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Spock stands in his black professor uniform, at ready position at the back of the classroom. He’s behind the sea of parents ready to watch their children perform an honorary, respectful, intercultural family ritual. Nine parents take the stage, one for each student in this daycare division. A tenth seat remains vacant. Spock's gaze shifts to the Vulcan child, who stands with perfect posture and hands folded behind his back, his face carefully schooled blank. He does not show outward anticipation, but Spock can discern his anxiousness as the child states at the empty seat.

“Where are you?” he pings Jim over his person PADD number. “The ceremony is about to begin.”

“I'm running, okay?” comes his almost immediate response. “Literally running, starting now. I already told you, I was taking my final, and I was the first one out the door, too. Do you think they'll wait for me? I'll be another two minutes.”

“I will make sure that it does not begin without you,” Spock assures him.

~

Spock sat at the desk in the front of the classroom of Advanced Xenolinguistics, observing the array of uniformed cadets file out of the room slowly, like a sea of red. Amongst the forty six students present, his class contained the presence of Cadet James Tiberius Kirk.

The previous night, at precisely the time of twenty hundred, Spock had begun grading the papers his students had submitted into the Academy database that night. It was the beginning of the third academic year for the aforementioned cadets. The vigorous curriculum involved in both the Communications and Command track at the Starfleet Academy called for a challenging essay assignment, the first of the year. It was on the roots of the Vulcan and Romulan languages, both verbal and physical, and the effect on diplomatic relationships of said peoples from the time of First Contact. Spock had mastered the topic at the age of fifteen with his superior Vulcan learning capacity and the systems of Vulcan education. However, it was a thorough and demanding study, often not attaining the understanding of even twenty-year-old, mostly human cadets.

It was a most pleasant surprise to come across a paper worthy of note, exemplary by not only human standards, but Vulcan ones as well. It contained accurate, relevant research and profound understanding of the subject matter. It was nothing like what he expected from students that were not Vulcan of origin. It contained a sense of intimacy and understanding of Vulcan language, culture, and history, regularly present only among members of the Vulcan kind. However, the named signed in the heading of the paper, "James T. Kirk," was a human name. To Spock's extensive knowledge, no half-Vulcans existed besides himself, neither in the Starfleet Academy, nor in the whole Federation.

Spock, interested in Cadet Kirk's intimate and unusually thorough, knowledge, searched the Academy databases to learn more about the cadet. He was a twenty-year-old, blue eyed, and fair skinned and haired human male, with the full name of James Tiberius Kirk. His parents were Captain George Kirk of the USS Kelvin and Lieutenant Commander Winona Kirk. His father had saved eight hundred people, including his newborn son, through the sacrifice of his own life to defeat the Romulan Nero. Spock knew of George Kirk, as the war with the Romulans was a studied event throughout the Federation, much like the the birth of his son during the altercation, but Spock had not made the association between father and son upon first seeing Cadet Kirk on the first day of classes three point two weeks ago. From the photograph provided on the database, Spock recognised Cadet Kirk as the human who had sat down in the first row during the first class of the academic year, accompanied only by Cadet Uhura, with whom Spock was already closely acquainted. Kirk had continued to sit in the first row, unintimidated by, as Spock had been led to believe by Cadet Uhura, the Vulcan's "terrorisation". It was true that Spock's course and grading scale were difficult to succeed in, and that his lectures often included the persistent asking of difficult questions on Spock’s part, but the participation in answering them was never involuntary. Cadet Kirk, when engaged in listening instead of taking notes, often volunteered to supply answers. Cadet Uhura was the other cadet who was known for responding to Spock. Often, after the response of one cadet, the second would engage the other in a friendly bordering on competitive argument. In the past three weeks, in the span of which only six lectures had come to pass, Spock never thought to inquire as to the blonde man's name.

Now, through the crowd of cadets, Spock stared at Cadet Kirk as he hurriedly packed up his belongings on the far left of the lecture hall. He had been visibly startled by the sound of the bell, and was being held up by inability to fit a hardbound textbook - a rare commodity - into his thin bag. Giving up, he stood up swiftly with the textbook in hand and all but ran towards the direction of the exit. The path led him past Spock's desk, where Spock was waiting for his approach.

"Cadet Kirk," Spock said clearly, halting Kirk's hurry past his desk.

Kirk turned to look at him, a strained expression reigning over his aesthetically pleasing features. He shifted for foot to foot, his discomfort and urgency to leave evident through his body language. "Yes, Professor?"

"May we please speak before you exit the classroom? It is of the matter of the paper submitted last night. I see that you are required elsewhere, so I can assure you that our conversation will last no more than five to ten Terran minutes." Seeing Kirk's eyes shift nervously to the clock upon the lecture hall's wall, Spock felt compelled to add, "Your in-depth knowledge of Vulcan and Romulan history, as well as your familiarity with otherworldly customs, is most surprising, yet not unpleasant. Your paper was most exemplary. Comparable, undoubtedly, to the product of Vulcan's own teaching."

At that, Kirk's expression shifted, and excitement seemed to dance in his eyes. In their proximity to Spock, they seemed unearthly, and he was illogically reminded of clouds clearing from the expanse of the pleasantly azure Terran sky.

"I would love to, Professor Spock, really - Vulcan language and diplomatic history is my acquired taste, you know? -, but I really have to get going today," Kirk responded, already walking backwards towards the exit, which was now mostly clear of cadets. "I can talk to you next week before class? If I stay a minute now, I'm doomed. My friend Bones will have my head on a stick, or choke me with his bare hands! I really can't make him late to his own class!”

With that, he turned and ran out the door, leaving a discomforting calmness in his wake.

Spock, never having casually observed or been bothered with the habits of cadets, would have been surprised at Kirk's unusually hasty exit. However, his subconscious supplied the photographic memory of briefly seeing Kirk as the first to leave the classroom after ever lecture before this one. It was unusual, indeed, as the Terran time was sixteen hundred thirty, signifying the end of classes for all Cadets on the standard track who attended morning and afternoon classes. Before the beginning of the evening classes, a one and a half hour-long passing period took place, signifying either the opportunity for Kirk to retreat to his flat or spend the time at his leisure before an evening course.

Confused, uncertain, and unfamiliar with this particular human, Spock turned to Cadet Uhura. She was the only remaining body in the room besides himself, waiting patiently for Spock in front of his desk.

"Cadet Uhura," Spock said in greeting, acknowledging his thanks for her company.

"Nyota," she corrected, not for the first time.

"Cadet Uhura," Spock persisted, unwilling to move to an air of familiarity with a student. He was aware of Nyota's romantic interest in him, and he did believe himself able to reciprocate a part of her regard, but he knew it would take time, at least, to be ready to grant her a satisfactory relationship with his feelings for her. "I would like to inquire about the cadet with whom I just spoke briefly, James T. Kirk. I am uncertain as to why he is busy at this time, on the Terran day before the arrival of the end of the week, and during the time when no classes take place. I have observed both of you in my class over the past three weeks. From the evidence I have gathered through observing your frequent arguments, I have noted a degree of familiarity between you. Do you know him?"

"Kirk?" Cadet Uhura responded reluctantly, her symmetrical and visibly pleasing features shifting into a displeased expression. "I wouldn't say that I know him. No one really knows him, except his friend Leonard McCoy, who he just called Bones. He's on the medical track. If you'd like to know more about his after-class activities, he's the one to ask, not me."

