Actions

Work Header

Love Is Strange

Work Text:

An unfamiliar sound filled the air, a high trilling that seemed to emanate from the treetops. It came and went like the cycle of an engine. Spock searched the dense foliage, craning his neck, trying to see. There was nothing but leaf and shadow and sunlight.

"What is that, Father?"

Beside Spock, Sarek paused. "I do not know."

"Cicadas," Amanda offered, setting her luggage down on the gravel driveway in front of the main building of the resort. "They're insects. You can only hear them in the summer." She smiled at her son, pleased to know the answer.

The air felt moist and cool, a contrast to the hot, arid air of Spock's home planet. Everything seemed to move more slowly. Sounds seemed muffled, as if dampened by travelling through the air. From a distance came the shrieks of children, the rhythm of a kind of music Spock had never heard, and the crunch and rumble of an approaching ground-car on gravel.

The Kellerman Resort, Spock recalled, was intended as a haven for travelling off-worlders, who sometimes faced discrimination at other vacation spots. Located in the Catskill Mountains of New York State, it was rural yet convenient for visitors, and had been designed to resemble an old-fashioned summer retreat. The nearby diplomatic compound made it a favored place for ambassadors and other diplomats to bring their families when they needed to attend conferences or summits. The staff, however, was entirely Human.

A young woman with pink hair and Terran clothes leapt down the stairs from the building and swiped the suitcases from Amanda. "Let me get those," she said. "Your cabin is in the Magnolia section. Over here." She gestured for them to follow. "My name's Riva."

Sarek walked silently, not acknowledging the Human. Spock picked up his suitcase, still wondering at the sounds coming from the trees. There were birds, too. He had studied the bird guide until he was confident he could identify any of the species he might encounter. An American Robin alit on the lawn. Turdus migratorius, Spock thought to himself. Thrush family. Without looking at where he was going, he followed the sound of Riva's chattering voice.

Their cabin was constructed of wood, whitewashed and trimmed in dark green. It was divided into ten units, each with an external door. Sarek and Amanda would share one unit. Spock would have the adjacent one. Riva set Amanda's suitcases down on the porch whose weathered wood was painted gray. "There are dance lessons in the Pavilion, and dinner's at seven in the main house. Give a holler if you need anything." She pivoted and bounded down the three stairs to the stone path overgrown with grass.

"Indeed," Sarek said, looking after the young woman with what might possibly have been disapproval on his face. "Humans are most informal."

Spock did not let any amusement show, but he and his mother exchanged a glance as they often did. She smiled at him. They were in her homeworld now, and she did not attempt to control her expression. "Spock, will you be all right? I need to rest, and your father has a meeting with one of the Andorian ambassadors."

"Yes, Mother. I have plans to explore with the aid of my field guide." Spock checked his pocket for his computer.

"We shall meet for the evening meal," Sarek said, opening the door to their room.

Spock stepped inside his own chamber, closing the door whose texture was unfamiliar to him. Most things on Vulcan were built of glass or stone. Wood was rough and warm in comparison. The cabin smelled unfamiliar. A breeze came through the screened windows along with faint shouts and, again, distant music. Setting his bag down, Spock laid a hand on the crisp, white sheets and the woolen blanket of the bed. When he sat, the springs of the bed creaked.

Chipped blue paint covered the dresser beside the bed. A lamp wore a crooked shade. The cording on a chair was fraying. Everything was imperfect and new.

Spock considered his experience of Earth thus far. He had had an ulterior motive in requesting to join his father on this ambassadorial mission. Unbeknownst to his parents, he had not only applied to the Vulcan Science Academy, but to Starfleet. He had been accepted to both. There was no question in his parents' minds that he would go to the Vulcan Science Academy. Spock, though, had often wondered about Earth and its people, the origin of his Human half. It was only logical to examine all possibilities before coming to a final decision regarding his future. If he decided to join Starfleet, he did not know how he would inform his parents. Sarek would disapprove, and Amanda would miss him.

The decision had not yet been made, however, and there would be no need to say anything if he chose to remain on Vulcan at the Science Academy. In the next two weeks, Spock would have to choose.

***

After an afternoon on the lakeshore collecting pine needles, pine cones, flowers for the herbarium, and grasses for detailed identification, Spock grew tired, no doubt from the change in gravity and atmosphere. He had identified seven species of birds, as well as one species of newt. Earth, he decided, was a fascinating place.

Coming up the slope toward the cabins, he passed the pavilion, where a number of Andorians, Coridans, Denobulans, Rigelians, and Tellarites were performing a bizarre dance, attempting to coordinate their movements with the beats of the music. Spock paused to observe them. They appeared to be moving in formation, a circle within another circle, but it was difficult to be certain. Their leader was a Human woman whose dark hair was pulled back tightly, bundled at the back of her head.

"Merengue!" the young woman shouted toward Spock. "Want to join?"

An Andorian behind her leaned close, but still had to shout to be heard. "He's a Vulcan. Vulcans don't dance."

Spock turned away, pretending he hadn't heard. Vulcans did dance, he corrected in his mind, though not in the fashion that was on display in the pavilion. Vulcans were a musical people with finely tuned ears and an appreciation for melody. Music was the elegance of mathematics given another form. When he glanced over his shoulder, he had already been forgotten.

It was not yet 1900 hours, but Spock headed toward the main house where he was to meet his parents for dinner. His satchel of sample containers bumped against his hip. He was loath to return it to his cabin in case he came across another specimen.

Bushes adorned with fragrant pink flowers lined the path to the house. Spock stopped to smell them, and to look them up on his computer. Peonies. Native to Asia. Far from home, Spock thought, like me.

***

The main house was largely empty and quiet. The still rooms were dotted with circular tables surrounded by chairs, each table laid with a white cloth. Glasses stood ready to be filled. Waiters set down silver utensils and folded napkins as an older man in formal Terran attire addressed them. "Don't forget, you boys are headed for great things. I got some Yale, some Harvard. Starfleet. You're the best. Our guests expect you to act like it."

Spock stood near one of the dining room doors, unsure if he was allowed to be there. To his left, the main door opened and a young man strode in. He was dressed in a style Spock had seen in images from Earth magazines and newspapers on his computer: denim pants, a white jersey shirt, and a black leather jacket with prominent zippers.

"Speaking of the best..." one of the waiters said.

The other waiters laughed, turning their attention to the young man. He grinned, and ran a hand through his sandy hair. "Someone talking about me? Hi, Mr. Kellerman."

The older man sighed. "If it isn't James T. Kirk, here to give me another headache. Listen up, I don't want any trouble from you. No funny business, and hands off the guests, you hear me!"

James T. Kirk raised his hands in the air. "I haven't done a thing."

"Yet," said Mr. Kellerman. "Not yet, you haven't."

***

Spock poked at his salad, listening to his father recount the afternoon's meeting. There was some dissent among the members of the Federation about whether or not to admit Coridan. The planet's dilithium reserves were an obvious asset, but the Coridans had a troubled past with the Orions, a liability the Federation was reluctant to inherit.

In the background, a band played fast-paced music. Spock wondered about their instruments, and resolved to research them later.

"It is a question of how to deal with the Coridan rebels," Sarek said. "They have not yielded to diplomatic pressure."

"Mmm," Amanda agreed in a half-hearted way.

"Spock," Sarek said, shifting his attention from his wife, "it would benefit you to attend the open meetings."

"Yes, Father," Spock agreed automatically.

"Spock. Aren't you hungry?" Amanda leaned toward him.

Spock's stomach rumbled, as if in answer. The food had a strange texture in his mouth. He felt compelled to consume it slowly, to give his body a chance to adjust. Everything was leafy and green and fresh. "Consumption of strange foods should not be undertaken hurriedly in case of a negative reaction," Spock replied.

"Of course," Amanda said. "Sarek, isn't that...?"

Sarek glanced up from his salad. Spock followed his father's look across the room to where a young, Vulcan woman stood with her parents.

"T'Pring," Spock supplied. "I did not realize she was here."

"I mentioned our visit to her father. We concluded that it was time the two of you became better acquainted. Please invite her to join us." Sarek set his fork down.

Spock pushed his chair back and rose. He remembered T'Pring from their betrothal, which had occurred years prior, but he had rarely seen her since. She was only a childish face and a name. As he crossed the room, he saw the young man named James T. Kirk enter with the dark-haired dance instructor from the pavilion. He wore dark slacks and a crisp white shirt. She wore a flowing orange dress. They walked arm in arm, gliding across the floor with fluid motions. A number of guests on the dance floor clapped and cheered and waved their antennae.

Spock continued on, catching the attention of T'Pring and her parents. He drew alongside them. "My mother and father invite you to join us for the evening meal," Spock offered, bowing his head slightly.

T'Pring's parents turned toward the table where Spock had been sitting. "Your offer is most acceptable," T'Pring's father, Seren, said. The Vulcan family followed Spock across the room.

After the addition of extra places at the table, they all sat to eat. Spock found himself less interested in the company at the table than the couple at the center of the dance floor. The girl had darker skin than most of the other Humans working at the resort, and she was quite lovely. Her feet and arms moved with precision, matching the beats of the music. James T. Kirk held her close, moving against her in a way that made heat rise to Spock's face. He turned away.

T'Pring stared at him.

"When did you arrive here?" Spock asked to divert her attention.

"Six days ago," she said, crunching her salad. "You arrived today. I saw you from my window."

Amanda leaned across the table. "Spock, you could ask T'Pring to dance."

"Mother," Spock murmured.

"Don't 'Mother' me. You know how to dance."

T'Pring looked at Amanda. "Every Vulcan learns to dance at a young age. I do not know about half-Vulcans."

Sarek's stern face betrayed nothing, but Amanda leaned back in her seat as if she had been struck. Spock felt his breathing grow shallow, but he kept his face composed.

"I appear to have insulted you," T'Pring said, glancing at her parents – their faces remained impassive. "I shall dance with you." She rose.

Spock hesitated for a moment, but at a look from his father, he followed T'Pring onto the dance floor.

The music was not at all what Spock was accustomed to. He had no idea how he and T'Pring would dance to it, particularly since Humans demonstrated a drastically different style, and provided no appropriate examples. Vulcan dance did not involve touching one's partner. Instead, it involved matching their movements, as if looking at oneself in the mirror.

Spock stood facing T'Pring. They gazed at one another for a moment, each waiting for the other to begin. Spock found himself looking at James T. Kirk and his partner. It would be impossible to imitate them. The behavior would not be condoned by either T'Pring or any of the three Vulcan parents. Spock suspected that his mother would be less shocked. He wondered if she had danced in this manner before meeting his father. She had a whole Earth life unknown to him. She rarely discussed the past on Vulcan, but Spock had always secretly longed for stories of the other planet from which he had inherited his genes.

The band switched to a slower song. T'Pring began to move in a rhythm faster than the customary Vulcan dances, but her gestures were the same. Spock took up her lead, attempting to mirror her gestures without making any physical contact. Their movements should have been in harmony given their proximity and their childhood bonding, but Spock found it difficult to match her actions. He was 1.2 seconds behind her lead despite his best efforts. He was using his vision, not his mind. Therein lay the trouble. When his mind reached out to hers, it encountered only a void.

Out of the corner of his eye, Spock caught flashes of the other couples dancing. James T. Kirk and his partner had split up, and an older Andorian woman had latched on to him, pulling him close. Spock returned his focus to T'Pring.

"They do not dance with Vulcans," T'Pring said.

***

After returning to the cabins with his parents, Spock bade both of them goodnight, and ensconced himself in his room to catalogue his plant specimens. Through the open window came a mysterious noise, something similar to the cicadas but less loud and trilling, an almost metallic sound that seemed to emanate from the tall grass. Spock also found it difficult to ignore a faint, thumping music, which came not from the main building but from someplace more distant, beyond the reach of Human ears. Spock set his computer down on the blanket to peer into the darkness.

Making up his mind to pursue a more anthropological direction of study, Spock stood, turned off the lamp, and put his shoes on in the dark. He exited his room without a sound, noting that there was no light on in his parents' room. The boards of the porch creaked slightly. Spock stilled, listening, but heard no response to the noise. He continued on, taking the buckled stone path down a slight slope and to a dirt path, which wound around a grove of rhododendrons before crossing a dry creek. The short wooden bridge vibrated slightly under Spock's feet. Spock noted a sign that read: NO GUESTS BEYOND THIS POINT.

Spock ignored the sign, prioritizing curiosity, and made his way along the path. Exposed tree roots protruded from the dirt, making it easy to stumble. Spock was surefooted, though, and did not falter.

"Hey!" a voice called out from the darkness.

Spock turned, half-expecting a reprimand. A dark-haired Human male struggled to carry three unidentifiable round items. They appeared to be heavy. Spock stepped forward. "May I assist you?" he offered, taking one of the objects.

"Thanks. Damn things have gotta be ten kilos each. What are you doing up here?"

Spock fell into step behind the man, and they made their way up the twisting trail. "I heard the music..."

"Well, do me a favor, and don't tell anybody you were up here. Kellerman'll get hives." The man glanced over his shoulder. "I'm Leonard McCoy, by the way. I'd shake your hand if you weren't a Vulcan and if I wasn't loaded down with these things."

"I will maintain secrecy. What are these items we are carrying?" Spock squinted at the smooth surface of the object in his arms.

"You've never had a watermelon?"

"Indeed, I have not."

"Well, tie me up with fencewire. Can't survive a Georgia summer without them."

Spock continued to follow Leonard up the winding path.

"I'm surprised," Leonard said. "You're the last person I'd expect to be up here."

They reached a rickety flight of wooden stairs that turned this way and that, ascending. The music was louder now, and shouts ricocheted off the trees. There were a great many people in the large structure at the top of the stairs, Spock deduced. He briefly wondered if he should have come. He did not know what had drawn him, but he could not bring himself to turn back.

"Why am I the last person you would expect to be here?" Spock asked.

At the landing, Leonard turned to face Spock. "It's breaking the rules." He grinned, presumably to indicate that he was not bothered by Spock's behavior.

Spock was well aware of his transgression. Vulcans did not by custom 'break the rules'. The shame of his Human heritage burned his cheeks, but even the shame was a Human emotion. A Vulcan would not have let such a thing rise to the surface, but would have subdued it immediately.

Leonard launched himself, back first, at the door, and Spock followed him into a room lit crudely with bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling by their cords. Spock had rarely seen such a crowd of beings in a space so small. The air in the room was noticeably warmer than the air outside, heated perhaps by all of the Human bodies whose movements caught Spock's attention and held it. The music, now at full volume, filled his ears so forcefully that his whole body vibrated. He had never felt anything like it. He stood, frozen, holding the watermelon like a lifeline.

"Bring it over here," Leonard yelled above the din.

Spock followed the order without taking his eyes off the dancers. The couples, all Human, clasped one another tightly, hands on hips, hands on buttocks, even hands on breasts or on groins. Men danced with women, women with women, and men with men. Some danced hip to hip, moving as one. All of them looked to be in a state of ecstasy, mouths slightly open or touching another mouth.

Spock set his watermelon down on the table where Leonard had just set his. "Where did they learn this dance?" he asked.

"Sodom," Leonard answered mysteriously.

Spock felt hot, even though the temperature in the room was much cooler than Vulcan. The spectacle before him was shocking, but not disagreeable, at least not to Spock; he had no doubt his father, or any other Vulcan, would have recoiled. Spock let his eyes rove over the bodies of the dancers, who wore little clothing, as Humans seemed wont to do. He recognized the pink-haired girl who had carried his parents' luggage to their cabin, but the other faces were unknown to him. The women wore their dresses and blouses low-cut, revealing the tops of their breasts. Their skirts barely covered anything at all. Some of the men were bare-chested. Others wore sleeveless white shirts. All of them wore pants that revealed shape and definition, if not actual skin. Spock felt distinctly out of place in his dark, loose-fitting pants and his long-sleeved shirt.

Suddenly, everyone began cheering loudly. Spock followed their gazes to see James T. Kirk and his dance partner entering the room. The two of them immediately began dancing in the suggestive style of the other dancers, their every move a far cry from the show they had put on for the guests at the main house.

"Who are they?" Spock asked, remembering for the first time in minutes that Leonard continued to stand beside him.

Leonard leaned close to be heard. "That's Jim and his partner, Uhura. They've been dancing together for a few years now. Cats and dogs, but on the floor they're a pair."

Spock had difficulty parsing the Human's vernacular. He did not want to appear rude, and therefore did not ask for explication. The song wound down, and Jim – Spock deduced that it was a nickname of some sort – and Uhura made their way toward Leonard. Jim was sweating so the thin fabric of his white shirt clung to him.

"Who's this?" Jim gestured toward Spock.

Leonard glanced at Spock. "What was your name again?"

"Spock."

Jim smiled. "Spock, huh?" To Leonard, he said, "What'd you bring him up here for? You know they aren't allowed."

"He's all right," Leonard shrugged. "For a Vulcan."

Uhura laughed, then grabbed Leonard's arm.

"You know how to pick 'em," Jim said, smacking Leonard on the shoulder. He turned to Spock and crooked his finger.

Spock raised an eyebrow, unsure of what was meant.

"Dance with me." Jim ran a hand through his sweat-damp hair.

"I have never danced in the manner on display here." Spock made no move to join him.

Jim grabbed Spock's hand and pulled him close. "It's never too late to learn."

Spock jerked his hand away at the moist touch. Stars exploded behind his eyes.

"Sorry. I forgot Vulcans don't like being touched." But Jim didn't look sorry at all. In fact, he reached his hand out toward Spock again, only this time, he didn't grab. He looked at Spock expectantly.

Spock considered the outstretched hand with its pale palm and slightly stubby fingers. Jim no longer wore a smile, though his eyes sparkled in the light. Spock had come to the planet with the intention of experiencing its culture. In order to be thorough, he thought, he should try everything. Tentatively, Spock raised his mental shields and put his hand in the Human's. He felt the fingers close around his. A tingle shot through him, reaching his legs and his spine, and even the back of his neck. He found himself face to face with Jim, close but not touching except where their hands connected.

"Follow my lead," Jim instructed. "Like this." He moved his hips in a motion that seemed easy until Spock attempted it. Jim laughed. "Hear the music. Oil it up."

Spock concentrated on the music pounding in his ears, concentrated on the physical connection between them, their fingers laced together. He closed his eyes, and moved his hips, imagining in his mind's eye the way Jim moved his. Something like an electric current raced through his entire system, head to toe, unfamiliar but not unwelcome.

"That's it," Spock heard, though it seemed like the words came from far away. "Open your eyes."

Spock obeyed, and at once became dizzy from the lights and the music and the vibrations in the floor beneath his feet.

"Watch my eyes. Don't think about your feet. Just look at me." Jim nodded encouragingly.

Jim's eyes were like none Spock had ever seen on his own planet, though he had heard they were common enough here on Earth. He was suddenly flooded with the sense that the two of them were moving as one, with the same motions, in unison. He recalled T'Pring's statement that Humans did not dance with Vulcans. He corrected it in his mind: it was Vulcans who did not dance with Humans. And they still didn't: Spock was half Human. It was his Human half that had led him to disobey the sign forbidding him to come up the trail to the staff quarters. It was his Human half that had led him to extend his hand to a stranger, and it was his Human half that moved now, locked in a dance that members of his race would not have found appropriate at all.

Much too soon, the song ended, and Jim let go of Spock's hand. Spock stumbled a little at the loss of contact. He felt disoriented and strange, even a little dizzy. Without saying goodbye, Jim wandered off, taking up another partner in the crowd. Spock remained breathless, standing amid the grinding bodies, the room spinning around him, feeling as lost as a protoplanet without a stable orbit.

***

When Spock woke, the small clock beside the bed indicated a time of 0900 hours. Late. His internal clock had been thrown off by the change in planet. His parents hadn't woken him for breakfast. He supposed Sarek had hurried off to a meeting, but it was odd for Amanda not to request his company.

He flipped the blanket off and swung his legs to the floor. Laziness would not do. He had plans to document the lakeside species, both aquatic and non-aquatic. He had already missed the early morning, which he had read was a prime time for birds to feed.

Spock bathed in the hydro-shower, which was quite unlike the sonic showers to which he was accustomed. The water attained a pleasantly hot temperature. Afterwards, he again dressed in long pants and long sleeves. That was all he had packed for the trip.

When he knocked on the door to the neighboring room, Amanda did not answer, but Spock found her a short time later on the lakeshore reading a book on her computer.

"You slept in," Amanda observed as Spock sat in the wooden chair beside her.

"It will not happen again," Spock vowed. The sun felt comfortably warm.

Amanda smiled, and reached over to smooth Spock's hair. He pulled away from the gesture.

"You're on vacation, it's all right. It's your father who's working."

"I had plans to make observations for my log." Spock recognized Leonard and Uhura from the previous night. They sat at a table playing Terran chess, a game Amanda had taught Spock to play. Leonard appeared to be unhappy with how the game was proceeding. Spock focussed his ears in hopes of overhearing their conversation, but they were silent aside from comments about the game.

Amanda interrupted Spock's thoughts. "T'Pring is around here somewhere. You should go find her."

Spock turned to Amanda. "I fail to understand your motivation for urging me to spend time with her. I find I am not interested in seeking out her companionship."

"You're not?" Amanda looked concerned.

Spock got up from the chair. "I spoke harshly," he said. "I apologize. I am going out to the woods."

"Give her a chance, Spock. It's important for you to get along with her."

"I will do as you wish."

Amanda shaded her eyes, looking up at her son. "Meet me for lunch?"

"Of course. Is 1200 hours a convenient time?"

Amanda nodded. Spock lifted his hand in the Human gesture of farewell. As he followed the curve of the lake, he stopped beside the small table where Uhura and Leonard continued their game.

Uhura looked up at him. "Play the winner?"

Spock shook his head. He always won the games with his mother, and he had deduced that it made her feel inadequate. He would not want to cause the same reaction in a Human he did not know.

"Wise. Leonard's in a bad mood, and he's kicking my ass."

"You are graceful on the dance floor. Your performance last night was exemplary," Spock said, feeling an ache at the remembrance of her dancing with James Kirk.

Uhura gave him a funny look. "Thanks. It's a living."

"She hates it," Leonard said.

Humans were mysterious. "One would not think so from watching you."

"Whenever I'm out there, I focus on how I'm a dollar closer to getting myself to Starfleet," Uhura said. "One step closer to leaving Podunk, right?" she addressed Leonard. "I'm almost there."

In response, Leonard moved his chess piece, knocking out one of Uhura's men.

"Damn," Uhura said.

"Starfleet?" Spock asked. He was curious now.

"The Academy accepted me. I just have to get there," Uhura said brusquely. She didn't seem interested in furthering the conversation, but instead gazed intently at the board.

"Might I make a suggestion?" Spock asked, indicating the board.

Uhura shrugged. "Can't hurt. Might help."

Spock touched a finger to one of the knights. Uhura's face lit up with comprehension. She made the move, taking Leonard's rook and leaving him exposed to a checkmate in three moves.

"No fair!" Leonard accused as Spock walked away, veering toward the dark woods.

***

As scheduled, Spock met his father at 1400 hours. They passed by heavy security on the way out of the resort, and travelled by aircar to the Starfleet base, which was fifty-seven kilometers away.

After the open meeting (during which many opinions were expressed both for and against Coridan's admission to the Federation), Sarek made a point of introducing Spock to Selak, one of the Vulcan elders taking part in the negotiations.

"Sarek," Selak bowed.

"Selak, this is my son, Spock. He will be entering the Academy when we return to Vulcan."

"I am aware." His sharp eyes assessed Spock. "One would never know of his heritage by looking at him."

Spock controlled his reaction to the comment, remaining silent.

Sarek's voice betrayed no offense. "He passed the entrance exam with marks ranking him in the ninety-eighth percentile. Regardless of his mixed heritage, Spock has chosen the Vulcan way, and is betrothed to T'Pring," he added.

"Ah," Selak said.

T'Pring's family was one of the most ancient bloodlines on Vulcan. It was an honor to marry into it. Sarek had mentioned the bond in order to improve Selak's estimation of Spock. Spock could say nothing, could voice no opinion. He only bowed his head slightly in acknowledgement.

"The marriage will improve him," Selak commented.

"Indeed," Sarek responded. "I believe he will do the Academy great service."

The two men bowed to one another, and Selak departed to speak with one of the Rigelian ambassadors.

***

When all had gone quiet around the cabins, Spock made his way out of his room, aiming for the path he had taken the night before. He did not know what compelled him to go there again, only that he had found that world up the hill foreign and new and utterly Human, unlike anything he had ever experienced. When he had cried as a very young child, his father had always said: 'It's his Human half' or 'He gets that from you, Amanda', as if crying were a cause for shame. Spock had come to believe that it was. But in this new place, he felt as if he could be different from the child who had been shamed on Vulcan. He did not wish to express himself as blatantly as Humans were known to do, but he was inclined to test the boundaries that had been set before him in the past.

No loud music emanated from the building, and Spock wondered if anyone would be there at all. As he neared, he heard voices. The door to the makeshift dance hall was open and a harsh light shone inside. Spock peered in to see Jim and his friend Leonard talking to Uhura, who clutched a suitcase in her hand. They appeared to be in the middle of a discussion. Spock waited, unsure if he should make his presence known.

"I told you this was the last summer, and I don't really see a reason to stick around. This week's pay gave me what I needed to leave," Uhura said.

Jim touched Uhura's arm. "But I need you."

"Yeah, well, I have better things to do with my life."

Leonard interjected, "Starfleet or here, tough decision."

"Whose side are you on?" Jim turned to his friend with an incredulous expression on his face.

Leonard shrugged.

"Who's going to be my partner? How the hell am I supposed to do the Edgecliff show without you?"

"That's your problem," Uhura said. With a flip of her hair, she turned toward the door and stalked away, her large suitcase thumping against her leg. "Excuse me," she said when she reached Spock.

Spock moved aside to let her exit through the door. He watched her descend the steep steps.

"Fuck!" Jim exclaimed, bringing Spock's attention back into the room. "What the fuck am I supposed to do now? What the hell does she want to go to Starfleet for? They're a bunch of fucking assholes over there. Fuck!" He paced the room, kicking at a chair that got in his way.

Leonard moved toward a small table, picked up a bottle, and poured a drink into a tumbler. He handed the glass to Jim. "Drink," he commanded.

Jim took the glass and consumed its contents in one swallow. Leonard poured again, then gestured toward Spock with the bottle. "You want a drink?"

"No, thank you," Spock said. "Do I understand correctly that Uhura has left you without a dance partner?"

"You're fucking brilliant, Sherlock." Jim swallowed another drink.

"Is there no one else who might take her place?"

Leonard drank from his own glass. "Everyone's got their own shows booked solid."

Jim sat dejectedly in a metal chair beside the table. "If I don't do that show, I'm fucked. They were going to pay me a lot of credits." He turned to Leonard and held out his glass. "Hit me."

"What about Myla?" Leonard suggested with a wink.

Jim glared at Leonard. "Don't even joke about that. She'd never leave me alone after that."

Spock did not ask who Myla was. The name sounded Andorian.

Leonard poured again, exhausting the contents of the bottle. "You could always ask the elf here."

"Vulcans don't dance," Jim pointed out. "I'd be better off asking you."

"Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a mambo king!"

Spock felt obliged to correct Jim's misconception. "You are in error. Vulcans are taught to dance at a young age."

