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So Wise We Grow

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So Wise We Grow

We think our fathers fools, so wise we grow.

Our wiser sons, no doubt will think us so.

             - Alexander Pope

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Probably a lot of this explosion of awkwardness could have been avoided if Vulcans had normal definitions of "official" and "personal" issues, because when the transmission comes from New Vulcan, addressed to Commander Spock, it's labeled "official business," and so Spock receives it live on the bridge in front of everybody. The old Vulcan lady whose face pops up on the screen calls herself T'Pau, and Jim will give her this: she gets right to the point.

"Commander Spock, we have located your son."

When the Enterprise set off, six months ago, on this crazy five-year mission, Jim could already read Spock pretty well. By now, after six months of late-night chess games and the occasional shared moment of mortal peril, Jim likes to consider himself an expert. When Spock says, "My son?" Jim can tell that T'Pau couldn't have shocked him more if she'd thrown off her clothes and danced in the nude.

"Yes." T'Pau's brow furrows. "I have listed here a Storek, son of S'chn T'gai Spock and his wife T'Pring, ten years of age, is that not correct?"

"Ah, yes. Storek, quite correct."

Spock is talking a good game by Vulcan standards, but by Human standards, he's a pretty awful liar, and by Jim's standards, it's like he's not even trying. If Jim had to guess, he'd say that Spock has never even heard of this kid before. He can see that Spock is thinking fast, Vulcan brain whirling, as Spock slowly says, "I apologize for my confusion, T'Pau; as I felt T'Pring's absence six months ago, I assumed that… our son… had perished with her."

"He was among the first to be evacuated – the Vulcan High Council apologizes for the delay in informing you of his survival. There has been much chaos and confusion."

"Understandable."

"A shuttle is leaving in three days which is scheduled to intersect with the Enterprise's posted flight plan. If it is expedient, Storek will be provided passage on that shuttle, and should reach your ship within the week."

"Thank you, T'Pau. That would indeed be most… expedient."

"Live long and prosper," T'Pau says, then closes communication before Spock has the chance to return the gesture.

"Captain," Spock says, looking as shaken as he ever does, "may I submit a request to be dismissed from my shift? It appears there are arrangements to be made that require my immediate attention."

Jim's internal Vulcan-to-Human translator figures that works out roughly to: "My personal business just got splattered all over the bridge and I'm so mortified that I wish the science console would swallow me up and spit out my bones. Failing that, I need to go hide in my quarters."

"Of course, Mr. Spock. Take as long as you need."

Spock heads for the turbolift, leaving an awkward-looking Sulu, a confused-looking Chekov, and a totally impassive Uhura – Here comes trouble, Jim thinks – behind with the captain.

A good friend, Jim figures, would not leave a guy to work through weirdness of this magnitude all by himself. Also, Jim can admit, he's totally inappropriately curious about what just went down.

"Mr. Sulu, you have the conn."

 

~*~

 

Over the past six months, Spock has gradually been cured of the delusion that he can prevent the captain from entering his quarters whenever the man so wishes. Therefore, when he hears the soft chime of the door, a few moments after retreating to the privacy of his quarters, he gracefully yields to the inevitable and allows Captain Kirk to enter.

"I do not wish to talk about it," Spock says, with little hope that his objections will have any effect on the force of nature that is James Tiberius Kirk when curious. Predictably, Kirk nods his assent, sits down silently in his usual chess-playing chair, and then begins his interrogation anyway.

"So. You're married?"

Spock does not grind his teeth. Such an action would be wildly illogical – not only would it fail to discourage the captain from his line of questioning, it would also place Spock at greater risk of future dental health problems.

"I was… I suppose a Human would say 'betrothed' to a Vulcan woman named T'Pring when we were both quite young: I was seven years of age, and she was eleven. I have not seen her for many years – the last time we spoke, I was fourteen years of age, and she was eighteen. What we shared was less than a marriage, but more than a betrothal. Our personalities were… not well matched. T'Pring died on Vulcan, like so many others. Through the bond, I felt her death."

"I'm sorry, Spock. That's… really terrible. I'm sorry." Kirk's eyes, when they seek Spock out, are somber, almost pitying, and Spock shakes his head.

"As I said, we were not well matched – we felt no affection for each other. Your sympathy, while appreciated, is unwarranted."

"You still miss her though, don't you? I can see it," Kirk says. "Your eyes – they're sad."

Since it seems to be Spock's appointed day for the unpleasant recollection of events from his Vulcan childhood, Kirk's echo of a bully's long-ago words hardly surprises Spock. Instead, he addresses Kirk's comment on its merits.

"I do… miss her," Spock admits. "I did not like T'Pring, but in some ways I did admire her, and at the very least, I had grown used to feeling her presence in the back of my mind. Even after six months, its absence is still… disconcerting."

"Plus, she's the mother of your child," Kirk says, watching Spock closely. "That's something right there – I mean, even if you didn't like her, that's still… that still makes her pretty special to you."

Spock says nothing, and the silence stretches.

"I knew it," Kirk says quietly. "I knew it back on the bridge, I could see it. You didn't even know this kid existed, did you?"

"I did not," Spock admits. He is unsure whether he should say more, but the captain is a friend, has gone to some lengths to earn his trust, and in truth, the situation is so complex and uncertain that Spock is not confident in his ability to come to the right conclusions in isolation. It may be that Kirk's unpredictable and unorthodox way of thinking will be beneficial to Spock's own thought processes.

"As I said, I had not seen T'Pring since she was eighteen. It is certainly possible that in the intervening years she could have given birth to a son, who is now ten years of age, but… it is not possible that he is mine."

Kirk draws a breath in sharply, and looks as if it pained him. When he sighs a heartfelt "Well, shit," all Spock can say is, "Indeed."

"There's absolutely no way he could be yours?" Kirk asks, his tone suggesting that he already knows the answer but hopes he is wrong.

"For many reasons, it is impossible. I last saw T'Pring when I was fourteen – at no point in our acquaintance had we ever participated in sexual congress, and even had we done so, simple mathematics would prove that this child must have been conceived significantly after our last meeting. Also, my biology, like that of most hybrids, means that I am and have always been sterile – I have had this confirmed by many tests," Spock concludes. He suspects he has done an insufficient job of concealing the degree to which that fact still troubles him, illogical though such a feeling is. His suspicion is confirmed when Kirk stands and places a hand on his shoulder in a common Human gesture of emotional support.

"So she… she cheated on you. That's rough," Kirk says, but then his eyes narrow, and he points at Spock accusingly. "You! You were cheating on her! With Uhura! I mean, that's not an excuse, but still, your moral high ground is looking a little shaky here, buddy."

"A Vulcan betrothal does not have the same expectations of fidelity as a Human marriage," Spock explains. "My relationship with Lieutenant Uhura was still very new when T'Pring passed away – it is still quite new even now." Spock ignores Kirk's blatant disbelief at Spock's characterization of a nine-month-long relationship as "new." On the matter of romantic relationships, especially those of any significant length or emotional significance, as in matters of warp physics, Spock trusts his own expertise beyond that of his captain.

"Had my relationship with Lieutenant Uhura ever become serious enough that our permanent monogamous bonding became imminently desirable, I would have been able to return to Vulcan to break the bond to T'Pring without any blame being attached to either of us. It is acceptable that members of a betrothed pair engage in other temporary romantic relationships before the bond is consummated, but if one has made other permanent plans, it is unacceptable to allow one's betrothed to continue in the misapprehension that the wedding will someday take place," Spock concludes, surprising himself with the hint of bitterness in his last words.

Kirk looks confused. "So you think that your wife had made these… other permanent plans? That she changed her mind? How do you know?"

Now Spock is equally confused. "Most alternative fertility techniques are incompatible with Vulcan biology. Therefore, I am secure in my assumption that, for a child to be conceived, T'Pring must have engaged in sexual congress with a male other than myself."

"Wait, wait, wait…" The captain's eyes appear to be nearly twice their usual size. Fascinating, Spock thinks.

"If you're saying that it's only cheating if you have sex… You're saying that you and Uhura aren't? That you never have?"

If Spock were not aware of the impossibility of such an outcome, he might fear that Captain Kirk's face was about to explode. As it is, though, Spock is merely slightly quizzical – if also somewhat impressed at the speed and facility with which Kirk is able to draw new and accurate conclusions from seemingly disparate pieces of data.

"I know that Humans in general, and you in particular, Captain, take a much more casual view of sex, but for Vulcans, it is a very serious matter. I assumed that you were aware of this. Lieutenant Uhura has always been very understanding of the values of our culture. Our relationship's success stems from our willingness to make reasonable compromises to each other's expectations. In any case, I fail to see what relevance this has to the subject at hand."

"I know, I know, I'm just having a really hard time wrapping my head around… wait, what are we calling 'sex' here? Because I know I've seen you two making out – so is it just no…" Kirk trails off and begins performing what Spock can only conclude is some type of obscene hand gesture.

"Relevance," Spock reminds him, in a tone that has caused several graduating classes of Starfleet cadets to flinch violently and drop their books.

"Right, sorry, yeah. Relevance. Kid." Kirk thinks for a minute. "So the kid's not yours. Your wife-betrothed-lady cheated on you with… who knows? But she let everybody think the kid was yours. Then she died, and since he's listed as your kid, now they all think you're going to raise him. But you've never seen him before."

"An apt summation of the situation as it stands."

"So what are you going to do?"

"I… I am unsure," Spock confesses. He has not suffered from this level of indecision since he was forced to choose between the serving on the Enterprise and rebuilding his race. Spock takes a seat on his own side of the chess table, and gestures for Kirk to sit across from him. Kirk obeys.

"Do you want advice? Do you want to just talk it out? What can I do here?"

Spock considers this.

"I believe that the most beneficial course of action may be a combination of those two strategies – if you would not mind, I will lay out for you my own understanding of this quandary, and then seek your perspective."

"Hit me."

Spock allows the colloquialism to pass without comment.

"I am… distressed at T'Pring's deception in attaching my name to this child. I do not know what he has been told – if he believes me to be his father, then I am sure that he resents me greatly for my absence in his life thus far. If he knows himself to be born out of wedlock, that is its own burden to bear. In either case, I imagine that his life has been quite difficult, even before the loss of his mother. I must admit a certain… empathy for his circumstances."

Kirk nods encouragingly, and miraculously, does not interrupt.

"Clearly the guiding principle must be the child's welfare. The Enterprise is frequently a dangerous place – I know that there is no policy against crew members' family members joining them on board, but it cannot be denied that we are frequently placed in great peril. And yet, for me to refuse his care, I would have to deny paternity to the Vulcan High Council. My suit would, of course, be confirmed on even the most cursory genetic investigation, but… I fear the consequences for the child."

Kirk frowns.

"Why's that? With there being so few of you, I'd think that there'd be lots of people on New Vulcan who would want to take in an orphan – there are probably hundreds of kids in that position right now."

"You do not speak any Vulcan, do you?" Spock asks, feeling a wash of weariness at the prospect of attempting to explain the intricacies of Vulcan culture to the captain. Some of his reaction must show on his face – Kirk scowls at Spock and throws up his hands.

"Why does everybody always assume I'm an idiot? Yeah, actually, I do speak some Vulcan, thanks, Spock. I wasn't just in the Xenolinguistics Club to pick up girls and annoy Uhura. I had other reasons!"

Spock allows a moment to give that statement the lack of reaction that it deserves.

"Then are you familiar with the word kre'nath?"

Kirk's face screws up and he drums his fingers – it is quite a performance. Eventually he sighs and shakes his head.

"Nah, I got nothing. Something about shame, I think. That's all I've got."

Spock is mildly surprised. "Very good, Captain."

"I got it right?"

"Kre'nath is, literally, 'the shamed one.' It is also the Vulcan word for 'illegitimate child.'"

Spock watches that sink in – some of the animation leaves Kirk's face, and the line of his shoulders tightens.

"I get it," he says softly. "You can't just leave this kid out in the cold. Well, you can, but… don't." Kirk's voice is subdued, almost pleading. "Don't do that. I mean, not that I think you really would, but… you wanted my advice? Here it is – don't abandon this kid to that kind of… shunning, or whatever. Take it from me: if I was this kid, I'd take life on the Enterprise any day, even if it meant being scared sometimes."

"You speak as if you have personal experience," Spock says, hoping for elaboration. Kirk obliges, smiling tightly with no humor.

"Let me put it this way. I've had people look at me that way – like there's something wrong with me, like I should be ashamed of myself – and when it happens now, I don't give a shit. Sometimes I even get a kick out of it. And that's 'cause I know they're wrong. But when you're a kid, you don't know that. You can't. And when everybody around you thinks something like that, you start to think it, too. And that… that fucks you up. Just saying."

Kirk attempts a laugh, but Spock finds it unconvincing. He tells Kirk, "Thank you," for it is clear that the captain has gifted him with something very painful and personal, and that he has revealed himself out of a sincere effort to help Spock reach the right conclusions in this matter. His thinking is very much in line with Spock's own – after all, Spock's childhood also took place in a general atmosphere of disapproval, mitigated only by his mother's unquestioning love. It is not an experience to which he would care to subject any other child.

"I believe you are correct, Captain. There is no other choice that I can, in good conscience, make. I am not responsible for T'Pring's deception, but neither is this child. I am under no illusions about my own potential as a parent – indeed, I must confess that I…" Spock trails off.

"You're afraid you might suck at it," Kirk supplies.

"…indeed."

Kirk shrugs.

"Well, for the half a credit it's worth to you, I think you'll be great at it."

Spock feels the thread of disturbance that he often feels when the captain speaks disparagingly about himself, and cannot help but correct the captain's misapprehension.

"On the contrary, Captain, your faith in me is worth a good deal more than a half credit… as is… your friendship." It is often the case that the things Spock find most difficult to say are the things that Captain Kirk most enjoys hearing – this particular declaration seems to be no exception. Kirk's smile this time is real, and it transforms his face as it always does.

"We make a good team," is all he says, but it is not difficult for Spock to discern that the captain is gratified by Spock's reply.

Spock nods his assent – against all odds, the captain's advice and understanding have, indeed, been of great assistance to Spock in clarifying his own thinking, and Spock is not insensible of the fact that this is the type of situation in which there are few others on whom Spock could rely for such aid.

"Let me know if there's anything I can do for you and the kid, Spock, okay? Officially or unofficially – as Captain James T. Kirk, or as a friend."

"I thank you, Captain. Should any problems occur, I will certainly consult you."

"Do something for me in return?" Kirk's eyes are crackling with amusement, which is almost never a good sign for Spock's calm, or for the smooth and orderly conduct of the ship's affairs. Spock motions for Kirk to go on, resigned.

"Call me Jim, Spock. Seriously. Stop making me ask."

This is not the first time that the captain has made such a request, but this is the first time that Spock seriously considers complying. In this conversation, Spock has made himself vulnerable to Kirk, and instead of treating that trust casually, the captain has returned the gesture, giving of himself. Spock acknowledges that he has little first-hand experience with friendship, but it seems to him that, from what he knows second-hand, Kirk's actions today have been the actions of a true friend, and deserve to be rewarded with greater familiarity.

"Thank you… Jim."

"That's more like it!" Kirk grins, and leans back in his chair. "Chess tonight?"

"I believe that I will take the opportunity to have a conversation with Lieutenant Uhura – perhaps tomorrow night?"

"Sounds good to me. Good luck with Uhura!" Kirk calls as he backs out of the door. Spock ponders his parting comment. It seems that the captain anticipates that his conversation with Nyota will present a significant difficulty; Spock hopes very much that he is mistaken.

 

~*~

 

"You're married?"

Nyota is fully, beautifully Human, and Spock cherishes that about her – she has never seemed Vulcan to him, nor would he want her to.

That said, she suddenly reminds him very much of a Vulcan woman at this moment – it is the way that the depth of her anger shows, not by explosions of sound or flashing eyes, but by ever-increasing ominous calm.

"You're married with kids?"

"Nyota, if you would allow me to explain—"

"Oh, I'll allow you to explain, Spock – in fact, I'm begging you to explain. All I can say is that this better be a really excellent explanation, do you understand? The best explanation you've ever given or I've ever heard."

Spock does explain – he tells her nearly everything that he told Captain Kirk, explains the circumstances of his betrothal to T'Pring, her death, her betrayal, his ignorance, his resolve, his responsibility, the child's precarious future. He ends by asking her, formally but with as much emotion as he can muster, if she would be willing to become this small stranger's mother, to help him in this daunting task which he has set himself.

"I know it is a great deal to ask – I know it is sudden…"

"It is a lot to ask," Nyota says quietly, her eyes sad. "It's too much. Spock, you lied to me."

The accusation, coming after what Spock believed to be a very accurate and exhaustive explanation of the circumstances, catches Spock by surprise. Although he disagrees, strenuously, he remembers the importance of compromise.

"I may have failed to mention—" he begins, but Nyota cuts him off with a sharp gesture.

"You lied, even if only by omission. You were married all this time—"

"Betrothed—" Spock attempts to interject, but she stares him down.

"That's a translation quibble and we both know it. Whichever way you translate it, it's pretty unpleasant to get nine months into a relationship, and then find out that you're the other woman."

Spock is both bewildered and ashamed – an extremely unpleasant combination. It is clear that Nyota has taken the events of the past day to imply some lack of respect for her on his part… perhaps even a deliberate and callous disregard. He attempts to apologize.

"Nyota, I regret that I have upset you. At the outset of our relationship, I assumed that your familiarity with Vulcan culture and expertise in our customs would lead you to assume that I had entered into such a bond, which is standard for our people."

Nyota's eyes are bright with liquid when she looks at him, furious.

"And I assumed, based on my familiarity with Vulcan culture and expertise in your customs, that I might have to put up with a lot from a Vulcan boyfriend – emotional distance, lack of sexual intimacy, parental disapproval – but you know, the one thing I thought I'd be spared, at least, was the lying and the cheating."

Spock could admire the acuteness of her strike if he were not its target – as it stands, all he can do is stare intently at the carpeting and attempt to reassert his increasingly tattered control.

"I'm sorry, Spock," Nyota says softly. "That was out of line."

Spock says nothing.

"And maybe you are right – maybe I should have assumed… or better yet, just asked. But it's all a moot point anyway, Spock."

Spock looks up from the carpet to meet her eyes, warily.

"I do not understand. Please clarify."

Nyota pauses, and Spock takes the opportunity to observe her posture; she appears to have folded in on herself, her usual poise seeming somehow diminished.

"Spock, even if you had been up front with me from the beginning, and everything between us was fine… I still can't be what you want. I don't want to be anybody's mother – not yet. I'm not ready for that. Maybe someday. But right now, I have my career just getting started – I'm just figuring out my own life, Spock. I'm not ready to be in charge of anyone else's. I'm sorry. I can't be your son's new mother."

Anger is the emotion with which Spock is most comfortable – he attempts to summon it in an ill-considered attempt to replace the hurt and confusion that are currently interfering with his control, but fails.

"Since that is the case, I believe the most logical course of action would be to terminate our romantic relationship," Spock says, with only the slightest catch in his voice, and he ignores the spark of illogical disappointment when Nyota nods sadly and says, "That's probably best."

 

~*~

 

Jim is a little surprised to see Spock in his quarters again so soon, especially looking as starched and formal as he did during the first awkward days of this mission, when they were still uncomfortably trying to work around the attempted mutiny, murder and marooning that both of them wanted pretty badly to forget.

"I thought you were going to hang out with Uhura tonight."

"The lieutenant and I spoke," Spock says stiffly. He stands there at attention, with his hands behind his back, looking totally blank, and he won't meet Jim's eyes -- that's when Jim starts to worry.

"Captain—"

"Jim," he insists.

"Captain," Spock repeats. "I am here to tender my resignation from Starfleet, effective immediately. Please place me in some location with access to civilian transport as soon as is practical."

Jim is floored. I really thought we were done with this shit. What did Uhura say to him? Or… fuck, are they both resigning?

"Okay, first of all, resignation totally not accepted," says Jim, narrowing his eyes. "Second of all, what's going on with you, Spock?"

"I do not understand your query."

Jim snorts. "That's bullshit. You know what I mean, Spock. When you were in here a couple of hours ago, you told me everything was going to be fine; we were having a heart-to-heart, you and this Vulcan kid were going to be playing happy families, you and Uhura were going to be Starfleet parents of the year… and now you want to leave Starfleet? Are you crazy?"

Jim knows it's bad when Spock doesn't even raise an eyebrow at him.

"I am in full command of my mental faculties, and I have come to this decision through simple logic."

Jim examines Spock – the way he's looking fixedly over Jim's head rather than meeting his gaze, the tension in the corners of his eyes, the sharp line of his elbows where the tension of his hands is keeping them locked…

"She dumped you!" Jim blurts out, "I can't believe she did that!" Which is true – even though Jim's been telling Bones for the past six months that he has no idea how that relationship even works, he's always privately been a little jealous of how happy they seem, how well they get along.

Now, at least, he gets a reaction out of Spock, who gives Jim the look he always summons when Jim proves that you don't need logic to make stunning deductions – it's both a lot less funny and a lot less insulting than usual.

"Lieutenant Uhura and I have mutually decided to terminate our romantic relationship," Spock confirms, and Jim privately thinks that "mutual" thing is a crock, but he's got bigger fish to fry right now.

"Listen, Spock," Jim says. "I have been through some awkward breakups of my own, let me tell you, but resigning from Starfleet is not the way to deal with this, seriously! You and Uhura are professionals, you can get past this--"

"It is not my professionalism I doubt… Jim. It is my ability as a parent." Spock's voice is quiet, as if he's admitting a secret that he doesn't want the walls to hear.

"So this does have something to do with the kid," Jim says, and Spock nods.

"That is correct. When I first came to the decision to assume parental responsibilities for T'Pring's child, I did so under the assumption that Lieutenant Uhura would be my partner in child-rearing. Now that I know that assumption to be incorrect, I must make alternate plans: I must go to New Vulcan with Storek."

"Uhura would have made a great mom, definitely, but look – you wouldn't be the only single parent in the fleet," Jim argues; Spock gives his head the slightest shake.

"I do not believe myself… qualified… to be the sole parental influence on this child, nor am I qualified to be solely responsible for his care and welfare. My position as First Officer is time-consuming and frequently dangerous – if I were to be detained or injured, there would be no one to care for the boy, and I also cannot commit, alone, to the constant supervision that most children require. With a partner to share these responsibilities, those obstacles would not have been insurmountable, but as the situation stands, I cannot in good conscience take sole responsibility for Storek. On New Vulcan, there will be resources to support me in this task – a new wife is the most likely solution."

At no point in this speech has Spock actually looked away from that fixed point in space over Jim's left shoulder that he apparently finds so fascinating; Jim's pretty damn tired of it.

"Look me in the eyes," Jim demands, and when Spock hesitates, Jim repeats the order, more brusquely. "Look me in the eyes and tell me this is what you want."

When Spock finally meets Jim's gaze, Jim understands why he was so reluctant: when Jim couldn't see Spock's eyes, he could almost believe that Spock didn't care, but now, Spock's cover is blown. He cares. He cares a lot. He's fucking miserable, and he's still going to walk away from this ship and this life, because Jim has somehow fallen into the habit of becoming friends with good men, after so many years of nothing like it. Damn it.