Spock observed her for a moment. "You are displeased with me for speaking of him. Do you harbour distaste for Cadet Kirk that has its roots beyond your disagreement over xenolinguistic approaches?"

"Not as much as I used to," she responded. "Before he joined Starfleet, we met in a bar, where I had the unfortunate experience of being propositioned by him. I declined, obviously. He never bothered me after that, but it has always been slightly more difficult for me to accept him as a reasonable, intelligent human over a drunk haggard."

Spock felt a disappointment stir within him, and he scolded himself for illogically forming expectations of individuals with whom he was not familiar in the least. "He is prone to sexual proclivity?" Spock asked, disappointed at the emotional inflection in his tone.

Nyota visibly hesitated before responding. "You should know something about Kirk, Spock. He... He has a son. He is only twenty, and his son, who I’ve only briefly seen across the Academy quad, looks four, maybe five." She waited for Spock to acknowledge her words, but he did not, merely pondering this new information and waiting for her to continue. "He's known as a notorious player at the Academy, but I don't know to what extent the rumours are true. They say that he was involved with a woman, got her pregnant, broke up with her, but was forced by child care authorities to raise the child after the mother disappeared. It seems quite irresponsible to be having flings with anything that can move when he has a child to take care of and a mother to support, even if they aren't officially together."

Spock blinked at Uhura, attempting to school his features into not revealing his continuous puzzlement. It was most embarrassing. "Do you think it possible that he is taking the free time that he has been granted to take care of his child? One might consider this an act of great responsibility and familial compassion."

Uhura looked uncomfortable but not angry with Spock's half-reprimand. "I don't know what to think, Spock. Like I said, no one asks him about his personal life, and he definitely never talks to anyone about it. He's all smiles, arguments, truly telling high marks, and 'sexual proclivity,' but he doesn't let many get past that." She smiled at Spock. "Maybe if you talk to him, you'll get past that? I may constantly be in disagreement with him, but it does pain me to see him painted in a constant but not necessarily accurate black light. Anyone deserves more than that."

James T. Kirk's tendency for isolation matched in style with the unexplained knowledge the human man possessed of interplanetary languages and history. This garnered Spock's interest once again. "Thank you for the information, Cadet Uhura," Spock responded, gathering his belongings from his desk. "I will consider initiating conversation with him at a later time. Good afternoon."

With a nod, he exited the lecture hall, thinking of the unknown James T. Kirk and all of the mysteries that he held.

~

Spock sees Jim run into the hall, no longer wearing the cadet reds that he must have adorned while taking the examination. He is wearing tight jeans and a long-sleeve blue shirt, both of which outline his frame and colouring. A large bag hangs over his shoulder, evidently containing his school supplies and said uniform. He looks around, standing on the tips of his toes to gage a frame of reference over the tall figures in front of him. He is out of place, alone in casual apparel in a crowd of decorated officers. A human male in the uniform of a lieutenant commander turns to glance at Kirk, before doing a double take. His eyes narrow with a disdain that Spock does not care for. Spock walks towards Jim, passing in front of the man whilst raising a pointed eyebrow at him, immediately making the man blush and turn away. When Jim sees Spock, his eyes brighten in recognition and the side his mouth quirks up in a smile.

"For the ceremony to begin, your presence is required on the vacant seat upon the stage," Spock tells him, removing the bag from Jim's shoulder and titling his head towards the left side of the room. Jim sees Stalek waiting expectantly with the Terran children. The boy’s only sign of distress is the slight twitch of his fingers where his arms lie limp at his sides.

"Stalek!" Jim calls out, excited jumping up and waving. When Stalek sees him, he raises his small hand in a ta'al. Not much in his expression changes, but Spock can discern the slight relaxation in the boy's shoulders. Jim sticks his tongue out at him childishly, and Stalek fixes him with a stern, reprimanding expression. A thin eyebrow lifts slowly on Stalek’s face, and Spock feels proud. It is Spock's 'behaviour around illogical humans' that Stalek has copied.

Spock finds it amusing, as it may sometimes seem that the roles of father and son between Jim and Stalek are reversed. Jim glances his way, and Spock inclines his head, indicating that he has indeed been following their internal monologue, and is now once again convinced that they are the most puzzling of pairs. However, despite all odds, they match.

~

When Spock saw Cadet Kirk again, it was one point two four days later, in Golden Gate Park, where Spock leisurely spent the free time that he was granted each week. As a past student at the Academy and as a current instructor, the only small part of the planet to which he was subjected was the city of San Francisco. It encompassed the Starfleet Academy, making room for it by expanding its area over the past century. However, it remained a historical city, a place both new and old, full of advanced technology and interplanetary immigrants, yet also of Terran background of the twentieth century. The Japanese Tea Garden, located in Golden Gate Park, was a particular favourite of Spock’s. It held both extensive flora of the Japanese country, as well as its available teas for purchase. Despite the great cultural differences and occasional overflow of both Terran and non-Terran tourists, the serenity and peace offered by the Japanese scenery reminded Spock of Vulcan, which was soothing to him. In addition, the offered tea was unusual yet not unpleasant in flavour. Spock was content to spend one to two hours of his time each Saturday in the Japanese Tea Garden, to be embraced by a peaceful side of his human heritage, and to take time to ponder over certain matters that had the responsibility to tend to later.

Spock, having finished drinking his regular two cups of jasmine tea, made his way out of the Japanese Tea Garden and onto the Golden Gate Park’s public streets. They were closed for vehicles, available only for pedestrians, and yet they held the same width and fervour of the other San Francisco streets Spock had encountered in his explorations of the city. It was down these streets, approximately twenty five meters ahead, that Spock suddenly noticed the presence of James T. Kirk. With ringing laughter, he was chasing a small, dark-haired child, whose hair was of medium length, extending a few centimetres past his shoulder. The child was wearing loose jeans and a blue t-shirt, similar to the cadet’s own informal attire. From afar, Spock saw Kirk catch up to the boy and encircle him in his arms, lifting him over his head as the boy kicked in an attempt to escape, before setting him down. Kirk performed a three slow punches in the direction of the boy, which the child parried flawlessly. Afterward, Cadet Kirk and the boy remained in an relatively immobile position, allowing Spock to walk towards them.

Spock approached, his interest at the sight before him highly piqued. It was apparent to Spock that the rumours in regards to the man’s son were not false, and that his hypothesis that Kirk spent time with his son at his leisure was correct. Not directly familiar with Kirk, Spock felt a twinge of uncertainty at the thought of attempting to start a conversation, even possibly engaging in the human practise of small talk. However, as he had made a note to himself to talk to the human, it would be a waste of opportunity to simply let this one go unpassed.

When Spock found himself close enough to the two figures to be able to discern the details of their appearances, he was struck with an intense shock that forced him to halt his movement and blink twice, to calm himself and prevent himself from overreacting in a highly emotional, and thus illogical, manner. It was impossible, and yet the evidence was clearly laid out before his assessing and calculating eyes: the child was Vulcan.

