Jim wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings as he made his way through the San Francisco spaceport, wheeling his suitcase behind him. Even if he hadn't been back for five years, it hadn't changed a bit, and he knew it like the back of his hand. All the trips to and from Iowa, or just waiting for his mom or Sam to arrive for a visit, sometimes keeping Bones company before he headed out. Jim had never been sure which he dreaded more, seeing his ex-wife or getting on the shuttle, but his daughter had been enough incentive for Bones to brave either. And Joanna had come to visit him once, too, they'd picked her up at that terminal right over there...
This time, though, Jim was alone, not waiting for or with anyone. There would be someone waiting for him outside, supposedly, and that was still kind of funny to him - James T. Kirk, bigtime starship captain, distinguished graduate, honored guest speaker at commencement. The same part of him that thought that was funny had been really tempted to, in lieu of a speech, simply advise the new grads to party really hard once the ceremony was over and buy up all the real booze they could, because the synthehol available on board starships kind of sucked, and it was best to bring your own stash. He had a feeling the higher-ranking officers wouldn't appreciate that, though. Except maybe Admiral Pike. He might get a kick out of it. Before he kicked Jim in the ass.
The layout wasn't all that had stayed the same since his academy days; though the spaceport was in a good area, all clean and well-lit, the kind of place that just plain looked expensive, Bones had commented once on the ragged figures occasionally slumped against the wall outside. The two of them, he'd said, hadn't been too far removed from that fate when they'd first arrived - both of them hungover, carrying nothing but a bundle of neuroses and the clothes on their backs. Jim hadn't thought much about it before then, but Bones was right. Ever since, he'd tossed them a little something when he could.
The guy sitting against the wall now, though, looked a little different than the usual beggars. He wasn't all slumped over like they usually were, looking half-dead and pathetic. He was sitting up straight, even though he kept his eyes down, hidden behind his shaggy dark hair. Kind of odd. He didn't even have a stick out, so it wasn't obvious he was begging. Maybe he wasn't.
Even though his clothes were ragged, he had a pretty thick scruff on his jaw, he was sitting next to a worn backpack, and his wrists above the too-short sleeves of his dark jacket were awkwardly thin. Yeah, right.
Jim wasn't standing there and staring at him or anything. That would have been rude. Just no one was there to pick him up yet, since his shuttle had come in a little early, so he did look the guy over for a second. There wasn't much else to look at, and it wasn't like the guy was even looking in his direction to know. ...And Jim didn't know what it was, but there was just something weird about him. Something seemed off.
He sighed. And since he was stuck waiting there for a few minutes anyway, and it was the kind of thing he liked to do when he could - and on a captain's salary, he definitely could - he pulled his own stick out from his pocket surreptitiously and had a look. ...Yep, sure enough. Jim smiled a little to himself and honed in.
The guy visibly tensed when something in his pocket beeped, and tilted his head up to regard Jim with dark eyes. But just for a moment before he dropped his head again. "Your assistance is appreciated," he said, quiet and cold.
Since he wasn't looking at Jim anyway, Jim didn't feel too bad about giving him a pretty severe what the hell? look. For a second there, Jim had thought he saw something in those eyes, something he hadn't quite managed to grasp before they turned away - and then the guy offers about as much gratitude as a robot? Not that Jim did it for the thanks or anything, but still.
And his ride still hadn't shown up, so he was stuck here with the guy. Who shifted awkwardly, about as awkwardly as Jim suddenly felt.
There was really something odd about him, and since he wasn't looking Jim's direction anyway, Jim took the opportunity to look him over again. What was wrong with this picture? The eyes... Jim thought they might have been familiar. Maybe he knew this guy - they were about the same age. Maybe they'd known each other at the academy. The posture could have been explained by a military background, now that he thought about it.
As if the guy could feel Jim looking at him, he ducked his head lower, turning it slightly away, which served to obscure his face further behind the shaggy hair. Which only made Jim more curious, and he leaned away from where he was leaning against the wall himself, trying to catch at least a little glimpse of the guy's face. A light breeze gusted past, rustling his hair, but even that didn't do it.
On the other hand, that breeze lifted the hair by his ears just for a second, and Jim's eyes widened.
...Of course, just because he only knew one person with ears like that didn't mean it was him. Hell - there were several entire races he'd met by now with pointed ears. He hadn't even gotten a good look, maybe the ears weren't even really pointed. But the hair was the right color, and he had sounded totally emotionless when he talked...