"What I want is… irrelevant," Spock says, sounding as if he's rehearsed this a hundred times. "Only what is necessary is relevant. I cannot raise a child alone, and there is no one aboard the Enterprise now with whom I can share this responsibility. Therefore, logically—"

Jim suddenly holds up a hand to stop him. Something, some phrase or idea in what Spock just said is tugging at his brain, catching on it like a jagged fingernail on a piece of cloth. Jim knows this feeling by now – it's the feeling he always gets when he's about to come up with the kind of idea that makes Bones yell, and makes Spock twitch, and makes Uhura glare, but ultimately ends with everybody still alive and mostly unharmed. It's a feeling he's learned to trust.

"I think…" he starts, then trails off, still not ready to commit to words the idea that's gathering in his mind like a planet accreting from bits of rock and dust. Another man might take some time to think something of this magnitude through – Spock certainly would. Jim Kirk, though… That's not really my style, he thinks, and smiles.

"Let's do it," Jim says decisively.

"What?" Spock's reaction to this particular Jim Kirk Spectacularly Awesome Bad Idea is even better than usual – there's something a Human might almost recognize as genuine shock in his face and voice.

"You and me," Jim says, getting surer by the second. "Let's do it. This parenting thing. Together."

"Captain, I'm afraid I am currently suffering under some sort of delusion that your offer is serious…"

"I am serious." And Jim is. Like a heart attack. He never saw this coming, but Jim thinks it's possible he's never been this serious in his life. "I refuse to let you leave, and I refuse to let you screw over this nameless kid I've never met—"

"His name is Storek—"

"Whatever. And I refuse to let you go it alone, because that would suck for pretty much everybody."

Spock at a loss for words is kind of a novel experience, and if Jim weren't privately freaking out about the magnitude of the responsibility he's about to sign up for, he might be pretty entertained by it.

"Captain… Jim…I cannot allow you to—"

"No." Jim stands up and puts both his hands flat on his desk, getting into Spock's personal space. "Listen, if you want to tell me 'no' because you think I'd be a shitty parent, that's totally fair, I'd probably even agree with you, okay? But you are not allowed to turn me down to spare my feelings, or because you don't want to impose, or because you think it'd be unprofessional – I absolutely will not accept that. You can turn me down for the kid's sake, Storek's sake, if you think you've got to – hell, maybe you should – but you are not allowed to turn me down for your sake, and least of all for my sake, okay? I'm a grown-up, I can make my own damn decisions for myself."

Jim thinks that his point might have gotten lost in there somewhere, but hopefully most of it got through.

"Jim…" Spock says, sounding as bewildered as a Vulcan gets, "I confess that I am at a loss."

"You can take some time to think about it… I mean, you really should," Jim assures him quickly. "I mean—" Jim winces. "—one of us should, right?"

"Indeed," says Spock, although not with the level of snottiness that Jim was expecting, considering the circumstances. "If you will excuse me, I must think on this in solitude, and at some greater length. I do appreciate your offer, and I will consider it seriously." Spock turns to leave, but hesitates, and turns back to face Jim.

"Capt—Jim, if I may ask a personal query…"

Jim waves his hand – Yeah, yeah, go for it. Spock takes a moment to put together his thoughts. When he speaks, Jim can detect a hint of something more than just curiosity in his voice.

"I believe I understand your motivation for discouraging me from leaving the Enterprise… but that goal could just as easily be achieved by persuading me to reject my parental responsibilities, leaving me unencumbered."

Jim waits for there to be an actual question, but when he realizes that's it, he doesn't have to think.

"If you were the kind of man who could be persuaded to abandon a kid like that who needed you, I wouldn't want you on my ship."

 

~*~

 

Spock shows up right on schedule for their chess game the next night – he doesn't bring up the kid, and Jim doesn't either. It's not their best game – We're both distracted, Jim thinks – but he fights for it, and when Spock checkmates him, Jim mutters, "Damn it."

Spock pauses in that way he has that tells Jim that he's got something to say and wants Jim to pay attention.

"As… frustrating as you find me, you should be aware that Storek, although young, will likely be equally… frustrating to you."

When it hits Jim, he grins, and feels pretty damn good about himself.

"Is that a yes? That's a yes, isn't it?"

Very pointedly ignoring him, Spock goes on. "Caring for Storek will not be like caring for a Human child. His emotions, while deep, will be extremely restrained, and he will be embarrassed by displays of emotion that might be necessary to the psychological health of a Human boy."

"It'll be like dealing with you," Jim interrupts, nodding, unruffled. "I can do that."

Spock lets the silence stretch.

"What?" Jim says, putting on a look of fake-innocence, spreading his hands. "You know you can't resist me – it's okay, you can admit it."

"I admire you as an officer in spite of your recklessness, immaturity and pointless affinity for confrontation and meaningless sexual gratification," Spock allows. "And your company is… not unpleasant."

"Uh-huh," Kirk says, leaning back in his chair, still grinning. "Not unpleasant… I know that one. For a Vulcan, that's pretty much saying you want to braid flowers in my hair and call me up on the comm just to hear me breathe."

"In any case," Spock says quellingly, "while Storek is young, and therefore much more openly emotional than an adult Vulcan would be, he is also a full-blooded Vulcan, not a hybrid like myself, and will, therefore, possess more developed emotional control than I did at his age. In addition, it is difficult to predict the consequences of the destruction of Vulcan and the loss of his mother, in terms of his psychological wellbeing. I suspect that interacting with Storek will require extreme tact, sensitivity, and, for lack of a better term, diplomacy."

Jim knows he shouldn't be pissed at Spock's low expectations – a lot of the time, Jim encourages them, either for fun or because it's sometimes good to have people underestimate him. Fortunately, Jim is a Human, and he's plenty at peace with his illogical emotions – he can be mad even though he knows it's stupid.

"Spock… I do actually know how to be a little bit sensitive. I'm not going to get in his face and tell him he didn't love his mother, if that's what you're afraid of."

Jim winces when he hears himself, but Spock just raises an eyebrow again.

"Should Storek ever become captain of a starship which you believe yourself entitled to command, I will acknowledge that there is cause for alarm. The situation as it stands, though, does not trouble me." More softly, he says, "Jim… I understood almost immediately your true motive – and it was not cruelty."

Jim nods, and lets the serious moment settle for a bit before grinning and rocking forward in his chair again.

"So that's a yes, right? I mean, basically, all of this is a 'Yes, Jim, it is only logical that you should have my Vulcan babies,' am I right?"

"The odds of…" Spock pauses. "I am unsure which of the many illogical implications of that sentence I should engage with first."

Jim laughs. "Leave 'em all, that's what I say. You want the quarters on the other side of mine? They have an extra attached room that could be the kid's."

"His name is Storek."

"And by the time he arrives, I'll have it engraved on my heart, okay?" Jim rolls his eyes. "Room, yes, no?"

"That arrangement does indeed sound logical."

"So, yes," Jim says, starting to ride the thin edge between triumph and panic. "Do you want to take care of the other practical stuff, or should I?"

"I am able to resolve the necessary practical matters."

Thank fuck, Jim thinks fervently. I have an urgent appointment with Bones and his medicinal whiskey stash.

"Awesome. Keep me apprised." Jim frowns. "Is that a word? I'm pretty sure that's a word."

"It is," says Spock.

"You're a little surprised yourself, aren't you?" Jim asks, grinning in a way that he knows Spock thinks is obnoxious.

"I cannot say that I spend much thought on the – no doubt fascinating – development and usage of your vocabulary," Spock says in that fantastic dry way that Jim's gotten a kick out of since the very first day, because he knows that Spock's not the kind of guy who invites just everybody in on the joke, but somehow Jim got to be on the inside even when he still had the marks of Spock's hands on his throat. It's something he earned.

"I will begin the necessary administrative paperwork immediately," Spock says, standing an iota straighter, which is his usual signal that he's about to leave.

"Hey, Spock…" Jim says, and Spock raises an eyebrow as if prompting him. "Thank you," Jim says, very quietly. It's not what he wanted to say – that would probably involve words like "trust" and "family" and end up embarrassing the hell out of both of them – but it's pretty close.

"I find myself very grateful to you, as well," Spock replies. There's a terrifying moment when Jim thinks that Spock might be about to attempt to talk about his feelings, but it passes, and Spock departs Jim's quarters with a simple nod.

That went well, Jim thinks. And then, shit, shit, shit! BONES! HELP!

 

~*~

 

"I'm not gonna like this, am I?" Bones asks grimly when Jim shows up in his quarters with two shot glasses at an hour when most crewmembers on their shift are already asleep.

"No," Jim replies equally grimly. He digs the doctor's bottle of whiskey out from under the bed, pours Bones a shot, then hands it to him. "Drink," Jim says. "You're going to need it."

"This night just gets better and better," Bones mutters, but he drinks. Jim pours himself a matching shot, and drinks it down with no formalities.

"You gonna tell me what's going on now?" Bones asks, but Jim just shakes his head, and pours each of them second shot.

"You're going to need this one, too," he says, and the two shots go down smooth.

"How many times are we going to do this little song and dance routine?" Bones asks, and Jim shakes his head.

"That's it. I mean, I think at some point in this conversation, we're both going to want some more, and by the end, Bones, I think your bottle is going to have passed into that beautiful afterlife where empty bottles of booze go when they've served their rightful purpose, but there's not really ever going to be a good time to tell you this, so I might as well get it over with now. I'm adopting Spock's kid."

Bones stares at Jim until the captain starts to feel pretty uncomfortable.

"The worst part," says Bones, after a couple long minutes, "the hell of it, the absolute hellish thing about it is that I can tell you're completely serious. Tell me you're not serious."

"I am."

"Pass me that bottle."

After they each have one more shot, Bones gives Jim a long, considering look that Jim's not quite sure how to interpret, then says, "I almost can't believe I'm about to say this, but, Jim: this is not the dumbest idea you've ever had."

Jim is shocked at how relieved that makes him feel. "Th-thank you," he stammers out, overwhelmed and kind of embarrassed.

"I mean," Bones continues, "I could tell you all the millions of things that could go wrong, but something about the look on your face tells me you've already got all of them playing in front of you like an old-fashioned motion picture." When Jim nods gratefully, Bones shrugs. "Thing is, you're probably no less qualified for this whole fatherhood business than I was when Joanna was born, and I… I did okay. I always thought so, anyway. I think most people do okay, if they've got the temperament for it. And for all that you're a self-destructive freakshow of recklessness—"

"Tell me how you really feel, Bones," Jim mutters.

"—You are actually something resembling a responsible person, in the sense that you've been responsible for this ship and crew for six months and the ship's still in one piece and the crew's still mostly sane… well, as sane as they were when they started, which isn't saying much."

Uncomfortable with real praise, the way he always is, Jim smiles it away and changes the subject.

"Well, I'll always be able to call on you for sage advice, isn't that right, Bones?"

He'd meant to make Bones groan and start some tirade about how he's a doctor, not a parenting counselor, but Jim can tell from the slow, careful way that Bones pours his next shot that somehow, that hit close to home.

"How old's the kid?" is all Bones says.

"Ten."

"I… haven't seen Joanna since she was seven, so. Don't know how much good I'll be. But you're welcome to ask anyway."

Jim stares at Bones, and Bones stares at the bottom of his shot glass, and the shot glass stares back. I didn't know, Jim wants to say, but he should have known – would have, if he wasn't such a self-absorbed dumbfuck. What did he think it meant, when Bones had nothing better to do over school vacation than hang around with Jim in scuzzy bars – when did he think Bones was finding the time to see his little girl?

In the end, Jim gives up on the apology he knows Bones doesn't want. "You'll be my resident expert," he promises instead.

Bones pours a shot into Jim's glass, and when Jim tries to demur, Bones just shakes his head ominously and says, "You're gonna want this. Last one, I promise, but… you're going to want this one."

Jim drinks it, looking suspiciously at Bones, who seems to be working up his courage – what for, Jim can't guess. Eventually, Bones steels himself visibly and says, "Speaking of incredibly painful topics that neither of us wants to touch… I know this might be extra tough for you because of… what you told me back when…"

Oh, fuck no. Four shots are not enough for this shit. Bones should have just given him the bottle.

"I thought we weren't talking about that – for two years," says Jim. Bones looks some weird combination of pissed and guilty.

"We aren't – I mean, we didn't, I just… oh, hell. Look, Jim, if you want to talk about it—"

Jim smiles, and it feels the same as when he smiles with a split lip, with a black eye – raw and ugly.

"Bones, trust me when I tell you that there is nothing in this entire galaxy that I want less than to 'talk about it.' Really."

"Well, bite my head off, why don't you," Bones grumbles. "And if you change your mind, I've got bourbon and a good listening ear."

"I'll give you that one," Jim allows.

"It's not like you can talk about it with that green-blooded bastard—"

"Bones. That's enough," Jim says sharply, and he means it.

"Sorry," Bones says gruffly. They sit for a moment, awkwardly avoiding each other's eyes, and Jim thinks to himself that one of the great things about having Bones for a best friend (and that's what he is – Spock is… something else) is knowing that Bones is wishing just as desperately as Jim is for some way to lighten the mood, some way to bring things back to room temperature. As usual for Bones, the strategy he picks is to grab the bottle and pour himself another shot. He motions as if to pour one for Jim, but Jim waves him off, and Bones raises an eyebrow. Jim mutters something that includes the words "responsible" and "example" and possibly "role model," which makes Bones snort.

"So…" Bones drawls, a disturbing twinkle in his eye, "You're going to be Spock's wife, is what you're telling me."

Jim holds up his hands, alarmed. On the one hand, he appreciates that Bones is trying to lighten the mood, but not the other hand… just no. Hell no.

"No, no, no, 'co-parent,' or, you know, why do we have to label things, anyway, that's such a destructive impulse, don't you think—"

"No, no," Bones says, shaking his head, clearly enjoying the hell out of himself. "You're definitely his wife. You know, I'm technically still empowered to officiate at weddings after that mission on Krithaa with the—"

Jim points a finger at him threateningly, narrowing his eyes. "Bones, if I hear a single member of this crew refer to me as Spock's 'wife,' I will know exactly who's responsible, and I will stab you in the face with one of your own hyposprays, I swear I will," Jim vows, but they're both laughing too hard for Bones to take him seriously, and that's all right. Bones is pretending to scribble something on his PADD, muttering about correcting Jim's out-of-date marital status – Jim rolls his eyes.

"You live to do this shit to me, don't you?" he asks, and Bones throws him an incredulous look.

"I do this shit to you? I put a phaser to your head and forced you to sign up to raise a ten-year-old Vulcan six months after you became the youngest and craziest captain in Starfleet history?"

"Yes?" Jim hazards, unwilling to take the blame, but when Bones glares at him and pours himself yet another shot, Jim admits, "I do it to myself. But that doesn't mean you have to give me shit for it!"

"Yes, it does," Bones replies, in a tone of voice that says that he thinks Jim is the biggest idiot he's ever met, no contest. Jim knows that's not true – Ensign Varma was in sickbay three days ago after accidentally shooting herself in the ass with her own phaser – but Bones has been using that tone of voice on him for three years now, and after all this time, he kind of enjoys it.

"I'm your friend, Jim, god help us both," says Bones, as if to a small, not very bright child. "That means I absolutely have to give you shit for it. That's pretty much the goddamn definition."

Jim thinks about that, and admits that, for the two of them, that's probably true. Of course, that means it's also Jim's solemn duty to give Bones shit for the dumb things that he does, but tonight, he just wants to enjoy the calm before the storm with somebody who's always had his back – and that's just what he's going to do.

"No, Bones," Jim says, shaking his head slowly in mock-disappointment, "I can see where you're coming from, but you've got it all wrong. You want to know the real definition of a best friend?"

Bones rolls his eyes tolerantly and says, "Hit me, kid." Jim slouches down in his chair and raises his hands as if explaining the mysteries of the universe.

"A best friend, Bones, is somebody who will sit up with you in your cramped and ugly quarters for as long as it takes you to finish that bottle or pass out, whichever comes first, then wrestle you into your bed and out of your boots, and then, out of love and understanding, not make you listen to loud noises or look at bright lights in the morning."

Bones considers this. "You could be onto something there," he concedes.

Jim smiles a winner's smile.

"I usually am," he says, and sticks around until his duties as a best friend have been fully discharged.

 

~*~

 

Spock stares at the blank vidscreen in his quarters. Logically, he knows that continuing to postpone this conversation will not make it any easier. Nor is his anxiety in any way productive. He inputs the necessary sequence and runs his tongue over his lips to moisten them. When the older Vulcan's face appears on the screen, Spock inclines his head and says, "Father."

"Spock."

The two of them regard each other in silence for several long moments. For more than eight years – from the time of Spock's departure for Starfleet to the time of Vulcan's destruction – Spock had not spoken to his father. They have attempted to communicate more regularly in the past six months, but they are out of practice with each other.

"I received a communication from T'Pau three days ago," Spock says.

"Regarding T'Pring's son," Sarek says, as expressionless as ever. Spock suppresses a wave of irritation.

"You knew of this child's existence?" he asks.

"Certainly not, Spock," Sarek reproves him. "I learned of him only when the matter came before the council – only hours before T'Pau contacted you. Is it true that you have decided to claim him as your own?"

"Indeed, Father."

"You know that it is impossible that he is your son," Sarek says, and Spock inclines his head.

"Indeed. I also know how cruel Vulcan children can be to those whom they perceive to be different, or outcast."

"Then your decision is most praiseworthy."

Spock conceals his start of surprise. He had not expected that his father would approve of his decision to claim T'Pring's son – it was, Spock is forced to admit, a decision of compassion rather than logic. The logical course of action, and the truthful one, would have been to deny paternity, to refuse to allow T'Pring's illogical and immoral behavior to upend Spock's own life, rupturing his romantic relationship with Lieutenant Uhura and forcing Spock into a most unorthodox and somewhat uncomfortable new alliance with Captain Kirk. To hear his father praise his deceitful and illogical conclusion is utterly unexpected, but Spock cannot deny that it pleases him.

"Thank you, Father," he says simply.

"I assume you will be returning to New Vulcan soon," says Sarek. "I look forward to welcoming you and your son. The colony will benefit greatly from your contributions."

"I will not be leaving the Enterprise, Father," Spock says, narrowing his eyes slightly. "Arrangements have been made for Storek's care and education on board. I will, of course, visit New Vulcan when the Enterprise's schedule permits, but I see no logical reason to abandon my commitments to Starfleet when there exists a way to fulfill my obligations both to the Enterprise and to the child."

"A Vulcan should be raised among Vulcans, Spock. It is only logical that an environment of rationality, intellectual aspiration, and emotional control is best suited to producing an adult well versed in those qualities."

Spock considers this argument. It is true that being raised on Vulcan, among Vulcans, has given Spock a keen grasp and appreciation of logic, and has supplied him with an emotional control without which he would be incapable of contributing constructively to his community. His Vulcan upbringing has gifted him with a unique perspective that allows him to support the Federation in general and the Enterprise in particular, by providing a complementary balance to the instinct and intuition of the captain and other Humans.

It is also true that being raised on Vulcan, among Vulcans, had left Spock utterly, at times embarrassingly, unprepared for the diverse and chaotic world that he had encountered with Starfleet. It was clearly an inadequate education for a citizen of the larger galaxy. It had also, illogically, sought to blind him to the role of emotion in many positive processes – cementing interpersonal relationships, making moral decisions with limited time for reflection, and maintaining psychological health and balance under stressful circumstances. Spock's Vulcan education had instilled in him an unnecessary and, at times, destructive attitude of shame toward his own emotions and contempt toward the emotions of others, which was only partially mitigated by the influence of his Human mother.

"I confess myself somewhat ambivalent about the long-term results of my own Vulcan upbringing and education, Father," Spock says evenly. "While I do not regret the training I received, and while I would never imply that it was less than excellent, I also believe it to have been somewhat… incomplete. I am confident in the ability of the Enterprise to supply a learning environment that, while different in its outward aspects from a Vulcan school, will still supply a rigorous education based on Surak's precepts. I would, of course, welcome any insight that you may have to offer into the process of constructing such a curriculum, and defer to your greater experience."

Sarek regards Spock in silence. As the seconds pass without interruption, Spock feels his previous anxiety return. Finally, Sarek speaks.

"You do not detect any irony, Spock, in the fact that you are informing me that you welcome my insight and defer to my experience while you are, in fact, in the very act of ignoring my recommendation and refuting my conclusion?"

Spock is stricken – his father has not spoken so harshly to him since Mother died. Yet… Spock looks closer. Unlikely as it seems, there is something not unlike a glint of humor in his father's eyes.

"You have always had your own way of doing things, Spock," Sarek says, and his tone holds no condemnation. "I wanted you to become the ideal Vulcan by joining the Vulcan Science Academy – instead, you made an unmatchable contribution to the Vulcan people by joining Starfleet. For nearly a decade, I believed that you had chosen to live outside of my values, and rejected you – instead, you spent that decade pursuing and embodying those values in a way I could never have predicted. I attempted to persuade you to purge all emotion in order that you might be strong – instead, those very emotions gave you the strength to avenge your mother… and your people. It is only logical that, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, I accept that you, my son, may often exceed my hopes and expectations best when you act most in opposition to my wishes. I trust that a similar phenomenon may manifest itself in the case of your raising of young Storek."

Spock can think of no previous experience by which he may judge this utterly unexpected statement. Leaving aside the portion of his discomfort that arises from the uncomfortable comparison between himself and Captain Kirk that his father's words cannot help but evoke, it is only in the transporter room of the Enterprise, six months previously, that Sarek had first indicated that he might not utterly disapprove of the majority of Spock's choices – to hear so firm an approbation so suddenly is extremely surprising.

Speaking from an illogical and sudden feeling of closeness with his father, Spock returns Sarek's confession with one of his own: "I spoke in error in my previous statement – I told you that I am confident in my ability to raise Storek aboard the Enterprise, but truthfully, I fear that I may be unequal to the task. I had, in fact, planned to resign my Starfleet commission in order to better discharge my parental duties, but one of my fellow officers stepped in and volunteered to aid me. I admit that I am far from confident in my ability to fulfill all of the necessary roles that a parent must. I was sincere when I requested your advice."

Sarek nods solemnly.

"I am gratified by your trust in me, Spock. I vow to supply you with my advice whenever you request it. And, moreover, I vow to keep any displeasure to myself, should you choose to ignore my advice when it is given."

The six months since the death of Spock's mother have been turbulent, personally and professionally. There has been much that Spock must do, both in his capacity as First Officer of the Enterprise, and in his capacity as a grieving son, and a grieving child of Vulcan. It is perhaps, then, excusable that Spock has not spent much of those six months since his father's extraordinary revelation reflecting upon the new knowledge of his father that he gained that day. He has not, before this moment, truly considered what sort of man – what sort of Vulcan – his father must have been, to have fallen in love with a Human woman and married her, in defiance of his family, his culture, and his entire world; to have chosen a career of diplomacy, pursuing the unfamiliarity and illogic of other stars and other peoples, rather than remaining safe within Vulcan's cocoon of logic; to have raised a half-Human son without apology, without ever once expecting less of that son than of any full-Vulcan child.

"I am very grateful," Spock says, meaning every word. "I will endeavor to give you no cause to feel any such displeasure."

"Do not trouble yourself with it unduly," Sarek says calmly. "All Vulcans, at some point in our lives, feel displeasure, and to my knowledge, it has not been proven to have caused irreparable harm to any."

