As expected, the rest of the cave system yielded no further results. The few passages that they still had to traverse were almost immediate dead-ends, and suddenly discussing clearing the cave-in was no longer a matter of ‘should we?’ but a matter of ‘how?’
It was times like these Jim liked to remind Spock that he was an engineer, and times like these he was reminded of just how smart Spock himself was. They took some cord from the engines in the busted shell of the old shuttle, enough for about a quarter mile. Then, using some scraps that were unfit for space travel but perfect for a wheelbarrow, they made a kind of makeshift mining cart to run along the cord. It was not perfect, but it would save them time.
It had been genius of Spock to suggest using the old phasers as welding implements. Their degraded power was such that they would likely never function again as phasers, but with a low-level beam they could crudely solder metals together. It made for ugly work, but functional.
Spock did the math-- clearing the caves would take months. Three and a half to be exact, and that’s if they also spent the warmth of the day inside the tunnel. Jim wasn’t too keen on that, as he had been attempting to maintain their food stores and he needed sunshine to survive, but Spock seemed perfectly content with the arrangement. Jim did figure that, as long as they still ate, they would be all right.
So they spent those first few days breaking up rocks with the laser cutter, which they amped up with a bit of borrowed power from one of the phasers. Then, Spock would load up the cart, push it down the cord to Jim, Jim would unload it and they’d do it all over again. When the pile of rocks at Jim’s location got to be too much, they’d flip the cord around, carting those stones farther toward the cavern of the volcano where there was more room to store them. It took forever, and it was exhausting work, but Spock did most of the walking. The nights that they had worn themselves down and physically couldn’t lift another rock, they would forgo the work. Urgency falling behind whatever this was-- comfort, maybe, simplicity.
Jim whittled a lot, his personal project coming together piece by piece. Spock continuously questioned him about it, but Jim insisted that Spock hadn’t yet told him enough to warrant that information exchange he’d discussed. He hid the finished pieces in their emergency kit, hoping Spock wouldn’t find them, even though he had a feeling Spock wouldn’t recognize what it was just by sight.
So when he finished, one of those nights his leg just couldn’t take it and Spock had graciously offered to cook their evening’s food, he decided he’d been withholding long enough.
“So,” he said as Spock served him his meal of mushrooms, roots and jerky, cradled in a leaf. Jim set down his knife and the final piece, gratefully taking the food. “Are you ready to find out what I’ve been working on?”
“With the time and attention you have devoted to it, as well as the secrecy you have ascribed to it, I have come to assume that it is a miracle solution to our predicament .”
Jim laughed, assuming that had been a joke. “Not hardly,” he said, slurping a salty mushroom through his lips and smiling around the bulge in his cheeks. Spock gave him an indulgent look as Jim swallowed.
“May I assume that your question insinuates you are about to finally reveal your work?”
“You may,” Jim said, setting his food aside and getting up to dig through the emergency kit. “It’s not a ‘miracle solution,’ but I have a strong feeling it’s going to make it easier to stay here as long as we have to.”
He grabbed a couple handfuls of his small wooden carvings, then came to sit beside Spock by the fire. It would be easier to show them to Spock if he were close, he told himself, at least in this dim light. The fact that Spock was warm and smelled like sand and salt was no motivation whatsoever.
“Voila,” he said triumphantly, holding out his hands, in which lay a few crudely carved chess pieces. He’d used the thick, rough bark to craft the white pieces, and the darker trees’ core to carve the black. It had taken forever, but now (a little more than five months in, according to the tick marks on the wall), it was done. The only thing missing was the board.
Spock plucked one of the pawns from his palm, holding it up to examine it. “You may need to explain the significance of these figures.”
“Haven’t you ever seen a chess set?”
Spock’s mouth turned into a little ‘o’ of understanding, and he set the piece back in Jim’s hand. “Ah, these do bear a crude resemblance to the chess sets I have encountered.”
Jim narrowed his eyes, but he could tell by the slight smile at the corners of Spock’s lips that Spock was teasing him, so it was without malice.
“I’d like to see you do better,” Jim teased right back, shoving Spock slightly to try to offset the Vulcan’s balance. It never worked, but it was worth a try.
“Woodworking is not my forte,” Spock replied, and Jim laughed.
“Nor mine, clearly, but at least you can tell which piece is which. Want to play?”
Spock looked back to the pieces in Jim’s hands, mulling it over. “It would be a waste if I were to decline,” he conceded, and Jim smiled brightly.
“That’s right it would. It’s not like I have another partner waiting in the wings,” he laughed.
Spock nodded, “Nor do I have another occupation which currently requires my time, at least nothing I can accomplish at the moment.”
“You know, Spock, it doesn’t do much for a man’s ego when you tell him you have nothing better to do than spend time with him.” Jim said with a chuckle as he scooted back. With the flat of his hand, he smoothed out the ground between them and began to trace a square in the dirt with his fingers.