"You got him to move last night," Leonard said.

"Where the hell'd all the Scotch go?" Jim complained.

"You drank it, you idiot."

Jim looked doubtfully at Spock.

Leonard smiled. "Just think how much attention you'd get. The first dancing Vulcan. He wasn't half bad, you know."

Spock sensed the direction in which the conversation was headed. "I must inform you, however, that it is not customary for Vulcans to spend prolonged periods in physical contact with others. I would not be able to assist you, even if my skills met your requirements."

"Jim can teach anybody anything." Leonard downed the rest of his drink.

"That may be, but it is not a matter of my being taught."

"It's all right. I didn't expect you'd help me, anyway." Jim rubbed at his face. "I dunno, Bones. There's gotta be somebody."

"They'll all be filling in for Uhura. Lots of dirty old Tellarites looking for pretty young – "

"If you're not going to be helpful, just shut up." Jim banged his forehead against the table. "Ugh."

"I am being helpful. I'm getting you drunk." Leonard held the empty bottle up and squinted at it. "Doing a shitty job of it if I don't get my hands on more liquor." He stood with a determined set to his jaw. "I'll be back in five."

After Leonard had gone, Jim rested his chin in his hand, elbow on the table. "You wanna at least play a game of chess with me? Aren't Vulcans chess masters? I always beat the pants off Bones. It makes him pissy."

Spock sat in the chair recently vacated by Leonard. "In that, I would be pleased to oblige you."

"You'll probably destroy me. I plan to get good and drunk."

Humans possessed the most colorful vocabulary, Spock observed. He raised his eyebrow slightly. "Perhaps you should cease your consumption now in order to retain your mental faculties."

"Nah," Jim said, "the whole point is to throw those out the window." He opened up the chess board that lay on the table. "Black or white?" he asked.

"Black."

They each set up their men.

By the time Leonard returned with more liquor, the game was well underway. Jim, Spock learned, was a worthy opponent, though his style bore no resemblance to Spock's.

"I go away for five minutes and the place turns into a geek convention," Leonard announced, gesturing dangerously with a full bottle of amber liquid.

"Shut up, Bones. We're concentrating." Jim contemplated his next move.

"Christ." Leonard pulled up another chair to observe the game. He filled Jim's glass.

"Thanks," Jim said, and swallowed the drink in one gulp.

"Now we're talking," Leonard said approvingly, filling his own glass. "You sure you don't want some?" he asked Spock.

"I am certain."

The game continued in near silence, the only sound being the creak of Leonard's chair as he rocked it back on two legs, then let it come down onto all four legs again.

Spock won the game, though not as easily as he had expected to. Jim, for all his posturing and alcohol consumption, had made Spock work for his victory.

***

In the shade of the trees, the temperature was several degrees cooler than it had been in the sun. Spock shivered; he was still adjusting to the cooler climate.

Looking up, he identified a number of trees as either Acer saccharum or Acer platanoides. He tried to remember what characteristics differentiated them. The bark, maybe. And, of course, the sap. The leaves shivered in the wind, letting spots of sunlight through. The breeze had a strange scent. Spock lamented the fact that he could not input scents into the computer for prompt identification.

As Spock walked on, he made a note of the tree roots criss-crossing the soil. The club mosses growing here and there among ferns and oak seedlings. He wandered from the trail, entering a darker and gloomier grove of pines whose branches wove a dense roof above him. A carpet of pine needles felt soft beneath his shoes. Here, there was little undergrowth – Spock hypothesized that this was due to the dearth of light – but the scent he had detected on the breeze was stronger. Spock pulled a bundle of pine needles from a tree, crushing them with his fingers. Yes, there was the smell, pungent and unadulterated. He had smelled traces of something else on the breeze, too, but he had yet to identify it. Spock believed that it had a plant source.

Spock sat on the ground and removed his shoes and socks. Tentatively, he touched the bare sole of his foot to the mat of pine needles. He moved his foot back and forth, rolling the fascicles against his skin. There was something wonderfully pleasing about the experience. Spock stood, and began walking barefoot. The needles were springy under his feet, but his first step onto a prickly cone persuaded him to put his shoes on again.

All this time, Spock had been ascending, but now the earth levelled out before descending again to the east. At a lookout point, a view of meadows spread out before him, bathed in sun. Two figures stood beside a wooden fence, among flowering plants that reached almost to their waists. Spock turned away immediately, sensing he was intruding upon a private moment, but something made him look back – a vague feeling that he recognized one of the figures. Indeed, it was T'Pring. She stood in a position of some intimacy, touching hands with a young Vulcan Spock did not know. They had not seen him, as he was some distance away, and hidden in the trees.

Heat rushed to Spock's face – he was uncertain whether it was due to his own embarrassment or something else – but he turned and headed back the way he had come.

***

T'Pring arrived late to dinner, though her parents had much earlier joined Spock's family for the meal. She slid into her seat, her face betraying nothing. She greeted Spock politely. A bit of leaf clung to her robes. Spock did not mention it.

While T'Pring's parents inquired after her whereabouts, Spock returned his attention to the dance floor, which he had been observing ever since Jim Kirk had appeared there. Jim held an older Andorian woman – most likely the wife of one of the diplomats – close.

"Spock?" It was Amanda's voice.

Spock dragged his attention away from the dance floor. "Yes, mother?"

Amanda leaned forward. "Did you hear what I said?"

"I am sorry."

"I was saying that you and T'Pring should spend some time together after dinner. There are chess matches in one of the game rooms."

Spock glanced at Sarek, who looked as severe as ever, his eyes fixed on T'Pring. T'Pring stared at her salad.

Spock hesitated, unsure how to respond. It was unlike him to rebel, but he knew that neither he nor T'Pring desired each other's company. Yet Spock also desired to please his mother – she had requested that he spend more time with T'Pring.

"I look forward to a game of chess," Spock said, "if T'Pring agrees."

T'Pring gave the barest acknowledgement of Spock's request.

Spock's eyes almost unconsciously made their way back to the center of the floor, where Jim continued to dance, now with a Denobulan, a male. Spock coughed lightly, his food caught in his throat. He reached for his glass of water.

"Spock?" Amanda gave him a curious look.

"I am all right," Spock managed. He took a deep breath.

***

After dinner, Spock walked with T'Pring to the game room on the other side of the main house. Three matches of three-dimensional chess were already in progress, every player a Vulcan. This was, apparently, where they all gathered, as Spock had not seen any of them at the lake or on the dance floor. Chess was a game of the mind, Spock thought, unlike the other activities being offered at the resort. The Andorians seemed to enjoy dancing, and he had noticed the Tellarites funnelling into the gym in the mornings, or practicing martial arts on the flat expanse of lawn.

Spock recognized a pair of the players – Seton and T'Pala; they had tormented him daily in school, and he had been sent upon many occasions to the principal's office as a result of their conflicts. It was unlike Spock to lose his temper without provocation, but they had always provoked him. He had not been able to control his reactions. It was during these visits to the principal's office that Sarek most often lamented Spock's Human half.

One other player looked familiar: it was the young Vulcan with whom T'Pring had been walking in the woods.

Several of the players looked up as Spock and T'Pring entered the room. Their expressions gave nothing away, but Seton said, "It is the Human who tries to pass for a Vulcan. What are you doing with him?"

T'Pring said, "We are betrothed." Her wording and tone expressed her real meaning.

Spock felt a touch of anger rise within him.

T'Pala, said, "It is fortunate that you will have recourse when the time comes."

"Stonn," T'Pring said, addressing the man from the woods, "May I play the winner?" She indicated the game before Stonn and his partner.

"We shall not be long," Stonn replied.

T'Pring sat in a chair beside their table to wait. The others watched Spock expectantly to see what he would do. There was no principal present to resolve the conflict. Spock held tightly to his control, not wanting to give in to their prodding. Instead, he stood up straighter and said, "I believe I have another engagement. Good evening, T'Pring." He let nothing show as he exited the room, but as soon as he was out of sight of the other Vulcans, his hands clenched, and he felt the inexplicable desire to run.

For all their talk of infinite diversity, Vulcans could be remarkably close-minded, Spock thought with fury. They looked upon his father's choice of mate as a betrayal and an adulteration of Vulcan purity. It was admirable to take pride in one's race, but not if the cost was bigotry. It was impossible, it seemed, for Spock to be completely accepted on the planet he had called home all his life.

Spock burst out of the main building and into the cool night air. He took several deep breaths, calming his frayed mind. Not all Vulcans behaved as T'Pring and the others did, though it was true that Spock had led an isolated life, never fully integrated into the social circles at school. For the most part, the prejudice he faced was subtly expressed, rather than brazenly displayed. Yet, no matter how controlled it was, Spock was always aware of it, always reminded that he did not belong.

From the pavilion came strains of music. Several pairs of dancers filled the space, Andorians and Tellarites, along with two Humans and one Rigelian. Spock watched them for a moment, reining in his anger. The sight of the dancers caused his thoughts to drift to Jim Kirk. An idea began to form in his mind.

With resolve, Spock went back inside the building, returning to the main hall, where people continued to dine. As Spock neared the dance area, he recognized Jim's form guiding an Andorian woman in a graceful swoop around the perimeter of the floor. Spock sat at one of the tables nearby. For some reason, watching Jim dance gave him pleasure.

The Andorian woman seemed similarly gratified to be Jim's partner. Her antennae moved dreamily, in time with the music. She was the same female, Spock noted, who had danced with Jim before.

"Will I see you later, Jimmy?" the Andorian woman asked as the last notes of the song faded.

"Sure," Jim agreed, but he had noticed Spock, and ceased paying attention to the woman, though she looked at Jim as if expecting more from him. "What are you doing here?" Jim asked, taking a seat beside Spock.

Before he could give his idea more consideration, Spock forged ahead. "Have you found a partner to replace Uhura?"

"Not yet," Jim said, giving Spock a puzzled look.

"If you can, indeed, 'teach anyone anything', then I hereby offer my assistance."

Jim laughed. "I thought you had some reason you couldn't."

"It will not be impossible, but it will require some effort on my part. Whatever obstacles I encounter, I will overcome them."

Jim appeared to be thinking over what Spock had said. "Um. Okay. I accept your offer, but I don't get why the hell you'd want to help me."

Spock considered his motives, which he knew to be primarily a response to the rejection he had experienced in the game room. Logic would not permit him to accept that as a legitimate reason. "Is it not the custom of Humans to help others when they are in need? You said yourself that you are..." He paused to find a more accurate synonym for the word Jim had used. "You will be in dire financial straits if you are unable to do the upcoming dance show. I do not have other obligations, nor would I object to learning the Human methods of dance, which are quite distinct from the Vulcan. It is logical for me to offer my assistance." Spock doubted, however, that any other Vulcan would have duplicated his offer if presented with a similar situation.

"You can call it logic if you want," Jim said, smoothing a crease in his pants. He stood. "Come up to the staff quarters at ten tomorrow. If you don't fall flat on your face during the first lesson, we have a deal."

Spock stood also, strangely calmed by his decision. "I look forward to it," he said.

***

Spock could not define his emotions as he climbed the steps the next morning, heading toward the staff quarters. He did not know what to expect. It was illogical to harbor anxieties.

When he reached the building, it stood empty. Sunlight shone in through the windows and dust motes floated in the golden air. The floorboards creaked under his feet as he crossed the room, examining the abandoned glasses and cards that remained on the table, presumably from the previous night.

"I half expected you wouldn't show," Spock heard from behind him.

He turned to see Jim Kirk standing in the doorway, leaning against the jamb.

"I do not renege on commitments," Spock replied.

"Of course you don't." Jim grinned, pushing himself off the door jamb and approaching Spock. He wore a black jersey weave shirt and pants of a type that seemed popular among Humans. "Should we get started?"

"What do you wish me to do?"

Jim held up a finger. "Hold on. Music." He plugged his computer into an amplifier and adjusted the settings. Music filled the room. "Mambo," Jim said inexplicably. "Twentieth century."

Spock deduced that Jim was referring to the origin of the music.

"Okay." Jim gestured with his hands for Spock to come near.

Spock hesitated an arm's length away, raising his mental shields before stepping closer.

"Put your left hand on my shoulder," Jim instructed, placing his right hand on Spock's back. His left hand clasped Spock's right hand. His palm was warm and moist.

The touch sent a tremor through Spock as he adjusted to having another's consciousness in contact with his own. It was not unpleasant, though it required effort to maintain the boundary between them.

Jim pulled Spock closer. "Here are the steps, okay? Left foot back half a step, then forward a big step. Right foot steps in place." He went through the entire sequence. "Got it?"

"My memory is excellent."

"Let's run through it real fast on my count. Ready, one, two, three, four."

They moved together. The pressure of Jim's hand guided Spock.

"Your time's off. One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four," Jim counted the beats. "Again."

Spock repeated the steps, trying to keep in harmony with Jim's movements. It should not have been difficult, as Vulcans had innate time sense. Spock counted off the beats in his head.

Jim let go of Spock's hand and pointed first to his ear, then to something unseen in the corner of the room. "Listen to the music. This stuff's about heat and passion. Hear it? Again."

They went through the motions. Again, Spock felt he was not coordinated with Jim's movements. His inadequacy mystified him. He had had the same trouble with T'Pring despite their bond. He had not felt her there in his mind as they had danced.

"Hold on. Let's try something else. The rhythm's the most important part. The soul." Jim let go of Spock altogether, touching the amplifier, shutting off the sound. He gestured for Spock's hand, then placed it against his chest. "It's like a heartbeat. Can you feel it? Ba-bum, ba-bum, ba-bum. Close your eyes."

Spock obeyed. In the sudden darkness, he became more aware of sound and feeling. Loud birds outside, and the wind rustling. Jim's breathing, the warmth of his hand, and his whole body radiating. Beneath Spock's palm, the Human's heart beat.

"Ba-bum, ba-bum. Can you feel it?"

"Yes," Spock said softly. He could even feel the blood moving just under the surface, in the small veins and capillaries. So fragile.

"Okay, steps. One, two, three, four." They moved together. "Keep your eyes closed. Feel my heartbeat."

They repeated the dance steps. Spock felt his shields slipping. The effort of trying to sense Jim's body while trying not to sense his mind was beyond what Spock was accustomed to. The sensations were unfamiliar, as well. Spock's heart rate had increased as he was flooded with the chaos of the mind beside him. Instinctively, and with all his will, he slammed his shields back into place, coming to a complete stop.

"What's wrong? You were getting it. I could feel the difference."

Spock regained his breath and his control, and opened his eyes. "As could I," he explained, taking a step away. "But in order to achieve such harmony, I have had to lower the barriers I have erected between us."

"You've, uh, erected barriers?" Jim laughed for some reason.

"Mental shields to prevent your emotions from entering my mind."

Jim snapped his fingers. "Right. Vulcans are touch telepaths. Shit. Well, we can't dance with your shields up or whatever. I can feel them. Things have to go back and forth. You to me, me to you. See?" Jim gestured with his hand.

Spock considered the Human before him, fascinated by the constant movement of his hands and his mouth. He was never still. Jim tilted his head and gazed back at Spock.

"I am unaccustomed to the sensation, but I will overcome any difficulties I am experiencing." Spock straightened his shirt, put his shields in place, and stepped forward into Jim's space again.

But Jim stepped away. "See, now, I can feel that. You're back where you started. You have to let it go. Stop worrying." Jim took hold of Spock suddenly, and pulled him close.

Jim was so near that Spock could feel warm breath on his cheek. He closed his eyes, focussing, and lifted his shields fractionally. The sensations overwhelmed him, but he concentrated on mitigating them until his mind was not accustomed but at least tolerant of their force.

"That's it." The words were quiet, close to his ear. "Let's just stand here a minute. Ba-bum, ba-bum." Jim put a hand on Spock's chest. "I can't feel your heart."

"My physiology is different from yours." After a moment's consideration, Spock grasped Jim's hand and moved it down to his side.

"It's down there? Holy shit. Your heart's racing."

"That is normal." It was not strictly the truth. His heart rate was 12.5 percent higher than usual for his level of activity, a fact he attributed to the Human's proximity.

"If we dance to yours, people will think we're on crank."

"Crank?"

"It's a drug."

"I see." But he did not particularly see. He supposed it might be a stimulant of some kind.

They stood together, hands on one another's hearts. In his purposely open state, under the influence of Jim's pulse, and tuned to the movement of his heart pumping, Spock sensed a surface level of contentment, a shiver of excitement, then, below, a deep grief. Spock withdrew slightly, not wanting to intrude.

"It's okay," Jim said. "Can you feel it?"

"Feel what?"

"The beat."

"Indeed. I believe I am ready to try again." Spock steadied himself, regulating his body and mind against the emotions coming through their connection.

"Keep your eyes closed. Ready? One, two, three, four."

They did the steps.

"Better. Keep going. One, two, three, four."

In his mind, Spock heard Jim's heart beating time. He was conscious of every point of contact between them as Jim took his hand again. The muscles of Jim's shoulder moved under his other hand, and his feet kept perfect time.

***

Spock was relieved to part ways with Jim for the midday meal. He needed the time to soothe his mind, and to collect himself after the strenuous interaction. His mind was unaccustomed to constant contact, particularly with a being as emotional as a Human. He did not eat, but rather meditated until the appointed hour when he crossed the grounds to meet Jim again.

"You got the basic steps down really fast," Jim told Spock when they stood face to face.

"Does that surprise you?"

"A little," Jim admitted. "I guess it shouldn't. I hear Vulcans are quick studies."

"I am only half Vulcan," Spock corrected.

"What's the other half?"

"Human." Spock felt a flood of shame, even though he knew it was unlikely Jim would react to Spock's mixed blood in the way many on Vulcan did.

"So, that woman you were with at dinner, she's your mom?"

"That is correct."

"That explains some things about you," Jim said softly. He offered Spock a small smile.

"Indeed. Many things." Spock watched Jim's eyes as they changed color in the light, shifting with his emotions. Everything about Humans was expressive: eyes, hands, lips. Curious.

Jim licked his lips, suddenly becoming businesslike. "You need to learn the stuff I'm layering on top of the basics. The opener's a good one. I'm going to stand behind you, like this." He demonstrated, stepping into place at Spock's back, not directly behind him, but slightly off center.

Spock steeled himself for the increased contact as Jim's front pressed against his back, and his ear met Jim's cheek. Spock was 2.5 centimeters taller than Jim, a negligible difference. Therefore, their faces were not offset as they would have been if Jim had been partnered with Uhura.

"I'm not as used to dancing with someone the same height as me," Jim laughed quietly in Spock's ear.

"You are accustomed to partnering with females? But I have seen you dance with a Denobulan male." Spock commented.

"Oh, I go both ways, but most of the time with girls."

Spock sensed an undercurrent of meaning, but could not decipher what it was. The rough growth of stubble on Jim's face scratched at Spock's skin. It was exceedingly difficult to maintain the barriers shielding his mind from the Human's. Spock felt suddenly hot and tingly. Jim grasped Spock's wrist and lifted his entire arm.

"Bring your arm up like this." Jim curved Spock's arm toward the back of his head. "When I trail my hand down like this, then you slowly lower your arm. Okay? Here, we'll just do it."

A light touch teased Spock's forearm, then his tricep. He felt his body convulse involuntarily. A most peculiar reaction.

Jim laughed. "Are you ticklish?"

"I do not understand." Spock continued to feel the reverberations from Jim's touch. He tried to control himself.

"Vulcans don't laugh, do they?" Jim had stepped away.

"Rarely. If ever."

Jim laughed again. "All right. Whatever you say. Let's try it again." He stepped into place.

Spock lifted his arm into position. The light touch came again, and despite Spock's readiness, he heard his own gasp, and felt his body seize when Jim's hand reached the sensitive area under his arm.

"Uh-huh. Ticklish."

"I have never experienced this reaction before. I cannot explain it." Spock felt himself flush in shame. He attempted to school his body into submission. He refused to repeat the reaction.

"You're ticklish. Nothing to explain. It's normal. What happens if I...?" he reached out suddenly to touch Spock again.

Spock jerked away. "Do not do that!"

"Well, now I totally want to." He reached out again, touching Spock as he stepped away.

The corners of Spock's mouth curved up without his consent, his mouth open in an unpermissible fashion. He was suddenly backed up against the wall, breathing ragged and abrupt. Without thought, he reached out and grabbed Jim's neck, whirling them around so that it was Jim who was against the wall.

"Do not do that to me again," Spock said tensely, trying to order the chaos in his mind and body. The sensations had not been unpleasant, but they had shattered the controls Spock had so carefully erected. His state had been frightening and unpredictable, and completely unacceptable.

Jim did not struggle, but his blue eyes were wide and watchful. He grasped Spock's wrist gently and removed his hand from his neck. "I got it, okay? I got it."

Spock took a deep breath and relaxed. "I apologize. I did not intend to hurt you."

"Note to self: Vulcans don't like being teased."

Spock stared at the floor, using it as a point of focus. He would be calm. His behavior was uncharacteristic for a Vulcan, though perhaps not for a Human. But his Human half could not be blamed for everything. Spock looked up.

"Are you okay? You want to call it quits for the day?" Jim gazed at Spock, a conciliatory expression on his face.

"I wish to continue. I am prepared for the sensory stimulation, and will prevent my body from reacting as it has been." Vulcans could shut out pain. There was no reason why this situation could not be handled similarly.

"I'm sorry," Jim said softly. After a moment, he walked to the center of the floor and gestured to Spock.

Spock took his position just in front of Jim, and lifted his arm.

"You're all stiff," Jim said in Spock's ear. "Relax a little. You were doing okay before."

Spock lowered his arm, closed his eyes and took a breath. It was almost impossible to balance the need for control against the need to cede control in the way that Jim required. He felt a hand press up against his heart. They stood there like that, still and quiet, for 1.2 minutes. Spock listened to Jim's breathing, calmed by the slow rhythm.

"Okay?" Jim whispered, his hand moving away from Spock's heart.

"Yes," Spock replied, raising his arm to the correct position.

When Jim trailed his fingers lightly from Spock's wrist down to the hollow under his arm, Spock did no more than hold his breath for an instant.

***

In the late afternoon, when Jim had departed to his room to dress for the night's work, Spock had wandered the woods in search of owl pellets. His keen eyes found one half-covered in leaves. He gently gathered it into a container, and brought it back to his room where he laid it on the desk to be dissected later that night.

After the requisite supper with his parents and T'Pring, he returned with relief to his room and his solitude. With tweezers and a scalpel, he set to work on the pellet, removing the bits of fur and feathers, exposing each tiny bone. He placed the bones on a clean sheet of heavy paper to be assembled into a recognizable skeleton later on. He found the work soothing and meditative, a tonic for his unsettled mind.

By all indications, the animal the owl had consumed was a rodent. Perhaps a vole or mouse. Spock expected to find bones from more than one animal, but he hoped to assemble one complete skeleton. The owl's method of eating was logical. It had limited time to hunt, and its prey was small. To obtain enough calories, it would have to eat quickly, then move on. It did not have time to pick its prey apart before consuming it. Spock arranged a few bones with great satisfaction. He appreciated the logic of biological processes.

There was, however, no logic in his reactions to James Kirk. It was expected that Vulcans maintained their distance from Humans as well as other races. It was logical. Telepathy made Vulcans sensitive and guarded, cautious and reserved. Yet Spock had volunteered to assist a Human in an activity that ran contrary to all acceptable practice, that exceeded the boundaries of propriety. Logically, Spock understood that his Human half must desire things his Vulcan half did not, but until his visit to Earth, his Human half had been more easily subjugated. Now, it seemed openly at war with his Vulcan half. He both desired the physical contact offered to him, and was repelled by it. The combination of Vulcan and Human genes seemed to be evolutionarily unsound. It made him incompatible with both races.

Sarek had once told Spock that he had married Amanda because, as an Ambassador to Earth, it made sense. What better way to insinuate himself into the foreign world? What better way to gain the trust of the people of Earth? Spock comprehended his father's reasoning. What he failed to comprehend was his parents' insistence upon creating offspring. Spock's genetic engineering had taken years – the Vulcan and Human races were not naturally compatible. Had they not known they would create a rarity who could blend with neither race?

What was, was. Resentment was not logical. Yet Spock did resent it. He resented his parents' lack of foresight. What could be the utility of someone so ill-suited to life on either Vulcan or Earth? It was this very question that had led Spock to apply to Starfleet – because he could not imagine a future bound to Vulcan, tethered to the Vulcan Science Academy, and a continuation of his misfit existence. He had reasoned that Starfleet was an organization devoted to the unknown and the new, and that there he might be useful, if not at home. The question remained: Would he choose that path?

The skeleton began to take shape. It was not difficult to determine how the bones fit together. From there, it was only a matter of identification. A Rock Vole, Microtus chrotorrhinus, so named because of its small ears and yellow nose. The skeleton was specific. The creature had probably led a straightforward existence, Spock mused. It had known what to do at every moment of its short life, and it had known without question to which species it belonged.

***

The next morning's lesson involved practicing the entirety of the dance, from its first moments to its final flourish. Jim seemed surprised by Spock's ease with remembering every step and gesture, but continued to tell Spock to 'loosen up'. Spock understood what Jim meant, but he could not afford to lower his shields more than he had been. A part of his own mind wanted to let go, wanted to allow more contact between himself and the Human. The other part just as stubbornly refused to give a centimeter. Jim's touch was like a lever pressing up against his mind, persuading it to do things it should not do. It was as if the Human emotions coursing into his mind were making him more Human.

Later, on his way down to the main building for lunch, Spock had the odd sensation of being half-asleep or in light meditation. The dance lesson had been tiring, which Spock suspected was due to the mental resistance he had to maintain whenever Jim touched him. Their contact was constant, and there was no respite for Spock's mind.

Without knowing why, Spock had wandered toward the woods again. The day had turned overcast with gusts of wind rushing over and under branches, sometimes accompanied by scattered drops of rain. Low thunder rumbled in the distant sky. Spock gazed upward at threatening, dark clouds, so unlike the skies of his homeworld, which were rarely anything but clear. There, the sun beat down mercilessly, and rains rarely came besides in the mountains.

All of Earth was strange. He had thought that by studying it, it would be familiar to him. He had read of this region's wet summers, its lush seasonal vegetation, and the peculiar habits of Earth's people. Yet despite his intellectual familiarity, there was no substitute for firsthand experience. Even his mother's stories had done nothing to prepare him for the actuality of being here. Amanda loved Vulcan culture and language. She had made an effort to blend in and to leave her homeworld behind. She was not at all like the other Humans Spock had met. In her reserve and her mental discipline, she was, indeed, quite Vulcan. With even his Human mother behaving as was customary on Vulcan, Spock did not feel many ties to his Human half. It lay dormant like a volcano waiting for the merest tremor to unleash its elemental fire.

From nearby, a sound that was not thunder came. Spock, inattentive to his direction or location, had strayed off the path. In the dark, moist quiet of a grove of white pines, he heard muffled voices. Movement caught his eye. T'Pring and Stonn stood together beneath a tree. Spock stopped short. He must have made a noise, an uncontrolled expression of surprise, or perhaps he only stumbled. He was not certain, but his presence caught Stonn's attention, and he looked up, meeting Spock's eye.

"Half-breed!" Stonn called out. "What are you doing here?" He moved away from T'Pring with quick grace.

"I was out for a walk," Spock faltered, ashamed of the emotional response the slur was able to elicit from him. He had never been able to control his reactions to such stimuli.