While this immediately offered an explanation to the Cadet’s extensive and intimate knowledge of Vulcan that had the statistical unlikeliness of ninety eight point nine two percent, it offered a multitude of new questions, all of which Spock was determined to ask. He was aware of human customs, however, and knew that engaging in such an act of question could be known either as ‘interrogation’ or ‘prying’, and would not a pleasant or even polite course of action. Instead of walking forward with the intent of speaking, Spock simply made his presence known by coming to stand at attention in the periphery of Cadet Kirk’s vision.

Kirk looked up briefly before looking back down at his son, then snapping his head towards Spock once again in recognition. He straightened his back and snapped a salute, and Spock nodded at him to assure him that he was relieved. They were both out of uniform - Spock was wearing Vulcan robes, but it was respectful to acknowledge a higher-ranking individual’s position in a situation such as this. The Vulcan boy - Kirk’s son, if the fact still stood - curiously observed their interaction.

“Good afternoon, Cadet Kirk,” Spock greeted him. “It is unexpected to see you here. In my five point two three years of being involved with the Starfleet Academy in the city of San Francisco, I have never encountered individuals that I recognised in this vicinity.”

“It surprises me to see you here, as well, Professor Spock,” Kirk responded, shifting on his feet in what appeared to be self-doubt. His eyes flitted to his left, where the boy patiently waited, informing Spock of the cadet’s internal worries. “This is… ah… Stalek, my son. Stalek, this is Professor Spock from the Starfleet Academy. He is my Advanced Xenolinguistics instructor. He’s also Vulcan, like you, as you can already see by his face.”

Spock regarded Stalek, a young male Vulcan who looked extremely out of place with his uncut hair and human apparel, and decided to offer the sign of the ta’al, despite not being certain of whether or not it would be understood. “Peace and long life, Stalek,” Spock offered.

It was pleasing to see Stalek reciprocate the gesture. “It is nice to meet you, Professor Spock.” After a brief moment of thought, the corners of his lips twitched upwards - a completely unusual and fascinating notion - and asked, “Is my father successfully ‘kicking the asses,' so to speak, of all of his fellow peers in the Advanced Xenolinguistics course? He consistently reminds me of his need to be the best in his class to complete his command track at the end of this year.”

The corner of Spock’s mouth twitched as well. Despite the fact that he was Vulcan, Stalek had already begun acquiring a human conversational pattern due to his emotionally encouraging human parent. Approximately four years old, Stalek had the Vulcan intelligence to process more difficult concepts than a human of the same age, and it was possible that Cadet Kirk was still having difficulties accustoming to the differences between humans and Vulcans in childhood. Spock’s eyes wandered to Kirk, whose cheekbones contained a minuscule patch of red that indicated embarrassment, and he had an expression of guilt on his face. He affectionately gave Stalek a slap to the back of his hand, but its gentleness turned the action into a vigorous ruffling of hair. Stalek made a displeased sound and pushed his father’s hand away, but the action had already been done. The neat hair, tucked behind the boy’s ears, was now considerably less smooth.

“That’s what you get for telling on me, Stalek,” Kirk told him informatively. Turning to Spock, he said, “Sorry about that. He’s right, I did say that, but I promise to not be a burden with my ambitious plans.”

“I am not concerned,” Spock assured him. “In fact, the paper which you produced is evidence that you are, indeed, ‘kicking the asses’ of your peers. It was a paper of great quality, which I have not yet seen amongst this class or the classes during my previous two years of teaching experience at the Academy.”

Seeing the brightened expression upon the human’s face, Spock boldly continued, “Is it inappropriate of me to request our delayed conversation with you at this time? Even with the knowledge that you are the father of a Vulcan boy, there are many likely explanations for how you are so well-informed in Vulcan language, culture, and history. I would not be averse to listening to the details. I understand if you decline, however. Since it is in regards to your family, there are obvious reasons for the need for privacy, which I swear not to breach.”

Kirk looked at Spock, appearing to consider something, his gaze scrutinizing and calm. After four point eight three seconds, he said, “I’m willing to talk to you about it, just not here.” His eyes flicked meaningfully to Stalek, who was in the process of straightening his hair and thus oblivious to their conversation, and Spock understood it to mean that the child’s company for such discussion was not needed.

“Very well,” Spock replied, satisfied with the progress of his interaction with James Kirk. “If you have your PADD with you, I will not be averse to providing you with my contact information, in the case that you have time to spend at your leisure, independent of your son, or if you have questions in regards to anything on the matter of the Vulcan people.”

Kirk looked momentarily shocked, the emotion in his expression then changing from confusion to understanding, from understanding to indignity, from indignity to relief, and from relief to gratefulness. Kirk removed his PADD from the bag hanging on his shoulder, and he handed it to Spock. “Thank you, Professor,” he told him earnestly.

After entering his private PADD number into Kirk’s contacts and returning the device to its owner, Spock regarded both Stalek and Kirk.

“Thanks are unnecessary but appreciated,” he told them, raising his hand in the sign of the ta’al once again. “Live long and prosper,” he concluded before walking around them to continue on his way to his flat.

~

Jim makes his way over to his seat on the stage. Officers eye him warily, some allowing their opinions to be altered by false rumours of his overexaggerated sexual proclivity, others judging him for his youth. The ceremony that is about to take place is an ancient Orion ritual of children showing respect to the "life-giver" or "caretaker." It translates roughly to mother, but may mean either the female or male parent, depending on which parent is the one more involved in the child's early upbringing. Amongst humans, females are the only ones capable of giving birth, making them the more likely candidates for the participation in this ritual. It is logical, then, that out of ten people invited onstage, nine are mothers, human, and of the "middle-age." They look at Jim as he passes in a hurry, taking his seat on the righter most chair. He sits on his hands, almost bouncing in anticipation, and ignores the criticising looks.

Spock consciously thinks about keeping his fists unclenched, barely able to contain his anger at the injustice and prejudice. Having had the honour to be welcomed into Jim's secluded life, to have the opportunity to interact with his family both as an instructor of Vulcan culture to Stalek and as a close one to Jim, has given him the opportunity to see astounding greatness within the man. Seeing him scrutinised by the judgemental gazes of the humans to whom Jim has no reason to explain himself infuriates Spock. Looking at Jim, however, Spock can see that the human is not paying attention to anyone else. Instead, his eyes are on Stalek, who leads the line of ten children to come stand in front of their parents. Stalek stops in front of Jim, looking up to meet his father's eyes. He holds a sample of Orion flora in his hands, which are folded behind his back, out of Jim's line of sight. Jim runs his fingers through Stalek's recently cut hair. His hands are faster than Stalek's, which aim to intercept him. The smile that breaks through despite Jim's desperate attempt to hide it is blinding.

Jim is an extraordinary human. He exceeds expectations constantly set for him in all areas of his life. His leadership abilities, his quick thinking, and his intellect are contributing factors to his potential for becoming a great starship captain. His fair colouring and symmetrical features are striking, making him stand out in a crowd of even the most aesthetically pleasing individuals. His mind is like a beaming sun, a warmth that Spock has missed on this cooler planet, pulling him in with all of its promising radiance.

When Jim smiles at Stalek, however, it is his heart and his love that make Jim the most beautiful human that Spock has ever encountered.