Spock can feel his eyes widen. I must assume that my father is utterly in earnest, Spock resolves. The alternative is too startling for me to accept with equanimity. Vulcans, as I have frequently explained to many of my fellow Starfleet officers, do not joke.

"Storek will arrive in four days, Father," says Spock, attempting to set aside his father's previous statement. "If there is any advice that you can offer that may prepare me for our first meeting, I request that you share it."

"Without having met the boy personally, it is difficult for me to advise you in this – as you are well aware, all Vulcans, including children, have their own distinct personalities. Additionally, I do not know how T'Pring raised him, or even whether he believes you to be his father in truth," Sarek says, looking somewhat troubled. "All that I can offer is this general warning: these past six months have witnessed many changes in the Vulcan race. None of us can deny the existence of our emotions any longer – the web of grief ensnares us all, and has broken some of the weaker minds among us. Do not expect young Storek to be analogous to the Vulcan children you remember from your own youth. Even the children have been changed by this tragedy, and I cannot tell you what you will find in the young one's mind. My advice is to meet the child with as few preconceptions as you can."

Spock thinks of a Human aphorism – "expect the unexpected" – that has always seemed to him perfectly inane until this moment; a logical impossibility that has now become a moral necessity.

"Thank you for your advice," Spock says to his father, grave. "I will follow it. I will keep you appraised of my progress in parenting, and consult you frequently on the subject, if you are amenable."

"Please do so."

Spock begins to say farewell, but Sarek forestalls him, saying, "If I may ask a personal query…"

Somewhat nonplussed – it seems illogical to ask permission now, at the end of what has already been a deeply personal discussion – Spock assents.

"You had mentioned, Spock, that one of your fellow officers would be joining you in raising Storek. May I inquire…"

"It is Captain Kirk, Father," Spock says quickly.

"I see." If Spock did not, beyond the shadow of a doubt, know better, he would suspect his father of laughing at him, silently.

"Live long and prosper, Spock," Sarek intones, and Spock returns the gesture, then turns off the vidscreen.

"Expect the unexpected." Spock cannot contain a frisson of unease. No doubt the captain will be delighted – there appears to be little that he enjoys more than the unexpected.

 

~*~

 

The day before the kid – Storek, Jim reminds himself, Storek – is set to arrive, Jim walks into the weekly bridge staff meeting and says, "So for those of you who've been living under a rock, or are too virtuous to listen to gossip, yes, it's true."

Chekov raises his hand. Jim rolls his eyes.

"I've told you that you don't have to do that, Chekov."

"That's nice, Captain," Chekov says politely, ignoring him totally. "What do you mean, 'yes, it is true' – what is true?" When Jim gives him a narrow-eyed look, Chekov smiles innocently and says, "I must be too virtuous to gossip."

"Uh-huh," says Jim, not believing a damn word of it – one of his hand-to-hand combat students called him "Mrs. Spock" behind his back yesterday, and he knows that the day before, Bones had lunch with Chekov and Sulu and money changed hands… Bastards, Jim thinks bitterly.

"I believe that the Captain is referring to the persistent rumors that he and I will be entering into a joint parental relationship with the Vulcan boy Storek who will be arriving on the Enterprise tomorrow," Spock says, unruffled as usual.

"You mean your son, yes?" Scotty asks.

"…Yes," Spock replies, after a brief hesitation. He and Jim have agreed to keep most of the stuff about Storek's mother private – Uhura already knows, and Bones has to know for medical reasons, but Jim doesn't think either of them will talk.

"That's going to change a couple things, but not too much," Jim announces, and Spock picks up his cue smoothly.

"The captain and I are usually scheduled on the bridge for the same shifts – while we will continue this practice in principle, we will be staggering our shifts slightly: for alpha shift, Captain Kirk will arrive for his shift an hour early—" Jim winces at the thought of his new wake-up time. "—and will be leaving his shift an hour early. For beta shift, I will do the same."

"Hopefully, most of you won't even notice the difference," Jim says. "The bigger change is going to be on away missions. Except in cases where it is absolutely vital to the success of the mission, Commander Spock and I will not be going on away missions together – ever. One of us will stay here with the ship, and with Storek."

"A policy," Spock interjects, "that is standard on all other starships and, since it is the most logical option, perhaps ought to have been implemented on the Enterprise immediately."

"Thank you, Mr. Spock," says Jim, glaring. "Your opinion has been noted. At great length." Sulu is laughing at them, the jerk. "If anyone has any questions or comments about our new Vulcan passenger, speak now or forever hold your peace."

"Are you and Spock getting married?" Sulu asks, grinning in a totally insubordinate way.

"Which one of you is the mother?" Chekov asks – unlike Sulu, he's trying to keep a straight face, but like Sulu, he's just unwittingly signed up for at least ten shifts of mandatory engineering inventory and safety compliance checks. Jim wants to make a joke about marooning them in the Neutral Zone, but... looking over at Spock, he decides it's probably a little too soon.

"Shut the hell up," Bones mutters at Chekov and Sulu, which Jim thinks is pretty rich, considering he started half those rumors, until he sees the worried look Bones is giving Spock. Spock already has a wife, Jim remembers, and Storek already has a mother. And she's gone. He can see the thought sink into various faces around the table – just as clearly as he can see that Chekov and Sulu didn't mean anything by it. He moves the meeting on to other topics as quickly as possible.

On his way out of the meeting, Chekov pulls him aside.

"I am oldest of ten cousins, yes? I miss it, sometimes," he says, and at first, Jim has no idea what brought on this spontaneous moment of sharing, but Chekov continues, "I am oldest of ten cousins, and the others are… like me, yes? Smart. And their parents are busy, so, I help out. I am good at it, I think."

Jim thinks about this for a minute.

"Are you offering to… babysit?"

Chekov nods vigorously, and says, "Also, from what I know, Vulcan education is very much ahead of ours, so… if young one – his name is—"

"Storek," Jim supplies.

"Storek, yes. If he wants to keep learning physics at level he is used to, I think maybe you will need me. Or Mr. Scott, of course."

Jim blinks. "You're offering to babysit and be a physics teacher."

"Yes." Chekov shrugs, and gives Jim a small smile. "Like I said… I miss it, sometimes. And it is good for you and Mr. Spock to do this thing, yes? And we want to help. And… I am sorry for joke," he adds quietly, looking at his feet.

"Well…" Jim stalls, pretty surprised, but also pretty damn grateful. "Well, thanks, Chekov. We'll take you up on it." He decides that Chekov maybe doesn't need to do ten shifts of inventory after all.

Before the end of his shift that day, Jim is buttonholed by at least half a dozen other crew members – including Sulu, Scotty, Nurse Chapel, Ensign Varma of the Unfortunate Phaser Incident, and even Gaila – all volunteering to take Storek off of his hands for a few hours when they're needed, or to teach their subject specialty. It's one of those moments when he's incredibly grateful to be the captain of the Enterprise, not because it's a starship, but because it's this starship, crewed by these people. He already knew, when he set out on this five-year mission, that he had an unbeatable team that could pull together in a crisis and give more than anyone could ask in the performance of their duties. What he didn't know, Jim muses, feeling a little like he's been hit over the head with a blunt instrument, is that apparently the definition of "crisis" is a little wider than he thought.

The stunned gratitude lasts long enough that Jim doesn't remember to start panicking until about twelve hours before Storek is set to arrive. It's the ship's weird equivalent of night, and he can't even think about sleeping, and he doubts Spock is anywhere close to sleeping either. Without knowing why, he heads for the observation deck, which is thankfully empty. Ignoring the stars' slow passage around him, Jim sinks onto one of the hard benches and lowers his head into his hands, feeling the weight of this new responsibility pushing down on him. It makes him think of one of his first exercises at the academy – navigating a simulation of a malfunctioning shuttle, attempting to safely land it and keep the other passengers calm while the internal gravity regulators, deteriorating, pressed down and down on him, until he had to crawl his way over to the pilot's controls. He'd done it, of course, and he'll fucking well do this, too, if it kills him, but that doesn't mean he likes the way it feels right now.

What was he thinking, signing up to raise a kid? I know what I was thinking, Jim reminds himself. I was thinking that I can't do this without Spock; I was thinking that this kid is in a tough place and maybe I can help; I was thinking that maybe even an irresponsible fuckup with authority issues is still a better parent than no parent at all.

"You appear troubled, Captain."

"Jesus, Spock!" Jim looks up at Spock, who had somehow snuck up on him while Jim was too busy feeling sorry for himself to notice. "Warn a guy, would you?" he grumbles, but scoots over on the bench and pats the empty spot next to him. Spock takes the seat without protest and looks over at Jim.

"Troubled," Jim says, slowly. "Yeah, I guess you could say that. Me, I'd go with 'shitting my pants from gut-wrenching fear,' but that's not really something a Vulcan would say is it? Of course, you're probably totally Zen about this whole thing, aren't you?" Jim concludes glumly, but when he looks over at Spock, he can see the tension strung through the Vulcan's shoulders and neck.

"It is possible that you may not be alone in your trepidation," Spock admits. "May I ask the source of your distress?"

Jim thinks about how honest he wants to be, and settles on 'almost completely.'

"I… I don't know if I can do this," he confesses to Spock, who shows no reaction. "I mean, the only really good parental role model I ever had growing up died about thirty seconds after I was born, so I'm flying blind here, Spock. I think the basics are pretty clear – don't hit the kid, don't let him eat candy for every meal, make sure he brushes his teeth and washes his face, give him some kind of decent education, and don't let him get any broken bones, stitches, fatal diseases, tattoos, piercings or ugly haircuts. Other than that, I've got nothing, Spock. I probably should have told you before. If you change your mind about this craziness now, I won't blame you."

Jim's still watching Spock closely, but there's no reaction on his first officer's face. So I said that, and I meant it, Jim thinks, as the silence stretches out, but if he backs out now after all the freaking out I've had to do, I will kill him.

"I have observed, Captain," Spock finally says, carefully, "that it is often in situations where you are 'flying blind,' as you put it, that your talents come most to the fore. In the areas of improvisation and innovation, your strengths are unmatched. I see no reason why the current situation should be an exception."

Jim is forced to acknowledge that he's feeling pretty damn warm and cuddly about Spock after that little speech. Not that he's going to let on.

"So think of the kid as a Klingon warbird and I'll be fine, is what you're saying," Jim says, enjoying the way Spock can't help twitching a little with irritation. As often happens, Spock decides not to dignify Jim's wisecrack with a response – instead, he looks up above their heads at the stars drifting by.

"Your guidelines for proper parenting, while unorthodox, seem largely accurate," Spock says, and Jim thinks Guidelines for parenting? before remembering 'no candy, no stitches, etc.'

"I am pleased to find that we share similar values," Spock continues. "If it is amenable to you, I would like to make one guideline of my own, based on my own experience as a child."

Jim nods quickly. "He's your son, Spock. I'm not going to argue with you about how to raise him."

"He is T'Pring's son," Spock corrects him. There's definitely some strong emotion behind that statement, but Jim can't figure out exactly what it is, and that makes him nervous.

"If you don't want to do this…" he starts, but that's not quite right. "If you're angry at the kid, then that's a problem," Jim tries again, and knows that that's a massive understatement, but Spock shakes his head swiftly.

"No. I could not be. I am not. But I will admit to some… confusion and disapproval toward T'Pring's actions." Spock stands, and Jim's left side immediately feels colder. Spock doesn't pace – Vulcans don't, Jim knows – but the fact that he moved at all is a sign that he's pretty agitated. "Through her dishonesty and illogical behavior, she has made both my life and the child's life much more difficult. Logically, I know that she must have had some reason for her actions, but now that she is dead, I do not expect that I will ever learn of it. It is an unsolvable puzzle," Spock finishes, looking the slightest bit lost.

There's a lot Jim could say here, but he keeps his mouth shut.

"She may have been in love. She may merely have been lonely. It is even possible that she consciously intended to spite me. I do not know why she did not terminate our betrothal and marry Storek's father. I do not know if Storek's father survived the destruction of Vulcan." Jim can see that Spock takes each statement as a mark of some kind of personal failure – which is crazy, but in a very Spock kind of way.

"I'm sorry," he says, and the corners of Spock's mouth twitch downward.

"You are not responsible for this," Spock replies.

"I'm sorry anyway."

There's quiet for a minute, and then Jim remembers.

"Did you say there was some kind of rule you wanted to make?"

Spock nods, and returns to his place on the bench next to Jim.

"That is correct. If it is amenable to you, I would like to institute a policy of honesty. I understand that this is atypical of standard Human child-rearing customs, which often endorse frequent lies, especially of omission, but…"

Jim's ready to say that's fine with him, but from the way Spock trailed off, he can tell that he has more to say.

"When I was Storek's age," Spock says, after a short silence, "my father told me that that he had married my human mother because it was logical. Only later, when she was lost to both of us, did he admit to me that he had married her because he loved her. I understand the cultural pressures that prompted his deception. Nevertheless, it was… I would greatly have preferred to know the truth. I will not attempt to deceive Storek in such a way, or in any way."

"Absolute honesty, huh?" Jim asks, and Spock nods. "Even with each other?"

Spock considers this, then nods once more. "I find it difficult to conceive of any viable alternative."

Jim knows what he has to do – he doesn't like it, but he's done it before and it didn't kill him then. He reaches for Spock's hand, slowly, giving Spock plenty of time to see it coming, then slowly brings that hand up to the side of his own face.

"Do it," he says quietly.

Spock looks the Vulcan version of flustered, and he tries to take his hand back. "Captain… Jim… this is not what I meant."

"I know. But it's… you want absolute honesty, right?"

"You do not know what you are offering-"

"I've done it before, with the older you," Jim says, and he can see Spock's surprise. "So, yeah, I know."

Spock considers this, and then nods, slowly.

"If you are willing, then I see no logical objection." He returns his hand to Jim's face, and his fingers are firm and certain. "My mind to your mind…" Spock whispers, and Jim just has time to think, Huh. That's different, before the observation deck falls away, and he's

Landing a surprisingly solid punch on the bully's face, feeling his knuckles split and absently noting the green blood welling to the surface – Good for you, Kid Spock, Jim thinks, and then he's

Refusing his mother's embrace for the first time, willing her to understand even as he can see the sadness on her open Human face, and he's

Turning his back on the Council as he leaves the chamber, nauseous, his Vulcan half thinking What have I done? and his Human half so fiercely glad he can almost taste it on his tongue like sharply cold water, and Jim hears a flash of the phrase "emotional need to rebel" and can't help thinking I think they mistook you for me there, Spock, and he's

Sending another message to his father, knowing that it will be ignored like the previous twenty-four, knowing that his illogical persistence in attempting to communicate can, at this point, only reinforce his father's opinion of his unacceptable failure of logic, and he's

Sitting in the Academy cafeteria at lunch, alone even though there are few empty seats. This will be his four hundred and sixty-seventh meal alone, and it does not make him feel lonely or resentful because he is Vulcan and therefore it does not make him feel anything at all, and he's

Sitting in the Academy cafeteria at lunch, alone again, and someone puts their tray on the table across from him and asks "Commander Spock? May I sit with you?" and it's Cadet Uhura, and she is smiling at him with no pity, only interest and something he cannot name – I can name it for you, Jim thinks, and he discovers he can smirk mentally, which is pretty awesome, and he's

Plucking the strings of his ka'athyra, and she asks if he would mind if she sang with him, and it is only logical that he agree, and she sings a lullaby, and he finds it not soothing at all, to his chagrin, and Jim crows, I knew it! and he's

Forced to admit that he does not know how this particular cadet has beaten his unbeatable test, and he is extremely displeased, because he does not like not knowing things, he does not like it at all, and he's

Losing her, losing her, losing her, and he's…

Spock's mind was a surprisingly comfortable place to be, warm and ordered and strongly alive – Jim can tell right away when Spock's redirected them into Jim's own mind, and he's not sure he likes what he sees, the loud, bright chaos and the dark corners where things are missing or damaged or badly patched back together, and he's

Just sitting in a diner with his mom, minding his own business, and the waitress is telling him how his daddy was a hero, and Jim just kind of wants to eat his pancakes, but his mom doesn't look so good, and he doesn't know what to do, and he's

Waving good-bye at his mom and thinking about that diner and all the other ways that she kept being reminded, and he's not crying, because it's good, she shouldn't have to stay here and be reminded all the time, and if she sees him cry, then maybe she'll stay, which Jim selfishly wants, but he understands and he's

Anywhere, anywhere but here, he's building a starship in his head, and that's where his head's gonna go when this happens again, because Jim's given up on thinking that it's not going to happen again and again and again, and he needs something else to think about beside the hand—

There's a loud thud, and when Jim looks around, the meld is broken, and he and Spock are both on the floor – he must have pushed Spock, which he feels guilty about, but…

"I'm sorry, man," Jim gasps, still breathing hard, "But there's honesty, and then there's… that. There are places in my head where… no. Just no. I'm sorry but… I can't."

Spock looks pretty shaken, too, and he shakes his head slowly.

"Please, do not apologize. Our minds connected very easily – so easily that it did not occur to me that you would not have sufficient experience to learn selective shielding. In the future, if there are memories that you wish to conceal, you may imagine draping a dark cloth over them, or closing a door in front of them, or employ another suitable metaphor of concealment."

Jim laughs, and winces when he hears how fake it sounds.

"Don't worry about it, Spock," he says as he gets up from the floor, offering Spock his hand to help him do the same. "I said I knew what I was doing – obviously, I was full of it."

"On the contrary, I have known you long enough that I should not have taken your unquestioning high assessment of your own expertise on faith," Spock replies, dry as a desert, and Jim considers being insulted, but just laughs again instead.

"Did you find what you were looking for, when you were strolling around my brain?" he asks Spock, idly. He knows enough about Vulcan telepathy to know that the brief, concrete flashes he saw were the least of it – Spock's mind would have been processing thoughts and memories ten times that fast, and with ten times as much depth, nuance, and immediacy.

Spock catches his gaze and holds it as he says, "I found nothing in your mind to cast doubt upon the opinion of your character and integrity that I had already formed."

Jim figures that's – probably – a good thing.

"Yeah, you too," he replies. "We'll… we'll be okay at this. We have to be."

"You are referring to the child, Storek. I concur – I believe that our strengths and abilities are complementary, in this as in command of the Enterprise."

"Is there anything in particular I should know?" Jim asks – he's been doing some reading up on Vulcans and their maturation process, but Spock's firsthand knowledge will do him a lot more good than something from a Starfleet medical text.

"There is something that my father told me," Spock says, "A piece of advice that I believe to be very much suited to your personality."

"Your father… suited to me." Jim raises a dubious eyebrow to rival Spock's best. "Not that I know a whole lot about your dad, but those seem like pretty strange phrases to put in the same sentence."

"I, too, was surprised," Spock admits. "But his advice, paraphrased, was simply this: 'Expect the unexpected.'"

Jim's eyes widen, and he gives Spock kind of an uncertain grin. That must be one hell of a paraphrase – but, on the other hand, that does sound right up his alley.

"I can do that," he says, and Spock inclines his head gracefully.

"I had no doubt. I will try to do the same. To be prepared for whatever we might encounter. The readiness is all," Spock quotes, and Jim says, "Shakespeare," automatically, enjoying the surprise in the line of Spock's eyebrows.

"You know," he says, smirking, "someday you're finally going to realize that I'm an educated, intelligent, well-read guy, and then I'm gonna have to get a new hobby."

"I sincerely doubt that."

"You doubt that I'm an educated guy?"

"I doubt that my hypothetical acceptance of that extremely dubious concept – or any other force in the known universe – will succeed in dissuading you from your current hobby of attempting to elicit an emotional response from me."

Jim starts to laugh, but his brain snags on that phrase, "attempt to elicit an emotional response" – when he remembers why, remembers what came before that punch, he winces.

"Hey, you know that-"

Spock raises a hand to hold him off.

"Jim. You are my… friend. I would not…" Spock trails off, and looks infinitely put-upon – Jim's noticed that Spock only gets that look around him, which makes him grin when Spock's not looking. "I would not continue to permit your frequent… provocations… if I did not find them…" Jim can see Spock searching for an adjective. "…on occasion, diverting," Spock finishes, and Jim translates that as: "I'm too uptight to admit it, but if we ever stopped pulling each other's pigtails, I'd cry."

"Yeah, me too," he replies, smiling.

"Indeed," Spock says, looking uncomfortable. "Storek is scheduled to arrive at 1200 hours tomorrow. It would be logical to rest as much as possible, in order that we may discharge our duties adequately before we greet him."
Jim snorts.

"Are you going to get any sleep tonight?" he asks, and Spock looks as shifty as a Vulcan can look – which is, surprisingly, pretty damn shifty.

"Vulcans do not require as much sleep as…" Spock trails off as Jim smirks.

"That's a no, then?"

"…That is correct."

"Then stay with me – if neither one of us is going to get any sleep, it would be illogical to just sit and brood in our quarters alone, am I right?"

"Vulcans do not brood," Spock says severely, then relents. "That said, your proposal is… not without merit. Do you desire conversation?"

Jim gives that some thought, then shrugs.

"Not really. Just company."

He and Spock sit side-by-side on the bench, and no one comes to bother them, and Jim thinks about tomorrow, and puts some manly effort into not freaking out. Eventually, he gets distracted from his own head by the stars floating past, sometimes one by one in dark stretches of empty space, sometimes in blazing white clusters. And eventually, even though he could have sworn it wasn't possible, he sleeps.

 

~*~

 

At 1200 hours, the Enterprise slows to a sufficient speed to allow the civilian transport shuttle to dock. Spock is waiting in the shuttle bay with Captain Kirk – they had agreed that it would be unwise to overwhelm the boy with an excess of new people. When Storek emerges from the shuttle, Spock feels a sharp jab in his side, and when he looks to his right, the captain hisses, "Are you really, one hundred percent, absolutely sure this kid's not yours?"

Spock can understand what prompted Captain Kirk to such a question – the young Vulcan walking toward them bears a very strong resemblance to Spock's younger self. His skin is quite pale, and his eyes and hair are dark. His bone structure, also, closely resembles Spock's own. However, as Spock points out to Kirk in a low voice, most Vulcans look superficially alike, and the boy's mother, T'Pring, was also dark of hair and eye.

The boy comes to a stop in front of him, and sets down his small suitcase.

"I am Storek, son of T'Pring. I assume that you are Spock, son of Sarek."

Fascinating, Spock thinks. Already he has learned something about the young Vulcan – namely, that he is not ashamed to identify himself with a matronym, despite the fact that it clearly announces his illegitimate status to anyone with even a minimal familiarity with Vulcan culture. Of course, the subtlety has doubtless escaped Kirk – Spock makes a note to explain the implications to the captain at a later time.

"I am Spock," he replies. "And this is the captain of the Enterprise, James T. Kirk. We will be assuming joint parental responsibility for you."

"It's good to meet you, Storek," Kirk says, and Spock is pleased to note that the captain attempts no physical overtures, such as a handshake or an embrace. "Spock and I were thinking that we would take you to your new quarters, get you settled in, and then later, I'd show you around the ship. Is that acceptable?"

Storek nods gravely. He is of average height for a Vulcan of ten years of age, and does not appear to be malnourished, or in any way poorly treated, Spock is pleased to note. He follows the two of them silently to the turbolift, and then to Spock's new quarters.

