Jim's communicator beeped not long after the Caretaker disappeared with his friends, and it was Scotty asking worriedly what had happened to Spock and McCoy. The Enterprise's scanners weren't reading them on the surface with him anymore.
"It's all right, Scotty. We got the help we were hoping for, I think. The Caretaker took them."
"Both of them, sir?"
The captain made a face. "The probes took over again before he showed…Doctor McCoy was injured."
He really didn't know what to do with himself. He wasn't going to leave the surface, but he could gain no joy from the grass and trees and fresh air while he was worried for his friends.
He tried pacing, he tried finding a good-sized boulder and sitting, and because he couldn't make up his mind he alternated. Sometimes he paced in front of the boulder and sometimes he rested on it.
Once or twice, admittedly, he kicked it, just for something else to do or some way to let off steam.
The wait seemed an eternity, but finally he spun in place while pacing and there was movement in trees.
"Hello?" Blue. He definitely saw blue. "Bones? Spock?"
He was almost afraid he was seeing things, bored out of his mind and anxious as he was, but then his first officer and chief surgeon emerged from the trees.
They were both walking, though Bones had one of Spock's arms over his shoulder. The Vulcan was even in uniform; one they must have manufactured for him below. The Caretaker was with them, at Spock's other side watching to be certain the doctor didn't need help supporting him.
"Thank god!" Jim said, hurrying to the small group. He reached out to his friends, taking an arm each. "Are you two all right? Spock? Bones?"
"I am considerably better than I was," the Vulcan admitted, and though he still held the doctor's shoulders for support he also leaned a bit into the captain's arm that held his now.
"We're all right, Jim," McCoy told him, smiling easily. "I'm as good as new, and Spock's getting there."
"The nanoprobes and any toxins have been eradicated, of course," the Caretaker filled in. "And we were able to give him enough of his strength be mobile, but I'm afraid even our knowledge could not restore all of it so immediately. However, it should now return at a rate normal for his species. A few days and he too will be just fine, Captain."
"Gonna need to gain some weight back, too," Bones added, directing his remark to Spock. "I haven't scanned you yet—I'm not sure how much—but I can tell you as tall as you are it shouldn't be this easy to support you."
"But other than that you're all right?" Jim questioned again.
Spock very nearly smiled at him. "Yes, Jim. I am all right. I am in no pain, I am not ill, and my mind is free."
"However, it may also be several days before your mental functions and controls are all back to their usual impeccable levels, Mr. Spock," the Caretaker reminded him. "Those will take a bit of time to recover as well, so please don't be hard on yourself if you come across some difficulty at first. I'm certain your friends would agree with me."
The Vulcan only nodded at that, uncomfortably, and Jim smiled again.
"Thank you," he said to the old man. "What you've done for us means more to me than you can know."
"Think nothing of it, Captain; I am merely apologetic that I was unable to intercede before I did."
"It's all right…as you pointed out, we know what it's like to be bound by certain rules and ideals…the Federation, Starfleet, and it's standards and mandates…I think we're really not so different."
The Caretaker smiled. "No, Captain, I suppose we are not, but flattery will not help you; we still believe your species a bit too young to know our secrets. It isn't an insult, but it stands just the same."
Jim nodded slowly. "I understand."
The old man nodded in satisfaction and stepped away from the three of them. "I must be going," he said. "If your crew wishes to enjoy themselves here once more you are still welcome, of course. Feel free to stay a while; I'm certain you all need the rest by now. You've been through quite a lot. Oh! I nearly forgot. If you'll turn your quaint scanners in ah…yes, that direction," the Caretaker said, pointing off behind them. "You may find something of interest to Mr. Spock."
They all glanced in the direction the old man pointed, and when they looked back he was gone.
"Some things never change," Jim mussed.
"Where is my tricorder?" Bones asked then.
"Oh, it uhm…over there, where we were I think."
"I'll get it. Take Spock and find him somewhere to sit down."
"I assure you, Doctor, I am quite all right—"
"Save it, Spock," Jim grinned as McCoy shifted the Vulcan's weight to him. "After you nearly dying on us more than once in the last couple of weeks it may be a while before his protectiveness rating goes down. You're probably just going to have to deal with it, and I can't say I blame him."
Spock cocked an eyebrow in a such a way that Jim knew then his first officer was going to be just fine.