~

It was another five days before Spock spoke to Cadet Kirk again. Over the past week, Kirk had not approached him after class to discuss the multitude of topics presented to him as likely conversations that were indeed in need of discussion. Instead, he continued to disappear with the sounding of the Academy bell, most likely to attend to Stalek as soon as possible. Spock made the logical assumption that the child was enrolled in a school or daycare. However, he was most curious as to the education Kirk was employing in the upbringing of the Vulcan child. In his communication with them during the previous week, he was able to discern health and intelligence within the four year old, which soothed his worries. While the original paper that Kirk had submitted that had peaked Spock’s curiosity in the first place was in no way adequate proof of the fact that Kirk was a satisfactory parent, some part of Spock undeniably forced him to believe Kirk’s best intentions towards Stalek. As humans would phrase it, it was a “gut feeling." Spock was in no way at ease with having to rely on emotions to dictate his opinions and personal conclusions; he was at a loss at how to inquire into Kirk’s personal life for more information without appearing hostile or accusatory.

It was Thursday afternoon after the ending of his last class, when Spock was prepared to let the issue of Kirk and his Vulcan child go from his mind with the help of mediation in his flat, that he was paid a visit.

There was a knock on the full-body window that extended across the full righter most wall of the lecture hall, encompassing the door. Spock looked up to see the duo standing in front of it, looking at Spock expectantly. While Stalek stood stoically and patiently, Kirk's chest, fingertips, and nose were pressed to the window, no doubt staining it with his fingerprints and breaths. Kirk looked excitedly at Stalek, most likely expecting or encouraging him to do the same, but the boy's arms remained folded across his chest. Spock did not point out that the door is unlocked, instead stood and moved to open it. Kirk quickly extracted himself from the window, skipping through the door with Stalek in tow. When Kirk stopped, facing Spock, his face took on an expression of nervousness and uncertainty. Spock inclined his head towards the human, attempting to appear unthreatening and indicate that he was willing to listen to any information offered to him.

Cadet Kirk pulled Stalek to him by the shoulder, before asking Spock, "Can you teach Vulcans?"

It was a vague, unexpected question, but Spock refused to show anything but contemplation on his face. He was indeed capable of teaching Vulcans, just like he was capable of teaching humans. However, he was only capable of doing so in academic areas that he covered at the Academy, such as xenolinguistics and a multitude of similar subjects at which he excelled especially. Spock knew that he should clarify to be certain of Kirk's meaning, but to do so could be perceived as emotionless and inconsiderate, by human standards. Spock was seventy six percent sure that Kirk searched for a tutor of the Vulcan Way for Stalek, to offer first-hand knowledge that Kirk could not most efficiently provide himself, even with the most in-depth research on Vulcan culture that he appeared to have most thoroughly conducted. Despite currently being raised by a human, Stalek appeared to be both mentally healthy and emotionally in control, indicating that Kirk was doing a praiseworthy job of installing a semblance of Vulcan education in the boy's life. However, with age, the Vulcan would require a thorough education, one of a more advanced style than the one that was offered on Earth. Spock wondered whether or not Kirk was currently beginning to teach Stalek, as four was an appropriate age for a Vulcan's education to begin. He also wondered what Kirk was intending to do when Stalek was old enough to attend a Terran school, and what Kirk would do after receiving an assignment to a Federation starship. However, as Kirk had come to Spock for help, it was his duty as a Vulcan and as an intelligent, considerate being to agree, so he simply gave a nod. The happiness that radiated off of Kirk was blinding, but what surprised Spock was Stalek's extended hand. It was an offer of a mind meld, he recognised. Kirk seemed to realise it, too, and Spock glanced to him for permission. When the human nodded warily, Spock crouched to his knees and brought his fingers to Stalek's psi points. Stalek reciprocated.

"My mind to your mind," Spock whispered. "My thoughts to your thoughts."

Suddenly, he found himself in a vast expanse of the mind of another. Stalek's mind was vibrant, both a cool shade and a flare of sunlight and heat. His emotions ran deep within him, farther from the surface than Spock's own, due to his full Vulcan heritage. However, they flowed unabashedly, unhidden. There was no shame, like that which Spock found within himself. It was ironic, thought Spock bitterly and jealously, that a pure-blooded Vulcan was able to except his fierce, human-like emotions better and more fully. The familial bond that existed in his mind was only with Kirk, a river of golden light that encompassed the whole expanse. It encircled Stalek's mind protectively, embracing it, hiding beneath it the remnants of two dark fractured bonds. It was possible that Stalek was unable to feel them, unable to recall them from his subconscious mind.

Stalek projected at Spock the images of his earlier childhood and his current life. They showed him interacting with human children in a classroom, clearly intended for entertainment and not education; whenever Kirk was gone for a long period of time, interacting with a rough-looking man with brown hair and surly features, wearing Cadet reds - Bones, Stalek provided, or Doctor Leonard McCoy, Father's friend. The information uncovered one mystery for Spock. The images showed Stalek studying the beginnings of algebra, reading Terran young adult novels and scrunching his nose in distaste, reading and writing in Vulcan through a language-learning program in the computer database, and studying several species of flora through a textbook. Mostly, however, the images showed Spock Kirk.

Spock learned that Stalek had been under his care from the estimated age of six months. He learned that Stalek's exact date of birth was inaccessible information and that Kirk had illogically set one for the tenth day of September and celebrated annually in a Terran fashion without fail. Spock learned that Stalek spoke in Vulcan with Kirk, who spoke with flawless grammar but with a thick accent. He learned that Kirk urged Stalek to take part in a Vulcan language-learning program to listen to better pronunciation than Kirk's own. He learned that Kirk spent all of his available time with Stalek, using most of his time to study for his courses alongside Stalek's independent afternoon reading. He learned that Kirk acted more calmly around Stalek without thinking that the Vulcan noticed, attempting to be a better influence in the Vulcan area of logic and serenity. He learned that Kirk, unable to provide Stalek with a pet sehlat on Earth, instead gifted him on his fourth birthday with a stray kitten he found outside, leaving it entirely in his care.

Stalek showed him Kirk picking him up from daycare, breathless from running all the way from the Academy; Kirk telling him about the complexities of human nature to try to elicit a laugh from Stalek and only occasionally succeeding; Kirk washing Stalek's hair, brushing it, and tucking it behind his pointed ears. Stalek showed Kirk practising meditation techniques when he thought his son wasn't looking, afterwards helping Stalek succeed in them by explaining their nature and the ability of the Vulcan mind to achieve them; his father granting him both a human and Vulcan kiss on the cheek before leaving him in his room for the night.

My father is an exceptional human, and a being I most deeply love and respect, Stalek told him. If you are worried about him disrespecting the Vulcan Way or not knowing the needs of ensuring my well-being, do not be. He constantly works to introduce me to the best of both the human and Vulcan world.

Spock retreated from the meld, refusing to pry into the unasked and unanswered question of how Stalek had ended up in Kirk's care. Instead, he looked up at Cadet Kirk. Kirk was standing with his arms crossed, a closed-off expression, and eyes that bore into Spock with an obvious challenge. Spock predicted that Kirk awaited a reprimand, possibly a not unfamiliar lecture on his youth and inability to parent a member of a different species. However, Spock had no interest in granting him one.

"Professor Spock is a highly intelligent, genuine, and compassionate being, much like yourself," Stalek informed his father, breaking the silence. Spock restrained the blood that threatened to flow to his cheeks. Kirk flushed as well, looking away. "I would be amenable to having him as my instructor for the Vulcan Way, whenever he has the opportunity to teach me."