“I believe, Jim, that we spend a great deal of time together as it stands. Playing chess will not increase or decrease that time.”
“But it will be fun,” Jim said, outlining the squares and digging into the ground to make the darker ones.
“I will take your word for that, as I have never played.”
Jim raised an eyebrow at him. “You, Spock? You haven’t played the greatest game of strategy in the galaxy?”
“In fact I have played Kal-toh, the greatest game of strategy in the galaxy; I have simply not played chess.”
Jim twisted his lips in a wry grin. “I’m assuming Kal-toh is Vulcan chess?”
“Kal-toh is quite a bit more sophisticated than chess.” Spock must have noticed Jim trying not to grin at that.
“Of course, right,” Jim said, “wouldn’t do for anything Vulcan to be unsophisticated, even tic-tac-toe.”
“Kal-toh,” Spock corrected. “I will teach you someday if you would like.”
Still in playful banter mode, it took him a moment to realize the sincerity of that offer. When it hit him, he felt a spark of happiness ignite in his chest. He took a moment to regard Spock, eyes softened. “I’d really like that,” he said. “I’ll whittle you the pieces. After I teach you chess, of course.”
“As the pieces are magnetic, I doubt they can be whittled. However, I will procure a set when we return to our own time.”
Jim felt something in him tighten, a stutter of giddy disbelief making him fumble a little over his task of tracing the board. Spock seldom spoke so optimistically, nor did he ever insinuate that this strange friendship could continue if they ever returned. It felt validating in some way.
Spock’s eyes were alight when Jim next looked toward him, the fire glinting in them and making them warm, inviting, the way they often were anymore. Jim didn’t know if Spock had become more free with his expressions, less stony over the months, or if Jim just saw more in him than he had before. But with his steadily growing hair tied back in a small, loose ponytail and the zipper of his jumpsuit pulled down just slightly-- with his partly-lidded eyes and the gentle curve of his lips-- he looked comfortable, more real than the statuesque vision of a Vulcan he had been when they crashed. Somehow, it made him even more attractive.
Sometimes, Jim told himself that this feeling-- that visceral, physical ache he sometimes felt when looking at Spock-- was just the result of exposure and proximity. He was growing attached because Spock was the only other person he would see, likely for years, and feeling this way about him was some kind of defense mechanism. His mind’s way of saying ‘hold on tight because this is all you have.’
But times like these, when their eyes lingered together for just a little longer than normal, Jim truly believed that it was just Spock. And if their eyes were meeting over a table in a crowded rec room rather than a fire in an empty cave on an empty planet, it would feel the same.
Ah, Jim , he reprimanded himself as he turned back to his task and set the pieces up, a quiet contentment between them. You can like Spock, but please do not like Spock. Do not complicate things. Do not…
“Are you quite well, Jim?” Spock asked, maybe noticing Jim’s internal distress.
Jim just gave him a small smile, hoping to mask the thoughts that had pushed themselves to the front of his mind again. “Better than ever since I’m about to beat a Vulcan at a game of logic.”
Spock raised an eyebrow. “A challenge?”
“Yes, Mister Spock, a challenge. You’re looking at the president and champion of the Riverside Elementary, Middle and High School chess clubs.”
“Then I won’t ‘go easy’ on you,” Spock promised.
“Big words, Spock,” Jim said, laughing. “Let’s see if you can back that up.”
Jim didn’t know how long they played that night, nor did he remember how many times he beat Spock before Spock started picking up on his strategy.
All he knew was that with each checkmate, each resetting of the board, and each gentle look Spock laid on him, things were starting to get easier. The world felt a little safer, a little more normal. Comfortable.
It had been a long time since Spock had felt any true sense of urgency. Looking at the sensors now, he felt it speeding his heart rate, causing his blood to run cold. He was grateful in that moment they had decided to spend the day outside, continue planning the construction of the shuttle to give themselves a break from the manual labor of clearing the cave.
It had been a feeling, nothing more, that had caused him to turn on the shuttle’s sensors. As they’d worked, the hair on his arms had begun to stand up, which usually heralded a very particular weather occurrence.
Jim must have dropped whatever he was doing the second he heard Spock’s voice, because in a moment he was at his side, leaning over the back of his seat, fingertips leaving imprints in the dust. “What, what’s happening?” he asked, voice harsh with immediacy.
Spock leaned back to give Jim a better view of the screen, where a readout was scanning the planet’s atmosphere. It blinked a steady warning.
“Ion disturbance?” Jim’s voice smacked of disbelief. “We’ve been on this planet for five and a half months and there hasn’t been a single ion storm!”
“Barring the one that stranded us,” Spock confirmed, leaning forward to calibrate the sensors. “If this is a prelude to a storm, which it seems to be, we can study it and, perhaps, find out what went wrong.”