Stonn approached him. "I know you do not care for her."

"We are betrothed," Spock offered.

T'Pring, still standing beneath the tree, called out, "I will throw down the challenge, Spock, if you say anything."

"Illogical," Spock said.

"Nevertheless," T'Pring replied.

Someday, then, Spock would have to fight Stonn to the death. "If I say nothing, you will still throw down the challenge. Therefore, my actions are of no consequence."

Spock and T'Pring locked stares over Stonn's shoulder.

"I will not bond with you," she said. "You are not worthy. I have shut you out already."

"As I have observed." The admission explained Spock's inability to dance with T'Pring. Only connected minds could mirror each other perfectly, moving as one.

A crack of lightning split the sky, and all three of them glanced up, distracted from their altercation.

Returning his attention to T'Pring, Spock said, "I shall not prevent you from seeing Stonn. When the time comes, we will resolve the matter in the traditional fashion. I will not speak of this discovery to anyone." Spock turned away before T'Pring could reply, stumbling uncharacteristically in his haste on the web of roots laid over the dense soil. The skies broke loose from their bonds and poured their anger down upon him as he ran blindly toward his room.

***

Spock had promised Jim he would meet him again that afternoon. He spent his brief recess reining in his emotions in the quietude of his room, sitting cross-legged on his bed, a candle burning beside him.

When he had reasserted control, and his calm had returned, he unfolded his body and set out for the small hill with its winding steps. Jim was there in the wood-floored room waiting, sitting at the table reading something on his computer. The rain continued outside, sheeting off the roof and past the windows and open door.

"You got caught in the rain," Jim observed when Spock appeared at the door.

"Indeed. Twice. Changing into fresh clothes served no purpose but to get two sets wet." Drops of water fell from Spock's hair.

Jim got up and set his computer down. "I'll get you a towel." He disappeared through a creaky door at the back of the hall and reappeared a minute later carrying a towel, which he handed to Spock. "I brought you a dry shirt, too. Didn't think my pants would fit you." He set the shirt on the table.

As Spock dried his hair and face, he considered how he should respond to the offer of the shirt. Among Humans, it might be common practice to share clothing. Spock, however, had never worn another's clothes. Such things were not done on Vulcan. Spock recalled an ancient Earth saying: When in Rome, do as the Romans do. It would be illogical to remain in wet clothes. Yet there was something mysteriously unsettling about the thought of wearing a shirt Jim had worn. Picking up the shirt, Spock recognized the style Jim usually wore. The fabric was soft under his fingers. Glancing at Jim, he found the other watching him studiously.

"Do Vulcans not wear other people's clothes? I didn't think of that."

"It is not customary."

"I keep offending you, don't I? I swear it's not on purpose."

"There is no offense." Spock set the shirt down, stripped off his wet shirt with one quick motion, and donned the white shirt. His arms looked strangely exposed in the short sleeves.

Jim continued to stare. "It looks good on you." He looked away, then plugged the computer into the amplifiers. The room filled with music.

Spock folded his wet shirt and the towel and laid them on the table. His sensitive nose picked up Jim's scent on the shirt.

As he approached, Jim positioned his arms, and Spock stepped into them, putting his shields in place.

Jim leaned close and said, low, in his ear, "You're doing it again."

Spock leaned back, raising an eyebrow in question.

"So, if you stop blocking me out, can you read my mind?"

"Only with concerted effort. Your emotions, however, come through quite powerfully."

"The thing is," Jim said, licking his lips, "you have to stop blocking me, or we'll never get this right. I can feel every time you do it."

"You are quite perceptive."

"You have to trust me. Can you do that?"

Spock hesitated. It had been difficult enough to lower his shields slightly during their previous lessons. Now, Jim wanted Spock to go farther. "I do not understand. Humans are not telepathic. You are able to dance with another Human. Why do you require me to do something a Human cannot?"

Jim seemed to consider the problem. "When you're like this and I touch you, I don't even get what I get with another Human. You let something through yesterday, didn't you? When – You got pissed off when I tickled you – you lost control."

"That is an accurate assessment," Spock agreed.

"Was it...?" Jim's brow wrinkled. "That was hard for you, having me up in your space all day?"

"I admit to being somewhat tired, but it is of no consequence."

Jim let go of Spock and took a step back. "When you were dancing with your girlfriend the other night, that's why you weren't touching, then." He began to pace.

"She is not my girlfriend," Spock averred, his mind recalling his recent encounter with T'Pring and Stonn.

Jim ceased his pacing. "You don't like her."

"That would be an emotional response. It is more accurate to say that I sense nothing through our bond." There was nothing to be done about it, Spock realized. It happened on occasion, and the situation was always resolved during kal-if-fee.

"Your bond?" Jim considered Spock with more intensity.

Spock turned away. "In childhood, a mental link was established between us. The link should allow us to communicate at a rudimentary level."

"But it's not working. You two weren't exactly burning up the dance floor."

Spock remained silent as Jim circled him, radiating nervous energy.

"So, what? Like, your minds tell each other what you're about to do? In theory, I mean. Because you're supposed to be exact mirrors of each other in the dance, right?"

Spock was surprised by how much Jim had observed. He hadn't even known Jim was aware of his presence that night. "That is correct."

"But you don't find it tiring? That link with her?"

"Such as it is, no."

"Could you form that link with me and then we'd be kicking ass at the mambo, and you wouldn't have to worry about –"

"You do not understand," Spock interrupted, shocked by what the Human was suggesting. "The bond is a serious matter. It is formed for life!"

"You're stuck forever with some girl you don't even like?"

"I will not discuss it further. You have no comprehension of Vulcan custom."

"It seems...old-fashioned. You don't get a choice? What if you fall in love with someone else?"

"You are speaking of a preference that does not apply to Vulcans."

"Never?"

"Does it disturb you?" Spock asked.

"Love is important. Passion, right? What's life without that?"

"I do not know." Spock supposed that the answer to Jim's question was 'logic'. Vulcan life was ruled by logic. The passions of Vulcan's past had been reined in and subjected to control.

"You really don't know, do you?" Jim sighed and ran a hand through his hair. He then put his hands on his hips and stared at the floor. Spock watched him warily.

"There's gotta be a solution to this problem." He looked up at Spock. "You still with me?"

"What?"

"Are you still willing to do the dance?"

"I said I would," Spock intoned tersely.

Jim studied him. "Okay, then. Let's get out of here."

"It is raining," Spock said, glancing out the open door.

Jim shrugged, heading for the outside. "Come on. You're already wet." He turned around, still walking, and grinned at Spock.

Spock felt compelled to follow, as if a force of nature were drawing him. With a whoop, Jim ran down the steps, Spock several paces behind him. They dodged the pelting rain all the way across the grounds. There was no one in sight. Even the pavilion stood empty. When they reached the parking lot, Jim veered toward an antique vehicle, the only one of its kind among the numerous aircars. Jim yanked on the handle of the door.

"Shit." He peered into the window.

Spock stood beside Jim, curious and waiting.

"Locked the keys in the car," Jim said, gesturing with his thumb while looking up at Spock.

Jim did not seem disturbed by this turn of events. He straightened up and scanned his surroundings. He strode over to a white, metal pole placed to prevent cars from parking on the flowerbeds. With some effort, Jim wrestled the pole from the ground. Spock simply watched the Human's puzzling behavior. His unspoken question was answered, however, when Jim used the pole to smash the window of the car.

"It belongs to my step-dad," Jim shouted in the rain. "He's already pissed I stole the thing. What's a smashed window? He's lucky I haven't totalled it like the one he had before this."

Spock failed to understand the logic. Jim threw the pole aside, reached through the broken glass, and unlocked the car. As he yanked the door open, Spock noticed a trail of red blood running down his arm.

"You are bleeding," Spock said, taking hold of Jim's hand. The electric surge resulting from the unthinking contact caused him to let go immediately.

"Don't worry about it. Get in." Jim gestured to the other side of the car.

Spock turned and circled the car. He climbed into the humid interior of the vehicle, Jim beside him in the driver's seat. They slammed their doors.

"You are a most unpredictable being," Spock observed.

Jim laughed and started up the motor, which revved loudly. The car screeched out of the parking area and onto the slick road leading out of the resort. Jim waved to the security guards as he drove by. They returned his wave.

Once they were out on the highway, the car picked up speed until the trees and the rock faces at the side of the road were nothing but a blur. Spock knew nothing of Earth vehicles, but in his estimation, Jim was driving too fast to be entirely safe.

"I put a brand new engine in it!" Jim shouted above the roar of said engine. "Rebuilt the whole thing!"

Jim pulled the car into a turn, miraculously avoiding spinning out of control.

"You appear to enjoy testing the capacity of the engine," Spock replied as loudly as he could.

"Fucking awesome," Jim said, inexplicably patting the dashboard. "Huh, baby?"

"Your mechanical aptitude is impressive."

The expression on Jim's face was what Spock believed was glee. He had never seen it before.

***

"You have good balance," Jim said as he and Spock stood on a fallen tree spanning a rushing stream.

The rain had ceased, but the log was slippery. Spock could feel the texture of the bark under his bare feet. He glanced down at Jim's toes, which were curled to grip the log.

"Let's try the steps."

Jim smiled at Spock, a peculiar habit he seemed to favor more than most Humans. An expression of happiness despite the fact that Spock had felt so much sadness underneath. Jim held out his hands. Spock took a breath and grasped them, warmth flooding through his fingers and up his arms.

"On two. One, two..."

Spock stepped back easily, trusting his sense of where the log ended.

"Keep your eyes on mine. Don't look down." Jim's blue eyes sought Spock's and held.

"May I make a personal query?"

Jim laughed. "Sure."

"How did you become a dancer by trade?"

Jim hesitated, huffing a breath up, as if trying to blow hair out of his face.

"I apologize if I have crossed a boundary. I did not mean to pry." In fact, Spock was intensely curious about this Human's past. From his limited knowledge of Humans, he had surmised that Jim was atypical in many respects. Spock wished to know what life history and circumstances could have created such a being.

"It's all right," Jim said. "It's just it wasn't much of a choice, really. I kinda got in a lot of trouble as a kid. Never cared much for school, so it's not like that was an option, and...I don't know. Better than whoring myself on the street or dealing drugs, right?"

"I am unfamiliar with preferred Human professions," Spock said, as they both stepped close to one another. Then apart.

"Well, take my word for it, none of my options were preferred professions." He fell silent.

Spock did not know what to say. There was that thread of sadness and regret again. He shifted his focus to his physical surroundings. Jim had taken off his wet shirt, and had rolled up his pants. It took effort for Spock not to let his gaze wander. He had in his life only encountered a few Humans besides his mother. All of them had been scientists or diplomats, and none of them had been anything like Jim Kirk. He knew the Human body temperature was different from his own. He knew that Human and Vulcan external forms had many similarities. He knew their internal organs and their minds differed greatly. Then why was he so curious, he wondered. Why so fascinated by the pattern of hair on Jim's chest, and the light trail down his abdomen?

Jim broke into Spock's thoughts: "What did you do? Train on the highwire?"

"To what are you referring?"

"Ah..." Jim looked toward the sky. "The highwire. It's a rope strung between two poles at the circus. There aren't circuses on Vulcan, are there?"

"Indeed not."

"What I mean is, you're good at this." Jim watched Spock's face for a moment as they continued to move. "Hey, I have an idea. You should teach me your Vulcan dance. It'll help us move better together."

The Human was persistent. "The dance requires a mind link, which I have already refused you."

"Who says you need a mind link? Maybe I can learn it without. You don't think I can do it?" Jim stopped suddenly, causing Spock to waver for a fraction of a second.

Spock considered his options. He could sense the Human's hope, and knew that Jim might feel slighted should Spock refuse him again. In all likelihood, Jim would be unable to perform the dance, and his tenacity would cause him to harass Spock until a satisfactory outcome was achieved. For reasons he could not understand, however, Spock wanted to attempt the dance. He was curious how a Human, so dependent upon touch, would respond.

"Very well," Spock said, and was rewarded with another toothy grin.

They made their way to the riverbank and into the meadow. The sun had emerged from behind the clouds. Everything shone green and glistening with raindrops that scattered as Jim and Spock waded through the grass.

"Face me," Spock instructed when they had reached an open area. "You will attempt to mirror my movements precisely."

"What are the steps?" Jim watched Spock intently.

"There are no set steps. The dance relies upon communication between minds. Both dancers take part in inventing the dance."

"That sounds hard." Jim tapped his chin with his index finger.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Indeed. As this has nothing to do with the mambo, I fail to see its utility."

"Have a little faith! Okay, I have an idea because I'm at a disadvantage. You lead us. I'll try to anticipate what you're going to do."

"Would you not prefer the other way around?"

Jim shook his head. "Nope." He punched Spock in the arm. "We can totally do this. Go!"

Taken aback, Spock did not immediately move.

"Well? Go on."

Spock began with several simple steps that often provided the base for more complicated sequences. Jim stood before him, unmoving, arms crossed, studying Spock without blinking. Slowly, Jim nodded his head. He began to follow Spock's lead, trailing the movements by a split second, but enacting the correct rhythm, his motions slightly less graceful than usual.

"Okay?" Jim asked, glancing up at Spock's face.

"Acceptable," Spock agreed.

But the brief conversation threw Jim's sense of timing off. "Crap. I lost it. Start over?"

Spock ceased his movements, and stood looking into Jim's eyes.

Jim smiled at him. "I know. I need to keep up better."

"You must also look at my face, not at my hands and feet," Spock advised.

"You Vulcans don't do things the easy way, do you?"

"It is easy for us."

"But not for you and your girlfriend."

"She is not my girlfriend," Spock emphasized, beginning the series of steps again. He was surprised when, instead of watching his hands and feet, Jim looked only at his face, standing completely still, focussed. "Shall I stop?"

"No. Keep going."

After a minute of studying Spock's face while he danced, Jim put out a hand to stop him mid-step. "Okay, now start over. It doesn't have to be the same steps. I'm getting a sense of how it goes."

"Our performance is scheduled for two days from now. I still do not comprehend how this is increasing our aptitude –"

"Spock!" Jim touched Spock's arm. "Just trust me."

Spock let his gaze drop to Jim's bare chest. Oddly, he missed the physical contact between them.

"This is about communication, right? The mambo's about the same thing. If we understand each other, we'll be better at the mambo. See where I'm going with this?" He grabbed one of Spock's hands and placed it on his heart, holding it there for several long moments. "Got it?"

Spock nodded, not sure exactly what it was he was 'getting', but tantalized by the rush the contact had sent through him. Jim let go, and Spock reluctantly withdrew his hand.

"Start again." Jim's eyes never left Spock's face as they began to move.

In the absence of physical contact, Spock was able to lower his mental shields completely, opening his mind as he danced. Spock knew without looking that Jim was matching nearly every gesture in perfect time, and when Jim did err, his expression showed his awareness of that fact. After several sequences, Spock halted his movements.

"How did you attain this level of proficiency so quickly?" Spock asked, puzzled.

Jim shrugged and snaked a hand around Spock's waist. "Let's mambo again."

Startled, Spock could only let himself be pulled close, his mind wide open and slow to react to the sudden flow of emotions. With great effort, he began to shut his mind off from Jim. He almost regretted that he had to do so.

***

After 2.4 hours of practice, Jim collapsed in the grass, folding one of his arms up to cushion his head. Spock stood looking down at him curiously.

"I think I need a nap," Jim said, yawning to demonstrate the fact. With his free hand, he patted the ground beside him. "You gonna just stand there?"

Humans could be difficult to decipher, but Spock deduced that Jim was inviting him to sit. Carefully, he lowered himself to the ground and sat cross-legged, as if he were about to meditate. Indeed, he needed the mental discipline after the afternoon's lessons.

Jim turned onto his side to regard Spock. "Tell me about the history of Vulcan dance."

"What would you like to know?" Spock could feel wetness seeping into his clothes from the not yet dry ground. Cicadas sang in the nearby trees. The sun bathed everything in a golden light, and gave Jim the appearance of possessing an aura.

Jim pulled at blades of grass. The lunulas of his fingernails were quite distinct, Spock noted. He studied his own fingernails for comparison, wondering at their differences.

"What?" Jim asked.

Spock looked at him questioningly.

"You were staring." Jim threw bits of grass at Spock.

Spock ignored the grass. He mimicked Jim's position, lying on the ground. His shoulder blades settled into the moist earth. He turned his head slightly to the side, but could not see Jim very well. "It originated with the ancient warriors. They used dance to re-enact battles, or to communicate with gestures across the battlefield."

"Huh," Jim said, gazing at Spock. "What about the women?"

"They did not take part in the dances until much later."

"There weren't women warriors?"

"No. The women served in a more advisory capacity." Spock turned onto his side so that he was facing Jim.

The sunlight shone through Jim's ears, making them look orange-pink. Small veins were visible beneath the skin. Spock recalled the red blood that had stained Jim's arm earlier. A small gash marked the pale skin of his forearm, already beginning to heal. Some of the tufts of grass grew tall, almost towering above their heads. The heavy seed clusters swayed in the wind.

"Politics." Jim put a stem of grass into his mouth and began to chew it.

Spock watched, fascinated.

"How did it become a...whatever? Is it a marriage thing now? A courtship thing?"

Spock had never had to explain Vulcan culture to anyone before. He wondered if what he was saying seemed strange. Jim's eyes were fastened upon him with great interest and attention.

"Mental bonds were formed between warriors, as well as between two who were betrothed. As the warrior culture died out, the practice of the dance was adopted among couples who wished to show their mental compatibility." Spock averted his eyes from Jim's stare. Something about the Human's intensity made him feel exposed, as if someone were touching him. He could see the dampness from the ground creeping along the fibers of Jim's pants, darkening the fabric. Where the pants ended, Jim flexed and relaxed his toes.

Jim's next question caught Spock off guard. "Are you 'betrothed' to that girl, the one you were dancing with?"

"I am," Spock answered, reluctant to discuss T'Pring.

"Will you have to marry her?"

Spock returned his gaze to Jim's face. "When the time comes, the matter will be handled according to Vulcan custom. She does not wish to marry me. Therefore, she will make that fact known. The ensuing battle will determine the outcome."

"There's a battle?" Jim asked incredulously.

"I will fight the male of her choice in order to forge a permanent bond with her."

Confusion crossed Jim's features. "But you don't want to bond with her, do you? Can't you back out?"

Spock just looked at Jim. He did not know how to answer. He had simply assumed he would take part in kal-if-fee, and he would accept whatever circumstances ensued.

"Why wouldn't she want to marry you?" Jim asked, directing the question less at Spock than at the air.

"I am half Human."

"But that's what makes you so interesting. Anyway, you're contradicting yourself. You said Vulcans don't feel love or whatever, but if you don't want to marry her, then it's not all logic."

"I must admit that your argument is sound."

"Of course it is."

"I do think, however, that between T'Pring and myself, it is more a matter of incompatibility than a lack of love, as you might say."

Jim rolled onto his back and stared at the sky, moving the stalk of grass around in his mouth again.

"This notion of love is strange to me," Spock added.

"You've never had a crush on a girl or anything?" Jim turned his head and moved his arms against the grass. "Um. Like you met someone and you wanted to spend all your time with them, or tell them things, or listen to them talk?"

"I have not experienced that, no."

"That's too bad. It's kind of nice."

"You have experienced it, then?"

"Sure. Once in a while. Nothing that serious."

The sun had descended, and it shone through the very tips of the pine trees bordering the meadow. Spock closed his eyes and listened to the birds. He found it relaxing. Beside him, Jim was quiet. The afternoon was almost over. Spock did not want it to end.

***

Sarek had a meeting at the diplomatic compound in New York City. Thus, Spock and Amanda sat alone for dinner in the large dining room. Spock's peripheral vision caught Jim Kirk stepping onto the dance floor, where he was immediately co-opted by a Rigelian woman. Spock felt a puzzling flare of longing, but he tamped it down, and turned his attention to his mother.

"Where were you all day?" Amanda asked, leaning forward over her soup. "I feel like I haven't seen you in days."

Spock hesitated. He did not like to lie. It was very un-Vulcan. "I was collecting specimens in the woods."

Amanda looked up, curious. "What did you find?"

"Did you know that the larch is the only deciduous conifer in North America?" Spock asked, thinking quickly.

"I didn't know." Amanda smiled at Spock fondly.

Spock decided to change the subject. "Did you not desire to eat with T'Pring's family tonight?"

Amanda touched Spock's hand. "I thought you might like a night off. Besides, I missed talking to my son."

Spock had missed her, too. He enjoyed his mother's company. "Mother, may I make a personal query?"

"Of course."

"How did you and father...?" Spock did not know how to word his question.

Amanda watched him expectantly.

"I am aware that you met at the embassy, but what circumstances led to your bonding?"

"Well," Amanda answered seriously. "I was interested in languages. I asked if he would help me with my Vulcan. I felt that if I had practice speaking it, I would get better. He agreed to meet with me."

"Was that all?" Spock did not know what he was asking. Perhaps how his mother had felt when she first met his father.

"Spock!" Amanda exclaimed. "Are you asking when I fell in love with him?"

Spock felt a rush of blood in his cheeks. "You fell in love? Was it not logic that brought you together?"

Amanda laughed, covering her mouth with her hand. Spock thought his mother quite pretty when she laughed, something she rarely did on Vulcan. Something about being on Earth made her different.

"I fail to see the humor in the question." Humans could be mystifying.

"I'm sorry," Amanda said, still laughing, but trying not to. "You don't usually ask me about...emotional things."

Spock tried to think of an explanation for his curiosity, but before he could say anything, Amanda continued.

"I..." Amanda considered her answer. "I felt he understood something in me that no one else understood. We were both curious about other worlds. We wanted to bring different kinds of people together. He saw inside my soul."

"Vulcans and Humans do not usually associate so closely."

"No." Amanda stared at the table, tracing a pattern on the cloth with her finger. "I wish things were different."

Spock observed his mother's behavior. She seemed sad. "In what way?"

"I wish that you hadn't had such a difficult childhood. I sometimes wonder if you would've been better off if we'd raised you here. Of course, Human children can be cruel, too. Maybe we did the right thing." She looked up at him. "Are you happy?" she asked suddenly.

Spock gave his mind to her question. "Circumstances are satisfactory."

Amanda looked as if she did not quite believe him. Unexpectedly, she blurted, "I thought he was quite handsome. I loved how he talked, and the way he did everything so deliberately. I loved his eyebrows and his hands... I fell in love almost immediately, and I couldn't have done anything to change that. There was no logic, really. That only came later when I had to explain to my family. But falling in love isn't logical, not at all."

Spock stared at her, speechless. He had rarely heard such an outburst from his calm mother. Her eyes welled with tears.

"I hope you feel that way someday, Spock, even if... I don't know what I'm saying." She gathered herself, burying the emotion that had been displayed so brazenly on her face.

***

Spock could not sleep. He had meditated briefly in an attempt to still his mind, but the planet seemed to be affecting his mental discipline. The image of Jim lying in the meadow would not leave him. He recalled their conversation, lingering on details, such as how the sun shone on Jim's hair, or how the grass smelled as the rain evaporated from it.

Restless to the point of distraction, Spock finally rose from his bed, dressing quietly in the dark. Again, he left the cabin, skipping the creaky step, and headed for the narrow path up the hillside. He could hear no music coming from the building, but he continued on, unsure of what he sought.

When he reached the room in which he and Jim had been dancing, he saw only Leonard. He sat at the small table, staring at a chess board and sipping from a glass. Spock did not go nearer, but instead circled the building. The rear of the building consisted of an elongated porch with several doors leading to individual rooms. Spock suspected that this was where Jim's quarters were. It was only curiosity that made him desire to see them.

Rounding the corner, the first thing he saw was Jim, standing in the flickering fluorescent light near one of the doors along the porch. He spoke in a low voice to the Andorian woman Spock had seen him dancing with each evening. Spock stopped in his tracks, protected by darkness, and listened.

"What do you mean?" the Andorian woman said.

Jim leaned against the wall beside the door, as if for support. "I can't, that's all."

The woman gazed at him severely, but did not respond. She simply turned, descending the steps regally, and without hurry. Spock retreated farther into the shadows, watching her back as she crossed to the path that headed down the hill. On the porch, Jim also watched the woman. Then he did a curious thing, running both of his hands through his hair and letting himself slide down the wall until he was sitting, still leaning against it. He held his head in his hands, curled in on himself, knees close to his chest.

Spock felt he was intruding upon the Human's privacy by watching. Still, he could not help lingering for a moment longer, curious about what had caused Jim's reaction. The sadness and loneliness were now plainly evident rather than under the surface as they usually were. Quietly, Spock turned, retracing his steps. When he reached the entrance to the dance hall, Leonard was still sitting, glaring at the chess board. Spock paused in the doorway. Leonard seemed to sense his presence, and squinted at him in the poor light.

"I hope you're here to play chess because I sure as hell won't dance with you," Leonard said.

Spock stepped into the room. "It would be my pleasure to take part in a match."

"Great," Leonard mumbled, taking a gulp from his glass. "Just what I needed, to get the pants beat off me."

Spock puzzled over Leonard's words for a moment before categorizing them as more vernacular. He sat in the chair across from Leonard, who was arranging the pieces in their start positions.

"How're the dance lessons going? Black or white?"

Spock considered the board. "I have no preference. The lessons are proceeding satisfactorily."

"I'm gonna go out on a limb and say I should get the first move. Let's just assume I lost the last game. You want a drink?" Leonard held the bottle of liquor up, giving Spock a questioning look.

"No, thank you." Spock studied the board.

"Maybe I should lay off, too. Never played a Vulcan before. Is this a popular game on your planet?" Leonard led with an elementary move.

"Our version is three-dimensional, but I studied the Earth version before coming here in order to be prepared in the event that someone asked me to play." Spock moved one of his men.

"Of course you did." Countering his recent assertion, Leonard took another swallow from his glass.

They played in silence for several turns. Leonard's moves were not unintelligent, but they lacked foresight. Spock wondered who had taught him to play. The game required little of Spock's concentration, which was fortunate since much of his mind was occupied by thoughts of Jim, whom he knew to be only a short distance away, seemingly in emotional turmoil.

"If you do not mind my asking, how long have you been acquainted with James Kirk?" Spock asked, finally, unable to stifle his curiosity.

Leonard seemed to be on familiar terms with the Human. Spock hoped he could provide some elucidation.

"I guess it's been a couple of years now." He peered at Spock. "What do you want to know? Is he a good guy? Yes. Will he break your heart? Probably."

Spock tilted his head slightly, studying Leonard. Once again, Humans were beyond his comprehension. "My queries have more to do with how he came to be here. I believe I am able to judge his character for myself."

"Oh, you are, are you?" Leonard looked amused. He poured more liquid from the bottle into his glass. "Let's just say he's had a life of hard knocks. His father was George Kirk. That shadow's been hanging over him all his life."

Recognizing the name, Spock asked, "The Captain of the Kelvin? I had not thought to make the connection." Spock recalled reading about the heroics of the man who was only Captain for a few short minutes, yet had saved the lives of hundreds, including his newborn son.

Leonard made an ill-considered move. Spock took one of his pieces with the next.

"Dammit!" Leonard exclaimed.

"He does not seem unintelligent."

"Well, that's a backhanded compliment if ever I heard one. You Vulcans have a way of putting things."

