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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.

 

~*~

 

Chapter Text

Of course, in the end, even after he told Spock he wouldn’t, Jim goes to sickbay, three days after they finally leave Pek j’Fen and its goddamn minefield behind. Bones is there, even though he’s not actually on duty (also an “of course”), because he has no life, a fact for which Jim is very grateful.

“I need to ask you something, something very important to the command dynamics of this ship,” Jim starts, and Bones rolls his eyes and says, “Yes, Jim, you are the prettiest princess of them all. Now will you go to bed and quit cluttering up my sickbay?”

“Bones,” Jim says in an admonishing tone, “I wouldn’t come all the way here to ask you if I was the prettiest princess of them all. I know that.”

“This had better be good,” Bones mutters as he waves a hand for Jim to sit down. Jim sits, thinks about the most delicate way to phrase his question, the most mature and diplomatic way to express what he needs, then asks, “Hey, Bones, do I have the hots for Spock?”

Bones raises an eyebrow that’s almost as good as one of Spock’s.

“I’m assuming that’s a rhetorical question.”

Jim drops his head into his hands. “Shit.”

“If it’s any consolation,” Bones says, clearly enjoying himself, “I think the fact that Uhura hasn’t killed you yet is probably a pretty good sign. I think if she were gonna do it, she’d’a done it by now.”

“That’s great, Bones,” Jim mutters. “He’s, you know, good-looking, I know that, I’m not blind or anything! It’s just, you know…” Jim scowls. “He’s always so damn sure he’s smarter than me, and the hell of it is, sometimes he’s right, which is the most annoying thing in existence, I swear, and don’t get me started on his fucking Eyebrows of Sarcastic Death. Plus!” Jim adds, holding up a finger for emphasis while Bones rolls his eyes, “he kicks my ass for getting injured on away missions all the time, but he goes charging into danger right after me, so I don’t know what the hell his problem is.”

“Uh-huh,” Bones says, “Nothing you like about him, huh?”

“I didn’t say that!” Jim protests. “He’s a good friend, a good first officer, and he actually has a sense of humor, no matter what some people say, it’s just… really dry. I don’t think everyone gets it, but I don’t know, it cracks me up.”

Bones says nothing, just looks at Jim like he’s about to mock him mercilessly, and Jim is all geared up to defend Spock’s sarcastic sense of humor, talk up how mean and awesome Spock is, when Bones sighs and says, “So what you’re telling me is there’s no way you could ever act like a thirteen-year-old girl over Spock, because he’s so just so darn attractive and smart and brave and funny – and the captain of the football team, I’m sure – and what you really want is somebody ugly, dumb, cowardly and boring.”

“That’s not what I—” But that is what he said, Jim realizes when he thinks back.

“You think I have… feelings for him! Actual serious-type feelings!” Jim exclaims, hoping Bones will say, No, Jim, don’t be an idiot… Really hoping, because Jim knows that there’s a right answer and a wrong answer to this question, and the wrong answer could trash a lot of things that Jim’s not ready to lose yet.

“Ah, that’s another one of them rhetorical questions, is it?” Bones drawls obnoxiously. “Keep going, I think I’m getting real good at recognizing ‘em, just a few more—”

But Jim isn’t listening anymore; he’s frozen instead, because he’s been doing really well believing that this is just one of those things, another one of those things, like the thing with his friendship with Bones back in sophomore year, where he maybe thought about something more, something different – maybe thought about it a lot, but eventually it went away, he ignored it because he had to and so it went away, and he’s told himself that this’ll go away too, but it looks like…

“Shit,” Jim says again, and he can hear how his voice sounds scraped and raw.

“This is actually a surprise to you,” Bones says, sounding pretty damn surprised himself.

“Yeah, Bones, this is actually kind of a fucking surprise, thanks anyway. I’ve been laughing this shit off for weeks like it’s a goddamn joke and now I realize—” Jim says angrily, before breaking off, hit with uncomfortable guilt. “Sorry, Bones.”

“You look like you need a drink,” says Bones, holding up another one of his apparently inexhaustible supply of tall, amber bottles. Even though Jim could really use one right now, he waves Bones off like he always does now, muttering his usual speech about responsibility and the kid, and—

“The kid,” Jim says, sitting bolt upright.

“I was wondering when we’d get there,” Bones says without looking at Jim, digging out a glass and pouring himself a generous helping of whiskey.

Jim glares. “You know, it’s both a little creepy and a little annoying how you seem to think you know everything about this.”

“Well, to be fair, this’ll be my second go-round,” Bones says matter-of-factly, swirling the liquid in his glass and giving Jim a steady look.

At first Jim thinks Bones is talking about his ex-wife Jocelyn, but then he realizes that Bones is remembering sophomore year, just like he is. He can feel his cheeks burn with the realization – he’d thought he was so subtle. It’s embarrassing to realize that Bones must have known about Jim’s stupid crush on him all along.

“Wow,” Jim mutters, “this discussion is so much fun I hope we never have it again.”

“’Course,” Bones continues, taking another sip of whiskey, “this time’s a little different – you’re serious about it this time.”

“I was serious about it last time, too,” Jim says to his own knees – it kills him to say it, and he’d do just about anything for a ship-wide emergency right now, but for some reason, he’s got to get it out.

“I know, Jim,” says Bones, gently, and Jim has to look away from the kindness on his face. “I know you were.”

This conversation has gone on way too long. “I just need to get laid,” Jim declares. “I’m sex-deprived, and it’s making even Spock look good. That’s what it is.” Jim likes this theory – if it’s just good old-fashioned blue balls, that means it’s nothing that could mess up his friendship with Spock, nothing that could screw things up for Storek, nothing that could ask more of Jim than he’s already given.

“What?” he says irritably when he catches Bones giving him a look that’s more sad than annoyed.

Bones shakes his head, and wears a fraction of a smile. “Oh, nothin’.”

Jim shoots him a dirty look.

“I’m right about this,” Jim insists, more to himself than Bones.

At the next available opportunity, Jim sets out to prove it – it’s a very, very nice opportunity: the Luvarinnen ambassador’s violet-skinned secretary. At warp five, it’ll only take the Enterprise one day and one night to ferry the ambassador to the Federation mining conference, so Jim can be sure they’re both going into it with the same expectations. Tro-aynn – that’s the secretary’s name – has smooth, lilac-colored skin, and his three wide eyes are a dazzling living green, and when Jim asks Tro-aynn back to his room, his smile is wide and openly appreciative, and Jim suddenly feels a whole lot better. This is what he needs, this is what he really wants – a gorgeous alien with twelve double-jointed fingers who’ll be gone the next morning, and who strips off Jim’s shirt with really, really flattering enthusiasm.

But Tro-aynn doesn’t complain about how messy Jim’s room is; he doesn’t want to talk about Federation politics or Luvarinnen culture, or anything, really, which… is great, Jim’s all in favor of getting right to the good parts, but there’s something that just feels… Jim determinedly doesn’t think about it. When they brush against each other, Tro-aynn feels kind of cold, chilly – but when Jim asks about it, the secretary looks puzzled and says his body temperature should be roughly Human-normal. Jim doesn’t think about that, either. They have a good time, and if it doesn’t feel as good as Jim was hoping or expecting, that’s his fault, not Tro-aynn’s. He’s a sweet guy, he’s nice, he compliments Jim in bed and sounds like he really means it. There’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just not… Jim looks himself in the eye in the mirror after his shower, after Tro-aynn’s left, and makes himself finish the thought.

He’s just not what I really want.

Jim contemplates punching the mirror, but he really has grown up, which is kind of annoying and scary but also probably good for his health, and definitely good for his parenting, such as it is. Jim Kirk before Starfleet would have punched out the mirror and picked slivers of glass out of his hand for an hour afterward, but Jim Kirk before Starfleet, Jim admits in the privacy of his own head, was kind of a dick. Granted, he’s still kind of a dick. But at least he’s a mostly responsible dick. With a hugely irresponsible crush – It’s a crush, it’s just a stupid crush – on his totally uninterested first officer.

“I’m never getting laid again,” Jim laments to the face in the mirror, and because he’s still Jim Kirk, no matter who he may have an incredibly inconvenient crush on, he takes a second to admire its very attractive tragic look.

 

~*~

 

Spock is grateful for the brief respite that the Luvarinnen ambassador’s passage has given the crew – Engineering is taking advantage of the simplicity of the mission to repair the damage from the j’Fenni minefield, and Spock’s time is sufficiently free that he has the luxury of requesting the captain’s company. However, when he goes in search of the captain, Spock finds that he has retired early, which is unfortunate, but not unduly so. He takes advantage of the opportunity to embark upon a conversation with the ambassador herself, who is very interested in Spock’s recounting of his father’s diplomatic experiences, and pleasantly eager to share with Spock her own culture, and her assessment of the mining conference to which they are en route. It is with true regret that Spock directs his path toward the transporter room to bid farewell to the ambassador and her staff with Captain Kirk.

It is as Spock is walking through the corridors, not far from the transporter room, that he comes upon Captain Kirk and the Luvarinnen ambassador’s secretary in an embrace against the wall of the corridor. Spock pauses, aware that his presence is an intrusion on something private, yet unable to look away as Kirk and the secretary share an extremely prolonged and thorough kiss. When the kiss breaks, Spock can hear Kirk laugh quietly and say, “Well, I didn’t see that coming.”

“After a night like last night, it would be rude of me not to express my appreciation when I saw you next,” the secretary says with an unconvincing primness, and Kirk laughs again.

“Oh, well then. I wouldn’t want to be rude.”

The captain reaches out a hand and draws the secretary into another, briefer kiss, before extricating himself from the embrace and walking toward the transporter room with the other man. It is apparent to Spock that neither of the participants had noticed Spock’s presence.

Spock is not able to give his full attention to the ambassador’s departure, preoccupied with the scene he had witnessed in the corridor. He should not be surprised – Kirk’s propensity for frequent and meaningless sexual gratification is well-known to him – but he is, and disturbed as well.

That evening, after arranging for Ensign Chekov to supervise Storek, Spock requests and gains entrance to the captain’s quarters.

“May I speak with you, Captain?”

Kirk gives him a look that indicates that he believes Spock is behaving strangely.

“I thought we’d agreed you were going to call me Jim. Unless this is official business, but in that case, shouldn’t you be bugging me in my office? It’s late, Spock, and I’m kind of tired.”

“Of course,” says Spock, evenly, satisfied with his own objectivity. “It is only logical that you should experience weariness. I imagine last night’s activities left little time for rest.”

The captain reacts to Spock’s statement with displeasure – he leans forward quickly, and narrows his eyes.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

Spock is pleased that their conversation has come so naturally to the point at hand – he desires to make plain the required changes in behavior, and be finished with this unpleasantness as soon as possible.

“It is, in fact, on this topic that I wished to speak with you, Captain—”

“On what topic?”

“On the topic of your… sexual pursuits.”

“Excuse me?” Kirk appears agitated, but this is only to be expected – Humans are often irrational about sexual matters. Spock ignores it as irrelevant, and continues.

“I could not help but observe your behavior with the ambassador’s secretary in the corridor this morning—”

“What do you mean, you couldn’t help it? You couldn’t have just walked away?”

“—And I was disappointed to realize that, although your behavior is certainly much improved in some respects since taking command—”

“You don’t get to talk about me like I’m a dog that’s learned not to piss on the carpet anymore—”

“—in the arena of your sexual relationships, if they can be described as such, you remain addicted to infantile pleasure-seeking behaviors.”

Kirk rises abruptly from his seat on the bed, and intrudes on Spock’s personal space. “Excuse me, but how is it any of your goddamn business—”

“Although I admit that this is a delicate issue, I believe I have no choice but to intervene, since no one else seems prepared to do so—”

“Damn it, Spock, I’m an adult, I—”

“—and therefore must inform you that I cannot allow you to continue in this vein if you plan to remain a parental figure, and thus a moral role model, to Storek.”

Jim reels, as if Spock has physically struck him, and sinks back to the bed. He leans forward, setting his elbows on his knees, and looks down at his clasped hands, then up at Spock. His voice, when he speaks, is sheathed in icy calm – the Vulcan in Spock cannot help but admire it.

“Say it,” Kirk says, never looking away from Spock’s face. Uncomprehending, Spock says warily, “Please clarify. I do not know what you want me to say.”

“If you’re going to say it, you should have to say the word, not just dance around it. I mean, that’s what all this ‘disapprove’ and ‘role model’ bullshit works out to, right? Just say it, Spock, say it to my face – you won’t be the first.”

Spock is irritated and disconcerted to note that it is now Kirk who wears an expression of disappointment, aimed at Spock.

“I do not know what word you are referring to,” Spock says heatedly, “and moreover—”

“Slut,” Kirk says calmly, simply. “That’s what you’re thinking, right? You know, it’s funny, I’ve gotten the ‘you’re a slut, stay away from my girlfriend’ speech, and even the ‘you’re a slut, stay away from my daughter’ speech, but ‘you’re a slut, stay away from my ten-year-old son’ is a new one, even for me.”

Uncomfortable with this sudden swerve in the conversation, Spock attempts a retreat. “That’s not what I—”

“Oh, I get it,” Kirk says, still projecting calm, but Spock has enough experience projecting false calm over actual anger and hurt to recognize his own techniques. “No, that’s fine – you taught linguistics, precision with words is important to you, I got you. Maybe it’s not ‘slut’ you’re going for, maybe you were looking for ‘whore,’ that one’s popular. Or if it’s the fact that I go with guys that bothers you, maybe you want ‘cocksucker.’ That one’s even true.”

The word “whore” echoes in Spock’s mind, in his memory – “traitor” was a word that Spock’s control had survived, he remembers, at the cruel hands of his Vulcan peers, but “whore” had broken it. It is a vicious word – he has always disapproved of others’ use of it, sometimes vociferously.

“That is not what I meant to say,” Spock says quietly, regretting that he has apparently expressed himself so imperfectly. “None of that is what I meant to say. I merely meant to remind you that Vulcans have a different standard of sexual behavior, with more stringent sexual mores, and that you must now consider what sort of example you are setting for others, rather than only your own desires. To continue to entertain a frequent stream of lovers openly, when Storek will inevitably learn of it, is no longer—”

Spock stops – Jim is wearing an odd sort of smile, almost sweet, and Spock enjoys a moment of believing himself understood and forgiven before Kirk shakes his head slowly and says, “You can’t even hear the words coming out of your mouth, can you? It’s amazing.”

Spock is taken aback. “I—I do not understand,” he begins, and Kirk laughs without humor.

“You got that right,” he says in an undertone. “Listen, Spock, I’m damn tired – and not because I wore myself out last night with fucking, by the way. Raising a kid while captaining a starship, it turns out, is pretty damn exhausting – a lot more than late-night marathon kinkfests, that’s for damn sure… and I would know. I’m really fucking tired, so I’m going to say my piece, and then you’re going to get the fuck out so I can get some damn sleep, and then you’re not going to talk to me again in anything but an official capacity until you grow the fuck up and get over yourself.”

Spock can see the exhaustion on Kirk’s face, and knows that it should inspire him to more lenience, but the Human seems to believe that he has somehow acquired the right to issue ultimatums to Spock on this matter, and it is impossible not to feel a growing irritation at his obstinacy. The captain, for his part, shows no sign of backing down.

“I don’t know where you get this idea of me as – no, you know what, I know exactly who to thank for this. Our favorite Lieutenant Uhura, telling you all the juicy stories about Cadet Kirk, the campus insert-transportation-mode-here, everybody gets a ride, look how the fuck-up made good, it’s a funny old world, isn’t it. And the thing is, even if you were right, even if I was still, how did you put it? ‘Entertaining an endless stream of lovers’ or whatever… Even if I was, that would be none of your fucking business, because I’m an adult and a Human, and sex is natural and healthy and fun, and I have tried to make the compromises I can to your Vulcan morals, but I am not going to stop being Human just because you think it’s icky.”

Kirk’s peculiar smile returns, and his head tips to one side in a manner reminiscent of a very small child about to tell a joke.

“But see, the funny thing is, you’re full of shit. Do you know how often I’ve gotten laid in the past eight months, Spock? Five times. Five fucking times. All of them goddamn diplomatic aides, and let me tell you a secret, Spock – diplomatic aides? Shitty in bed. Universally. Don’t ask me why, but there it is. So there you have it. By James T. Kirk standards, I’ve been living like a monk, and all this time you’ve been thinking of me like…” As Kirk struggles for words, all traces of anger drain out of his face, leaving only a raw, wounded look, and a disturbing apathy. “Fuck you, Spock,” he says finally, wearily. “I’m going to bed – alone. I’ll pick Storek up in the morning.”

Spock leaves quietly, in very great turmoil. He picks up a visibly drowsy Storek from Chekov’s quarters, and the two of them walk in silence to their shared quarters. When Storek is prepared for bed, Spock, somewhat against his better judgment, sits in the chair by the side of Storek’s bed where Jim often sits. Unsure how to begin this discussion, he decides it is only logical to start from first principles.

“Captain Kirk is Human,” Spock says, and waits. Storek only looks up at him solemnly, apparently expecting him to continue. “Humans are different from Vulcans,” Spock tries next.

“Yes,” Storek agrees.

“The captain, being Human, behaves differently than Vulcans usually behave. Has this been the source of any… confusion to you, Storek?” Spock watches Storek’s face carefully but, even weary, Storek gives nothing away. All that Spock can deduce from the child’s expression is a slow consideration.

“I recognize the captain’s humanity,” Storek says finally, in a tone that implies that he suspects Spock to be testing him somehow. “It would be illogical to expect a Human to behave as a Vulcan.”

Spock is once again reminded of a Human aphorism – “out of the mouths of babes,” this time – and struck with its aptness. It would be illogical to expect a Human to behave as a Vulcan. Indeed.

Storek’s small voice interrupts Spock’s thoughts, tentatively.

“It…” Storek trails off, but continues at Spock’s nod, looking both anxious and somewhat defensive. “It – Captain Kirk’s humanity… is pleasing to me.”

The first time that Kirk had ever come to Spock’s attention, biting down into an apple and thinking in a way no Vulcan would or could, presenting the thing that Spock could least resist – a challenge; the ease with which he had come to trust the Human over the course of that one terrible, turbulent day, based largely on the utterly irrational, instinctual trust that James T. Kirk had inexplicably placed in Spock himself; the continual intrigue of their chess games, the unpredictability that makes Spock approach each match with anticipation; the easy and generous affection which Kirk demonstrates to his crew, to Spock and to Storek, without expectation of reciprocal gain: these are the outward signs, the products of Captain Kirk’s humanity. To instill in the captain a facsimile of Vulcan control and impassivity would require the loss of those things, and the many others like them, which have led Spock to consider Jim Kirk his first and perhaps only friend.

It would be illogical to expect a Human to behave as a Vulcan, Spock repeats to himself, and, his humanity is pleasing to me. I will meditate on this. I fear I have done harm, and the way to repair it is unclear.

“A most… trenchant analysis,” Spock replies. It is an insufficient response, but Spock does not feel equal to the task of continuing their discussion at present – he hopes that another opportunity will arise, when his mind is no longer in such disarray.

He retires to his own room to meditate. He wishes very much that his mother were still alive to advise him. She would have known what to do, Spock is certain. Instead, Spock must forge ahead equipped only with his own limited expertise with Human emotion, which is largely limited to rage, which he still struggles to extinguish, and love, which has receded to the back of his mind since Mother died and Nyota ended their relationship, unneeded and therefore largely quiet.

What Storek says is incontrovertibly true. What, then, had blinded Spock to those facts, leading him to behave in such an irrational way? If Spock had observed a Human behaving the way Spock had, he would be tempted to attribute their actions to jealousy; obviously, that is not a valid diagnosis in Spock’s case.

In the end, even after extended meditation, Spock cannot definitively answer the question of his own motivations – only of their negative consequences. Spock concludes that he has no choice but to add this occurrence to the long list of unexplained events somehow indirectly caused by the sheer chaotic influence of Captain James T. Kirk.

 

~*~

 

“Doctor, may I ask your advice on a personal matter?”

Dr. McCoy looks suspiciously at Spock. “Y’know, most people who come here and ask me that are either looking for sex advice, or they’ve got some kind of embarrassing STD. I’m gonna guess that’s not what you’re here for, though.”

“Indeed not, Doctor,” Spock says, patiently.

“So, out with it,” McCoy says, falling into his office chair with what seems to be an undue amount of force.

“I have come to ask your advice, not as a doctor, but as a Human who has been in a long-term relationship with another Human.”

“You want to ask me advice because I was married?”

“Yes. I would like to know… when your wife was justly angry with you, what was the approved method of making amends, so as to return your relationship to its normal resting state?”

“You’re having a fight with Jim,” McCoy says flatly.

“The captain is not my wife,” says Spock, who has been required to utter that phrase several times in the past two months; he finds the repetition very tiresome.

McCoy snorts and leans back in his chair.

“I mean, he is,” says the doctor, “but we can pretend he’s not, for now. How did I make up with Jocelyn?”

Spock nods.

“Well, it generally involved some chocolates and some flowers, which is pretty standard, but I don’t think that’s what you’re looking for – I wouldn’t recommend it, anyway.”

“I see,” Spock says, discouraged. Perhaps Mr. Sulu will have some more applicable advice, or Nurse Chapel.

But,” McCoy continues, holding up a finger. “After a while, I figured out that it’s generally best to start with ‘I was wrong.’ And I’ll bet that’s true for idiot male starship captains, too – better than flowers, anyway.”

 

~*~

 

When Jim sees Uhura heading for the turbolift, he jumps up from his chair and walks nonchalantly to join her.

Once the turbolift doors have closed in front of them, he casually says, “Nice job, by the way, on telling Spock I’m some kind of galactic slutbag. Very classy.”

“Nice job, by the way,” Uhura replies, rolling her eyes, “on hitting on me in an unbelievably tacky way the first time we met, hitting on me pretty much every day of my life since, and sleeping with my roommate at least five times that I know of, at least one of which was in. My. Bed. Very classy. Captain.”

They’ve reached the recreation decks and the door is starting to slide open, but Jim pushes the button and it locks closed again. He leans up against the wall of the lift, giving Uhura a long-suffering look.

“It’s possible I may have deserved that, yes,” Jim admits, and Uhura mouths the word “possible?” at him silently. Jim scowls. She’s looking at him impatiently, and he tries to put into words the way that this whole debacle has made him feel; just because he’s pretty sure Uhura can count on one hand the number of times that she’s respected him in her whole life, that doesn’t change the fact that he’s respected her almost from minute one.

“I wanted to blame you,” Jim confesses, and Uhura looks confused and starts to say something, but he holds up his hand – he wants to try to get through this. “I wanted to blame you,” Jim repeats, “but the thing is, it’s not you. Because when you call me a slut, it’s kind of in an affectionate way, you know? Or at least, that’s how it sounds to me – if I’m wrong, don’t tell me. But when Spock said it…” Jim looks away, can’t meet her eyes, even though he knows that’s a giveaway as good as shouting to a trained communications specialist. “That was… different,” he settles on, although other words, like “hugely fucked up” also occur to him.

“I’m sorry,” Uhura says, gently – more gently than he would have expected. It’s not the kind of “I’m sorry” that involves accepting blame, just an expression of sympathy, but since it’s not her fault anyway, Jim’s okay with that.

“Me, too,” Jim replies. “I mean, I’m sorry that things didn’t work out for you two. Anyway,” he says, cracking a smile, “you can put a lid on it now, because my galactic slut days are over.”

“I had noticed,” Uhura tells him, giving him a smile of her own. “Does that mean the great James T. Kirk is finally growing up?” she asks, teasing.

Yeah, Jim thinks ruefully, I’m getting the awful feeling that’s exactly what it means.

He holds a finger up to his lips as he hits the turbolift button to open the door, and as it hisses open, he says “Ssshhh! It’s a secret! No one can know.”

Uhura raises an eyebrow at him, just as beautifully as Spock ever does, and tells him, “I hate to be the bearer of bad news, Captain… but I think your secret’s already out.”

“Damn it,” Jim curses, laughing, and Uhura laughs with him as she leaves the turbolift, and him, behind.

 

~*~

 

“I was wrong,” Spock says, when Jim opens the door to his quarters.

“Wow. That took a lot less time than I thought it would,” Jim says. “Come in.”

Jim had meant, “Come in, take a seat, get comfortable, I have the feeling this might take a while,” but of course Spock misses out on that cue. As soon as the door hisses shut, he stands ramrod straight with his hands behind his back and his eyes looking straight ahead at nothing, and announces to the room at large, “I was wrong to criticize your sexual behavior. I have no right to judge your actions in that arena, publically or privately. My reaction was offensive, ill-informed, culturally insensitive, and deleterious to the continuation of our friendship, which is of value to me. I apologize.”

Jim pauses, still standing in front of Spock, and looks his first officer in the eye.

“You’re right,” he says, not giving an inch. “You were wrong, and also, damn straight you have no right to judge me.”

“It is my wish that our friendship may return to its previous state as soon as possible,” Spock says, but Jim shakes his head.

“I don’t think I want that. Our previous state wasn’t so hot – I thought we were friends, but you were secretly thinking some pretty nasty things about me.”

Spock says nothing. Jim taps his foot. “Why should I accept your apology, without knowing for sure that you won’t just do the same thing again in a week?”

Spock visibly hesitates on the cusp of doing or saying something – his eyebrows are leaning in toward each other, and the curve of his neck is flooded with tension, and Jim feels bad about pushing him; they had a cultural misunderstanding, Spock’s a good guy, Jim actually did used to be kind of a manwhore, not that there was anything wrong with that—

“Please excuse me,” Spock says suddenly. “I must return to my quarters briefly to retrieve two items. I was assured that they would be unnecessary, but as my present approach is clearly unsatisfactory, it is apparent that I have been poorly advised. I would request that you withhold judgment until I return with the necessary supplies.”