The doctor snorted at them both and moved off to fetch his tricorder. Jim watched him go for a moment, just to be sure he really did seem all right. He did. He walked normally, with no hint of any pain or anything wrong, and the captain finally allowed himself to relax. He helped Spock to boulder he'd been using before, and it was large enough for both of them to sit so they did.
"Should we not return to the ship?" Spock asked.
Jim shrugged. "We're badly in need of shore leave anyway, and we're already here; why not stay for a while? I'll have to beam up long enough to contact command and put everything through proper channels, but it shouldn't take long."
McCoy was back about then. "You might as well stay down here, Spock. Even if you go back to the ship I'm not letting you on duty for a few days, at least."
Seeing as he was only somewhat mobile, Spock couldn't protest that. But he did frown in a close approximation to aggravation, and Jim couldn't help but smile again.
They were all right. Both of them. They really were. It was really over.
"Jim? Are you all right?" Bones asked.
He was smiling, but the doctor must have seen the rest of it.
"I'm fine Bones." He made a face. "It's just for a minute there it looked like I might lose both of you."
But he didn't want to think about that anymore. He pulled his communicator out once. "Kirk to Enterprise."
"Scott here, Captain. We're readin' the doctor and Mr. Spock at your location again, sir. I trust everything turned out?"
"It did, Scotty. We're all right down here. Have Lieutenant Uhura go ahead and patch us through to command and get to work on putting in a shore leave request, by the way."
"AYE, sir," the engineer answered happily.
When Jim put his communicator away Bones had his tricorder out and he was blinking at it. "Hmm…I think…Spock, tell me if this is what I think it is." He gestured vaguely in the distance the way the Caretaker had told them they might wish to look. "About forty kilometers that way."
The Vulcan took the offered tricorder, and his eyebrows went up when he looked over the reading. "If you 'think' that you are reading several square kilometers of Vulcan normal conditions in that direction, then it is," Spock said, almost incredulous.
The doctor grinned. "Well I'll be damned. They must have felt badly they didn't have anything to interest you last time we were here."
"Huh," Jim agreed. "Spock? You want to check it out? We can always beam there."
"I seem to have nothing else to occupy my time for the next several days, if the doctor is to keep me from duty; therefore, I have little reason to refuse."
McCoy rolled his eyes and Jim laughed. It meant he was pulling his communicator right back out, but he didn't mind. Especially not right now.
When they materialized the first thing Spock noticed was the warmth—the temperature of home. He felt more comfortable, physically, almost immediately.
"I've only been on Vulcan once and I didn't really notice the scenery much, for obvious reasons," Jim said. "So I wouldn't know. But this sure feels like Vulcan."
"It is…a nearly perfect imitation," Spock agreed. The sands and rocks and mountains…it all seemed like home, and it seemed to stretch as far as they could see in the direction they were looking. Yet if they turned around, they would see the sands end and the grass and trees begin only several hundred yards behind them. "Fascinating."
"What's that?" McCoy pointed.
Spock followed the doctor's gaze, and as he looked that way he recognized the rock formations before he saw what McCoy pointed to.
"Spock? What is it?" Jim asked. "Is that—?"
"It is a remarkably detailed copy of my parents' home on Vulcan, though without the city it sits on the outskirts of."
"That's your house." Jim clarified.
"A copy of it, as I said, yes."
"House?" McCoy scoffed. "That's a damned mansion."
"My father's family is of a rather prominent Vulcan clan."
"Great," the doctor grumbled. "Not only is he a Vulcan, he's rich…"
"That is hardly an appropriate term in this century, Doctor."
Jim was chuckling again. Spock had to admit it was a comforting sound to hear, and that he was pleased to be arguing with McCoy again at all. Mere hours ago, with what consciousness he'd had, he had believed it likely he would never have the opportunity to experience either of those things again.
And now, here, a close approximation of the home that he had not returned to in several years. The slight pang in his chest now told him that he had missed it…and also that the Caretaker had been correct to warn him that his mental controls and defenses were not yet fully recovered.
They moved up the slope toward the house, and as they went it became easier for Spock. His strength was indeed returning. Still, he was not so foolish as to not continue to accept the support Jim and McCoy offered him. It was true, too, that he was no longer shamed by the need of it. As Jim had tried to tell him so many times, they were more than willing to give it.
He hoped, at the least, that he could remember that lesson in the future.