"I find him to be an interesting and unpredictable companion."

Leonard laughed. "I'll say."

"Bones?" The voice came from the edge of the room.

Both Spock and Leonard turned toward the open door. Jim was just crossing the threshold.

"Sorry to interrupt," he said, crossing the room to stand beside the table.

"Lemme grab you a chair," Leonard said, getting up.

There was something subdued about Jim. He lacked his usual energy, and gratefully took a seat when Leonard placed the chair beside him. His eyes looked red and irritated. Leonard poured a drink into the other glass on the table. Jim accepted that, too, letting half the glass of amber liquid slide down his throat.

"What are you doing here?" he asked Spock. "Giving Bones some chess lessons?"

"Why do you call him Bones?"

Leonard leaned across the table. "'Cause I got nothing but m'bones. Wife took everything else in the divorce. Why else am I a doctor at this godforsaken place?"

The statement brought a small smile to Jim's lips. He toyed with one of the chess pieces that had been taken off the board.

"It is a curious appellation."

Jim's smile turned into a laugh. That seemed to put Leonard more at ease. Spock noticed he was watching his friend carefully.

"Spock was just showing me how to be a graceful loser," Leonard observed, staring at the chess board as if it were his nemesis. "I hope the dance lessons are going better. Forgive me if I'm skeptical."

Jim glanced at Spock and smiled again. "They're going great. Right?" He punched Spock in the arm, in what seemed to be a gesture of camaraderie.

"The lessons have been most enlightening." Inexplicably, at that moment, Spock desired to stand face to face with Jim, and to move with him in the now familiar patterns of the dance.

Jim seemed to read Spock's mind. "We could show you," he said to Leonard. "Hey, Spock, what do you think?"

"Gods, spare me," Leonard said, rolling his eyes toward the ceiling, though Spock suspected the gesture belied his real sentiment.

The sound of Jim's laughter filled the air. Spock had come to find it quite pleasant. Jim's happiness had an effect upon him.

Jim stood, holding a hand out to Spock. "Come on."

Spock could not resist the entreaty. He put his hand in Jim's, and let himself be led to the center of the room.

"It's 'De Todo Un Poco'," Jim said to Leonard.

Leonard sighed, and went over to the computer, which was already plugged into the amplifiers. Jim took his position behind Spock, his mouth touching Spock's cheek for an instant.

"You have to let me in," he said softly. "Otherwise we'll be no good."

Spock turned his head to look at Jim. "I will be able to sense your emotions, and you have had some distress."

"I'm over it." Jim shrugged. "It's okay. If you don't mind, I don't mind."

Jim's hands felt warm and solid. Contrary to the usual behaviors of his people, Spock had come to enjoy the contact. He lowered his mental shields slightly, and felt Jim's emotions seeping through their connection. He had been correct in supposing that Jim was upset after his brief exchange with the Andorian woman.

"I grieve with thee," Spock said, even though he knew it was not something Humans said to one another, and perhaps did not even apply in this particular instance. It was the only comfort he knew how to express.

Jim gave him a puzzled look, then moved to the opening position. The music began. Jim's fingers trailed down Spock's arm in the intimate first gesture of the dance. Awareness of anything besides his partner and the music faded.

As they moved to face one another, their feet stepping synchronously, Spock asked, "What does this song mean? I do not know the language."

Jim squeezed Spock's hand. "It's Spanish. I want to try a little of everything. I want to live. I want to laugh."

They parted for the double turn.

When they came back together, Jim said, "I want to feel a little of everything."

As they danced, Jim's predominant emotion shifted from sorrow to contentment. A hum of something else came through the channel between them, but Spock could not define the feeling. It was warm, and made his fingers tingle in response. A sudden thought of what his father might say should he discover Spock's activities gave him pause, but he quickly pushed the image to the back of his mind. Spock did not always agree with Sarek.

If he returned to Vulcan, he would never be able to do this again. Spock did not like to consider that possibility. He derived undeniable satisfaction from partaking of this Human activity. It was not logical, but what was, was.

With a final flourish, he and Jim came to rest against one another, arms extended, facing their audience of one. Leonard clapped slowly and deliberately.

"Well, I'll hand it to you, Jim, you can work miracles." He seemed to be avoiding Jim's eyes, looking away in an attempt to hide his amusement.

Jim laughed, straightening up, his hand clinging to Spock's. Spock had noticed that the Human loved physical contact, and constantly sought it out. He was, in many ways, Spock's opposite. Spock raised his shields again. He was becoming more adept at it.

"When's the show? Tomorrow?" Leonard inquired.

"Day after," Jim said, taking a seat again as the computer broadcasted the next song. "Shit, Bones, I forgot about getting him something to wear. Spock, you don't have a tux, do you? Or a suit?"

Spock reseated himself across from Leonard. "I do not know what you mean."

"Bones," Jim said, drawing the word out, looking imploringly at his friend.

Leonard shook his head. "What're you looking at me for? I'm a doctor, not a tailor!"

"Fuck." Jim rubbed his face. "I have to take you to rent a damn suit. Is that okay with you?" He peered at Spock through his fingers.

"I do not know what renting a suit entails, but if you require it, I will go."

***

Obtaining a suit, it turned out, was a perfunctory process involving several quick measurements and the provision of credit. Afterwards, Spock expected another dance lesson, but instead of returning to the resort, Jim drove the car out to a small lake surrounded by dark pines. There was no one else in sight except for two people in a boat near the lake's far shore.

Spock tilted his head toward Jim, curious as to his intent.

"It's a nice day. I thought we could swim." He smiled in the sunlight, his blue eyes shining.

"What relation does swimming bear to dancing?" Spock asked.

Jim shrugged. "None. Don't you like swimming?"

Spock stared at the water, which lapped softly at the gravelly shore. "I have never swum. Vulcan is a desert planet with scarce water resources. Water is not used for recreation."

Jim gaped at him. "You've never been swimming?"

"I just stated that fact."

"But..." Jim continued to stare. "Well, look, if I could teach you to dance, I can teach you to swim."

Spock straightened up infinitesimally.

"You're not afraid, are you?" There was a mischievous glint in Jim's eyes.

Spock turned to his companion. "That would be illogical. I am certain you would prevent me from drowning."

"The water's not that deep," Jim said, pulling off his shirt and then his shoes. His pants came next. When he stood in only his briefs, he ran toward the water, entering it with a great deal of splashing and shouting. When he was up to his chest, he shouted toward shore. "Come on!"

Spock watched him, failing to understand the appeal. In fact, the thought of being surrounded by water filled him with a vague sense of horror. At the same time, he was loath to disappoint Jim when he seemed so happy. He watched Jim dive under the water and come up again, shaking water from his hair.

"You don't know you'll hate it!" Jim called out as if reading Spock's mind.

With a sigh, Spock sat on the ground and unclasped the fastenings on his boots. In the distance, he heard Jim laughing and splashing. Spock neatly folded his socks and placed them in his boots. After removing his shirt, he folded it and laid it on a dry patch of gravel. Sensing Jim's scrutiny, he glanced up and out over the water. Jim looked away, flipping onto his back, floating with his face to the sky. Spock stepped out of his pants, folding them also.

The gravel felt rough under his bare feet. One did not go barefoot on Vulcan. The rocks could burn skin with their sun-baked heat. Here on Earth, with its cooler sun, the sensation of being in contact with the earth was pleasant. Spock recalled his experiment walking in the woods just a few days previously. The rocks were less spiny than the pine cones. He walked easily toward the water, hesitating at its verge. He slid his foot forward, making a trail in the tiny stones. The water sent a chill through him, and he withdrew. He looked up at Jim, who was waiting, watching.

"It's better if you dive in all at once," Jim advised.

"The water is cold," Spock replied.

"Once you start moving around, it doesn't feel so bad."

Spock tapped at the water with his foot. "Do Humans truly derive pleasure from this activity?"

"In some countries, they go swimming in winter. They cut holes in the ice."

"I do not believe you," Spock said, bringing both feet into the water. Small waves beat against his ankles.

Jim neared, bouncing as he walked through the water. Centimeter by centimeter, his body came into view as the water grew shallower. Spock could not help but stare. Jim's white briefs clung to him, almost transparent.

"I'm going to drag you in. You can't visit Earth and not go swimming. It would be wrong." Jim reached out for Spock's hand, tugging gently. "You won't get sick, will you?"

Spock followed Jim, trembling from the cold as it reached up to his thighs. He resisted Jim's pull. "Vulcans are accustomed to much higher temperatures," he said by way of answering.

"Tell me about your planet," Jim said, drawing Spock deeper into the water.

Spock mulled over what information to relay first. "We have a sister planet, T'Kuht, which comes very near to Vulcan during portions of its orbit."

"Like a moon?"

"Closer. It appears much larger than Earth's moon."

They bobbed together in the water, only their heads above the surface. The motion warmed Spock slightly, though he still felt the chill. Warm hands rubbed his upper arms.

"You okay?"

"I believe my condition would correspond to your definition of 'okay'," Spock allowed.

"The water's a good place to practice the lift. If we were doing it."

"Do I understand correctly that two males do not attempt the lift?"

Jim laughed. "Yeah. That would be pretty funny." He moved onto his back, floating again. "You should try floating. It's easy, and on your back you don't have to worry about breathing."

Spock comprehended the physics: water was able to support a mass containing sufficient lipids or air. He also knew that Earth possessed lower gravity than he was used to. He simply could not translate that information to his own body in the water.

"I'll hold you up," Jim said, standing again and shaking the water out of his hair. "Let's go to a shallower place."

They walked a few steps toward shore. Jim neared Spock, and placed one of his hands between Spock's shoulder blades.

"Fall back."

Spock did not move.

"Trust me. I'm not going to let you go under. I promise." He nodded, as if affirming his own words. His hand rubbed light circles on Spock's skin.

Slowly, Spock let his weight settle on Jim's hand. The other hand came up under the backs of his thighs, supporting him in the water.

"Now, relax. Jesus, you're heavy."

"Vulcan has a higher gravity than Earth," Spock said, dazzled by the blue sky above him, and the sun.

"Does that make you denser or something?" Jim peered down at him.

There was a scattering of freckles across Jim's shoulders. Spock stared at them.

"When I was a kid," Jim continued, "I'd never seen the ocean. I always used to dream about floating on a raft in the middle of this...hugeness, and looking up at the stars."

"Have you travelled off-world?" Spock asked.

"My parents were in Starfleet, and I was born in space. But not since then."

"Do you not desire to go?"

The sun shone through Jim's hair, creating a glowing halo around his head. "Sometimes I wonder what life would've been like if my dad had been around. I don't know. I guess I don't want to make the mistakes he made."

"You consider Starfleet a mistake, then." The water did not feel so cold now that Spock had grown accustomed to it. The sun warmed him from above. He felt comfortable.

"I understand why he wanted to enlist," Jim said, but did not elaborate.

"Would you advise me not to go?"

"You want to join Starfleet?"

"I do not know," Spock said. "I am expected to attend the Vulcan Science Academy, but I have also applied and have been accepted to Starfleet. I must make up my mind which to choose."

"Either place would be lucky to have you." Jim stepped away from Spock.

"Do not –" Spock went under.

Jim caught him quickly, but Spock coughed up water. Jim laughed. "I let go a while ago. You were floating on your own."

"Was I?" Spock asked, gasping for breath.

"Yup. Want to try again?"

Spock eyed him warily.

"Don't look at me like that. You were floating. I thought you'd be okay." He placed his palm on Spock's back again. "You don't really need me."

"That may be, but I prefer you to be there." Spock leaned back, his nerves tingling against Jim's hand. "I do not feel in my element."

"When I let go, put your arms out. You'll be fine. Stay relaxed, and don't let your ass sink down or the rest of you will go right down with it."

***

Walking back to his cabin, Spock's footsteps felt light and bouncy, perhaps due to the reduced gravity of Earth combined with the effects of swimming upon his body. He felt happy, too, though he suppressed the emotion, thinking it distinctly unVulcan.

As he neared the building, he saw that the door to his parents' room stood open. He had hoped not to see them, as he bore the evidence of the afternoon's swim: his hair had not dried, and his wet briefs had soaked through his dark trousers. He walked barefoot, his boots in his hand.

He was about to step up onto the first stair when Amanda exited the room she shared with Sarek.

"Spock?" She stared at him as if she could not believe what she was seeing.

Spock stopped in his tracks, shame flooding him. He had behaved irresponsibly, he was certain. "Yes, Mother." He quickly shifted his focus to the ground.

"What have you been doing?"

Without looking, Spock knew his father had also exited the room. The door creaked on its hinges.

"Spock?" a deeper voice inquired.

He could not lie again. "I was swimming."

"Swimming!" Amanda exclaimed.

"Have you never gone swimming?" Spock asked, genuinely curious. His mother had, after all, been raised on Earth. He looked up at her.

"I have, but..."

Sarek simply stared, showing no other sign of surprise.

"Perhaps you should get cleaned up for dinner. We've learned some shocking news." She turned to Sarek for confirmation.

"T'Pring has behaved most indecorously," Sarek said. "She was discovered with Stonn."

"Discovered?" Spock repeated, a sense of dread filling his stomach.

"I do not wish to discuss it," Sarek said with finality.

Amanda turned to him. "But Spock –"

Sarek cut her off. "I will discuss it no further. Arrangements will be made." He addressed Spock: "Your mother and I are going to dinner. Please join us when you have made yourself presentable."

They descended the steps, Amanda glancing back at Spock with curiosity and sympathy. She reached a hand back to him for a moment before Sarek led her on down the path. Spock watched them go, wondering how exactly T'Pring and Stonn had been discovered, and who had made the discovery. He supposed it did not matter. She intended to throw down the challenge, and Spock sensed that nothing would dissuade her. One possible consequence of the discovery was that a new bondmate would have to be found for Spock. Or he would have to go without when the time came.

***

Dinner had been tense. Sarek had decried the influence of Humans, conceding that Amanda was a different type of Human, but that in general the species seemed to cause Vulcans to behave irresponsibly.

Amanda had said archly, "As you did when you married me?" Then she had put down her napkin and left the table.

"She is occasionally a mystery, and often emotional," Sarek said to Spock, watching his wife depart.

They had finished their meal in silence. Any relief Spock felt that his swimming had gone unmentioned was countered by his dread that T'Pring held him responsible for what had happened.

During the seemingly long (but in reality only 3.5 minutes) walk back to the cabin, Spock had delicately inquired as to the details of Sarek's discovery only to be rebuffed. "I should not have brought you here," Sarek said with finality as they reached the worn, wooden steps of the building.

"Father, I harbor no resentment toward T'Pring. I do not believe you have reason to be concerned."

"I will speak with Stonn's parents. It is my recommendation that he be sent home," Sarek said, then quickly bade Spock goodnight before taking the path that led toward the other cabins.

Spock walked slowly into his own room and sat at the desk with his computer. His mind felt unsettled from the events of the day. Perhaps it would be wise to meditate. Outside the window, crickets sounded. Spock had been gratified to identify the source of the sound. Occasionally, a bird broke the peace with a cry. The planet was so lush, pulsing with life. There was something mysteriously sensual about it. Spock had never before wanted to touch everything, to feel its textures.

His mind returned to his room, where the computer's small screen glowed before him. With some trepidation, he turned on the privacy setting and entered a search term. It was only natural that he research the species of Earth. He had searched for articles on the natural history of each animal he had encountered – the robins, the insects, the mallards, and the geese. Why should Humans be any different? His search could be attributed to his assiduous nature, though his sense of shame in scanning the articles negated that explanation.

Much of the information, he knew already. He had studied the biology of Humans, Andorians, Tellarites, Romulans, Rigelians, Klingons, and others. It was essential to be familiar with basic physical attributes and weaknesses. There was little study of Vulcan biology, as much of it was steeped in secrecy. Spock had, however, attempted to discover how exactly he had been engineered. It had been a labor of years, as Human and Vulcan genetic material did not easily combine.

There was ample information regarding Human biology. The species did not cloak their reproductive natures as Vulcans did. Spock studied the diagrams with interest, memorizing the vocabulary for each part of the male anatomy. It was all quite fascinating. His curiosity, however, felt less sated than before he had undertaken his inquiry.

Spock set aside the computer, puzzling over his behavior. It was not logical at all.

He prepared for bed, then climbed under the light blanket, lying on his back, staring at the darkness. Tomorrow, he would take part in the dance performance with Jim. He was not concerned. He knew the steps. He rehearsed them once more in his mind, recalling each gesture with clarity.

His last thought before he fell asleep was of how Jim had looked with sun shining through his hair, smiling, his shoulders scattered with freckles.

***

The following afternoon, Spock sat in his room meditating in preparation for the dance performance ahead. He wanted to be able to dance with his shields significantly lowered, which would require a calm mind ready for the battery of emotions coming from his physical contact with Jim.

A knock on the door pulled him out of his discipline.

"Come in," Spock said, not moving. He expected Amanda.

The door creaked open, and Spock found Jim, not Amanda, poking his head into the room.

"Hey." Jim grinned. "What are you doing?"

Spock gracefully rose to his feet. "I was meditating. It is not yet five o'clock. Did we not agree to meet then?"

Jim stepped into the room and closed the door behind him. He held several garments on hangers. "Yeah, but I wanted to see your room."

Spock took note of Jim's attire: dark pants, well pressed, and a crisp white shirt with buttons up the front and at the cuffs. A decorative piece of silk adorned his throat, folded under the collar of the shirt.

"Is it not like all the others?"

Jim shrugged. "You're in it," he said, as if that answered Spock's question. "I brought your clothes. I can help you get dressed."

Nearing Jim, Spock said, "I believe it would behoove us to find another location. My parents are in the adjacent room, and I have cause to think they may not approve of tonight's excursion."

"I gotcha. You've been doing on this on the downlow. I guess this whole thing's not very Vulcan of you."

"Indeed. One moment while I retrieve my shoes."

"What's that?" Jim asked, stepping toward the desk and bending to examine the sheet of thick paper upon which Spock had glued the tiny bones.

"It is a vole skeleton, which I extracted from an owl pellet."

Jim looked over his shoulder and smiled.

"What do you find amusing?"

"Nothing," Jim said, his smile broadening. "You have an interesting mind." He left the desk. "We'd better get going before your parents hear us." He knocked his fist into Spock's arm as seemed to be his habit.

***

On their walk toward the staff quarters, they passed an Andorian, who nearly collided with them in his hurry.

"Whoa, you all right there, Mr. Thelev?" Jim reached out a hand to steady the Ambassador, who seemed to be in a state of nervousness.

"Fine, fine," the Ambassador said dismissively, hurrying on, one hand clinging to an electronic device.

Jim looked after him for a moment. "Huh." After the Andorian was out of hearing range, Jim said, "He creeps me out. Have you noticed his antennae never move?"

"You are quite familiar with the Andorians," Spock observed.

Jim looked at Spock, surprise plain on his face. It took him a moment to respond. "They like dancing."

The two of them continued on until they reached Jim's room, which, unlike Spock's room, was adorned with personal effects. Several square photographs printed on thick paper had been mounted on the walls.

When Jim saw Spock staring at them, he said, "They're old record covers. From the twentieth century."

"I have never seen such a thing," Spock said. The colors seemed to have been worn away in some places. "You like things from Earth's past." Spock turned to look at Jim.

"Yeah. Especially the music. It's not as good now." He laid Spock's clothes out on his bed. "Get undressed."

Spock obeyed, removing his shirt and then his pants, wondering as he did if curiosity about another's anatomy was normal, and if Jim had experienced similar questions. He caught the Human staring at him, but Jim quickly looked away, unbuttoning a white shirt similar to his own.

"Do you have an undershirt?"

"Negative."

"You can wear one of mine. They're in the top drawer over there."

Spock pulled open the wooden drawer, and ran a hand along the pile of shirts there. He removed one. Pulling it over his head, he was conscious of the scent, which he had come to associate with Jim.

"Now, come here." Jim waited with the shirt, holding it up so that Spock could slide his arms into the sleeves.

Jim gathered the two halves of the front of the shirt, and buttoned them, beginning with the top button. When he had fastened them all, he smoothed his hands along the cloth. Spock was grateful that his heart lay not in the place where Humans had theirs, but down at his side. It raced unforgivably and inexplicably. Jim took one of his hands, positioning it between them, then set to work on the buttons of the cuff.

"I'll let you put your own pants on," he grinned. "But you'll need help with the tie, I think."

Conscious of being watched, Spock stepped into the trousers, zipping and buttoning them, tucking his shirt in, as Jim had done.

"The tie's the worst part. Sorry." Jim flipped up the collar of Spock's shirt and slid the material around his neck, tying it deftly. "You look handsome." He studied Spock with an assessing gaze. "I think the hair's a giveaway. We're gonna have to do something about it, even if people can still see your ears."

"Are my ears not satisfactory in appearance?" Spock was puzzled.

"It's just...people will know you're a Vulcan, and people are weird, that's all."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "A most vague statement."

"And the eyebrows. There's nothing we can do about them."

"I do not understand."

Jim placed a chair before the mirror propped against the wall. "Have a seat."

Spock sat, and watched Jim as he opened a plastic container, swiped his fingers through the substance therein, then set to work on Spock's hair.

"People don't like when, say, a Vulcan acts different from how they expect. They don't expect you to be dancing, so they'll talk. That's all."

Jim swept Spock's bangs off his forehead, and applied the viscous substance to his dark hair, which remained in place, slicked back over his cranium.

"Does having me as your partner cause you discomfort?" Spock asked, staring at his unfamiliar image in the mirror. He then shifted his eyes to Jim. The touch of Jim's fingers in his hair was a new sensation, quite pleasant, with a low buzz of energy.

Jim gazed back at him in the reflection. His fingers brushed Spock's ears as he tucked a few strands of hair into place. "No. I like it."

***

"Are you nervous?" Jim asked as they stood behind the curtain at the Edgecliff Resort.

"That would be illogical," Spock answered. "I recall all of the steps."

Jim fiddled with Spock's tie. "Okay, just remember to let me in, that's the important part. Don't shut me out."

Jim's eyes had turned a dark, deep blue in the dim, backstage light. Spock resisted the uncharacteristic impulse to touch Jim's face. "I believe I have already been lowering my shields to such a level that we can communicate in the way you desire."

"Yeah, you've been pretty amazing." Jim offered a tiny smile.

Spock tried to smile back in the Human fashion, but found his mouth resisting. From beyond the dark curtain, the announcer called their names. Jim took Spock's hand and led him out onto the stage. At first the lights were almost blinding. Spock assumed the stance required for the initial dance move. Jim's presence behind him was comforting, as was the gentle press of Jim's cheek against his. He let the Human seep into him, feeling the by now familiar energy as it pulsed in his veins like his own blood.

The music took over Spock's mind, causing him to block out everything but the stage and his partner. He was conscious only of Jim's warm fingers trailing down his arm, their heat palpable through the layers of shirt and jacket. His feet moved in time, matching Jim's step for step. Jim smiled encouragingly, seeming completely at ease, his movements fluid.

Spock realized he would miss their dancing. Once this performance was over, there would be no need for them to remain in contact. Spock would shortly return to Vulcan, or depart for Starfleet Academy. Spock pushed the thought from his mind, deriving a spark from the push of Jim's hips as their bodies pressed close.

All too soon, the music came to an end. Jim pulled his hand, leading him to the center of the stage. Spock followed Jim's lead and bowed to the cheering audience. Only then, with the important part of the evening over, did he look out into the sea of faces. He immediately recognized the Andorian they had seen earlier that day. Thelev. Spock wondered what the man was doing at the Edgecliff Resort, and if he would have cause to inform Sarek that Spock had also been there. Spock directed his gaze downward, suddenly nervous. Relief passed through him as they exited the stage and walked back toward the small dressing room that had been provided for them.

"You were awesome," Jim said, unbuttoning his confining formal jacket, shrugging out of it, and reaching for Spock's lapels. "Thanks." He looked as if he wanted to say something else, but before he could, a knock came at the door.

The announcer entered. "You hear them out there?" he asked. "They want more. You two got another number up your sleeve? I'll pay you a bonus."

Jim glanced at Spock. Spock understood the importance of currency, particularly to Jim, and he nodded slightly.

"Are you sure? But we..."

Spock addressed the announcer. "If you will give us 2.5 minutes to prepare, we will be able to fulfill your request."

The announcer gestured with both his hands, his thumbs pointed toward the ceiling. "Excellente! What number do you want?"

"Tu Voz?" Jim asked.

"You got it." The announcer disappeared out the door, closing it behind him.

Jim turned to Spock. "I hope you have a plan because as far as I know, I haven't taught you salsa."

Spock had never made a deliberate mind connection with anyone, much less a Human, but he knew the procedure. "There is a way," he said, "but you will have to let me into your mind." Spock flexed his fingers, trying to prevent his hand from shaking.

"Haven't you been doing that already? Kind of?" Jim looked down at Spock's hand.

"This is different. You will feel me in your mind. It is not customarily done." He placed his fingertips against Jim's cheek, conscious of the delicate bones underneath the skin.

"But you're a rebel," Jim said. "I knew you were. What do I need to do?"

Spock calmed himself with several slow breaths. If he had not already been somewhat habituated to the flow of emotions coming from Jim, he might have been overwhelmed. "You must teach me the lesson in your mind. Do it quickly. We do not have much time. Once you have gone over the entire routine, I will end the meld, but keep my shields lowered in order that we might communicate more easily during the dance. Understood?"

Jim gazed at him open-mouthed. "Are you sure you're okay with doing that? It's a lot for you."

Spock was moved by Jim's awareness of his needs. "I will be all right," he said, but in truth he was not certain.

"Okay. Be careful."

But Spock was already entering Jim's mind, aware as he did so that his father would disapprove. Vulcans did not engage in such intimate acts with beings they had only known for seven earth days. They did not dance in the Human way. They did not touch freely. They did not speak of Vulcan traditions or customs with off-worlders, or even with one another. In fact, Spock had broken many rules since his arrival on Earth.

Inside Jim's mind, he felt a warmth and affection he had never received from any other besides his mother during all the years of his childhood. He felt comfortable and accepted. The Jim inside Jim's mind took Spock's hand and positioned him for the opening move of the dance, speaking instructions in his ear. The tempo was quick, and did not follow any music. Jim was being efficient despite the desire to linger, which Spock could feel.

They parted, Jim gasping for breath.

"Are you all right?" Spock asked, reaching out, then withdrawing, not sure if his touch would be welcome.

"I've never done that before," Jim said, offering Spock a smile. "Weird." With some shakiness, he put his jacket back on.

Spock stood silent and ashamed, trying to press his emotions down where they would not bother him. He could hear the echo of his father's voice: It is his Human half... The explanation for everything Spock had ever done wrong in his father's eyes.

"You really got the whole thing just from that?" Jim asked.

"I have memorized the steps, but I am not familiar with the song you mentioned."

Jim sucked his bottom lip into his mouth, biting it. "Um. It's kinda like sex, except with clothes on."

"I will have to rely, then, on imagination," Spock said quickly, before turning to open the door.

"Wait, really?" Jim hurried after Spock. "Did you just say what I thought you said?"

But they had come to the curtain. The announcer saw them, and strode out to introduce them.