“Uh, Spock…” Jim starts, giving Spock a look that he hopes fully conveys the weird and ominous feeling that descended on him when he heard the word “supplies.”

“Spock, what are these supplies?”

Spock looks nervous but defiant.

“I was informed that, for full effect, my presentation of these objects must be a surprise.”

Jim doesn’t know whether to run away or… he’s thinking probably run away.

“Spock, trust me when I say, I’d really like some warning. What are these objects, Spock? You’re freaking me out!”

Spock looks, if possible, even more nervous.

“A night-blooming plant which I purchased from Lieutenant Sulu’s private collection, which he assured me would be most efficacious, and which is currently in quite colorful blossom; and a box containing a selection of small Earth comestibles devoid of all nutritional value, composed largely of products derived from the cacao tree.”

Jim stares at Spock.

Spock stares straight ahead.

Jim’s eyes get bigger.

Spock gets more nervous.

Carefully controlling his voice, Jim says, “You were going to bring me… flowers and chocolates?”

“Yes,” Spock says, sounding uncertain. “If you desire, I can retrieve them immediately – the blossoms are quite spectacular,” he adds, with special emphasis, as if that’s the key that’ll make Jim forgive him.

There are only two reasons that Jim doesn’t burst out laughing loud enough to wake the dead even though he really, really wants to and feels a little like he’ll die if he doesn’t: first, that as soon as this discussion is over, he’s going to tell Bones about it and then laugh and laugh and laugh until his stomach hurts; and second, that poor Spock looks like he’s about to shake apart, and he has apparently made a serious good-faith effort to understand and participate in Human custom and social ritual, even though he’s way, way off base on this one.

“Thank you, Spock,” he says, even though he knows his voice sounds weird because he’s clenching his jaw to keep from cracking up. “That’s… I’m very impressed that you went to the trouble of researching Human social expectations. But whoever gave you your first advice was right – those aren’t really… necessary.”

About five metric tons of pressure bleed out of Spock’s posture.

“Then we may return to our previous mode of interaction?” he asks, and Jim says yes, slightly against his better judgment, but Let’s be honest, Jim thinks: he doesn’t want to have the big feelings discussion any more than Spock does.

“Chess?” he asks Spock. “Or do you need to go back and keep an eye on Storek?”

“Mr. Sulu was kind enough to take on the necessary supervisory duties,” Spock says. “I would indeed find a game of chess pleasant.”

Of course, over the chessboard, they wind up talking anyway – Jim should have known.

“I meant it,” Jim says, fiddling with the only piece he’s succeeded in capturing so far – a lowly pawn. “I know a lot of captains don’t care about fraternization regs, and do whatever they want anyway, but I don’t. I know those rules are there for a reason. I wouldn’t, I absolutely wouldn’t ever sleep with somebody who might think that they… had to, or lose their job. That would… I wouldn’t do that.”

“I am aware of that,” Spock says firmly, and a little knot in Jim’s chest eases when he can see that Spock really means it. “I am aware of that and I believe that your vigilance does you credit… Jim. But you do not have to explain yourself to me,” Spock adds, making off with one of Jim’s knights.

“I know,” Jim says, shrugging. “But we’re friends. So.”

Spock moves his rook carefully – he’s playing an unusually conservative game tonight, even by his usual standards. Jim’s guess is that it’s another kind of weird, Spock-ian apology – like it’ll make Jim feel better if Spock goes easy on him. It totally won’t, and Jim’s a little irritated about it, actually. Of course, Jim’s a big believer in the idea that irritation is meant to be shared.

“I can’t even sleep with Gaila anymore,” he comments tragically, looking at Spock for his reaction, “and let me tell you, that was a wrench.”

Spock’s eyes flick to Jim just long enough for Jim to revel in the annoyance he sees in them.

“I assure you, Captain, that I could not possibly have less interest in hearing about your past sexual exploits with Lieutenant Vro, or any other member of this crew, or, indeed, any member of the Federation.”

Jim can’t resist. “I met this Klingon woman on my summer internship after sophomore year--”

“—or any sentient being of any race,” Spock amends swiftly. Giving Jim an exasperated look, he says, “Or perhaps it is necessary for me to expand my parameters to include non-sentient life-forms?”

Jim throws his head back and laughs. “You know, Uhura did that, too – the first time we met, actually. She called me ‘a dumb hick who only has sex with farm animals.’ That’s a fond memory.”

“Did you deny it?” Spock asks, and Jim laughs again.

“Just the word ‘only.’”

“I see.”

Spock stops going easy on him after that, which Jim’s glad to see, but that also means that the game only lasts about another half an hour. When it’s over, Spock rises from his chair and visibly steels himself.

“Before I take my leave, I wish to inform you that, in accordance with principles of cultural respect and accommodation, should you wish at any point in the future to entertain sexual partners, you need only inform me of your plans, and I will consider it my duty to take upon myself Storek’s care and supervision for the duration of your activities. It is my hope that I may, in this way, demonstrate my support for your Human needs and desires, and make amends for my past conduct, which I recognize was intolerant.”

Jim takes a deep breath – he can tell that Spock is trying to be nice, and that’s great, but…

“Spock, look, I get that you’re trying to be supportive here, but implying that I’d let some random hook-up get the way of my responsibilities to Storek is really not the way to do that.”

Spock’s face tightens, and he looks distressed.

“I never meant to imply—”

“Last time, you called me a slut, and I guess that’s fair—”

“No,” Spock says, intensely. “It was not.”

“—but you… you said I wasn’t, you said that Storek…” Jim doesn’t want to say any of this, but he can’t seem to stop it from spilling out of him anyway, “you said I wasn’t good enough for Storek, that you were going to take him away from me if I didn’t clean up my act, and that’s – that’s… you can’t do that.” Jim shakes his head. “I mean, you can, that’s what scares me, is you could have another hissy fit just like that one, and I’ve got nothing, nothing to fight you with. You could fuck off to New Vulcan tomorrow with Storek and I couldn’t stop you, and I didn’t even think… that didn’t even cross my mind until you told me that I’d have to shape up, or I wouldn’t be able to be a role model for Storek, and you’d take him away.”

Spock looks genuinely shocked – even on a Human, his expression would count as stunned. He takes a step toward Jim, still seated at the table, and speaks quickly and surely.

“Jim. I would never undertake such an action. It would be the height of illogic. You and Storek have built an extremely beneficial rapport – one that does not exist between Storek and myself. Indeed, logically, if one of us were to be removed from his parental responsibilities in regard to Storek, it would surely be me,” Spock admits, and Jim can tell it cost him something to say it. Jim doesn’t know what to say to that, so he just waits while Spock breathes deeply, steps even closer, and says, “I was aware that my statements had offended you, but not that they had frightened you. I apologize for both.”

Jim wants to protest that he wasn’t scared, what the fuck is Spock talking about? But instead, he just says, “Apology accepted,” because one thing he’s never doubted about Spock is his first officer’s ability to call Jim on his bullshit.

Spock meets his gaze and Jim is suddenly very aware that Spock’s practically standing between his legs, and Jim can feel the heat rolling off of him, inhuman, both comforting and provoking. When Jim looks up to meet his dark eyes, he’s reminded of what started this whole ugly, stupid mess in the first place. He looks away, and says lightly, “Anyway, Spock, it turns out you don’t need to worry. It looks like I’m probably not going to be ‘entertaining’ any more ‘sexual partners’ for a while.”

“If this is in reaction to my—you should not—” Spock stammers, and Jim waves his hand dismissively.
“It’s—don’t worry about it, Spock. It’s not you, it’s me.”

The cultural reference flies right over Spock’s head like Jim knew it would, but it does seem to reassure Spock, so Jim’s calling it a win.

“I’ll see you tomorrow, Spock,” Jim says. “And, uh… don’t eat those chocolates yourself, okay? I’ve heard things about Vulcans and chocolate—”

“I am aware of the effects,” Spock informs Jim primly, basically confirming that all the stuff Jim’s heard about Vulcans and chocolate is true – Jim resolves to get Spock sugar-high at the next available (responsible) opportunity.

Spock gives Jim a look that says he knows exactly what’s going through Jim’s head.

“I believe the Human expression is – although I am certain that it is too late – ‘don’t even think about it.’”

Jim wishes Spock a good night, closes the door behind him, then lets his head fall back against the door with a loud thunk.

Flowers and chocolates. Christ. Repeat after me, Jim: stupid crush, just a stupid little crush, it’s a stupid fucking crush…

 

~*~

 

Spock and Kirk continue to make a point of reserving time for the two of them to play chess without an audience, but that does not mean that they discontinue their practice of playing chess in Storek’s presence – Spock, because he believes it to be a valuable educational experience for Storek; Kirk, because, in his own words, “it would break the little guy’s heart if we cut him off.”

“Fascinating,” Storek says, staring intently at the chessboard.

“May I ask a query?” Spock ventures, and Storek nods. “What is the source of your fascination with my chess matches with Captain Kirk?”

“Your styles of play and your strategies are utterly different, yet each of you wins half of your games. It is my goal to combine your two styles of play into one cohesive strategy which will allow me to defeat both of you.”

Spock nods – it is an admirable goal – but Kirk shakes his head, smiling ruefully.

“Don’t tell anybody this, buddy, but in the interests of Spock’s full-disclosure parenting policy, you should know that we don’t actually split the games. It’s more like 60-40, in Spock’s favor.”

“Was that difficult to say?” Spock asks, attempting to clear his face or voice of smugness – evidently with little success, since Kirk responds by making a face and sticking his tongue out in a most juvenile manner.

“Fascinating,” Storek says again, this time looking at Kirk. “Although the extended notes portion of your personnel file describes you as ‘arrogant and boastful,’ you are willing to sacrifice your ego in order to comply with Commander Spock’s parenting values.”

“Ouch!” Kirk exclaims, laughing and miming being struck in the chest by some sort of projectile. “Here’s a clue, kid – don’t tell people about the mean things in their personnel file. It tends to make them sad.”

Storek peers at Kirk closely.

“You do not appear sad. In fact, you appear to be experiencing a high degree of mirth and amusement.”

“That? Is because I…” Kirk points at himself dramatically, “… I am just more awesome than other people. Nothing gets me down.”

“Captain, if you were intending to convince me that you are not, in fact, ‘arrogant and boastful,’ as your personnel file states, you have chosen what appears to be a singularly ineffective strategy.”

Kirk laughs loudly, and even Spock finds himself moved to quirk a corner of his mouth in amusement.

“Storek makes a cogent argument,” he says, and Kirk holds up his hands in mock-surrender.

“I’m beset on all sides by Vulcan bitchiness! Ambush! Ambush!”

Storek cocks his head to one side.

“According to the military strategy lessons that you have incorporated into the Human skills curriculum, an ambush must contain the element of surprise. Surely the fact that Commander Spock would second my statement could not have been a surprise to you – my observation was, after all, the product of inescapable logic, and the Commander has never to my knowledge hesitated to engage in prudent deflation of your ego, when he deems it necessary.”

Kirk laughs again, throwing his head back and closing his eyes as his body shakes with mirth. “You’ve got me there, Storek – you’re right, I should have known that once you started kicking my ass, Spock would join right in.”

“I am pleased that you see the logic of my position,” Storek says, looking extremely self-satisfied, before a sudden undignified yawn interrupts his smugness.

“Looks like it’s time for all good little Vulcans to hit the hay,” Kirk observes, and Storek’s brows draw closer together in confusion.

“Captain, I consider it extremely unlikely that dried cattle fodder is anywhere to be found on board the Enterprise – and even if it were, I do not know what possible purpose could be served by striking it. If this is in some way related to our martial arts lessons, surely there is a more appropriate time--”

Spock interrupts. “Captain Kirk is using an illogical and fanciful Human idiom – ‘to hit the hay’ means ‘to prepare for sleep.’”

“I regret my ignorance,” Storek says stiffly, then departs for his bedroom before Spock can explain that that is not what he meant at all, that he meant to join the atmosphere of conviviality, not to terminate it.

“You’ll get there,” Kirk says quietly, picking up the chess pieces in his quick, deft fingers and packing them away. Spock allows the next several minutes to go unmarked as he watches those fingers dart in among the ranks of the captured pieces, treating a pawn with the same reverence and care as a queen. Spock’s own hands rest uselessly on his thighs – usually, he would assist the captain in packing away the pieces, but tonight he is content to observe.

From over Kirk’s shoulder, Spock sees Storek’s head emerge from the doorway to his bedroom.

“Captain Kirk?”

Kirk twists in his chair to look at Storek and smile.

“Yeah?”

“Would you be amenable to recounting one of your… educational anecdotes to me before I sleep?”

“Sure, Storek,” Kirk says, rising from his chair and stretching gracefully. “You know me, there’s nothing I like better than a ripping good educational anecdote.”

Kirk follows Storek into his room – Spock knows from past observation that Kirk will sit in the chair beside the head of Storek’s bed. Spock does not follow – past observation also teaches him that his presence would not be welcome. Instead, he sits at the table, looking down at the clear, regimented squares of the chessboard while Jim’s voice floats out through the doorway.

“Once upon a time,” Spock hears, “there was a boy named Kal-El, from a planet called Krypton.” Spock knows of no planet with the designation “Krypton,” but he keeps his silence, still listening. “When he was very little, his planet was destroyed, so his parents sent Kal-El off in a spaceship, which landed on Earth in the twentieth century, in a place called Kansas, which is not very far from where I grew up.” Spock considers this coincidence – if these Kryptonians are a long-lived race, is it possible that this “Kal-El” was a childhood acquaintance of Jim’s?

“Kal-El was found by two Humans, Martha and Jonathan Kent, and they raised him to be a good Human being, and named him Clark Kent. But, because he was a Kryptonian, he had special powers – he was super-strong, for example. So he used those powers to help people, and when he did that, he had an alternate identity called… Superman!”

As Spock hears Jim describe the increasingly improbable feats that this “Superman” performed, he begins to doubt the educational value of this narrative – but when he hears about how the alien boy raised among Humans becomes a hero, and saves his new home planet, Earth, from destruction, he acknowledges that, educational or not, the story may have some merit after all.

 

~*~

 

His father’s face appears on the vidscreen, and Spock finds himself feeling uncharacteristic relief at the sight. His father’s advice has nearly always been welcome and well-considered, but recently, in regards to this subject, so complex and frequently impenetrable, Spock finds it invaluable.

“Father.”

“Spock. How is Storek?”

“He is well, Father.”

“How does his education proceed?”

“He is a promising student,” Spock says. It strikes him that this may be an ideal juncture at which to address an issue that has been much on his mind. Carefully, he begins, “Storek has embarked on martial arts training with several members of the crew whom he has judged expert in their chosen techniques, including Lieutenant Sulu and Captain Kirk.”

“A worthy endeavor.”

“Indeed.” Spock hesitates. “He has chosen not to request my expertise in his training, despite my mastery of the Vulcan arts.”

“Do you view this development as a symptom of a larger rejection of Vulcan culture or values?”

“No, Father. There is no evidence to support that conclusion.” Spock hesitates once more. “I believe instead that it is a manifestation of a more… personal rejection.”

Sarek waits patiently.

“Father, it has been apparent to me for some time that Storek prefers Captain Kirk’s company to my own – prefers Captain Kirk to myself.”

Spock does not attempt to conceal the degree to which this conclusion has had a negative impact upon his satisfaction – there was a time when he would have made such an attempt, but his father is by now well aware of the degree to which the details of parenting are habitually a source of unusual perturbation in Spock’s Vulcan calm. Spock is surprised to see a hint of humor in his father’s eyes in response to his confession.

“It is a curious paradox, is it not, Spock? Although all Vulcans are raised to disdain emotion and its outward signs, when confronted with an exceptional example of Humankind, with all their strident and uncontrolled feeling, it is nearly always the case that we prefer their chaos to the order of our Vulcan brethren, rather than disdaining it as we are trained to do. So it was for me, when I became aware that I preferred your mother to all of the Vulcan women of my acquaintance; so it was for you, when you preferred your mother to me; and so it seems to be for Storek. Indeed, it seems that, at this juncture, this particular preference must perhaps be elevated to the status of a family tradition.”

Spock feels unsure of the proper response – he cannot deny that, as a child and as an adult, he did feel a marked preference for his mother’s company, but in the self-absorption of childhood, it had never occurred to him that his father might notice that preference, and might find it painful. In his own defense, he did not take much care of his father’s feelings in part because he labored under the misapprehension (partly attributable to Sarek himself) that his father had no feelings of which to be cautious. Nevertheless, Spock now finds himself prompted to offer some reassurance, despite his awareness that such reassurance may be unnecessary.

“I am always very grateful for your advice,” Spock says. “Especially your willingness to share candidly your own experience of fatherhood. It has instilled in me a long-overdue appreciation for your facility in the delicate task of parenting.”

“It is merely my duty,” Sarek replies, but he appears pleased. “How is Captain Kirk?”

“He, too, is well, Father.”

“Do you find him to be an acceptable parent for Storek?”

“I find him more than acceptable,” Spock says firmly. “I find him—” Spock recalls his father’s word. “—exceptional, Father. An exceptional example of Humankind.”

“Fascinating,” Sarek remarks, and Spock feels an inexplicable spark of nervousness at his father’s reaction. “I very much wish to meet him,” Sarek continues, “in better circumstances than our last encounter.” Spock does not know why, but he immediately feels that that is a terrible, extremely illogical idea, likely to end in unforeseeable chaos and unavoidable humiliation, largely on his own part.

“Unfortunately,” Spock says quickly, “I do not think that that will be possible for some time. Although our recent encounter with the j’Fenni minefields has spared us Neutral Zone patrol duty for now, the Enterprise is the flagship of the fleet, and thus in high demand.”

“I understand,” says Sarek. “Are you permitted to disclose the nature of your next mission?”

Spock nods. “We have been called to Ilo Ipsilon to take custody of the chief executive of their planetary government. He has been indicted on unknown charges, and due to the difficulty presented in attempting to ensure a balanced and impartial trial on his home planet, he is being transferred to Andoria to be tried by a Federation court. It should present no danger and, I anticipate, no particular challenge.”

“I am pleased by our discussion, Spock,” Sarek announces. “I look forward to seeing you and Captain Kirk soon.” Before Spock can again protest the unlikelihood of that occurrence, the vidscreen goes black.

For a few idle seconds, Spock contemplates his own feelings of anxiety at the prospect of a meeting between his father and his captain – but soon, his thoughts return to their proper place: the upcoming mission on Ilo Ipsilon. He takes a moment to be grateful that it looks to be a simple and straightforward mission – as the past three months have illustrated, attempting to provide for Storek’s needs is challenge enough.

 

~*~

 

Kirk nods at the figures on the viewscreen, receiving carefully calculated bows from them in return. “Greetings, Minister Lesha, Minister Phon, of Ilo Ipsilon,” Kirk says, getting an approving nod from Uhura for pronouncing everything right. “My name is Captain James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise. We hear you have a bit of a problem.”

“We do indeed, Captain,” says Minister Phon, a young, dark-haired man in formal robes. “Are you familiar with the details of the situation?”

Jim looks around the bridge, but everyone seems as clueless as he is, even Spock.

“No, Minister Phon, I’m sorry to say that Starfleet only briefed us with a broad outline of your troubles. I understand we’re here to retrieve your First Minister and deliver him to a Federation court on Andoria.”

Minister Lesha nods – she is quite a bit older than Phon, and her hair is graying.

“You are correct, Captain,” she says. “First Minister Chor has committed—”

“—Is accused of—” Phon interrupts.

“Has been charged with—” Lesha throws Phon a quelling look. “—a most heinous crime.”

Phon extends his hands toward the screen, appealing. “We cannot guarantee his safety, or the impartiality of his trial here.”

“There are many angry people,” Lesha observes blandly.

“There are those who would see him lynched in the streets,” Phon says, glaring at Lesha in such a way as to leave no doubt as to who he thinks “those” might be.

“As there are those who would see him pardoned without trial. The First Minister is a powerful man. He holds the leashes to many collars,” Lesha says, looking directly at Phon, her voice dripping with venom.

“What do you need from us, ministers?” Jim asks. He’s got a pretty good idea now why a hometown trial might not be such a good idea.

“We need you to send a security team to retrieve First Minister Chor from the detention facility where he is currently being held,” Phon tells them. “A large one, for his own protection. It is only three miles from the detention center to the shuttle port, but when mobs are roaming the city, anything may happen in three miles.”

“Once he is aboard your shuttle,” Lesha continues, “we ask that you transport him to Andoria as quickly as possible, so that we, as a people, may soon put this atrocity behind us.”

“What is this crime that he’s accused of?” Jim asks warily. He’d been expecting some kind of corruption charge, embezzlement or something, but the words Lesha’s using make him think there’s something bigger here, something uglier.

Lesha and Phon glare at each other for a long moment without speaking, until Phon says tersely, “I will not speak of it. I cannot. Lesha, please do not stray from those facts that can be proven.”

“Why would I, when even those bare facts are sickening enough?” she replies, with a careful twist of her head, as Phon turns away from the screen and begins to pace behind her.

“The government of Ilo Ipsilon,” Lesha begins, “has always prided itself on its ability to provide for every member of our society, giving shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, care to the orphan, medicine to the sick. So it has been since we were just a colony, six thousand farmers and an unprepossessing mudball in a forgotten corner of the galaxy. Even now that our fields feed the people of countless worlds, and our people and our name are respected, we have not forgotten that commitment.” She takes a deep breath. “We maintain a network of orphanages,” she says, and Jim suddenly feels a radiating cold begin in the pit of his stomach, working its way through his veins.

“The orphanages are the pride of our social safeguard system – many children from the system have gone on to become great artists, statesmen, athletes, businessmen; and the education and medical care that those children receive is second to none. Of course, none of this can compensate for the loss of a parent, or soothe that kind of grief. But we do our best, and we are proud of our orphanages. First Minister Chor took a special pride in them, a special interest. This was not unusual. They are worthy of such attention.”

Jim notices, with a cold and clear kind of detachment, that Minister Lesha’s hands are shaking where she holds them by her sides. He clenches his own hands on his chair, tightly enough to whiten his knuckles, but it doesn’t help. His are shaking, too.

“He visited them so often – especially the Plen orphanage, which was a walk of mere minutes from his office.” Her voice breaks, raggedly and she stands frozen in place, as if to take another step would be physically painful. When it becomes clear that she can’t bring herself to continue, Phon steps forward.

“It was discovered a few weeks ago that, for years, Minister Chor had been visiting the Plen orphanage at night – the security tapes were altered, but clumsily; it is likely that he performed the alterations himself. His purpose there may have been entirely innocent—” Phon says, in a pleading tone, as if he wants desperately to believe his own words, but Lesha wheels on him, her hands clawed, her face twisted.

“You fool, you contemptible fool!” she cries. “You will not speak with the children, you are afraid to hear what they say, but I have spoken with them, with more than a dozen of them, too afraid at first to even look me in the eye as they told me the truth. I have gathered their testimony for the trial, and listened to them answer those cold, clinical questions, you monster of willing blindness!”

She turns back to the screen, and Jim freezes with the irrational feeling that she’s looking right at him, that somehow her eyes are seeking his across the thousands of miles.

“He told them it was his right!” Lesha says, almost sobbing now. “He told them he was… entitled. Because he was the First Minister, and so they should not tell a soul. How they should be honored at his… attentions. In the dead of night, slithering into their beds like a snake, the little ones whose care was entrusted to him, to all of us…” She’s sobbing in truth now, half in anger, half in shame. Jim thinks of the pride she told him about, the pride that the people of Ilo Ipsilon felt for how well they cared for those in need, how well they provided for those who were vulnerable, and he aches with an echo of the shame they must feel. He can well believe that Minister Chor might have been lynched in the street.

Jim tries not to think about the words that she’d used, the images they couldn’t help but drag up from the dark corners in his brain that he hadn’t wanted Spock to see, but he’s frozen in his chair, powerless, thinking of men who feel entitled to things that aren’t theirs to take; of slithering snakes in the night.

“Thank you for sharing the truth with us,” Jim hears himself say, gently. “We will retrieve the First Minister within the next five hours, and depart for Andoria as soon as we have him in custody. I am truly sorry for your pain.”

Uhura ends the transmission, then turns to look at Jim. God, Jim thinks, I must look fucking awful, because everyone on the bridge who’s not still frozen with horror is staring right at him, now. Jim thinks for a minute about soldiering on, about ignoring everything and clinging onto his captain’s chair as hard as he can, but he knows that’s not fair. He knows what he has to do.

“Mr. Spock?” he calls, and his first officer steps up to his shoulder.

“Captain,” he acknowledges.

Jim takes a deep breath, and dredges up a smile from somewhere – Uhura flinches when she sees it.

“With full appreciation of the irony of the situation, I officially relinquish command of the Enterprise to you, Commander Spock. I am… emotionally compromised by the mission at hand.”

Everyone but Spock looks stunned – Spock, instead, looks like he’s about to protest. Jim stares him down, and whatever Spock sees in his eyes – or whatever Spock saw in his head – must be enough.

“I look forward to your return at the successful termination of this mission… Jim,” Spock says quietly, and Jim nods his thanks and walks off the bridge.

The looks he gets as he heads for Engineering tell him that, just his luck, that transmission reached most of the ship. Well, Jim thinks, trying to salvage something good out of this shitstorm, it’ll save a lot of individual awkward explanations.

He finds the person he’s looking for hunched over paperwork in the Engineering office.

“Gaila. Can you… take Storek for a while?”

Gaila looks up at him, wide-eyed, and nods. “Of course, Captain.”

There’s no judgment in her tone, but Jim still feels defensive. “It’s not that I don’t want to see him, or that I don’t—”

“Captain. Jim.” Gaila meets his gaze and holds it. “I understand,” she says. “I understand.”