"These are our shared quarters," Spock says as Storek looks around with no obvious curiosity. "This is our common room – adjoining it on the left is my room, and adjoining it to the right is yours. Our two individual rooms also adjoin one another."

"And I'm right next door," Kirk adds, jerking a thumb at the wall which separates his quarters from Spock's, "so if you need anything and Spock's not around, you can always call me on the comm, or come knock on my door. I have to get back to the bridge now, but I'll be back later to give you a tour of the Enterprise, okay?"

Spock is troubled to note, as Kirk walks out the door, that he views the captain's departure with some small trepidation. Contrary to his declarations last night, Kirk seems to be very much at ease in Storek's presence, and Spock feels illogically abandoned by his necessary absence.

"I grieve with thee," Spock says into the sudden silence, uttering the traditional words of solace. Storek looks up at him calmly and asks, "Do you?"

"What do you mean?" Spock asks, thrown.

"The impression I always received from my mother, when she spoke of you, was that you did not find her to be congenial company – that you disliked her, if it is not inappropriate to use such a term."

"That is correct," Spock admits. "But I admired her. She was very strong. And I find that I miss her presence in my mind. I regret her death… very much."

"I believe it is reasonable to assume that you had no knowledge of my existence prior to the Vulcan Council's communication," Storek says, in a tone of voice that indicates that it is a question rather than a statement, while Spock once again struggles to regain his equilibrium. "I know that you are not my father," the boy says, casually; at once both accurately diagnosing the source of Spock's confusion and adding to it.

"I was not certain that you would be aware of that fact," Spock replies. "But you are correct. I was unaware of your of your existence until one week ago."

Storek nods as if that is exactly what he was expecting – Spock only wishes that he could do the same. "Expect the unexpected," indeed.

"It is my goal to be as light a burden as possible on you, and on Captain Kirk," Storek announces. "I assume that you have made or will soon make provisions for my education – I do not require anything else, with the exception of basic amenities such as food and clothing. As I hope you have already perceived, I do not require adult supervision as I am sufficiently mature to supervise myself."

Spock is displeased to find himself once again thrown off-balance by a ten-year-old. The past 12.4 minutes have seen an unacceptable number of instances of this phenomenon, and Spock is determined to end it.

"As much as I respect your desire to be self-sufficient," Spock says, "it is the responsibility of your guardians to determine the level of supervision that you require. We will certainly consider your input when making our decision."

Storek meets Spock's pronouncement with the same level blankness that he has displayed toward everything else. He picks up his small piece of luggage, carries it into his bedroom, and begins unpacking his belongings – they appear to consist only of clothes; no one had time to collect personal mementoes during the evacuation of Vulcan.

Spock is left somewhat at a loss for what to do with himself for the remaining 44.3 minutes until Captain Kirk can reasonably be expected to return. Storek appears to have the unpacking process fully in hand, and is ignoring Spock quite pointedly and successfully.

"In what subjects will you require instruction?" Spock asks – this seems to him a reasonably neutral topic to broach.

Without looking up from his unpacking, Storek rattles off "Philosophy and ethics, mathematics, physics, engineering, biology, chemistry, history, xenology, and languages. I am fluent in High and standard Vulcan, and Federation Standard."

Spock waits silently, but no further communication appears to be forthcoming.

He departs Storek's room in search of a PADD with which to access crew member files in order to determine who might be qualified to teach the subjects that Storek has identified – he cannot fully suppress the irrational feeling that his departure is motivated partially by a impulse tangentially related to cowardice. As he peruses the files, making special note of those crew members that have volunteered their teaching services to him or to the captain, Spock reminds himself that Storek is merely engaging in quite reasonable self-protective practices: the boy knows nothing of Spock's character or temperament, and it is only logical that he would seek to preserve a defensive distance until they have taken each other's measures. It is likely that their interactions will become more comfortable over time.

By the time that Captain Kirk returns to begin Storek's tour, Spock has compiled a preliminary list of instructors – in the area of languages, there is no immediately apparent candidate, for reasons that Spock prefers not to think about, but there is at least no shortage of possible instructors in physics.

"Hey, Spock!" Kirk calls as he strolls into Spock's chambers, "How's Storek? Everybody getting along all right?"

"Storek is well," Spock replies. "I have been assigning volunteers from the crew to instruct him in their specialties – perhaps later today, you could examine the list and offer me your perspective."

"Sounds like a blast." Storek emerges from his room as Kirk asks, "So you do have me on that teaching roster somewhere?"

"I do not," Spock admits. It is not that the idea had not occurred to him, and it is not that Captain Kirk is not sufficiently intelligent to qualify – simply that, in any specialty that Kirk is familiar with, there is another crew member whose expertise far exceeds his own. Spock explains this, and Kirk scoffs.

"I don't believe that."

"You are a Human," Storek says, and both Kirk and Spock turn to face him. "It is therefore unlikely that your grasp of any subject, given the relative limitations of the Human brain and the inconsistency of Earth educational systems, would exceed my own greatly enough that you could ably instruct me."

Although it seems clear to Spock that Storek did not intend it as such, his statement is a serious insult, and Spock waits for Kirk to respond to it the way he responds to all insults, in Spock's experience – by laughing, or by lashing out. He is surprised when the captain does neither, instead choosing to give Storek's contention serious consideration.

"When it comes to subjects like math and science, you're probably right," Kirk says, speaking directly to Storek and taking a seat that brings his eyes level with Storek's own. "Although, let me say in my own defense that the whole reason Spock and I met, back before the Narada incident, was that I had successfully hacked a very sophisticated computer program, created by a Vulcan."

Storek appears to silently digest this.

"But anyway, math and science isn't all there is to know," Kirk says, with a casual grin. "If you want to learn to speak the Deltan language, I'm your man. I'm also a certified hand-to-hand combat instructor. But those are things you could learn from any species. If you want to know things that only a Human can teach you – or that a Human can teach best – I can do that. Spock'll tell you: I'm the Humanest Human he's ever met, right, Spock?"

Spock intentionally ignores Kirk's comment, although in a strange way, he believes it to be unusually accurate. Storek does not even glance his way.

"What are these skills that you believe that Humans are best qualified to teach?" he asks Kirk, showing a spark of interest for the first time since he stepped off of the shuttle.

"I can lie," Kirk offers. "I'm good at it. And I can teach you how, if you want to learn. Most kids I've met – and most Vulcans – aren't very good at it, but it's a useful thing to know."

Storek frowns and says, "Lying is morally reprehensible."

Kirk just nods and agrees.

"It is. And so is violence, but sometimes violence is necessary, and it's important to be prepared for that. Same goes for lying."

Storek looks to Spock, and Kirk does the same, his face betraying his curiosity about Spock's reaction.

"The captain is correct," Spock tells Storek, and Kirk grins and does a little bow, which Spock, once again, pointedly ignores. He continues, "Deception, while distasteful, can sometimes save lives. It is a skill that many Vulcans, myself included, have cultivated, but Captain Kirk is my superior… in this particular field," he adds, staving off the obnoxious comment that Kirk would certainly have made under other circumstances… although he has so far shown a welcome sense of decorum in front of the child.

Storek considers this for a moment, then turns to Kirk.

"Your logic has merit," he announces, before turning back to address Spock.

"Please add a period of instruction in Human skills by Captain Kirk to the syllabus that you are preparing."

"Awesome," Kirk says, visibly enthused. "Do you want to take that tour of the Enterprise now, Storek?"

"That would be acceptable."

"See you later, Spock!" Kirk calls, waving a hand as he and Storek depart Spock's quarters.

Unobserved, Spock allows himself the indulgence of one very deep breath, and its accompanying sigh. It appears that parenting, at least in the short term, will be very much like everything else in Spock's life over the last six months – an occasion for suppressing equal amounts of exasperation and admiration at Captain Kirk's instinctive facility in areas where any reasonable being would expect Spock to surpass him.

 

~*~

 

Storek hardly says a word while Jim shows him around the ship, but Jim thinks he can detect a kind of gradual unfreezing as they meet more and more people who are friendly and happy to see the both of them. Everybody seems to have gotten the memo that Jim had wanted to call No Hugging the Baby Vulcan, but which Spock had given the boring title Vulcan Cultural Practices Review – there's no back-slapping, hand-shaking, hugging, hair-ruffling, or loud displays of emotion. Well, except for Scotty, but Jim knows that if he ever catches Scotty being low-key and calm, he'll know it's time to declare an immediate medical state of emergency, probably with a ship-wide quarantine to boot.

As they're threading their way through the convoluted corridors of engineering, Storek looks at Jim out of the corner of his eye and asks, "Are you in a romantic relationship with Commander Spock?"

Jim feels pretty stupid for not seeing that one coming, but he cheers right back up again when he imagines Spock's reaction if the Vulcan had been the one to field that question.

"Nope," he replies easily, "Spock and I are both currently romantically unattached. We're just very good friends."

Storek gives him a slightly suspicious look.

"Vulcans do not have friends."

"I have it on very good authority that they do," Jim argues, thinking of Ambassador Spock, and his life-long friendship, not just with his own universe's Kirk, but with his own universe's McCoy – which breaks Jim's brain a little, honestly.

"Friendship implies affection," Storek counters. "Vulcans do not feel affection."

"Well, I guess you'd know," Jim says dubiously, trying some of that diplomacy stuff that Spock's always harping on. "But I've been in a mind-meld with two different Vulcans – actually, they're sort of the same Vulcan, but that's a different story – and I guess I'd just say that sometimes it seems to me there's a difference between what they'd feel and what they'd show."

Storek is silent for a moment as they pass industrious yeomen repairing some piping that Jim knows he's supposed to be able to recognize.

"I cannot deny that Vulcans feel," Storek says, so quietly that Jim can barely hear him over the humming and throbbing of the Enterprise's inner workings. There's obviously a story there, but Jim knows better than to pry, especially so soon. He changes the subject, instead.

"So, yeah, Spock and I are good friends, and when Spock told me he was going to be responsible for you, I decided to help him out. We're both here for you, for whatever you need, all right?"

"As I told Commander Spock, I do not require adult supervision. I am quite mature enough to take responsibility for my own supervision."

"Uh-huh," Jim says, amused. "And what did Spock say to that?"

"I did not receive the impression that Commander Spock was completely convinced of the logic of my position," Storek admits, sounding somewhat disgruntled, and Jim can't help throwing his head back and laughing out loud. Storek doesn't look too disturbed.

"Welcome to my life, kid," Jim says, grinning. "Welcome to my life."

 

~*~

 

Captain Kirk had seemed quite relieved to discover a few days ago that Vulcan children slept only slightly less than the average Human child – Spock had not understood his reaction at the time, but now, after having put Storek to bed and retreated to the captain's room, Spock reluctantly admits that he, too, is somewhat relieved. When Kirk removes a bottle of liquor from his lowest desk drawer, Spock cannot entirely fault the impulse, although of course his visible reaction is one of disapproval. When he catches sight of Spock's frown, the captain sighs.

"It's medicinal?" he attempts, but when Spock's disapproval does not abate, he grudgingly puts the bottle back in the drawer. The captain's posture at the moment is even worse than his usual sprawl – Spock hypothesizes, however, that the cause is weariness, rather than impertinence.

"How did you guys get along while I was gone?" Kirk asks, toying with one of the many styli lying scattered on his desk.

As Spock is, himself, unsure of the true answer to that question, he takes a brief moment to deliberate before replying.

"While I would not characterize our interactions as pleasant, they were, at least, civil."

Kirk winces. "That bad, huh?"

"It is logical that, in unfamiliar surroundings and uncertain circumstances, Storek should engage in self-protective behaviors," Spock replies, feeling oddly defensive, but Kirk just nods and says, "Yeah, that's what I figured, too. He likes the ship, though, so that's something. And he handled meeting everybody pretty well, didn't freak out or anything."

"He seemed to respond positively to you," Spock comments, careful to keep any trace of envy out of his voice.

"You think?" Kirk seems amused. "It looked to me more like he was just humoring the crazy person. We'll see."

"He is aware that I am not his father," Spock says, and Kirk's eyes widen, but he says nothing. "I had wondered if that might be the source of his… wariness. If I may ask a personal query—"

"You don't have to keep asking permission for that, you know—"

"Nevertheless. Unless I am misinformed, I recall that, as a child, you were placed under the care of a 'stepfather' – an adult not related to you by blood. May I inquire as to whether you perhaps felt any hostility toward him, as a substandard replacement for your true—"

"Fuck, no," Kirk says, voice suddenly harsh. "I mean, yeah, I hated the guy. But that was… that was nothing like this, you got me? Nothing. You could never… Trust me on this."

"I see," says Spock, although he does not.

"You, uh… you think you've got all the teaching stuff worked out?" Kirk says, in a blatant attempt to change the subject, which Spock allows.

"I believe so. Storek indicated the subjects in which he would require instruction, and it appears that we have sufficient volunteers in most areas except, perhaps, languages." Kirk, wisely, does not comment on that last. "In biology, Storek will be tutored by Ensign Varma—"

"The girl who shot herself in the ass?"

"A valued member of my Science staff," Spock finishes sharply, allowing himself the luxury of an irritated look. "Lieutenant Vro—"

Kirk shakes his head, and interrupts, "Spock, you are the only person on this ship who calls Gaila anything but Gaila—"

"My function on the Enterprise as the lone defender of a higher standard of professionalism has not escaped me, Captain," Spock observes, dryly. "If I may continue?"

"Please."

"Lieutenant Vro will be Storek's instructor in mathematics, and in xenology, should another suitable instructor not be found. In philosophy and ethics, Storek will receive instruction from Nurse Chapel—"

"I'm sorry to keep interrupting you, Spock, really I am, but… Chapel? Philosophy?"

Spock raises an eyebrow.

"As you would know, Captain, if you had made a thorough review of your crew's personnel files, as suggested by Starfleet directive—"

"I'm a terrible captain, blah blah blah, can we cut to the chase, Spock?"

"Chase?"

"The point, Spock, can we get to the point?"

Spock pauses for the briefest section to enjoy the feeling of comfortable familiarity that comes from the resumption of their usual banter.

"Before adopting her current profession, Nurse Chapel was originally training in the Academy's MD/PhD program to become a biomedical researcher; her area of concentration was bioethics. Her thorough philosophical background, combined with the practical knowledge of real-world applications of ethics gained in the field, makes her, in my opinion, an ideal instructor."

Kirk seems suitably impressed. He whistles, and gives Spock a look that the first officer believes he may accurately characterize as "admiring."

"Maybe you're right, Spock," the captain says, shaking his head. "It sounds like those personnel files might be page-turners after all."

"Indeed," Spock replies. "Mr. Sulu and Mr. Chekov have agreed to jointly conduct Storek's tutelage in physics, while Mr. Scott will instruct him in engineering."

"Is that really a good idea?" Kirk asks, leaning back in his chair and giving Spock a dubious look. "Scotty's kind of… enthusiastic. I don't want him to freak out the kid, you know?"

While Spock is pleased to note that the captain has paid close attention to his briefing on Vulcan custom, and apparently taken it very much to heart, he is also rather insulted that Kirk does not believe him to have taken such factors into account.

"I consider exposure to a wide variety of life forms, often with wildly divergent customs and modes of behavior, to be one of the primary benefits of raising Storek on the Enterprise rather than on New Vulcan. We cannot insulate Storek from every expression of diversity that he might encounter – nor would I want to."

Kirk nods slowly. "That's… I hadn't thought of it that way, but I like it. I can see how maybe it'd do Storek some good to be around Humans… and an Orion, for that matter."

"I will tutor him myself in history, and in chemistry temporarily, until a permanent instructor can be found. On the subject of languages, I regret that I will likely have to arrange piecemeal instruction by recruiting individual crewmembers to teach their native languages. Lieutenant Vro has volunteered to teach Orion; I am qualified to teach a number of languages; and I recall that you were a member of the xenolinguistics extracurricular organization?"

The captain answers affirmatively, and volunteers his services in Deltan, Klingon and Andorian.

"An unusual combination," Spock observes, and Kirk shrugs.

"You know me, Spock – I've got the language most likely to get me laid, the language most likely to get me in a fight, and one I just picked because the professor said it was the hardest. I know a few others, but not well enough to teach them, probably."

Spock finds himself impressed and appalled in largely equal measure – not an unusual response to James T. Kirk, in his experience.

"This stuff – classes and schedules and things you can arrange and evaluate – this is the easy stuff," Kirk says, more quietly. "You know that, right?"

"I do," Spock replies, with equal gravity. "But my education was a valuable outlet for me when I was Storek's age – an arena in which I could prove wrong those of my peers who expected me to fail because I was different. It is my wish to provide Storek with the opportunity for a similar outlet, should he desire one."

The captain – Jim, Spock reminds himself – appears pensive; his eyes are looking away into the middle distance, and his face is angled such that the dim overhead light throws the line of his jaw into sharp relief, attaching stark shadows to his neck, his left eye, his upper lip.

"Well," Jim says, with a private irony, "at least it looks like we have a strategy. Important thing to have, a strategy. You think of him as a Vulcan kid, different from the other kids, who's just lost his mother. I think of him as a lonely orphan who doesn't have any place to go but here. That way, we've both deluded ourselves sufficiently that we think we know enough about this kid to raise him. It's a foolproof system, if you ask me."

Spock is unsure whether to take this odd statement as a rebuke or not.

"I know that Storek is not my younger self," Spock begins, but Jim interrupts, "And he's sure as hell not a younger version of me. We're all agreed on that. But I do think it's good that we haven't forgotten yet what it was really like to be a kid. I think it'll help. Or at least—" Jim shrugs. "—At least, like I said, at least we'll be consistent. So that's something."

And it is on that not-entirely-reassuring note that Spock and Kirk retire to their separate beds.

 

~*~

 

Things with Storek settle into a routine fairly quickly – much to Jim's relief, since pretty soon, he has actual captaining to do. The dilithium mines on Kavisum B have apparently been infested by some kind of parasite that's giving the locals a nasty wasting disease; the Enterprise's mission is to play bodyguard to the Federation medical relief ship sent to deal with the problem. Ever since the Narada, the Federation's gotten a lot more paranoid about answering distress calls even from friendly planets. As it turns out, it's a good thing the Enterprise came along – the Federation aid workers declare the whole planet a loss, and the Enterprise is drafted into service as an evacuation vessel, picking up refugees and shuttling them to a nearby Tellarite colony that's offered to take them in temporarily. Between clearing out space in the Enterprise's hold, making nice with the Kavisum leadership, and trying to coordinate services and amenities for an extra three hundred people at a time, it's not easy – but Jim makes a point to squeeze in a little quality time with Storek.

Of course, "quality time," as Spock would tell him, is a subjective term. Storek seems perfectly willing to sit and share lunch or dinner in comfortable silence, and sometimes Jim can get him to talk about his lessons enough to know that the kid's actually learning something (which is reassuring), but mostly Jim's getting pretty comfortable with just rambling on about whatever, while Storek munches his food stoically and probably ignores him. Jim's willing to believe that Storek's either just a quiet little guy, or that he's still in defensive mode, but it does make him worry a little, just because he can't help thinking, if Storek was ever having some kind of problem, how would they even know?

When they're finally done with the Kavisum B mess, and thankfully on a nice, long, boring trip to drop off some Kavisum dignitaries on Earth to negotiate for a new permanent settlement, Jim swears he's going to take some time for himself or die trying. The first thing he does, when he gets the chance, is play chess with Spock. With all the craziness that's gone down, they haven't actually found time to play since Storek arrived, and it feels fucking amazing to just sit down in one place and stay there, doing something completely recreational, i.e. pointless. The funny thing is, it has an unexpected side benefit: it draws Storek out of his room, for once. The kid spends the whole game pretty much glued to the chessboard, staring at the arrangement of the pieces, and his attention stays with the game all the way to the end.

"Hey, Storek – do you want to learn to play?" Jim offers.

"I believe that Storek is already familiar with this and many other games of logic," Spock says, but Storek, looking weirdly intent, talks right over him, watching Jim closely.

"You defeated him," he says to Jim. "This is a game of logic. Please explain."

"Explain…?" Jim says, confused.

"This is a game of logic," Storek repeats. "Or so I have been taught. Yet you defeated Commander Spock. Is the commander's logic deficient, or have you somehow developed logic superior to a Vulcan's, without the benefit of Vulcan training?"

"Hey, there's nothing wrong with Spock's logic," Jim says, feeling kind of offended on Spock's behalf.

"You have created a false dichotomy, based on a faulty premise," Spock says to Storek, and Jim winces. By Vulcan standards, that's pretty harsh.

"Please clarify," Storek says stiffly.

"You presume that in a game of logic, the player with superior logic will always triumph. The captain's skill at chess is founded on making moves that take advantage of the logical assumptions of his opponent, and the blind spots that that purely logical approach can create – thus, his style of play is unpredictable, highly unorthodox, and therefore highly effective."

Storek turns to Jim.

"Seven days ago, you indicated a willingness to instruct me in particularly Human skills. Are you still willing to do so?"

"Of course," Jim says, surprised. "We can set up a regular time, just like your other lessons." He'd kind of assumed that Storek had been humoring him or something. Spock, of course, has Storek's entire schedule memorized, and he and Jim set up a time for Storek's lessons, starting tomorrow.

"What do you anticipate your curriculum will include?" Spock asks after Storek's gone to bed.

Jim shrugs.

"I figure I'll mostly leave that up to Storek – I'll tell him what I can do, but it depends what he thinks is interesting. I kind of get the impression that, out of the classes he has so far, he likes biology the best, so maybe we'll start with something branching off of that."

"A logical approach," Spock says.

"I have my moments," Jim says, grinning.

The next day, he picks Storek up from sickbay after his ethics lesson, checking in with Chapel and Bones while he's there, then looks down at the kid and asks, "Do you have a plan for how you want this to go?"

"I recall you listing instruction in hand-to-hand combat as one of your skills," Storek asks, sounding a little tentative.

"Sure," Jim says, "Let's head for the gym on Deck 4," while privately he wonders what a ten-year-old wants with hand-to-hand skills. Jim's not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, though – if it turns out that what Storek wants to learn is coincidentally the thing that Jim's probably most qualified to teach, hey, that's great.

He doesn't want to pry, but when they get to the gym, Jim figures it can't hurt to ask what Storek wants the training for.

"Hey, Storek – it would really help me decide how to teach you if you could tell me why you want this training… what you're hoping to get out of it, you know?"

"That is logical," Storek says, but he doesn't look happy about it. Eventually, looking somewhere a couple feet to the left of Jim's face, he says very softly, "I do not wish to be pushed or shoved or kicked. I wish to learn how to prevent such things from happening. I wish to have sufficient mastery of physical violence that others will hesitate to attack me."

Heart breaking a little, Jim crouches down to meet Storek's eyes.

Equally quietly, he says, "We can do that. I'll promise to teach you how to defend yourself from that kind of thing, if you'll promise me something in return."

"What promise do you require?" Jim wants very badly to punch whoever taught Storek that automatic wariness.

"Promise me that if anyone on the Enterprise, or off-planet, tries to hurt you that way, the first thing you'll do is come tell me or Spock, or one of your teachers, okay? That's our job, as adults."

The kid's got pride, that's for sure – he pulls all his Vulcan blankness right back on and informs Jim that: "I do not require protection from you or any other adults. It is my desire to be able to defend myself."