Kirk nodded, and that was that.

~

Performing the ritual alongside his Terran peers, Stalek bows deeply to Jim. He lowers himself to his knees, his forehead falling at Jim's feet in a sign of respect and endless gratitude. Continuing to lean forward and look down, he raises his hands to present the flower band to Jim, long enough for the latter to take hold of its opposite end. When Spock sees Jim's trembling fingers extend to accept the band, he looks up curiously at his face.

His expression is one of surprise and nostalgia, mixed with the grief and memories of the past that suddenly flood Jim's loving heart. Spock feels the tears on Jim's face fall as much as he sees them: something squeezes hard in Spock's left side and does not let go. Jim bites his lower lip to muffle any sound that threatens to escape, but Spock now knows what it is like to hold Jim in his arms as he cries. He knows the heartbreaking sound of Jim's sobs, the way his body convulses as they wrack though him, just like it is right now. Spock wishes to reach out to Jim, to comfort him, to tell and show him that Stalek is safe and loved, all thanks to Jim himself. However, he knows he cannot. Instead, he watches as the tears fall from Jim’s cheeks and the way Jim looks down, quietly self-deprecatingly. When Stalek finally looks up, Jim opens his arms to him in a welcome. Stalek stands and practically jumps into Jim's arms, hugging his neck with his thin arms and Jim's waist with his thighs, which are somewhat restricted by the Vulcan robe he adorns. Jim appears surprised, leaning back slightly, but he quickly hugs back, resting his chin on Stalek's shoulder. He rocks back and forth, and on his face is a contrasting mix of tears and a smile. Spock watches them with quiet contentment. Their eyes meet, and Jim lifts his hand in a small wave. Spock reciprocates. He finds himself wishing, not for the first or second time, to be part of the happiness that they share: to add to it and revel in it himself. He hopes to finds the words soon, to tell Jim what an honour that will be. For now, however, he is satisfied to look on at their family with a slight quirk of his lips.

~

Together, they created a pattern, a symmetry. Three days a week, Kirk would attend Spock's Advanced Xenolinguistics course, taking notes as diligently as ever in the first row before rushing off with the ring of the bell to relieve Doctor McCoy, who still provided his assistance in "babysitting" Stalek. In the evenings on those days, at seventeen hundred, Kirk would arrive with Stalek at Spock's flat before leaving until twenty three hundred thirty for his evening courses. Spock and Kirk were both insistent in having Stalek retire for the night in Spock's quarters at twenty one hundred, and for Kirk to carry him to their own flat, which was located about one point four kilometres away, in the opposite direction of the Starfleet Academy. This did not happen often, however, as Stalek continued to read or meditate after returning to the unoccupied room in Spock's flat after their shared meal until Kirk returned. In the rare cases that he did fall asleep, Spock insisted that Kirk remain in his flat until the morning. As Kirk always arrived at Spock's quarters from the Academy, he was prepared to take Stalek to day care in the morning before returning to the Academy. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Spock taught two classes of Quantum Mechanics D before becoming available for the day. On those days, instead of Doctor McCoy, Spock picked up Stalek at thirteen hundred before returning to the Academy, where they would study Vulcan texts. They would wait for Kirk in the library, or arrive by sixteen hundred thirty at his class to meet him.

Teaching Stalek was both intriguing and enjoyable, challenging only at times. Stalek naturally excelled at Vulcan practises. He was already capable of achieving the first state of meditation, which was physical and mental relaxation for the timespan of approximately one hour. As this was simultaneously the most that humans could achieve and was the average result for Vulcans of Stalek's age, it was most beneficial that Spock was able to continue Stalek's education at this time. Stalek also exceeded in the Vulcan language through independent study, regular conversing with his father, and listening to recordings of Vulcan news. Spock aided him by presenting him with assignments that would help Stalek progress in the language at a natural pace.

Despite being young and in the care of a human being, Stalek was not overly expressive. Through meditation, he was able to tame his emotions as well as any Vulcan. He knew of the Vulcan pursuit of choosing logic over all else, and had chosen to follow that path after he first became conscious of being a Vulcan. Even though Kirk was not logical in the least, he had tried his best to explain to Stalek the importance of logic and how illogic can be avoided. When Kirk had not succeed in becoming a more logical and less emotional being himself, he had purchased multiple texts written by Vulcan elders on how logic was most closely pursued. However, when Stalek did act upon emotionalism and, in the rare event, upon blatant illogic, he was never ashamed. There was always a reason behind it, such as the importance of loyalty and love. In addition, Stalek understood that with his progress in meditation and increased control of his physical, mental, and emotional states, he would be able to be more successful in showing self-control. Spock was fascinated by Stalek's valid self-confidence and ability to view the positive aspects of humanity instead of looking down upon it as lesser, which had been the case with Spock’s Vulcan peers in his own childhood. It was this promising acceptance, an understanding from a four year old that even adults on Vulcan did not possess, that made Spock feel hope for the interplanetary and intercultural relationships of the future.

Stalek was a most curious child, as well, constantly asking Spock of his upbringing, of the way life was on Vulcan, of the relationships Vulcans formed with one another. When Spock told him of his half-human heritage and his human mother during a study session in his flat, with Kirk taking notes for a class from his PADD at the kitchen counter, Stalek listened without passing judgment. When he told him quietly about the distaste and xenophobia of his peers and of the Vulcan elders at the Vulcan Science Academy, Kirk's hands clenched into fists unpredictably and inexplicably, and Stalek dismissed their racism as extremely illogical.

Most of all, however, Spock noticed the relationship between Stalek and Kirk. Even though he already had a gage of it through the mind meld he had shared with Stalek, every interaction between them confirmed it. Kirk limited his physical contact with Stalek, respecting his budding touch-telepathy. Stalek, in return, offered him occasional embraces. Kirk always raced to accept them.

Spock and Stalek were in the Academy library one afternoon, pondering over Vulcan texts from the pre-Reformation period. At the bottom of the page of the paper textbook, there was an image that depicted a Vulcan female standing over the bloody body of a fallen child - her son. In her hand she held a spear, which connected with the back of a male - presumably the killer. It was a most disturbing example of the violence driven by emotionalism that had almost led the Vulcan race to self-destruction. Spock found that he had no desire to explain such violence to Stalek. He was about to flip the page, when Kirk rushed through the door of the library, made his way over to them, and sat down across them at the table.

Before Cadet Kirk even had the opportunity to offer anything but a ta'al, Stalek began in Vulcan, "Good afternoon, Father. Professor Spock and I were just about to discuss the pre-Reformation painting depicted here. It is a mother avenging her murdered son. I understand that such a violent action will most likely not be committed against me in the twenty third century, but I find it important to inform you that murder to avenge my death in any way is unnecessary. It is neither a logical nor a moral action, driven only by the ugly emotion of anger."

Spock stared at Stalek, barely preventing his jaw from dropping. He looked at Kirk apologetically, wishing to convey through his eyes that he had not intended to breach the topic, but Kirk was watching Stalek with a heartbreaking longing.

"Stalek, I can't promise you that," he said carefully after swallowing. "Actually, I can promise you that I will do just that. My familial bond with you and emotions that accompany it are too strong for me to use either logic or morality to alter their course. I love you too much to ever be able to get rid of the feeling of anger."