Jim slapped Spock hard on the back, and Spock could feel the excitement radiating off of him. “This is amazing. All right. We’re going to have to boost power if we want to scan anything-- there’s going to be a lot of interference here soon.”
Spock nodded his agreement. “Indeed. I recommend using whatever equipment we can sacrifice to strengthen sensors.”
Jim straightened and ran a hand through his hair. Spock turned to him, his own mind running down a list of possibilities. They could not in good conscience dismantle any of their medical equipment, not when they could suffer injury at any moment. For that matter, the power they would receive would be negligible.
“We can’t use the medical equipment.” Jim echoed Spock’s thoughts and took a seat at the pilot's console. “Or the phasers. We’ll need them.”
Spock nodded. “Nor do we have time to assemble a solar panel. Even if we did, it would not have time to charge before the storm.”
Jim steepled his hands and rested his chin against them, eyes tight. “Right.”
They were quiet for a moment, and Spock went over their scant resources, considering and dismissing everything except-- “The nacelle,” he said suddenly, and Jim lifted his head. “The warp nacelle at the other crash site. The other is missing, but that one may yet hold enough power--”
Jim jumped to his feet, then glanced again at Spock’s screen. “How much time do we have before the storm starts in full force?”
Spock pivoted in his chair, quickly manipulating the display. “5.68 standard hours,” he said, the reality of it sinking in. They would have to retrieve the nacelle, strip it down, remove the power cells that operated the plasma conduits, avoid any dangerous materials and somehow safely connect the power cells to the shuttle’s auxiliary. It would be a task, and they were already physically exhausted.
But it was the only chance that had yet been presented to study the cause of their crash beyond the shuttle’s recordings.
“We can do it,” Jim said, the confidence of his voice pulling Spock into the present moment. Spock met his eyes. “We can do it. Spock, we can’t pass this up.”
“Will you be able to manage the walk? With the power cell’s weight--”
Jim smiled, something that could have been considered cocky if Spock did not know Jim as well as he did.
“I can manage whatever this planet has to throw at me.”
Spock nodded and stood. “Then we should hurry.”
They did hurry as best they could. Three miles to the crash site took longer than either of them liked, then using only the laser cutter, it had taken hours to dismantle the nacelle and extract the power compartment, a thick, heavy, three-foot-long black box that weighed a good hundred pounds.
They’d hardly spoken but to coordinate their efforts, dragging the compartment out of the nacelle and getting the best hold on it they could manage. Were it less awkward in size, Spock could have carried it himself, but he had to admit that he needed Jim’s help. The thought did not sit well with him.
Spock could see Jim’s face wracked with pain, his leg stiffly dragging as they carted the compartment back to the site of their own crash. The sky above them had darkened steadily as the ion storm kicked up, and now it was laced with flashing light. Though there was little danger of rain during an ion storm, the possibility of lightning still existed, so Spock kept an eye on the skies. It was one way to stop himself from insisting they rest for Jim’s sake.
Jim was correct. They could not pass this up.
When they did return to the shuttle and finally drop their burden onto the sand, Jim’s chest heaved with labored breaths. Three hours had already passed, but the hardest part was yet to come. Spock stared dubiously at the sky before his eyes fell on his companion, slumped against the cool metal of the craft.
“Jim, please sit. I will--”
“Spock,” Jim said, frustration making the single syllable of his name harsh and cold. “I can do this.”
Spock thinned his lips, but nodded, kneeling to extract the connecting cords from the compartment. The nacelle had not been damaged in the crash, but the cords were clearly aged. It was simply a blessing that they had not been exposed to the elements. They looked as though they would still function.
As Spock dragged the cell bodily toward the shuttle’s fore, he heard Jim hammering open the forward compartment. This was a more direct, if impermanent, access point to auxiliary power.
It took a great deal of time to connect the cables. They had to power down and unplug nonessential functions from the shuttle’s computer, mainly piloting, and re-route that energy through the nacelle’s power compartment. Spock’s fingers fumbled over the harsh metal of stripped wires, recalling himself of the time he had attempted to repair the shuttle on his own.
At least this time, he had help. Jim worked furiously and quickly, eyes narrowed in concentration as he went about the delicate task of figuring out the balance between safety and haste. Together, they finished the connection just as energy began crackling in the sky above them. The compartment lay in front of the shuttle, strung up to it by a series of sloppy wires that crossed and twisted at angles that would strike fear into the heart of any engineer. It was dangerous and temporary, but it would function.
Jim wiped a sheen of sweat from his brow, wavering as he climbed to his feet. Spock reached out to steady him, but knew better than to suggest he sit. So instead he gave Jim what he hoped was a look of encouragement, though with the rush of their situation he supposed it may have come off more hard-edged than that.
It was no matter. They both knew what needed to be done. At Jim’s nod, Spock turned and made his way into the shuttle’s cockpit.