"And I'll teach you that, for times when you can't reach an adult, or when you're waiting for one of us to get there," Jim promises. "But ultimately, I'm responsible for the safety and well-being of everyone on this vessel, so if someone is compromising that safety by bullying passengers, that's my business and I need to know."

After a moment of thought, Storek concedes, "I accept your reasoning."

"Also," Jim says, in the interests of Spock's full-disclosure parenting policy, "you're my kid, and if anyone even looks at you funny, I want to know, so I can kick the crap out of them."

Storek raises an eyebrow, Spock-style, which is almost unbearably cute on him.

"Will this technique of removing excrement from assailants by utilizing repeated blows of the foot be included on your syllabus, Captain?"

It takes Jim a minute to work through that one, even though he should be used to it from six months of Spock's weird-ass sense of humor. When he gets it, he can't find a grin wide enough to express this new, wild feeling he's got that everything's actually going to be mostly okay.

"You bet," he tells Storek cheerfully. "By the time we're done here, you're going to be removing excrement right and left, placing your foot vigorously on buttocks, and collecting identifying data… hardcore. It's going to be awesome."

Storek looks slightly terrified, but also, just a tiny bit excited for the first time since he came on board. Jim calls that a pretty damn good start.

 

~*~

 

"Hey, Spock – can I see you in the ready room for a minute?"

Spock looks up from his console on the bridge to see Captain Kirk hovering beside his station, bouncing up and down in a manner that, in Humans, seems to indicate either excitement or anxiety.

"Captain, you can see me for as many minutes as you wish, here, on the bridge. I have no immediate plans to conduct research into a personal invisibility device."

Kirk rolls his eyes. "Yeah, you're hilarious. Would you be so kind as to accompany me to the ready room for the purposes of a civil and cordial discussion between the two of us, Commander Spock?" he asks, with exaggerated formal diction.

"Most certainly, Captain."

In the ready room, Kirk motions for Spock to be seated, then sits in a chair beside him, rather than behind the desk, which Spock has learned is a signal that their conversation will be personal, rather than strictly professional. Spock is unsurprised.

"I gave Storek his first Human skills lesson today."

"I know."

Kirk blows out a sigh, and Spock realizes that he has perhaps missed a social cue – that Kirk's statement was not merely a repetition of an obvious fact, but an attempt to ease into an awkward conversational topic. He attempts to remedy the mistake.

"How was it?"

The look Jim gives him is grateful, and Spock congratulates himself for the graceful correction of his misstep.

"It was interesting. It was good. I learned a lot. Well, I learned some things."

Spock waits, and Jim slouches further in his chair.

"He asked me to teach him hand-to-hand… well, he was pretty oblique about it, but it was clear after a while that what he really wanted to know was how to defend himself from bullies."

Spock spares a moment on the illogical wish that he could be surprised by this – but his own Vulcan childhood is still too fresh in his memory.

"He seemed ashamed of it," Jim says, his tone troubled. "He didn't want to admit it, even though I didn't push him, and he didn't want to promise me that he'd come to one of us if somebody tried to bully him again."

"I assume you procured such a promise anyway."

"You bet your ass I did." Jim's voice is rich with satisfaction. "He's a good student – most beginners whine a lot about spending a whole hour learning to fall correctly, but he's a stubborn little guy, no complaints from him."

"I am pleased to hear that."

"Yeah." Jim's focus has come to rest on Spock with unusual intensity. He says nothing further, but Spock has become attuned, over the past several years, to the kind of humming silence that falls when Humans have something to say, but are not yet prepared to say it. Spock learned patience very early in life, and exercises it now. It is not long before his patience is rewarded.

"I think you should tell Storek about the bullies who picked on you when you were a kid," Jim says, and Spock's immediate reaction is a rejection so instinctive and absolute that his face cannot help but reflect it.

"I think you should tell him," Jim insists.

"I do not feel that—"

"Absolute honesty, remember?" Jim's gaze is merciless.

Spock pauses to collect his thoughts. Absolute honesty. Even with each other. Quietly, he says, "Storek has little reason to respect me even as the situation currently stands – by blood, I am his inferior, and his mother, his only parental influence as far as I am aware, felt little but contempt for me. It is necessary for the functional operation of a parental relationship that the child have respect for the adult caretaker; therefore, it would be illogical for me to reveal any aspect of my past that would reduce Storek's already-precarious respect for me."

He becomes aware that Jim is staring at him, and is confused by the tangled mess of different emotions apparent on the captain's face.

"You are nobody's inferior," Jim says suddenly. His attempt to sound casual is extremely unconvincing.

Spock is gratified by Jim's confidence, but says nothing.

"I really think it would help Storek."

Spock listens closely for any note of pleading or cajoling, but Jim's voice is as steady as his gaze. In a way, he is behaving as a Vulcan would: stating his case simply and clearly, without resort to emotionalism or manipulation. It behooves Spock to respond in kind, with thoughtful deliberation. Ultimately, as they have both agreed, Storek's welfare is the overriding concern, with honesty closely following. Spock's unacceptable emotional responses of fear and shame cannot be allowed to interfere with the pursuit of those values.

"I will speak with him when the opportunity arises. Soon, perhaps tonight."

"Thanks, Spock," Jim says, smiling, suddenly relaxed again, in the way he always is when he gets his way.

"No thanks are necessary," Spock replies smoothly, "when an individual is merely doing his or her duty."

"You know I don't believe that," Kirk says, shaking his head at Spock with a kind of exasperated fondness that always reminds Spock of his mother – it was one of her most common responses to his behavior, and that of his father.

"While I am aware of your convictions on the matter," Spock counters, "that does not mean that I consider your continuance in such illogic an inevitability. Even Humans can be persuaded of the error of their ways, if sufficient effort is expended on the attempt."

"Spock, Spock, Spock," the captain says, with mock sadness, as they head back to the bridge, "when have I ever been persuaded of the error of my ways?"

Spock is forced to acknowledge that he cannot immediately identify any such instances.

"That's what I thought," Jim says smugly, and returns his attention to ship's business.

That evening, over private dinner in their quarters, Spock attempts to broach the subject with Storek.

"Captain Kirk is under the impression that, on Vulcan, you were the victim of physical abuse instigated by your peers. I do not know what their reason was for targeting you – I am certain that it is irrelevant—"

"Are you?" Storek asks, derailing Spock's planned statement.

"Yes," Spock says dismissively, eager to return to his intended topic.

"That is convenient for you, then," Storek says – a very cryptic pronouncement.

"Please clarify."

"I merely intended to express that it is convenient for you to dismiss as irrelevant their reasoning, and thus, your own role in their actions; by discounting their motivation, you remove yourself from the discussion." Storek takes an unconcerned sip of his soup, but his attempt at presenting a casual façade is as unconvincing to Spock as Kirk's own attempt had been, earlier that day.

"I do not understand."

"My tormentors fell into two camps," Storek tells him, evenly. "There were those who were cruel to me because they believed that you were my father, and therefore mocked my part-Human heritage; my traitor father, who had betrayed us for Earth and its Humans; and my mother, who could not get a true Vulcan to marry her, and was forced to lower herself to be the half-breed's abandoned whore." Spock absorbs the words "traitor" and "whore" like closed fists against his ribs – he does not want to hear any more, but it is imperative that he so do, imperative that he know.

"And there were those who knew the truth – that you were not my father – and were cruel to me because I was kre'nath, a shame to my lineage; because my mother was, once again, a whore; because, fatherless, I belonged to no House, and would never be set among my ancestors when I died. Both your existence and your absence were fodder for their taunts. And my mother, too, endured such insults. And now she is dead. Please excuse me – I have a difficult physics problem to complete." Storek says that last sentence with the same admirably emotionless affect as the rest – it takes Spock a brief moment to notice that Storek has risen from the table and is walking toward his room.

"Storek, please remain briefly – I would speak with you on—"

"I would prefer to return to my assignments."

"Storek—"

With his back still to Spock, Storek says, coldly, "My extrapolations of the likely course of this conversation, should it continue, do not contain anything of value to me. Please excuse me."

With hands kept steady purely by force of will, Spock clears the dishes from the table. Retiring to his bedroom, Spock lights two candles and sinks to the floor in meditation posture. The familiar motions and scents restore some small measure of his calm, but they are not sufficient to enable him to actually attempt meditation tonight – that would be a futile effort.

My initial supposition was correct, Spock thinks. I am completely, disastrously unqualified to be this child's parental figure. Every attempt that I have made to interact with him thus far has been unsatisfactory, and tonight was… an utter failure. And yet, I cannot abandon him, or return him to his tormentors on New Vulcan.

Spock breathes deeply, inhaling the candle smoke, one of the few things that has remained constant on Vulcan, on Earth, and now on the Enterprise.

The most logical course of action, he concludes, is to continue to carry out his parental responsibilities as unobtrusively as possible, without attempting to develop an unnecessary emotional connection. There is no other tutor who can instruct him in Vulcan history, but it is past time that Spock enlisted an alternate chemistry instructor, and his attempts to draw Storek into the kind of rapport that Spock shares with his own father (tentative though it is) must be discontinued. Spock will be an impeccable Vulcan parent – no doubt that is what Storek has desired all along.

 

~*~

 

When Jim has beta shift on the bridge, he has lunch with Storek in the mess hall. It's not like a requirement, or anything; it's just something that they do because that's how it is. If Jim can't make it, he makes Sulu or Chekov meet Storek instead, so the kid gets at least some socialization time with his meal. If Storek can't make it… well, that's never happened before, so when Jim gets to the mess hall during beta shift's designated lunch period and doesn't see Storek there, he gets a little worried.

Seeing a familiar head of curly red hair, he jogs over to a table full of engineering staff on their lunch break – it looks like the whole damn department is there… arguing, of course. For every two engineers you put in shouting distance of each other, you get at least one good argument – sometimes more.

"Gaila!" Jim calls, and she looks up and smiles at him.

"What can I do for you, Jim? I mean…" she bites her lip, and Jim tries really hard not to die a little inside at the thought that he'll never hit that again, "…what can I do for you, Captain?"

"Uh…" Jim pulls his brain back online again. "Have you seen Storek? We were supposed to have lunch, like usual…"

"I saw him this morning, for our xenology lesson, but I haven't seen him since," Gaila says, frowning a little. "Is something wrong?"

"I don't think so – he's probably just doing homework, too cool for his old man, you know how it is. What's with the army of engineering staff?"

Scotty, farther down the table, grins widely and toasts Jim with a glass of something purple and glowing that Jim probably wouldn't touch this early in the day.

"It's m'birthday, Captain!"

"I'll be damned!" Jim laughs. "Happy Birthday, Scotty! Looks like you've got a good celebration going on, that's for sure."

"Join us, Captain! At least stay for the cake," Gaila pleads. "I have read that the cake is traditionally the climactic event of Human birthday celebrations, and I wouldn't want you to miss it."

"It has rum in it," one of Scotty's deputies stage-whispers to Jim. "Shh… don't tell Captain Kirk."

Jim worries about Storek for a second, but honestly, the kid isn't much for company, and probably just decided it wasn't logical to humor the Humans and their weird social behaviors anymore. Not that that gets him out of it – Jim is determined not to let the kid become a hermit, and they'll have words later tonight – but it's nothing to freak out about right now.

"Don't worry, ladies and gentlemen," Jim pronounces, "your secret is safe with me. Now… where's this cake I absolutely haven't heard anything about?"

 

~*~

 

That was lunch. When Spock comms Jim after his shift to ask if he knows where Storek is, because the kid hasn't showed up for his regular dinner with the first officer, then Jim starts to worry. Because of their new staggered shift schedule, Jim has to spend an hour pretending he's thinking about their extremely boring mission and the comfort of their Kavisum passengers, while Spock begins making calm inquiries about Storek's whereabouts.

"Report," Jim says tersely, when he finally strides into the mess hall to find Spock, Gaila and Chekov all standing in a corner talking quietly and looking worried.

"Captain, if I may speak with you privately?" Spock asks, and Jim nods and beckons him over.

"I fear that I may be inadvertently to blame for Storek's disappearance—"

"Don't call it a 'disappearance,' Spock," Jim says, shivering.

"Whatever term we use," Spock says impatiently, "it is clear that Storek is not in any of his usual locations, and I believe that I may be at fault."

"How could it be your fault that we can't find Storek?"

"I attempted to initiate with him the discussion that you suggested, Captain, last night."

"About the bullies."

"Indeed. It was… not successful."

From the look on Spock's face when he says that, "not successful" is probably a hell of an understatement.

           "What happened?"

"I was forced to confront how little I truly know about Storek's life before the destruction of Vulcan," Spock says, holding tension in the corners of his eyes. "Storek… corrected my ignorance. It may have reminded him of how little desire he has to be in my presence."

Jim stares at him for a long moment.

"Wow. That wasn't cryptic at all. By which I mean, I'm not sure you could have been any more vague if you'd tried. I will get the full story from you, no mistake. But right now, we can't find the kid, and that's my priority."

"It is mine as well," Spock says, nodding. As they rejoin the others, Jim asks, "Where have you guys checked?"

Chekov answers, ticking the list off on his fingers as he goes.

"Bridge, ready room, mess halls, rec rooms, observation decks, Commander Spock's quarters, your quarters, my quarters – everybody's quarters – simulation labs, sickbay… I think that is everything so far."

"The gyms, did you check the gyms?" Jim asks, feeling the hot certainty that comes from knowing the right answer, ready to head up there himself, but deflates when Chekov nods, saying, "Yes, we check all recreational facilities, including gyms. He is not there."

"I want to call a ship-wide alert," Jim starts, but Spock interrupts.

"Captain, the functioning of the Enterprise cannot be compromised for one child – we have no evidence that Storek is injured, or that anything more sinister than the discovery of an out-of-the-way new homework location has occurred."

Jim is in absolutely no mood to admit that Spock is right, but he says, "Fine," anyway, biting it off like he can't stand the taste of it. He turns to Gaila and Chekov instead.

"If there's anybody who you think is free and would be willing to help, call them up. I want a systematic search, from top to bottom of this ship, and that includes re-checking all the places you already looked, in case he comes back."

Gaila and Chekov begin calling their friends as volunteers, and Jim heads for the turbolift. He's still a little pissed at Spock – they don't say anything as they head up to the Enterprise's top deck.

The next three hours are grueling – the Enterprise is a big ship, full of lots of little cubby holes and side corridors where a small boy might be curled up with his PADD… and lots of dangerous equipment that a curious small boy might have touched without thinking. More and more people come to help with the search, as word goes around the crew, but it's still time-consuming and stupid to have to knock on every damn door, turn on every damn light, and yell Storek's name down every damn corridor.

"He's okay," Uhura says to Kirk, softly, putting a hand on his arm as he finishes his sweep of the Communications deck. "There's lots of places on this ship that aren't connected to the comm system. He's just out of reach for now. Someone will find him."

And half of Kirk knows she's right, but the other half knows that, the longer it takes to find Storek, the longer the odds are that the kid is okay.

"There are five hundred people on the Enterprise, sir," Sulu tells him as the two of them look under consoles and between display centers in Tactical. "Someone, somewhere will see him. Honestly, Captain, I'm pretty surprised nobody saw him going wherever he's gotten to – I mean, he went missing right in the middle of beta shift, right, sir? There should have been people everywhere!"

Kirk stands perfectly still.

"Except Engineering," he says. God, he loves this feeling.

"What did you say, sir?"

"There should have been people everywhere – except Engineering, Sulu," Jim says, getting more and more excited. "It was Scotty's birthday, the whole staff was in the mess hall: Engineering must have been deserted. Storek could have marched right in there in the middle of shift, and nobody would have known."

Sulu, smart man, doesn't blink – he hits his communicator and tells Uhura, who's coordinating the search, to send everybody down to Engineering, and explains why. Then he and Jim run for the turbolift. Jim feels better, which is weird considering that Engineering is probably the section of the Enterprise where Storek would be most likely to get injured, but just knowing where he is, generally, and how he got there, is a huge relief. He meets up with Spock as he exits the turbolift, and they exchange nods. It only takes ten minutes for Gaila to call out from somewhere not far from the life support control module, saying, "He's here! I found him! I found Storek, he's okay!"

Jim runs, and Spock joins him, even though it's illogical to run when Storek's already been found, and they know there's nothing wrong. The kid is curled up next to a heating coil set back into the wall – low to the ground and shadowy, it's not hard to believe that nobody would have noticed him there.

"Don't be too angry with him, Captain, Commander!" Gaila is saying, eyes wide, but Jim ignores her.

"Storek," he says grimly, "This is your one and only warning. In about ten seconds, I'm going to wrap my arms around your torso in a Human gesture of relief and affection, unless you tell me otherwise. It's called a hug. Is that acceptable?"

Storek nods, and Jim doesn't think twice, just scoops the kid up and squashes him against his chest, whispering in one pointed ear, "We were so fucking worried about you – don't tell Spock I said the 'f' word in front of you – so don't you ever do that again, I'm so serious."

"If it was your desire to convince us that you are not in need of adult supervision, this was an extremely illogical course of action to take," Spock says, in a tone that, for a Vulcan, is pretty damn heated. "You are clearly not mature enough to supervise yourself, if this is the standard of behavior you intend to exhibit."

"I think we can save the bitching-out for our quarters, Spock," Jim says, feeling weird when he realizes he called them "our quarters."

"Gaila, please thank everybody for us, and send them back to whatever they were doing – sleep, probably. Get the word out that, if some people are a little late to their shifts tomorrow, because of sleeping in, the captain won't come down too hard on that, okay?"

Gaila nods, and calls up Uhura while Jim carries Storek out of Engineering, Spock following closely behind.

As they enter the turbolift, Storek says stiffly, "My legs and spine are fully operational, Captain – therefore, there is no logical reason for you to continue to carry me."

"I'm afraid that if I let you go, you'll disappear again," Jim jokes – or, mostly jokes – setting Storek down anyway.

When they get back to Spock's quarters, Jim sprawls out in the nearest chair, totally wiped out, but both Spock and Storek remain standing.

"Many resources were expended on finding you that should have been devoted to the smooth operation of this ship," Spock begins.

"As I did not intend to be found, any effort expended on the task of doing so cannot logically be blamed on my actions," Storek counters.

"Um, even I can tell that logic sucks," Jim volunteers, from his increasingly horizontal sprawl. "You didn't honestly think that a kid could go missing on this ship and nobody would notice or care, did you? I mean, come on, you had to know this was going to happen."

Storek looks at his feet. "I did not anticipate that my absence would cause this commotion. It has been my understanding that my presence is an annoyance at worst, and an imposition at best – therefore, logically, my absence would be greeted with relief, rather than anxiety. Were this a Vulcan vessel, that would certainly have been the case – it is illogical to remonstrate me for an incomplete understanding of instinctual Human emotional responses to humanoid young."

Being a parent, Jim is finding, means feeling like you want to punch somebody a lot – granted, Jim being Jim, that's not much of a change from his default mode, but it still turns out to be true, even when right now, the person Jim wants to punch is himself.

"This has nothing to do with 'instinctual Human responses' to our 'young,' okay?" Jim says, trying to sound reassuring even though he can hear the rasp in his voice. "And you are not an annoyance or an imposition, you hear me? We chose you. Nobody put a gun to our heads and said, 'take this kid and let him live with you – or else.' You're… wanted," Jim finishes, helpless to say everything he wants to. Absolute honesty, he thinks, and takes a deep breath. "Listen, I know 'not wanted.' I've been 'not wanted.' And this? Is not that. You are wanted. I missed you at lunch today. If you weren't here from now on, I'd miss you at lunch every day. I'd miss you."

"I, too," Spock offers, unexpectedly, "have grown… accustomed to your presence. The thought that you might be injured or in danger was extremely displeasing to me."

By Human standards, Jim thinks wryly, pretty underwhelming. By Vulcan standards, embarrassingly gushy.

"Then you will not… send me back to New Vulcan?" Storek asks tentatively, breaking Jim's heart all over again. "Now, or as a result of future instances of disruptive behavior, should they occur? I do not wish to return. Please, I do not want to return there," he says, with some urgency.

"We will not send you back to New Vulcan unless you specifically request it," Spock affirms, and Storek seems to breathe out a breath he's been holding since he came on board.

"That said," Jim says, figuring it's his turn to be the bad cop, "don't you dare go running off without telling a responsible adult where you're going ever again. You scared the living shit out of us, threw the whole ship into a panic, wasted a lot of people's time and energy, and just generally messed up. Also, you totally have to have lunch with me when I'm on beta shift now: I'm making it a rule."

"That is acceptable," Storek allows. "I apologize for my illogical behavior, and for the resources expended in locating me."

"Your apology is accepted," says Spock, and Jim nods.

"And when I wish to be alone…?"

"That's what your room is for… or anyplace else, if you tell one of us first, so we know where you are," Jim says. He sees Storek hesitate and makes a leap of logic. "When you close the door to your room," he says firmly, "We won't come in. Nobody will. We promise. Just don't abuse the privilege, okay?"

"Thank you," Storek says. "If it is acceptable to you, I will retire there now."

Jim shrugs and says, "Go for it. Do you want another hug before you go?"

Storek does a pretty bad job of suppressing a slightly scandalized look, but all he says is a polite, "No thank you," before retreating to his room, the door hissing shut behind him.

Jim chuckles and eases back into his previous slouch.

"Kid cut me off at the knees," he complains, but he doesn't mean it. Six months of Spock have taught him a fair amount about Vulcans and physical contact, what's acceptable and what's not – and Spock is not a huggy kind of guy. Except with Uhura, Jim remembers, then feels weirdly uncomfortable. That's different, though. I wouldn't want that kind of hugging from Spock anyway. Which is not to say that I want any kind of hugging from Spock.

"When I was a child," Spock says quietly, "I very much enjoyed my mother's embraces. When I was sent to school, I became embarrassed by them, but that does not mean that I ceased to find them comforting. You might do well to continue offering such expressions of affection."

"Yeah, maybe," Jim says, shrugging. He'll have to think about it. On the one hand, his favorite hobby: freaking out Vulcans. On the other hand, there's freaked out and then there's freaked out. He doesn't want to be responsible for the latter. "I'm sorry I asked to you tell Storek about your own Vulcan bullies," he tells Spock. "Sounds like that wasn't one of my patented Jim Kirk Awesome Ideas."

"You could not have known," Spock says, which is pretty generous of him, but also probably true.

"I feel like other people, who actually sign up for this parenting stuff in advance, who are prepared, who know all about kids and aren't fucked up, and read books about it and everything… I kind of get the feeling that those people don't look at 'trial and error' as a valid parenting philosophy."

The corner of Spock's mouth quirks. "If you ever encounter such an individual, Jim, please alert me. I, myself, do not believe I have ever met such a person."

"Touché," Jim mutters, grinning, but it does make him feel a little better. "Good night, Spock. The captain will understand if you're a little late to your shift tomorrow."

"As the captain has apparently developed the atrocious habit of referring to himself in the third person, I am not certain that I place any value on his approval or disapproval of my actions any longer."

"The captain notices that Spock is implying that Spock has valued the captain's approval in the past," Jim crows, enjoying the way the corner of Spock's left eye twitches at him – it only does that for Jim, when he's at his most annoying.

"The captain and his atrocious habit are no longer welcome in my quarters," says Spock, pointedly palming open the door leading out into the corridor.

"Spock is totally harshing the captain's groove," Jim whines, but he leaves with good grace, happy to spend the next five hours passed out face-first in his bed, until it's time to get up for alpha shift and do the whole dance over again.