Jim remembers, suddenly, the day in Basic Xenology when the professor had delivered a lecture on the Orion slave trade, and how Gaila, sitting next to him, had taken beautiful, exhaustive notes that day, never looking at anything but the professor’s face or her PADD. All the other cadets had turned to look at her, but she just took her notes, her stylus pressing down so hard into the PADD that its screen was washed with flares of color. When class was dismissed, Jim had tried to talk to her, but she had just said quietly that she didn’t really want to be around people, and gone off on her own.

She understands.

“Thank you,” Jim says.

“It’s no hardship,” Gaila tells him, smiling. “I love Storek. We all do.” She pauses. “None of us would ever let anything happen to him,” she adds, with emphasis.

“I know. I’m… Thanks.”     

“What about Commander Spock?” Gaila asks – once again, Jim gets the uncomfortable feeling that she sees more than he wants her to.

“Acting Captain Spock will complete this mission admirably,” Jim says, but he knows that’s not what she means. As soon as Spock has a free split-second, he’s going to be in Jim’s quarters demanding an explanation, and Jim knows it’s past time he should have given one.

“You’ll do the right thing,” Gaila says, with absolute confidence. “Human custom dictates that when someone is having a difficult experience, you should both give them their space, and embrace them. I don’t think I can do both. Which do you want?”

Jim holds his arms out wordlessly, and Gaila pulls him close in a warm hug.

“The Sisters shine their starlight on you,” she whispers in his ear, “on the dark places in your soul, that you may look without fear. Such is my prayer, I seal it with touch.” She pulls back slowly and plants a soft kiss on his forehead.

“I didn’t know you were religious,” Jim says, which is stupid, but he’s not at his best right now.

“There’s more to Orion than the slave trade,” she tells him calmly. “Go take a nap, or masturbate, or read a book. Spock will find you when he can.”

“Thanks, Gaila. Will do.”

Gaila’s suggestions are all basically good, but in the end, Jim just lies flat on his bed and stares up at the ceiling, trying to think of what to say, until the door chimes and it’s game time.

 

~*~

 

When Spock enters the captain’s quarters, he finds Jim seated on the bed, looking up at him with a blankness and control that even a Vulcan would admire.

“We have retrieved First Minister Chor, and Mr. Chekov is plotting our course to Andoria even as we speak.”

“Did you go down with the security team?” Jim asks.

Spock nods. “It was extremely chaotic, and I believe it unlikely that the First Minister that would have survived were we not present, but he was escorted to the shuttle unscathed. The security team sustained relatively few injuries – three broken bones and assorted lacerations and abrasions.”

“They’re in sickbay now?”

“Indeed,” Spock replies. He hesitates, unsure whether to go on, but as his predicament is of an emotional nature, he cannot think whom else he would ask.

“There was a woman in the crowd,” he begins. “She followed us to the shuttle. She was weeping.”

“That sucks,” Jim volunteers.

“She… asked me if I had any children. She asked me how I would feel if my child had been… abused in such a manner.”

“What kind of a question is that?” Jim mutters without looking at Spock. His tone is dismissive, incredulous, but there is a strange energy to his stillness that leads Spock to believe that there is more under the surface than he knows.

“Her question…” Spock says, “…if such a thing were to happen to Storek, I…” He breathes, and tries again. “I would be emotionally compromised,” he says finally. “As, I am sure, would you. But… there has been no such occurrence,” says Spock – the moment that the words leave his mouth, he is struck with a freezing uncertainty, and he turns to look at Jim. Whatever is in his eyes makes Jim jump up from the bed and reach out to take Spock’s arms in his hands, shaking his head and saying “No, no, no,” over and over again.

“It’s not Storek,” Jim tells him, “nothing’s happened to Storek, Storek’s fine.”

Spock takes another slow breath and brushes nonexistent dust from the fabric of his tunic. To say that he calms down would imply that he had succumbed to a period where he was not calm, which would not be Vulcan. Nevertheless, it is true. Spock is attempting to determine how best to ask the intrusive and personal question that he must, nonetheless, ask, when he hears Jim say something so softly that even Spock’s Vulcan ears cannot be certain of it. When Spock looks up questioningly, Jim meets his gaze unflinchingly, and says, more strongly this time, “It’s me, Spock.”

Although he should not be surprised – there have been hints all along, which Spock has ignored out of deference to Jim’s privacy and Spock’s own ineptitude with Human emotion – he is still struck dumb by Jim’s simple pronouncement. He continues to say nothing, and moves robotically when Jim guides him to sit on the edge of the bed, and then joins him there. Spock, with his higher body temperature, feels no heat radiating across the careful six inches that Jim has left between their bodies, but there is something there, some charge, that shadows his awareness as Jim looks into the distance and begins to speak.     

“You remember what Minister Lesha said… ‘entitled?’ My… my stepdad thought he was entitled. He told me that. How, when he married Mom, he thought she was going to be around, but she wasn’t, so it was my job to make it up to him. How it was my fault she was gone, so I had to pay him back. I didn’t believe him, not for a minute, but it still pissed me off.”

Spock does not know how to meet Jim’s anger. He has anger of his own to offer: anger at this man whose name he does not know but whom he would strike on sight, were they ever to meet; anger at the mother that Jim cannot bring himself to blame – Spock has no such scruples. But Spock somehow senses that Jim does not want his anger, might even mistake its target and take it for a rejection. So instead, Spock musters his few and poor emotional resources, and excavates the sorrow and loss buried under Jim’s rage – to those, he knows the proper response.

“I grieve with thee,” he tells Jim, and is pleased when Jim seems to take comfort in Spock’s stilted and formal offering.

“I’ve never told anybody else,” Jim says quietly, amending, “Well… once. Once, two years ago, when I was… really, really drunk, I told Bones.”

“Was Dr. McCoy’s reaction upsetting?” Spock asks – before he has time to become angry again on Jim’s behalf, the captain shakes his head.

“No… not upsetting… at least, not the way you mean – It’s not like he was mean to me, or called me names or made me feel like… I don’t know. I mean, it was fine, what I remember of it. He—You can’t tell anyone.”

Spock nods. He thinks, illogically, that there is not much that Jim could ask for that Spock would not give, at this moment.

“Bones… fuck.” Jim runs his hands through his hair. “He cried. I don’t even… do you know how long it’s been since I cried over it? Years. I’d stopped crying about it before it even stopped happening; I mean, sooner or later, you just run out. But yeah. He cried, which freaked me out. And the next two weeks were rough, because I barely remembered what happened, and Bones couldn’t decide whether to treat me with kid gloves, or whether to try too hard to pretend that things were normal.” Spock makes a note to avoid those two modes of behavior, if possible. “We got it back, though,” Jim continues, “got back to being best friends. So, anyway…” Jim trails off. “Bones is the only person I ever told,” he says softly. “Until now. Until you.”

“Why?” Spock asks, which is distressingly imprecise, but which Jim seems to understand. He blows out a sharp breath and rubs his hands over his thighs before he speaks.

“The timing isn’t… I wouldn’t have picked this, now, but… you deserve to know. I mean, you’re letting me raise your kid. You should know. I probably should have told you that first day, but… yeah.”

There is a thread of shame and a thread of fear running through Jim’s voice which Spock does not understand.

“Do you believe that I will alter my opinion of your fitness as Storek’s parent in light of this revelation?”

Jim shrugs, which Spock knows by now to read as an affirmative.

“You could,” Jim says. “You wouldn’t be crazy. I mean, you knew I was fucked up, I was up front about that, but… not this fucked up. Not fucked up in this way, you know?” Jim looks away. “Besides, you’ll probably want to… to be… watching, I guess. I swear to you,” he says, looking back at Spock urgently, “I swear on… on this ship, on anything you want, that I love that little guy more than my own life, okay, and I would never hurt him – God, I would cut off my own hands if I ever even thought about…” He trails off, and the shadows over his eyes look like bruises. “But I understand it looks bad,” he says, his voice carefully controlled. “I know the numbers say that the kids of… of a-abusers, whatever the hell that word actually means, are more likely to turn out the same, so… yeah. I wouldn’t blame you.”

Jim is looking determinedly into the middle distance, and that is unacceptable, because Spock knows that eye contact is a mark of sincerity in Human communication, and it is imperative that Jim believe in the sincerity of Spock’s reply – any other outcome would be intolerable. It is for this reason that Spock reaches out his hand to place it softly on the lower part of Jim’s face – the lower, so as not to give the impression of an attempt at a mind-meld – and turns Jim to face him until they are eye-to-eye.

“Jim,” Spock says simply. “No.”

It is clear by the movement of the muscles surrounding Jim’s eyes that he still does not understand, so Spock reaches for the words he thinks his mother might have used.

“I know you, Jim. We have been honest with each other. If you feel that you cannot trust yourself, I offer you my certainty. It is absolute.”

Jim appears to consider this carefully, searching Spock’s eyes for something until, finding it, he says quietly, “I’ll take that.”

Silence falls between the two of them once again, pregnant with meaning, but not uncomfortable.

“Gaila’s taking care of Storek,” Jim says, and Spock nods.

“I should tell him.” Spock turns to look at Jim, surprised, and finds a look of determination on the captain’s face. “I mean, if that’s okay with you. He’ll want to know why I handed over the ship, for one thing. And…” Jim’s hands turn to lie open and empty on his lap. “Nobody’s entitled,” he says in a voice that is low, but hard. “I’m sure he knows that. But. Just to make sure.”

Vulcan society has always valued courage – in the era before Surak, the time of warriors, it had been the most prized quality a Vulcan could possess, meriting the attention of the poets and the memory of history. It is still considered a desirable trait – the strength of will necessary to do what is logical, even when it may cause harm to oneself – but it has ceased to be valued in and of itself; now it is merely one of a suite of supporting virtues that aid one in the pursuit of the ultimate goal: logic. Spock thinks, at this moment – watching Jim hold his head as if he had not, just five minutes ago, been crippled with shame; watching Jim clench his fists as if fear is an enemy that can be struck down with sheer force of will like all the others he has defeated – Spock thinks that perhaps Vulcans have lost something in that exchange.

“I have no objection to your plan,” Spock says, which is insufficient, but which it is not in his nature to exceed. “If you would find it beneficial, I would be willing to accompany you--” he starts to offer, but Jim shakes his head and interrupts.

“You know what I really want?”

“It appears that I do not,” Spock admits, and Jim cracks an extremely weary smile and points a finger.

“That. I need you to… make fun of me. And raise your eyebrow at me.”

In regard to the matter of the eyebrow, Spock is only too willing to oblige, although he cannot say he fully understands.

“Like that,” Jim tells him, nodding. “And tell me how illogical I am, and take all of my idioms literally.”

“Why?” Spock asks, puzzled, and Jim’s answering look is sharp.

“Because… you can. That’s how we do it, and that’s still how we’re gonna do it.”

Spock could tell Jim that he has never believed Jim to be fragile; tell him that Spock knows that for Jim, as for Spock himself, to be treated as if he were a liability would be the greatest injury of all, but it appears that that is not what Jim needs from him. So instead, he says, “I am uncertain whether that statement could possibly have been more vague, even if you had exerted significant effort in the attempt to make it so.”

And Jim says, “Oh, I bet it could have been,” and Spock raises his eyebrow once again, recalling the beneficial effects of the previous occurrence, and says, “I am willing to categorically state that I believe that outcome to be impossible,” and Jim winks at Spock and says, “I’m Captain James T. Kirk. I eat impossible outcomes for breakfast.”

As Spock reminds Jim that he is not currently captain of anything – going on a brief tangent to mention his own current possession of Jim’s chair on the bridge, which provokes the desired level of annoyance, as measured by the narrowing of Jim’s eyes and the twitching of his jaw – before moving forward to an extremely pedantic discourse on the subject of consuming intangible concepts at any time of day, let alone the early morning, he feels again that charge between them. In the back of his mind, in a sector not required for maintaining his banter with the captain, he analyzes his own recollections, and concludes that he can trace the existence of this barely-present connection to the occasion of his mind-meld with Jim – in the intervening months, Spock observes from the contents of his memory, it has grown stronger. Tonight, it is stronger yet.

After what seems to Spock an excessively frivolous amount of time spent in voluble discourse, Jim retires to his own rooms, with a promise to supervise Storek for the duration of this mission.

Spock waits until Jim has left, then walks swiftly to his computer terminal. He begins a search for “Winona Kirk,” knowing that it will lead him to marriage certificates, which will lead him to a name, which will lead him to an address. The computer finishes its search, and the list of results appears… or, at least, the list of results should appear. In reality, a blank screen pops up on Spock’s terminal. On it are six words: DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, SPOCK.

Spock is amused and slightly impressed, but not discouraged. On Andoria, there will be many computer terminals with access to Federation databases, hopefully free of the interference of one James T. Kirk – although Spock, now that he gives the matter consideration, would not put it past Jim to have hacked the entire Federation computer system by now, removing remote access to his mother’s files. It is of no consequence. Spock has always cultivated the virtue of patience. In time, be it weeks or months, Jim’s vigilance will lapse. Spock will be prepared. Satisfied in that prospect, Spock performs his ablutions, then sinks into a necessary sleep.

 

~*~

 

On the following day, the Enterprise deposits First Minister Chor into the hands of Federation justice, and Spock returns command to Captain Kirk. The crew’s morale is clearly in a delicate position – there is unexpressed violence hovering in the air, an atmosphere of choked frustration that Spock finds oppressive. Into this precarious situation enters Captain Kirk, who, in inimitable James T. Kirk fashion, finds out that tomorrow is Ensign Chekov’s eighteenth birthday, and insists that the Enterprise host a social gathering in the mess hall that very night to celebrate.

Spock was initially dubious at the prospect of crowding several hundred people with repressed vengeful impulses into one room and then supplying them with inhibition-reducing substances, but after the second hour of the party, not long after Lieutenant Sulu invents an alcoholic concoction that he names a “Sexual Integrity Field Booster,” (which is preposterous – there is no such thing as a “sexual integrity field,” as far as Spock knows, and if he is wrong, he does not wish to be corrected) Spock is forced to admit that the captain may have arrived at an extremely effective strategy for distracting the crew from the frustrations of their past mission.If there is a slight edge of desperation to the enjoyment displayed by various members of the crew, it is only to be expected; for the most part, however, the pleasure and camaraderie seems genuine and free, crewmembers of different ranks and from different departments mingling and exchanging humorous anecdotes in an atmosphere of comfort and permissiveness.

“Who can provide some musical entertainment here?” Kirk shouts. Spock debates, but in the end, it has been too long since he has performed for anyone but himself.

“I can perform, Captain. If that is satisfactory, I shall retrieve my instrument from my quarters.”

“That’s great.” Kirk turns to the rest of the room. “HEY, GUYS, SPOCK’S GOING TO PLAY SOME MUSIC FOR US!”

“Captain, I am not sure that that level of volume was necessary—”

“Do you need anything, do you need someone else to play or sing with you?” Kirk asks, blithely trampling over Spock’s previous utterance. His question gives Spock pause, especially since he can see Nyota watching him. He very much misses their musical partnership, but he does not feel that he has the right to ask her to resume that relationship. In the end, in the spirit of their policy of honesty, Spock decides on the truth.

“The ka’athyra is often joined by a solo vocalist, Captain.”

“Awesome! HEY GUYS, CAN ANYBODY SING WITH SPOCK? Wow, there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.”

“I can do it,” Nyota says, meeting Spock’s eyes steadily.

“Um, cool,” Kirk stammers, clearly not insensitive to the potential awkwardness of the situation.

“I must go retrieve my instrument.” And compose myself, Spock thinks, but Nyota walks toward him and says, “I’ll go with you.”

As they walk together down the corridor to the turbolift, they are both silent. As the turbolift doors close around them, Nyota says, abruptly, “Just because I was angry at you doesn’t mean I stopped caring about you.”

The turbolift reaches the command crew quarters, but neither Spock nor Nyota make a move to leave.

“I am… relieved to hear that,” Spock replies, after a moment. “I had feared our relationship irreparably damaged. That thought was… quite distressing to me,” he confesses, and Nyota’s face softens, and she brings a hand up to his shoulder.

“And just because I didn’t think I knew how to be a mother, that doesn’t mean I forgot how to be a friend. Or that I stopped wanting to be a friend to you.”

“Likewise.” Spock hesitates. “Would you… care to resume our musical practices, after tonight?”

“Very much.” Nyota’s eyes are warm, and she gestures for Spock to leave the turbolift. “Come on, let’s show these people what music really is.”

Just before re-entering the mess hall, Nyota stops Spock with a hand on his arm.

“I also want you to know that, although you are aware of my talents primarily in the areas of xenolinguistics and music, I am also a fully-qualified linguistics instructor… and babysitter. In case you were unaware. I mean it, Spock.” Nyota stares him down. “Call on me. Any time. We all want to help.”

“Thank you,” Spock murmurs, before turning to enter the mess hall. When Nyota sings with him, it is not as good as it used to be – their harmony is not as effortless as it once was, their rhythm slightly off… But, Spock thinks, we will improve with practice.

 

~*~

 

Jim is really enjoying the novel experience of waking up the morning after an awesome party without a killer hangover, until he gets a call from Uhura in his quarters telling him that the entire ship’s communication system is slowly shutting down and she doesn’t know why, and could he please come to the bridge before she loses the ability to tell him he should.

“Why me?” Jim moans, and goes to pick up Storek from Spock’s quarters and take him to his biology lesson with Ensign Varma before heading for the bridge. On the way to Varma’s office, Jim asks Storek to set aside a little time for them to talk that night – he knows Storek is curious, and honestly, if Jim doesn’t make himself have this talk now, he’s afraid he’ll chicken out completely.

When he gets to the bridge, Uhura looks like she wants to strangle herself with her own ponytail, and Scotty and Spock don’t look much happier.

“First we lost long-range sensors and communication capabilities,” Uhura tells him, faking calm like it’s going out of style. “Then we lost all external communication capabilities whatsoever. Then the ship’s internal communication systems started gradually going down. About ten minutes after I called you to the bridge, we lost all internal communication. From now on until we get this fixed, Captain, if you want to tell somebody something, you’re going to have to track them down personally, or send a note. Same goes if they want to contact you. And, for the cherry on top—” Jim almost laughs, because if Uhura has sunk to the level of idiom, she must be totally frazzled, “—the internal sensors we’ve lost include our security video feeds, so we don’t actually know where anyone on the ship is in any meaningful way.”

“Scotty?” Jim asks, because when something goes inexplicably wrong on his baby, nine times out of ten so far, it’s been “friendly fire” – Scotty trying to improve one system and accidentally taking out a totally different one.

“Not me,” Scotty says promptly. “I’m not ashamed to say that I was three sheets to the wind last night, and certainly in no fit condition to be making repairs or modifications… and sir, you know there’s no way I’d interfere with our fine lady while in anything less than fine mental fettle!”

Blessedly, virtuously hangover-free, Jim had forgotten about last night’s revelry in the heat of the crisis.

“Any chance somebody less vigilant than you could have been fiddling around under the influence, and messed this up?”

Spock is the one to reply – he shakes his head and says, “Negative, Captain. The tiered shutdown and the timing argue against that conclusion.”

Jim acknowledges that a blasted Engineering ensign showing off for a girl probably wouldn’t have the presence of mind to set up a time delay and a progression pattern for the accidental side effect of his stunts.

“We’re thinking hostile activity, then,” Jim says, cursing internally. “A virus, maybe.”

“I do consider that the most likely explanation, yes,” says Spock, which is how Jim ends up wedged in a corner of the Enterprise main computer room with Uhura, running through lines of code, looking for something that doesn’t belong. It’s Uhura’s system, but Jim is still the best programmer and hacker on the ship, so the two of them are doing the grunt work as a team while Spock works with Scotty to create manual overrides for some of the most essential lost subsystems, like the security video feeds and the long-range sensors.

As Jim rubs his eyes, which are beginning to glaze over from staring fixedly at the screen for two hours, Uhura coughs in the way that people do when they’re trying to get your attention so that they can start an awkward conversation at the halfway point, instead of dragging through all the pleasantries.

“I may have misjudged you,” she says, still staring fixedly at the PADD screen. “Handing over the bridge to Spock like that, during our last mission… you showed a lot of maturity there. I was impressed.”

Jim wants to say thank you, because he really does care about Uhura’s respect, more than just about anybody else’s, but it looks like she’s got a speech going here, and far be it from him to interrupt.

“You take being Captain seriously,” she says, and nods, sort of to herself. “I knew that, on some level, but I really see it now. You take Storek seriously – any idiot can see that. I admire that. And you…” She sighs, and turns to look at Jim, away from the screen. “You take Spock seriously,” she says softly.

“As much as I appreciate this,” Jim interrupts, “can I please pause and take a minute to ask if I am really that goddamn transparent? Because that’s just embarrassing, if it’s true.”

Uhura makes that face that she makes when she wants to laugh but won’t give Jim the satisfaction.

“I’ve been crazy about Spock,” she tells him matter-of-factly. “I know what it looks like.” She turns back to the screen, her eyes scanning back and forth across the code as she talks. Jim’s not fooled. “You’ve changed him,” she says. “And he’s changed you, too. Spock and I were… really careful with each other, careful not to change each other, to reassure each other that… I liked him just the way he was, and vice-versa. That was what made us good together, but I think it also might have been our mistake.”

“I’m sorry about you and Spock,” Jim says again, uncomfortable, but Uhura just shrugs and says, “Don’t be. It’s not your fault. We’re friends now. I couldn’t do for him – and for Storek – what you do. You’re a total barbarian and you drive me nuts, but you’re a good father.”

Jim narrows his eyes. “Um… thanks? I think?”

“Don’t let it go to your head,” she says dismissively. “You’ve still got a long way to go before I decide you’re good enough for Spock.”

“Uhura…” Jim ducks his head uncomfortably – he’s getting a little tired of these wildly painful and awkward conversations that keep popping up all over the place. “That’s not… he’s not… he doesn’t. Not… me.”

She startles – apparently being a trained communication specialist means she got something from that incoherent mumble.

“I’m sorry,” she says, looking right at him and sounding a little flustered. “I assumed… Huh. I’m sorry,” she says again, more gently.

“We should have a club,” Jim mutters, and Uhura laughs – she’s gorgeous, and Jim’s appalled to realize he barely even notices. Spock has totally ruined him.

“A club,” Uhura chuckles, returning to look at the screen. “With a secret handshake and little badg— Ah!” she says suddenly. “Jim, look at this!” Jim quickly scans the lines of code she points at, and grins broadly. “That’s it, baby! That’s part of the virus!”

She rolls her eyes. “Don’t call me baby.”

Jim scooches over in front of the keyboard and starts figuring out where the virus begins and ends, grinning as the motion ends up plastering him against Uhura’s side. “When I beat this bug and save your system, then can I call you baby?” he asks, fingers flying.

Uhura sighs, long and dramatically. “If you beat the bug, you can call me… Nyota,” she tells him, and Jim’s head snaps around so he can gape at her.

“Really?”

If you fix my system and don’t abuse the privilege,” she says firmly.

“The first I’ll have done by the end of the day,” Jim swears, then grins. “The second… I make no promises.”

By the end of beta shift, Jim’s kicked the virus’ ass, just like he said he would, and he’s happy to leave the recovery work on the affected systems in Spock’s capable hands. They still don’t know where the virus came from, which is troubling, but that’s a problem for another day.

“I’ll see you when I see you, okay?” Jim says, clapping Spock on the shoulder on his way to the turbolift. More quietly, he adds, “I’m going to… talk to Storek tonight, so… I’ll probably be bunking there when you come in.”

“Understood,” Spock says, giving Jim a look that Jim can’t quite read – Jim tries to project “I’m fine” as hard as he can, and eventually, Spock nods and turns back to the Science Officer’s station.

“Thanks for the chat… Nyota,” Jim calls across the bridge – he sticks around just long enough to appreciate the dirty look Uhura gives him, before squaring his shoulders and walking into the turbolift.

 

~*~

 

Spock returns to his quarters late, and finds Jim curled in his habitual S-curve in Spock’s bed. When Jim stays in Spock’s rooms to watch over Storek’s dreams, usually the elevated heat discourages Jim from sliding under the blankets; today, for whatever reason, he has sought shelter underneath them, and the heat has given his face a flushed glow.

“Jim,” Spock whispers, unwilling to wake Storek, who is sleeping in the next room. At the sound of his name, Jim turns away from the wall to lie on his back, looking up at Spock through eyes still somewhat foggy with sleep.

“Spock,” he murmurs, half-awake, with a sweet, uncalculated smile.

There should be nothing remarkable about this particular moment in time, merely one of millions of indistinguishable others; yet Spock is suddenly blindsided by it. He is shattered by this thing he did not even know he wanted, and now knows he needs as surely as water in the Vulcan sands – Jim Kirk, in his bed, turning to him with half-lidded eyes and slowly, warmly whispering his name. This – Jim Kirk, stretching out in Spock’s bed as if he belongs there, nestling his head into the pillow and leaving his scent behind. Spock is shamed by his own blindness, his unacceptable failure to know himself, and to know this feeling in himself that must have been growing for months, that had perhaps been growing since the moment this man bit into a ripe apple and wormed his way under Spock’s skin.

“Are you okay?” Jim murmurs, looking confused and reaching out a hand toward Spock’s face – Spock flinches back.

“I am fine,” he says, which is not a lie – “fine” has variable definitions.

“’Kay,” Jim mumbles, “sorry ‘bout sleeping in your bed again—”

“As I have informed you on many occasions, Jim, I have… no objections to your presence in my bed,” Spock chokes out, strangled by the irony. He is relieved when Jim passes by the plain opportunity for some kind of flirtatious remark – Spock does not know that he could endure that in his present condition.

Jim folds the blankets down and stretches – a captivating exercise of utterly unconscious sensuality that makes Spock clench his fist briefly in an attempt to maintain control.

“Lemme splash some water on my face to wake up, okay? Then we can talk a little,” Jim offers, and Spock nods silently as Jim pads, barefoot, into Spock’s bathroom. As Spock sinks into a seated position on the sheets still warm with the heat of Jim’s body, he thinks of all the times he has come home to this bed to find Jim curled on top of it, and has later set his own head down in the dent left by Jim’s, and breathed in Jim’s scent, and not thought it odd or intimate at all.