The power surged on and he wasted no time in calling up the shuttle’s extra-planetary scanner. Ion interference already caused error message after error message to appear, but Spock circumvented them as best he could. The boosted power from the nacelle made it easier, ensured that the scanners could sift through the worst of the disturbance.
“Don’t forget to record it,” Jim said from behind him, “We’ll want to look at this all later.”
“I am aware, thank you.”
“No need to get defensive.”
“I am not defensive, I merely--”
Lightning cracked the sky above them, and Jim jumped, a hand on his heart. “It sounds like a bad one,” he said glancing over Spock’s shoulder. “What does it say?”
“Force-7,” Spock responded, eyes tracing the lines of information that scrolled down his screen. “And I am registering those anomalous particles again.”
Jim leaned over the back of his chair, “Identify,” he said, sounding for a moment like the captain he wanted to be. Spock complied without question, but the command was, of course, easier said than done. It took a few minutes for Spock to access even the composition of the particle.
At that point, he felt Jim leave his side for a moment, but did not concentrate on the man’s absence. Instead, he studied the properties of the particle’s makeup as it appeared on his screen.
“Spock,” Jim said from somewhere outside, and Spock took in a quick breath through his nose.
“One moment, Jim. Scanners are attempting to process a wider sample--”
“Spock,” Jim repeated, voice harder this time. “You need to see what I’m seeing.”
Spock turned, eyes falling on Jim who stood out behind the shuttle with his head tilted toward the sky. Hurrying, Spock moved to join him.
He squinted upwards, attempting to see what had made Jim sound so forceful, near-panicked.
“There,” Jim said, pointing to something above them, “look hard. Can you see it?”
Above them, the dark sky was streaked-- no-- patterned? No. Embedded. It was embedded by what looked like glowing tubes of energy, forming a kind of erratic web. They were faint, nearly too faint to see, and practically the same steel-silver as the rest of the sky. But like an optical illusion, once Spock noticed them they were easy to pick out. Some tubes broke off into small sections, then terminated over the forest, others extended well past their line of sight. All of them sparked with some kind of intent. Spock followed the largest with his eyes, one that must have been hundreds of yards in diameter, extending well above the atmosphere and well into it. It terminated a few miles into the forest but pointed toward the mountainside. A theory began to form.
“Spock,” Jim intoned softly, “what is this?”
Without answering, Spock rushed back into the shuttle, resuming his seat at the scanners and taking another look at the particle’s properties. He closed the screen, then pulled up the wider scan. The web, whatever energy it was they were registering, covered the entirety of the planet and the space around it.
It was so obvious, he allowed himself a feeling of defeat that the thought had not occurred to him before.
He heard Jim’s uneven footfalls, then saw the man take the pilot’s seat out of the corner of his eye. Spock simply stared at the screen, the truth of it sinking in.
“Wormholes,” he said softly, perhaps too softly for Jim to hear. So he turned to Jim, attempting to wrap his words around what he now knew. “Alpha Novus V is surrounded by a web of wormholes. They seem to be interconnected.”
Jim opened his mouth, then closed it again, then cast his eyes outside as if some answer would fall from the sky.
“But Jim,” Spock said, drawing his attention again. “These are not simply wormholes through space, but time. The ions are… activating them.”
“What?” Jim asked, outrage at the impossibility of their situation coloring the word. “How?”
“Chroniton particles, unless I am mistaken. Chronitons have been identified in only some isolated instances. Their connection to time travel is theoretical at best, and yet the properties indicate--”
“Chroniton particles.” Jim interrupted, “Chroniton particles?!”
Spock nodded, wondering briefly if Jim were on the verge of hysteria. “Unless I am mistaken,” he repeated.
Jim ran a hand through his hair, then met Spock’s eyes. Not hysterics, then; Jim just wanted to understand. Spock could see it in the hard lines of determination that branched from his brows, in the stiff set of his jaw. “Of course you’re not mistaken, Spock,” he said, resigned. “You’re the smartest person I know.” He paused, staring at the screen as though he couldn’t quite believe what they were seeing. “So what does this mean? What happened to us?”
Spock pursed his lips, attempting to form his theory into words, though even he only half-understood it.
“I believe we may have flown into one of these wormholes as we entered the planet’s atmosphere,” he began slowly, forming his sentences like puzzle pieces. “It is likely the back half of the shuttle slipped into one of these offshoots, one that also claimed the bodies of our crew.”
Jim swallowed. “So if I had fallen a few seconds earlier…”
“You would likely have entered the same offshoot and been trapped one-hundred and fifty-four years in the past, yes. Or, rather, one-hundred and fifty-four years farther into the past than we are currently.”
“I’ve already thanked you for saving my life, right?” Jim asked with a sort of scared chuckle. Spock worried over the sound of his voice for a moment, his own mind wandering down a dangerous path of ‘what if’s. A few seconds. That’s all it would have taken for Jim to have died with the rest of them. It was all-too clear now.
