”

“Is that how you talked Spock into it?” When Jim only grinned at him, Len sighed. “The stuff is a highly concentrated extract from a tree nut indigenous to the planet. The Septí metabolize it out of their systems in a little over 5 hours, but you two seemed to have found an interesting affinity for it.”

“Tree nut?”

“Yeah, Minister Naaamens showed me one – looks like a really large walnut.”

Jim’s eyes widened. “Jeez, those were one of the few things we could find to eat!”

“That’d explain why you two stayed regressed for so long – your continued exposure just kept you going.”

“Weird.”

“Not as weird as the other things I found out about that planet.” Len went on to explain to Jim about the Septí people’s origins and reproductive predicament. “They want our help finding out why they can’t have babies.”

“Think you can?”

“I know I can – I just don’t know if they want to hear the recommendation.”

“Why? What’d you find?”

Len sighed; these things were never easy. “The reason the Septí can’t reproduce is the same reason they don’t ever get sick – it’s a problem at the cellular level. But here’s the kicker – the cause of it wasn’t anything they did to themselves, it’s Epsilon IV itself.”

“What, is it some sort of fountain of youth?”

Len nodded. “More or less. We’ve narrowed it down to two or three compounds, so it’ll take some refining, but whatever it is is in the soil, the water, everywhere. That planet is keeping them all young.”

“Don’t let that get out,” Jim said ruefully. “People will be coming from lightyears around.”

“The place doesn’t restore youth, it just prolongs it. I dunno if it’d be anything I’d want if it meant there’d be no children around.”

“Aw, didn’t know you had such an affinity for rugrats, Bones,” Jim said with a smile. “If I had, I might have acted up a bit more the last few days.”

“The difference in your behavior when you thought you were a kid compared to usual is negligible.”

“Laugh it up, old man.”

“I wish I could – I’ve got to head down to the planet in a little while and let them know my findings. The Septí have got some big decisions to make – try to find a way to block the effects of the planet, which is unlikely, or leave it entirely. I don’t envy them their decision.”
“Neither do I. Do you want any help breaking the news?”

“Nah – I want to see this through myself.”

Jim slapped him on the shoulder. “Good man.”

xXxXxXx

“I almost lost you.”

“And I you.”

“Promise me you’ll never try to take on a grizzly bear ever again.”

“That I can never do – it was about to attack you.”

Jim and Spock lay on their sides in Spock’s biobed in sickbay, the privacy screen engaged, and facing each other. Jim had his hands fisted in Spock’s hospital gown, and Spock’s hands were cupped around them; he found this position just as comforting now as it had been on the planet.

“I totally had him where I wanted him. How much do you remember?” Jim asked.

“I have total recall of the events that transpired.”

“It was quite the little adventure, wasn't it? It was so weird that we didn’t know each other.”

“And yet we came to rely on and trust one another.”

Jim pulled on Spock’s shirt, urging him closer, and lay his head on his shoulder. “I’m sorry if I hurt you,” he said against his husband’s neck, his lips barely touching the warm skin. “I know how you feel about your mother, Spock. I know how much you love her.”

“No apology is necessary. It would not be inaccurate to say that I was, at that age, so self-conscious of my mixed heritage as to approach shame. I am not proud to admit it, but the prejudice I experienced as a youth adversely affected my sense of self, and prolonged my reluctance to accept that which you find so unique in me. It was a form of self-loathing that unfortunately persisted well into my adulthood. You were right to ‘call me on it’ as you might say.”

“Still, there I was accusing you of not being able to honor your mother again. I hope you don’t think it’s a thing with me.”

“I could not – I know better. Your presence in my life serves to enhance the humanity in me, Jim, and for that I will be eternally grateful.”

Jim pulled back and looked into Spock’s eyes; of course he knew what Spock said was true – he could both see it in his love’s eyes as well as feel it through their bond. Still, he wouldn’t mind hearing it. “You mean that?”

"You are my t'hy'la," Spock said simply, and that was all Jim needed to hear.

----

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