They did release him once they were inside, to look around, just as curious now as he was. He wondered how much the planet's scanners had taken from his mind—how detailed the representation was on the inside. Even a mere cursory glanced seemed to indicate that it was every bit as detailed as the exterior; down to the plants his mother often kept inside and titles of the books on the shelves.
That was when Jim and the doctor became hesitant, suddenly, and moved back to him.
"Well if this is your house, for all practical purposes…" the captain was saying.
"We shouldn't be prying," McCoy finished for him.
"We can go," Jim offered gently.
"You are welcome to stay. As the doctor has noted, there is enough room."
"You do want to stay here, then? While we're here?"
He found that it did not seem a disagreeable prospect. It would be strange without his parents, but then again it would also be easier. No matter how much he respected his father, the situation between himself and Sarek was still strained.
Spock nodded once. "It would…seem logical not to allow the work of bringing this fabrication into being to go to waste. The doctor has prescribed rest, and I suppose that can be accomplished as well here as in my quarters aboard the Enterprise."
"Good," Jim smiled. "Maybe down here you'll really rest. Who knows; if I can't find anything else to do I may be back." The way he said it Spock knew he would be back in any case. "Bones?"
"Go talk to command; I'll just stay," the doctor shrugged. "I should keep an eye on my patient, anyhow." He'd already wandered over to a bookshelf. "Is there anything in English?"
"You are perusing on the wrong side of the room, Doctor. My mother, as a general rule, keeps her books on the opposite side. Those are in Standard. And that, of course, is only the selection kept in the main room. There is also a library."
"Oh, really? What'd I say, Jim? He's rich. Pointed-eared bastard; no wonder he's so smug."
The captain shook his head. "All right, you two. Don't kill each other while I'm gone."
"No need; we already tried that today," McCoy called. "It didn't work."
Spock very nearly winced to hear the incident made light of—the probes, using his body, really had nearly killed the doctor, after all—but he had learned by now that joking was McCoy's way of coming to terms with things. It was not meant to be offensive.
Jim beamed back to the ship then, leaving Spock and the doctor alone. Spock had to sit, too tired to stand anymore, and he found a chair in the seating area near where McCoy was examining the bookshelves. After a while the doctor chose a book and found a seat himself. He settled in, and seemed content.
"You know, besides the heat this place is nice," he said.
"If the atmospheric controls have been constructed correctly I could lower the temperature."
"If you want. Not too much if you do; it's probably better for your recovery to be in an environment you're more used to anyway, both physically and…well, I almost said emotionally."
Spock sat forward, hands clasped and arms resting on his knees, and his eyebrows went up. "At any other time you would have been incorrect to. However…that is not the case in this instance."
McCoy closed the book and studied him more closely. "The Caretaker meant it, then? You're still having trouble with your controls?"
"Not…trouble, per se, but they remain weak," he admitted. "They are also recovering, but it will take time."
"I'm sorry," McCoy sighed. "I know how much you don't like that; you probably wanted everything back to normal right off, didn't you?"
"What I wish is irrelevant. What is, is, and in light of the fact that I am, in fact, alive, I cannot presume to be dissatisfied."
The doctor released a snort of laughter and shook his head. "Well you sure as hell sound like your old self already."
"Why thank you, Doctor."
Jim took care of business as quickly as he could and beamed back down with the good news.
"We've been given nearly a week," he announced happily. "Shore leave parties are organizing and beaming down at the main beam-in site as we speak. I'm sorry, Spock; after the last few weeks I wanted to get you home for shore leave, but…well, it looks like I came pretty close," the captain pointed out in amusement.
"So there wasn't any trouble while I was gone, I take it."
"Not in the slightest," McCoy cut in. "Two hours and all he's done is sit there; maybe he picked up a book once. Apparently he's every bit as boring at home as he is on the Enterprise. Should have known, I guess."
Spock raised an eyebrow. Perhaps he would have formulated a retort, but instead he stood. It took Jim a moment to hear the shuffling coming from the direction of the main corridor, but then Spock would have heard it before they did.
McCoy was frowning. "What is that?"
Spock did not seemed concerned. He seemed more curious than anything, and moved away from the seating area and toward the noises.
That was when a brown shaggy-furred animal that was probably the size of the three of them put together ambled into the main room. It had fangs. That could not be good.
"Spock!" Not only was he the closest to it, but he would move the slowest of them right now. How had that thing even gotten in here?