“Indeed you have,” Spock managed to say after a moment. Then, as though his words refused to listen to logic, “I am also grateful I did not find your remains with the rest of the crew.”
Jim’s responding look was surprised, but Spock could almost sense the undercurrent of pain in him. After a moment, Jim looked away from Spock, returning his eyes to the screen.
“So… well, this also explains the ion storm intensifying. We’d time-traveled by that point and the storm on this side was worse.” Jim rubbed his jaw, considering. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the storms were less temperamental in the future. With how much this planet has changed in two-thousand years? It makes sense.”
That flash of insight surprised Spock, but he did not have the capacity to compliment Jim on it just now. There was too much to absorb, so many questions now answered and yet so many rising in their place.
They were silent for a moment, and Spock returned his eyes to the scanner, so shocked by the discovery that he didn’t know what the next step should be.
“Can we map it?”
“Excuse me?” Spock cast his eyes sideways to Jim, who had an intensity about him, almost vibrating with it.
“Can we map the web? Figure out which path we took and how to get back?”
Spock quickly stared down at the readings again, tracing the web with his eyes. There were hundreds, if not thousands of offshoots, but there was no harm trying.
“Inputting the information from the crash,” Spock said, tapping the proper calculations into the screen. “When the shuttle split in two, our recording stopped, but if we can--”
Something hummed, then buzzed, then with a grinding sound that shook the console, the screen in front of him blipped and went black. Spock’s fingers stayed in their positions, shock freezing him in place.
“No,” Jim said, standing and looking out the shuttle’s forward window. “No no no.” Spock followed his gaze. On the ground in front of them, firey sparks rained down from the nacelle’s power compartment.
Spock stood, practically running out the shuttle and making his way around its fore to the cell. Something had burst, one of their delicate connections. Tracing the wires with his eyes, he found the offender and reached out to grab it.
It should have occurred to him that it would be overheated, but the urgency--
He gasped a breath as the wire burned his fingers, a solid line of heat that made his skin smoulder. Clutching his hand with a flash of unwelcome pain, Spock stumbled backwards. He pulled the sleeve of his shirt down over his hand and suppressed his pain receptors, ready to try again when Jim gripped him by his shoulders. He turned to see the harsh light in Jim’s eyes, the thin line of his mouth.
“What are you doing?” Jim barked, concern and anger warring in his expression.
“It is vital we repair the connection before the ion storm--”
“It’s not worth hurting yourself for. We recorded the whole thing. We can map it when we get power back.”
Spock looked back to the sparking remains of their afternoon’s work, then turned his eyes to Jim’s. “There was more I wished to see. Perhaps if we--”
“Spock. I’m sure this isn’t the last storm we’re going to see. I know how you feel, believe me, but we have nothing but time. Two-thousand years of it.”
The tension left Spock’s shoulders, and Jim dropped his hands.
“I suppose you are correct,” Spock admitted. He was embarrassed. In his haste, he had acted emotionally and irrationally. He did not expect that someday Jim would be the one talking sense into him.
Jim looked down to Spock’s hand, taking him by the wrist and lifting his injury to examine it. It reminded Spock of when he had done the same after Jim sliced his palm open.
But this felt different-- being on the receiving end. Jim gently uncurled Spock’s fingers, tracing around the line of the burn. His skin was rough with callouses but the way Jim handled him was soft, with care and compassion that was wholly alien to Spock. He felt it now flowing through him, a gentle brush of concern that lapped at the shores of his mind. Though Spock was in pain, a very different emotion began to surface. Vulcan hands were sensitive. To both pain and--
“Are you alright?” Jim’s voice sounded very far away. Spock realized he had been watching Jim’s fingers as Jim stroked the pads of his own. He had also neglected to breathe for a few moments.
He drew himself up and pulled his hand from Jim’s grasp as quickly as he’d removed it from the overheated wire. “I am fine. I will make use of the regenerator when we return to the cave.”
“That’s not what I meant. Are you upset? About the power going out?”
“Upset is a human emotion, Jim.”
Jim’s sideways smile was kind, understanding. “Right. Silly me. Let’s leave it for today, all right? We asked a lot of that machine.”
“And ourselves,” Spock responded. “You have over-exerted yourself again.” It was clear from the way Jim leaned on his good leg and from the sheen of sweat on his brow that he was strained. Jim waved him away with a hand.
“Not any more than was needed. Come on, let’s get back.”
“Please, allow me to help,” Spock said, taking Jim’s wrist and draping Jim’s arm over his shoulder.
Jim rolled his eyes. “I’m fine, Spock.”
“Do not make me carry you.”
Jim laughed, sinking a little as he ducked his head. “Are you threatening me, Mister Spock?”
Spock pulled him back up. “Quite the opposite, in fact,” he said.
Jim just gifted him a smile and they began the trek back, Spock half-dragging half-supporting Jim.