Onstage again, they gazed at one another, painfully in tune. Spock maintained control, but only with tremendous effort. Though he had memorized the routine through the mind meld, the rhythms and the nuances of the dance would be new to him, and he could not utilize Jim's analogy in order to facilitate his execution of the dance. Jim held his hands, steadying. He seemed to be sending pulses through to Spock, the way he had done with his heartbeat. Spock calibrated his movements to that internal beat, which somehow guided him more accurately than the music.

The tips of Jim's fingers slid against his palms in a manner quite different from when they had done the mambo. The contact made him shiver, but Jim's presence came across their connection, both calm and energized.

This song, like the previous one, was in a language Spock did not know. He would have to remember to ask Jim later what the words meant.

As if Jim had read Spock's thoughts, he said in a low voice, "I  don't know what it is about your voice that illuminates me, that enchants me." Jim paused, thinking. "Your voice is inside me and  I caged it."

They parted for the two-handed turn, Spock hyper-aware of Jim's fingers and their movement against his hands. Emotions flooded him, fierce and indefinable, but similar to those he had felt lying in bed in the darkness, thinking of the way Jim's eyelashes cast a shadow against his cheek. Fingers, palms, hands, hips, the parts of them collided in harmony.

By the time the last note of the song sounded, Spock was out of breath. The dance movements themselves did not tax him, but the close contact with an emotional being did. After they had bowed, and were exiting the stage, Jim had to catch his arm to keep him from falling.

"Spock?" Jim supported him.

"I will recover. You should not touch me."

Jim let go. Spock reached a hand out to the wall, regaining his balance. He fought to raise his shields again, to assert control over his chaotic mind. Jim hovered beside him, concerned.

"I am not as adept at mind control as older members of my race. I apologize."

"Don't apologize. I pushed you."

They walked slowly toward the dressing room where Spock collapsed into a chair. Jim brought him a glass of water, and Spock drank it gratefully.

The announcer stepped in through the open door, addressing Jim. "Want to give me your card? I'll put the credits on."

Jim fished his wallet out of his pocket, removed a plastic card, and handed it to the man.

"Be right back," he said, and disappeared.

Jim crouched beside Spock, studying his face. "Do you need anything?"

"I am much improved. Over time, my tolerance for such extensive contact can be strengthened."

"Okay," Jim said softly, but continued to watch Spock.

Spock felt himself color under the scrutiny. He sensed Jim's desire to touch him, to offer comfort. How strange that what was comforting to one species was not for another. They were both humanoid, and so similar in many ways. The diversity of the universe was truly astounding.

The announcer reappeared. Jim stood to take his card back.

"Is he a Vulcan?" the man asked.

"We'd better get going," Jim said, ignoring the man's question. He gestured with the card before returning it to his wallet. "Thanks for the extra."

"No problem. They don't usually dance, do they? Never saw that before."

Jim gave the man a patronizing smile before turning to Spock. "Ready?" he said easily.

Spock nodded, getting to his feet. He attempted to hide his unsteadiness, not wanting to attract additional attention from the announcer.

"Well," the man said. "All right, then." He watched them go.

***

In the car, Spock felt an immense sense of relief combined with sadness. During the brief week they had spent practicing, he had grown to enjoy the Human's company.

"Did you see the Andorian in the audience?" Spock asked, awkwardly extricating himself from his jacket, maneuvering beneath the fastened seatbelt.

"Thelev," Jim said. "Are you worried?"

"If he is acquainted with my father, he may mention seeing me," Spock replied soberly, staring out the front window at the settling darkness. He began unbuttoning his shirt, determined that not a trace of evidence would remain by the time he walked the path to his room.

"I'm sorry. You can blame me if you want."

"Illogical. I am responsible for my own actions." The cuffs were difficult to unbutton himself, but he worked at the fastenings until they came loose. He repeated his maneuvers with the shirt.

Jim looked over at Spock in the darkness. "I asked you to do this. I should at least give you some of the credits."

"I do not need them. I have derived pleasure from our association."

"Our association?" Jim laughed.

Spock sensed Jim's gaze on him as he unbuttoned his slacks, lifted his hips, and slid the fabric off of his body and over his socked feet. He searched his bag for his own pants. He had a headache that throbbed painfully at his temples. He would not be able to do anything about it until he reached the calm of his room where he could meditate to bring the reaction under control. Jim's presence acted as a stimulant, preventing Spock's mind from retreating to rest.

Jim tapped at the steering wheel and cleared his throat. "How much longer will you be here?"

Spock paused in his movements to look at Jim. A thin light partially illuminated his face. Spock longed to reach out to touch him, to understand what emotions lay beneath the sound of his voice. His wants confused him. He was not accustomed to wanting much at all. He had wanted to apply to Starfleet. He had wanted to visit Earth. Those wants were logical, not like the ones that had persisted in his mind since arriving on the planet.

"Another week," Spock said, his voice calm, though the thought of his limited time filled him with sadness.

"Oh," Jim said, then fell quiet.

Spock looked again at Jim's face, loath to let it out of his sight. He leaned against the back of his seat, curling up for a better view. He had read that Humans did not enjoy being stared at, and sometimes took staring as a sign of confrontation. Jim, however, did not seem to mind.

"What you said back there, was that true? I mean, what about your non-girlfriend?"

"To what are you referring?"

"You haven't slept with her?"

Jim's questions constituted an egregious violation of privacy according to Vulcan culture, and most likely according to Human culture. Spock suspected Jim knew, but had purposely ignored propriety.

"Why is it important to you?"

"It's not –" Jim glanced at Spock. "It's not important. I just wondered."

"It is not a topic we discuss."

"You say that about a lot of things. How's anybody supposed to have a conversation with all the things you aren't supposed to discuss?"

Spock turned his body to face the front of the vehicle again. Then he looked out the window to his right.

Jim sighed. "I offended you again."

"You have not offended me."

"All I'm saying is that if you want to have sex, you should be able to. Forget what's her name. I know lots of girls who are way nicer. I could hook you up. Or guys. I know plenty of guys who'd have sex with you."

Spock tried to control his voice as he replied. "I do not wish to have sex with T'Pring. I do not wish it with anyone else. Please do not mention it again." His head pounded even more with the lie.

"Okay," Jim muttered.

Vulcans did not lie. It must have been his Human half, he thought, as the car continued on through the night, and the two of them sat in silence.

***

When Jim had brought the car to a halt in the parking area of Kellerman's Resort, he cut power to the engine, and turned to Spock. "You're not mad, are you?"

"Vulcans do not get 'mad'," Spock replied.

"Sure they don't. I think you've got it in you."

Spock had had time to collect his thoughts, and had decided to err on the side of cultural misunderstanding. He knew Jim had not intended offense, though neither had he been entirely unaware of what he had been doing. "No," Spock said. "I am not angry."

"Good," Jim answered, resting his temple on the steering wheel, still gazing at Spock in the darkness. "I guess this is it, then."

"Indeed, you do not require my assistance –" The arrival of an aircar in the quiet lot interrupted him. He and Jim both peered out to see who had arrived.

Sarek and two other ambassadors, one Andorian and one Tellarite, exited the aircar. The three of them looked toward the antique vehicle.

"Uh-oh," Jim said.

"He has seen me. I must go." Clamping down on his emotions despite the pulsing in his head, Spock opened the door of the car and stepped out. He closed metal against metal with finality. From seemingly far away, he heard Jim's door close also.

"Spock," Sarek said calmly.

"Father, I –"

"It's my fault, sir," Jim said, stepping forward. "See, I had a little mechanical trouble and Spock is a whiz at fixing things."

The ambassadors stared.

Sarek finally spoke. "Perhaps that is engine oil in my son's hair. Most curious."

Spock resisted the impulse to touch his hair. It was the one remnant of the evening he had forgotten to erase.

Before Jim could say anything more, Sarek said to Spock: "Return to your room. You will not leave it again tonight." His gaze fell on Jim.

Without turning, Spock knew the expression on Jim's face. "Yes, Father," he said, and veered toward the path that led to his room. He did not look back at Jim or at his father. His sensitive hearing picked up one last exchange.

"What is your name?" Sarek asked.

"James Tiberius Kirk," Jim said without any trace of deference.

"James, you will instigate no further excursions with my son."

There was a long moment of hesitation. And then, finally, "Yes, sir."

Spock's throat tightened, and he nearly ran the rest of the way until he reached the familiar door, opened it with more gentleness than he felt, and closed it behind him.

***

The first thing he did was to shut himself in the bathroom and strip off his clothes. He realized he was still wearing Jim's white undershirt. He had not yet returned the first he had borrowed. He was not negligent by custom; he could not explain his forgetfulness. In the hydro-shower, he applied the strangely scented soap to his hair, scrubbing until all of the substance Jim had applied to it was gone.

Hydro-showers were rare on Vulcan, and Spock had been loath to step into this one for the first time, but he now found the sensations comforting. Slowly his headache began to dissipate. The water was warm, and was ejected from the showerhead with substantial pressure. Spock stood there for longer than was necessary, rubbing at his arms. The gesture reminded him of Jim's action in the days before, when they had been swimming. Spock did it again, remembering.

His lungs began to burn with the steam, but still he did not exit the microcosm created by the shower. He closed his eyes and thought over what his father had said: no further excursions. When Spock had been a child, Sarek had complained often to Amanda about her son's unruliness, and his tendency to run off without telling anyone where he had gone. Spock was curious, and he had enjoyed wandering alone, even at a young age. He had defied his father for no other reason than that; it was in his nature. He had not intended to cause harm, and he had believed his father's restrictions to be illogical.

He felt so now.

He had wanted to come to Earth to see the planet, but also to experience life upon it, to meet its people as his father had done years ago. Sarek, more than anyone, should have understood. He had married a Human.

Spock turned the faucets clockwise, cutting off the flow of water. He stood there for a moment, listening to the dripping of water on the white floor of the shower. Then he slid the glass door aside and stepped out.

The mirror above the sink was clouded with steam. Spock wiped it away, but it reappeared instantly. He set the bathroom door ajar, letting some of the warm air escape into his room, then he wiped the mirror with his towel, clearing a space in which he could see his face. His dark hair lay matted against his scalp and his forehead. Tentatively, he pushed it back, trying to duplicate the arrangement Jim had given it. It made him look like a different person. He wiped the mirror again, and drew his hair back down to its habitual style. Picking up the comb, he smoothed the hair into place. Still, he thought, he looked different.

He dried his body with the damp towel, taking care to swab between his toes. He had never given a tremendous amount of consideration to his naked body, but he found himself studying it carefully, watching the way the hairs on his legs bent as he rubbed upward with the towel, and how they bounced back into place after a moment. His penis hung flaccid at the juncture of his legs, just like a Human's. He combed his fingers through the dark hair above it, suddenly hyper-sensitive. He felt his penis respond as he slid his fingers beneath it and ran them along the malleable skin of his testicles. He had rarely touched himself there for any other purpose but to bathe. Even then, his explorations had been more curious than anything. He felt more than curiosity now.

For Vulcans, sex was spoken of very little. The basics of pon farr were provided in order that both males and females would be prepared for the suddenness and occasional violence of the septennial mating drive. From what Spock could infer, it was rare that a Vulcan had sex before pon farr, though he or she might routinely indulge in it afterwards with the bondmate. Spock's first pon farr would likely not occur for a few years, though, as his mother liked to say, "You never can tell about that Human half."

It appeared that the custom among Humans was to have sexual intercourse early and often, if the sociological texts were an accurate representation. Spock's earlier conversation with Jim seemed to support that claim.

Feeling embarrassed by his musings, Spock ceased his tactile explorations, dried himself quickly, then stepped into his room to retrieve clean sleepwear from his luggage. Once he was dressed, he tidied the room and bathroom, set aside both of Jim's shirts with the intention of laundering them, and climbed into his bed.

He had barely settled himself when there was a knock at the door.

"Enter," Spock said, sitting up.

The door opened, and Sarek stepped in quietly, closing the door behind him. "Spock," he said, and Spock knew a lecture was coming.

Sarek stood impassively, his hands clasped behind his back. "I recognize that your bond with T'Pring has proved itself less than adequate, but that is not an excuse for seeking companionship elsewhere."

Spock sat up. "You would forbid me to form friendships here, even knowing my difficulty in doing so on Vulcan?"

"Friendship with Humans cannot serve you if you are to take a place among Vulcans at the Academy. In this instance, I cannot serve as your model. It is my place to interact with Humans, and to understand them. It is not yours."

Spock tried to control his irritation. "I respectfully submit that you have taken a narrow-minded view." He could say no more without betraying emotion.

"Stonn has been sent home to Vulcan," Sarek said, refusing to respond to Spock's assertion. "He is no longer of concern."

"He was never of concern to me, Father," Spock said truthfully.

"Had the bond been adequate, he would have been. Beginning tomorrow, you must make an effort to repair your bond with T'Pring. She has been instructed also."

"Father–"

Sarek cut him off. "You think me unkind, but it is not so." He continued with a more gentle tone. "Every effort must be made to adhere to custom, and to actions that have already been taken. Having done this, if the bond with T'Pring cannot be healed, the matter will be resolved during your time. That is all." Sarek reached for the doorknob, not waiting for a response from Spock.

After his father had gone, Spock lay back down. It was late, but he felt restless, as if any attempt to sleep would be ineffectual. His head still ached, and a dull throbbing persisted. He considered meditating, but he could hear the distracting murmur of his parents conversing in the adjacent room, his mother's voice rising and falling as Sarek's remained steady. Amanda was upset about something. With effort, Spock might have been able to decipher their words, but he resisted. In all likelihood, they were discussing him; he was one of the few topics upon which they routinely disagreed.

He turned off the light.

Through the open window, he could hear the night sounds to which he was becoming accustomed. He had not expected to like Earth so much. It was humid and populated by unpredictable beings, but he was fascinated rather than repelled.

He got up and walked to the window. A screen closed the room off from the outside, but like the glass portion of the window, the screen had latches at its base. Spock pressed on the latches and lifted the screen. It rose easily, opening wide. Spock leaned out into the night, breathing deeply.

After a moment, he retreated into the room, leaving the window open. For no fathomable reason, he wanted to see Jim. His eyes sought his clothes in the darkness. He dressed, sat to put on his shoes, then awkwardly let himself out the window feet first, scraping his elbows in the process. His parents were not likely to enter his room. He supposed they thought him asleep. He reached up to depress the latches on the screen again, lowering the lightweight frame until it was almost shut.

***

When Spock reached Jim's door, he could hear strains of quiet music coming from inside. He hesitated, not sure if he would be welcome. He was still standing there trying to decide whether to knock when the door opened.

"Hey," Jim said. "I thought I heard something."

Spock said nothing. He did not know what to say. He had no purpose in being there, and no explanation for coming.

Jim glanced behind him before saying, "You want to come in?" He stepped back. "It's kind of a mess. Sorry."

Spock crossed the threshold and entered the room. A pile of clothes lay on the floor. Jim's hair was wet, Spock noted, as if he had also recently showered. He was attired only in jeans, his torso bare. Jim shut the door behind him, then leaned against it. Spock turned to look at him. They remained that way for a long moment before Jim smiled.

"You want a drink? You probably don't drink alcohol, right? Water?"

"Water would be most appreciated," Spock said, only then realizing his thirst.

Jim crossed the room to the bathroom to fill a glass with water. Spock drank the glass down, as was the custom on Vulcan when someone offered water.

"I guess you were thirsty. You want more?"

"That is not necessary." Spock set the empty glass down on the dresser.

They watched each other in silence again.

"Would you dance with me?" Spock asked suddenly.

A smile lit up Jim's face. "I thought you'd never ask."

Jim stepped forward, his arms open. Spock moved into them as if he were a puzzle piece finding its place. They did not arrange themselves to do the mambo, but instead began to dance as they had the very first time, when Spock had wandered up to the staff quarters with Leonard. Spock felt a brief impulse to raise his shields, but he disregarded it, and remained open to the emotions coming from his partner: pleasure, joy, hesitation, and desire. Spock had not understood the last until that moment. He had not comprehended what it was. Jim's hand on his waist, Spock's hand on Jim's shoulder, fingers rubbing against bare skin. Their other hands clasped.

Even had Spock been unable to read Jim's emotions through telepathy, there was no mistaking the meaning in his gaze. It sent a shiver through him. No one had ever looked at him that way.

The music on the player was unlike the music to which they had been dancing all week, but sounded plaintive and soft, the singer crooning, Will you still love me tomorrow?

"What is the origin of this song?" Spock asked, as Jim drew him closer.

Their bodies pressed together, and Jim's hand strayed downward, cupping Spock's hip.

"It's old. 1960."

"You like many things that are from that time," Spock observed, letting his fingers trail down the muscles of Jim's arm. He did not need to confirm that his action was acceptable; he could feel Jim's response coming through their connection.

"Do you like it?" Jim spoke in a low voice right beside Spock's ear.

Spock felt a tingle rush through him from his ears all the way down his spine and to his penis, which had never before responded to anyone's voice. He was having trouble breathing. Their dance had become nothing more than a slight movement of their bodies. Jim's hand rubbed Spock's back through his shirt.

"It is," Spock said, his throat dry despite the water he had just drunk, "unlike Vulcan music."

"Will you play me some sometime?" Jim's mouth lingered beside Spock's ear.

"I did not bring my lytherette." Under normal circumstances, Spock could concentrate on two or more activities at once, but these were not normal circumstances. He could barely concentrate on moving his feet. His body had never felt such intense pleasure. How could such simple actions produce such an unprecedented response? He could not comprehend what was happening to him.

Jim's hand descended farther, caressing Spock's buttock. His lips touched the skin just below Spock's ear. "What's a lytherette?"

Spock moved his fingers against Jim's other hand, which was still clasped in his. His hands wanted to touch Jim's hands in the Vulcan way. "It is like a lute, or a harp." He drew back to look at Jim's face. Then he brought their joined hands to between their bodies. He separated their hands and extended his index finger, touching Jim's index finger, tracing along its outer edge, then the inner surface, down to where it joined the middle finger. Jim stared at their hands, his lips slightly open. He licked them.

"Spock."

Spock retracted his hand, flooded with uncertainty. He knew nothing of how to proceed. He did not even know, really, what they were proceeding toward – he had only the vaguest idea. He knew nothing of protocol or acceptable behaviors, though he had sensed nothing negative from Jim.

Jim's hand suddenly cupped Spock's cheek, and his mouth pressed against Spock's, warm and wet. Spock stepped back, startled. He had read of Human kisses, but he had not expected one. Nor had he anticipated in any way what one would be like.

Jim watched him, confused. "You didn't like that, huh?"

"It was unexpected," Spock said, then leaned forward to initiate contact again. He was prepared, this time, for the mobility of Jim's lips, their heat infiltrating his senses, sending heretofore unknown signals firing through his neurons. As in all things, Jim was quite tactile, and buzzing with energy and movement. When his tongue slipped into Spock's mouth, Spock took a moment to respond, but then slid his tongue against the other, completely taken aback by the sensitivity of an organ to which he had not given much previous consideration.

Faintly, through the haze of all the new sensations, Spock was aware of the throbbing in his head. It seemed to be increasing in intensity, but it did not yet constitute pain, only discomfort. He ignored it. Jim's hand had reached under his shirt, and was caressing the skin of his back. For someone who had rarely ever been touched in his life, the intimacy and prolonged nature of the contact affected his entire body in almost the same way coming to a new planet had, yet he had no desire for it to stop. In fact, he craved more. He felt his legs buckle, but Jim held him close to keep him from falling.

"Bed," Jim said next to Spock's ear, then sucked the lobe into his mouth and bit down gently.

Wordlessly, Spock let Jim lead him. They both collapsed onto the bed. Spock's skin itched. He grabbed Jim's hand, and placed it beneath his shirt again. Jim's mouth on his, hands on him, and everything felt so good. His body was not at all in his control. It was utterly unlike his existence in all the years before visiting Earth. He briefly thought that perhaps he should not let his control come so close to absolute zero. There was a reason Vulcans had developed the mental disciplines.

Jim tugged at Spock's shirt, and without thinking, Spock sat up to let Jim yank the garment off over his head. Then they were aligned, skin to skin, amid so much heat that the room felt like Vulcan, dry and ready to ignite. Dimly, Spock registered uncharted reactions in his body: the tingling of his nipples, his penis filling with blood, hardening, pressing against the confines of his pants, his heart rate accelerating as if he were running, his breathing irregular and shallow, and sounds that had never before come from his mouth. The pressure in his head had entered the realm of pain, and a throbbing there kept the same rhythm as the pulsing elsewhere in Spock's body. He was almost unable to distinguish the pain from the pleasure coursing through him.

Jim's emotions also raged through Spock, circulating along with everything else. It was loud in his head. Without a meld, Spock could not read Jim's exact thoughts, but the arousal and desire slammed through him, racing, unstoppable. There was fondness, and a base of warmth that Spock had come to recognize as Jim's essence. The pure need was sharp and piercing.

A hand squeezed one of his buttocks through his pants, then travelled forward, pressing at the new hardness it found. Suddenly, the confinement of his clothing was too much for Spock. He scrabbled at the fastening of his pants, almost tearing the seams as he pushed them down over his hips. The pants encountered a road block at his shoes, but he quickly yanked them off and forced the pants down over his feet and onto the floor. He turned to find Jim divesting himself of his jeans with just as little ceremony. Through the rush in his brain, Spock noted the bulge in Jim's briefs, a change from when he had seen Jim in them before, at the lake. Then, the outline of his penis had been noticeable, but not demanding of Spock's scrutiny. Spock wanted to be close to it, wanted to touch, though he did not know how, did not know what to do. Everything was different, and the room was bright and loud.

"Hey," Jim said, pulling back from Spock's sudden kiss. "You okay? That wasn't such a good sound you just made."

A jagged pain ricocheted through Spock's skull. He found himself unable to speak without a great deal of effort. "I do not know. I have never experienced this type of pain before."

"Shit," Jim said. "Just try to relax, okay? I'm going to get Bones." Then he was gone.

The barrage of sound decreased, and the room seemed to go dark. Spock shut his eyes tightly, pressing his hands to his head. He curled up on the bed, and tried to master his body. He found himself unable to exert even the most rudimentary controls. He may have lost awareness for a moment – he was not sure – but he was next conscious of a sharp prick at his neck, and the pfft of a hypo injection.

His senses felt muffled, but he became aware of voices.

"Pointy-eared hobgoblins and their crazy biology. You're lucky I was around."

"Is he gonna be okay?"

"Overstimulated, that's my guess. That damn touch telepathy. Mix it with all that repression, and you got yourself a dangerous cocktail."

Spock took a deep breath and opened his eyes.

"Hey there, Sunshine." Leonard's face peered down at Spock, exasperated but kind. "Better now?"

Spock nodded, wincing a little at the feeling in his head.

Behind Leonard, Jim stood looking worried. "So... I can't touch him?"

Leonard stood. "Give him a rest. I think that's all he needs. He's been fine all week, hasn't he? You've been...touching him."

"Ah..." Jim scrubbed at his face. "Not like this. I mean..."

"Yeah, yeah. Don't give me any details. I think you two can figure it out. Vulcans do have sex, you know. And I know this one's a hodge-podge, so his father did it with a Human and managed. You go dipping your wick in strange places, you have to be ready for the unexpected, that's all. Now, if you'll excuse me, I was in the middle of a high stakes poker game." Leonard took one more careful look at Spock and seemed to deem his condition acceptable. He picked up his medical bag and beelined for the door.

Jim continued to stand beside the bed, his arms folded tightly over his bare chest. He had apparently run to get Leonard without getting dressed, as he still wore only his briefs. His erection had disappeared, as had Spock's.

"I'm sorry," Jim said. "I didn't know. You should've told me you were in pain."

Spock licked his lips. They felt dry.

"You want some water?" Jim's brow furrowed.

Spock nodded and attempted to sit up, but the room seemed to be swaying around him. He heard Jim turn on the tap in the bathroom. He appeared a moment later with a glass. Spock accepted it gratefully, and drank all of the water. Jim sat on the bed, carefully maintaining his distance.

"I believe it is my fault. I did not exert sufficient discipline over my mind. I let myself lose control." He handed the glass back to Jim, who set it on the floor.

"Can I do anything for you?"

"That is not necessary." Aside from a faint hum at the edge of his mind, and a slight sensitivity to light, Spock felt much as he normally did. Whatever Leonard had injected had helped.

"Do you want me to walk you back to your room?"

"No," Spock said, realizing that he wanted to stay. The intense desire had fled his body, but the prospect of leaving Jim's company was not pleasing. "May I stay here?"

"Of course you can." Jim said, still concerned.

"I am suddenly sleepy." Spock inched down on the bed, returning to a prone position. He had never been so overcome with tiredness. The bed felt soft.

"Do you want to get under the blankets? You'll get cold." Jim stood and turned back the sheet and blanket on the side of the bed where he had been sitting. "Come over on this side."

Spock lifted his hips, moving himself over. The action made him dizzy. Jim covered him with the blanket, tucking it close around his neck. The sight of Jim hovering over him was reassuring.

"I'll just be in the chair over here, okay? If you need anything." Jim picked up his jeans from the floor.

"I wish for you to sleep with me." Spock was uncertain, again, of Human custom. His parents, he knew, sometimes slept together, but often apart. He supposed it had to do with what he had just experienced.

Jim sat on the bed again, studying Spock. "Do you think that's smart? I mean..."

"Do Humans not sleep together?"

"They do. I want to sleep with you, but I don't want to hurt you."

"The drug Leonard administered has mitigated my symptoms. I would be comforted by your presence." Spock watched Jim as he made his decision.

"All right," he said, letting the jeans fall from his hands. "But you have to promise to tell me if anything happens."

"That is acceptable."

Jim turned off the light. Spock felt him climbing into the bed and pulling the blanket over himself. Above them, the ceiling glowed with stars.

"Did you place those there?" Spock asked.

"It's what you would see if you went outside. Those are the constellations visible in summer."

"An accurate representation."

"There's something calming about the stars. I always wonder about them. What's out there."

Spock worked his arm free of the bedding, and placed it on top of the blanket. He sought Jim's hand in the darkness.

"Hey," came Jim's surprised voice.

"I am experiencing no discomfort," Spock said. His mind felt quiet through the growing cloud of sleep. He ran his fingers along Jim's, enjoying the tiny tingles the gesture produced.

"Is that a Vulcan thing?"

"Kissing," Spock answered.

"Oh." Jim began to reciprocate, moving his fingers in response to Spock's. Then he laced their fingers together and brought their joined hands to his mouth. He inserted the very tip of Spock's thumb into his mouth and circled it with his tongue.

A small sound escaped Spock's mouth. It was as if a low voltage current had passed through him. His body hummed pleasantly.

"If you're feeling better tomorrow, I'm going to do that to your dick," Jim said, clamping down lightly with his teeth.

"My...?" Spock trailed off as Jim sucked his entire thumb, caressing it with his tongue. "Oh," he said, gathering the meaning of the word.

With one final swipe, Jim removed Spock's thumb from his mouth and placed their hands back on the blanket.

"I look forward to it," Spock said, then let his eyes shut, overtaken by exhaustion.

***

When the external world began to seep into Spock's consciousness, he became aware that he was curled up around a warm body. To be specific, his front was pressed up against Jim's back, and their entwined arms lay against Jim's chest. Jim's neck, with its fine curls of hair, lay just out of reach of Spock's mouth. He felt inclined to kiss the spot below the regular growth of coarser hair. A strange heat flooded his body, and he realized that his penis was erect. He had never woken in such a state.