There was no visible reaction at first, and then the guy turned his head a little further away. That was enough for Jim, and he stepped away from the wall, coming to stand in front of the guy and really get a good look at him. "Spock?" he asked again, but this time it wasn't a question of confirmation - just incredulity.
The dark eyes lifted again, meeting his evenly, if only for a moment. "Kirk," he quietly acknowledged with a curt nod, and then lowered his head again.
Jim just gaped for a second before he could manage to say anything. "What are you doing?"
"I would have assumed you had already guessed," Spock replied, his head still lowered, "seeing as you have given assistance. It is appreciated."
"No, I mean..." And having it confirmed, that Spock was actually begging for credits, almost shocked him speechless again. But not quite. "What are you doing here?"
"Certain features of mine, which make it clear that I am not human, are more acceptable to those who live near Starfleet facilities than those who live elsewhere," Spock reasoned. "Thus, the San Francisco spaceport is a comparatively safe place for those of alien blood, as pedestrians are accustomed to all manner of beings coming and going."
Jim stared. Spock had to know what he meant, which meant he was purposely dodging the question. But then again, he had so many questions that he didn't even know which he should be asking first, so maybe not.
And of course that was when a car pulled up, all shiny and white, settling on the concourse before them as Jim turned to look. "Captain," said the young man who stepped out and saluted, showing a lieutenant's rank braids at his sleeve. "We're honored to have you back."
"...Thanks," Jim said, after a brief, awkward pause. He wasn't used to being saluted. He had told his crew it wasn't necessary right from the start. And it really seemed wrong to have someone saluting him in front of Spock. Especially with Spock like this. Jim was suddenly very aware of the shiny new car that had been sent for him, the fine clothes he was wearing... He would have been more comfortable in an old t-shirt and some sweats for the duration of the travel, honestly, but he was expected to keep up appearances now.
And now the lieutenant was opening the car door for him, and that was just crazy. Even worse, "I'll get your luggage," the young man offered, already reaching for it.
Jim cut him off by reaching for the suitcase himself. "No, that's all right, I'm capable of handling it myself," he assured the lieutenant. "And your name is?"
"Lieutenant Nelson, sir. It's a pleasure."
"Likewise." Jim could toss off the appropriate pleasantries without thinking nowadays, which was good, because his mind was entirely elsewhere. He hadn't gotten any answers out of Spock, and considering the way Spock had been avoiding his eyes from the start, noticeably trying to hide his face after the first good look at him, he could guess that he wasn't going to be able to come back here later, when his brain was sorted out and there wasn't an over-eager officer waiting on him hand and foot. Spock would be gone.
Well, that made his options pretty clear. "Come on," he said, turning back to Spock. "You go ahead and get in while I take care of our luggage."
If he hadn't already known that it was Spock underneath that shaggy hair and unshaven jaw, the raised eyebrow would have been a dead giveaway. "Our luggage?"
"Yeah. My suitcase, your backpack." And while Jim felt mildly bad about it, if his guess was right and it did contain all Spock's worldly possessions, he bent down and picked up the backpack, lifting it to his shoulder as he went around the back. Spock kind of had to come with him now.
From the look Spock shot him as he obligingly got to his feet, he did not approve. But Jim didn't care. There was no way he was going to let Spock just... sit there and beg for money from travelers. Not Spock. And not when he was off to have a bunch of old Academy alumni drink toasts to him and shit like that. There was just no way.
Lieutenant Nelson seemed somewhat uncertain. "A friend of yours, captain?"
"Yup. And hey - don't think any less of him because he's not all dressed up at the moment," Jim warned the young man, closing the trunk and coming back around. "He's smarter than I am, the stuff he's wearing is way more comfortable for travel."
"...I see." Nelson still looked dubious, but Jim figured that was all right. Anyone smart enough to make rank would be able to tell there was something fishy going on. It was just that since he outranked Nelson, Nelson wasn't going to be able to call him on it. "They didn't tell me you'd have a companion."
"Actually, we didn't even realize we were both going to be here until today," said Jim. It wasn't a lie. "This is S-"
"Stevens," Spock interrupted, offering his hand.
Jim puzzled as the lieutenant shook Spock's hand. A whole new crop of questions had just popped up in his mind - and annoyingly, he wasn't going to get the chance to ask anytime soon, with this guy escorting them.
Well, the sooner they got to where he was being housed, the sooner he'd be able to ask. "All right, it's been a while since I've been back on campus," he told them, getting in the car himself and scooting over to the far side. "I can't wait to see what they've been up to. How about you, Stevens?"
"Perhaps you can show me around," Spock replied, climbing in beside him.