It was difficult to understand how Jim could maintain his humor after all this. They had just overloaded their equipment, both of them were injured, and now they would have to wait an interminable amount of time for another ion storm before they figured out how to get home.
And yet, Spock did not feel the weight of any of that as strongly as he once would have, not when Jim’s weight reminded him that they did not have to weather any of this alone.
They made it back to the mouth of the cave where Spock gently set Jim down on the ground. There was still plenty of daylight, so Spock offered to return to their campsite and bring food and water.
Jim looked grateful, the events of the day catching up to him if the lax tilt of his shoulders was any indication.
So Spock wasted little time, returning to Jim with an armful of fruit and greens and both canteens strung over his shoulders. Setting the food down beside Jim, Spock sat in front of him, eyes tracing the lines of exhaustion in his companion’s face.
“Would you like me to retrieve a blanket? It may be prudent to lay down for a time.”
Jim waved him away. “Not necessary right now, but thanks. I’m all right.”
“You are not, but I will cease ‘pestering.’ I understand that can be counter-productive.”
“You know me so well,” Jim laughed, a tilted grin on his face. Then, Jim held out his hand, a motion which Spock watched with some confusion. “Now hand it over.”
Spock raised an eyebrow.
“The regenerator?” Jim asked, nodding to the device that was clipped to Spock’s belt. “I can take care of that burn.”
Spock unclipped the regenerator, but shook his head. “Please, eat, I am fully capable of--”
“Spock, please. Let me.” Jim held out his hand further and, reluctantly, Spock placed the device in his palm. He was fully capable of operating it himself, but he thought back to the gentle way Jim had cradled his hand earlier. It was perhaps selfish to wish to feel that again.
He held out his injury for Jim’s inspection and Jim scooted closer, clicking the device on and wincing at the loud hum it emitted. They were silent for a time, Spock attempting not to think about how Jim’s fingers held him steady, while simultaneously trying to absorb the feeling of calm surety that emanated from his touch.
It took a few loud minutes for the effects of the device to become apparent.
“There,” Jim said, switching it off. The regenerator would never again have its full power, but with Spock’s repairs it could at least heal the worst of a wound. Spock looked to his fingers, which bore only the ghost of a red streak. It would not scar, and it no longer hurt.
“Thank you, Jim,” Spock said as Jim released him, setting the regenerator on the ground beside them.
“Least I can do. We have to take care of each other, after all,” Jim said with a smile, still looking strained even behind the look.
Spock nodded, something hard in his throat that he was having trouble swallowing. Their eyes lingered on each other, the urgency of moments past finally fading, the storm casting gray shadows over them both.
A thought had occurred to him many times in the last few months, and now it returned to him, unbidden. Looking at Jim, who seemed tense even in his relaxed state, Spock found that thought forming into words. Perhaps the offer was ill-conceived, but--
“If I may,” Spock started, nerves surprising him with their insistence. He had no cause for nervousness. “There is a Vulcan technique-- massage-- neuro-pressure. I believe it would benefit your injury.”
Jim’s eyebrows shot up into his hairline. “Massage?”
Spock didn’t rush to explain himself, exactly, but he didn’t want Jim to misunderstand the intention behind the offer either. He understood the human mind often went to the least likely explanation. “The practice stimulates certain pressure points, aiding in all manner of ailment-- including pain and muscle fatigue. I could restrict the focus to your leg.”
Neuro-pressure was a decidedly intimate practice. It was for that exact reason Spock had hesitated to propose it for so long, but it could be beneficial if Jim allowed it. And Spock believed his mental barriers would be up to the task. And if they weren’t, it would still be worth it. Jim couldn’t continue at this pace without relief.
“I mean-- I wouldn’t object,” Jim said, scratching the back of his head, “but are you sure? It’s more contact that usual--”
“I would not have proposed it if I were not capable,” Spock assured him, perhaps a little too strongly. Jim gave him a pointed look, appraising him. Then, somewhat awkwardly, he shrugged.
“All right, then. Thanks, Spock. What do I need to do?”
Spock felt that trill of nerves again, then beat it down, reminding himself that neuro-pressure was a medical practice. He should simply be thankful, not surprised, that Jim had accepted the offer.
“Please roll up your pant leg. I will return presently.” Without any more preamble, and without allowing his gaze to linger on Jim a moment longer, he stood and made his way out the cave and in the direction of the nearby spring, heart beating unnaturally quickly. The prospect of touch was so often abhorrent to him, and yet here he was-- allowing Jim to run his fingers along his hand, then actually offering ...
The word ‘desire’ returned to him as he scanned the ground around him for those little aloe plants. He found one about halfway to the spring, plucked it, then turned round to make his way back to Jim.
He seldom considered desire as it applied to physicality, but he recognized this emotion now as… as desiring Jim’s touch, even in the most innocuous ways. Physical contact was important for humans as means of socialization, this he knew. Maybe (and maybe he was justifying it to himself) latent human instincts now drove him to this-- to wanting.