"Mmm," Jim mumbled sleepily, shifting against Spock, pulling their joined hands closer to his body.

The mild hum in Spock's mind intensified to a loud buzzing. He pressed his groin to Jim's buttocks, finding the contact soothing to the growing desperation overtaking him.

Jim seemed to arrive at full awareness. "Spock?" he said in a sleepy voice. Then: "Shit." He let go of Spock's arm, and tumbled out of bed with something akin to panic. He assessed Spock. "Are you okay?"

Spock's mind focussed on what he considered to be the most important fact: Jim was also erect, his penis clearly visible through the light fabric of his briefs. All other thought seemed to have fled him.

"You're not okay," Jim said. "You are definitely not okay. I'm going to get Bones. Shit, I knew I shouldn't have slept with you. Fuck." He began to pull on his jeans.

Spock did not know what possessed him, but he launched out of the bed, leaped on Jim, and pinned him to the mattress. His whole body was on fire, and he ached. He needed something. He needed to touch. He wanted Jim's hands. The head to toe contact assuaged his need, and he pressed his face into the crook of Jim's neck, breathing deeply, not sure what to do next. His hands skated over Jim's arms and his sides, and a clamor of emotions charged into him: confusion, arousal, worry, warmth. One of his hands tugged ineffectually at the jeans, trying to yank them off.

"Spock, are you sure we should be doing this? Not that I don't want to, but –"

A small sound escaped Spock's throat. He lifted his head to look at Jim's face. A hand touched his cheek. Blue eyes studied him with both consternation and amusement.

"Sex with you is confusing." Jim reached between them to grasp Spock's penis through his briefs. "But nice."

"More," Spock pleaded, ashamed of his inability to articulate himself.

"I'm going to be a little embarrassed if I have to run and get Bones when I'm naked," Jim said, grinning. "But I have a theory about your problem. Let's get these off."

Spock rolled off of Jim. Lifting his hips, he shed his underwear, aware that beside him, Jim was also removing his jeans and briefs.

"Come here."

Their bodies finally met, unfettered by clothing. The heat shot through Spock, intensifying the strange frenzy occurring in his veins. His groin ground against Jim without any conscious instruction. He felt a warm hand grasp his penis, and the touch started a chain reaction, which ended in a hot pulsing, and a spurt of ejaculate. And then calm.

"Better?" Jim said, his breath hot on Spock's cheek.

As his mind ordered itself, Spock analyzed his actions of the last few minutes. He had behaved in a most unacceptable fashion. He had all but attacked Jim, and did not even have the excuse of pon farr. Through their contact, though, he sensed only amusement, curiosity, and relief. "I do not know what came over me," Spock admitted. "Vulcans do not normally experience such intense need."

"On Earth, we call it being horny. I bet that was part of the pain you felt last night. We couldn't take care of it fast enough. How do you feel?"

Spock carefully lifted his weight off of Jim, and lay on his side. "Much improved. I am experiencing no pain. Did I hurt you?"

Jim adjusted himself so that he was lying on his side facing Spock. "No, I'm good. Except kind of horny myself."

Spock saw that Jim's penis remained erect. It glistened with what Spock deduced was the product of his own tumultuous orgasm. Spock knew through his research that their anatomies were similar in structure and function, but witnessing Jim's arousal at such proximity was a different matter altogether. Spock could not tear his eyes away from the rosy, rounded head of it, and the retracted foreskin.

"Wanna help me out?" Jim's fingers curled around his shaft, moving up and down slowly.

"It would give me pleasure," Spock said. A hand took his, and guided it into position. The Human skin felt strange beneath Spock's fingers, a different texture from the other skin on Jim's body – softer, and quite smooth. Spock felt clumsy as he tentatively began to move his hand.

"You don't have to be so gentle. Here." Jim's hand wrapped around Spock's, showing him the desired amount of pressure. "Yeah."

Spock found his attention fixated on the sight of what he was doing. He had never imagined this scenario. Even had it occurred to him, he could not have pictured it with such vividness and intensity. He could not have predicted the sound of Jim's hitched breaths and quiet moans, nor the way he pushed himself closer to Spock, weaving their legs together.

Human vernacular, also, was quite varied, as Spock was discovering. Jim's normally creative tongue became even more inventive in the throes of passion.

"Fuck. I love your hands. And your cock. I love your cock." All said between messy kisses and the unexpected biting of Spock's ear, which produced not pain but a shot of sensation that travelled directly to Spock's penis. Jim began to thrust forcefully against Spock's fist until warm fluid covered both their stomachs and Spock's hand.

Spock sensed that he was becoming overstimulated from the onslaught of Jim's arousal and release. He closed his eyes and let go of Jim's softening penis. He took several deep breaths. He was thus able to wrest control of his mind, calming his body in the process. His half-erect penis began to subside.

A blunt finger traced the line of his jaw. "You okay?"

Spock opened his eyes to wonder at the face across from him. "I am..." Once again, he found himself unable to express the complexity of his thoughts.

Jim smiled, and kissed him gently. "For a Vulcan, you aren't very Vulcan."

"My father would say that is my Human half. It is how he explains many facets of my behavior."

"So..." Jim said thoughtfully, letting his eyes rove up and down the length of Spock's body. "From the waist up, you're Vulcan, and from the waist down, you're Human?"

"That is an illogical explanation of my biology," Spock said, understanding that Jim was making a joke. Nonetheless, blood raced to his face and his ears.

"Sexy," Jim murmured, leaning to kiss Spock again. "Let's stay in bed all day."

"What is the time?" Spock suddenly remembered his father's order from the previous night. He was not supposed to be with Jim.

Jim squinted toward the other side of the room. "Eight?"

Spock's heart raced. "I must go. I have lost my sense of time." He scrambled out of the bed and looked for his clothes among the scattered garments on the floor. He had been uncharacteristically untidy.

"Sex can do that. It messes up your brain."

Spock paused to look at Jim curiously. "I have read no studies mentioning that fact."

Jim laughed. "I meant – nevermind."

"You were making another joke."

Sitting up in the bed, Jim said, "Hm. I think you've got some Human half in that brain of yours."

"I will not exclude that as a possibility, though evidence would suggest that your previous joke was more accurate," Spock observed before stepping into his underwear.

***

When Spock arrived at breakfast, he was puzzled to find Sarek present. Diplomatic breakfasts and meetings had been taking up his mornings for the entire week. Spock had been left to his own devices, or to the company of his mother. Upon catching sight of his father, Spock carefully hid all signs of the joy that had permeated his mind since waking. It took all the skill acquired during his youth on Vulcan. Even so, both Sarek and Amanda scrutinized him as he sat across from them. He hungrily eyed the heaping plate of fruit at the center of the table.

"You were not in your room thirty-one minutes ago when we called for you." Sarek's expression was stern.

Amanda's was not.

Spock opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a syllable, Amanda intervened on his behalf: "Spock has been taking early walks to collect specimens."

Sarek turned to Amanda. "Is Spock incapable of speaking for himself?" Their discussion of the previous night did not seem to be resolved. "Tardiness, lack of adherence to a schedule, unreliability, and sloppiness in appearance will not be tolerated at the Vulcan Science Academy." He directed these remarks at Spock. "Admission to the Academy does not guarantee that one will remain there. I expect more from a son of mine."

"Leave him be," Amanda said firmly. Then she gentled her voice, touching Sarek's hand briefly. "He's not a child."

"Then he must behave like an adult." Sarek dabbed at his mouth with a napkin.

Amanda continued to look at Sarek beseechingly.

"Very well," he said. "We will discuss his lack of discipline at a later time."

An elderly Andorian male approached their table. "Sarek, I must speak with you."

"Have the aircars been fixed?" Sarek pushed his plate aside, suddenly grave.

The Andorian's antennae trembled with anger. "It appears that the damage was an act of sabotage. The repairs will take longer than expected. We shall not be able to travel to our session in the city today."

Sarek took a breath and focussed on the empty space of white tablecloth before him. "We must begin an investigation to resolve this matter without delay."

"Agreed," said the Andorian.

Sarek stood, extending two fingers to Amanda. She met them briefly with her own. Sarek returned his chair neatly to its position against the table, then departed without a word or a glance to Spock. Mother and son watched Sarek depart, then Amanda's attention shifted to her son.

"Spock." Her voice was quiet, pleading. "He means well. He only wants the best for you."

"Understood," Spock replied, conscious of his mother's scrutiny. T'Pring and her family sat only three tables away, and Spock was aware that they, too, were watching him.

"You look different today."

Spock tensed. Had he overlooked some aspect of his appearance during his hurried ablutions? He had checked in the mirror. He knew of no visible signs of what he had done.

"Happier."

"Mother."

"I know. You and your father think you don't let anything show, but I can read you two like open books." She smiled mischievously.

"A curious analogy," Spock said, trying to school his face into impassivity. He no longer felt hungry for the fruit laid out before him. The full weight of all he had done, the codes of behavior he had violated, finally hit him. He had ignored the dictates of his race. He would not meet Amanda's eyes.

"You know," Amanda continued, "When I decided to marry your father, my parents objected strongly. They said I'd regret going to live so far away. They said the marriage wouldn't work because we were too different."

"You have been referring often to your relationship with my father. You have not done so in the past." He wondered how much his mother knew of his friendship with Jim. He had not maintained as much secrecy as he should have. Yet there was no judgment in her expression.

"Don't let him pressure you. He'll love you, even if you defy his expectations." Amanda patted Spock's hand, a gesture that embarrassed Spock on Vulcan, but which seemed acceptable on Earth.

"I believed Vulcans incapable of love," Spock said.

"Nothing could be farther from the truth. Vulcans feel quite deeply. They just don't express things the way Humans do."

The two planets were so different. He almost wished he had not come to Earth. He had known what was right on Vulcan. On Earth, matters were less clear. "What is the proper course?" Spock asked. "I have been raised Vulcan, but I am not Vulcan. I was not accepted as Vulcan by my peers. Yet I believe I should strive to meet the expectations of my race."

"Your father may have raised you Vulcan, but I didn't always. Maybe I erred. Maybe I made life difficult for you."

"You did not make life difficult. I brought that upon myself due to my lack of control."

"Spock!" Amanda's voice scolded. "You're half Human. There's no way to change that. You came about because two people loved one another. We went to great lengths to have you."

"My existence is not logical. Indeed, I occasionally find it confusing," Spock said stiffly.

"I know. I'm sorry."

"It is a dilemma."

"One I'm sure you'll resolve," Amanda said. "Just remember that there are rarely obvious solutions for complicated puzzles."

"I shall take your words under advisement."

Amanda rose. "I'm going to the lake to read. You can join me if you get tired of being off on your own." She gave him an odd smile. "I'll see you at dinner."

Spock waited only until Amanda had disappeared before he abandoned his unwanted meal and left the building, paying no attention to T'Pring as he walked past the table at which she sat.

He had no sooner taken to the path that led to the cabins when he heard T'Pring's voice behind him.

"Spock!"

Spock halted, waiting for her. He suspected he knew what she had to say. "It was not me who informed your parents of your relationship with Stonn," he said quickly.

"I am aware," T'Pring said. "But it is because of you that it matters."

"I had no say in our bonding," Spock pointed out, "nor can I sever the bond at this time."

"There is no bond."

"That is not my fault."

Spock thought T'Pring was also to blame for the dissolution of their bond, but he did not say as much. "My parents have requested that we continue to develop an acquaintance, but should we mutually agree –"

"I agree," T'Pring interrupted.

"Very well. It is settled, then."

"It is settled."

Without looking at her, Spock continued on as he had been, aiming for his room. It took nearly a minute for him to recover from the confrontation.

He had dressed quickly in order to arrive at breakfast close to on time. He had not bathed or changed his clothes, only smoothed his hair and washed his face, checking his appearance for any clues that might give him away. While sitting with his parents, he had tried not to let his mind contemplate the evidence that was not immediately apparent, but which remained on the skin of his chest and abdomen.

Thinking on it as he walked to his room, he felt a mixture of shame and desire. Bonded Vulcans did not engage in sexual activity with those who were not their bondmate. Despite the unusual circumstances in which Spock found himself with regard to T'Pring, he knew he had violated custom. He could only offer one explanation for the failure of their bond: the impurity of his genetics. Perhaps his Human half rendered him incapable of complete bonding, though the healer who had linked Spock's young mind with T'Pring's had said that Spock's mind seemed adequate to maintain the connection.

Spock knew that unbonded individuals responded differently to one another, seeking potential mates in those they met. Somehow, that had occurred with him. He had not only acted as one who was unbonded, but he had not followed the procedure of creating the mental link before consummation. Furthermore, he was not ignorant of Human ways – Jim would not be his permanent mate. The kind of bond experienced by Vulcans was not in Human nature. Spock had behaved in a purely Human fashion, indulging in sexual congress with no bond, with no permanence.

He reminded himself that his mother was Human, and that she had forged a permanent mental link with his father. Spock did not know what to think of it.

In his room, he stripped and stepped into the shower. His body burned as he washed away all evidence of the morning. He could not help remembering how Jim had touched him, and he touched himself, imagining Human hands upon him. It was weakness and lack of control that allowed his mind to continue on its path. The memory of that morning persisted, sending heat racing through his body until his penis grew erect.

Spock turned off the water and leaned against the wall, forcing his mind to eradicate every trace of desire. It took all the control he possessed. After a few minutes, he felt more himself. His erection was gone, and his body had cooled. He dried his skin and put on clean clothes. Gathering his collection kit, he exited his room with the intention of spending the day in the woods. Perhaps a day of contemplation would provide some answers to his questions.

***

In the woods, Spock attempted to focus on the identification, collection, and cataloguing of herbaceous understory flora, including hay-scented ferns (Dennstaedtia punctilobula), the mysterious scent he had detected earlier, but although his mind was disciplined enough to compartmentalize his thoughts, James T. Kirk was a far more interesting subject than any plant. It was not simply the memory of their sexual encounter, but also the creativity and dexterity of Jim's mind that Spock longed for. He had never met anyone quite like him.

It was thus that he found himself treading the familiar path to the staff quarters. He did not know what he wanted, though it was logical to assume that Jim would expect to continue in the direction in which they had been headed that morning. Spock's research on matters of Human sexuality and relationships indicated such. Aware of the potential consequences of his actions, Spock continued on. He could not help himself. His control was gone.

When he arrived at the ramshackle building, he found Leonard and Jim in the dance hall playing chess. Jim looked up first and saw him, his face, expressive as always, lighting up with happiness.

"Hey, I didn't know if you'd come back."

Leonard sighed. "Of course he came back, you idiot. Even a blind man could see he's pointy ears upside-down for you." He stood, picking up his medical tricorder. "Now, let me have a look at you. You were one hell of a mess last night."

Spock stepped forward obligingly, glancing over at Jim, who smiled, then turned away, his face flushed pink.

"Heart rate's a little fast, but I'll take a wild guess why that is. Everything else looks normal. Though God only knows what's normal for you. Half of this, half of that. What's a country doctor supposed to do? It's all guesswork. And, in case you wanted to know, he's clean, wonder of wonders." Leonard gestured toward Jim with his thumb.

"Clean?" Spock asked.

"No diseases. For God's sake, you're a Vulcan. Don't you think of these things? Well, I suppose you had enough to worry about last night." He flashed a warning look at Jim. "Don't go pushing him off a cliff, now."

"Bones."

"The probability of that occurring is 0.0001 percent," Spock said, mystified by Leonard's logic.

Leonard smiled and shook his head as he set the tricorder down. "I don't know what you see in him," he muttered, and sat at the board again. "Well, go on. Let me contemplate my next move in peace."

Jim stood up as Spock assessed the chess board. Leonard was losing. Jim had played a strong game.

"I suggest the queen," Spock said.

Leonard glared at the board. "The queen? From way back –" Suddenly, the strategy became clear. "Ah." He smiled. "Just you wait," he threatened, pointing his index finger at Jim.

Jim took Spock's hand. "I'll see you later, Bones. Then you can kick my ass all you want."

Leonard waved absently, giving fresh attention to the board.

"Let's go," Jim said to Spock.

At the touch of Jim's hand, Spock had clamped down on his mental shields, trying not to let Jim's emotions filter through. As they stepped outside and walked around to the other side of the building, Jim looked over at him hesitantly.

"Do you regret it?"

Spock was once again impressed with Jim's ability to gauge his state of mind. Humans were remarkably perceptive despite what Spock's Vulcan education had taught him. "Regret is inaccurate," Spock said. "I have acted in a manner not in accordance with Vulcan custom. I am uncertain of my course."

"That's fair," Jim said. "Maybe you don't want to go to my room, then."

"Am I correct in assuming that you desire to continue what we began this morning?" Spock stopped walking.

Jim let go of Spock's hand and shoved his hands in the pockets of his jeans. "I'd be crazy if I didn't want to."

"Do you think I am 'crazy'?" Spock asked.

"No. Just different."

They stood there in silence, beneath rustling leaves.

"You were out collecting," Jim said, finally, noticing the kit Spock carried by a strap over his shoulder.

"My attempts were less than successful, as my mind was elsewhere," Spock admitted.

"I didn't know Vulcans let themselves get distracted."

"They do not." Spock wrapped his hand around the strap of the collection kit. Being in physical proximity to Jim was making it difficult for him to maintain his shields. He badly wanted to lower them, to feel Jim's presence in his mind.

Jim didn't seem to know what to say. "We could go for a walk," he suggested at last.

Spock did not like the sadness he detected on Jim's face. "That would be agreeable," Spock said, and immediately sensed relief.

They headed for the woods on the hillside at the edge of the resort, walking side by side, in step with one another. The day was warm, and Earth's sun shone down, giving a yellow cast to the grass and the leaves of the trees.

"What's this?" Jim asked, reaching up for a low-hanging leaf, which he pulled off the twig. "A birch?"

"Quaking Aspen," Spock corrected. "The bark is similar, but the leaves are much different."

"I've always liked that tree, but I didn't know what it was."

"Indeed, I find the trees quite fascinating. They are rare on Vulcan."

"It must be like Arizona or something." Jim twirled the stem of the Aspen leaf in his fingers.

"What is this place like in winter?" Spock asked.

"I don't think you'd like it. It's cold. Like, below zero. And there's usually a big dumping of snow." Jim extended his hand toward Spock, asking unobtrusively.

Spock met him halfway, pleasure coursing through him at the touch of the warm palm. He could not deny that he wanted to touch Jim more intimately. Yet the impulse was countered with equal force by his mind's discipline.

"The moon's out," Jim said, using his free hand to gesture at the blue sky beyond the trees.

A sliver of white was, indeed, visible. Jim stared at it with something akin to longing.

"When I was a kid. I used to think maybe the records were wrong. I thought my dad might actually be out there somewhere. I pretended that I was going into space, and I'd find him on some planet where he'd been stranded." Jim fell quiet. "Stupid, I guess. I didn't know any better."

Spock felt himself sympathizing with the lonely child he could imagine.

"When I got older, everybody said, 'Oh, are you going to join Starfleet like your dad? He was a real hero.'"

The pain of the loss poured through the shields that Spock had carelessly let open. It seemed to be his weakness: to allow Jim into his mind. He did not attempt to cut off the contact, as he knew Jim would sense it.

Spock moved his hand in Jim's, letting his slender fingers move up and down along the blunter ones. They ceased walking, stopping beneath an arch of trees, and Jim returned the gesture. They did not speak. Only their fingers talked, tracing lines, becoming familiar with one another. Spock could feel the drag of the callouses on Jim's fingertips, the texture of the faint lines that composed his fingerprints. A deep scar crossed one knuckle, evidence of past injury.

They continued that way for several minutes. When Jim wrote a line down Spock's palm, then touched his wrist, it was as if a live wire had sparked on his skin.

"This manner of contact stimulates you," Spock observed, noting Jim's slightly open mouth, his rapid breaths, and the burst of desire coming through their connection.

"More than I thought it would." He looked at Spock's face. "It's the same for you."

Spock nodded.

"What about Human kissing? Did you like it?"

"Affirmative. It was quite arousing."

"Interesting," Jim said as he circled Spock's wrist with his fingertip, spending several moments lavishing attention on the tender inside, slipping beneath Spock's long sleeve.

"Why do you consider it of interest?" Spock swayed slightly where he stood, drawing small circles on Jim's palm.

"Because other Vulcans don't do it, right? I've never seen Vulcans kiss on the mouth. Have you ever seen your parents do it?" Something had taken hold of Jim, the solution to a problem. His mind seemed agitated.

"I have not," Spock said, puzzling over the fact. He had never considered it.

"But your mom's Human. Don't you think that if any Vulcan was gonna kiss on the mouth, it would be your dad?"

Spock tried to focus his mind, but found it difficult. Their manual contact was, indeed, inflaming him. "They only kiss with their fingers," Spock said with certainty, wondering where Jim's thoughts were leading.

A triumphant expression stole over Jim's face. "You're different. You could spend your whole life on Vulcan, but you like things that are Human. It's wired in your genes. There's no other explanation. Do you see what I'm getting at?"

Spock did. He withdrew from contact with Jim, trying to clear his mind. "I was not accepted by my peers when I was growing up."

Jim nodded. "Yeah. I'm not surprised." He seemed suddenly sad. "What I'm saying is that since you aren't like anyone else, you shouldn't hold yourself to Vulcan standards or Human standards or whatever. You should make your own choices."

"Your words bear a remarkable resemblance to my mother's. I believe your logic is sound."

"That's a real compliment coming from a Vulcan."

They stood apart, not touching, looking at one another.

"Listen, I won't drag you to my bed if you don't want to be there, but if it's only that you think you're violating some Vulcan custom, or trying to be loyal to some girl that doesn't care about you..." Jim seemed uncertain of what to say next. "It doesn't make sense."

Spock leaned forward, closing the distance between them. When his mouth made contact with Jim's, heat raced through him, along with all the relief and gladness and desire and sweetness that the Human could not control. Jim pulled Spock to him, wrapping his arms around his back, then resting his head on Spock's shoulder. Spock imitated the gesture, matching Jim's pose. They stood joined in that manner for a long moment.

When Jim sucked lightly at the tender skin of Spock's neck, Spock shuddered with need.

"I believe I would like to return to your room," he said.

***

The next thing Spock knew, he was naked, lying on Jim's bed. It was unlike him to lose awareness of his surroundings, but he had no memory of the walk from the woods to the cabins. He had no memory of getting undressed. Under ordinary circumstances, Spock would have found his loss of faculties...alarming. But Jim knelt between Spock's legs, head bent as if diligently studying an important text. The first touch of lips, and then tongue, on Spock's erection caused him to inhale sharply, unaccustomed to the sensation. He had never imagined... His head fell back on the pillow, and he closed his eyes.

"Is this often done?" he managed to ask.

"Mm," was the only response from Jim.

The vibration from the sound produced a peculiar sensation on his already responsive skin. Jim had taken the entirety of Spock's penis into his mouth, and was moving up and down, letting the shaft slide in and out. At the same time, his tongue acted on its own, adding pressure, or fluttering against highly sensitive places Spock had been unaware of before then. His orgasm rushed through him like the rare summer rains that came to Shi'kahr.

Then Jim was hovering above him, the weight of his body barely touching Spock. His tongue delved into Spock's mouth. Spock clutched at Jim's back. He felt as if he were scrabbling down a rocky slope, rushing headlong for the stable surface of a path below. He reached it after a moment, his body settling.

"You," Jim murmured, and that was all. He rocked his hips, letting his erection brush softly against Spock's belly.

"You will have to instruct me," Spock said.

Jim grinned, his face still close. "Um. You can do whatever you want." He kissed Spock again. "I don't think I need to give you instructions. You seem to pick things up on your own."

"Then I will attempt to put my observations to use," Spock said, pushing Jim off of him so that he lay on his back. For a moment, Spock sat beside Jim and simply looked.

Jim watched in return, fingers lightly touching his testicles. Spock picked up on the cue, and brought his fingers to rest on the warm, soft skin. He explored tentatively, feeling the slip and slide of the unseen globes beneath the surface. He remembered touching himself there, how pleasant it had felt. He lifted the sacs, tugging gently. He let his fingers draw lines down the crease between thigh and testicles, then behind. Jim spread his legs, giving Spock more access. Through the touch, he was able to gauge Jim's pleasure and increasing arousal.

The prospect of doing what Jim had done to him was somewhat daunting, as it lay so far outside the realm of Spock's experience, but he had never turned away from a challenge. He did not intend to do so now. He dragged the pad of his finger up the length of Jim's penis, which lay flat against his stomach. The curls at its base were lighter than Spock's, but still dark, fanning out and lightening as they spread upward.

Jim watched him through half-closed eyes, front teeth biting down on his bottom lip, his breathing heavy. His hands lay clenched in fists on the bed. He was trying to maintain control, Spock realized. He had not thought Humans capable of the effort. Arousal surged through him, as if coming directly from Jim's body. Spock arranged his limbs for better balance, then took Jim's erection in his hand and bowed his head.

The texture beneath his tongue surprised him, though it should not have. The skin was smooth and slick, and despite the hardness of the shaft, the tip of Jim's penis was soft, giving under the pressure of Spock's lips. Salt. Some other flavor. Spock closed his eyes and let his tongue feel, mapping out the territory of the distinct ridge, the gathered flesh of the frenulum on the underside. The anatomy diagrams Spock had investigated had not conveyed at all the heat and energy, the taste, or Jim's response – the sounds he made, and the rhythmic lifting of his hips.

Spock mimicked the motions Jim had used on him, sliding his lips up and down the shaft, taking in the entirety of Jim's penis, letting it hit his throat, adjusting his speed in accordance with the urgency he sensed from the body beneath his hands and in his mouth.

"I'm gonna come," Jim mumbled, his hand touching Spock's head.

A spurt of liquid filled Spock's mouth, and he reflexively pulled away, retaining some of it. The rest spilled onto Jim's stomach and chest. Spock put his hand over his mouth, then consciously swallowed. The flavor was...unusual. Neither pleasant nor unpleasant. Slightly bitter.

"Sorry," Jim said. "Should've given you more warning."

"I do not understand." Spock was becoming erect again. He was uncertain whether it was his own arousal that had caused it, or Jim's.

"Most people don't like to swallow it."

"Should I warn you in the future?" Spock asked, considering the slick skin before him, and Jim's softening penis. Whatever their emotional controls, Vulcans were not immune to the effects of beauty. Spock derived pleasure from regarding the man before him.

"I'm not most people," Jim said.

Spock puzzled over the statement, parsing out its meaning. He thought he understood.

"Would you hand me that?" Jim asked, gesturing toward a box of tissue.

Jim seemed suddenly shy as he swiped at his skin with a tissue. "Do you feel okay?" he asked, looking up at Spock.

"A more accurate word would be..." Spock hesitated. In fact, he did not know how best to describe his state.

"Good or bad?"

"Good," Spock confirmed, lying down beside Jim. They lay there for a few moments, resting in silence.

"Spock?"

Spock shifted on the pillow in order to look at Jim more directly.

"Will you stay?"

"Have I given you the impression that I am leaving?"

Jim did not reply, but laid a hand on Spock's bare hip.

"May I make a personal query?" Spock asked.

"You can ask me anything you want."

Spock was not jealous, only curious. "Four nights ago, I approached your cabin with the intention of visiting, but you appeared to be having a discussion with an Andorian female."

Jim pulled away from Spock, rolling onto his back.

"Why are you ashamed?"