But Spock still was not concerned. He did not seemed alarmed. He'd paused when the animal showed itself, but now he walked right up to it. "I-Chaya," the Vulcan said in wonder.
"What?" Jim asked.
"Spock, are you crazy!" McCoy called. "Get away from that thing!"
"There is no cause for alarm, Doctor. This animal is quite tame. It is a representation of a pet I had as a child."
"A pet?" Bones echoed.
Jim was equally confused. The thing was huge, and it looked like a shaggy-haired cross between a bear and something in the large cat family. And of course there were the six-inch fangs.
"Yes," Spock confirmed. He was stroking the animal's fur or hair or whatever at its neck, and the thing seemed to like it. "A sehlat. A common pet among Vulcan children, in fact." And then he was all but ignoring them.
Bones hung back, but Jim moved closer and heard Spock talking to the animal. "You are not precisely real, and yet it is pleasing to see you again, old friend," the Vulcan said quietly. When he shifted on his feet and stumbled, his weakness getting to him, the sehlat bent down instinctively to catch him and nudge him back up. Jim smiled at that.
"I can see it was a good idea to stay here," Jim said.
Spock glanced back at him, and maybe it was only the residual weakening of emotional control, but the Vulcan looked as close to happy as he ever did—meaning no telling expression, really, but they knew the feeling was there anyway. "Yes," he agreed.
Jim exchanged a knowing glance with Bones, who was smiling now too.
Sometime that night Jim woke with a start. Flashes of awful memories not his own echoing in in his mind reminded him of the one part of all this he'd nearly forgotten.
"Spock…" he muttered quietly.
He climbed out of the bed in the guest room he was sleeping in. He thought about waking Bones across the hall, but instead he padded down the wide second-floor corridor alone. It took him a moment to remember exactly where he was and to remember where Spock's room was, but he found it eventually.
"Spock?" He knocked. "Spock, are you all right?" There was no audible answer, but the door slid open to admit him.
The bed was empty, but the door to the balcony was open. Jim followed the moonlight, which reminded him immediately that this was not, exactly, Vulcan. He'd never been on Vulcan at night, but he did seem to recall that his first officer's home planet had no moon.
He found Spock at the balcony railing, and the large brown sehlat was half asleep at his feet. Spock was no longer in his uniform, but a dark Vulcan-style robe that must have been here in his room for him.
With his hearing Spock would be aware of his presence already, so Jim didn't bother to announce himself. He came to the railing beside his friend and looked up at the stars. "They're not the same, are they?"
"No…Vulcan has no moon, either."
"I thought so." Jim hoisted himself up on the wide stone railing and sat there, able to face Spock now. Still, he couldn't help looking up again for a while. "They're nice stars though…sometimes I forget. We spend all our time among them and sometimes I forget what it's like to just look at them. It's so clear here, too. Is the sky this clear on Vulcan?"
"With no moon and much less moisture, it is far clearer."
"Hmm…" Jim was quiet a moment. "Did you come out here often when you were young? I spent so much time looking up at the stars when I was a boy…did you?"
Spock raised an eyebrow and looked at him a moment, before he looked out and up again with an expression that was almost wistful. "I…suppose that I did," he admitted. "I was often here…I watched them, and…I wondered if there was anywhere among them that a child of two worlds truly belonged."
Now Jim had no doubt that his first officer still had a little ways to go before he was entirely himself again; he was freely discussing his childhood. Not that it was a bad thing. "Well I don't know about you, but I think you've found it. I think you belong right where you are—on the Enterprise, with us."
The Vulcan gave him that almost-smile. He didn't say anything in particular, but it seemed to indicate he agreed.
It led to comfortable silence for a while, and Jim really did enjoy just sitting there, watching the stars. When was the last time he'd done that? And Spock was there, and somehow that just made it better.
"How are you doing?" Jim asked finally. "I know you were dreaming…I know it wasn't exactly pretty, too." Spock blinked and looked at him skeptically. The captain let out a breath. "I probably should have said something before, but it never seemed to be the right time. Everything went from bad to worse…anyway. What I'm saying is, ever since you tried to meld with me in sickbay…whatever you were doing…it left something behind. Some kind of mild connection. It seems to be fading on it's own, but I've been somewhat…aware, I guess, of…well, your…feelings," he explained, gesturing helplessly.