Stalek thought for a moment, then nodded. "I understand. In fact, I was expecting this answer. I wanted to let you know my opinion on the matter, however. I do not yet know what I would do if the opposite were to happen, and I am led to believe by Professor Spock's wariness that, as a child of four point four five years of age, I should not be focusing on the matters of violence and death. However, as you are aware, I also love you, and both logically and passionately wish that nothing of this sort will occur to either of us."

Spock saw Kirk smile sadly, extending his arms to offer an embrace. "C'mere," he whispered hoarsely. Stalek went, climbing into Kirk's lab and hugging him tightly around the neck. It was a stark difference to his usual sophistication, and it reminded Spock that Stalek was indeed just a young child, not an independent adult or adolescent, who sought comfort and love.

Afterwards, Kirk and Stalek made their way back to their flat, stopping at a large fountain in the middle of a plaza on the way. Spock accompanied them as he usually did, walking by Kirk as Stalek walked swiftly ahead, scanning different species of flora with a tricorder. The academic year was already coming to a close, and Spock and Kirk had developed a greater sense of familiarity. Cadet Kirk had insisted paying Spock for tutoring and watching over his child so often in the week, but Spock constantly pressed to reduce the price as much as he could. Kirk was already working to pay the fees for his rent, his education, and basic needs for two. When Spock was unable to cancel payment completely, he attempted to make up for it by providing Kirk and Stalek with dinner and both of them with educational supplies.

Spock and Kirk spoke often, easily finding conversation. Their topics ranged from Stalek's education, to war strategy, to diplomacy, to quantum mechanics and warp theory, to the prospects of serving in space. Spock learned that Kirk was intending to bring Stalek with him onto the ship to which he would be assigned after graduating from the Academy, along with a hired caretaker to watch him whenever Kirk was on duty. This was an option for many families, in which both parents were present on the ship, but Kirk was sure that with the help of such a caretaker, he would be able to continue being a single father in space.

Cadet Kirk was extremely intelligent and highly educated in all subjects, and Spock often found himself wondering what had forged such a fascinating and compelling individual. Spock was no longer surprised at the illogical urge to delve into his mind, to explore and revel in it. With time, Spock also accepted his yearning to tell Kirk that he would be honoured to serve on the same ship as him, to continue being there for him and Stalek.

Kirk and Spock sat down together on the wooden bench in front of the fountain, watching as Stalek scanned the water that exploded from eight different jets in the ground in powerful streams. Spock turned to face Kirk, ready to finally ask about Kirk's past. He had never pried before, and he was aware that his questions now could be rejected. He steeled himself for the possibility.

"Cadet Kirk, I know that we have previously not discussed this, but I feel like I must inquire as to Stalek's past," he began. "I have been curious about how he has come into your care from the day of our first conversation, five point nine three months ago, when you had declined my request for discussing your intimate knowledge of Vulcan. I spoke to Cadet Uhura after our brief exchange, and she informed me that you had a son. Even before I learned of his Vulcan heritage, I wanted to learn more about your family."

Kirk's face lost its happy and relaxed look, his smiling dropping to reveal a grave and serious expression. Spock had to consciously prevent himself from wincing.

"You heard the rumours, then? That I knocked some girl up? That I was cheating on her by sleeping with everything that moved?

Spock placed his hand on Kirk's shoulder, grateful that it was not shrugged off. "Cadet Kirk, please understand that that is not what I implied. I admit to hearing rumours, albeit only from Cadet Uhura during our single conversation about you, but I never resolved myself to believing them. My limited formulated opinions about you were positive, derived from the exemplary paper that you wrote on Vulcan and Romulan heritage and politics. The rumours were also proven incorrect when I saw you and Stalek near the Japanese Tea Garden later that week, and when we continued our interaction afterward."

Kirk's rigid shoulders sagged, and he seemed to crumple in on himself. "I'm sorry, Spock. I know you didn't mean that. I'm just being bitter. I'm quite protective over the topic of Stalek, and I don't really tell people stuff easily. The only person who knows about Stalek through me personally telling them is Bones. I'm sorry I haven't told you before."

Spock was relieved that Kirk trusted him as much as the doctor, his closest friend. "I believe the human colloquialism is, 'don't beat yourself up about it,' Cadet Kirk."

Kirk smiled, but it did not reach his eyes. They remained sad, lost in a memory to which Spock was not privy. "Please call me Jim?" he said in a question.

"That would be acceptable," Spock responded, smiling softly.

"Ah..." Kirk - no, Jim- began, brushing his hand through his hair. "It's kind of a long story, if you're interested. Do you think maybe we can... Maybe you can..." He extended his hand towards Spock's face carefully. Spock understood that he was asking for communication via a mind meld. He nodded, placing his fingers over Jim's psi points.

"My mind to your mind," he said.

"My thoughts to your thoughts," Jim whispered back.

Spock suddenly found himself in the beautiful, vast expanses of Jim's mind. It was more vibrant than he had imagined, even more full of life.

You've imagined being in my mind? Jim asked with obvious amusement.

Of course, Spock responded, not elaborating. After I pause, he thinks, You are most adept at telepathic communication for a psi-null individual, Jim.

Stalek has been telling me that recently, too, after you gave him that book on touch-telepathy, Jim mused.

Spock felt himself wait, enwrapped protectively in the soft tendrils of Jim's mind. Jim? he prodded gently.

Right, sorry, Jim responded quickly. I'm getting carried away. Your mind is captivating, too. And yeah, I'm stalling, too, because it's not a fun story to tell. You mind need mental tissues or something.

Jim, Spock thought to him seriously, I have never understood the human need to hide serious matters behind humour. I now suspect that it is due to fear of rejection from others, who will find your story too difficult to bear or comprehend. Jim, I assure you that I will never reject your thoughts.

Outside of their minds, Spock felt that Jim was nodding. Well, he said, and suddenly Spock found himself in a memory.

The fields are golden in his aunt's backyard, reminding Jim of Iowa. The sky is an unearthly blue, though, and here, the wind doesn't make the wheat stocks rustle like the hair of a beautiful, sun-kissed girl, so it's not home. He doesn't know whether that's a good or bad thought.

It turns out it's a bad thing, though. Jim is only thirteen when things start going out of the norm, about three months after his arrival, but he's not an idiot - Kodos is planning something. Food's becoming scarce in the colony, crops are dying. Flash forward three years later, and distress signals aren't being answered. Jim knows, because he secretly stalks governors in his free time. He always keeps his eyes and ears open.

It's poor planning on Kodos' part, as he had three years to contact a planet for help, but it's too late for an apology now. Instead, he issues an order to kill the weaker and less needed half of the colony's population, which means a total of four thousand people dead. Jim is sixteen, and he's on the list. He gets his hands on it when he hacks into the government's top secret files. Luckily, his aunt and uncle are spared. Jim doesn't cry; he doesn't even kick, punch, yell, or run, not at first. He packs his bags with all the food he can find, grabs Kevin, Thomas, and their little gang by the scruff, and waits until night. Tomorrow, they're going to order all of them to go down to the main plaza, and they're going to start shooting them. It's too dangerous to try to escape when they can see them, so they make their escape for the long stretch of woods in the darkness. He throws a wad of cash at the only guard in sight, getting down on his knees in front of him when money isn't enough. It's in the aftermath of the blowjob and the man's orgasm that he strikes his head with a sharp rock, watching the blood flow for a moment, before coming back to tell his gang of youngsters that the coast is clear.