Jim re-enters the bedroom, and presses the keypad to close the door between Spock’s room and Storek’s. He leans up against the wall, exhibiting a casual grace that seems to be a particularly Human trait. Spock looks away from the cant of his hips.

“I told Storek,” Jim says, “hence the…” He waves his hand at Spock’s rumpled bed. “Nightmares.”

“What was his reaction?”

“Pretty much like yours.” The corner of Jim’s mouth quirks with amusement. “Outwardly supportive and calm, inwardly supportive and planning schemes of dire revenge. Isn’t revenge illogical?”

“To the contrary, Jim,” Spock says calmly, “it is quite logical to behave in such a way toward those who have demonstrated insufficient care for those things that one finds to have great worth, so as to discourage such carelessness in the future.”

“Yeah, but there you’re talking about punishment, or justice, not revenge,” Jim argues, and Spock raises an eyebrow.

“You may, of course, disregard this question if it is unacceptably personal—”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“But,” Spock hesitates. “It was not my understanding that you had ever reported your stepfather’s behavior to the relevant criminal justice system.”

Jim heaves a sigh and slides down the wall to rest on the floor. “Yeah. Storek asked about that, too. There were a lot of reasons for it, I guess – I mean, he threatened me, but what the fuck did I care, what was he going to do to me that was worse than what he was doing already? But he said he’d hurt my brother – Sam – and I believed him. And he said he’d tell Mom everything. I didn’t want her to know. I knew she’d blame herself.” Spock silently opines that she would be correct in doing so, but says nothing aloud. Jim sighs again and looks away. His posture, subtly defensive, makes him appear smaller than he truly is. “And I was, you know, I was… ashamed, which is stupid,” he adds quickly, jutting his chin out, “I know it’s stupid and illogical, and it wasn’t my fault, I’m all over that now.” Jim scrubs a hand through his hair and chuckles. “And Storek totally didn’t get that part, so then I got to explain Earth sexual morality and constructs of masculinity and all that other good stuff, so I think I’ve used up all my fun chips for the next, I don’t know, three years or so.”

“I am sure Storek found your explanation very educational,” Spock says, and Jim laughs.

“Yeah, sure. The minute I let him alone, he did exactly what you did – tried to look up my mom. Which, by the way,” Jim announces with a flourish, “is now entirely impossible from any computer terminal in Federation space, thank you very much, courtesy of James T. Kirk, king of all hackers.” He joins Spock on the bed, and Spock attempts to be indifferent to his proximity.

“Seriously, Spock. If it would make things better to go back now, ten years later, and beat the shit out of him, I’d have done it myself. But it won’t fix anything.”

“I confess I would derive no little personal satisfaction from such an act,” Spock admits, and Jim grins.

“Well, it’s good I’ve delivered you from temptation, then, isn’t it?”

Spock nods noncommittally – the captain’s skill with computers is indeed exceptional, but Spock’s talents in that area are not insignificant, either.

“I imagine that it must have been difficult for you to open this part of your past to Storek,” Spock offers, and is surprised when Jim shrugs.

“It was easier than I thought, actually. Once I told you, once it wasn’t really a secret anymore… it wasn’t as big a deal. And Storek was great about it – you’d never know he hadn’t met a single Human until three months ago. He definitely got that sensitivity shit from you,” Jim declares generously, and Spock decides not to take issue with what he believes to be a wildly inaccurate statement.

“Storek does seem to be adapting well,” Spock agrees, guardedly. He reminds himself of what his father had told him about Vulcans preferring exceptional Humans to their own kind whenever Storek’s obvious resentment of and intentional distance from him begins to sting.

Suddenly, Spock’s eyes widen. Jim is saying something, but Spock is paying no attention whatsoever, because his most recent conversation with his father is rapidly developing layers of meaning that had not been apparent at the time. Mortified, Spock realizes that the subtext of his father’s discourse on Vulcan preference for “exceptional Humans,” and Spock’s later description of Kirk in those terms must have given Sarek entirely the wrong impression… Or perhaps, Spock thinks, chagrined, entirely the correct impression, merely one of which I was, at the time, unaware.

“My father wishes to meet you,” Spock blurts out, and Jim raises an eyebrow in an inimitably Human fashion.

“That’s probably why, then,” he says, an utterance which makes no logical sense to Spock until he remembers that Jim was speaking to him while Spock was occupied with the embarrassing revelation that his father, uncountable light years away, had somehow deduced Spock’s emotional state more accurately than Spock himself.

“Not that I’m complaining,” Jim says quickly. “I’ve been wanting to see how they’re doing on the colony with the rebuilding efforts, and this’ll be the perfect opportunity. Plus, we should have a couple of free days, so there won’t be any problem finding time for you to see your dad.”

From this, Spock deduces with mixed reactions that the Enterprise’s next mission will be to New Vulcan. Idly, he wonders what sort of influence Sarek had to exert in order to arrange that.

“We’ll have a full staff meeting about the virus in the morning,” Jim says, rising from Spock’s bed with the help of a hand on Spock’s shoulder. His hand brushes the outer curve of Spock’s ear, and Spock stifles a shiver. “I’ll tell Chekov to set a course for New Vulcan before I crash. Night, Spock.”

“And you, Captain,” Spock says automatically. The door between Spock’s bedroom and the common room slides shut behind the captain, leaving Spock alone to contemplate his bed. He is exhausted by the day’s events, and it is illogical for him to ascribe any meaning to the act of lying down in his own bed in his quarters when he has performed said action 272 times over the course of their journey – but Spock cannot deny that there is a different cast to the situation now. On previous nights, he may have unconsciously enjoyed the knowledge that his body would occupy the same space that Jim’s had occupied earlier that night, but to consciously choose such an experience, to take pleasure in the signs of Jim’s presence without his knowledge, seems tawdry and somehow intrusive.

While he considers this, Spock removed his uniform and dresses in his sleep clothes. The blankets are still folded down where Jim left them, and the impression of his head is still in Spock’s pillow. Spock begins to lie down, then pauses to turn his pillow upside-down, then returns it to its previous orientation, then removes the pillow from the bed altogether, then finally allows himself a deep sigh. Returning the pillow to the bed, Spock then sinks into a meditative position. Although it is sleep that he truly desires, meditation will serve his need for rest almost as well… and it is clear that there will be no sleep for Spock tonight.

 

~*~

 

It just about broke Jim’s heart to see how hard it was to get Storek to go down to the surface of New Vulcan with them to meet Spock’s dad – it was pretty clear that the poor kid still wasn’t completely convinced they weren’t going to just leave him there. Now that he’s here, though, answering Jim’s questions about how the colony has changed in the three-plus months he’s been gone, the kid seems as happy as a pig in mud – or content, or satisfied, or whatever it is Vulcans are instead of happy.

Jim has to admit he’s impressed at how fast the Vulcans are rebuilding – they already have plumbing, irrigation, electricity and waste management systems in place for the main city, and roads leading to the closest of the other settlements. Of course, the Vulcans themselves aren’t doing most of the work – everywhere Jim goes, he sees Humans, Andorians, Tellarites, and other assorted Federation species looking at blueprints, pouring cement, deep in conversation with Vulcans and with each other. Watching one Vulcan woman and an Andorian man arguing enthusiastically about the right depth for a system of maintenance tunnels, Jim wonders if, someday soon, Spock’s mixed blood won’t be such a rare thing for the Vulcan people. He’s sure that there’ll be people who think blood purity is more important than ever, after losing so many, but… He looks back again at the Vulcan and Andorian pair of engineers, and sees something that could almost be called a smile on the Vulcan woman’s face. Yeah, Jim thinks, good. The more of that, the better. Infinite diversity in infinite combinations, right?

Spock, Storek and Jim wend their way through the different construction projects until they get to the residential district, then try to decipher the painted-on addresses until they find Spock’s dad’s house. Spock knocks on the door and it opens right away – framed in the doorway is Sarek.

“Greetings,” Sarek says. “Spock. I am pleased to see you, and to see Captain Kirk. And I presume that you are Storek,” he says, speaking directly to Storek, instead of over his head – Jim approves.

“I am Storek, son of T’Pring,” Storek confirms, and Jim hides a wince at the way Spock’s shoulders stiffen – he knows by now that “Storek, son of Spock” would be standard, and that Storek’s rejection of it is a pretty loaded gesture.

“Greetings, Storek,” Sarek says gravely. “I am Spock’s father, Sarek. I am pleased to meet you. I have heard much about you from my son.”

Storek gives Spock a suspicious look, but follows Jim and Spock into the house without saying anything. Sarek serves them some extremely awesome-smelling Vulcan tea, which Jim turns down for allergy reasons, sniffing Storek’s cup wistfully when the kid holds it out for him to try. This leads to him telling Sarek about the Vulcan-cake-anaphylactic-shock incident, which no one but Jim seems to think is funny, but Jim was kind of expecting that, given that he’s the only Human in a room full of Vulcans.

Sarek starts talking up the blueprints for the new Vulcan Science Academy, which actually sound kind of boring to Jim, so it takes him a while to figure out that Sarek’s using those sneaky diplomatic skills to engineer a situation where he’s alone with Jim. Sure enough, Storek and Spock go to another room to drool over the blueprints, and Jim’s left sitting across a table and a cup of tea from his Vulcan sort-of-but-not-really-father-in-law.

“I understand you are a man who prefers direct and bold action,” Sarek begins, and Jim nods. “Then I will be direct, and I ask that you forgive any discourtesy. I desire to know your intentions toward my son.”

Jim has a split-second where he is seriously, legitimately afraid, even though he knows it’s physically impossible, that his eyeballs are going to pop right out of his head.

“Excuse me?”

Sarek mistakes Jim’s utter what-the-fuckery for some less severe kind of confusion – he explains, “I request your understanding – the last time I witnessed an interaction between you and my son, Captain, I was forced to intervene to prevent him from murdering you, and now I find that you are involved in a romantic relationship.”

Jim’s first thought is Again? Am I really that obvious, what the fuck, people? But no, Spock’s dad is right, they haven’t seen each other for nine months, there’s no way he’s somehow picking up the fact that Jim might be just-so-slightly in love with his son.

“Spock and I are not in a romantic relationship,” Jim says smoothly, thinking, And please quit rubbing it in, thanks. “We have a great working relationship, a strong friendship, and share parenting duties for Storek, but that’s as far as it goes.”

Sarek’s brows draw together. “Indeed? I confess that I am surprised. My son described you to me as an ‘exceptional’ example of Humankind, on a par with his mother.” While Jim boggles at that, Sarek continues. “That is very high praise. I logically assumed that his effusiveness implied a more intimate connection between the two of you. I ask that you forgive my presumption.”

“No forgiveness necessary,” Jim says, dazed. “Spock really said that? About me?”

“Indeed. I would not have said it if it were not so. Are you surprised?”

Jim shrugs, a little embarrassed.

“It’s not that Spock doesn’t say nice things,” he protests. “Just, he usually phrases them like ‘Captain, today your customary recklessness and lack of forethought were surprisingly non-evident. Are you certain that you are well?’” Jim’s pompous imitation of Spock’s “official business” voice fails to get even a twitch from Sarek, who says merely, “I think you will find that something of a family trait. But I do not doubt that you and my son are quite close, and that that fact is a mark of, among other factors, his great esteem for you.”

“There is a bond, between you – to most Vulcans, I believe it would be imperceptible, but I have… personal experience with the slightly altered nature of a Vulcan-Human bond.” A shadow falls over Sarek’s face, and Jim thinks again that he really wishes he’d met Amanda Grayson while she was alive. She must have been a hell of a woman. “It need not be a bond of a romantic nature,” Sarek continues. “I merely mention it as another piece of evidence which led me to my apparently erroneous conclusion.”

“You’re not talking about a metaphorical bond, like, yay, we’re friends,” Jim hazards. “You mean a bond… like the one Spock had with Storek’s mother.” Jim’s not a hundred percent sure he likes the sound of that.

Sarek looks like he’s thinking hard – eventually he says, quietly, “No. It more closely resembles the bond that existed between Spock’s mother and myself. Not merely because of your Humanity – I mean that it is a bond of choice, not merely of obligation. Its existence is… most strange. If you are not romantically involved, then I confess I am at a loss to explain it.”

Warily, Jim asks, “Does it mean he can read my mind? Or mess around in my head – change what I’m thinking by accident?” Jim knows Spock would never do any of that stuff on purpose, but—

“No,” Sarek assures him, “That is not the nature of a Vulcan bonding – we hold sacred the integrity and privacy of the mind.” He stares at Jim for a long time, until Jim starts to feel a little like a dissection specimen in Introductory Xenobiology.

Sarek’s brow contracts and he purses his lips.

“There is no… contract between you, no agreement to which you both swore—”

“Actually, yeah,” Jim says, relieved to finally have something to contribute. “We have a kind of… honesty policy, I guess you could call it. We promised to be absolutely honest with each other, not even lies of omission. Actually, we even mind-melded – I guess I wanted to show Spock I was serious about it. It was… intense.”

Sarek’s eyebrow raise is even more impressive than Spock’s.

“You made a vow to each other, a vow to share everything that you were and are, and then sealed it with a melding?”

Jim laughs uneasily. “When you say it like that, you make it sound like a wedding.”

Sarek says nothing.

Jim’s eyes widen. “Please, please, tell me that I didn’t accidentally marry Spock. I really need you to say that right now.”

“You did not,” Sarek says placidly. “Not by Vulcan law. But the actions that you have taken would count as a joining ceremony in many Federation cultures – including on Vulcan, before the time of Surak. I think it may be partially responsible for the bond…” Sarek trails off, and looks to be contemplating something very pleasant. “The results should be fascinating,” Sarek remarks, more to himself than Jim.

“Oh, goody,” Jim says, voice dripping with irony, as Spock and Storek return to the kitchen. Spock seems weirdly nervous as he says to his father, “I trust you found your conversation with Captain Kirk pleasing and informative.”

“Very much so,” Sarek says sincerely, which has the strange effect of making Spock look even more nervous. Sarek turns to Storek and asks, “How do you find your education on the Enterprise?”

“I find it most satisfactory, Councilor,” Storek says, frost coating every syllable, and Jim winces.

“I do not believe that my father intended any criticism,” Spock says quickly.

“Indeed I do not,” Sarek agrees. “I am merely curious – my travels as an ambassador have made me aware that the Vulcan education system is perhaps insufficiently catholic for the purpose of training citizens of the wider galaxy. Your experiences with a more diverse curriculum may be of aid to me in attempting to reconstruct and improve our educational methods.”

Storek still looks wary.

“The majority of my instructors are not Vulcan,” he says, like he’s testing Sarek to see if he’ll freak out. “In fact, all but two are Human.”

“Fascinating,” Sarek says, and he looks like he means it. “I assume that Spock counts among your non-Human instructors – may I inquire as to the identity of the second?”

“Lieutenant Gaila Vro is an Orion,” Storek says. “She teaches me xenology and mathematics. I count her among the most knowledgeable and effective of my instructors,” he adds defensively. When this fails to make Sarek rain down fiery disapproval on all of them, Storek flicks his eyes to Jim and says, “Also, Captain Kirk instructs me regularly on Human skills.” The look he gives Sarek after that is almost a dare, but Sarek receives it calmly.

“It is only logical that, living among Humans, you should take advantage of the opportunity to learn the skills that they are best qualified to teach you. I am sure that they learn much of Vulcan from you in return.”

Storek looks as if that thought hadn’t occurred to him. He stops glaring at Sarek and comes to sit by Jim, scooting closer than is absolutely necessary. Storek only lets himself admit that he’s comforted by being near Jim when he’s really having a rough day, so Jim almost takes the chance and runs a hand over his hair like he does when Storek wakes up from a nightmare – but he doesn’t want to embarrass the kid in front of a member of the Vulcan High Council, so he keeps his hands to himself.

Sarek, meanwhile, nods approvingly. “I commend your skill at observing Human behavior, and your willingness to adapt to Human cultural norms.”

“What is your meaning?” Storek asks suspiciously.

“It took me several years of close observation to discern that Humans are comforted and calmed by physical contact and proximity,” says Sarek, looking at Storek and Jim. “Yet I see by your position relative to Captain Kirk that you have already detected this tendency, and moreover, are willing to cater to his preferences by sitting near him in a gesture of emotional support. If your unorthodox education has already created in you such sharp observational skills, as well as such selflessness and cultural flexibility, I cannot see how any Vulcan could doubt its beneficial effects.”

Jim, after nine months of Spock and three of Storek, can read Vulcans pretty clearly; Sarek knows perfectly well which one of them is really getting the emotional support from this situation, Jim can tell – but he’s impressed at how handily Sarek just made Storek feel better, and pleased that he made the effort.

“Captain Kirk has made a worthy effort to adapt his emotionality and illogic so as not to cause me distress,” Storek half-mutters, refusing to make eye contact. “It is only logical that I should make a similar gesture.”

“Indeed,” Sarek murmurs, and Jim’s knows he’s not imagining the tiny hint of a smile on the councilor’s face.

By the time they leave to return to the shuttle port, Storek has clearly charmed Spock’s dad to within an inch of his life – as much as Vulcans are capable of being charmed – and Spock has mostly relaxed, which means Jim can relax and enjoy the family time, too, without being worried that he’s going to lose his first officer to meet-the-parents-induced spontaneous combustion.

“It was very pleasant to meet you, Storek,” says Sarek. “I look forward to more of your company in the future.” The look he gives Jim and Spock is pretty stern – Jim wonders how many more of these trips to New Vulcan to “drop off aid supplies” are in their future. He’s betting a lot.

“Captain Kirk! Commander Spock!” Jim turns to see Ensign Balf trotting down the street toward them. “Sir, there’s been some kind of emergency. The Vulcan High Council requests your presence and the presence of Councilor Sarek at once!”

Jim would just as soon run, but there’s no way Sarek is in any fit state for a jog, so instead, Ensign Balf fills them in as much as he can while they walk quickly back to the center of town.

“There’s something, some problem with this nuclear power station in the Western Desert – I don’t know exactly what it is, but they need some special equipment to fix it, and I think they want you and the Commander to take it there, sir.”

“How far away is this power station?” Jim asks – Sarek answers.

“It is some 2,000 miles from here, Captain, at the center of a small sub-settlement of approximately 140 colonists, largely workers at the station and their families and the necessary support staff.”

“And they want us to beam this equipment up to the Enterprise and then beam it down to the power station?” Jim asks, frowning. Spock shakes his head.

“After the events which led to the destruction of Vulcan, the Vulcan High Council decreed that an interference shield be generated around this new planet, making beaming to or from the surface impossible, for understandable reasons – it also severely limits surface-to-space transmissions of any kind. They will be loath to disable the shield, even under circumstances as urgent as these.”

“Well, that’s just great,” Jim mutters, frustrated. “I repeat, Ensign, what the hell do they want us for?”

“They want you to take the equipment in the Enterprise shuttle we came down in, together with some repair personnel, and transport it to the power station,” Ensign Balf says helpfully. He couldn’t have just said that at the beginning? Jim wonders uncharitably.

When they get to the seat of the High Council, it turns out Ensign Balf is right about the plan of action, so Jim, Spock, Balf, and three Vulcan engineers strap in, and Jim sets a course for the middle of the Western Desert. Storek stays with Sarek, who definitely isn’t complaining about that turn of events – Storek seems pretty okay with it, too.

“So how important are these repairs, exactly?” Jim asks, about 200 miles and five minutes out from the station, the shuttle skimming easily along the sand.

“Without them,” one of the Vulcan engineers intones, “The power station will explode, killing the colonists in the surrounding settlement.”

Jim’s eyes widen, and he gives Spock a disbelieving look. “Well, shit,” he says, and that’s when everything goes to hell.

Jim doesn’t know what’s going on, but the controls aren’t responding to him anymore, and the navigational system is giving him numbers that don’t make any goddamn sense, and the shuttle is pitching back and forth until it finally drops into the desert, skidding across the sand like a skipped stone, with a vicious sound of screeching metal.

Jim’s not proud of it, but in the sudden silence, his first thought is only for Spock. He calls Spock’s name and gets no answer; Spock’s eyes are closed, and there’s green blood on the crown of his head. Jim reaches out a hand and checks his pulse – Spock’s still alive, and his breathing is good, he’s just unconscious.

From what Jim can see while he’s still strapped into the pilot’s chair, the cockpit survived better than the rest of the shuttle – he’s banged up, but mostly uninjured, and Spock looks fine except for the head wound. When he wrestles off his seatbelt to look at the rest of the shuttle, though, his stomach sinks.

The metal floor of the shuttle is basically ripped away, making the shuttle totally unusable; Ensign Balf’s head is twisted at an angle that no humanoid could survive; one of the Vulcan engineers is dead, crushed half-under the shuttle – he must have taken his seatbelt off, God knows why, Jim thinks, anger and loss settling in – and the other two Vulcan engineers don’t look too good either, although Jim thinks they’re both alive.

He runs to the closer one, a woman – she introduced herself as T’Para; she’s unconscious, which Jim thinks is probably for the best, since she’s been impaled on a beam torn away from the shuttle’s hull. It’s gone through low on her left side, which, if Jim remembers his Vulcan biology right, means it’s missed her heart and lungs, so there’s a chance she could be saved, if he can stop the bleeding. He strips off his gold tunic and packs it tightly around her wound, front and back, but he knows she needs professional medical attention soon, or she probably has hours, at most, to live.

He runs back to the cockpit to try to raise the Enterprise or the Vulcan High Council on the comm system, but it’s completely useless – as far as Jim can tell, the computer’s pretty much worthless. Only basic sensor functionality remains – enough that Jim can tell that they’re about sixty miles out from the power station, over bare desert. Jim swears – it’s pretty much the worst possible situation that they could be in: too far from the main settlement for help to reach them quickly, but not close enough to the power station sub-settlement for anyone to have noticed the crash.

He runs back out to the main body of the shuttle to look at the other living engineer, a man whose name Jim doesn’t remember. He’s slowly becoming conscious, which sucks because he’s also losing a hell of a lot of blood. Jim knows head wounds always bleed like crazy, but he’s genuinely afraid for this guy, because the gash across his face is actively gushing green blood, like nothing Jim’s seen before. With a grimace, Jim strips off his black undershirt and starts tearing it into strips – most of them go to bandage the gash on the man’s face, but he also has a wicked laceration on his forearm where he tried to protect his face – Jim can see all the way down to the bone on that one, so some of the black strips go to bandage that wound and attempt a tourniquet.

“Captain?” The engineer’s voice is weirdly slurred – Jim thinks it’s from pain until he notices the way the cut on his face sliced through his upper lip.

“Hey, hey,” Jim says gently, “Don’t try to talk. You’re going to be okay. Help is going to come soon, and you’re going to be back to normal in no time.”

If this man were a Human, Jim would rest a hand on his shoulder, or hold his hand, but he doesn’t know if an adult Vulcan would be more likely to find that comforting or disturbing. He’s already lying about the help supposedly on its way – Jim’s not betting that there’s any help coming at all.

“I have lost too much blood,” the engineer informs him mechanically. “I will lose consciousness in 5.3 minutes and die within two hours without advanced medical care, which you cannot provide.”

“Don’t say that,” Jim whispers, but the Vulcan goes on: “Unless it has been destroyed, the necessary equipment to repair the power station is directly underneath this seat. If you succeed in carrying it to the station, the on-site engineers are qualified to make the essential repairs. If you choose not to make the attempt, I calculate that we have landed outside of the blast radius, and you may wait safely for help to arrive.”

“Yeah, like that’s going to happen,” Jim mutters. “How much time do we have before the power station goes critical?”

“Approximately 48 hours.” The poor guy is gasping now, and turning a grey color that Jim’s betting is a bad sign even on a Vulcan.

Jim bends down and contorts himself to open the compartment below the seats. Sure enough, there’s the equipment – Jim has no idea what it actually is or does, it’s just this complicated mish-mash of something that looks like a miniature radiator, wrapped up in a bunch of drinking-straw-sized tubes, all made of some kind of black metal. It’s damn heavy, and by the time Jim wrestles it up onto the seat, the impaled woman has stopped breathing. Jim thinks about starting CPR, but knowing he’d just be keeping her alive so she could die more slowly makes that seem like a pretty shitty idea. There’s a groan from the cockpit.

“Spock!” Jim calls, rushing back. Spock is carefully unbuckling his seatbelt, looking around at the wreck. Jim briefly explains the situation, and Spock follows him into the main cabin of the shuttle. Jim swears wearily when he sees that the male Vulcan engineer has lost consciousness, just like he said.

“I will walk to the power station with the repair equipment,” Spock says, in a tone that’s clearly meant to stop Jim from arguing, which isn’t going to work even a little. “You will remain here in the shuttle, or in the shade of the shuttle, should it become too hot within, and await the rescuers that the main settlement will surely send. I anticipate that it may be twenty-four hours or more before they can retrieve you; if they had other shuttles at their disposal, I do not believe they would have imposed on us for the Enterprise’s. Nevertheless, you will have sufficient food and water—”

“Thanks but no thanks,” Jim says, rolling his eyes. “I’m going with you, I’m the captain, that’s final. Now let’s go. It’s going to be a damn long walk.”

“Jim.” Spock looks like he wants to shake some sense into Jim – the more violently, the better. “It is not safe. My body is adapted to the higher temperature and lower moisture of the desert – yours is not.”

“Because I’m all about the safe thing,” Jim scoffs. “You know you’re not going to persuade me on this, so let’s get going. We’re wasting time arguing.”

Jim can see that Spock’s just about spitting mad, but he can also see that Spock knows that he’s not going to change Jim’s mind. Spock gestures at the unconscious Vulcan engineer.

“What can we do for him?”