 

~*~

 

When Spock arrives in his quarters after beta shift to collect Storek for dinner, he is greeted by an unusual sight: the table which serves mostly as the staging ground for his chess matches with the captain is sprinkled with small rectangles of cardboard, printed with red and black symbols.

Storek, seated at said table, looks up at Spock's entrance, then back down at the cards.

"How was your Human skills lesson today with Captain Kirk?" Spock asks, for he can imagine no other explanation for the presence of the cards on his table.

"It was pleasant and informative," Storek says absently. "Today, the captain taught me about poker. Specifically, the variation commonly referred to as 'Texas Hold 'Em.'"

Appalled, Spock cannot help but hope that he is wrong. "Captain Kirk is teaching you how to cheat at poker?"

Storek frowns slightly, and looks at Spock as if he suspects that Spock possesses some sort of minor mental defect.

"Of course not, Commander. That would be illogical."

Spock enjoys a moment of relief before Storek continues, "The captain will be teaching me to cheat at poker next week. I must first learn to play the game honestly – just as a student of science must learn all of the standard accepted hypotheses and theories before attempting to disprove them through original research."

"Ah. Yes. Most logical," Spock says weakly. "May I inquire – in what circumstances does the captain anticipate that you might need this expertise?"

Storek begins gathering up the scattered cards into one pile. "He says that it can be an excellent way to procure funds when one does not have access to a credit terminal – or a way to procure funds when Federation credit chips are not the accepted tender of the locality. It is also an activity that one may pursue in drinking establishments, for the purpose of distracting the other patrons from the fact that one is not, in fact, consuming comparable amounts of alcohol. He also mentioned something about a variation called 'strip poker,' but then appeared extremely nervous and made me promise to forget that I had heard him say that… which is, of course, a logical impossibility, and therefore not a binding promise."

Spock struggles for an appropriate verbal response to that rather astounding oration, while Storek organizes the pile of cards neatly into a deck, splits the deck in half, and performs a very creditable shuffle.

"Do you object to Captain Kirk's course of study, Commander Spock?" Storek asks, in a confrontational tone, without looking away from his deck of cards. "Do you find it inappropriate? Unsuitable for a Vulcan?"

Spock is quite intelligent enough to recognize a test when one is put before him.

"On the contrary," he says blandly, "I understand, from the comments directed my way by Human students and colleagues over the years – many involving the phrase 'poker face' – that Vulcans may be particularly well-suited to this game… predisposed to excel, one might say."

"Captain Kirk said something similar," Storek replies, appearing somewhat mollified, but still wary.

"Will you accompany me to dinner?" Spock asks, and Storek assents – when they exit Spock's rooms, he notices, the deck of cards comes with them.

 

~*~

 

"If the Enterprise remains on schedule, we will arrive on Earth at 1300 hours tomorrow, Captain," Spock reports, standing at attention in front of the embarrassingly enormous desk in Jim's quarters.

"Uh-huh," Jim says, lounging in his chair. "Any reason you felt like you had to bring me this update in person, Commander Spock?"

Spock takes a minute to clasp his hands behind his back, and Jim rolls his eyes.

"Sit down, Spock. I know you want to pretend this is going to be ship's business, but let's not kid ourselves. You're here, talking to me in private – it's about Storek."

Jim's getting better – he can tell, because he can actually see the war on Spock's face, between his gut reaction to do the opposite of whatever Jim says, and the logical part of him that says Jim is right. The logic wins out, of course, and Spock sits.

"Storek informs me that your Human skills lessons have expanded from hand-to-hand combat to Human games of chance."

Jim shrugs, and tells the truth.

"Learning how to bluff is a good way to ease him into what you might call 'Intermediate Lying.' It's a simplified model, like learning how to do math with integers first, and then figuring out fractions and decimals later – very simple, but still accurate enough that he can safely build on it, and it has real-world applications."

"And how do you find Storek, as a student?"

"Well, generally, I look for him here first, and if he's not in your quarters, I try the rec rooms."

Spock glares, and Jim grins.

"Not so much fun when somebody else is doing it to you, huh?" Still smiling, Jim leans across the desk and says, "Spock, I've always thought you were pretty darn bitchy. But this kid, Spock, I wouldn't have thought it was possible, but he is even bitchier than you – he has got to be, like, the prince of bitchy."

"I had hoped that I had adequately prepared you for the difficulties that his personality might present you—" Spock says stiffly, and Jim feels this enormous wave of fondness for him, because he just doesn't get it, even after all this time, and for some reason, that makes Jim feel kind of gooey about the guy.

"Spock," he says firmly, interrupting the Vulcan hissy fit that he could tell was building steam, "I like you. I like you even though you're bitchy. Sometimes, Spock, sometimes… I even like you because you're bitchy. And I like Storek. Because he's bitchy. Honestly, on him? It's kind of adorable."

Spock looks at him with something that might be confusion, might be curiosity… might even, although Jim thinks the odds on this are pretty long, be an echo of the kind of fondness that Jim himself is feeling.

"It is illogical for me to still retain the propensity to be surprised at your illogical behavior," Spock says, and the odds on "fondness" are getting better, Jim can see it.

"We're only going to be on Earth for ten hours," Jim says, regretfully. "I wish we could stick around, show Storek the sights."

"I, too, regret that Storek will not have the chance to see Earth at this juncture," Spock agrees. "I imagine the majority of the crew will also regret the brevity of our visit – many have family on Earth, I know. Do you anticipate that you will find time to see your family tomorrow?"

"No," Jim says shortly, good mood gone. It's not Spock's fault. "I don't have any family on Earth. My brother is a colonist on Amlinn XIII."

"And your mother?" Spock asks, and Jim grits his teeth and wastes a second resenting his honesty policy.

"Not on Earth," he says, and wants to leave it there, but lies of omission count, too. "She's Chief Engineer on the Federation terraforming ship Mendel."

Spock, of course, does his usual excellent job of pulling information that he has no reason to know straight out of his ass.

"I have been following the research of the Mendel's top geological physicist, Dr. T'Pavi – the Mendel has been in space for eight years, and to my knowledge, has not returned to Earth in all that time."

"Tell me about it," Jim says, suddenly pretty damn tired, and not caring who knows it.

Spock hesitates in a very specific way, steeling himself, and Jim suppresses a groan. He's going to try to talk about feelings. And I have a hunch that Klingons aren't going to fire on us and take me out of my misery, this far into Federation space.

"Although I, as a Vulcan," Spock says stiffly, "am content to remain in contact with my father through transmissions alone, I know that Humans often require physical proximity for optimum emotional satisfaction. For this reason, I regret that you have been forced to conduct your relationship with your mother entirely over distances – please inform me if there is any action that I may take that will increase the possibility of the Enterprise and the Mendel crossing paths, such that you may—"

Lies of omission, Jim thinks again, and interrupts.

"Thanks, Spock, but… my mom and I don't have a long-distance relationship – we don't talk. We haven't since she left. So… thanks for the offer, but – we don't need any help."

Spock looks a little like he might actually become physically ill, but he soldiers on, trying to have an emotional discussion – if it weren't driving Jim to thoughts of throwing himself out of an airlock, he might think it was sweet.

"My father and I did not speak for eight years," Spock says, as quickly as he can while still being understood. "Yet I now derive great satisfaction from our conversations, and regret the years we spent avoiding each other."

"That's great, Spock," Jim says tiredly. "I'm happy for you, I really am. But you don't know everything about me, and making me go into the fucking details and dissect my screwed-up family for your curiosity…"

"I would not." Spock says nothing else, just looks at Jim with an expression that, for all his supposed expertise, he can't read at all.

"Absolute honesty…" Jim starts, for whatever reason unable to let himself off the hook, but Spock shakes his head.

"To push you to reveal irrelevant details of your past to satisfy my personal curiosity would be an abuse of a policy created to do good. Therefore, I will say only that, should you wish to speak of these things in the future, I will endeavor to listen without judgment."

"I wouldn't do that to you, Spock," says Jim, twisting his mouth until it looks like a smile.

"Nevertheless." Spock stands, and returns to his formal posture. "I will see you tomorrow."

"Thanks, Spock. See you then."

Spock leaves, and Jim looks at the pile of work on his desk and makes an executive decision to leave it for tomorrow. He skins off his uniform, slides under the covers and dims the lights. Lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, he tries to forget the second half of tonight's discussion – he's not surprised when he fails.

Lies of omission, he thinks, once again, and he knows it'll be a long time before he sleeps.

 

~*~

 

The next day, Jim and Spock make an exception to their usual "one at a time off the Enterprise" rule to accompany their Kavisum "friends" to Starfleet Command. There's a ceremony, of course – there's always a damn ceremony – and then he and Spock are dispatched to deal with administrative stuff, taking advantage of their time at Command while they've got it. Most of these meetings – justifying requisition expenses, delivering performance evaluations – Jim just wants over with as soon as possible. One, though, he's actually been looking forward to. He knocks on the door that says, "Admiral Christopher Pike," and enters when he hears a voice call, "Come in."

Pike is sitting at his desk. Jim can tell from the shape of the chair-back behind him that the admiral is still in a wheelchair, and reminds himself to tell Bones when he gets back to the Enterprise; Bones likes to keep tabs on his old patients, especially the ones like Pike, who needed massive, complicated surgery.

Pike looks up at him and says, seriously, "I'm hurt, Kirk."

Jim stops dead. "What's wrong, sir?"

"I mean, emotionally."

"Uh, I'm sorry?" Jim replies, not sure what's going on.

"You should be," Pike tells him severely. "I know I'm not your father – no one ever could be."

"That's true, sir."

"But I don't think it's too much for me to say that I'm the closest thing to a father that you've got in this world."

Jim gives that some thought, and says, "I guess that's probably true, too, sir…"

"And so I'm hurt, I'm really hurt. Bad enough that you didn't ask me to give you away… but I wasn't even invited?"

Silence settles, and stretches.

"You bastard," Jim breathes.

"Especially since I was the one who made this all happen for you," Pike continues blithely, as if Jim hadn't said anything. "I have to admit, being an admiral's not as much fun as I thought it would be – I'm thinking of setting up shop as a matchmaker full-time, since my first set-up was such a success."

"If you think I won't hit a man in a wheelchair, you are gravely mistaken," Jim says seriously.

"I know Spock thought I was crazy, making you his first officer, but I could see even then that you two had chemistry. Granted, I didn't know it was this kind of chemistry—"

"I can make it look like an accident," Jim threatens, "no one will ever know."

"I'm sure it was a lovely ceremony; I can't imagine you wore white, of course – that's stretching the bounds of symbolism pretty far – but your Starfleet uniform is better anyway, it'll remind you of how you met—"

"Why does everyone think I'm the wife?!" Jim yells, at the end of his rope.

"Do you really want me to answer that, son?" Pike asks, eyes twinkling with a disturbing light.

"I'm the captain," Jim whines.

"That you are," Pike agrees, nodding solemnly. "Captain James Tiberius Mrs. Spock."

"I'm so telling Spock about this," Jim vows, and Pike nods again, smiling.

"You do that. The wonderful thing about Spock is, he won't believe a word of it. He thinks I have dignity and professionalism."

"If he only knew," Jim mutters.

"Of course, I don't have to tell you all the wonderful things about Spock," Pike starts, and Jim groans and plants his head in his hands.

"Are we ever going to talk about the ship, you know, the Enterprise, NCC-1701, flagship of the fleet? Someday?"

Pike softens, and Jim knows by the little gleam in his eye that he's hooked.

"Tell me," Pike commands, and Jim is happy to. There's nothing he loves better than talking up his lady, his crew, his first officer – and, of course, himself, every once in a while. When it's time for Jim to get back to the ship, Pike rests a hand on his arm.

"Joking aside, son," Pike says quietly, "I've seen the way you look at him. If you need someone to go to bat for you with the Admiralty—"

"Um… what?" Jim says, blinking in a way that he knows makes him look like an idiot. "Spock is… look, we're friends and all, and we've got a good rapport, and objectively I can say, along with half of the cadets in his Advanced Phonology class, that he's a good-looking guy, but that's… I mean, uh. Thanks, I guess? But, um. No."

"Whatever you say, Kirk," Pike drawls, looking a little dubious, but he lets it go.

"So… I should go," Jim says, fidgeting. The silence stretches yet again.

"So this Vulcan love child you and Spock have—"

"Always a pleasure, sir!" Jim shouts as he runs out the door and trots back to meet Spock by the main shuttle bay.

Well, that last thing was weird, Jim thinks as he runs, and absolutely does not think at all about Pike's disturbingly solid track record at somehow knowing what Jim needs before Jim has the slightest fucking clue.

 

~*~

 

The Enterprise's next mission is the first test of Captain Kirk's resolve in regard to the newly implemented away team policy forbidding both the captain and the first officer from leaving the Enterprise at once. Fortunately, the Choblim are long-time members of the Federation, and an amiable people; they are not offended by Captain Kirk's absence from the Enterprise diplomatic team. Spock, Lieutenant Uhura, and Lieutenant Kr'brani beam down to the Chobli capital as mediators in a succession dispute among three factions of their hereditary royal family, and Spock enjoys a moment of relief at the prospect that this away mission, absent the chaotic and often provocative influence of the captain, will proceed without any commotion.

Of course, Spock thinks later, when Ensign Balf, looking quite worried, sidles into the conference room where the talks are progressing, it is very possible (though also most illogical) that the very act of enjoying that moment of relief, has, by a corollary of the Human concept known as "tempting fate," caused the very phenomenon that I had hoped to avoid.

"May I have a word, Commander?" the ensign whispers in his ear. "I'm afraid it's urgent."

"Please excuse me." Spock rises from the table and joins Ensign Balf in the corridor outside the conference room.

"I beamed down to tell you, sir, that Captain Kirk has become incapacitated, and that you are temporarily in command of the Enterprise." The ensign appears extremely apprehensive, as if he believes that Spock will "shoot the messenger," to borrow another Human idiom – Spock merely suppresses the urge to sigh deeply. Balf goes on to say, "There's no need for you to cut the mission short – the captain is expected to make a full recovery. Mr. Scott has the conn for now, and he just felt you might appreciate being apprised of the situation, sir."

Spock does not ask how the captain became incapacitated on board his own ship, in orbit around a friendly planet, when his most strenuous scheduled duty was paperwork – logically, if it were relevant, Ensign Balf would have provided that information.

"Please tell Mr. Scott that matters are proceeding well here, and that I anticipate that all three of us will be able to return to the Enterprise before the end of the day."

"Thank you, sir."

When Spock returns to the ship at the end of the day's talks, he reports immediately to sickbay – for Dr. McCoy's report on the captain's health, of course. That he is also presented with the opportunity to sit at Kirk's bedside in a manner that a Human might find solicitous is merely a fortunate coincidence.

After receiving the CMO's report on Captain Kirk's severe allergic reaction to a baked good that he had consumed at lunch (a report delivered with, Spock felt, rather more expletives than necessary or tasteful), Spock finds the captain in a biobed not far from McCoy's office. He is not surprised to see that Kirk is pale, connected to a number of tubes, and wearing a tired but rueful smile. He is, however, surprised to see the small form sleeping in a chair, head pillowed on crossed arms a mere two inches from Captain Kirk's right knee.

"I think he feels responsible," Kirk says, looking down at Storek's sleeping head fondly. "Poor little guy. I really scared him, Spock. I think he feels worse right now than I do."

"That would be most illogical," Spock replies, noting with displeasure, and a strange feeling of disquiet, Kirk's bloodshot eyes, the way his neck trembles with the effort of holding his head upright.

Kirk shrugs – it looks painful. "The cooks wanted to celebrate Storek having made it six weeks on the Enterprise without killing one of us, so they baked him a cake using their secret stash of some Vulcan spice. I think Storek was really enjoying it, before I started turning blue."

Spock does not approve of this brand of gallows humor, and attempts to make that clear with a raised eyebrow. Unfortunately, it merely causes the captain to laugh, which then causes him to cough – an extremely unpleasant wheezing, hacking sound.

When the coughing subsides, Kirk makes a weak beckoning motion with his left hand. "All right, Spock, let's hear it – tell me all about how lame I am for getting injured on my own ship; about how our new away team policy was supposed to stop me from harming myself in bizarre new ways—"

Kirk breaks off as they both become aware of a whining, whimpering sort of sound. As it continues, it becomes obvious that the sound is coming from Storek, and that the child is still asleep. The captain gives Spock a look that silently pleads for any knowledge Spock might have to offer – but he has none. As the sounds continue, a stray word can sometimes be distinguished – Spock feels a sudden sharp sensation in his chest when he discerns the word "Mother."

"I believe that Storek is dreaming about the destruction of Vulcan," Spock murmurs, likely redundantly.

"You dream?"

"Indeed. It is unusual, but not unheard of." Spock says. He should not be surprised at Kirk's shock – Vulcans release very little detail about their psychology to other species, for very good reason, in most cases. Spock makes a side note to share with Jim any knowledge that might be directly relevant to Storek's maturation, at some later date. "Our dreams," he continues, "are rarely as vivid, as lengthy, or as chaotic as those of Humans, but they do occur, especially in the wake of great trauma."

Kirk moans, causing Spock to look at him with sudden concern, but the captain's distress appears to be entirely emotional.

"I gave my own kid nightmares, Spock!" he groans – as Spock opens his mouth to object, Kirk rolls his eyes and weakly flops his left hand, amending, "Yeah, yeah, I know; logically, it's not my fault, but…"

"It is devoutly to be hoped that this is a unique occurrence, brought on by the unusually stressful events of the day, and unlikely to be repeated."

"You believe that?" Kirk asks, lifting his right hand to gently rest it on Storek's head; the whimpers do not cease. Spock makes no reply.

"Yeah… me neither."

 

~*~

 

Jim is having his usual beta shift lunch with Storek in the mess hall – this time, Jim is trying to explain the arcane Human concept of "knock-knock" jokes. He's just getting to the part where he delivers some killer examples (sadly, minus the dirty ones that he learned from Bones, of all people), when he notices that Storek's attention is not exactly with him. They're not that lame, Jim thinks to himself, defensive. Well, actually they are, but I didn't think Vulcans could tell the difference between a lame pun and a good one.

Jim's about to try to change the subject when Storek looks back at him and asks, "Captain, Ensign Varma's eyes are releasing moisture. Is she well?"

"Releasing moisture…?" Jim frowns, and then he gets it. "Crap!" he says, then winces and looks at Storek. "Don't tell Spock I swore in front of you. I'm going to go talk to Ensign Varma and see if I can figure out why she's crying – that's what it's called, by the way, when the eyes are releasing moisture, for future reference. I'll be back in a minute, okay?"

"That is acceptable."

Jim heads over to the table where he sees the young Ensign, who is, indeed, crying into her exquisitely nutritionally balanced vegetable stew and couscous.

"Ensign Varma? Are you okay?"

She looks up at him, startled, and then moans wretchedly.

"This day can't get any worse," she says, frantically scrubbing the tears away from under her eyes. "Just when I think it's gone as awfully as it can go, here I am, crying in front of a superior officer in the middle of the mess hall--"

She groans again, and runs her hands over her dark hair nervously.

"Hey, hey," Jim soothes. "No problem here. Everybody has bad days sometimes. Want to tell me what's wrong?"

"Hah! I'll tell you what's wrong," the ensign mutters, scrubbing a sleeve across her face. "Stupid Riley. He's what's wrong. Stupid Lieutenant Riley and his stupid face and his stupid high school sweetheart from Sheffield who apparently just now figured out that she can't live without him. I hate him and his whole stupid life and the whole stupid continent of Europe and I hope they have ugly babies. Sir."

Jim attempts to show the proper sensitivity by not laughing – it helps that he's actually kind of impressed.

"I take it that you were in a romantic relationship with Lieutenant Riley, which he's broken off."

"I thought I was," Varma replies, narrowing her eyes. "'We have communication problems,'" she mimics in a falsetto, then scowls. "If by communication problems you mean that he failed to communicate to me that he's still in love with his dolphin-trainer ex-girlfriend and apparently still called her once a week to beg her to take him back—"

She starts sobbing again, and Jim really wishes he had a handkerchief or something.

"You are 'crying.' I have observed that this is not standard behavior for Humans. Please explain." Apparently, Jim thinks, Storek's patience with Jim's Human methods has run out.

"Hi, Storek," Jim says, smiling ruefully.

Ensign Varma looks up at Jim in a low-level panic, silently saying what do I tell him? Jim shrugs. "The truth," he tells her. She gives Storek a watery smile.

"I was, um, in a… romantic relationship with another crewmember, until recently," she says, being careful to choose words that will make sense to Storek, which makes Jim like her even more. "He broke up—um… terminated our relationship, which made me… sad. Because I was… really sad, I cried – uh, most Humans will cry when they feel a lot of sadness or loss," she says, and Jim can see her settling into a kind of "teaching mode" – her back straightens, her hands start gesturing, and she looks up at Storek instead of down at the table. "It's a physical manifestation of an emotional reaction, like trembling when I feel fear or smiling when I feel happiness." She takes off her glasses and leans closer to Storek, pointing at her own eyes. "The tears, which are mostly water, come out of tear ducts here – in the corners of my eyes, see? – and when sufficient tears accumulate in the eye, they spill out and trickle down my cheeks."

Storek peers in at her eyes curiously, though he knows enough not to try and touch them. "Fascinating," he says. "Do other species also cry like Humans?" Jim actually has no idea, but when Ensign Varma nods, he remembers that her specialty is comparative xenoanatomy.

"Orions do," she says, "and here's the really interesting part. You know that Vulcans and Romulans share a common ancestry, and therefore are physically almost identical, yes?"

Storek nods, and Ensign Varma smiles and leans forward again, like she's telling a secret.

"Romulans have tear ducts, but Vulcans don't. It's actually one of the biggest puzzles of my field, trying to figure out why that should be so. Isn't that fascinating?"

"Yes," Storek says, his little face more animated than Jim has seen yet. Jim looks at Ensign Varma with new respect – mostly he's thought of her as the girl who shot herself in the ass by accident, and their occasional babysitter. He should have given her more credit, he thinks – ten minutes ago, she was sobbing over her breakup and probably freaking out poor Storek, who, until six weeks ago, was totally unused to seeing any kind of overt emotional reaction, let alone something so extreme. Now, Storek is distracted with something else – something of actual educational value, no less – and Ensign Varma looks totally in her element.

"I wish to know more," says Storek, and Jim gives the ensign an apologetic look.

"I'm sorry about your lunch hour, Ensign—"

"No, no." She waves him off, and smiles ruefully. "I would just have spent it feeling sorry for myself anyway. Teaching is much better, especially with such a good student." The warm way she looks at Storek reminds Jim that he's not the only one who likes the kid in spite of his weirdness and fairly adorable bitchiness. "Besides, there's nothing that nerds like me enjoy more than talking about our specialties to someone who's actually interested."

"What is a nerd?" Storek asks, and Jim laughs.

"I'll let you take that one, Ensign Varma. Thanks for this!"

"No problem, Captain."

 

~*~

 

In the hours between the end of Spock's shift and the time for Storek to sleep, Spock has acquired the habit of sitting in the common room to write reports while Storek completes his educational assignments in the privacy of his own room. It is illogical for Storek to remove himself, since that makes it more difficult for him to avail himself of Spock's assistance with his work, but Spock understands both the need for privacy, and the need for self-sufficiency, both of which seem to exert a strong influence on the young Vulcan. He continues to make the implicit offer of companionship anyway. This evening, however, Spock sees Storek emerge from his room, and without his assignment PADD. He recalls Jim saying something about an incident earlier in the mess hall – nothing significant, Jim had assured him – and waits patiently for the boy to address him.