They build a little ditch for themselves in the woods, between a thick growth of tall trees, where surely no one can spot them. They plan to wait it out. Jim stays awake all night, no thoughts of sleeping, wondering how no one ever thought to run for these woods for it to be so poorly guarded. Maybe it's because no one expected a massacre.

He doesn't leave a note for his aunt and uncle, hoping that it will somehow keep them safe. The less they know, the better. Maybe they will run too, if the guards come after them, asking for information. Jim doesn't know what he'll do after everyone's murdered, but surely Kodos will notice his escape. He'll come after them, and they can't run forever.

Jim knows he can't save four thousand people, not when he needs to basically single-handedly feed seven other kids. However, it doesn't stop the gnawing sensation from spreading, the self-hatred from running through his veins and slowly poisoning his whole body. Thousands of people are dying, and can't do fucking shit.

It's the early morning after the day of the massacre that he crawls out of their shelter to go into the city to scavenge for food. He knows it's dangerous, but there's no way around it. He needs to keep their strength up until... Until… Until something happens and someone will come save Jim and the family that he's chosen, and make Kodos pay for his injustice.

With three sacks full of canned beans, fruits, and vegetables, that Jim unsurprisingly finds stashed in Kodos' basement, which he luckily broke into and out of without anyone even noticing him, and with another man's blood on his hands, he returns to the forest. In between the city and the woods lies a portion of the golden fields, unmoved and untarnished, as if rivers of blood weren't pioneering their way through the colony at this very moment. At the edge of field, just on the other side of the unguarded fence that Jim scales, there lies a luggage bag.

Curious, Jim makes his way towards it. It could have anything really: food, clothing, something useful to their survival for the moment. He approaches it, and what he sees makes his heart stop.

In the bag lies a child. His eyes are open, but he is neither crying nor making any noise. Jim panics, wondering if his heart still beats, and reaches for his wrist to feel a pulse. As soon as their skin touches, Jim doubles over in pain. He can feel the child's emotions through their touch, and there is just so much pain. It's everywhere, and he has to clutch at his temples before bracing himself and lifting the child into his arms. He's Vulcan, Jim realises, with a miniature robe adorning him, pointed ears, a green tint to his skin, and a black bowl cut. It would be adorable to see him anywhere else, but here, it breaks Jim’s heart, literally. A paper falls from the child's sleeve. It's written in Standard, and Jim skims it quickly. It says the following:

Dear merciful beholder of our child,

If you have found this letter, then you have found Stalek, our son. Three point two minutes ago, we were told to report to the colony's plaza by five armed guards. We have suspected an altercation over the matter of the famine, and we suspect we will be killed. It is illogical to run, as guards surround our home. We leave him outside the gate before we are forced to attend the assembly in hopes that someone more successful than us in escaping will find him and save him. With us, there is no hope for him.

If you have found him, then we are dead, as we would otherwise return to collect him immediately. His familial bonds are severed, and he requires immediate telepathic assistance, or he will die of emotional trauma in less than three days. Please, do everything you can to save him. We have no family on Vulcan. There is no one there for him.

We thank thee and grieve with thee dearly,

Sorin, Son of Salin and T'vora, Daughter of T'Pala

Jim tucks the letter into his pocket, barely able to read the ending of the letter. When the tears fall, they fall hard. He cries, and cries, and cries, unable to stop himself from breaking down as he runs back to the woods as quickly as possible with his arms wrapped around Stalek protectively. It's when little Maya, who's only nine, takes the bundle out of his arms without question, and Stalek reaches out with his little hand towards Jim's face, that Jim realises that they're all going to die. He's going to die protecting Stalek from anything or anyone that comes their way, and then everyone else is going to die with him, because there'll be no one to protect them. They're all just kids, for fuck's sake, and they're going to die on this godforsaken planet, and all of their attempts to survive will have been for nothing.

They don't die, however, because two days later, Robert April flies in on the USS Enterprise, like a prince on a white horse, ready to save Jim and the others from the nightmare. Kevin and Thomas are scouting for food, especially now with the addition of Stalek, when they see the docked ship from a distance. They notice that it's chaos in the city. Somehow, they manage to run to it, find an officer, and tell him of their secret hideout, saying that the others won't voluntarily leave. They're right. When Captain April and some members of his crew appear behind Kevin and Thomas, Jim almost throws his knives at them right then and there. It's when he notices the golden uniform and non-aggressive stance that he forces his hands to relax. "I have a Vulcan child of roughly six months on me," he somehow manages, "and he needs immediate attention that I am unable to give."

A woman clad in blue gasps, and Jess emerges from the hut, carrying Stalek in her arms. Jim takes a head count - Kevin, Thomas, John, Maya, Jess, Lucy, Pip, Stalek, they're all here - and collapses.

He wakes up in a bed, eyes opening to a white ceiling, and immediately starts throwing punches. His hands get restrained, which is probably for the best: he knows he's technically safe, but his body isn't cooperating. Eventually, after enough breathing exercises he attempts to employ, he calms down.

"Stalek," he barely manages, hoarsely. "The others."

"Sit up, kid, and you'll see that they're all lying asleep next to you," says a voice to his left. Jim turns his head. It's Captain April. He slowly sits up and sees that he's not lying. Stalek lies in a little crib to his right, sleeping peacefully. Jim's heart warms. "You're on the USS Enterprise, and we're taking you home."

Home, Jim thought. I don't know what a home is. "I need to get to Vulcan," Jim says. "I need to inform their elders."

"Yeah, Jim, about that," April says. "We don't know what to do about Stalek yet. We've checked, and Vulcan doesn't have any adoption centres or orphanages. There's no need for them. No one leaves their children out on the streets, and rarely does anyone die from accidents or fatal diseases anymore. Especially not such a logic-driven race. When they do, they are immediately given to the care of their closest relatives."

"Stalek doesn't have relatives," Jim whispers.

"I know," April responds, grimacing. "We might have to put him up for adoption on Earth."

"No," Jim says forcefully. He shakes his head violently. "No, you can't do that. You can't take him away from me and then give him up to some random strangers, who don't know the first thing about Vulcan upbringing."

"And you do?"

"No, but I can learn," Jim says, trying to be convincing. "Please, just... Let me go to Vulcan. Let me talk to the elders there, before taking me to court or something on Earth. Please, sir."

Captain April takes a long look at him, then sighs. "You're James Tiberius Kirk, George's son, aren't you?"

Kirk grits his teeth. "That I am."

April looks sympathetic. "You're your father's son, Jimmy. Just as stubborn when necessary, with your heart in the right place."

"And just like my father," Jim says carefully, "I need to make sure that the child that has just been placed in my care is safe, healthy, and able to live a prosperous life.”

Captain April looks at him with proud eyes. "You did an amazing thing there, Jim," he tells him. "Saving all of their lives like that. No one else could have done that in their place. I know it doesn't seem like in now, but you're destined for greatness."

After a stop on Earth and the farewells between Jim and his new family, they go to Vulcan.