Jim sighs. “Nothing. Just… leave the bandages on and hope for the best. If help comes in time, he’ll make it. But there’s no supplies to stitch him up or anything, so there’s nothing either of us can do.”

Spock nods tightly. Without another word, they drop down to the ripped-open floor of the shuttle and crawl on the sand, dragging the equipment, until they emerge into the sunlight. It’s fierce, and Jim has to blink for a few minutes to get used to it.

“The settlement’s that way,” he says, remembering the navigational system’s calculations, pointing slightly to the north of where the sun is starting to lower in the sky.

“Then let us begin,” Spock says, and they set off. It’s rough going – Spock wasn’t kidding about the heat, which is brutal, and the black metal of their burden starts to burn their hands after about twenty minutes. Spock was in informal dress to meet his father – he has just the one shirt, so when they sacrifice it to wrap around the handholds on the machine, he and Jim are both shirtless. On Spock, that’s metaphorically hot, Jim has to admit, but on Jim, the heat is all too literal.

“Your skin is burning,” Spock observes, two hours into their trek; Jim grits his teeth and says, “You think?” and doesn’t even feel that bad for snapping at Spock. The sun is absolutely fucking beating down on them, reflecting off of the sand into Jim’s eyes and turning his skin red and tight. It’s setting, slowly, which means it’s gradually getting more bearable, but Jim is not looking forward to another day of this tomorrow.

“You should not have removed your clothing,” Spock starts, and Jim shakes his head violently and snarls, “Well, I fucking know that now, don’t I? But if you think I should have just let those engineers die without even trying to help—”

“I acknowledge that there may have been factors of which I was unaware at the time,” Spock says stiffly.

“Yeah,” Jim mumbles. It’s as close to an apology as he’s going to get – the equipment they’re carrying is fucking heavy, and even switching the weight off between them, Jim’s arms are getting tired fast.

Spock reaches out and gently pries the equipment from Jim’s hands, ignoring Jim’s feeble attempts to hold on to it.

“You have been insisting that we take the weight in equal shifts,” he says softly, “but my strength and my resistance to the heat are proportionately greater than yours; therefore, it is logical that I carry the majority of the burden.”

Jim makes a face, but doesn’t argue.

When the sun touches the horizon, Spock calls a halt – Jim gladly collapses onto the sand, wincing a little as it rasps against his sunburned back.

“I can keep going,” he offers, although he really doesn’t want to, “if we’re short on time, you know.”

“If Tydok calculated that we had at least 48 hours to deliver the equipment to the station, then there is no need to push ourselves unduly for time reasons. If we continue to walk at our current pace, we will arrive far in excess of his deadline. However, I do believe that we should continue, if you are able, taking advantage of the relative cool while it lasts. Your skin is already burning rapidly, and you are in serious danger of heatstroke, should we continue in the heat of the day,” Spock concludes.

Jim sighs and levers himself up from the ground.

“Can’t fault your logic there, Spock. How long have we got?”

“Night on New Vulcan, at this latitude, lasts 10.3 hours.”

Jim tries to do the math himself, but gives up.

“So how long will we have to walk in the day, then, tomorrow – to reach the station?”

“Another 5.2 hours.”

“Oh, fucking beautiful,” Jim moans. “Just what I wanted to hear.” But it could be worse, and Jim knows it. As he forces his tired feet back into motion, he imagines making this trek across Delta Vega, and counts his blessings.

“Hey, Spock?”

“Yes, Jim?”

“Aren’t you glad we didn’t take Storek with us?”

Storek had wanted to come along, to see the station and its little settlement, but Jim and Spock had been of one, no-fun, parental mind about that.

“Extremely,” Spock replies, and there’s something shaking underneath his voice that tells Jim that Spock’s imagining all the worst things that could have happened – Jim is, too.

New Vulcan has two moons, and they’re both out right now, which makes the desert seem kind of eerily bright. The sand almost sparkles, and the random boulders that pepper the landscape throw two shadows each. Jim turns to see Spock’s twin shadows, but his eye catches on Spock’s face, illuminated in the cool moonlight. His eyes look incredibly dark and black, and his face is still battered and bloodstained and, fuck, so beautiful, Jim thinks helplessly. He’d like to blame it on his injuries or his exhaustion, on some kind of delirium, but the fact is that Jim has lived through a lot worse than this and kept a clear head.

Spock has, too – on the strength of that first insane day, when Spock had lost his mother and his world, and sort of his mind, but still come through and saved the world, Jim’s trusted him to do whatever it takes. Spock can keep up with Jim, follow where Jim leads in a way that nobody else can, and even if Sarek thinks that the weird bond thing he was talking about started when Jim and Spock promised to tell each other the truth, Jim thinks he’s wrong. It was that first day, the day when Spock called Jim out, and kicked his ass, and never pulled his punches, and met Jim’s eyes head-on, and believed Jim would have his back, and put his hands on Jim in passion… Not in the way I’d have picked, if I had a choice, Jim admits, wryly. But still, undeniable. And, in retrospect, kind of hot.

“Captain? Jim? Are you well?”

Jim startles, wincing at the thought that he was staring so obviously that Spock thinks he’s lost it – but as he comes out of his own head, Jim realizes that that’s not the problem. He’s shivering, violently enough for Spock to have noticed.

“What the hell is this?” he asks Spock through clenched teeth, and Spock replies, “Temperatures plunge at night in many desert climates. They did not do so on Vulcan, and I falsely assumed that they would not do so here, either – I ask that you forgive my oversight.”

“Yeah, sure,” Jim gets out, rubbing his hands along his arms to warm them, and wincing when his hands push too harshly over burned skin. “Just… how long is this going to last?”

“We are currently in the deepest part of the night – I anticipate that temperatures will begin to rise once more in approximately two hours. If you are amenable…” Spock looks torn, but he continues. “If you are amenable, I would request that we stop briefly to rest. My body is not suited to these cold conditions, and I confess myself much fatigued.”

Jim looks closer, and sees that, yeah, Spock’s shivering pretty badly, too.

“Yeah, of course,” he says urgently, “Let’s stop and rest – you can put your shirt back on, too, since the equipment isn’t burning hot anymore.”

Spock looks faintly embarrassed as he unwraps his shirt from the repair equipment and slowly pulls it on.

“It would have been logical to do so the moment the sun set. I fear that my mental capabilities are suffering from weariness.”

“Hey, mine, too,” Jim says, raising his hands. “It’s no big deal. Here, lie down and curl around that thing, so that some animal doesn’t come and steal it, and…” Jim hesitates. “If you don’t mind,” he goes on, diffidently, “I can share some of my body heat with you. God knows right now I’ve got plenty to spare,” he adds, throwing an irritated glare at his own reddened skin. Normally Jim wouldn’t even pause before huddling up, but the run of his own thoughts right before this makes him feel uncomfortably like he’d be taking advantage.

Spock, however, agrees right away, and they settle in a curve around the lump of metal, Jim’s arm thrown over Spock’s waist, his forehead resting gently on the nape of Spock’s neck. Under his hand, Jim can feel Spock’s heart beating, and he smells unfairly good for someone who’s been bloodied in a shuttle crash and then walked for hours in the blistering heat.

“Hey, Spock?”

“Yes, Jim?”

“Why the hell did the shuttle crash?” This has been bothering Jim, because he knows he didn’t crash it himself, and it’s top-of-the-line Starfleet work, practically brand new, so there’s no reason it should have just dived for the sand like that.

“I cannot say for certain. However… I suspect it is related to the virus that disabled our communication systems not long ago.”

“Shit.” It makes sense – if the shuttle’s computers had suddenly shut down, that would definitely explain the nosedive. “First priority, after we get the power station up and running, is to warn the ship that they’re probably still compromised.”

“I concur.”

They fall back into a comfortable silence for a while – Jim’s verging on too cold to sleep, and he imagines Spock feels much the same. Jim’s not used to thinking of Spock as physically vulnerable, since he’s known from the beginning that Vulcans are stronger and slightly more badass than your average Human. He tightens his arm slightly, pulling Spock closer, and notices that Spock’s muscles are incredibly tense.

“I can back off, give you some space, you know,” Jim says, equal parts guilty and irritated, “you can just say, I won’t be offended.”

“It is not that… Jim,” Spock replies, sounding faintly apologetic. “I am merely attempting to restrain myself from shivering. I know that you may wish to sleep, and I do not want to disturb you.”

Jim laughs. “Shiver away, Spock – I’m too damn cold to sleep anyway.”

“But you are not shivering.” Jim can tell from Spock’s tone of voice that he’s frowning.

“Yeah, but that’s because you give off a totally incredible amount of body heat – I forgot how much. Right now, you’re keeping me warm, and I’m just insulation over here – like the galaxy’s sexiest, awesomest winter coat.”

There’s a part of Jim that’s a little sad that, from his current position, he can’t see the effort it takes for Spock not to roll his eyes.

Jim’s mind drifts as he lies awake, feeling Spock tremble against him.

“Hey, Spock?”

“Yes, Jim?”

“Do you think Storek’s okay?”

“While it is impossible to be completely certain of anything which I cannot directly observe myself, or which cannot be logically proven based on established first principles… I believe it likely that Storek is well, though anxious. My father will care for him until our return.”

Jim bites his bottom lip and chews on it a little.

“What’ll happen to him if we don’t come back?”

Spock’s indrawn breath comes a little more quickly, this time.

“I confess that I am unsure – I have made no arrangements for such a circumstance, an oversight which it appears I must expeditiously correct. However, I suspect that my father would assume responsibility for him, and he would be raised on New Vulcan.”

“I don’t…” Jim’s not sure what the tactful way to say this would be. “Is that, uh… a good idea? Because, no offense to your planet or anything, but I kind of get the impression that he, kind of, um… hates it. A lot.”

“There are many benefits to his education aboard the Enterprise,” Spock allows, “and I believe that he is comfortable on the ship and with the crew. That said, I am keenly aware of the absence of an… adequate Vulcan role model in Storek’s life – a situation which, logically, exposure to the greater number of Vulcans on this planet would certainly improve.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Jim says, popping up on an elbow to look down at Spock’s carefully blank face. “What is this ‘adequate role model’ bullshit? He has you, doesn’t he? You’re a kickass Vulcan role model!”

A corner of Spock’s mouth quirks, but he still avoids looking at Jim.

“As pleased as I am to receive your approbation on this count, I must remind you that, however frustratingly Vulcan I appear to your Human perception, Vulcan standards are quite different. I am suspect on many counts. I have friends, including yourself, for whom I feel and express affection and camaraderie; I have engaged in a romantic relationship with a Human which incorporated some sexual behaviors; I refused admission to the Vulcan Science Academy and chose Starfleet; I have a Human parent whom I have never been willing to denigrate or renounce; and, as you personally have witnessed—” A tiny wry smile flashes across Spock’s face. “—I occasionally have great difficulty controlling my stronger emotions… particularly anger.”

“Those are good things,” Jim insists, and Spock turns to meet Jim’s eyes.

“I am pleased that you find them so. I, too, cannot regret them.” Jim allows his body to drift a little closer to Spock’s, soaking up the warmth, cushioning Spock’s shivers with his own stillness. Spock continues, “But to Vulcan society, they are marks of my unfitness to represent Vulcan values, and thus, my unfitness to teach them to Storek by example, as a Vulcan parent should.”

“That is bullshit,” Jim says fiercely – it’s a new feeling, mostly, getting to be protective of Spock, but it feels good. He wants to have the right to it permanently.

“I confess that I also fail to see the validity in such a philosophy,” Spock says. “My mother, although illogical and openly emotional, was an excellent parent and role model. My adult life would have been much poorer without her influence. Therefore, it is only logical to conclude that other Vulcan children, like Storek, can gain much even from imperfectly Vulcan or non-Vulcan parents.”

“Your dad said you said I was… exceptional,” Jim mentions – he thinks it’ll be at least a week before the memory stops making him grin whenever he thinks of it.

“Did he?” Spock says, in a tone bleached of any and all nuance, which makes Jim smile and settle back down on the sand, turning his face into the space between Spock’s shoulder blades.

“Yeah… your secret is out,” Jim mumbles, yawning – Spock gets all tense again, and Jim frowns. “I don’t care if you shiver, I told you that.”

Gradually, Spock relaxes again, and in the combination of exhaustion and the warmth of Spock’s body and the comfort of his presence, Jim does the impossible yet again, and sleeps.

 

~*~

 

It is with some regret that Spock wakes the captain only seventy minutes after hearing his breath even out into sleep.

“If you are able, we should continue,” Spock says. “The temperature has risen sufficiently that I may proceed in relative comfort.”

“Awesome,” Jim says, without the enthusiasm that typically accompanies the word. They rise and resume walking – Jim again, illogically, insists on carrying the equipment, and Spock again, logically, refuses to relinquish it. Their journey proceeds in not-unpleasant silence until dawn, and Spock reflects that, under more felicitous circumstances, this walk might pass for an agreeable recreational experience.

Once the sun rises, however, it is apparent to Spock that Jim is suffering from the effects of the heat and radiation. As the sun gains height in the sky, its rays beat down more fiercely, and Jim’s already-reddened skin begins to deepen to an extremely unhealthy scarlet. Spock’s shirt has been returned to its previous function as a barrier against the absorbed heat of the black metal of his burden, and is therefore of no use in shading Jim from the sun. They do not speak now – it appears to Spock that it takes every resource that Jim can muster merely to continue walking. His steps falter more and more frequently as the day’s heat intensifies, and suddenly Spock notices a troubling sign.

“You have ceased to sweat,” he observes, not bothering to keep the worry from his voice.

“Okay,” Jim slurs, without looking at Spock.

“That may indicate that your body has no more moisture to exude – a symptom of severe dehydration.”

“And what are we going to do about that?” Jim mumbles. “You don’t have any water. Neither do I. We reach the station or I die. I already knew that.”

As Spock watches, dismayed, Jim takes two more stumbling steps, then suddenly collapses to the sand.

“I c’n get up,” the captain protests, and attempts to do so, but merely falls once more. Spock surveys his fallen captain: parts of his skin are a deep red beginning to show bruised purple undertones, and there are raised spots on the tops of his shoulders that Spock suspects may be developing blisters; his eyes are unfocused and his skin is still dangerously dry.

Spock sets down the equipment on the sand not far from Jim. He wordlessly pushes Jim into a supine position, then unwraps his shirt from the handle of the equipment and lays it gently over Jim’s abdomen and lap. Finally, he places the equipment on top of the shirt on Jim’s body, then slides one arm under Jim’s shoulders and one under his knees, and lifts both weights as one. Jim makes a feeble attempt to struggle, mumbling negatives in a weak, scraping voice, but his movements are ineffective. With Jim’s body held securely against his own, and the repair equipment settled in the curve of Jim’s waist, Spock takes a step, and then another.

Spock does not know how long he walks with Jim in his arms; Vulcan bodies are extremely efficient at preserving moisture, so he is not dehydrated, but the sun’s light is blinding, Spock is exhausted, and the weight he carries is heavy even for a Vulcan.

After some stretch of time, surely exaggerated by Spock’s compromised perception, he sees a dark shape on the horizon. As he approaches, it resolves into the Vulcan sub-settlement that is their goal – Spock attempts to communicate this fact to Jim, but the captain has fallen unconscious. When Spock stumbles through the main entrance gate of the settlement, his first words are for the repair equipment, which is gratefully and speedily removed from his hands and taken to the power station; his next words are: “A healer. My captain requires a healer.”

Spock is directed, Jim still cradled in his arms, to a medical office in the direct center of the settlement. When he is led to a biobed and instructed to place Jim upon it, Spock finds it illogically difficult to persuade his taxed arms to release Jim’s unconscious body. When Jim’s bare back makes contact with the bed, a low moan escapes his lips, broken with whimpers as the weight of his own body puts pressure on the burns.

“Commander Spock?” a young Vulcan woman asks respectfully, “the engineers at the power station request your expertise. They know what is necessary to make the repairs, but they predict that, with your assistance, the repairs could be completed 68 percent more quickly. If you will come with me—”

“I will not leave him,” Spock interrupts. Seeing the faint disapproval on the woman’s face, Spock gathers his logical faculties. “The engineers are fully qualified to make the necessary repairs – my presence can only hasten the process, and is therefore beneficial but not essential. The captain’s condition is such that he cannot make the necessary decisions regarding his own care – as such, it is essential, not merely beneficial, that I be present with him in order to both supervise his care and provide the necessary emotional support. Logic dictates that each resource be assigned where there is greatest need; therefore, my place is here.”

“Understood.” The woman departs, leaving Spock with an unconscious Jim, and the Vulcan healer, who has finally appeared, and is scanning Jim’s body with a tricorder.

“We will begin intravenous fluids to combat the dehydration,” she pronounces, over the soft sounds of Jim’s continued moaning, “and glucose for nourishment, as the Human is too fragile to ingest solid foods at present. The burns are serious – our small outpost possesses only one dermal regenerator, of limited charge, and I will therefore be unable to immediately heal the entirety of the burned area. I predict that the dermal regenerator’s charge will extend only to heal the equivalent of fifteen square centimeters. Where should I begin?”

Spock looks down at the vast expanse of red skin, bewildered by the question. Without immediate repair, he knows it is likely that some of the burns will scar, and he does not judge himself qualified to make such a personal decision on Jim’s behalf.

“My back,” the heretofore-unconscious Jim says, surprising Spock, but not the healer, who merely nods. When Spock raises an inquisitive eyebrow, Jim explains, through gritted teeth, “Gotta be able to lie down without wanting to scream. Then I can sleep.”

“That would indeed be beneficial,” Spock agrees, extremely relieved to see Jim conscious and apparently lucid and articulate, although not up to his usual standards.

After a patch of Jim’s back is returned to its usual pale tone, Jim makes good on his earlier promise and falls into a fitful sleep, broken by whimpers, betraying the pain that Jim was too proud to display while conscious. Spock places one hand on Jim’s hair, and, after a long hesitation, reaches out with his other hand to loosely clasp Jim’s. It is an unacceptably intimate gesture by Vulcan standards.

Spock turns to see the Vulcan healer who has been treating Jim – he does not remember her name, but she has been watching what Spock admits is an unseemly and inappropriate display of emotion. Although she is clearly observing him closely, Spock cannot bring himself to regret his behavior – the overriding concern here must be for Jim’s comfort, and Jim appears to derive comfort from Spock’s physical proximity and increased emotionality. He directs a look toward the healer that he hopes will quell any impulse that she might have to verbally pass judgment upon his behavior in a way that might upset Jim.

She meets his gaze calmly – she appears wholly unintimidated, and there is some subtle cast to her features that bespeaks an emotion of her own that Spock is not skilled enough to read. It might be approval, or sadness, or something utterly different – Spock is struck with a new sympathy for Humans who are forced to attempt to interpret his own visual cues. Looking away from Spock’s eyes, and resting her gaze on Jim instead, the healer begins speaking, slowly and without affect. Her words shock him.

“I was t’hy’la, once,” she says. Her voice is even, and her gaze does not waver. “She was a child care provider. She gave up her seat on the evacuation shuttle so that two more of her charges might survive. She died with Vulcan, like so many.” She turns to meet Spock’s eyes again, and the depth of sorrow in her own eyes batters Spock – it is more, even, than he had seen in his father after his mother’s death; it is more than Spock had believed that any full-blooded Vulcan could feel, more than Spock had believed that any being could feel, and survive.

“I was t’hy’la, once,” she repeats softly, then leaves without another word.

Approximately an hour later, a Vulcan man enters the medical office to inform Spock that the necessary repairs have been made to the power station, and that the Vulcan High Council and the Enterprise have been apprised of the situation.

“The Chief Medical Officer of the Enterprise desires to speak with you,” he tells Spock. “A secure line has been opened for you in the communications office across the hall.”

Spock is loath to leave Jim alone, but Jim would be the first to say that his responsibilities to the ship should come first.

“What the hell has that crazy bastard done to himself now?” Dr. McCoy asks, with what Spock feels is an unnecessarily accusatorial tone. Spock apprises the doctor of Jim’s condition, and of the limitations of the sub-settlement’s medical facilities. Unsurprisingly, Dr. McCoy insists that a shuttle be dispatched immediately to retrieve Jim and return him to the superior facilities in the Enterprise’s sickbay.

“That may be unwise,” Spock says, somewhat unwillingly – he, too, desires that Jim be treated with the most advanced technology available. “The shuttle that the captain attempted to pilot to the power station was sabotaged in some way, as I am certain Mr. Scott, Mr. Chekov or Mr. Sulu have surmised. It may be that all of the Enterprise shuttles have been similarly compromised, posing an unacceptable risk to any crew members assigned to retrieve the captain.”

“Damn.” Dr. McCoy runs a hand through his hair in an agitated manner. “I’ll have Scotty check over the shuttles, and I’ll have Uhura ask around to see if there are any other ships in the area that might have shuttles to spare. Sound good?”

“I believe that to be a satisfactory plan of action,” Spock agrees. “Doctor… when the captain and I left the fallen shuttle, one of the engineers was still alive, although losing blood at a dangerous rate. If there is some way to send help to him—”

Dr. McCoy shakes his head – when he speaks, his voice is terse but sympathetic. “Spock, I know Vulcans are pretty sturdy, but if he was already losing blood when you guys left – it’s been more than twenty-four hours, Spock. I’m sorry, but… he’s gone. I’ll make a note for Scotty to send a shuttle to retrieve the bodies when we have a chance. That’s the best thing we can do for ‘em, at this point.”

“I see,” Spock says quietly. He had not truly expected another outcome, but it is still a blow.

“How is Jim?” The doctor’s eyes are dark and worried. “I’m not talking about the dehydration and the burns, I mean, how is he?”

“The captain is in significant pain,” Spock admits, “and he is inconveniently stubborn. That said, he has thus far demonstrated his usual remarkable resilience. I anticipate a full recovery.”

“Yeah, well…” Dr. McCoy grumbles, looking away, “we’ll see. Call me if anything changes. The kid’s up here, freaking out, so the sooner you get back, the better. McCoy out.”

Jim is conscious when Spock returns to the medical office – his hands and jaw are clenched to the point of trembling, but he makes no sound.

“Ship?” he grits out, and Spock relays what he learned from Dr. McCoy.

“Storek?”

Spock attempts to phrase Dr. McCoy’s statement more tactfully.

“Storek is on board the Enterprise – Dr. McCoy implied that he is anxious, but ultimately well.”

“Don’t let him see me like this,” Jim forces out from between his clenched teeth. “Scares him.”

“I will pursue whatever course of action will most efficiently result in your complete and speedy recovery,” Spock says firmly, “and if that course of action includes barring Storek from sickbay for some brief period of time, I will not hesitate to take the necessary measures.”

Jim huffs out a laugh. “Won’t work.”

Spock purses his lips briefly, exasperated. “Regardless of your apparent opinion on the matter, Captain, I do possess some intellectual capacity beyond that of a bright ten-year-old, certainly sufficient to the task of excluding said ten-year-old from the sickbay of a Federation starship which is under my control.”

“Bet you?” Jim asks – in spite of the pain, which is apparently extreme enough to force moisture to seep slowly from the corners of his eyes, he manages a brief sketch of his usual grin.

“Gambling is illogical,” Spock informs him, “and behavior unbecoming of a Starfleet officer.”

“Think you’ll lose,” Jim jeers, and Spock exerts great effort in order not to allow himself to be goaded into a foolish and illogical wager with his superior officer, however certain he is that, were he to enter into such a wager, he would emerge the winner.

Silence falls between them, as Jim’s focus visibly turns inward to battle his own pain – Spock would offer him sedation, but he knows that Jim would not accept it. Spock, too, returns to his own thoughts – to the memories of the previous night, and of Jim’s quiet breaths against the back of his neck, Jim’s wiry strength anchoring him against his body’s tremors. It is inappropriate to think of such things when Jim is so obviously suffering, and doubly inappropriate to think them about his commanding officer and friend. Spock has made many demands on Jim – Spock winces with shame when he thinks of the cruel comments that he made on the subject of Jim’s sexual behavior, comments which he can now admit were certainly motivated more by jealousy than any moralistic impulse on his part – and, although Jim will never be aware of Spock’s misappropriation of the memories of his altruistic actions, Spock’s ethical training made him aware from an early age that a concealed transgression is a transgression nonetheless.

“Where the hell is that damn fool?” Spock hears, and he turns to see Dr. McCoy tramp into the medical office, followed by two quite harried-looking Enterprise nurses. He marches right up to Spock and points toward his own hair.

“You see this?” he asks loudly, “You see this, Spock? Gray hairs. And every one of ‘em the fault of this idiot and his reckless stunts!”

“Bones!” Jim calls from the biobed, sparing Spock the daunting task of attempting to frame a reply to Dr. McCoy’s assertion.

“You look like shit, kid,” the doctor says bluntly. “And don’t you dare tell me you’ve refused sedation, you moron, don’t you tell me that!”

“Okay,” Jim grits out, still smiling. “Won’t tell.”

“You dumb bastard.” Dr. McCoy turns to Spock. “Is he refusing sedation, Spock?”

“He is.”

“Not anymore,” the doctor replies smoothly, jabbing Jim in the neck with a hypospray before the captain has the opportunity to protest or defend himself. Spock approves.

“There’s a shuttle we borrowed from the USS Jodhaabai waiting outside,” McCoy informs Spock while the nurses move Jim’s unconscious body to a stretcher. “Scotty doesn’t trust ours yet. When we get back to sickbay, I’ll do what I can for Jim’s burns, but I can’t regenerate his entire top half, so I’ll probably just try out the new accelerated healing chamber, speed up the natural healing process on his burns by the equivalent of three or four days. You got a sentimental attachment to this place, or should we get a move on?”

“By all means, Doctor, let us depart,” Spock says. However illogical it may be, some part of Spock views this settlement as an indirect cause of Jim’s suffering – he will not in the slightest regret leaving it behind.