"Do you have tear ducts?" Storek asks.

"Yes," Spock replies.

"Ensign Varma explained that crying is an instinctive physical manifestation of the emotion of sadness or loss."

"That is correct."

"If Vulcans possessed tear ducts, would we have cried when Vulcan was destroyed?"

It is all that Spock can do not to gape comically, as Jim would surely do if confronted with such a strikingly… inappropriate question. No, Spock thinks, with a hint of unworthy jealousy, Jim would know what to say. He would know not to show his shock. The impulse to simply forward Storek's query on to the captain, putting the boy off until later, is very powerful, but Spock recalls, once again, his own policy of absolute honesty – and that it has always included lies of omission.

"I do not know," Spock says, simply. It is the truest answer he can give. "I did not," he adds, "but my half-Human heritage makes me an unsuitable experimental subject."

"Indeed." Storek shows no reaction to Spock's answer.

"Do you have a hypothesis on this question, Storek?" Spock asks, deeply curious.

"I do not know if we would have or not," the boy replies. He appears to be weighing whether to say more or not – Spock attempts to make his posture as open as possible.

All in a rush, Storek says in a low voice, "I think it would have been better if we could have."

He does not wait to see Spock's response, but vanishes back into his room, leaving Spock behind, exceedingly perplexed.

 

~*~

 

"Father."

"Spock. How is Storek?"

"He is… he is well." Sarek raises an eyebrow, and Spock looks away. "I do not know if Storek is well," he admits. "Physically, he is in good health. He is well-behaved, obedient, inquisitive, logical… everything that a Vulcan child should be." Spock pauses. "He asked me today if Vulcans would have wept at the destruction of our planet, if we had tear ducts."

"That is an unusual question," Sarek allows, which Spock considers an understatement. "Did you reply?"

"I told him the truth – that I was uncertain myself." Sarek nods as if that is a reasonable response – Spock draws comfort from that. "I would very much appreciate any insight that you can offer as to why Storek might have asked such a question," Spock continues, and he sees a shadow pass across his father's face.

"Two days ago, the Vulcan High Council deported all of the Deltan and Betazoid aid workers that the Federation had sent to New Vulcan, and prohibited the Federation from sending more. The New Vulcan Federation relief forces are now made up almost entirely of Humans, with scattered Andorians and members of other species."

In a flash, Spock's mind envisions a xenophobic nightmare being built on the remnants of the Vulcan race – but reason almost immediately suggests the more likely alternative. Still, the logic behind such a decision remains beyond him.

"Why has the Council rejected only the aid workers from telepathic species? Are they broadcasting their emotions in a manner that is distressing the population?"

Sarek is silent for a long moment. When he speaks, his words sound as if they cost him.

"Eight days ago, a Betazoid nurse on New Vulcan injected herself with a lethal dose of curinozamine; three days previously, an urban planner of the Brenari race – also telepaths – was found dead at the foot of a steep precipice not far from the new seat of the Vulcan High Council; these were not the first suicides, and the Council feared that, unless all other telepaths were removed from Vulcan, they would be far from the last."

It is difficult for Spock to contain his shock, and his horror. The implications are immediately apparent to him – but he could never have predicted that the situation would have deteriorated so far. Vulcan telepathy is confined to physical contact, except in extraordinary circumstances, but no one could deny that these are, indeed, extraordinary circumstances. More than ten thousand Vulcans consumed by grief, sorrow, anger and despair, the situation exacerbated by their ensuing shame at their own emotional responses, pouring out of their minds and poisoning those telepaths whose inner barriers were no match for the sheer scope of the reflected pain…

"The children," Spock says urgently.

"Indeed," Sarek replies. "The suicides have forced us to confront what none of us desired to acknowledge—" Your own emotions, Spock thinks, with no little bitterness, and then rebukes himself. "—Which includes the deleterious effects on those children too young to have sufficient telepathic training to shield themselves from others' grief. We have discovered that many suffer from nightmares—"

"I believe that Storek may, as well," Spock mentions – Storek assiduously closes both of the doors of his room before he sleeps, and Spock is unwilling to intrude, but he cannot forget the events in sickbay.

"That is unfortunate, but unsurprising. In the six months he spent in the company of other Vulcans, he would certainly have been exposed. That, in addition to his own trauma, may well have effects that will persist until…" His father trails off, seeming lost for words – an occurrence which Spock has never witnessed before. "In truth," he admits to Spock, in a low voice, "I do not know when these dreams will fade, or what may induce them to do so. This is all unprecedented. I regret that the boy suffers – I trust that you will do what you can to alleviate his distress."

Spock does not wish to confess to his father that he has not even the slightest idea how to ameliorate Storek's suffering – that he had, in fact, been unaware of it until recently – but he is in desperate need of guidance, and can imagine no better source.

"I confess that I am unsure how to pursue such a remedy. If you were in my place, Father, what course of action would you take?"

"While I am pleased that your confidence in me is so strong," Sarek tells him, with a bare hint of humor in his eyes, "I must remind you that addressing the emotional needs of children is not an area in which I appear to have had significant success."

Spock considers this – his first impulse is to offer his father a polite demurral, but to do so would be illogical and unproductive, as his father is already aware of the degree to which Spock's assessment of his own childhood coincides with Sarek's.

"If you still desire my advice," says Sarek, "I will speak, not from my own experience, which is insufficient, but from a quotation by a twentieth-century Earth leader, on fatherhood: 'I have found that the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.' It is a quotation with which I was familiar when you were a child, Spock, but to which I never gave much thought." For a moment, Spock can almost see an echo of his mother's customary ruefulness flicker across his father's face. "It may be that, in seeking to advise Storek, you will find the child to be the author of his own remedy."

"Thank you, Father," Spock says, gratified to be trusted with his father's humility, and his regrets – his own regret at the lost years between them intensifies. "I will bear your advice – and your example – in mind."

"If I may inquire…"

Spock nods.

"You and Captain Kirk…?"

Spock stares straight ahead into the vidscreen.

"…yes, Father?" he replies, without inflection.

Sarek raises both eyebrows, again with that strange inflection that Spock, in any other being, would be forced to call "amusement."

"Pardon me, my son. I allowed myself to become distracted, and no longer recall the question than I had intended to ask you."

Spock gives his father a long, hard look, but stops short of accusing him of deliberate deception.

"Live long and prosper, Spock," Sarek says unconcernedly.

"Peace and long life, Father," Spock replies. He reminds himself, as his father's face vanishes from the screen, that, however unsettling he may find his father's uncharacteristic attempts at humor, it is certainly preferable to the icy silence that had prevailed for so many years, not long ago.

After informing Kirk of the content of his conversation with his father, Spock suggests that they follow his father's advice and confront Storek directly on the question of his nightmares. Kirk, whose predilection for direct and bold action has not changed since the first day of their acquaintance, predictably seconds Spock's proposal. Unfortunately, like nearly all of Spock's attempts at parenting, it is a failure.

"Nightmares, as a physical manifestation of unrestrained emotions, are a symptom of poor emotional control. As my emotional control is uncompromised, your suggestion is both incorrect and insulting, and your concern superfluous," Storek declares. Spock cannot help but wonder if, when he himself was first among Humans, at Starfleet Academy, he was as pitifully poor a liar. For the sake of his younger self, Spock hopes that it was not so.

"Storek," Jim interjects, his first contribution to the conversation, "I saw you, I heard you, okay? When I was in sickbay a couple of days ago—"

"You were under the influence of several medications, and your perceptions or memory may therefore have been compromised—" Storek insists, and there is an edge of desperation under his words.

"Spock was there, too," Jim counters, "and he wasn't on the good drugs."

"Commander Spock, as a Vulcan, should know better than to attribute Human emotional responses to members of other species," Storek says, but Spock notices that he does not address Jim's claim on its merits. The boy continues, "Captain Kirk's insistence I can understand – he is attempting to interpret my reactions in such a way as to force me into artificial Human norms—" Spock can see Kirk flinch, "—which would include such an openly emotional response to trauma. But you, Commander…"

"You would not be the only one," Spock says quietly. "Many of the children residing on New Vulcan suffer such distressing dreams."

"I do not reside on New Vulcan," says Storek, "and therefore your attempted syllogism fails. I have no further interest in this discussion," he finishes abruptly, then turns, enters his bedroom, and closes the doors behind him.

Silence falls between Kirk and Spock for a few minutes.

Finally, with a voice that shakes slightly, Kirk says, "Wow. As far as a lab practical for his Human skills lesson, I think I'd call that a failing grade. I'm ashamed of myself, I really am. I thought we were making such progress, but that was some extremely bad lying we just saw right there."

Spock debates whether to broach the subject of Storek's attempt to lash out at Jim, but decides against it.

"I, too, found his protestations unconvincing. I apologize, Jim – once again, my methods have been unsuccessful."

Jim shrugs. "Don't worry about it, Spock. Like you said, if there's anybody out there who gets it right all the time, I've never met 'em." He looks at Spock expectantly, but Spock had made no plans for how to proceed beyond this point, and is now somewhat at a loss. When the captain seems satisfied that Spock has no suggestions to offer, he hesitates briefly, then says, "I think we should hack the surveillance feeds while he sleeps."

While Spock is marshalling his verbal forces in order to best express how utterly unacceptable he finds that idea, Jim holds up his hands and quickly says, "Hear me out! I know right now it seems like a massive invasion of his privacy – and, okay, it totally is, but! We tried to do this the responsible way, but he wouldn't tell us the truth. So…" An open, vulnerable expression passes over Jim's face. "If he'd admit that something was wrong, we could help him. Right? We could do something."

"It is correct that there are several avenues we could pursue," Spock admits, "from meditation techniques that I could teach him, to intervention from a Vulcan healer, to chemical intervention that Dr. McCoy could supply. I am certain that at least one of those remedies would provide some relief."

"Then we have to do something. Don't we?" Jim asks, and Spock finds himself unsettled at how immediately and deeply Jim's pleading tone undermines his initial resistance. It is partly in an effort to reassure himself in this regard that Spock insists that they spend the next two hours engaged entirely in the assiduous performance of ship's business, no matter how Jim whines and cajoles. For all his complaining, Jim does not shirk the tedious tasks they perform together as they wait for Storek to sleep – Spock is aware that the captain prefers the more active facets of command, but the past six months have seen him gain facility in the more workaday aspects, such as organizing duty rosters. As the two of them work in tandem, tweaking shift schedules, taking into account medical recommendations and cultural or religious holidays, Jim frequently leans over to scribble a note on Spock's PADD, or turns to ask Spock a question in low, absent tones. The unusual reaction that Spock feels when the captain's arm crosses his own, lying in the crook of Spock's elbow, or when his breath ghosts over Spock's pointed ear, makes him very much doubt the efficacy of his stratagem for this portion of the evening – he would not describe the effects as "reassuring."

As Spock still has many reservations about this course of action, it is Jim who does the actual hacking.

"I don't feel great about this, either," he says quietly, as his fingers fly over the keypad. "I think we have two bad choices here. I picked one, and I'm not saying it's the right one, but I don't think I could just do nothing."

Spock does not reply – it is at that moment that the video feed from the surveillance camera inside Storek's room comes up on the screen of his computer terminal. They watch in silence for 5.3 minutes.

"Well, this is boring," says Jim.

Spock does not acknowledge the concept of "boring"… but he is forced to admit that watching the same stationary image of a sleeping child, varied only by the rise and fall of his breathing, is not the most intellectually stimulating use that he can imagine for those 5.3 minutes.

"Back to duty rosters?" Jim asks, giving Spock a resigned look. Spock nods, and they return to their task, falling back into rhythm with each other easily. It takes another fifty-four minutes to complete the rosters for the next two weeks – it is futile to plan farther than that, due to the complications caused by unforeseen injuries and illnesses.

"Well, Spock," Jim comments, groaning as he stands up from his chair and stretches, "it looks like we were wrong after a—" He breaks off, staring intently at the terminal screen, where the surveillance footage had been left running behind them while they worked. "Shit. Spock, look at this."

Spock hurries to examine the contents of the screen – the reason for Jim's distress is immediately apparent. Storek has thrown off the blankets under which he usually sleeps, and both his face and body are twitching unpredictably. There is no audio accompanying the picture, but the movement of his mouth suggests that he is speaking. His face, while by Human standards still remarkably blank, is slightly twisted, and pain is written in the tight lines on his forehead and around his eyes. As they watch, the boy's movements become even more pronounced – it would now be more exact to term them convulsions than twitches. His mouth opens wider, and even without sound, it becomes obvious that Storek is screaming. As the silent screams continue on the screen, Jim suddenly whirls around, expression grim.

"I can't take this."

He strides quickly over to the keypad by Storek's door, and with a few quick motions, he orders the door to open. Spock follows him as he runs into the room, and arrives in time to witness Jim shaking Storek gently awake, brushing the sweaty hair softly from the child's brow.

"It's all right," Jim is whispering. "It's all right. You're not there anymore. You're with us, you're safe. Everything's going to be okay."

Spock is aware of how little Jim's words are truly worth – with Storek's mother dead and his species devastated, everything is not, in fact, "all right." Neither is Storek truly "safe" with them – the Enterprise comes in for more than its fair share of emergency and combat situations. Nevertheless, Spock inexplicably finds the captain's stream of assurances comforting – perhaps more the tone of their delivery than their content, he conjectures – and it is logical to extrapolate that they may have a similar effect on Storek.

Storek, however, seems to be exhibiting an odd behavior – although he continues to shake, and he is, uncharacteristically, clinging to Jim physically, he is also maneuvering himself in a strange way. Spock is at a loss to explain it until Jim turns to him apologetically and says, softly, "I think, maybe, it would help… if you left? I'm so sorry, Spock, but…"

With the captain's guidance, Spock can now clearly see that all of Storek's maneuvers are an attempt to conceal himself from Spock by hiding behind Jim's larger body. Of course, Spock thinks, somewhat numbly. He believes that I would condemn him, punish him, for the natural and unconscious expression of his grief. It is a compliment, of a kind – he thinks me as unimpeachably Vulcan as I, for so many years, thought my father.

He leaves. The door closes behind him.

It is currently night on New Vulcan – it would be impolite to call his father now. But perhaps a text-only communication, to which he might reply at his leisure… Spock sits down with his PADD to compose one. After five minutes have passed, he is still staring down at the PADD's surface, which reads only, "Father."

He deletes it.

He sits down at his computer terminal, watching on the silent screen as Storek calms and returns to a supine position, Jim's hand still gently stroking his hair. Their mouths are moving – they are speaking to each other. There, Jim cracks a joke, and Storek does not smile. There, Storek says something that makes Jim quiet for a moment. That movement of Jim's eyes means that he is revealing something personal. This twitch of Storek's eyebrow indicates that he is refraining from saying something that he believes might be impolitic.

Spock's hand rises to the button that would add audio to the feed – instead, he presses the key sequence that causes the screen to go black and empty. He retires to his own room, and prepares for bed. Vulcans do not tire easily, but Spock is very tired tonight.

 

~*~

 

Spock resolves the next morning to speak with Storek at his next opportunity, but due to a large-scale malfunction in the computer system linking the bridge to central functions like propulsion and weapons, it is three days before such an opportunity arises. The Enterprise is on its way to an uninhabited planet, preparing to assess its suitability for terraforming and colonization, and once the malfunction is remedied, Spock is able to return to his quarters, intending to complete an hour of meditation to gather his resources for a discussion with Storek. When Spock enters his quarters, however, he finds Storek waiting for him, his large dark eyes solemn.

"Captain Kirk tells me that you are not displeased that I have succumbed to nightmares – only displeased that I attempted to deceive you."

"That is correct," Spock says. "The nightmares are an involuntary reaction to a stimulus, no more to be ashamed of than closing one's eyes in reaction to bright light, or flinching in reaction to pain."

"I am pleased to hear you say so," Storek says. His gaze is still guarded and wary, but there is a slight relaxation in his posture.

"It is no more than Vulcan logic dictates," Spock demurs, and Storek looks pensive.

"Vulcan logic… I do not know what to think of Vulcan logic," Storek admits.

"Storek—" Spock begins, but is unsure how to continue.

"Vulcan logic is necessary," says Storek. "I understand this very clearly – more clearly than ever since the destruction of our planet. We feel things so strongly that, unchecked by logic and control, our emotions would be extremely destructive. Already Vulcan grief has crippled our people, and Vulcan anger has paralyzed so many. I see the value of it."

"As you should," Spock says, feeling himself on firmer ground now. "The logic on which our society is built has allowed us to make great advancements in science, philosophy and art; allowed us to contribute to the welfare, health and safety of our own people and many other races. Vulcan logic is an asset to the entire Federation."

"Yes," Storek agrees. "But Vulcan logic is a joke."

Spock cannot help but react to such a shocking statement – he can feel his calm eroding as Storek stares at him as if daring him to become angry.

"Why did you come to such a conclusion?" Spock asks, and Storek's eyes become distant – he is recalling some vivid memory, Spock can tell.

"It is not logical to persecute a child for the circumstances of his birth." Storek's voice is even, but it is easy for Spock to hear the hurt and anger underneath his control – easy because he once stood in Storek's place. Perhaps he still does.

"Indeed it is not," Spock agrees, and Storek seems to relax.

"It is, in fact, utterly illogical to place value upon any particular parenting configuration, as long as the needs of the child are provided for. The absence of a marriage bond between one's parents at the time of one's conception cannot logically reflect negatively on the child in question, since the child, at the time of the supposed offense, did not exist, and therefore could not be at fault."

"Your argument is sound," Spock replies. "I find no flaw in it."

Storek relaxes further, and the two of them sit in silence for a while.

"Children can be cruel," Spock essays, somewhat tentatively. "As their progress toward logic is still incomplete, they are often motivated by petty emotions rather than Surak's principles. But the failure of the immature to fully implement those principles does not make the principles themselves invalid."

"And when adults, too, choose irrational and destructive prejudice over Surak's logic? What then?" Storek asks, voice thrumming with a kind of resigned bitterness that Spock, once again, cannot help but recognize.

"I once had… similar doubts," Spock begins quietly. "I was harassed by my peers for my Human heritage, and it is true that many adults abetted, or at least tolerated, their illogical and hurtful behavior. I had many of the same questions that you now have – about the value of Vulcan logic in a society that tolerates illogical behavior more easily than it tolerates… difference."

"Yet you are now a hero among Vulcans. You evacuated the Vulcan High Council and preserved our culture – you killed Nero, who destroyed our planet. All Vulcans now praise you." Storek speaks as if all this is obvious, as if Spock should have known how his reputation had been resuscitated following the events of eight months ago – but in truth, Spock was unaware. Most of the Federation seems to place the burden of heroism squarely on Captain Kirk's shoulders, and Spock has been content to allow it to remain there.

"Many times I have heard other Vulcans say how exceptional Spock, son of Sarek, must be, to have achieved so much, in spite of his disadvantage."

Ah, Spock thinks. He is not actually surprised.

"How kind of them," he says.

Storek narrows his eyes. "Unless I am mistaken, your tone is one of sarcasm. Why?"

"This is not the first time that I have been lauded 'in spite of my disadvantage.'"

"I do not understand. To what aspect of that conclusion do you obj--"

Storek stops. After a moment, he says carefully, "The humans I have encountered on the Enterprise have seemed to me to be beings of great curiosity, compassion, bravery and determination. I have learned much from them. I find it difficult to imagine any way in which the things that I have learned from them could ever constitute a disadvantage."

Spock looks down at Storek's bowed head beside him. Storek's small size is a reminder of what Spock too easily forgets in the child's company – that he is a child, that he needs things from Spock, that he is engaged in the great endeavor of all young beings: attempting to make sense of the conflicting truths that parents, teachers, peers, and the rest of the world project to the young, without any internal consistency or any one true guidebook to teach the skill of discerning right from wrong.

"I find that it helps me," Spock says, attempting to cleanse his voice of any prescriptive tone, "to think of logic, not as a law that all must follow, but rather as an ideal to which all should aspire. All Vulcans, even children, are on the path to logic, which ends at Kohlinar, the perfect attainment of rationality. Some Vulcans are merely closer to the logical ideal than others. It is to be hoped that each of us will find the place along that path which most perfectly suits our individual temperaments, without allowing those temperaments to cause suffering to others."

Storek thinks about this.

"Certainly not an orthodox teaching," he comments. "Yet intriguing. I will meditate on it."

"When I was your age," Spock says, "I had many doubts, but I did not feel that there was any adult in my life with whom I could discuss them. May I ask what prompted you to open such a discussion with me?"

It becomes immediately apparent that this was the wrong thing to say – Storek makes no physical move, but the low-level mental hum of his presence to which Spock is slowly becoming accustomed closes off completely and abruptly.

"I apologize for initiating such an inappropriate discussion," Storek says stiffly, and before Spock can contradict him, the door of his quarters slides open, and Jim comes bounding in, clearly in high spirits.

"What's up, guys? Are you having a beautiful Vulcan sharing moment?"

Spock and Storek turn to glare at him in unison.

"No," they both say firmly.

"You are!" Kirk grins. "Awesome. I'll leave you to it. Catch you later!"

And he leaves as precipitously as he arrived.

Storek turns to study Spock. Although it is illogical, Storek's scrutiny makes Spock feel as if he is the child, being assessed by a critical taskmaster.

"You are embarrassed by him," Storek declares, cocking his head curiously, "Yet you are not ashamed of him."

"A delicate distinction, but an accurate one," Spock replies.

"Fascinating."

Storek says nothing further, simply rising and offering Spock the ta'al before taking his leave.

 

~*~

 

Jim does a double-take at the message he's just received on his PADD. As he stands up from the captain's chair and shakes the stiffness out of his shoulders, he announces to the bridge, "Scotty says he's done, and I quote, 'something cool' with the warp core overload failsafe system that he thinks I've got to check out – Mr. Sulu, you have the conn," Jim finishes, nodding at the helmsman and heading for the turbolift. Just before the doors slide shut, Spock joins him.

"I wish to thank you for clarifying to Storek my position regarding his nightmares," Spock says stiffly, and Jim pauses. When the turbolift doors open, he punches a button and they slide shut again.

"I think you guys just need to spend a little more time together," he says, trying to be diplomatic – it helps that he thinks it's true. "I saw you guys were talking yesterday – that's good. And you know he likes to sit in on our chess games, so we can do more of that when he's around, if you want."

"I am hesitant to spend more time with Storek," Spock says quietly, "given that, on the occasions when we do converse or interact outside of his lessons, it seems that I invariably make some misstep which displeases him. Yesterday's discussion was… revealing and productive, but at the end, I unwittingly made a comment which undid all of the good that might have come from the preceding conversation."

"I'm sorry," Jim replies. His talk with Storek about whether he really thought Jim was trying to "force him into Human norms" hadn't been a bed of roses, either, but he's still glad he made the effort.

"I will attempt not to become discouraged," Spock says, and Jim nods encouragingly.

"We'll play chess – tonight," he promises, then thinks about it and swears in Andorian. "Um, not tonight, actually, I have a fencing lesson with Sulu, and then I promised to help Bones rearrange all his office furniture, which probably actually means 'sit around being responsible while Bones gets smashed,' but we could do chess tomorrow night, I think. Storek will come watch, like he likes to, and we'll talk, and it'll be good for you."