"I'm not. I mean –" Jim rubbed at his face. "You have to understand, I need to make enough money in the summer to last the whole year pretty much. These women come here, and they're rich, and they like me..." He trailed off uncertainly. He did not look at Spock.

"I do not understand."

"The first time it happened, I didn't either. This woman just came onto me, and I went with it. I didn't see the credit card until after. I guess it's some unspoken thing. They always leave them."

"You do not enjoy their company?" Spock studied Jim's face, trying to comprehend what he was feeling.

Jim finally met Spock's gaze. "I don't mind it. But I prefer yours."

"I do not pay you."

"Don't even think about it!" Jim said vehemently. After a few seconds, he added: "Does it bother you?"

"That would be illogical."

"When Myla came here the other night, I'd been thinking about you, and I couldn't do it."

Jim was trying to communicate something. Spock did not know what it was, nor did he know how he should respond.

"I don't want to be stuck here my whole life, that's all."

"I do not believe you will be."

An inscrutable expression crossed Jim's face. "Of course you don't." He touched Spock's cheek with one finger, then let the finger trail down Spock's neck and chest. He brushed his thumb against a nipple.

Spock changed his position, turning onto his stomach, propping himself up on his elbows so that he could examine the Human more closely.

"What?" Jim asked.

"I am fascinated by the differences between us." Spock was conscious of the trapped heat of his partly erect penis. He shifted against the blanket. With one hand, he reached out to touch Jim's eyebrow, following its curve with the tip of his finger. "The shape of your eyebrows is unusual."

"Not here, it isn't. It's only that way to you."

Spock raised one of his own eyebrows. "That is logical. Am I to assume that you see my eyebrows in the same way?"

"I love them."

"But this," Spock said, bringing his finger down to Jim's mouth, "is unusual, even among Humans." He pressed past Jim's lips to touch the bottom teeth. The gap between them did not appear to be common. He had certainly never seen such a thing on Vulcan.

Jim licked the finger, touching a nerve deep inside Spock. Spock shifted against the blankets again, heat building.

"Do all Vulcans have such sensitive hands?" Jim tilted his head to grab more of Spock's finger. He bit it.

Spock gasped for breath. "Yes." He fought for control. "What is the equivalent body part in Humans?"

"Mm," Jim hummed around Spock's finger, considering. He let the finger go. "I guess it depends on the person."

"Your hands seem to be sensitive also," Spock observed.

"Yeah, and my ears, maybe," Jim said, reaching up to tug at one of the lobes.

"Another area in which we differ." Spock traced the pink curve of the top of Jim's ear with his moist finger. It was like a small, delicate animal. Spock leaned close, and kissed the outer edge. Remembering how Jim had bitten his ear, he duplicated the gesture, sucking gently afterwards.

Jim moaned and closed his eyes.

Continuing to lavish attention on Jim's ear, Spock reached for one of Jim's hands, and their fingers began the almost familiar dance, rubbing against one another as surges of current sped through the connection. Jim, Spock noted, was becoming aroused again.

"Fuck," Jim said softly, turning his head so he could kiss Spock, his mouth open and wanting.

Both of them were experiencing accelerated heart rates and breathing. Their hands had parted and wandered elsewhere. Spock placed one of his legs between Jim's and rubbed his groin against a hip in order to acquire the contact he craved.

"I wonder how many times we can have sex in one day."

"I hypothesize that four times would be feasible. The probability of a fifth time is sixty-two percent, accounting for variables such as rest time and consumption of food. Naturally, we would also encounter interruptions, such as the necessity that you go to work and that I meet my parents for dinner."

Jim kissed him again. "No parents." He wormed his way out from under Spock, and ghosted a hand over his back. "Stay there."

Spock lay on his stomach as ordered, the side of his face against the pillow. He watched Jim scramble toward the bottom half of the bed. Hands pushed at his thighs, indicating that he should part his legs. He adjusted position accordingly, wondering what Jim would do.

He could not see clearly without straining his neck, but he felt Jim's strong hands spreading his cheeks to caress lightly the sensitive space between them. He breathed in sharply.

"Okay?" Jim inquired, suddenly appearing, his weight on Spock's back. "Do you mind me touching you there?"

"Why would I?"

"Not everyone likes it at first."

"I assure you, I will inform you if you do something I do not like."

"Of course you will," Jim said, smiling, then disappearing from view. His fingers returned to where they had been.

Spock closed his eyes, focussing on the sensations accosting him as Jim touched him with the barest pressure, almost tickling.

Jim's teeth biting the softness of one cheek startled him, and he made a small noise. He knew without looking that Jim was grinning. His tongue laved the just-bitten spot. Another bite. More tongue. Spock arched his back, wanting more. He could no longer control his breath. When Jim's tongue descended into the crease between his buttocks, his body spasmed. Jim was spreading him with his hands, squeezing, licking, pressing his tongue into places that had never, ever been touched. Spock could not help moving against the blankets, needing friction against his tormented erection.

In a more rational state, he could have informed Jim of health risks associated with what he was doing. He could have suggested they do something else, but all rational thought had fled the moment Jim's tongue had touched him, and he only wanted more and more. He wanted to open himself up, to let Jim do whatever came into his mind.

"Sh," Jim said when Spock tried to reach under his body to touch himself. "Not yet." He pinned Spock's hand to the bed.

Then wet fingers were sliding against his opening, pressing tentatively, rubbing against the sensitive skin.

"Tell me if it hurts," Jim said, planting kisses along Spock's back as his fingers continued their exploration.

Spock knew exactly when one of those fingers entered him. It was uncomfortable, but not painful. As the finger pressed farther inside, all of Spock's nerves alit. His reading had explained the basic mechanics of sex between two men, but the text had not informed him that this particular part of his body was as receptive as his hands to the most fleeting of contact. Unable to remain still, Spock writhed against the covers, burying his face in the pillow. The gentle rubbing of Jim's finger caused a disproportionate amount of friction, his insides humming with it. Another finger entered him, stretching the muscle in a way that made Spock raise up onto his hands and knees. He felt Jim move with him. He wanted things he could not say. His body did not know what to do, or how to respond. He only knew he did not want the experience to end. He blindly reached for his penis, but Jim restrained his hand again. His fingers touched something deep inside Spock's body, and that touch ignited everything until orgasm hit Spock with unanticipated force.

He collapsed on the bed, breathing hard.

Jim pressed up against him, lying on him, kissing his ear. "Fuck, you are so hot," Jim whispered, moving his body in a slow rhythm.

Spock opened his eyes. "I have made a mess of your bedding."

"I'd do ten loads of laundry to see that again." He sucked at the skin of Spock's neck.

Jim's erection prodded at the slick cleft between Spock's cheeks. Spock wondered if Jim would penetrate him in the manner described by the Human sexuality text. During his reading, he had not understood why one would undertake such an activity, but now he was not averse to the idea. Jim's fingers had brought him so much pleasure. But Jim was already shifting his body off of Spock, and lying on his side. He reached for Spock's hand, placing it on his erection. Spock twined his legs with Jim's pulling their bodies closer together as he sped up his movements. Jim bit Spock's shoulder as he came.

They lay together, unmoving, for half a minute. Then their hands found one another, fingers twining.

"Why did you not penetrate me? Is it not something you enjoy?" Spock asked.

Jim propped himself on his elbow and peered at Spock's face. "You know what I like about you?"

"I do not."

Jim laughed. "I like that you say what's on your mind." He kissed Spock's ear. "People don't usually do that right away. It's kind of more, um, personal, I guess. Do you want me to fuck you there?" His finger slipped back down to circle the small opening.

"Yes," Spock answered truthfully, feeling sleepy.

"Mmm, I will, then." Jim kissed Spock's neck, settling against him.

They did not wake until several hours later.

***

When Spock saw his parents again, it was at dinner. Mr. Kellerman sat at the table with Sarek and Amanda, engaged in a serious discussion. Spock took his seat, trying to remain unobtrusive. Amanda's brow was furrowed, and she directed a worried glance at Spock. He raised his eyebrow in a question, but she said nothing.

Mr. Kellerman spoke in a low voice to Sarek, leaning forward tensely. "It has to be an inside job. Security checks everyone who comes through the gates. One of our guests saw him over there by the vehicles last night. I don't like jumping to conclusions, but he's got a record – and we all know he's always tinkering with that car of his. We got our culprit."

Spock's mind raced. They could only be speaking of one person.

"It is regrettable," Sarek intoned.

"I hate to turn him in. I always thought he was a good kid, and all that stuff was in the past." Mr. Kellerman shook his head. "I'm sorry you missed your meetings because of it."

"Excuse me," Spock interrupted. "Are you speaking of James Kirk?"

Mr. Kellerman appeared to notice Spock for the first time. "You know him?"

Spock nodded slightly. "Of what is he being accused?"

"Sabotaging the aircars so the delegates would miss their meeting today," Mr. Kellerman said.

"What would be his motive for such an action?" Spock asked.

Mr. Kellerman shrugged.

Sarek answered: "There has been resistance to admitting the Coridans to the Federation."

Spock sat up straighter in his chair. "And you suspect Jim because a witness reports seeing him last night in the parking area?"

Mr. Kellerman nodded, regret suffusing his face.

"Your culprit is not James Kirk," Spock stated with certainty.

Sarek, Amanda, and Mr. Kellerman all focussed their attention upon Spock.

"What makes you so sure?" Mr. Kellerman asked.

"I can verify his whereabouts for the entire evening. I was with him from 11:32 p.m. until 8:05 a.m. this morning. He was not away from me for more than five minutes, and during that time, Leonard McCoy was with him." Spock was aware of the consequences of his admission, but the consequences for Jim would be far greater if Spock did not come forward.

Sarek took a sharp breath, but it would not have been noticeable to most observers. He quickly regained his composure. Amanda stared at her lap, a mysterious expression on her face.

"I requested that you remain in your room last night," Sarek said.

Spock steeled himself, and replied. "Yes, father, but I disobeyed you."

Mr. Kellerman shook his head. "What about the Edgecliff? One of the diplomats had his car sabotaged over there, and Jim was doing a show there." He addressed Spock: "You were with him?"

"Affirmative. I was his partner for the show," Spock said. "It may interest you to know that as we were departing for the Edgecliff, we encountered Thelev on the grounds. He appeared to be quite distressed. Later, at the show, I saw him in the audience. I have no further evidence connecting him to the crimes, but in order to be thorough, an investigation into his whereabouts would be prudent."

"Thelev?" Sarek said. "It is illogical for an Andorian to sabotage Coridan's efforts to join the Federation, as Andoria would only benefit from the alliance."

"Crime is rarely logical," Spock observed.

"Huh," Mr. Kellerman said, rubbing his chin. "Tell you what, I'll look into the Thelev business, but regardless: Kirk's not supposed to get involved with the guests. If I told him once, I told him a thousand times. This was his last warning. I gotta fire him."

Sarek's eyebrows moved slightly. "Indeed, he behaved inappropriately with my son."

Anger shot through Spock. "Father, did it not occur to you that I might have instigated our contact?" To Mr. Kellerman, he said, "He is not at fault."

Mr. Kellerman shook his head. "Sorry, kid." He heaved himself out of his chair, his suit appearing tired and wrinkled, as if the stresses of the day had taken a toll on it. He lifted a hand in goodbye, and strode across the dining room.

Spock turned to his father. "Who was it that informed Mr. Kellerman that they had seen James Kirk in the parking area?"

"It is not your business," Sarek said.

***

When Jim did not appear on the dance floor by the end of dinner, Spock knew that Mr. Kellerman had already done as he had promised. Spock walked slowly to his room in the falling darkness, soothed by the now familiar sounds of Earth evening: cicadas and crickets, soft wind in the leaves. The distant sound of music and voices, though, tinged the air with sadness. Jim was not among those voices, or those dancers.

Unacquainted with Human response to adversity, he was unsure if he should go to see Jim, or if he should remain in his room. The room seemed quiet and empty, so unlike Jim's room with its stars and books, and the smell that belonged only to its occupant.

Spock recalled that he had not sent Jim's shirts to be laundered. They lay folded on the dresser. Spock had been reluctant to launder them, as they retained Jim's scent. Surely, it was a Human characteristic to derive such pleasure from another's smell. He had never experienced the sentiment on Vulcan. He lifted the folded shirts to his face and breathed in their scent. It was fainter than before, but still there, mixed with his own. He should return them, he thought.

***

There was no answer when Spock knocked. Placing his ear against the door, he could hear Jim moving about inside. Two impulses warred within him – to leave Jim alone when he seemed to desire privacy or to make another attempt in case Jim simply thought it was someone else at the door.

"Jim," he called out. "It is Spock."

Footsteps approached the door, and it opened. Jim stood, backlit, his hair tousled, his being radiating anger and unhappiness. At the sight of Spock, however, his demeanor softened. "Hey," he said. "I'm glad it's you." He stepped backward to let Spock in.

"I was uncertain if my company would be welcome," Spock said as Jim closed the door behind them.

Warm arms encircled him. "You brought back my shirts." Despite his words, Jim seemed more concerned with kissing Spock's neck.

Spock seemed to have no difficulty in becoming aroused now that his body had become familiar with the process. A tingling in his testicles signalled an imminent erection. The hand not holding the shirts rested on one of Jim's buttocks and squeezed the flesh beneath the denim. Dizzy with desire, Spock tried to compose an answer. He intended to explain that he had not laundered the shirts, and that he was sorry to return them in such a state. Instead, he said, "They smell like you."

"Mm, you like that?" Jim spoke against Spock's mouth.

"Yes," Spock whispered back.

"You can keep them." Jim attacked, tongue diving in and brushing the sensitive palate of Spock's mouth.

Through their contact, Spock was aware not of only Jim's arousal but all of the other emotions that had been plaguing him before Spock's arrival. This fact flooded Spock's consciousness, tinting his own physical response to Jim. He pulled back from their embrace. "I did not see you at dinner. I can only infer that Mr. Kellerman has terminated your employment contract. Is that accurate?"

The change in Jim was palpable. He stepped away from Spock and crossed the room, scrubbing at his hair with a distracted hand. "Yeah. He told me what you did. I mean, that you cleared me of that other stuff. He knows Vulcans can't lie."

"That is inaccurate. They can lie, though they rarely do so. I believe it was T'Pring who told him she had seen you by the aircars." Spock crossed the room to where Jim was standing staring at the floor. "I only wish I had foreseen the consequences of my admission. I could have devised another strategy to clear you of suspicion." Spock laid the folded shirts upon the bed, which was littered with luggage and a random mess of Jim's belongings. He sat amid the debris.

"Don't worry about it." Jim sat beside Spock. "It's the story of my life."

Spock had heard the expression before, but did not know what it meant.

Jim must have sensed his confusion. "I never get a break, that's what it means. People either have high expectations, and I let them down, or they have low expectations, and I meet those expectations."

Their knees touched. Jim leaned against Spock, their arms and shoulders meeting.

"I consider you a person capable of extraordinary accomplishments," Spock said.

Jim nodded, not looking at Spock. "Yeah," he said. "You're not like other people."

"I have found you to be a most unique companion."

Jim laced their fingers. They sat in silence.

Finally, Spock said, "Have you considered enlisting in Starfleet?"

A dismissive laugh met his suggestion. "No way," Jim said.

"I fail to understand your derision. You display mechanical aptitude, a curiosity about other cultures and planets, an ability to interact with other races, and an acute mind."

Jim sighed. "I don't wanna talk about it right now. Is that okay? Can we just..." He let himself fall back on the bed, landing on clothing and a computer. He pulled Spock with him.

Spock did not want to drop the subject, but his concepts of strategy led him to believe his argument would be more effective if he ceased temporarily. He would bring it up again later.

"The bed appears to be occupied," Spock commented.

Jim grunted and sat up. With a sudden gesture, he began pushing all of the items off of the bed with careless abandon. Soon, nothing remained. He was both impulsive and efficient when he had a goal, Spock noted.

"There," he said with satisfaction. He lay with his head on one of the pillows at the head of the bed, then crooked a finger. "C'mere," he said.

Spock removed his shoes, then crawled over to Jim, straddling him before settling his weight. He hovered, propped on his elbows.

"I don't want to say goodbye to you," Jim said softly.

Spock nodded, understanding. He leaned in for a kiss, more sweet than passionate. He could hear Jim breathing. He could not say why, but he loved that sound. He scooted his body down until his toes extended over the bottom edge of the bed. He placed his ear against Jim's heart, listening to the rhythm of its beating. His fingers skimmed over Jim's bare chest, touching a pink nipple, enjoying the texture of the short hairs that lay scattered over the expanse of skin. Moving his hand, he traced the line of hair that led from navel downward into jeans. Jim was not erect, but Spock flushed with the knowledge that he could elicit the response if he wanted to. But both their bodies remained quiet. Jim's hand idly caressed Spock's back through his shirt.

"What will you do?" Spock asked.

"I don't know." Jim covered Spock's hand with his. "Fix cars, maybe? I'm through with dancing."

"You are quite skilled at it, but it does not employ a significant amount of your faculties."

"And I wouldn't have a partner." After a moment, Jim added, "You know, even though she always gave me a hard time, I kinda miss Uhura. She never bullshitted me."

"Indeed, an invaluable characteristic."

"It's why I like you. Well, one of the reasons."

Spock adjusted his hand so he could initiate a kiss, two fingers seeking Jim's. Jim responded promptly, and their fingers danced together, meeting and parting, then meeting again. Jim used just his index finger to lightly touch the webbing between Spock's fingers, and a spark zipped through Spock's hand and up his arm. Fingers to palm, back and forth. Spock watched their hands move.

"Have you heard of acupressure?" Jim asked.

"An ancient form of healing practiced in China."

"Mm." Jim let go of Spock's hand. "Sit up."

Jim positioned himself so that Spock was sitting between his legs, leaning against his chest. He reached around to take one of Spock's hands in both of his, and began pressing down on parts of it with his thumbs.

Spock's response was immediate and consuming. He felt as if he couldn't see. He was sliding down onto the bed, onto his back, pulling at the fastening of his pants, pushing them over his hips along with his briefs.

"Holy shit," he heard Jim say over the buzz in his ears.

He sat up and yanked his shirt over his head before pinning Jim to the blankets.

"Okay, that? Was awesome," Jim said, laughing, but anything else he might have said was cut off by Spock's mouth descending on his, tongue on a mission of exploration.

Jim worked to get his jeans off, grappling and scrambling, and grunting with the effort of maneuvering beneath the constraint of Spock's weight. Somehow, he achieved nakedness, and they were skin to skin at last.

Spock sucked color to the surface of the skin of Jim's neck, fueled by an irrational desire to mark him. This was the last time they would be together. He did not want Jim to forget him. He bit down on the right shoulder. The action seemed to please Jim, who swore softly under his breath and jerked his hips upward creating friction between their erections. The soft, pale skin of Jim's tricep called to Spock, and he bit there, too, licking at the mark, entranced by the dark hair under Jim's arm. He kissed the tuft there, the familiar smell.

Jim guided him back to center, and their mouths met again, tongues and teeth.

Spock had not opened his mind completely, but it was enough to feel everything Jim felt, including the deep, keening need, which grew with every passing minute. Spock trembled with it. It was more than physical, though he did not understand its source.

"What is it that you need?" Spock asked, backing off only enough to see Jim's face.

Jim's eyes were wet, though no tears escaped them. He shook his head. "I don't know."

They both fought for breath as they studied each other without speaking. Hesitantly, Spock raised his hand to Jim's face, placing his fingers, his thumb ghosting over freshly-shaven skin.

"Show me," Spock said, before diving into Jim's mind.

The experience was much different from the time he had used the meld to learn the correct dance steps before their performance at the Edgecliff. This time, Jim's mind was chaos, a jumble of images and thoughts – an infant screaming inside a shuttle as it rocketed through space; careening down a dirt road in an antique car; the car tumbling over a cliff; a man screaming, red-faced, you good for nothing!; an academic report card; fumbling drunkenly in the back of an aircar with a girl who was also drunk; the inside of a jail cell; a brawl with three other men throwing punches; a blue sky swirling dizzily; an older Human woman in her Starfleet uniform – Jim's mother; running recklessly through a cornfield with sharp leaves cutting the skin of his face, collapsing in the dirt and staring at the tiny furrows in the earth.

Spock held on, trying to soothe Jim's consciousness.

Spock was dancing with T'Pring; Jim was looking over Uhura's shoulder; they were touching during their first dance, Spock moving clumsily; then in the water, and Spock saw himself through Jim's eyes, in a way he had never thought of himself, someone beautiful and strange yet easy to be with. Sexy, and Spock didn't understand, but was moved.

He gently began to withdraw.

Beneath him, Jim uttered a small cry, still breathing hard. Spock could not speak, nor could he move. He had felt Jim in his mind, too, though he did not know what Jim had seen.

At his core, heat still flared. His arousal had only grown through their mental intimacy. It seemed that for Jim it was the same. Without speaking, they began to move against one another. Jim wrapped his arms around Spock's back, squeezing his buttocks, hands parting them, a finger sliding down to caress a tender spot, and there was friction, sweet friction, and heat, their hands groping clumsily in their haste. It was only moments before they were both spasming with release, slickness between them.

Spock rolled off of Jim and onto his side. Jim pulled their bodies close together and kissed him.

"That happened so fast it made me forget all about my big plan to fuck you." Jim smiled lazily and kissed Spock again.

"In my limited experience," he said, "I have gathered that you are capable of sexual activity several times in one day. I am certain we could execute your 'big plan' after a brief period of recuperation if you so desire."

"Maybe in the morning," Jim said, sounding weary. "Today was some of the best sex I ever had."

"You are experienced in these matters," Spock said, simply stating fact.

"Yeah, but not with you." Jim traced Spock's lips with the tip of his finger. "I saw inside your mind – I think."

"Affirmative. I also saw your mind."

"I felt you there."

Spock noticed a few light freckles just under Jim's eyes, near the bones of his cheeks, like stars. "What did you see?" Spock had been too intent upon Jim's mind to monitor what images and thoughts he was letting through.

"Vulcan, maybe? Some crazy buildings that looked like castles in the air."

"That is Shi'Kahr, where I grew up."

"You got in a lot of fights," Jim said, puzzled.

"Yes. Others did what they could to provoke me, and I was not always able to maintain control. We were alike in that way, I gather."

"Yeah," Jim laughed. "Too bad we didn't have each other as back-up." He yawned and rolled away for a moment, fumbling on the floor. When he reappeared next to Spock, he held a box of tissues.

"Where will you go tomorrow?" Spock asked, letting Jim wipe his abdomen.

Jim tossed the box aside. "Can we not talk about it. I don't want to think about tomorrow." He kissed Spock, open-mouthed but sleepy.

Spock tamped down a flare of irritation. He objected to the fact that Jim harbored so much potential but refused to utilize it. Perhaps Spock was like his father in that way. At the same time, he understood. He did not want to think about tomorrow either. It was the day when he and Jim would part ways, in all likelihood forever.

***

Spock woke at first light. It took him less than one second to remember where he was. Jim had rolled to the other side of the bed, but Spock could feel his warmth and hear his breathing. He propped up his head to watch Jim sleep. Jim's face was relaxed, and his brown lashes fluttered against his skin. His mouth was slightly open.

Quietly, in order not to wake Jim, Spock climbed out of bed to pad naked to the bathroom. The morning was chilly, and he curled his arms around himself. He had never been one to linger in bed – it seemed a waste of time – but Spock admitted that the thought of climbing back in with Jim was pleasing.

Spock urinated, then eyed the shower. Considering for only a moment, he turned the faucet to its hottest setting, waited a moment for the water to heat, then stepped inside.

The soap's scent reminded him of Jim, though it was only one component of that unique smell. As he bent to wash his feet, he heard the bathroom door open and shut. Spock could not see through the opaque glass, but he heard the flush of the toilet and some clattering sounds. Indeed, Humans had very different ideas of privacy from Vulcans, though Spock did not find himself minding. Jim's presence felt less like an invasion than the return of something Spock had been missing.

"Hey," Spock heard from the other side of the glass. "Can I come in?"

Spock pushed at the shower door, opening it slightly. Jim's sleepy but smiling face greeted him.

"Do you always get up this early?" Jim asked, stepping into the shower and closing the door behind him.

Before Spock had a chance to answer, Jim's mouth was on his, cool and tingly, tasting of something pungent. Terran tooth cleaner, Spock hypothesized, letting his hands rove over the planes of Jim's back.

"You like your showers hot," Jim stated.

"It is too hot for you," Spock said, observing Jim closely. He touched the temperature setting, adjusting it to be slightly more moderate.

"You're turning green."

Spock followed Jim's gaze, taking in his abdomen, customarily pale, but now covered in green blotches. Jim stroked the skin gently, trailing his fingers down to the dark hair at the base of Spock's penis. Even the lightest touch triggered a response. They were both becoming erect. Spock reached for Jim's penis, mirroring his motions, reaching down to cradle his testicles, to reach behind them. Jim drew in a sharp breath, closing his eyes.

Jim surprised Spock by taking hold of his hand. "Not yet." He kissed Spock's knuckles, then reached for the soap.

As Jim leaned in to kiss him again, Spock felt a slippery hand reach between his legs. A finger pressed at his entrance, lightly probing the resistance of the muscle. The finger entered him. It was such a strange feeling. It should have been unwelcome, but as with Jim's other intrusions, Spock did not find himself objecting. When Jim began to move his finger in and out slowly, Spock's entire body responded to the sparks alighting along his nerves. His muscles felt like liquid fire, and chaos flooded his mind.

Spock pushed Jim against the opposite wall of the shower. "How is it that you do these things to me?" he asked, trapping Jim's arm between them, grinding his hips against him.

Jim worked his hand out from between their bodies, and curved it around the back of Spock's neck. "I'd like to think it's my awesome skills, but I think it's you. You're more sensitive than other people." He touched a finger to the tip of Spock's ear.

"I do not believe my sensitivity to be the only factor," Spock breathed, darting his tongue out to taste the soft skin of Jim's neck. He sucked at the spot, leaving a mark.

Jim had reached around to continue his explorations. His finger pressed farther inside Spock's body. Between them, their erections rubbed against one another, bumping randomly.

"You're gonna make me come," Jim said, groaning. "Turn around."

Still holding the bar of soap, Jim guided Spock so that he was leaning against the wall, head turned so he could look back. Jim's finger slid inside again, and a second one joined it. He pumped them in and out more forcefully, opening Spock up.

Spock could barely breathe. He closed his eyes, trying to keep his body still. Jim's fingers were talking to him, calling out desire and want and a fiery sweetness. Spock clutched at the wall, but there was nothing to hold on to. He reached instead for his penis, jerking it with rapid, unpracticed motions. In spite of his lack of finesse, he achieved the desired effect, pressing his forehead against the wall as he came.

As his body returned to its normal state, he became aware of Jim's body, flush against his, erection prodding between his buttocks. That part of his body was hypersensitive, aware of even the slightest brush of skin against skin, every tiny movement. Jim kissed Spock's shoulder, open-mouthed, scraping his teeth against the hard jut of bone.

"Are you going to fuck me now?" Spock asked. His body ached for more.

Jim burst into laughter. "Where did you learn to talk like that?" He nipped at Spock's ear.

"I was attempting to adopt your vernacular. Am I incorrect?" Spock felt certain he remembered the usage. He turned around to face Jim.