It made sense that he would become more dependent on someone when that someone was the only other person on the planet, so perhaps it made sense that that dependency would take different forms. In either case, Jim did not object to touching Spock. In fact, Jim probably required the contact more than Spock even did.
Framing it for Jim’s benefit helped. This was something he was doing for his friend, hardly something to satisfy a dependent and selfish impulse.
Confident in his new understanding of his own motivations, Spock returned to the mouth of the cave, where Jim leaned with eyes closed against the wall, his boot discarded to the side and his leg exposed up to just above his knee.
Spock knelt beside him, moving the untouched pile of food, and Jim cracked his eyes open. “Where did you run off to?” he asked, and Spock held up the aloe as explanation.
“This will make it more comfortable. Please relax.”
Jim was already rather relaxed, leaning heavily against the wall with half-lidded eyes, but Spock saw fit to instruct him all the same.
He cracked the aloe open, dipping his fingers into the slick, cool substance while Jim followed his movements with sleep-heavy eyes. “Thanks for doing this, Spock,” Jim said again, resting his hands on his belly while Spock spread the aloe over his palms. “I know you’re probably as tired as I am.”
“I am functioning adequately,” Spock responded, then met Jim’s eyes. “Now, begin taking deep breaths. At the end of each third breath, hold for five seconds.”
“Your mind will be more receptive to the practice.”
Jim gave Spock a skeptical look, but closed his eyes and took a deep breath through his nose all the same. His chest rose, then sank, then rose again, the sound even soothing Spock to an extent.
“Good,” he said, waiting one more breath before shifting forward and settling on his heels. With slick hands, he lifted Jim’s leg onto his lap. Steadily, he began running his fingertips along the bone of Jim’s calf, feeling the knot where the bone had misaligned and healed improperly. It was no wonder it caused Jim constant pain. Spock had not realized the extent of the damage until this moment.
Putting it from his mind, he circled his thumbs on either side of Jim’s knee, then pulled downward, eliciting a pleasant hum from Jim. “Are you maintaining your breathing, Jim?” Spock asked, and Jim nodded lazily, though Spock could hear the pattern had faltered.
Jim seemed to realize that too, and so corrected himself, another deep breath pulling his thermal tight over his chest. Spock kept his eyes on his task, finding the pressure points along the yielding muscle of Jim’s leg, watching the slick sheen of the aloe as it flattened Jim’s wiry hair with each pass of hands over skin. He felt the trails of heat his own touch left behind as he pulled upwards and pushed down, hands finding the joint of Jim’s ankle and rotating it softly.
Jim hummed again as Spock pinched the pressure points on his achilles tendon, then returned upwards. They continued like this for a good few minutes, total silence but the sound of Jim’s steady, deep breaths and the occasional crackling of the sky above them. Inch by inch, he felt Jim relaxing in his grip, tension fading from the muscles of his leg, yes, but also from the rest of his body.
Spock allowed himself a feeling of pride. Jim was never this serene, not even when he slept. Though he knew, of course, the technique would work, he did not expect it to work this well. Perhaps, he thought, he could do this regularly. Maybe even extend his area of focus to Jim’s neck and shoulders, help the man sleep better, reduce headaches, run his hands along the slope of Jim’s back and--
Spock sucked in a breath through his nose and returned concentration to his task. It would not do to let his mind wander. Neuro-pressure could be a delicate process.
But soon, the pattern of Jim’s breathing faltered again. Spock lifted his head to remind him, but realized the second his eyes fell on his companion’s expression that Jim had fallen asleep, face resting against the rough stone. He could not possibly be that comfortable, Spock thought incredulously, but there he was, eyelashes fluttering, mouth hanging open, cheek flattened against the wall.
It was ridiculous that the sight of him could make warmth spread through Spock’s heart, make a smile tug at his reluctant lips, but as he gently set Jim’s leg back on the ground and stood to stretch the stiffness from his own limbs, he decided that he could allow the feeling to settle for now. Ridiculous, illogical, inadvisable or not.
Sometimes the emotions Jim inspired in him were tumultuous, sometimes they were frustrating and complicated, and sometimes they just felt good, comfortable, simple. This, right here, felt simple.
Jim didn’t know exactly where Spock’s suggestion had come from, but he practically laughed it off, kneeling to pick some berries from one of the bushes near the mouth of the cave.
“You’re going to have to repeat that, Mister Spock,” Jim said fondly, a joking sort of ease in his tone. Spock knelt beside him and helped with the berries, deft fingers plucking at wiry brambles.
It was planet’s late afternoon, and they were recovering from another few weeks spent clearing the cave-in. The blue skies stretched overhead, clear and bright, the kind of air Jim wanted to breathe in and keep in his lungs. The volcano was beautiful and fascinating in its own way, but he loved the outdoors. For once, it hadn’t been difficult to convince Spock to spend a day foraging.