 

~*~

 

“Look at this, Spock!” Jim calls, slowly peeling the skin away from the remains of the sunburn on his arms. “This is awesome!” The strip of skin he’s peeling right now is already two inches long, which is totally disgusting, of course, but also totally cool. “This has got to be one of the ten grossest things I’ve ever seen in my life!” Kirk marvels. “Look, you can actually see through it! It’s three inches long now – do you think I could peel the entire sunburn off in one long strip, like an apple peel? How cool would that be?”

Spock doesn’t even look up from the PADD he’s perusing by the side of Jim’s bed in sickbay. “Captain, I confess that I find myself somewhat at a loss to account for your behavior. On the one hand, you describe the peeling of your burn as ‘gross,’ which carries a strong negative connotation, but on the other hand, you describe it as ‘cool,’ which carries a strong positive connotation, yet is objectively true, especially in comparison to the previous sensation of heat which would have emanated from these burns.”

Jim rolls his eyes and explains patiently, “Spock, you’ve got to understand, there’s a segment of the Human male population for which most really gross things are also considered awesome, okay? That’s totally not true for females, okay, so don’t go showing off some nasty insect specimen to Nurse Chapel and expect her to think it makes you hot – but if you tried that on Chekov or Sulu… actually, more Sulu, definitely Sulu… you’d have a winner.”

“Most illogical.”

Kirk shrugs. “I know. That’s Humans for you. We’re great big bundles of illogic.”

Storek marches into sickbay in that determined stoic way he has, and Jim throws a gloating look over at Spock – I told you we couldn’t keep him out – before deciding to see if the Human male fascination with gross things applies to Vulcans, too.

“Storek, look at this! My skin is coming off!”

Storek’s eyes widen slightly, and he comes to stand at the side of Jim’s bed.

“Are you well, Captain? My studies indicate that this is not a desirable condition for Human skin.”

“Depends on the Human,” Jim says, grinning. “Me, I like it when my skin peels – it’s kind of fun. Now, the state of my skin right before this – that was definitely undesirable.”

“Burns,” Storek mumbles, examining the tops of Jim’s shoulders, which were the worst burned, and aren’t ready to peel yet, still an angry red.

“Sunburns,” Jim explains, shrugging. “That happens to humans, when we’re out in the hot sun for a long time. On Earth, I’d probably have to actually try to get a sunburn this bad, but on New Vulcan--”

Storek whirls on Spock, interrupting Jim.

“If it is in fact true that you permitted Captain Kirk, with his inferior Earth-normal sun protection potential, to be exposed to the intense radiation of New Vulcan’s sun for a prolonged period of time, then I must conclude that you have demonstrated either a reprehensible ignorance of the properties of the Human body, or a reprehensible negligence in regard to the captain’s well-being,” Storek announces to an awkward-looking Spock – Jim rolls his eyes at the whole idea that Spock “permitted” him to do anything. Storek has turned away from Spock now, and he’s staring fixedly at the monitors keeping track of Jim’s condition, which Jim finds pretty hilarious, given that he’s pretty sure Storek has no idea what any of those displays mean.

“Storek,” Spock says, “I assure you that the captain and I both took every possible precau—”

“To offer excuses is illogical,” Storek interjects coldly, “as I have no interest in hearing them. They will alter neither my opinion of your poorly-considered actions nor the damage you have caused to Captain Kirk.”

Whoa, Jim thinks, taken aback, okay, that’s not funny or fair.

Spock, of course, shuts right down, and Jim knows he has to act fast.

“Storek, button it and sit down; Spock, don’t even think about going anywhere.”

Spock looks as if he’s considering treating this order like he treats most of Jim’s orders – by ignoring it – but in the end, he locks his hands behind his back and stands at attention while Jim turns his focus to Storek.

“Storek, here’s a life lesson that I think you really need to absorb before you run around saying mean things to Spock again.”

Both Vulcans look like they want to object to Jim’s use of the word “mean,” but he stares them down.

“Contrary to popular belief, Storek, I, Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the starship Enterprise, am an adult. Like Commander Spock, but unlike you. Are you with me so far?”

Storek nods, but looks miffed. Tough shit, Jim thinks.

“Okay. Here’s the thing about being an adult: it means that, ultimately, the only person responsible for what happens to me is me, good or bad. There are some exceptions – for example, because I’m the captain of the Enterprise, I’m partially responsible for the people under my command, even though they’re all adults.” Kirk thinks about this. “Except Chekov,” he amends.

“But the upshot is this – when our shuttle crashed on New Vulcan on the way to the nuclear reactor, Commander Spock and I had to decide whether to stay safe in our shuttle and wait for the Enterprise to pick us up, or head for the reactor on foot, which would put the two of us in considerable danger, but which would let us finish the mission and save dozens of lives. Still with me?”

“Although you are intelligent for a Human, I am confident that your thought processes will not reach the stage where they are beyond my comprehension. Therefore, please cease seeking reassurance of my understanding at such frequent intervals.”

Well, Jim thinks, at least he’s pissed at me now, instead of Spock. He decides to encourage that.

“Well, actually, it looks like this is one arena where I know something you don’t, Storek, so you’re just going to have to put up with my illogical behavior for now, okay?” Jim doesn’t wait for a response before going on.

“Commander Spock told me to stay in the shuttle, that he’d go ahead because he’s better equipped to deal with the heat and the sun, and I could just stay all safe and snug tucked away in my shuttle. How do you imagine that went over with me?”

Storek doesn’t answer, but Spock mutters, “Very poorly.”

“That’s right, Spock – very poorly. I pretty much told Commander Spock where he could shove it… I’m not going to explain that idiom… and we headed for the reactor, against his advice and in spite of his objections. And here I am, molting like a Saclokian mud lizard, but we stopped the reactor from blowing, and that’s good enough for me.”

Storek no longer seems to be giving off icy anger vibes, so Jim figures it’s time to wrap it up.

“The moral of the story is: if you had been there with us, Storek, and we had let you go out into the sun and you’d gotten burned, then it would have been: ‘Bad Jim! Bad Spock! You are terrible parents.’ But I’m an adult, and that means that I make my own decisions and I take the flak when those decisions have craptastic unintended consequences, like, for example, wicked bad sunburns.”

Storek stares at him, but Jim’s pretty used to that, and if he ever let it make him uncomfortable, he’d be giving Storek all the ammunition the kid would need to walk all over him. So: not happening.

“I will think on this,” Storek pronounces. He turns to Spock, and inclines his head formally. “I apologize for my harsh words, Commander Spock. I am sure that the past two days have been very trying for you.”

“I accept your apology,” Spock replies, and Storek turns right around and marches back out of sickbay as abruptly as he came.

Kirk cranes his neck around to look at Spock.

“Am I doing this right?” he wonders aloud, and Spock gives him a speaking look: specifically, a look that says, “How the hell should I know?”

“I was most fascinated by your code of responsibility, Captain—”

Jim,” Jim insists.

“Jim. I do not think that I have ever heard you articulate your philosophy on this topic before. As I understand it—” Spock raises an eyebrow, “—your stated policy is that you are responsible for everyone, and no one is responsible for you.”

Jim stops picking at his arms to level a finger at Spock.

“That is not what I said.”

“Perhaps I have misremembered,” Spock says, in a tone of voice that makes it clear that he thinks Jim is full of shit, which is totally insubordinate, and which Jim absolutely would not put up with from anybody else. “Perhaps you could detail, for clarification purposes, what differentiates your personal philosophy from the philosophy that I have described?”

Jim glares at the Eyebrow of Snide Inquiry (he has a catalogue of Spock’s raised eyebrows, and no, that does not make him lame, it makes him an attentive and engaged commanding officer) and silently fumes.

“You are not responsible for me,” Spock says softly, stepping closer to Kirk’s bed.

“I am, a little bit,” Jim replies, and he means it.

“You do not have to defend me from irritated children, either,” Spock continues, but Jim shakes his head.

“I do, a little bit.”

“Who defends you, Jim?” Spock asks, and Jim, unwilling to joke, has no answer for him.

“Unacceptable,” Spock murmurs. He sits in the chair next to Jim’s bed and places a careful hand on Jim’s knee – Jim drifts off to sleep to the rhythm of the monitors’ beeping, and Spock’s barely perceptible breaths.

 

~*~

 

The Enterprise’s first priority, as soon as Jim has recovered from his burns, is to address the problem of the unknown virus that caused both the communication systems shutdown and the shuttle crash over New Vulcan. Spock, of course, is of the opinion – shared by both Storek and Dr. McCoy – that the captain is in no condition to embark on a new and possibly dangerous mission so soon after suffering substantial burns, dehydration, fatigue and heatstroke. The captain, of course, does not share Spock’s logical caution.

“Scotty, tell me you have good news,” Jim says, “or Spock, or Gaila – somebody tell me we know how to beat this thing.” The assembled senior staff look around the room, but no one speaks up to offer encouraging news.

“Dead silence wasn’t really the response I was looking for, guys.”

Mr. Scott clears his throat. “We’re doing all we can, Captain. I’ve put Gaila on the problem full time, and I’m giving her all the resources we’ve got, but it’s a damn tricky bugger.”

Lieutenant Vro nods, picking up Mr. Scott’s train of thought. “Frankly, Captain, I was absolutely one hundred percent sure we’d gotten rid of it after the comm system shutdown, and then it almost killed you and Spock, and did kill Ensign Balf and the Vulcan engineers. We’ve checked, and the shuttle crash was definitely caused by a variant on the original virus that we thought we’d eradicated. I don’t want to make a mistake like that again, so my team is taking it slowly and carefully – I know that’s not your personal style,” she adds, looking at Jim with what Spock feels is an unprofessionally intimate glance, “but this virus can kill, so I’m saying better safe than sorry.”

Jim rises from his chair and begins pacing.

“So what the hell are we supposed to do in the meantime?” he asks, directing the question to no one in particular. “I mean, can we even run our regular missions? Can we use any of the shuttles? Hell, is it even safe for us to be on board?”

“Yes,” Lieutenant Vro says firmly. “The virus was forced to flee to the shuttle computers in the first place because the Enterprise’s main computers were being so closely monitored – starting with essential systems like propulsion and life support. That’s still true – my staff is policing essential systems round the clock, Captain. If the virus is still here – which, in all honesty, it probably is – it’s either hiding in an ancillary computer, like one of the shuttles, or in a non-essential system, like, I don’t know, the professional development virtual education suite or something. The shuttles have all been quarantined now, so hopefully the situation is under control.”

“Hopefully,” Jim mutters. “Awesome. Any progress on figuring out where it comes from or why?”

Nyota nods, and says, “The virus is smart, smarter than a computer program could be without regular tweaks to help it evade our system checks. That means it must be getting periodic updates, probably from its maker or whoever sicced it on us; that may very well be the same person. Now that we know what to look for, my staff is monitoring every transmission – someday soon, it’ll need another update, and we’ll be waiting. I have absolute confidence that, when we intercept that transmission, we’ll be able to trace it back to its source.”

Jim drops back down into his seat with a wide smile. “Now see,” he says cheerfully, “that’s what I mean when I say ‘good news.’”

“Unfortunately, for now, we’re stuck waiting,” Nyota cautions, and Lieutenant Vro nods in agreement.

“When the transmission comes, we should be able to both track down the virus and track down its master, but until that happens, all we can do is play catch-up with the virus and keep it out of essential systems.”

And so, they wait. Starfleet, apprised of their situation, is wary of sending the Enterprise on any critical missions. Their duties now largely consist of ferrying diplomats to and from non-time-sensitive postings, which does not have an invigorating effect on crew morale, but which does allow Spock a great deal of time to focus on his own experiments, spend time with Storek, and play pleasantly frustrating games of chess with Jim.

“It was cool to meet your dad,” Jim says, during one of these chess games. He turns to Storek. “Wasn’t that cool?”

Storek’s grasp of human idiom has advanced sufficiently that he makes no comment on the relative temperature of New Vulcan, and instead tears his gaze from the chessboard to look up at Jim and say, somewhat grudgingly, “It was pleasant, as well as instructive.”

“Instructive?” Jim asks, raising an eyebrow. “How’s that?”

Storek’s eyes return to the board as he answers. “I feel that, having observed an influential figure of Commander Spock’s formative years, I am now better equipped to understand Commander Spock’s character and values.”

Judging from Jim’s approving nod, Spock is apparently the only being in the room to find that statement slightly ominous.

“May I ask a personal query?” Storek ventures. When Jim replies in the affirmative, he asks, “Will I receive the opportunity to similarly observe your relatives, Captain?”

Jim looks surprised. “Well, actually… yeah, I guess. I still keep in touch, off and on, with my brother Sam – he has kids now, which is cool. I think… I think he’d really like to meet you, so… I’ll set that up. I don’t know when, with the virus keeping us pretty much grounded, but I’ll work something out. My mom…” Jim’s head sinks toward his chest, placing his face in shadow, and Spock remembers the particulars of Jim’s difficult relationship with his mother. “We don’t, um, talk, really. She’s on a scientific vessel, the USS Mendel.

In the silence that falls, Spock moves his knight, and Jim makes a face at the threat to his queen, hunching in his chair to contemplate his next move.

“My mother… her absence…” Storek says, very quietly; he trails off without completing his thought, but Spock, illogical though it may be, understands his meaning perfectly.

“Yes,” he says simply, looking down on the perfect neatness of Storek’s black hair, the carefully folded little hands that rest on the table between his own, larger hands, and those of the captain.

“I grieve with thee,” Jim says in surprisingly good Vulcan. He seems startled when Storek looks up at him, and replies formally, “And I with thee, Captain.” The captain’s expression softens, and for some indecipherable reason, he looks at Spock, with an expression containing sincere warmth. “Thanks, Storek,” he says softly.

“You’ll probably have a mom again, sometime,” Jim tells Storek with an odd smile that Spock cannot characterize. “Not that she’ll replace your mom, no way, but that’ll be…” Spock can see Jim search for a word, and fail, uncharacteristically.

“You anticipate that you will marry?” Spock asks, raising an eyebrow – he had not believed Jim particularly inclined to monogamy, but he has also learned his lesson on the subject of making assumptions about Jim’s sexual behavior.

Jim, for his part, looks extremely surprised, and lifts his hands as if to physically push the idea aside. “Me? No, no, I thought you—

A logical assumption for Jim to make, but incorrect. Spock’s feelings for Jim make the prospect of bonding with any other extremely distasteful, but the instinctive rejection that Jim has just displayed toward the idea of a monogamous bonding confirms to Spock that the prospect of bonding with Jim is not viable – that which Spock desires, he cannot have, and that which he could have, he does not want. In a way, it is convenient – at least Jim’s disinclination toward committed relationships will spare Spock the unpleasant experience of observing some fortunate crewmember enjoying the position that Spock himself would wish to hold.

“I consider that outcome… unlikely,” Spock says, avoiding eye contact with Jim by continuing his pursuit of Jim’s queen.

“I do not desire another mother,” Storek abruptly says to Spock, glaring. Before Spock can reiterate his disinclination to procure one, Jim says, in a placating tone, “I know your mom will always be—”

Storek interrupts him, still looking up at Spock. “I find Captain Kirk to be a completely satisfactory mother, and do not desire a replacement.”

Spock pauses for a moment, both to take in the implications of that statement, and to enjoy the procession of emotions visible in their progress across Jim’s face: amused, offended, touched, irritated, pleased, curious.

“As, um, glad as I am to hear that, I think,” Jim says, clearly exerting great effort to prevent himself from laughing out loud, “I’m kind of curious where you got the idea that I’m your mother. In Human tradition, usually, even if you have two male parents, they’re both referred to as your father, just so you know.”

Storek’s eyebrows draw together. Uncertainly, he says, “That is not the way that Lieutenant Sulu explained it to me. He suggested that you would likely be offended or saddened if I did not acknowledge your role as my mother. You need not reject your traditional role merely to cater to my Vulcan preconceptions, if it is emotionally meaningful to you. I am willing to adapt to Human customs,” he tells Jim, who appears torn between hysterical laughter and murderous rage – Spock commends him silently for his success in concealing both from Storek, until he hears Jim’s immediate comment.

“Sulu is dead. Dead.”

“Am I to take it that Lieutenant Sulu’s cultural explanation was incorrect, and was, in fact, an attempt to provoke humor at your expense?” Storek asks.

Jim seems preoccupied with thoughts of righteous vengeance, so Spock replies in the affirmative on his behalf.

“I see,” Storek says, his voice sounding smaller than usual. “I have upset Captain Kirk.”

“A most illogical conclusion,” Spock replies. “The captain’s agitation is not directed at you, but at the officer who has plied you with incorrect information – a reprehensible action, if largely understandable in light of the atmosphere of informality and camaraderie that prevails on this vessel – and it is the lieutenant who will doubtless be reprimanded.”

“I would not have accepted to his explanation so completely without outside corroboration,” Storek insists. “To accept a thesis with only one piece of supporting evidence would be illogical. Lieutenant Sulu’s hypothesis was also seconded by Ensign Chekov, Mr. Scott, and Dr. McCoy.”

That succeeds in getting Jim’s attention.

“They’re all dead,” he vows. Suddenly, he winces. “Not that I’m not, you know, happy that you…” He waves his hands incoherently at Storek, and Spock undertakes to translate on the captain’s behalf.

“Captain Kirk is attempting to express his pleasure at discovering that you find him a satisfactory parent.”

Kirk points a finger at Spock, and says gratefully, “That. Yes.”

“I also—” Storek begins, but he’s interrupted by Nyota’s voice echoing from their communicators.

“Captain, Spock, we’ve got it – the transmission. Gaila’s tracking down the virus, and Chekov and I are triangulating the position of the sender as we speak. We need you on the bridge as soon as possible – I think it’s likely we’ll have the coordinates waiting when you arrive.”

Jim whoops, and jumps up from his seat. “That’s more like it! We’re gonna get this bast—um… jerk.”

“That does seem likely, Captain,” Spock allows. “Please excuse us, Storek.”

“Of course,” Storek replies, bowing his head formally.

On the bridge, the mood is jubilant. Chekov is, indeed, already plotting a course for the source of the transmission, and Lieutenant Vro is beaming as she reports that her team has eradicated the virus from the Enterprise’s systems.

“I want to give it a week, just to be careful,” she says, “but I think we’ve wiped it out.”

“Good job, Gaila,” Jim says warmly. “Chekov, what’s our estimated time of arrival, and where the hell are we going?”

“Captain, I am happy to report that, at Warp 5, we should be reaching planet of the transmission’s origin in 4.7 hours. Mr. Scott is confident we can sustain Warp 5 or higher for the duration of the journey. As to where we are going…” Chekov gestures to Nyota, who nods and picks up the thread of information.

“A planet called M’migahn, Captain. We don’t know very much about them because they’re extremely isolationist, and haven’t welcomed Federation vessels in the past. They are extremely technologically sophisticated, and regularly send traders out to space stations and trading planets, but they really don’t want anyone else in their skies or on their planet.” A perplexed expression appears on her face as she meets Jim’s gaze. “I have no idea why they would have attacked us with a computer virus, Captain. There’s no record of the Federation provoking them, and none of their traders have been arrested or assaulted lately – I’m sorry, Captain, but as far as I can tell, it’s a mystery.”

“I love a good mystery,” the Captain replies facetiously, but Spock can easily discern his frustration at being forced to enter an unknown situation without the necessary data.

“Mr. Spock, Mr. Sulu, I want this ship ready to engage hostile ships the minute we come out of warp. Uhura, get in touch with those space stations and trading planets, see if anyone there has overheard any information about the political situation on M’migahn, or anything else that might be useful. Chekov, I want to know everything about M’migahn’s neighbors, especially the ones close enough to pose a threat, if they decide they want to join the fight. Gaila, you’re with me – we may need to take the shuttles down to the surface, and I want to be one hundred percent sure they’re not going to blow up in dead space.”

“I’d like to be sure they won’t blow up at all, sir,” says Gaila, with an indulgent smile – Spock does not grit his teeth.

Fortunately or unfortunately, the Enterprise has encountered enough crisis situations that it is not difficult to make the ship and crew battle-ready. Ensign Varma has taken responsibility for Storek – “I think by now everyone on the ship knows that, with a phaser, I’d be more dangerous to myself than to the enemy,” she had told him, with a rueful smile – and Spock has prepared two complete away teams: one for diplomacy, one for military action.

Jim returns to the bridge just as the Enterprise is coming out of warp in the skies above M’migahn – Spock takes in the view of the planet provided on the screen, and is taken aback. He is not alone in his response – the bridge is full of gasps and murmurs. The surface of the planet, as far as Spock can see, is a ruin. As they draw closer, it becomes apparent that the ground is cratered, the skies filled with smoke, and the surface blackened.

“It’s not… supposed to look like this, right?” Jim asks Nyota, who shakes her head slowly.

“No, Captain. Not at all. The space station and trading planet administrators said they hadn’t noticed any changes in the M’migahni traders, but, seeing this, I find that very hard to believe. This place looks… destroyed, Captain.”

“I concur,” Spock murmurs. “I consider it likely that the malefactors who infected our system have been using this planet to conceal their true origins.”

Jim nods tightly. “That makes sense. Still, they have to have left some trace behind. I want to take an away team down to the planet, to look for the bastards we came for… and for survivors,” he says more quietly.

“I believe that this may be a prudent time to make an exception to our usual policy of sending only one of us on any given away mission,” Spock says, hesitantly. “The complexity of this mission, and its dual purposes, may require both our presences.”

Jim considers Spock’s suggestion, then sighs. “Yeah, I think you’re right. We’ll make sure to take a big security team, and if things look shady, we’ll get out and call Starfleet for backup.” He leans closer to Spock, and murmurs in his ear, “We’re going to have to do something really nice for the kid to make up for this, because when he finds out what we’re doing, he’s going to be pissed as hell.”

Spock agrees that this is most likely the case.

They discover, soon after beaming down, that the atmosphere, despite its ominous dark coloration, is safe to breathe. Stowing their masks, they move through empty streets, skirting pieces of rubble, and the jagged remains of tall, majestic buildings.

“I-it’s awful, sir,” Nurse Ali says to Jim, looking up at the points where broken towers rise as if seeking to pierce the blackening sky.

“It is,” Jim agrees grimly. “Whether the people who sent us that virus were the same people who destroyed this planet or not, I’m still pissed at them for taking this place and using it as a cover for their own shitty behavior. It’s like building an ammo factory on a graveyard.”

So far, they have found neither bodies nor survivors – not even animals. All is still.

“Captain!” A member of the security team waves them over to a heavy, metal door set on a slope, seeming to lead into the ground itself. “Sir, this door’s been opened very recently – definitely within the last twenty-four hours,” the man says, pointing to disturbances in the dust at the foot of the door. “Something’s down there, Captain – something alive.”

“Good work,” Jim says, nodding. “Get this door open, please; Spock, let the Enterprise know where we are and where we’re going. I don’t want any surprises.”

Judicious application of Spock’s Vulcan strength makes the door quite easy to open, and the away team steps through the doorway into the darkness beyond it. They appear to be in some kind of cement tunnel system – it is lit, but poorly, by flickering bulbs set at regular intervals high along the walls. Spock is careful to remember all of the twists and turns through which they pass, and mentions to Jim that they are gradually traveling deeper and deeper into the earth. They frequently find signs of life – fresh scuffmarks in the dirt, recently discarded food items, side rooms that have obviously been cleaned not long ago. As they continue to travel, it becomes apparent that the network of tunnels is far more immense and complex than they had previously imagined, and yet, they have still discovered no bodies or survivors.

When the tunnel widens into what appears to be a large, high-vaulted antechamber, dotted with piles of rubble, Jim calls a halt.

“Let’s take a minute and rest, guys. Don’t try and sit on any of the rubble, though – we don’t know if it’s stable.”

“It may also be radioactive,” Spock points out, and some of the crewmembers shiver and pointedly sit in the center of the room, away from the debris.

“This is completely weird,” Jim observes. “I mean, a warren of tunnels underneath a dead planet – perfect hiding place for criminals, I get it. But then where are they? Shouldn’t we have seen at least one of them by now?”

“Captain,” Spock cautions, “We have no way of knowing the true scale of this underground system – there may be thousands or millions of tunnels. I am encouraged by the signs of life we have thus far discovered, but I would advise you not to become disheartened should we not find either the criminals or the survivors today.”

“We’ll find them, Spock,” Jim says confidently, and suddenly, something out of the darkness groans, “Sssspock?” It is a low, gravelly voice – it does not sound Human.

Suddenly, one of the piles of rubble unfolds upward into a humanoid form – a being whose skin is covered in rough and jagged grey scales. It is easy to understand how they could have mistaken it for debris – Spock is forced to wonder how many piles of refuse that they have passed have, in fact, been lifeforms.

“Sssspock,” the being says again, its voice rough but musical. “And he called you Captain. You, then, are Captain Jamesss Kirk?” it asks.

Jim rises to his feet and nods. “That’s me.”

“Ah, Captain Kirk,” the being grates out. “We have been waiting for you.”

The fourteen other piles of rubble that had been scattered around the antechamber swiftly rise, beings like the first, tall and rough-surfaced. They crowd around the away team, and their posture is not welcoming.

“Who are you?” Jim asks, fearless.

“We are the M’migahni,” it replies. “We are what isssss left of the M’migahni. You have ssssseen the sssurface. You know what we ussssed to be.”

“Then why are you looking for me?” Jim says, reaching out a hand. “Do you need me to help you?”

The being makes a sound like rock striking flint several times in quick succession – Spock realizes that it is the creature laughing.

“You have helped enough, Federation Captain. Becaussse of you, becaussse of your pretty ship, the Klingonssss again war with the Romulansss, and you welcome it – the longer they fight each other, they lessssss they molesssst your precioussss Federation. But Klingon warssss do not sssssstay in Klingon sspace, Captain Jamess Kirk. Our planet wasss their battleground, and now itssss sskiesss are poisssson, and we are locked in the dark.” The being takes a step closer to the captain, who does not flinch. “We don’t want you to help, Federation Captain. We want you to sssssssssuffer.”