Spock looks awkward and, to Jim's utter flabbergastation, says, "I must confess that I regret that we no longer have the opportunity to play chess… uninterrupted. It is most logical that there be a free and open opportunity for discourse between the captain and first officer – and most illogical that said opportunity should only occur in the turbolift, thereby depriving other crew members of the ability to use the lift for the purpose for which it was intended: to wit, instantaneous transport between decks."

It doesn't take Jim long to parse that at all – practice makes perfect – and when he does, he says incredulously, "Are you seriously saying – and I want to get this really clear – that the heat has gone out of our marriage since the kids came along? Really? I mean… really, Spock?"

Spock flushes a delicate green, and says, "I assume that this is one of your notorious attempts at humor, Captain; I merely wished to indicate that there may be a more efficient method of opening communication between us – one which does not interfere with the mobility of the Enterprise's crew by misappropriating this valuable piece of equipment – and that I would view the recommencement of our private games, with the accompanying conversation, as a… pleasant development."

"Oh my God, you are," Jim marvels, skimming through that convoluted maze of bullshit as easily as breathing. "This is too good. You miss our private time. You think the magic is gone. Holy crap. I have to tell Bones."

"I cannot imagine why the Chief Medical Officer would have any interest in my efforts to reintroduce a robust discourse between the two most senior members of the command team," Spock blusters, but it's a lost cause.

"Look at it this way," Jim tells Spock cheerfully, "you're doing your part for crew morale, because I now consider it to be 98.4% likely that the CMO is going to be a happy drunk tonight, not a maudlin one." He punches the button to open the turbolift doors, finally, revealing six or seven kind of irritated-looking engineers. "Oh, and Spock?" Jim says, as he leaves the lift. "I promise – tomorrow night, chess. Just you and me. Okay?"

"That would be satisfactory," Spock allows.

"I think so, too," Jim replies, smiling, before turning back and setting off on his quest to find the mysterious wild "Montgomery Scott" in its native habitat.

 

~*~

 

As part of what Kirk has chosen to call "Joyous Vulcan Sharing Moments," ignoring the contradiction in terms inherent in the combination of the first three words, the captain has persuaded Spock and Storek that it is logically conducive to harmonious familial relations for the two of them join him in Spock's living room, in the late evening, whenever all three of them have no other pressing obligations, to pursue their private endeavors in each other's company. In practice, this most frequently means that Storek does his homework, Spock does paperwork, and Kirk reads – either reports or for pleasure – interrupted by occasional conversation inspired by some question or point of interest encountered by one of the three. Spock notes, however, that Kirk takes care not to allow his own private chess games or sparring sessions with Spock to lapse, as they did previously – when it is necessary, they enlist the aid of some trustworthy crew member to oversee Storek while he and Spock enjoy what the captain laughingly calls "alone together time." Spock is now quite curious about Kirk's predilection for choosing oxymoron as a naming technique.

It is during one such "Joyous Vulcan Sharing Moment" that Kirk looks up from his book – an Earth classic, in archaic hard copy format – and remarks idly, "You know, Storek… you have kind of a pointy face."

"What is the relevance of the shape of my face?"

Jim shrugs. "Not really any – I just think it's interesting."

"I look like my mother," Storek says, with a hard edge of pride in his voice, and Spock, thinking back, agrees silently that this is true.

"I look like my father," says Kirk, and his voice is light-hearted, but it is as if a shadow has fallen across his face. Spock resolves to investigate this matter in the future.

"What about you, Spock?" Kirk prompts, grinning. "Would you care to join in?"

It is not a subject Spock has considered before – upon reflection, he concludes, "I do not particularly resemble either of my parents."

"Huh." The captain frowns. "I would have said you actually look like both of them."

"Then on this inconsequential subject, like so many others of greater note, we will have to disagree," Spock observes dryly.

Jim scowls and mutters, "Can't a guy try and start a little small talk around here without getting his head bitten off?"

In perfect unison, Spock and Storek reply:

"Captain, it is quite apparent that your head is still attached, and furthermore, Commander Spock's jaws are not of sufficient size or strength to sever your neck in such a short space of time."

"Small talk is illogical, Captain – verbal communication evolved for the purpose of allowing members of humanoid hunting communities to warn each other of dangers, not speculate frivolously on each others' facial structure."

Kirk beams. "Wow – Vulcan bitchiness comes in stereo now! Awesome!"

Spock observes with some consternation the exasperated glare that Storek directs at Kirk – are his own looks of disdain or disapproval also tinted with such distressingly obvious affection? That Spock cannot deny that Kirk's behavior is often inexplicably endearing is a battle already lost, but that he should show it so clearly would be insufferable. No, Spock decides, it must be Storek's youth and inexperience that account for this phenomenon. Any other answer would be unacceptable.

When Storek has retired to his room, Spock follows through on his resolution from earlier in the evening, and asks Kirk why he appeared distressed when mentioning his physical resemblance to his father.

"That's, ah…" Kirk rubs a hand roughly over his face, and looks away. "Do I have to tell you?" he asks – his tone and posture suggest that he will answer if he must, but would strongly prefer not to.

"No," Spock says stiffly. "If the prospect is distasteful to you, it is of course not necessary that you elaborate. I merely thought that, if you were in fact in some distress, I might be of assistance to you in some way. Since this is not the case, I will consider our discussion concluded."

Spock rises from his chair and begins to walk toward the door.

"It just bothered my mom, you know?"

Spock turns to see Kirk bent forward in his chair, his forearms pressing down into the long line of his thighs, and his head fixed at an angle that is meant to be casual. Spock returns to his chair, and sits down carefully. Kirk does not look at him.

"It bothered her – my mom," he repeats. "I could tell. She didn't like being reminded, by anything. It was okay when I was little, but when I was getting to be a teenager, suddenly she couldn't look me in the eye anymore. She'd be talking to me, but she'd be facing the other way, or looking over my shoulder. And that was when she was home – it was worse when she was away, because there's nothing else to look at on a damn vidscreen but the other person's face." His voice grows even softer and his shoulders hunch inward as he admits, "I'd go start a fight and get the shit kicked out of me just 'cause, with a black eye or a fat lip, I didn't look like him anymore, and Mom could look at me again and it made it easier."

"And she did not object to this, this…" Spock searches for a word that will convey the full extent of his confusion.

Jim shrugs, again attempting to project nonchalance. "Honestly, I think she was grateful. She loved me, she wanted to love me, she just… it was hard for her, like I said, being reminded. I cut my hair different, and dressed different, too, but that didn't seem to help."

"And this is why you and your mother do not speak?" Spock asks, recalling an earlier conversation and making the logical connection.

"There's more to it than that. When she… was busy not looking at me, she missed seeing some other things… that I really needed her to see. She looked away while…" Jim swallows, and pales slightly, but goes on. "And I tried not to blame her, because like I said, I know it's not her fault. But some part of me blamed her anyway." His voice reflects guilt as he concludes, but Spock cannot understand why.

"It is only logical that you should;" Spock replies, perplexed, "her behavior in this circumstance is inexcusable—"

"Spock-– No, look, it wasn't—" Jim sighs, and runs a hand through his hair, looking at the floor. "When my dad died, and the Kelvin blew up, and I was born, that was pretty much the end of her whole world. The only way she could move on, was to actually, really move on, you know? I understand her not wanting to be reminded. I do."

"Jim."

"Yeah?"

Spock considers his words carefully. "I have lived through the end of my whole world, Jim, very literally. Storek cannot help but remind me of that fact, by his very existence. But if I were to allow him to collect bruises in the way that your mother—"

"That's different," Jim says harshly, standing and beginning to pace.

Although Spock does not believe it is, he asks, "How so?"

"Storek is a good kid—"

"And you were not?"

"I was already pretty messed up, okay, for reasons I'm not going to go into right now, but—"

"So because you were already fragile, you believe your mother justified in permitting additional poor treatment—"

"Stop talking like she was the one hitting me, okay, it wasn't like that—"

"You are drawing a distinction that I do not believe exists," Spock says, and for a moment, he thinks that Jim might strike him.

Jim, too, seems taken aback by the violent impulse, and backs away from Spock.

"So… this honesty policy," Jim says, giving a laugh that sounds as if it must be physically painful to produce, "I'd like to add a new rule, if I can."

"Which would be?" Spock is expecting Jim to say something about a rule that they are not allowed to interfere in each other's personal business, which would be a lost cause in any case, but Jim meets Spock's gaze and says, with a hint of true humor, "That we've both got to lay off each other's moms."

Spock gives this rule some thought. He continues to believe that he is right to condemn Winona Kirk's actions – but he also must concede that it is illogical to presume expertise on a situation with which he has no first-hand familiarity. He was not present for Jim Kirk's childhood (although he now feels an irrational wish that he had been), and thus cannot ever perfectly understand the experiences of either Jim or his mother. There may, indeed, be mitigating circumstances of which Spock is unaware. In any case, this rule does not require that he cease to disapprove of Winona Kirk's parenting decisions – merely that he cease to do so publicly. It is a compromise he is willing to make.

"I can accept that rule," Spock concludes, and Jim gives him a weary smile.

"Hey," he says suddenly, "you don't have to, but if you want to, you could… tell me about your mom? I know what I saw in the mind-meld, but… I still don't know a lot about her."

"Since I view my mother as, in many ways, an ideal model for parenting, I suppose it could indeed be instructive to provide examples of her behavior," Spock allows. He is not certain that he understands the smile with which Jim responds, but as it seems to have no mocking in it, Spock decides that it can do no harm to continue.

"On the day when I was to be accepted into the Vulcan Science Academy," Spock begins, and as he explains this example, and a few of the many others that are studded like gems in his memory, he feels something inside him loosen. It is no emotion that he can name, but Spock can see by the expression on his face that, upon hearing these stories, Jim feels it, too. Perhaps someday Spock will ask him to name it. For now, he merely continues, in no particular order, enumerating the things that he will never see again, except in his mind.

 

~*~

 

They get five days of peaceful sailing – thinking back, Jim figures he should have known they were asking for trouble. Starfleet's usual unhelpfully vague orders to proceed to Pek j'Fen as the Federation presence at their emperor's golden jubilee, while "operating with caution, due to the star system's particular troubled history" – note the complete lack of useful details and specificity, Jim thinks irritably – had fooled everyone into thinking that this was a milk run that they could coast through before the big mission patrolling the Neutral Zone that everyone knew was coming.

When the explosions start, Jim's first thought is that it's an ambush.

"Sulu, who the fuck is shooting at us?" he shouts.

"Captain, sensors and telemetry aren't picking up any other ships!" Chekov reports, as someone from behind Jim calls out "Hull breach on Deck 9, sir!"

"Fuck," Jim curses, mind racing to recall everything the briefing had said about the j'Fenni. "These motherfuckers are supposed to be barely warp-capable, and you want me to believe they have sophisticated cloaking technology?"

"Shields at 82%, Captain," says Sulu, keeping his calm.

"This can't be the j'Fenni," Uhura insists. "The captain's right, they only became warp-capable sixty years ago."

Jim braces himself as another shock wave washes through the bridge.

"Well, somebody's sure as shit kicking the snot out of us," Jim snarls. "Are we getting any transmissions, any requests to negotiate?"

"Nothing, sir."

The next blast knocks Chekov out of his chair.

"Where are these motherfuckers?" Jim shouts, when suddenly Spock calls out, "Mr. Sulu, cut all thrusters, cut all propulsion of any kind."

Sulu looks at Jim, who tells him impatiently, "Do it, do what the man tells you."

Silence descends on the bridge, except for the beeping of the alarms, and the quiet murmur of officers communicating with other departments, assessing the damage.

"Mr. Spock?" Jim asks, turning to look at his first officer, who has pulled another miracle out of his ass, as per usual.

"I believe that we are safe as long as we do not move," Spock says, adding with a grimace, "I acknowledge that it is not a long-term solution, but we now have time to plan a strategy."

"Mr. Spock," Jim says, as patiently as he can manage, "would you care to explain why basically stopping dead in space has also stopped the blasts?"

"It was your comment that provided the clue, Captain," says Spock, and Jim gestures impatiently, still too on-edge to be smug. "If the j'Fenni are only recently warp-capable, it seemed odd to me that Starfleet would warn us obliquely of a history of interplanetary warfare in this system. Without warp-capable ships, how would the j'Fenni have defended themselves from their warp-capable neighbors, such as the l'Rinni?"

"Mines," Jim breathes into the eerie silence, "they couldn't fight off enemy ships with ships of their own, so they seeded their entire orbit with mines. You don't need a warp drive to build a space barge that's good for nothing but turning your skies into a minefield."

"Precisely," Spock agrees. "I searched what little cultural and historical information the Federation has recorded on this system, and it seemed the most logical conclusion."

"Motherfuckers," Sulu says, with feeling.

Everyone on the bridge turns to stare at the helmsman.

"I think that's my line," Jim says eventually, raising an admonishing eyebrow.

"Sir, Starfleet just executed an epic research failure that sent us sailing right into a literal minefield," Sulu announces in a voice that says he can't decide whether to laugh or cry. "I think that means it's everybody's line, Captain."

"Motherfuckers," agrees Chekov fervently, rubbing the bruise on his hip where he landed when he was knocked out of his chair.

After a pause, Jim says, "Mr. Spock, I think it's probably not necessary that the last sixty seconds make it into today's incident report."

Diplomatically, Spock just says, "I concur."

"Will you and Mr. Chekov please put your heads together and figure out how to chart us a course out of this damn minefield?"

"Certainly, Captain."

It turns out that navigating their way out of a field of sixty-year-old space mines is touchy, time-consuming, and delicate work – and then, the actual act of piloting that twisty and tortured path is possibly even worse. At the end of beta shift, when Spock, Chekov, and half of the gold shirts and blue shirts on the damn ship are still clustered around Chekov's console, pointing and muttering and scribbling equations on their PADDs, Jim quietly goes up to Spock and asks if they still need him to stick around.

"No, Captain," Spock says, showing a hint of exhaustion in the corners of his eyes. "While your own navigational and piloting skills are formidable, there is no reason why you should remain any longer. The method by which to plot the course is now clear – what remains is merely the tedious work of performing the dozens of equations necessary to calculate each twist and turn of that course. I will supervise the work and report to you when it is finished – I cannot predict how late that will be," Spock adds, looking slightly guilty, which is stupid.

"I'm just grateful you've got it figured out at all," Jim tells him, meaning every word. This is Spock, this is what makes him the best first officer in the fleet – when something needs doing, Jim can just give it to Spock and know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it's covered. That's what working with Spock means – no nagging, no second-guessing, no checking his results, just the rock-solid confidence that Spock knows what needs to be done, and he'll do it.

"Thanks, Spock. I'll see you when I see you – don't worry about it."

After he's discharged all his duties and tied up all his loose ends, Jim heads for Spock's quarters to see Storek. The first free minute he'd had, Jim had called to make sure the kid was okay; he was fine, he'd been in their quarters for the whole thing, just kind of shook up, but Jim can't help wanting to make sure. When he walks into Spock's quarters, Storek shoots up from his seat at the chess table and quickly walks up to Jim and starts examining him closely.

"You are uninjured," he says – it's more of an order than a question, as if any other answer just wouldn't be allowed. Jim can hear the edge of anxiety in Storek's tone, and it makes him gentle when he says, "I'm totally uninjured, and so is Spock. Actually, everybody on the bridge is uninjured, except Chekov, who has a bruise on his ass and a sprained wrist."

"That is satisfactory," Storek announces, looking calmer now, but still with a thin coat of something tense underneath – it's in the way he holds himself a little more stiffly, the way he moves his eyes, not his head, to look up at Jim.

"Lieutenant Vro contacted me to cancel our mathematics lesson tomorrow," Storek informs him. "She is in sickbay, and has sustained serious but not life-threatening burns."

Shit, Gaila, Jim thinks – he knows it shouldn't bother him more for Gaila to be injured than any other crewmember, but they're friends. "I'm going down to sickbay to see her – and to check on the rest of the injured."

"That… that is your duty as captain," Storek agrees, but his voice is brittle, and he looks like he doesn't really want to let Jim out of his sight. Jim looks down at the kid – Storek never really asks for much, like he still can't shake the feeling that he's a burden, that he's safest if Jim and Spock forget that he needs things, especially things that might inconvenience them.

"Tomorrow morning should be soon enough," Jim says gently. "If I went down now, I'd just get in Bones' way, anyway."

"Dr. McCoy is indeed quite vociferously particular about his working conditions," says Storek – he looks a little more relaxed.

"I know it's early for bed – why don't we have dinner, and then I'll read you some Andorian fairy tales until you get tired," Jim suggests, hastily adding, "…to enhance your understanding of Andorian culture and literature, and to practice your listening comprehension, of course," when he sees Storek's eyes narrow.

"That would be acceptable."

And it is.

 

~*~

 

When Spock returns to his quarters from the bridge, he finds Storek tucked into bed, and Captain Kirk, just a foot away, asleep on the floor. He appears to have availed himself of Spock's pillow and blanket, but not of Spock's mattress. If Spock had ever speculated on how Kirk would appear in repose, Spock would have expected him to sprawl, carelessly and expansively – instead, Spock is bemused to note, the captain is curled in on himself, not tightly in a ball, but in a graceful sort of S-shape, taking up hardly any horizontal space at all. The sight of the two of them, Storek carefully tucked in, the captain nearby in an obviously protective position, causes an inexplicable sensation of warmth to spread through Spock's chest.

Spock kneels down to shake the captain awake, cupping a hand around the cool curve of his shoulder. Kirk comes awake quickly, silently and completely, and retreats with Spock through the door into Spock's own bedroom. He sets the pillow carefully at the head of Spock's bed and smoothes the blanket down with equal care before turning to Spock with a rueful smile.

"Sorry about grabbing your stuff like that. Today was… not a good day, so with the nightmares and everything, I didn't want him to be alone."

"Understandable. But I am curious – why did you choose to sleep in such an uncomfortable position? Surely you could have used my bed, or if you prefer to be in closer proximity, I am certain that Storek would not object to sharing his."

Kirk's smile is tight, and the line of his shoulders is tense when he replies.

"I sort of make it a policy not to show up in other people's beds uninvited. Call it a personal thing."

Spock has observed this particular posture before, most often when Kirk is obliquely mentioning the more negative circumstances of his own childhood. That association prompts Spock to connect this utterance with Kirk's previous vague intimations of the sort of childhood experience of which Spock cannot think for very long before becoming quite angry. Like all strong emotions, the anger makes Spock uncomfortable, and until he can feel confident in his control, Spock does not feel sufficiently at ease with the topic to attempt to broach it with the captain.

Instead, he makes the logical choice to attend to the practicalities.

"In the future, please consider yourself invited to make use of my bed whenever you wish to do so."

Spock does not understand why Kirk responds with sudden laughter, until the captain begins to leer at him comically while posing coquettishly on the bed in question.

"Even when you're in it?" he asks, looking up through his lashes invitingly.

"Most certainly," Spock replies blandly, and Kirk's eyes bulge in an unattractive yet somehow satisfying manner.

"Really?"

"Of course. It is only practical," says Spock. He is careful to gain no satisfaction from the dumbfounded look on the captain's face.

Kirk's eyes narrow.

"You're playing chicken with me," he says.

Spock tilts his head briefly to the side. "I do not see how my behavior in any way resembles that of a flightless avian most known for its culinary—"

"You're seeing which one of us will blink first," Kirk explain impatiently.

Spock blinks.

Kirk sneers.

"Cute. Very cute. But you don't fool me."

"May I remind you, captain, that as a Vulcan, I am disinclined to, and unskilled at, deception—"

Kirk laughs loudly, then breaks off with a guilty look at the closed door beyond which Storek is sleeping.

"That is the biggest bullshit I have ever heard, and you know it," he begins, pointing a finger at Spock, but without any trace of anger in his expression. "And don't tell me you don't see the relevance of cattle excrement to this discussion – I know you know what bullshit is. You are one of the biggest bullshitters I've ever met – nothing on me, of course, I'm the king."

Spock examines the captain's face and posture for any hint that he is engaging in self-deprecation, but Kirk seems to take genuine pride in the statement that he has just uttered – in fact, he seems no little bit smug.

"Fascinating," says Spock. He is troubled to note that this has become his default response to episodes of the captain's behavior whenever he cannot decide between "endearing" and "appalling."

"And," Kirk continues, "don't think I haven't noticed that you're just trying to distract me from the fact that you totally agreed to cuddle with me whenever I want."

"Alas," Spock says, deadpan, "You have seen through my brilliant plan. Human intuition triumphs over Vulcan intellect yet again."

"Mind you," Kirk says, ignoring Spock, "I'm not sure I do want. You don't give off the impression of being very… cuddle-able."

"That is a very serious accusation, Captain. If you cannot provide suitable evidence of such an allegation, I may have no choice but to pursue action against you on a charge of slandering a fellow officer."

Kirk attempts to conceal a grin while assuming an expression of grave deliberation. He strokes his fingers over the point of his chin as if deep in thought.

"Exhibit A: the ears," says Kirk, in an artificially deep and stuffy voice. "Counsel can see that they are, to wit, pointy, as evidenced by the frequent use of the term 'pointy-eared hobgoblin' to describe the defendant. Pointy things, in general, are not good to cuddle; see: knives, forks, needles, Starfleet communicators."

"Exhibit B: the defendant's propensity for choking the plaintiff—" Kirk breaks off at whatever he sees on Spock's face. "Too soon? Well, that's okay. I've got more where that came from. Exhibit C: the posture. Proper cuddling requires a certain amount of bending and molding yourself around the other person, being flexible, moving with them – I am unconvinced that the defendant can unscrew the metal rods in his spine long enough to perform the required twisting and turning."

Spock makes a note to persuade the captain to join him again in his martial arts exercises at the earliest possible opportunity – it is always peculiarly satisfying to defeat him in physical combat, and Spock anticipates that the added satisfaction of proving him wrong will make the experience particularly piquant.

"Exhibit D: the heat," Kirk continues – he has abandoned the put-on voice, speaking in his own tones, smiling widely and clearly enjoying himself. "The defendant can't help it, but being Vulcan, he gives off a lot of body heat – so much that I can feel it right now, even from where I'm standing; and I imagine that if he were, you know, to be separated from… somebody, by just two layers of clothes and maybe an inch, at most, of space between them… to be that close would be really…" Kirk trails off, with a confused look on his face, then says, in a sort of stunned tone of voice: "hot."

Spock does not understand why this conclusion seems to be causing the captain so much consternation – it is an empirical fact that, when a being moves closer to an object emitting heat, the being will feel that heat, and will itself become hotter. All of this is elementary physics and biology. Perhaps the captain is feeling unwell? Spock looks more closely, and observes that Kirk does, indeed, seem rather flushed and shaky.

"If you are unwell, Captain, you should report to sickbay immediately," Spock informs him.

"Yeah," Kirk says, appearing somewhat distracted, "yeah, I really should go. Not to sickbay – Bones would never let me hear the end of it, but… yeah. I'll… see you tomorrow, Spock."

"And you, Captain—"

"Jim."

"…Jim."

And Kirk departs, leaving Spock mildly anxious for his health, but ultimately pleased with the night's events.

 

~*~