Now both of the Vulcan's eyebrows went up in surprise. "I see. I must apologize, Jim. I was aware it was possible for such a thing to happen—for there to be such residual effects of a meld, especially when the two parties are close in friendship or have family ties—but it did not occur to me that it could happen as a result of a failed meld."
"It's all right. It hasn't been any trouble. I just thought you should know. I'm sorry, in fact; not that I could have done anything about it, but it probably makes you uncomfortable."
Spock didn't exactly answer. Jim almost reached for his folded hands resting on the railing, but remembered that things were different now. Maybe the Vulcan wasn't quite there yet, but he was becoming himself again and might not want to the contact. He reached for his friend's shoulder instead, because it was covered and shouldn't affect the Vulcan's touch telepathy.
"Spock…I know none of this has been easy for you. And I know eventually you'll put at least most of those walls back up, and I guess that's all right; it's you. We're not going to hold it against you. But while you're listening to me I want you to know that I'm here. We're here. If you need us. We always will be. Even someday when we're not together on the Enterprise anymore…just don't forget that. It's not going to change."
Because he was beginning to assert his control once more Jim was surprise when Spock reached up briefly to cover the hand on his shoulder with his own. "I understand. Thank you, Jim," he said quietly.
Jim smiled and nodded, and for a long time after that captain and first officer stayed silently on the balcony, watching the stars.
Despite being awake for much of the night Spock rose early. He found the doctor in the kitchen, but it seemed Jim was still sleeping.
McCoy, meanwhile, seemed to have made himself at home, as the human saying went. That was perfectly fine, of course; Spock had invited them to, and this was not entirely his home anyhow as it was only a reproduction.
"Thank god they got the replicators right," McCoy commented, nodding to his heaping plate of typical human breakfast food. "The pantry's full, but I don't know how I feel about Vulcan cuisine."
Spock replicated himself a much simpler breakfast and took a seat opposite the doctor. "You will never know if you do not try it."
Spock spoke up again when the two of them were finished eating. "Doctor…I must inquire something."
McCoy stood to take both of their dishes back to the replicator, but he came back and sat again. "Shoot," he shrugged.
That colloquialism Spock understood. He had heard it before, and he knew to go on. "Before the Caretaker arrived…I was controlled by the nanoprobes once more. They would have killed you."
"That's not a question, Spock."
"No…" The Vulcan folded his hands on the table and stared at them a moment. "My question is concerning your attitude at the time."
It was not a comfortable subject, realizing what the doctor had done then. "The captain could have saved your life easily, by vaporizing me and the probes with me. He meant to. He would have done the 'right thing' as you put it. However, when the time came you asked him not to. The words you used seemed to indicate that you did not wish for Jim to kill me even if it meant your life would be forfeit."
McCoy shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Come on, Spock; don't make a big deal out of it. I owed you one. That's all."
"You were willing to give your life for even an uncertain chance that mine might be saved. Knowing your emotional nature, Doctor, you would not have made that decision based solely on logic, or duty. And truly it was not a logical decision at all. I…merely wish to understand your reasoning."
The doctor huffed quietly, made a face, but finally he relaxed and seemed resigned to explaining himself.
"Well, Spock…I've got a good ten years on you, and you're half Vulcan. Vulcans live a lot longer than humans. So either way you've got a lot more ahead of you than I do. That much is logical, isn't it? Anyway, I guess the thought process started there. Granted, it wasn't a long one; can't really think much while being knocked around and strangled." Spock frowned, and McCoy winced. "Sorry."
He paused, collecting his thoughts.
"You've got a lot to learn, Spock," the doctor said then. "You've started to. You're getting there, but you've got a long way to go." McCoy offered him a smile and a small shrug. "Maybe I just thought you deserved that chance."
Spock did not know how to respond to that, but there was strange warm feeling in his chest…the same one he'd felt last night when he'd spoken with Jim.
The doctor stood as if to leave the kitchen, but that was when Jim hurried into the kitchen.
"Cards!" the captain said, holding up a packaged deck. "I didn't think to bring any, but these were on my nightstand when I woke up. Not just cards. Yesterday I was thinking we needed more to do if we're going to be here for five days, and now there's a whole damned stack of things. Spock, buckle up. No chess or books today; you're getting a crash course in classic Earth board games."
The Vulcan raised an eyebrow, but he didn't protest.
Spock looked at his closest friends, both of them grinning now, and thought that it sounded like a pleasing prospect, really.
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