Before Spock can react, Jim has pulled out his phaser and stunned the being who spoke to him, but there are fourteen others in this room, and untold others in the tunnels beyond. By now, the security team also has their phasers out, and Jim is ordering a retreat. Spock attempts to call for Mr. Scott to transport them back to the Enterprise as he runs, but they are too far underground. They whole team is running, and the pounding footsteps of the M’migahni echo threateningly through the tunnels.

“Fuck, Captain, we’re lost,” the head of the security team shouts – he has been leading their group of twenty, but when Spock spares a moment’s attention to look around, he sees that they are, indeed, in a tunnel he has never seen before. He fires at a M’migahni as it attempts to rush him, and informs the captain, “I can guide us out, Jim. My memory is far superior to that of a Human.”

“Do it,” Jim says, firing over Spock’s shoulder.

Spock takes the lead, directing the away team through the maze of tunnels, but they are far outnumbered, and the M’migahni possess superior size and strength. When Jim meets his eyes, Spock can see that he, too, knows the seriousness of their peril.

When they reach a section of tunnel that is bounded by metal doors on either side, Jim motions for Spock to shut the door behind them, then calls a halt.

“That won’t hold them for long,” he says, holding Spock’s gaze. “It’s me they want--”

“Do not even allow the thought to cross your mind,” Spock says tersely, but he can see that it is too late.

“It’s me they want,” Jim repeats. “Spock can get you out. We’re at a bottleneck here, so I can hold them off for a while. I’m saying this to all of you, so none of you can pretend not to have heard: do not attempt rescue, do you hear me? Do not attempt to rescue me. That’s a direct order. We have no idea how far these tunnels stretch or by how many we’re outnumbered. I absolutely forbid any of you to rescue me. Especially you, Spock.” Spock shakes his head, but understands the reason for the order – they cannot risk leaving Storek alone again.

“Go,” Jim orders them sharply. “Go!”

Spock remains, torn, impressing Jim’s face at this moment into his memory.

“They can’t find their way out without you,” Jim says, and his tone is steely even as his eyes express deep sorrow. “You have to go. Be with Storek. Tell him I’m sorry. I wish… I’m proud of him.”

Mutely, Spock reaches out a hand – he meant only to clasp Jim’s shoulder, but Jim makes an inarticulate noise, frantically takes hold of Spock’s hand, places it against the meld points, then wraps his own hand around the back of Spock’s skull and pulls him into a sudden kiss. As Spock’s lips meet Jim’s, his mind is overwhelmed with sorryiwishshouldhavebefore and i’llmissthinkofstorekofyoufamily and finally a vast, crashing wave of loveyouloveyouloveyou.

When Jim pulls back, the shock is brutal.

“Go, Spock,” he says roughly. “Go!”

As Spock runs, he resents the ground that carries him farther away from the fading sound of phaser fire. The moment they emerge onto the surface, Spock calls for transport, and Mr. Scott beams them up.

Spock would have believed – had he had time to give the matter any thought between being forced to leave Jim behind and arriving in the transporter room of the Enterprise – that he could imagine no sight that could cause him more distress than that of Jim’s calm face reflecting the flashing phaser fire as Spock turned away from him. The look in Storek’s eyes in the transporter room, as he slowly realizes that the face he is looking for is not present, is unquestionably worse.

“Where is the captain?” he asks Spock – he pays no attention to anyone else in the room. “Where is he?” Storek demands.

“The captain did not return with us,” Spock says, vowing to discover who had allowed a ten-year-old into the transporter room at the conclusion of a dangerous mission – this is not how he should find out.

“What has happened to him?” Storek asks, his words running into each other. “When will he be returning? He must be returning.”

“The captain has been captured by the M’migahni,” Spock tells him, ignoring the gasps and murmurs from the other crewmembers in the transporter room. “He has forbidden us to attempt a rescue, and he… he will not be returning. I am… sorry, Storek.”

“That is not acceptable,” Storek states. His eyes reflect a kind of numb shock, although his control remains mostly intact – a function of instinct, Spock suspects.

“It is true,” Spock says, suddenly exhausted. “Storek, I must contact Starfleet and assume command of the Enterprise. I will seek you out as soon as I have discharged my duties. I regret very much—” But Storek storms out of the transporter room, ignoring Spock, and Spock’s voice dies off.

“Mr. Scott,” he says, “please inform senior staff that I require them on the bridge.”

On the bridge, Spock maintains his composure as he tells the entire crew, over a ship-wide broadcast, what he has deduced: that the virus was sent as a two-pronged ploy by the M’migahni – if left unchecked, it would certainly have killed the captain, or possibly the whole crew, but by tracking down its makers, they had unwittingly walked into a trap.

“Without knowing how many M’migahni survive in the tunnel complex, or how far the complex extends, it is utterly impracticable to attempt a rescue of the captain,” Spock says, as Nyota shakes her head, tears gathering in her eyes. “For those reasons, Captain Kirk issued a direct order forbidding us to attempt such a rescue. We are to inform Starfleet of the situation and wait on their orders.”

“That is bullshit,” Lieutenant Sulu mutters. Spock considers reprimanding him, but in light of his own opinion of the situation, concludes that it would be hypocritical.

“You’re not really going to leave Jim there, are you?” Dr. McCoy asks, as if such an outcome is beyond the scope of reasonable belief, but Spock nods tightly.

“I cannot risk the lives of this crew on a mission with no realistic possibility of success. Although the M’migahni seemed to direct the majority of their ire at Captain Kirk, I have no doubt that they would be pleased to see any Enterprise crewmember suffer.”

As Spock is finding his control increasingly difficult to sustain, he judges it prudent to retire from the bridge as soon as possible. In his quarters, however, he finds no relief.  

Storek is sitting in the chair he had pulled up to the chess table a mere seven hours ago, staring blankly at the chess pieces.

“Storek?” Spock ventures, but he is ignored.

Spock sinks into his own seat, then wishes he had not – it makes the absence of their third member more obvious. Seven hours ago, in this seat, Spock had drawn the completely erroneous conclusion that Jim did not want and could not sustain a romantic relationship with Spock – that the entire concept was absurd. Now disabused of that notion in the most painful way he can envision, Spock is suddenly struck by the realization that, in the shock of the moment, he had returned neither Jim’s kiss nor his expressions of affection. Numbly, Spock thinks, I did not tell him, he does not know—

“You must leave,” Storek says suddenly. Spock lifts an inquiring eyebrow.

“You must leave to rescue Captain Kirk,” Storek elaborates. “It is illogical to remain idle on this ship while the commanding officer is imprisoned. It is likewise illogical, when planning a rescue mission, not to assign the most experienced and efficient personnel. Therefore, you must go and retrieve the captain.”

“Captain Kirk expressly ordered that no rescue be attempted.”

Storek lifts his own eyebrow.

“Are you attempting to convince me that you always follow the Captain’s orders, even when you disagree with them? Even when you find them to be manifestly illogical and foolish?”

Spock could indeed attempt to convince Storek of such a thing, but such an effort would be sure to fail ignominiously.

“I have other responsibilities,” Spock explains. “Chief among them is my responsibility for you; indeed, moments before I—” abandoned “—before I took my leave of Captain Kirk, he—” kissed me “—he admonished me to remember that responsibility. I will not betray his trust.”

“You must rescue him,” Storek insists. “If you will not go, then I will do it myself.”

The concept is so preposterous that Spock can barely engage with it. “You are ten years of age, untrained—”

Storek levels a withering glare at Spock.

“I am aware of my own age, Commander. But it is… unacceptable to me that Captain Kirk might not return to m—” Storek pauses. “To the Enterprise. I… I love him.”

Spock looks down with some surprise at Storek, who is staring up at him defiantly, as if daring Spock to disapprove of his emotional declaration. Spock considers his words carefully.

“Captain Kirk – Jim – is a man of great integrity and compassion, with a generous heart and an indomitable spirit. In light of these qualities, I find it eminently logical that you should come to such a conclusion. It is a conclusion that… I also share,” Spock adds more quietly.

Storek’s suspicious look quietly fades into incomprehension.

“If this is true, then choosing not to rescue Captain Kirk in order to remain with me is even more illogical than I had previously concluded. To value the welfare of a person for whom you… have strong feelings… below the welfare of a person for whom you… do not… is surely most illogical.”

Although Storek attempts to maintain an even tone throughout this declaration, his vulnerability is open and raw to the trained eye – some part of Spock resonates with that vulnerability, matches it, and knows what he must do. For the first time in the 3.8 months in which he has assumed responsibility for Storek, Spock is absolutely certain of the correct course of action.

Spock imitates a strategy with which he has observed Jim to have great success – he kneels down to meet Storek’s eyes on his own level, and places a hand on Storek’s shoulder.

“I do have… strong feelings for you, Storek. You are… my son.”

The expected objection does not come, and when Storek leans almost imperceptibly into Spock’s hand on his shoulder, Spock notes a flicker of shame within himself.

“I should have said that before. I should have said that from the beginning,” Spock says, quietly.

“I would not have welcomed it,” Storek admits. “If you had tried, it is very likely that I would have responded to such a declaration with cruelty.”

“I should have said it anyway.”

To this, Storek makes no reply.

“Storek…” Spock begins, “you have already been orphaned once. I cannot allow you to be placed in that situation again.”

“And you will not,” Storek insists, stubbornly. “I will not lose both of you – I will not lose either of you. You will return to the Enterprise unharmed, with Captain Kirk. No other outcome will be acceptable. To me.” Storek’s eyes bore into Spock, and his chin lifts defiantly.

And T’Pring, of whom Spock had once thought, uncharitably, that she made a poorer Vulcan than even Spock himself, for though a proper Vulcan should prize logic above all, T’Pring prized her own stubbornness even above logic – T’Pring, stubborn, infuriating, immoveable T’Pring, who had betrayed him and who had given him this priceless gift: Spock surprises himself with the gentle brush of loss he feels at her memory.

“You remind me very much of your mother in this moment,” Spock says.

“I know you… did not like her,” Storek replies, but Spock interrupts him.

“On the contrary, I find myself suddenly reminded of the qualities that prompted me to feel fondly toward her in the first place.”

They share a moment of silence. Storek is the first to break it.

“For you to embark on a rescue mission in order to retrieve Captain Kirk is not a logical course of action,” he admits.

“I am pleased that you have come to see this,” Spock begins, but Storek shakes his head.

“It is not logical,” he repeats, then meets Spock’s eyes with utter seriousness. “Do it anyway.”

Spock is at a loss for words.

“I know that you agree with me,” Storek goes on. “I can see it. Although the rescue of Captain Kirk may not be logical, any other course of action would be wrong. Therefore I reiterate my statement: either you will go and rescue him, or I will.”

Although the circumstances are dire, Spock allows himself a moment of unwilling admiration for this boy – in his stubbornness, so much T’Pring’s child; in his loyalty and his unorthodox but highly effective tactics, so much Jim’s child; and in his blend of unreasoning love and ruthless logic, a child that Spock is learning to see as his own.

“It would be the height of illogic,” Spock says, slowly and with great deliberation, “to allow a ten-year-old to embark upon the rescue of a Starfleet captain. Therefore, it appears I have no choice but to make such an endeavor myself.”

Storek nods, with poorly concealed satisfaction. “Precisely.”

“I cannot promise that I will return with Captain Kirk,” Spock says, rising to his feet.

“Of course. I understand,” Storek replies, smoothly, but Spock can read the uncertainty lurking underneath, and it occurs to him that he has finally learned to read his son’s face. Impulsively, he reaches out and slowly gathers his son into a loose embrace, and is relieved when Storek is not the first to pull away.

“Live long, and prosper,” Storek says, forming the ta’al with his hand.

Spock returns the gesture.

 

~*~

 

Spock arrives at the transporter room, only to find it occupied by the entire senior staff, as well as a few additions.

Ensign Varma is the first to step forward. Smiling tremulously, she says, “Based on my analysis of descriptions of the M’migahni, their point of physical vulnerability is the front of their necks, where their scales are soft and flexible, so… aim there, and… good luck.”

Lieutenant Vro presents him with a tricorder, with a proud flourish. “Me and my team whipped this up for you – it uses echolocation to determine where the M’migahni are, in three dimensions, within twenty feet, and it can distinguish between their tissue and Human tissue.” Spock accepts it dumbly as Dr. McCoy and Nurse Chapel come forward.

“Somebody’s got to keep this damn ship running,” McCoy grumbles, “so I can’t come with you, but sickbay’ll be prepped. We’ll be able to go straight into surgery, if, you know, that’s what’s needed. You should have a medic with you, though, to patch Jim up on site.”

“Doctor,” Spock protests, “your initial assessment was correct – you cannot abdicate your responsibilities by—”

“I know that!” the doctor says, scowling.

“That’s why I’m going with you, instead,” Nurse Chapel says, strapping on a thigh holster as she speaks. “Locked and loaded, sir.” She salutes sharply.

Spock looks around the room helplessly. “The captain expressly forbade any rescue attempts,” he insists. “That order stands, even in his absence – you could all be charged with insubordination. I will not ask anyone else to—”

“We knew you wouldn’t ask,” Lieutenant Sulu says, rolling his eyes. “That’s why we’re volunteering.” His sword is strapped to his back, and from this, Spock concludes that the helmsman plans to join his ill-conceived rescue attempt, which Sulu confirms by following Nurse Chapel up to the transporter pad.

“Speaking of which, what took you so long?” Scotty complains. “I’ve had all these people cluttering up my nice, clean transporter room for well nigh half an hour! It’s a disgrace! Can’t a man work in peace?”

“I was speaking with Storek,” Spock says, which brings to mind his most important duty. He turns to see Nyota patiently waiting. There is no one on board the Enterprise in whom Spock places more trust.

“Nyota, I regret that I must impose on you, if you consent, by appointing you Storek’s guardian in the event of my death or capture. I know that you have no aspirations of motherhood—”

“Funny thing,” Nyota interrupts. “Turns out I was wrong about that. I do want… Well. That’s a topic for another time, I think.” Nyota’s smile is wry, but her eyes are sad.

“Nyota,” Spock says uncomfortably, in a low voice intended only for her ears, “even if I should return, I cannot resume our previous romantic liaison—”

“Of course not,” she says firmly, “and you shouldn’t. Storek already has a mother. You should go get him back.”

Spock hesitates, but in the interest of brevity, decides to respond with a simple “Thank you.”

“I’ll be monitoring your frequency,” she says, with humor, and Spock is pleased to note that some things, even in the chaos of illogic and emotion that is Human nature, do not change.

Only Chekov, of those who remain, has not spoken to Spock – he comes forward now.

“I am not good fighter, like Sulu,” he says, ducking his head. “I cannot make fancy gadgets, like Gaila, or fix you if you are hurt, like Dr. McCoy. But I will be manning transporter, from the moment you beam down.” He lifts his head and meets Spock’s eyes squarely, and says with determination, “Once, I failed you; you do not mention, but I do not forget. I will not fail you again.”

Unsure of the correct response, Spock merely nods his thanks. He steps up to the transporter pad to join Sulu and Chapel, and looks out at these exceptional Humans. He has no speech for them – they are aware of the odds, and they are here. There is nothing he could tell them that they do not already know.

“Beam us down, Mr. Scott.”

“Aye aye, sir.”

The surface of M’migahn is as unpleasant as Spock remembers. They have beamed down directly in front of the door through which the away team first entered the tunnels. Spock quietly advises Sulu and Chapel to assume that any piles of rock or debris that they see are M’migahni, and to shoot to stun. Heaving the door open once again, Spock and his team descend into the tunnels.

Lieutenant Vro’s device proves very useful in avoiding the M’migahni, and in stunning the ones they cannot avoid, but Spock has no plan for finding the captain, beyond returning to the place where Spock last saw him. They finally reach that tunnel, but Jim is not there, and there is no clear trail to follow.

As Chapel and Sulu look to him for instructions, Spock stares fixedly at the place where Jim stood when he turned away from Spock, when he told Spock to run and forbade him to return. I must find him, Spock thinks, urgently. No other outcome is tolerable. I must find Jim. As he releases the thought, and turns to survey the rest of the tunnel, he feels an almost-imperceptible sensation of warmth in the back of his mind, quite unlike anything he has felt before. With the warmth comes an illogical, inexplicable certainty – without knowing why, Spock turns to his companions, and says, “We must go down.”

They proceed deeper and deeper into the tunnels – occasionally Spock will pause, and then direct them to turn right or turn left. With every turn, Spock feels the subtle warmth in the back of his mind increase. There is an increased urgency as time passes – the M’migahni that they have stunned in the upper levels will soon be waking and raising the alarm, or others may find them unconscious and alert their superiors. Finally, Chapel, who has taken charge of the echolocator, gasps and says, “There’s a Human. It’s found Human tissue, within twenty feet. Sir, he’s just down this corridor and to the right!”

“That’s great news,” says Sulu, and Spock is very much of his mind until he peers around the corner and sees the M’migahni packed into the tunnel ahead, three abreast.

“Looks like the subtle approach isn’t going to work so well for us this time,” Sulu says with a grimace.

“I am unsure how to surmount this obstacle,” Spock admits, and Chapel bites her lip.

“I could try to cause a distraction, but I don’t think I could ever find my way back to the surface.”

“We are not leaving anyone behind,” Spock says firmly. “If our only option is the use of brute force, then we will take it.”

On three, Spock wheels around the corner and begins to shoot. The M’migahni are fast, strong, and roughly seven feet tall, but they are not carrying projectile weapons, and following Ensign Varma’s suggestion and shooting them in the fleshy part of the neck allows Spock to take each M’migahni down with only one shot. Nurse Chapel is firing steadily beside his right shoulder, while Sulu takes on those M’migahni that get close enough to engage in individual combat.

As soon as the corridor is clear, they run toward the end where the tricorder shows the Human tissue – they can already hear heavy, scraping M’migahni footsteps in the tunnels above them, moving quickly. At the end of the corridor, there is a metal door which Spock makes quick work of, and within is Jim, hanging from the ceiling in chains, looking battered, grateful, and irritated, but not excessively injured.

“You weren’t supposed to rescue me,” are the first words out of his mouth, which Spock is pleased to ignore. Sulu’s laser knives slice through the captain’s shackles smoothly, and Spock is there to catch Jim when he falls.

“Can you walk?” Chapel asks, scanning the captain with her tricorder, now in medical mode.

“Yes,” Jim says, then promptly falls down when Spock ceases to hold him up.

“I’m going to take that as a no,” she says briskly. “Mr. Spock, can you please carry the captain? He’s too heavy for us.”

“Gladly,” says Spock, gently holding Jim with one arm in the crook of his knees and one around his shoulders.

“We have got to stop meeting like this,” Jim jokes, and Spock thins his lips.

“Take my phaser; I no longer have an unoccupied hand,” is all he says – he cannot trust his composure with more. Jim seems more confident with a weapon in his hand, and they emerge back into the corridor, stepping over the stunned bodies of the M’migahni. Spock’s memory again serves them well, as they fight their way toward the surface of M’migahn, Sulu on point, Chapel keeping keeping a careful watch on the tricorder to warn them of approaching M’migahni, and Jim providing backup when necessary.

They burst out of the door onto the surface, Sulu screaming, “Now, now, now, Chekov!” and Mr. Chekov, as good as his word, brings them safely back to the Enterprise before the M’migahni can even set foot on the crust of their damaged world.

Jim is immediately whisked away to sickbay – Spock will join him there shortly, but he has one important duty to complete before going to the captain’s side.

“Storek,” Spock calls as he enters his quarters – he feels an impact against his side, and looks down to find his son plastered against him, arms wrapped tightly around his waist. He returns the embrace briefly, before backing away, slightly embarrassed. Storek, too, seems somewhat taken aback, and clears his throat before speaking.

“You have returned,” he says unnecessarily. “Have you… is Captain Kirk with you?”

“He is in sickbay.”

“Is he well?”

“He is mostly unharmed,” Spock says, although he is not sure himself of the extent of Jim’s injuries.

“I wish to see him,” Storek announces, which is not surprising. Spock activates his communicator and contacts Dr. McCoy, who gives his grudging permission for the captain to receive visitors briefly.

“I wish to express my gratitude to you for rescuing Captain Kirk,” Storek says stiffly, looking up at Spock. Looking down to meet his gaze, Spock allows himself a flicker of a smile. “As I wish to express my gratitude to you,” Spock replies, “for reminding me of the necessity of doing so. I am proud of you.”

Storek ducks his head and walks quickly out of the door, but not before Spock catches a glimpse of an answering smile on his face.

 

~*~

 

Jim is still trying to figure out how to feel about being rescued. On the one hand, he gave a clear direct order, for very good reasons, and he thinks he has a legitimate right to be pissed about his people risking their lives and careers after he specifically told them not to. On the other hand, he’s really fucking happy to still be alive and back on the Enterprise, so it feels a little hypocritical to complain.

He’s also a little hurt that Spock’s not here with him, but he understands why when he sees his first officer enter sickbay, towing Storek behind him. Spock hangs back a little, and Storek takes advantage of the space to march right up to the side of Jim’s bed and declare, “You must cease becoming injured, captured, or otherwise at risk. It is extremely distressing to me, to Commander Spock, and to many other members of this crew, and in conclusion, I must inform you that such behavior is completely unacceptable.” With a satisfied look, Storek leans back on his heels and begins peering at the screens around Jim’s bed, as if he doesn’t trust Bones to have done his job.

Jim absolutely does not crack up, because he knows it actually was very distressing, and also because this is what his eighth-grade biology teacher called a “teachable moment.”

“Hey, hey… look at me,” Jim urges, and when Storek makes eye contact, Jim smiles. “Two things, okay? First of all, I’m fine. I’m really fine. Bones says I’ll be out of here by tonight.” Jim takes a deep breath. “But second? I can’t promise you that I’ll always be okay. I have a dangerous job, but I love it, and I’m never going to stop doing it to the fullest of my ability, even if that means taking risks. I’ll always try my hardest to come home to you in one piece, but sometimes that won’t be possible, so you need to try to be okay with that.”

Storek narrows his eyes and stares at Jim for a long time.

Finally, he says, “If you cannot reliably prevent yourself from becoming injured, and I find your injuries unsatisfactory, then the only logical course is to become familiar with the techniques and treatments necessary to address those injuries myself, in order that I may make absolutely sure that you are receiving proper care in the aftermath of your foolish and reckless escapades.” He turns to Spock while Jim is still digesting that one. “Please add three hours per week of medical instruction by Dr. McCoy to my schedule. I will speak with him on this topic immediately.”

He turns to head for Bones’ office, then hesitates and turns back.

“I am pleased that you are well, and with us once more,” he says, awkwardly, then marches off to Bones’ office as abruptly as he came.

“I love that kid,” Jim says, meaning every word.

“I am very much of a similar opinion,” Spock says, stepping up to the side of the bed, and then the awkward silence that Jim’s been waiting for ever since he started to honestly believe he was going to be rescued descends.

Jim imagines opening gambits: “So, I kissed you. In your brain. Sort of,” or, “Logic dictates that I totally don’t have to be held accountable for any kissing I may or may not have done while facing certain death.” Or maybe even just, “I meant it. All of it.”

But Spock surprises him by speaking first.

“Storek informed me, before I set out to rescue you, that your absence was unacceptable, because he… loved you.” More quietly, holding Jim’s eyes, he adds, “I told him that I found his conclusion logical… and that it was a conclusion that I myself share.”

For some reason, Jim can hardly breathe. He tries to keep his expectations low. “You mean, you love me the way Storek meant it – like a family kind of love.”

Spock tilts his head to one side, considering – Jim thinks the suspense will kill him.

“That is one aspect of it, yes,” he allows. “You are my partner, the parent of my child, and on that is founded a great deal of my affection and respect for you. But that is not all.”

Jim, usually a big fan of Vulcans, starts laying plans to go back in time and kill whichever Vulcan philosopher had decided that talking around things without ever saying what you mean or getting to the damn point was logical.

“For some time, I have detected a connection between us, between our minds. It was that connection that led me to you, in the tunnels.”

“I had wondered about that,” Jim says evenly, clinging to every last strand of patience he has.

“I…” Spock’s lips twitch in a grimace. “This is difficult to say.” He sounds frustrated, and it comes to Jim, and it seems so obvious.

“Give me your hand,” Jim says, holding out his own, and when Spock obeys, he brings it up to the side of his face.

“I always liked the ‘show’ part of show-and-tell better, anyway,” Jim jokes with a ghost of a smile.

“Absolute honesty,” Spock says, then closes his eyes, and suddenly Jim is

Watching, observing, making careful note of the shadows falling across the face looking down at the chessboard, that volatile Human face, painfully vulnerable as it broadcasts everything fearlessly to the world, and he’s

Lying down in his own bed, as he has done countless times before, lying his head in the dent left in the pillow, but it is different this time, charged, dangerous with new knowledge, and he’s

Demurring, as he attempts to conceal his anxiety – this is the second time that he has begged off of sparring with the captain, and his behavior is surely beginning to seem suspicious, but he does not believe that his control could endure the close press of limbs, the intimate violence of bruises and holds, and he’s

Consumed with ugly jealously, making false and vicious accusations, too wounded by his own perceived rejection to see the hurt his words are causing, and he’s

Remembering the rumors from the Academy, the private discussions that have occurred in the past six months, comparing himself to a list of past sexual partners, such as Lieutenant Vro, and unable to find a place among that company where his reserve and control and strangeness could possibly fit, and he’s

Listening to a man he cares for more than he can admit, hearing an account of brutality that he can hardly comprehend, and throughout the night, thinking again and again, I am unaccountably fortunate to have this man for a captain, to have this man for a friend, to be worthy of his hard-won trust, and he’s

Struck dumb, sitting in front of a chess game that now will never be finished, thinking, He will never know, I never

But I do, Jim thinks, I do know now, and when he comes back to himself, his hands are buried in Spock’s hair, and they’re kissing again, which Jim gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

Jim holds on to his maturity long enough to pull back, trace his hand slowly along the line of Spock’s jaw and say quietly, “Me, too. I guess you know that, now, after running around in my head three times, but—”

“Yes,” Spock says softly, meeting Jim’s fingers with his own.