“As a crewman of an exploring vessel, I believe you are familiar with the concept of shore leave.”
Jim gave him a look, “Yes, I’m quite ‘familiar’ with shore leave, Spock. Just not sure why you’re suggesting it when we aren’t exactly in a position to take it.”
“We are in an ideal position for shore leave,” Spock said, taking the sling of fabric where they’d collected their berries and standing with their small bounty. “We have not indulged in one full day of rest since arriving on this planet nearly six months ago. As a Vulcan, I do not require the respite. However, it is not just advisable that you accept shore leave; it is regulation.”
Jim climbed with some effort to his feet, arranging the bow and arrows he had strapped to his back so they didn’t keep knocking him in the head. Then he led them onward, tricorder scanning for more of the greens they’d almost eaten their supply of.
“Are you really citing regulation right now?” He asked with a chuckle, giving Spock a smile over his shoulder. “I thought we threw all that out the window when I stopped calling you Commander.”
“Certain regulations are still beneficial, in spite of the unusual nature of our situation.”
Jim mulled it over, supposing Spock was right on that count. But still, the idea of shore leave when they had been, well, ashore for months seemed silly.
“It’s not like we can go to a starbase with recreational facilities,” Jim supplied, edging into the forest a little bit. Spock followed close behind, and Jim could almost sense that he was getting frustrated with Jim’s stubbornness.
“No, that is true. However I suggest eight days of rest-- two planetary days-- to spend as you desire. Though I do not require it myself, I will join you. I suspect that is the only way you will agree to the arrangement.”
Jim turned and gave Spock a look. “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”
“Is there anything in my manner that would suggest otherwise?”
“Not usually,” Jim laughed weakly. Spock maintained a level look, hands clasped behind his back.
It was funny, Spock was wearing one of those dun-colored engineering jumpsuits-- their backup clothes while their uniforms dried-- with a strip of crude leather holding back his hair, and yet he looked as much the picture of a composed Vulcan commander as he always did.
Jim thought of what he himself must look like, sweat-stains on the fabric of his own jumpsuit, tears in his knees and choppy knife-cut hair sticking up like a sunburst. No wonder Spock thought he needed a vacation.
He sighed, scratched the back of his neck where a dull ache made him stiff, and hoped Spock had the decency not to pull that “I win” face.
“Fine,” he conceded finally. “You make a good point. We’ll probably function a lot better after some rest, and what’s a few days to how long we’re going to be on Alpha Novus V anyway?”
“My thoughts precisely. I am pleased you agree. It will do you well to rest.”
Jim gave him a tilted smile then returned to his foraging, Spock in tow. “You know, Spock, I’ve been thinking. Alpha Novus V is a mouthful. What do you say we give this planet a proper name?”
He was, of course, attempting to change the subject. If he had a credit for every time Spock told him to rest...
Thankfully it seemed Spock was willing to go along with the new conversation.
“Alpha Novus V is a perfectly suitable name, and correct.”
“But it’s not much fun to say.”
“Does that matter?”
“I don’t know, every planet that has any meaning usually has a proper name. Earth sounds much better than Sol III.”
“Considering in our time this planet is nearly inhospitable, I struggle to believe anyone with the official power to name it would consider it meaningful enough for such a designation.”
“Well, this isn’t our time, is it? And we’re the only ones with any kind of official power. I say we name it.” The tricorder beeped over a little sprig of greens at the base of one of the trees, and Jim knelt down to pick them. Spock held out the sling for him.
“I assume you have a name in mind?”
“Not even a little bit,” Jim said with a laugh. “Although-- well, we could name it Anne. That’s a nice name, and you know, Alpha Novus? AN?” He straightened up, brushing off his knees.
“Anne is a human name.”
“This is a planet.”
Jim laughed, getting to his feet once again. “Okay, then what do you suggest?”
Spock thought on it for a moment as they walked on, glancing around at the leaves, the ground, the insects. He looked contemplative.
“I require more time to think about it.”
“All right, I’ll keep floating suggestions by in the meantime. What about... Jim Jr.?”
“I will raise the same objection.”
“That was a joke, Spock. Ah, how about Spock Jr.? That’s not a human name.”
“Fine, no people names, human or Vulcan. You need to learn how to have fun.”
Spock’s lips twitched and Jim responded with a wide grin of his own. He was glad Spock knew when he was teasing him.
“Perhaps shore leave will help me in that endeavor,” Spock replied. Jim considered that. They hadn’t really had a chance to have fun . They played chess, sure, and Jim whittled and sometimes they told stories, but they hadn’t explored anything for the sake of exploring it, or laid around in the sun doing nothing or gone swimming together just for recreation. The more he thought about it, a few days of shore leave did sound nice.
“Yeah,” Jim said, “maybe so.”