Jim shook his head. "Uh-uh. You got it." He moved away from Spock and turned off the water. "And, yeah, I'm going to fuck you now."

In the cold air of the bathroom, Spock shivered. He could not comprehend how it had become so chilly overnight. Jim yanked a towel off of the rack, and wrapped it around Spock's head, drying his hair.

"I am capable of drying myself," Spock said as Jim moved on to drying his chest.

"I know, but I like touching you." He continued his ministrations, dabbing the towel gently around Spock's soft penis, lifting it to dry underneath.

Spock could not take his eyes off the bowed head, the curved back spotted with drops of water.

When Jim straightened up, his eyes were dark. "You're beautiful like this. You should have sex all the time."

"I do not desire it with anyone but you."

Jim ceased his movements, looking intently at Spock. "Come on," he said, dropping the towel and leading Spock out of the bathroom.

"You are still wet," Spock pointed out.

Jim didn't answer. They both tumbled to the bed, and Jim was on top of him, kissing him messily. Their legs tangled together.

Suddenly, Jim pulled away and rolled off. He fumbled in a drawer beside the bed. "Um. Bones'll kill me if I don't use a condom. He'll somehow know I didn't, and he'll yell at me. Sorry." Jim rolled back toward Spock, holding a plastic tube and a square packet.

"I do not understand," Spock said, studying the items curiously. "I believe condoms are recommended for all intercourse, both homosexual and heterosexual with the exception of attempts to procreate." He recalled, however, that his reading had been notably deficient in other respects. Perhaps this was another one.

"I've never had sex talk like I have with you," Jim said, kissing Spock again.

Spock felt a flare of sadness through their contact. He did not need to ask; he understood the cause.

"Lie back," Jim said softly. "Are you cold?"

Spock lay on his back, and shook his head. His heart rate was fifteen percent higher than normal. Increased blood flow was likely keeping his body from feeling the chill. He watched Jim squeeze clear gel from the tube onto his fingers. He rubbed the gel around on them, then touched one of Spock's knees. Spock understood. He spread his legs, and Jim positioned himself between them, reaching for the tender pucker of skin with his gelled fingers.

First one finger, then another, slid in easily. The movement ignited Spock again, causing him to writhe on the sheet and buck his hips up involuntarily.

"Yeah," Jim murmured inexplicably. "Do you know how hot you look?"

Spock grabbed Jim's hand, stilling it. "Now," he said. "I want you now."

Jim withdrew his fingers, and reached for the square packet, tearing it open. With a few practiced motions, he unrolled the condom onto his penis, which was hard and flushed with desire.

Then he was hovering over Spock, his expression concerned. "Tell me if anything hurts, okay?"

In response, Spock angled his hips up. Jim lifted one of Spock's legs, hooking it on his shoulder. Spock felt the blunt, soft butting of Jim's penis, so much different from his fingers. It slid in with minimal resistance, the friction causing Spock to catch his breath and grab for Jim's arms, his back, anything.

Jim kissed Spock haphazardly, thrown off by the momentum of his thrusts. Spock could not keep still, but moved his body with Jim's, trying to increase their contact. It was not unlike dancing. Spock heard the rhythm of the music in his mind, and let it guide him. He could sense Jim's joy and the depth of his affection. That was perhaps the most startling sensation of all, to realize that he was the cause of those emotions.

A slow burn of arousal thrummed, coming to life again. Now and then, Jim's penis hit a spot that made Spock feel as if something inside him was collapsing. Their teeth clashed and their lips and tongues bumped into one another, but it did not matter. They were both somewhere else, on another plane. Without thought, Spock reached for Jim's face and joined their minds. The connection lasted only a few seconds before Jim's orgasm tore through both of them, torrential in its intensity, causing Spock's body to shudder, and his hand to fall back onto the bed.

The sound of Jim's ragged breathing brought Spock back to reality. Jim lay on him, head on his shoulder, hands out to either side.

"Sorry," Jim said hoarsely, and lifted himself up, withdrawing slowly and shifting his weight onto the bed beside Spock.

Spock turned onto his side. "Why are you sorry?"

"For landing on you. You threw me for a loop there. I don't think I've ever come that hard in my life." Jim removed the condom, and carelessly tossed it onto the floor beside the bed.

"I do not know what possessed me." Spock felt a moment of shame over his lack of control.

Jim reached out tentatively to touch Spock's face. "I liked it." He kissed Spock's mouth, then his chin and his jaw.

"That is contrary to what other beings report after experiencing mind melds with Vulcans."

"Mmm," Jim replied, wrapping an arm around Spock and moving closer.

"You are a peculiar Human."

Jim laughed. "I guess so." He reached for the blanket and settled it over them.

They rested easily, gazing at one another in silence. Spock felt peaceful, aware of quiet sounds outside – birds singing, wind in the trees, a scattering of rain.

Jim shifted beneath the blanket, finding Spock's hand with his. He extended two fingers, and Spock met them, pleased. Their fingers brushed against one another in the Vulcan way. During the time he had spent with Jim, Spock had slowly become accustomed to contact with the Human's mind. He no longer had to exert such tight control over his shields. There had been no further pain. Spock's body seemed to adjust quickly to each new level of contact. Thus, his mind lay open, and he sensed everything Jim was feeling. The predominant emotion at present was bittersweet, both happiness and sadness, and a fierce desire, even in their quietude.

"Jim," Spock said, finally. "If the mind meld does not cause you discomfort, there is something I would like to give you."

Jim looked at him curiously. "What is it?"

"I believe that were it not for your father's death, you would wish to travel away from this planet. If you will permit me, there is one place to which I can take you. I will give you a more comprehensive tour than you received the last time you were in my mind." Spock did not know how Jim would respond to his offer. It was perhaps an invasion of privacy, but Jim did not seem to object to sharing minds, and he had been inquisitive with regard to Vulcan.

Jim responded by bringing Spock's hand out from under the blanket and placing it on his face. He caressed Spock's fingers, and looked at him expectantly.

Touched by Jim's willingness, Spock dived into his mind, immediately transporting them to the mountains bordering Shi'kahr. He guided Jim down the ancient, zig-zagging trails, into the caves where the sehlats lived, and where he had first encountered I'Chaya, whom he tamed until he could ride her. He showed Jim the time I'Chaya had saved his life, fighting a mountain lion. He showed him the temple where the elders met to preserve Vulcan culture, the monuments to Surak, the monastery at Mt. Seleya where the kolinahr adepts were trained, the arid plains where not even the scrubbiest plant could grow, and the petroglyphs marking the rocks with the planet's oldest stories. He walked Jim through the nights when T'Kuht came closest to Vulcan, shimmering against the dark sky. He took Jim through his mother's gardens and his house and even his room. And, finally, he showed Jim what the planet had looked like from the observation deck of the transporter ship as Spock had left to journey to Earth for the first time.

When they broke apart, Jim's eyes were wet with tears. He looked at Spock steadily. "It's beautiful, but you were always alone."

"Indeed," Spock answered. "I was."

***

In spite of the repair of the broken window, the sight of the antique car did not inspire confidence. It was only because Spock knew of Jim's mechanical prowess that he was certain the car would arrive at whatever destination Jim chose.

Spock leaned back against the vehicle, held in place by a warm Human body. Jim kissed him for several long minutes, hands clutching at his hips. They were both aroused despite making use of Jim's bed that morning. Afterwards, Spock had helped him pack; they had not been apart since the previous night.

"How is it possible to have no destination?" Spock asked against Jim's cheek, their bodies aligned and touching head to toe.

"Maybe I'll go back to Iowa," Jim sighed. "When I left there, I said I'd never go back. I don't know." He rested his head on Spock's shoulder.

"If I am not mistaken, there is a Starfleet base in Riverside, Iowa. It would please me if you would consider enlisting." For effect, Spock slipped a hand beneath Jim's shirt and stroked his warm back.

"It wouldn't be any fun without you." Jim moved so that he could look at Spock.

Spock had come to a decision. "I will be there," he said firmly.

Something peculiar happened to Jim's face. "You will?"

"Indeed. I do not expect my father will approve, but his opinion cannot reverse my decision. I believe I am too Human to be entirely content at the Vulcan Science Academy." It was not something he would have said of himself only two weeks ago. Nor was 'content' a word he would have used to describe his desired state.

Jim nodded. "I think that'll be good for you. Okay, then. I'll think about it." He hesitated. "But don't hold your breath."

"That would be illogical."

"I knew you were going to say that," Jim grinned.

Spock memorized every detail of the face before him. He did not want to forget. He noted that Jim's neck still bore the marks of their lovemaking. The sight sent a tremor through Spock's body.

Jim leaned forward to kiss Spock again. "Okay," he said, and there was something final about it. He stepped out of Spock's arms and opened the door to the car.

Spock felt as if something were being torn from his body. He, too, stepped away, walking backwards in order to watch Jim climb into the car and shut the door. Spock raised his hand in the Vulcan salute. Not surprisingly, Jim knew the gesture. He raised his hand also, his fingers parting.

There were no other words between them.

***

"Why don't you find someone with a lytherette? You could take part in the talent show," Amanda suggested to Spock as she painted a piece of cardboard meant to represent a tropical Earth tree called a palm.

Spock sat beside her on the stage in the auditorium of the main building. He had spent some of the day in his room, but had quickly grown restless. Then he had walked through the woods, but even that had not assuaged the strange emptiness he felt.

Amanda looked at him sympathetically. "I'm sorry, Spock."

He would not tell her that was illogical. She knew. And he knew that in her Human way she was trying to comfort him. Leonard McCoy would likely have suggested a bottle of liquor.

Spock rested his chin on one knee, and let the other leg dangle off the stage. His boot was scuffed, and dusty with dirt from the woods. He rubbed at the scuff with his thumb.

Amanda ducked her head so that she could look at Spock's face. Spock tried to control his breath and failed. Something like a tiny cough escaped him. This alarmed his mother. She covered her mouth with her hand, and her eyes welled with tears.

"Oh, Spock."

Sarek strode into the room with another Vulcan. They approached the stage together.

"Spock," Sarek said. "Have you met Sedet? He is on the committee at the Science Academy."

Spock rose, habit causing him to stand up straight out of respect.

"Sedet, this is my son, Spock. He has been admitted to the Academy."

The old man adjusted his robes, peering at Spock. "It is remarkable that you have accomplished so much," he said, "despite your disadvantage."

Spock processed what the comment might mean. He detected nothing revealing in the man's voice, though his years of growing up an object of ridicule on Vulcan led him to suspect what Sedet's intent was. "To what disadvantage are you referring?" Spock asked sedately.

Sarek's eyes widened negligibly.

Sedet's bushy eyebrows lifted. "Your Human half, of course."

"I see," Spock said. "Father. Elder Sedet. I regret to inform you that I have decided not to accept admission to the Vulcan Science Academy, as I have also applied and have been accepted at Starfleet."

"Starfleet," Sarek repeated. "I suspected as much."

Sedet contained his shock, but traces of it were apparent. "No Vulcan has ever refused admission to the Academy."

"Then your record will remain unblemished," Spock concluded. He turned back to his mother, who made no effort to hide her amazement. Spock sat beside her on the stage.

"I will speak to my son," Sarek said quietly.

"Certainly," Sedet replied.

"Spock!" Sarek drew near. "Explain yourself." Had he been Human, he might have paced in rage. Instead, he stood stiffly beside the stage.

"Sarek," Amanda said, trying to soothe.

"He will speak for himself," Sarek commanded, all seriousness.

Spock slid off the stage and stood face to face with his father. Spock was 2.2 centimeters taller, a fact he attempted to emphasize by standing up as straight as he could. "Father, it is illogical to belong to an institution where my biology is considered a detriment rather than an asset. I have been treated as an inferior all my life. I choose not to subject myself to such treatment in the future. I realize you do not support this path, but there is nothing you can do to prevent me from joining Starfleet. I have made my decision. You may argue with me, but be advised that I am prepared to present my case both logically and thoroughly." It was one of the longest speeches he had ever given in the face of his father's disapproval.

Without moving a millimeter, Sarek said, "I think you will find, Spock, that working among so many Humans will not suit you."

"I have come to appreciate my Human half, and the qualities possessed by the Humans I have met. Since I am not purely Vulcan, I do not wish to limit myself on Vulcan." Spock controlled his expression, refusing to show weakness. "You of all people should understand the appeal."

Sarek bowed his head.

At that moment, Mr. Kellerman appeared on the stage. "Looking good," he commented to Amanda, who had remained completely silent during the exchange between her husband and her son.

Amanda smiled up at Mr. Kellerman. "Thank you. Only two left to do."

"Fan-tastic! We're going to have one hell of an event tomorrow. Spock, are you doing anything for the show?"

"I have no plans to participate," Spock said.

"That's too bad." Mr. Kellerman descended the steps leading down from the stage. "Oh," he said, turning around to address Spock. "We checked on that Thelev guy. Turns out he was an Orion in disguise! His biologicals gave him away. Lucky I had Dr. McCoy there when we went to question him. Orion! Trying to sabotage the Andorians so they could keep their slave trade agreement. Of all the crazy schemes!" He walked off through the maze of tables and chairs that filled the room.

Spock should have felt satisfaction in the culprit being caught, but it did nothing to change the fact that Jim had been sent away. He felt the absence acutely.

Amanda was staring at him, as was Sarek.

"I will be in the woods," Spock said. He did not give either of his parents time to respond, but walked away as quickly as he could.

***

Spock did not go to the woods, but instead climbed the familiar path to the staff quarters. Jim's room was not locked. Inside, the scent of him lingered. Spock set his collection kit on the floor and lay on the bare mattress. He stared up at the pale, yellow stars on the ceiling. They did not glow, even as the room darkened. Spock could not think why. What had been different when Jim had been there?

It was illogical to long for something one could not have. Spock meditated, trying to place his memories of Jim in a part of his brain shut off from any emotion. He could see, now, the disadvantage of being Human: it would be impossible to dull the immediacy of such memories without the passing of time. As a Vulcan, Spock should have been capable of processing his grief quickly. His efforts were not successful.

At dawn, when he woke, he was still alone.

Perhaps, he thought, a walk in the woods would take his mind off of the Human who had so affected the last ten days of his existence. He did not understand how in such a short span of time, James Kirk had woven himself inextricably into the fabric of his being.

Beneath the trees, it was cool and quiet, but the landscape did nothing to soothe Spock's restlessness. Every sound, every scent, reminded him of the day he had walked the same path with Jim, and they had touched each other intimately. An involuntary shiver passed through him, and he clenched his mind around the emotions threatening to spill to the surface. His reactions made him question his suitability for service in Starfleet. Would constant exposure to Humans result in similar bouts with control, or lack of it? Perhaps he had become too Human, and had ceded too much control since arriving on Earth. He would have to reassert his mental discipline before undertaking his journey to San Francisco.

The discovery of another owl pellet sparked a response in the more rational part of his brain. He deftly gathered the pellet into a collection jar, determined to spend the afternoon dissecting it and mounting the bones on a new card.

He worked steadily on the dissection for fifty-nine minutes, gently extracting the delicate bones with forceps. The animal was a bird of some kind. Spock was pleased. The work absorbed him and gave him focus.

A knock on the door startled him.

"Spock?" Amanda's voice.

"Yes, Mother. Come in."

Amanda entered, closing the door quietly behind her. "There you are. I was worried."

"I am sorry if I caused you distress," Spock said. He thought carefully before wording his question. "Would you prefer for me to remain on Vulcan?"

She came to his side and observed him working, as she did at home. They often sat in companionable silence at the dining table, each engaged in their own task. "I would prefer it only for myself, but not for you. I wish you to do what will make you most happy."

"Happiness is irrelevant."

"It's not," Amanda interrupted. "Never say that. I know it's important to you. You should do what feels right, even if your father disagrees. It's not his life."

"You have made a life on Vulcan," Spock countered.

"I'm not you. I'm considered an exceptional Human, not an inferior Vulcan. It's different for me."

Spock realized he would miss his mother's company when he parted from her. Her dark hair was loose, as she had worn it since arriving on Earth. On Vulcan, she covered her head in thick fabric to prevent being burned by the intense rays of the sun. At the corners of her eyes, wrinkles had formed – signs of age that came earlier to Humans than to Vulcans. Spock would outlive her, as would Sarek.

"I will think of you often, with great fondness," Spock said, and it was true. It was rare for him to admit emotion to his mother, but he knew she would understand.

Amanda placed a hand on Spock's shoulder, and he sensed her desire to comfort.

"You believe me upset, but I have processed my emotions, and do not require your sympathy," Spock said.

"When I was a girl," Amanda said, sitting on the bed, "I was in love with a boy named Scott Walker. He went to my high school. He had the most beautiful dark hair that always fell in his face."

Spock paused in his work, interested in his mother's story. She did not often speak of her years growing up on Earth.

"We went out for a year, and then his family moved away. I was inconsolable. I shut myself in my room and cried for days and days."

"Would that be a more appropriate response than dissecting owl pellets?" Spock asked, knowing the answer even as he asked. He sometimes said things to amuse his mother. He did not feign ignorance; he knew she was to some extent aware of what had occurred between Jim and himself.

"Spock," she scolded, laughing.

"It would be illogical to dwell upon it."

"Maybe," she said quietly, "but don't forget it entirely."

"That would be impossible." Spock swept bits of feather and dust from the tabletop into the waste receptacle.

Amanda leaned back on her hands, her legs extended before her. She looked thoughtful. "You liked him a great deal, didn't you?"

A wing bone emerged, light and hollow and surprisingly intact. Spock used the smaller tweezers to pick bits of debris off of it. "Affirmative," he said. "I found him to be both fascinating and..." Spock could not find the words. "Strangely compatible with me," he hazarded.

"Compatibility is important."

Amanda fell silent as Spock continued to work. He almost forgot she was present. When he glanced up from the skeleton, he found her lying on the bed reading something on his computer.

"What are you reading?"

"Just the news." She turned the power off. "Spock, come with me to the main building. They're putting on the variety show in a little bit. We should go. The Andorians are singing!" The corners of her eyes crinkled with amusement.

She desired company. Spock could not refuse her. He set down his tools, cleared the debris from the table, and placed the card with its bones in the desk drawer.

***

The auditorium had been decorated to resemble a fantastical landscape whose hypothetical position on the planet Spock could not ascertain. Tropical plants resided in the same space as temperate ones. It was a mystery. The tables had been arranged in order to best view the stage. Each was laid with white cloths and flowers.

A mixed crowd of various races had filled the room.

Spock saw Sarek at a table in the corner. He and Amanda made their way toward him. On their way, they passed T'Pring and her family. She had not left to return to Vulcan, then.

When Amanda sat beside Sarek, he nodded to her, but did not include Spock in the acknowledgement. Amanda placed her hand on Sarek's arm, a gesture that would not have been appropriate on Vulcan, but here on Earth, Sarek accepted it. Spock had often witnessed these small signs of affection between his parents, but usually only when they were in the privacy of their home. Though his relationship with his father was fraught, Spock understood that his parents loved one another, even if they did not often display it.

Mr. Kellerman appeared on the stage. "Good afternoon, everyone. We've got a great show for you. We'll get it started, and then we'll have a big feast to follow. Our first act is Ran and Tiss, who have a song for us." He waved at the audience, then retreated behind the curtain.

Two Andorian females walked out onto the stage, their antennae bobbing with nervousness. A Human woman sat at a piano and began to play for them. The band onstage picked up the tune, adding drums, guitar, and bass. Piercing notes of Andorian song soon filled the air. The woman playing the piano winced, but covered her reaction well. She wore earplugs, Spock noted, his acute vision picking up specks of orange in her ears.

Spock's mind drifted elsewhere as several Tellarites performed, and a Vulcan he had never seen played the lytherette. He wondered where Jim was. How far could Jim's reckless driving style have gotten him? It was illogical to dwell upon someone who would no longer be a part of his life, but Spock did not push the thoughts from his mind. He recalled with great clarity how it had felt to dance with Jim for the first time, and how different that had been from their performance at the Edgecliff, when they had joined minds, communicating in such depth. He felt himself longing, irrationally, to experience that closeness again.

All of a sudden, Spock heard his name. Mr. Kellerman called, "Spock and T'Pring doing a Vulcan dance."

Beside Spock, Amanda said, "Oh, no, Spock, I forgot, I signed you and T'Pring up to dance. It was before..." She looked at him apologetically.

Spock felt a twinge of annoyance. He could not, however, fault his mother. She had only been trying to foster a relationship between Spock and his betrothed. He glanced toward T'Pring's table. She sat stiffly, looking in his direction.

"Spock and T'Pring?" Mr. Kellerman called again.

"You must dance with her, Spock," Sarek said quietly.

Spock stood. He did not know where the compulsion to maintain appearances came from, but it was as if a mysterious force propelled him toward T'Pring's table. They would most certainly perform poorly. It was illogical to attempt what could not be done. The alternative was to disrupt the evening's programming, a possibility that went against Spock's sense of order. T'Pring appeared to be guided by the same principles. Together they approached the stage and mounted the few steps to stand before the audience. They took their positions facing one another, and the music began.

It was as it had been before: T'Pring attempted to lead Spock, but cut off from her mind, Spock could not synchronize his motions with hers. If Spock attempted to lead, it only exacerbated the difficulty, since T'Pring did not make a corresponding effort to keep up with his movements. It puzzled him that Jim had been able to perform more accurately in the dance despite his lack of mental connection.

Spock calculated that the song would last for 5.3 minutes longer. It seemed interminable. Just as he was considering the possible consequences of discontinuing the dance before the song came to a close, something offstage caught his eye. Rather, someone. Spock's heart rate accelerated, and he felt an inexplicable leap near his digestive organs. He stopped in his tracks and watched Jim stride toward the stage and mount the steps in one leap. T'Pring had turned to discern the cause of Spock's distraction.

"Mind if I take over?" Jim said to T'Pring, not so much asking her as telling her, since he was already moving to take her place.

Spock stepped to the side when T'Pring did not move.

T'Pring stared for a moment. "I believe a Human will make a better partner for you," she said to Spock before departing.

The band played on, either oblivious to the situation or uncertain how to respond.

"What are you doing here?" Spock asked. He could not take his eyes off the Human before him. He had never experienced a more welcome sight.

Instead of answering, Jim asked, "Do you remember the exact order of the steps you did with me that day?"

"There were several variations."

"The last one, then. Do you remember?"

"Affirmative." Spock began to move, deducing Jim's intent.

Without the slightest hesitation, Jim matched Spock's movements exactly, not even a fraction of a second behind. It was remarkable, Spock thought. He was aware of a kind of energy between them, a connection, not mental but physical, even though they were always at least twenty centimeters apart.

Jim smiled at Spock. "I missed you," he said.

"I found myself experiencing a similar emotion," Spock acknowledged, never taking his eyes from Jim's. After a moment, he added, "The steps we practiced do not correspond with this song. When the song is complete, we will only have completed twenty-two perecent of the sequence. The steps will not be appropriate for closing."

"Not a problem," Jim said immediately. "Whenever you're ready, just segue to the end sequence. I'll get it."

"Are you certain?"

Jim did not answer. Their hands nearly met, mirroring one another at their sides, then lifting toward the ceiling. Their feet, too, moved in harmony. Spock had not thought Vulcan dance as enjoyable as Human dance until this moment when he and Jim had a purpose, and accomplished it together. Nonetheless, his body ached to have Jim touch him, and to guide him through the steps of the dance.

Spock wondered what had made Jim return from his journey. It was illogical to return to a place in which one had no employment. If Jim had returned solely to see Spock, that was also illogical, since Spock would need to depart before long in order to begin the fall term at Starfleet Academy. Perhaps they would have a few days together. It would have to be enough. Spock found himself wishing that he would not have to part from Jim at all.

Thirty-seven seconds before the end of the song, Spock began the series of steps that would lead to the final flourish. There was a split-second when Jim adjusted to the alteration of the original sequence, but the transition was almost seamless. All too soon, the last note of the song had sounded, and Jim and Spock stood bowing to one another as was the custom to finish a dance.

Jim surprised Spock by taking his hand and pulling him close. He danced Spock off the stage in a variation on several steps from the mambo. "I couldn't take it anymore," Jim said in explanation. "I needed to touch you."

Out in the audience, Spock saw the Andorians waving their antennae. The Human waitstaff clapped and hooted. The Tellarites appeared to be snuffling, though it was difficult to tell.

Mr. Kellerman took the stage again, but Spock did not hear what he said. He was conscious only of Jim, with whom he descended the steps. They made their way through the audience, and back to the table where Sarek and Amanda were seated.

"I see I underestimated you," Sarek said stiffly, addressing Jim.

"And your son," Jim answered.

Standing, Amanda reached her arms out to Spock, and folded him into her embrace. "That was wonderful."

"Mother," Spock complained, but she did not let go.

Amanda kissed the dark hair covering Spock's forehead, then she took his hand. Spock indulged her, enjoying the contact. After a moment, though, he shifted his attention to Jim.

Jim looked distinctly ill at ease being the object of Sarek's attention. "I, um, decided to come back. I thought I could drive you." He licked his lips.

Spock could feel Jim's nervousness as if it were his own. He reached out a hand to touch Jim's fingers gently.

"Drive him?" Sarek asked.

"To San Francisco," Jim said, seeming to gain surety from the contact with Spock.

"Will you be enlisting with me?" Spock shut out the noise in the background – the chatter of alien races, the music and the singing – and awaited Jim's answer.

Jim nodded with only a trace of his usual confidence.

Spock could feel his parents watching them. In a quiet voice, he said, "Your reluctance to enlist is understandable, however, you are not your father. The outcome of your decision will not be the same as the outcome of his."

"I know," Jim said, rubbing his palms on his jeans.

Spock looked at his mother. Her expression showed a mixture of happiness and sadness. She nodded at him. "Go," she said, conveying much in the single word.

Sarek opened his mouth to speak, but Amanda stopped him, placing a hand on his arm. He closed his mouth, and bowed his head silently. Spock knew that was as close Sarek would come to approving of Spock's decision.

"I will be ready whenever you are," Spock said to Jim.

***

"It's lucky the wife took everything, or we'd never get all our shit in the damn car," Leonard exclaimed, lunging at the luggage in the trunk.

Jim laughed, and climbed into the driver's seat of the antique car.

Spock quickly calculated the area afforded by the trunk's dimensions. "If you will allow me," he said. "I believe there is a more efficient arrangement."

Leonard threw up his hands. "A Vulcan's gotta be good for something on a road trip. Just don't go swapping spit in front of me. There's only so much this old man can take. God knows I gotta save up my fortitude for outer space. Just wait 'til you see what viruses are out there. It'll keep you awake at night."

"You sure you're up to this, Bones?"

"You think I'd rather stay here? Good God, man. It's a dead end!" He maneuvered behind the passenger seat, and collapsed into the back.

Spock removed all of their bags from the trunk, then repacked them in a sensible arrangement. Everything fit with room to spare. He slammed the trunk door securely, then circled around to the passenger door. He sat in the front beside Jim. They both turned to look at the back seat, where Leonard lay sprawled, leaning against one side of the car, his legs extended before him. He took a long swallow from a silver flask.

"Keeps the devil away," he said.

"I believe a seatbelt would be prudent," Spock advised.

"God dammit," Leonard swore, trying to make the belt go around his body without changing his position.

"Ready?" Jim asked, checking in with Spock.

"Affirmative."

Jim started the engine.

***

The end.