Of course, once that’s all established, Jim feels totally justified in gloating.

“You secretly think I’m awesome,” Jim says gleefully. “You secretly think I’m hot!”

“Not at this particular moment,” Spock mutters, and Jim laughs.

“That’s such a lie,” Jim murmurs. “Total breach of the honesty policy there,” he finishes, laughing and pulling Spock down into another kiss.

Storek, of course, chooses right this moment to troop out of Bones’ office. He looks at the two of them for a minute before nodding with a satisfied look.

“I thoroughly approve of this development,” he announces loudly, which makes Jim wince, but which is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. In a muttered undertone, he adds, “Please do not subject me to undue displays of physical affection – I suspect such behavior would have a deleterious effect upon my mental health.”

This time, Jim does crack up. He thinks he’s totally justified. Storek gives him this tiny, adorable, exasperated glare and stomps out of sickbay.

“I’m calling that one a win,” Jim decides, and Spock agrees that it could definitely have been worse.

“You know, your dad thinks we’re already married,” Jim says, hoping to appall Spock, but Spock turns the tables on him by raising an eyebrow and replying, “I believe he is technically correct. Such is the nature of the telepathic bond that has been growing between us, and which guided me to you in the tunnels below.”

Jim punches him on the shoulder, which probably hurts his hand more than Spock’s shoulder.

“I can’t believe you secret-Vulcan-married me!” Jim says, outraged but not really, and Spock looks amused.

“As it was a joint venture, as much based on your actions as mine, I object to your placing the blame solely on my shoulders.”

“All right, break it up, you two,” Bones grumbles, walking over to the biobed from his office, and waving his hands at Spock, shooing him away. “Bad enough I have you disturbing my patient,” he says, glaring at Spock, “without all the canoodling in the middle of my sickbay. If you’re not out of here in two minutes, I’m coming after you with a hypospray, is that clear?”

When Bones has retreated to his office again, Jim chuckles. “I guess the canoodling has to wait – I’m getting out of here tonight, do you want me to… meet you in your room?” Jim bites his lip, remembering the stuff Spock had told him about Vulcan sexual relationships. He adds hesitantly, “I know you’re really supposed to have a… a permanent plan, but--”

“Jim,” Spock says firmly, holding Jim’s gaze, “we are raising a child together. To all intents and purposes, we have been occupying the same living quarters for several months. I have introduced you to my father. I confess I am unsure how much more ‘permanent’ you desire my plans to be.”

“Oh,” Jim says, choosing to ignore the fact that apparently he is actually Spock’s wife after all. “Okay. Awesome.”

“Your vocabulary leaves something to be desired,” Spock bitches, and Jim grins.

“You flatterer, you. Get out of here before Bones infects us both with Omaran plague.”

“I will see you when you are released from sickbay,” says Spock. “It is very good that you are with us once again,” he concludes, kissing Jim one last time before leaving him to Bones’ tender mercies.

The doctor drops into the chair at Jim’s bedside and huffs loudly. “There’ll be no living with you now, will there?” he asks rhetorically – Jim shakes his head and says, “Nope.”

“Well, you know…” Bones looks away uncomfortably, and mumbles, “Don’t fuck it up, and, you know, good for you, and don’t ever let me see you two making out in my sickbay again.”

Jim winks. “I make no promises. But… thanks, Bones.”

“Your insanity’s clearly hereditary, by the way,” Bones says, giving Jim an accusing glare. “Your Vulcan kid’s decided he wants me to teach him to be a doctor, as if that’ll stop you from pulling these kinds of stupid stunts – as if anything could.”

“Hey, when I was Storek’s age, I wanted to be a ninja – kids are crazy like that,” Jim protests, holding out his hands defensively.

Bones guffaws. “A ninja? Really? What did your mom think of that?”

Jim remembers, and a surprised smile comes to his face. “Actually… she was great about it – she even got one of her Starfleet pals in the area to give me martial arts lessons, and bought me these cool black boots. She was… things were hard, but… she tried. Having a kid is harder than it looks. I didn’t know that, then.”

Bones, proving his best friend status for all time, doesn’t say a word – just claps Jim on the shoulder and lets him think until it’s time for him to go home. Jim takes advantage of those hours. He’s done a lot of hard things, these past ten months – he’s saved at least one planet, captained the flagship of the fleet, started to raise a kid, and fallen in love. In the end, he decides he can handle one more.

He waits a week for the bruises and scrapes to fade, because this time, he’s not going to hide his face – if that’s too much to handle, then better to know now. He makes the call alone, in the bedroom he now shares with Spock, because he doesn’t trust Spock to keep his disapproval to himself, and he doesn’t want Storek to have to see an epic shitstorm, if it comes to that – but they’re in the living room outside, in case he needs them. And if he needs more than that, he’s got a best friend in sickbay, a crew who’d do anything for him, and a ship that’s never let him down. Whatever happens, he’ll be okay.

When her face pops up on the screen, she looks different than he remembers – of course she does, it’s been eight years.

“Hi, Mom,” Jim says steadily.

Her hair is going grey, pulled back in a sloppy ponytail, just the way she used to wear it on the farm. She raises a hand to her mouth when she sees him, and her eyes fill, but otherwise, she keeps her composure pretty well.

“Jim. It is so, so good to see you.”

“Yeah, you too,” Jim says quietly, with a lopsided smile. “A lot has happened since last time.”

“I saw, on the news,” she tells him, “and… well, don’t be mad at him, but every time you called your brother, he’d call me up later that day and tell me a little of how you were. Nothing private, just… he knew I worried – I worry.”

“I’m not mad,” Jim reassures her.

“Thank you for calling me,” she says. “I’ve wanted to for – a long time, but I didn’t feel I had the right. Jim, I want to say this before I lose my nerve: I screwed up, I know it, I am sorrier than you will ever know—”

“Mom,” Jim says, shaking his head. “I really… can’t right now. I mean, someday, I want you to say all that, but not now, because I can’t… let you off the hook, now. Someday. But I don’t forgive you yet. That’s not what this is about. I just understand better now, and I wanted you to know that.”

“Sorry,” she says softly. “I know you called for a reason. Tell me what you wanted to talk about.”

“Well…” Jim feels raw and nervous, but good – she’s looking him right in the face, she has for the whole conversation. “I’m sort of married? To my first officer? But not officially. And we have a kid – um, his name is Storek, he’s a Vulcan – the kid, not the first officer, although he’s Vulcan, too, but his name is Spock – they’re not related, but actually, don’t tell anyone else that because it’s sort of supposed to be a secret.”

Her head leans down, and he can see that she’s laughing softly, and something in his chest relaxes at the sight.

“My, you have been busy, haven’t you?” she asks, with a genuine smile. There’s a pause where neither of them says a word, and then she asks, urgently, “Are you happy, Jim? That’s what I really want to know. Are you happy?”

Jim doesn’t even have to think about it.

“God, yes,” he tells her, and he knows his voice is giving away maybe more than he wants it to, but he doesn’t care. This is the good stuff – there’s no secret here, nothing to hide. Absolute honesty. “Spock and Storek are… the greatest. They’re my family. You should… you should meet them sometime,” he adds hesitantly, and her eyes water again, but she smiles again, a big, real smile.

“I would like that very much,” she says slowly, emphasizing every word.

Storek pokes his head into the room.

“Captain? I wish to sleep, and therefore require one of your educational anecdotes.”

“Duty calls,” Jim says, grinning. “We’ll talk again,” he adds, and she nods.

“To whom were you speaking, if it is not rude to ask?” Storek asks as he wiggles himself into place under the covers.

“That was my mom,” Jim says. “We haven’t talked in a long time, but I think we’re ready to try again. You might get to meet her some time, if you want.”

“That would be acceptable,” Storek says. He blinks at Jim, and says, cautiously, “You do not often speak of your parents.”

“You’re right, I don’t.” Jim thinks hard for a minute, then decides, what the hell. Tonight seems to be the night. “Do you want to hear an educational anecdote about them tonight?”

“Yes,” Storek says, nodding vigorously.

“Okay,” Jim says quietly. “This is the story of the day I was born.”

 

~*~

 

Spock stands just outside the door, listening as he always does when Jim recounts what Spock’s own mother had called a “bedtime story,” until he became too old and too self-conscious for such things. He does not feel excluded – he understands that there are things that are naturally individual to Storek and Jim; so, too, are there things that Storek needs that only Spock can provide. It is not necessary that the two categories intersect at every point.

This is not a story that Spock has ever heard Jim tell before, although of course Spock has studied the last hours of the Kelvin in his command track courses. It is different to hear the story from Jim’s lips, as he recounts details that Spock does not recall from the dry data of the official reports: how his parents chose his name; how his mother had to be deceived in order to get her on board the shuttle, because she would never have knowingly left without her husband; how his father’s last words were of love. It is a sad story, by normal Human bedtime story standards, but Storek does not seem to object.

“And then my mom and I survived to go home to Iowa, where I grew up and met Captain Pike, who got me to join Starfleet, where I met Spock, who helped me save the world, which made us best friends, and then we met you, which was awesome,” Jim concludes.

“I feel that the latter part of your account has been grossly oversimplified,” Storek complains. “Tomorrow night, you must go into greater detail.”

Jim laughs softly. “We’ll see. Good night, Storek.”

“And you, Captain.”

Jim emerges from Storek’s room, and the door closes behind him.

“I trust your conversation with your mother went well?” Spock asks; Jim nods.

“It was good,” he says simply. “Hard, but good. We’ll talk again.” He looks tired – an observation confirmed by the soft grey weariness seeping across the bond between them, which seems to grow in strength daily.

Spock carefully links his hand with Jim’s – a gesture whose intimacy the captain is now fully familiar with.

“I have no pressing duties,” he says. “Is there an activity that you particularly desire to pursue?”

Jim gives him a shadow of his usual lascivious grin, and tugs him toward the bedroom, murmuring, “Oh, always,” but it is apparent that his fatigue exceeds his libido on this particular occasion.

Pressed against Spock fully clothed in their shared bed, Jim props himself up on an elbow and looks down at Spock.

“There’s something about this whole Vulcan marriage thing you’re not telling me, isn’t there?”

Spock quells a twinge of embarrassment and guilt – more than twenty years of the habit of vigilant silence on the topic of Pon Farr are not easy to break.

“There are perhaps aspects which I have thus far left unexplored,” he hedges, and Jim crows, “I knew it!” and pokes him in the chest in an extremely undignified manner.

“Absolute honesty, Spock. Fess up. And whatever it is, it better be kinky.”

Spock takes a moment to consider whether Pon Farr falls within Jim’s acceptable parameters, but before he can share his conclusions, Nyota’s voice sounds over their communicators.

“Captain, we’re receiving a distress signal from what looks like a damaged Klingon warbird – Mr. Sulu requests you and Commander Spock on the bridge immediately.”

Jim sighs heavily and rolls to his feet.

“It never stops, does it,” he says, shaking his head with a rueful smile.

“It does not,” Spock replies, rising and smoothing his uniform tunic into place. “Would you truly be satisfied with any other state of affairs?”

“Hell, no,” Jim says, grinning, as he runs a hand through his hair and haphazardly tugs his sleeves into order. “How do I look?” he asks. His eyes are bright with humor, and his smile, as always, is illogically captivating. Spock’s policy of honesty wars against his desire not to inflate Jim’s already-outsized ego, but honesty emerges victorious. “Extremely aesthetically pleasing,” he says.

“You, too,” Jim says, with a frank look of appraisal that brings a pale green flush to Spock’s cheeks. “Let’s rock this,” he declares, striding confidently toward the corridor, and although Spock does not understand what connection exists between the admirable performance of their duties and either a large mineral accretion or a centuries-old style of Earth popular music, he follows his captain, with pride and with something deeper, as he must and will for many years to come.

 

~*~

 

Epilogue – 7 Years Later

“Ow!” Kirk exclaims, scowling at the young medic who has just jabbed him with a hypospray. “You know, you should have more respect for me, as your captain. Actually,” he continues, while the medic turns away and begins to tidy the examination cubicle, “You should have twice as much respect for me as anybody else – I’m your captain and your father!”

“If you are perturbed at your treatment at my hands,” Storek says calmly as he restocks the hypospray cabinet at the head of the exam table, “the solution is very simple. We have discussed this many times – should you desire not to be jabbed with hyposprays, drugged, sedated, stabbed with needles or confined to quarters on doctor’s orders, all you need do is simply to cease allowing yourself to become injured.”

“’Allowing myself,’ hah.” Kirk glares good-naturedly. “You know, your dad tries that argument on me, too, and it doesn’t work any better coming from him than it does from you, which is to say – not at all.”

“A pity,” Storek murmurs serenely, “as my father is a most logical man, and therefore an advisor not to be discounted. A wise and venerable man, for whom I have the utmost respect…”

“Bite your tongue, kid. If Spock is venerable, then I’m venerable, and if I’m venerable, then I’m old, and I? Am. Not. Old.”

“So troubling.” Storek shakes his head. “It is the most delicate task a healer can encounter – determining how to interact with the delusional and the mentally ill. There is no one correct course of action – should one humor them, or should one introduce them to cruel reality?”

Jim observes his son closely for a moment, then leans over and sets his elbows on his knees.

“You’re nervous about something.”

Storek’s eyes widen.

“After seven years, I am still not fully accustomed to your unsettling ability to come to accurate conclusions based entirely on intuition.”

“Nah, this one’s logic – you only make fun of my age when you’re nervous… the rest of the time, it scares you.” It scares you how fast you’re going to outlive me, Kirk doesn’t say, but they both know why Jim’s age is usually off-limits. “Want me to do it again?” he asks. Storek makes the face that, on a Human, would involve some serious eye-rolling.

“If I say no, will it dissuade you?”

“Nope,” Jim says cheerfully. “You’ve decided not to do the bonding, and you’re scared Spock’s going to disapprove.”

“Extremely unsettling,” Storek murmurs, after a brief pause, and Jim pats the exam table next to him, motioning for his son to sit down.

“I know it is illogical to be nervous,” Storek says after a moment.

“You know your dad and I love you no matter what, right?”

“Yes,” Storek says, and Jim feels a proud warmth at how easily and automatically it comes out. “I am grateful for that. Father told me that… no matter what path I choose, I will have two proud parents. I must still confess to some anxiety.”

“That’s something your grandmother said to Spock, did you know that?”

“No.”

“Well, it is. And it’s true, too. No matter what, your dad and I are proud of you.” Jim watches Storek as he fiddles with the biobed controls, and sighs.

“If it’ll stop you freaking out, I’ll tell Spock for you.”

Storek arches a brow, and says, “The coward’s way out?” but his hands finally stop fidgeting.

Jim shrugs in reply. “You’ll still have to tell him why and everything. I don’t think you have much to worry about, though – Spock’s not exactly a rah-rah cheerleader for these Vulcan arranged-marriage things himself.”

“Indeed.” Storek pauses. “Would you? Tell him?”

Jim gives the matter some thought. “Will you sneak me out of the infirmary without Bones knowing about it?”

Storek throws Jim an incredulous look. “I am much more intimidated by Dr. McCoy than I have ever been by you. Therefore, it would be highly illogical for me to place myself in the way of his wrath merely in order to avoid your own.”

Jim sighs and rolls his eyes – his own kid, throwing him to the wolves! “You’re no fun. I’ll tell Spock, but you have to convince Bones I have a clean bill of health.”

“Since to do so would not require me to speak any untruths, I believe we have a deal.”

“Awesome!” Jim enthuses.

Storek smiles. “Indeed.”

~*~

Spock had anticipated that he would have to seek his son out, but when he returns to his quarters, he finds Storek sitting in Jim’s usual chair at the chess table. Spock takes his own accustomed seat, and waits for Storek to begin the conversation. When it becomes apparent that Storek would rather stare apprehensively at a spot slightly to the right of Spock’s head, Spock takes the initiative.

“Jim told me today that you have decided not to return to New Vulcan for a bonding.”

Storek shakes his head, and says, with a defensive note in his voice, “A true bonding is what lies between you and the captain, however unconventional Vulcan society may find such a connection. I have had the opportunity, over the past seven years, to observe this bond and its beneficial effects upon the participants, upon their friends, and upon myself. I have logically concluded from my examination of said benefits that to ‘settle’ for a lesser relationship is an unacceptable outcome.”

“You take after all three of your parents, there,” Spock says, quietly. In truth, he had not expected his son to go through with the arranged bonding, for those very reasons – Storek’s only close experience of such an arrangement had been the extremely problematic relationship between T’Pring and Spock himself; not, Spock admits, a particularly inspiring example. There is a part of Spock – that part which, after so many years, still bears the scars of childhood bullies’ taunts – that regrets Storek’s decision to turn away from this part of his Vulcan heritage, and wonders if a full-Vulcan parent might not have had greater success in raising Storek to a more perfect adherence to Vulcan values. There is a larger part, carefully nurtured by Jim’s unshakeable loyalty, and his mother’s memory, which hopes to someday see Storek form a romantic connection which will bring as much satisfaction to his son’s life as Jim has brought to Spock’s.

Storek shrugs, and Spock marvels at the ease with which his son flawlessly integrates human and Vulcan behavior, human idiom and Vulcan erudition, human gesture and Vulcan reserve.

“If the Time becomes imminent, and there is no other choice, then I will willingly return to New Vulcan for the ceremony,” Storek promises. “But next year, and for at least three years after that, I will be at Starfleet Academy, where I will meet many new people, and my hope… is that one of them will inspire in me the depth of feeling which you and Captain Kirk inspire in each other.”

“Your grandfather has suggested that we call our family’s propensity to prefer the company of exceptional Humans a family tradition,” Spock says, with some amusement. “Do you anticipate forming this lifelong bond you seek with a Human?”

“I will of course welcome a connection with an individual of any species – but a Human?” Storek’s eyes flicker upward, speculatively; he says, “I consider that outcome unlikely. As you said, you and Grandfather have already had great success with such relationships. For me to do the same seems to me… “ Storek permits himself a tiny smile. “…Insufficiently original. An Orion, perhaps… or a Romulan. Something new.”

Spock raises an eyebrow.

“’Insufficiently original,’ indeed. I fear that Starfleet Academy may be insufficiently prepared for the terror that Jim and I have unwittingly unleashed upon it.”

Storek leans back in his chair, with a casual air.

“Do not distress yourself unduly, Father. I have every expectation that the Academy will find me… awesome,” he says, with perfect deadpan.

Spock cannot suppress a pained look.

“Please do not persist in saying that. You know how it distresses me.”

Both corners of Storek’s mouth quirk with amusement.

“Of course. Why do you think I do it?”

“Do you anticipate having children, someday?” Spock asks suddenly – he is unsure of what prompts him to do so.

“It is certainly my wish to do so,” Storek replies, without hesitation. “I have always enjoyed the company of children – you know that I often babysit Lieutenant Uhura’s twins – and

when I find a suitable partner, I look forward to revisiting that enjoyment, with children of my own.” Storek arches an eyebrow of his own, and looks at his father. “At which time I will indubitably experience all the agonies to which I have subjected you and Captain Kirk for so many years. Revenge, I suspect, will be most satisfactory for the both of you.”

“And the joys,” Spock says, so quietly that Storek must lean forward to catch it.

“What?”

“I urge you not to forget the joys,” Spock says, still quietly, but with as much feeling as he can muster. “I find, when I think of the events of the past seven years, that they are what first comes to mind.”

“Father…”

It is exceedingly illogical that, even after seven years of experiencing and acknowledging the emotion in question, Spock still finds the simplest expression of it so difficult to verbalize.

“You and I,” Spock begins, “have often used Jim as a proxy for our feelings for each other – a go-between, in order that we do not embarrass one another with un-Vulcan displays of emotion,” Spock says. “But Jim continually attempts to convince me that it is the solemn duty of every parent to embarrass their children, particularly with expressions of emotion – a duty in which I have been remiss.”

Storek’s face twitches in an unconscious mimicry of the tell that Spock knows his own face always shows when he expresses fond exasperation – seven years ago, Spock had always found it easier to find traces of T’Pring, and even Jim, in his son than traces of himself. Now, even strangers remark on how alike the two of them are, how much Storek takes after both his fathers.

“I love you, Storek,” says Spock, “and I am proud of you. I believe that you have made a wise choice.” It is, as always, both harder and easier to say than he thought it would be – an illogical paradox, but to expect logic in matters of emotion would, itself, be highly illogical.

“Father,” Storek replies simply.

Spock, having said all that he meant to say, is now not entirely certain of the logical way to proceed.

“Would it please you to instruct me further on the ka’athyra now, Father?” Storek asks, with amusement lurking under the controlled blankness of his face. “Or shall we discuss the most recent vaccination rates on Thurkos, the site of our next mission?”

“I do not need to be rescued from my own emotions,” Spock says, in a tone of voice that, were he Human, would certainly have been a grumble.

“Yes, you do,” Jim’s voice calls from the doorway, cheerfully. “Vulcan things all worked out? Everybody all good?”

“We are indeed ‘all good,’” Storek replies, rising from the floor. “Dr. McCoy has released you?”

“He says I’m good as new… the lying bastard,” Jim says, fondly. “But anyway, I’m finally free from that tyrant – I’m in the mood for a game of chess!”

Storek lifts an eyebrow.

“Are you two planning to play chess, or to ‘play chess?’? If you are actually playing chess, I would very much like to watch, if you have no objection.”

“But not so keen on watching the other kind, huh?” Kirk asks, grinning widely and embarrassing Spock in the illogically endearing way that he is prone to.

Storek’s eyes widen, and he looks as appalled as a Vulcan can.

Indeed not,” he says frostily.

“Let’s play some chess, Spock… if you know what I mean…” Kirk says, turning to Spock and waggling his eyebrows up and down in a manner that is intended to be suggestive, but which Spock has always found merely comical.

“Please desist in that behavior,” Storek moans. “You know how it distresses me.”

“Of course,” Jim says, laughing, wrapping an affectionate arm around Spock’s waist. “Why do you think I do it?”

“I am leaving,” Storek announces, lifting his stubborn chin in the air and marching out the door.

Jim laughs, loud and long, with his head thrown back, and Spock can feel it vibrate through his torso, lively and bright.

“The kid is all right,” Kirk says, placing his forehead against Spock’s.

“I concur,” Spock replies, although he feels he is missing some sort of reference.

“We done good,” Kirk pronounces, and Spock can feel his satisfaction washing through the bond between them like ripples.

“Your grammar is disgraceful,” he says, knowing that Jim can feel his own pride and affection flowing back through the bond as well.

“You know, we’re still pretty young,” Jim says, speculatively.

“Comparatively, yes,” Spock agrees, wary. “If this line of inquiry is leading to yet another request to attempt one of the more acrobatic sexual positions of which you were capable in your youth, I should take this moment to remind you of the extreme embarrassment experienced by all parties the last time you made such an attempt.”

“Yeah, well, this time Storek wouldn’t be the medic on duty, so I think the traumatic embarrassment would be cut down by at least half.”

Spock checks the reflex to mathematically verify Jim’s estimate.

“But no,” Jim continues, “although that was an awesome idea, that’s not actually where I was going with that. I meant… you know, we’re young, we’ve still got some good years left in us. Lots of people are having their first kids when they’re older than we are.”

Spock feels an extremely unpleasant lurch in his abdomen when he extrapolates what Jim’s eventual conversational destination is likely to be.

“No,” he says firmly.

“I just…” Jim looks at him hopefully, pleading. “We did pretty well with the last one, didn’t we?”

“He was already toilet-trained,” Spock mutters, surprising himself, and Jim laughs.

“Well, think about it, all right? I’m going to wear you down eventually – I’m very motivated.”

Spock gives Jim an extremely dubious glance, which unfortunately loses most of its force when the subject is only two inches away.

“And how to you expect to effect such a change?” he asks; Jim’s laugh this time is low and rough, and his breath skitters over the tip of Spock’s ear, making him shiver.

“Repeated…” Jim sucks a bruise into the side of Spock’s neck. “…application…” Spock gasps as Jim drags his teeth up to the point of Spock’s jaw. “…of extremely…” Jim pulls away to slowly strip off his tunic and shirt, then rubs up against Spock distractingly. “…persuasive…” Spock cannot keep his hands off of Jim’s skin, even after all this time, even when it should have lost its magnetism. “…chess,” Jim whispers, before drawing Spock down to the bed with him.

Sweaty and sticky and looking extremely pleased with himself, lying in bed afterward, Jim props himself up on an elbow and looks hopefully at Spock.

“No.”

Jim pouts, then smiles again as if a happy thought has struck him.

“I’m going to talk you around. You’ll see. I’m going to win this one, and seventeen years from now, you’re going to be so glad I did. I know these things. Seriously. I know.”

And although Spock sends Kirk the mental equivalent of a Human snort of disbelief through their bond, he cannot help thinking that it might not be so bad – not so bad to try again, and make different mistakes this time; not so bad to give Jim another small person with whom to share his love, since it appears to be boundless; not so bad for Spock himself, to be changed by love in yet more and stranger ways.

Two years ago, lying in the dark, much like this, Jim had told Spock that being a father was simultaneously the most serious thing he’d ever done, and the most fun he’d ever had – the most ridiculous thing he’d ever do, and the most important. Spock does not subscribe to Jim’s Human concept of ‘fun,’ but he does not disagree with the overall sentiment, merely with the articulation of it. If Spock were to define what fatherhood has been to him, he would have no choice but to describe it as the most illogical thing he has ever done – and the best.

Perhaps, he thinks, perhaps, and when Jim feels it echo through the bond, he smiles against Spock’s shoulder and whispers back, “Yes.”