Jim gets to meet all of the Vulcan elders, including T'Pau. He recounts his story to them, showing them the letter. They thank him graciously, but inform him that Stalek's parents were not Vulcan citizens when they left the planet for Tarsus IV, for reasons that are inaccessible by Vulcan law. Stalek was born off-Vulcan, too. It's now literally impossible and illegal to find any relatives through the databases, by Vulcan. They search the names that the mother and father have given, however, and send out a distress signal, that says to come forward if the missing child is related to them. When no one does, Jim is both scared and relieved.

Even though T'Pau is an adept telepath and can perform the procedure herself, she takes Jim and Stalek to a mind temple, where a healer melds with both Stalek and Jim to see the state of their minds and their bond. It's the kind of melding that Stalek somehow performed on Jim the night after he found him, placing his little hands over his face and projecting a subconscious feeling of security and gratefulness. The healer tells him that in the process, a familial bond was formed, strong enough to dull out the broken ones with his parents, which were causing him pain. Jim is the closest thing Stalek has to family, so he's the legal father now. Jim isn't arguing, even though he's even more terrified than when he first read the list of names on Tarsus IV. T'Pau talks to Jim about Stalek as if he doesn't have the option to turn Stalek away. He's not planning on it, but it almost makes him sick, thinking about what someone else might have done or might have wanted to do in his place, if they had been the ones to find Stalek and bring him to Vulcan. He receives Vulcan citizenship, starts learning Vulcan, starts buying PADD files and texts on raising Vulcan children, on Vulcan health, on Vulcan history, on Vulcan everything. They both get citizenships, too, but Jim knows that he can't stay on Vulcan forever. He has nothing to do here, just like he had nothing to do on Earth. The stars still call to him, after everything that has happened. In a year, he applies to Starfleet, is accepted, and comes with Stalek.

He loves him so much that it hurts him. It hurts absolutely everywhere: in his heart, his lungs, the deep pit in his stomach. I love you, he thinks at Stalek. I love you, he tells him. He always tells him, because Stalek deserves to be loved.

Spock pulled out of the memory gently, out of Jim's mind. He was aware of Jim's forehead on his shoulder, and the wetness that was gathering from his tears. There were soft, broken sounds coming from him with every exhale, and Spock knew that Jim was holding back as much as possible. He quickly glanced in Stalek's direction to make sure that he was alright, that nothing had happened to him while they were lost in the memory. Spock knew that the memory transfer couldn't have taken more than two to three minutes, but it was an experienced that they both perceived as lasting hours. Assured that Stalek was safe, still leaning over a patch of grass, he turned towards Jim and tentatively wrapped his arms around him. He buried his nose in a tuft of golden hair, but just enough that it wouldn't be noticed.

"It is okay to cry, Jim," he voiced. "I will not leave."

He hears a weak chuckle. "It turns out that I'm the one that needs the tissues still, huh?"

His statement was not accurate, however, because Spock was able to feel a prickling sensation in his eyes. His tear ducts, active due to his half-human biology, opened, and no control over his body was able to stop his own tears from falling silently. He brushed his hand over Jim's cheek lightly, sliding his hand over his chin, lifting it to urge Jim to look up. When he did, the pain and misery reflected in his eyes and conducted through the touch of their skin shocked Spock. He was out of his depth, he knew, but the violent emotions being emitted from Jim were something Spock could not avoid.

"Jim," he said, trying to find the right words, "Captain April was correct in stating that you were the only one capable of saving the children. You did everything in your power to do so, and trying to do more would have been counterproductive."

"Yes, I know that with my mind, but my heart won't buy it. If I had just gone there, maybe, that day, instead of sitting around uselessly, I might have had time to warn people." Jim turned to look at Stalek. "I might have had the opportunity to tell his parents of our hideout, if I had been there to see them place Stalek where I found him."

"No, Jim," Spock assured him. "You would have been killed. You did everything in your power."

Jim nodded shakily. "That's what I keep telling myself."

"Before I had the honour to know your reasons behind your protectiveness over Stalek and of his origins, I often wondered why you were unable to tell your fellow peers the truth, to prevent them from creating rumours and a reputation for you that you anything but deserve. Now, I understand the humbleness behind it. It is not a story to tell to random individuals and in random circumstances. However, besides being closely acquainted with Doctor McCoy and myself, you do not hold anyone dear to you. I am convinced that there are many individuals in your graduating class who wish to know you outside of the false information that they may occasionally hear. Why do you refrain from telling anyone the truth?"

"As you probably now understand, I have serious trust issues," Jim told him, looking uncomfortable. "The therapist tried to work them out with me after I returned to Earth with Stalek, but it didn't work. I know I'm always going to have them, really. And besides," he looked at Spock meaningfully, "there is no need to inform people of anything. I would rather they talk about me than talk about Stalek."

Spock knew he was staring, watching Jim's face openly, but he understood that by human standards of closeness, they were past formalities. He wondered, once again, what had he, Starfleet, Earth, the Federation, and the whole universe had done to deserve the blinding, inexplicable entity that was James Kirk.

~

Stalek forges ahead, towards the duo's shared flat, while Spock and Jim follow him from a distance, speaking quietly. Jim is holding the Orion flowers reverently to his chest, where his heart is, and his left hand dangles between them, near Spock's. The flower represents gratitude, devotion, and respect, no doubt reminding Jim of the past and of the circumstances that led him to having Stalek. Spock knows that he remains Jim's professor, even though the Academic year is ending in a month. Spock is assigned to the USS Enterprise, for her first voyage after her long reconstruction, as First Officer to Captain Christopher Pike, as he has been aware since the beginning of the year. Jim, after graduating with the highest marks of his graduating class, will be assigned to the Enterprise as Lieutenant Commander, the flight engineer, and the third in command. It isn't official yet, but Pike and Spock have both already informed him. They want him to know ahead of time, in case it is a position he wants to decline, given the previous circumstances regarding the ship, but Jim immediately reassures them that his previous experiences won't emotionally compromise him in any way; that he in fact wants to serve on the beautiful ship that saved the lives of him, Stalek, and his friends. Stalek is coming with him, per the approval of Starfleet Academy.

One observation of the circumstances is that Spock will not be Jim's professor for much longer.

"Jim, I have recently had much on my mind, and I would appreciate to have the opportunity to share my thoughts with you," Spock says tentatively.

"Sure, Spock," Jim answers lightly. "What is it?"

"I have known you as your instructor from the beginning of this academic year. I have seen you prosper more in my class than any other student. You are an exceptional individual and father, full of care, love, attentiveness, and knowledge. Your leadership abilities are unparalleled, unmatched, and brilliant. You are the most aesthetically pleasing individual that I have ever looked upon. You are a single father of a Vulcan child. I am also Vulcan. Stalek is a child whom I understand on a biological, cultural, and intellectual level, and he seems to enjoy my presence. I-"

He is cut off, however, because warm fingers take his own. Spock looks over at Jim, surprised. He looks down at their joint hands, then back up at Jim with a raised eyebrow.

“I know what you’re trying to say, Spock,” Jim tells him with a smile. “It’s okay if it’s difficult, or if you’re nervous. I understand. I really like you, too, you know. A lot. Can we… Maybe we can…” he trails off, now looking unsure of himself. “Maybe we can go on a date?”

“If you are referring to having an appointment, then I can assure you that we have already gone on many dates with one another,” Spock responds, just to make Jim laugh. He succeeds.