That was exactly why Jim had left his question vague, and it confirmed one of his suspicions. No going into detail yet, though, so he just smiled and nodded, ignoring the dark, pointed look that Spock was shooting at him as Nelson went around to get in the driver's seat. "Sure thing. I bet you'd like to get a look at their science labs."
"I certainly would," Spock replied flatly, settling down to stare out the side window as the car took off.
Jim had the feeling that Spock was kind of pissed at him for pulling a stunt like this. But then, that had kind of been the basis of their relationship from the start, hadn't it?
A suite had been readied for him in one of the faculty housing buildings, basically a small apartment he could call home for the few days he'd be staying. Being a starship captain sure had its perks, Jim thought as he glanced around the place. This was way better than the student housing, or most of the lodging Starfleet had secured during shore leave, or even his own quarters aboard the ship - there was an actual comforter on the bed, wallpaper, a kitchen, a full bathroom... Even if it was still lacking in any sort of personality, it was comfortable and well-furnished.
But he spared only a second to look around and be impressed. The time he had allotted was up as soon as Lieutenant Nelson and the commodore who had met them in front were on their way out, offering assurances that all he had to do was ring down to the office below if he needed anything.
There was only one thing that Jim needed, however, and the front office was pretty unlikely to be able to provide it. Especially since no one had recognized Spock on the way in. Jim activated the lock once the door was shut, to avoid any accidental interruptions, and then turned back to look at Spock.
It had been a very long time - almost six years now - but it all came back to him just from the way Spock was standing there in the center of the room. Hands clasped behind his back, he stood just as straight and proud with his shaggy hair and unshaven face and ratty faded clothes as he had when he was acting captain of the Enterprise.
It was really strange, seeing him like this, considering how tight and meticulous he'd been when they'd last seen each other. On the other hand, it wasn't a bad look for him at all. Jim had always been partial to the rumpled, just-fell-out-of-bed look, and before, Spock had been more or less the exact opposite of that. At the moment, Jim actually thought he looked kind of hot, what with his hair falling all around his face, and that stubble all up his jaw and neck like he'd been on a bender for the last week. He looked like a completely different person... except the posture. And the eyes.
The eyes were fixed on him, and they already looked hard. Not a good sign. "I assume you would like an explanation as to my current state."
"That's kind of an understatement," Jim acknowledged, "but it's nice to see we still get each other."
"I regret to inform you," Spock told him, "that you have wasted your time."
Jim narrowed his eyes, frowning at Spock. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that I am not giving you an explanation," Spock stated, and leaned over to pick up the backpack that had been deposited on the floor by the couch. "I appreciate your apparent willingness to assist, but it is not necessary."
"Whoa, hold it." Jim automatically took a step sideways, between the door and Spock; possibly he'd unconsciously locked it just as much to keep Spock in as to keep anyone else out. "Where do you think you're going?"
"I am leaving," Spock told him, with a look that implied it should have been obvious.
"Where are you going?" Jim repeated, stepping back towards the door as Spock stepped forward.
"As I said, I am-"
"Give me the name of a place," Jim told him firmly, not budging any further as Spock approached the door, until they were less than a meter apart. "An actual place, somewhere you're intending to go. Where you're going to be staying."
Spock stopped there; he couldn't go any further with Jim standing in his way. And though Jim waited, he didn't reply.
Which was pretty much what Jim had figured. "You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"
"There are any number of places that I might choose," Spock replied.
"But none of them is yours," Jim countered. "You don't have a home, do you? You're living on the streets."
For a moment, he wondered if this was a good idea. There was a glint in Spock's eyes that reminded him - and it was so long ago that he would have thought he'd have forgotten by now - of the instant before Spock lunged at him on the bridge. And well, Spock's dad wasn't here to call him off this time.
But the moment passed, and Spock's eyes went simply neutral again. "It is none of your concern. I see that you have prospered since we last saw one another. I am only one of many who has not."
"You're not 'one of many'," Jim insisted. "You're my friend."
Spock's eyebrow raised as he gave Jim a challenging look. "We may have served together, very briefly - but I am not, nor have I ever been, your friend."
For some reason, hearing those words really hurt. Jim was briefly stunned, taken aback... but he recovered himself quickly. Spock just didn't know what he knew. "Well," he said, "we're supposed to be friends."
"A logical being cannot live by what is 'supposed to' happen," Spock replied. "Only an illogical being would deny what is, in favor of a more preferable fantasy."
Jim could have explained. He could have told Spock so many stories about their adventures together, the camaraderie that he'd been given secondhand. Those weren't fantasies, but reality. Just... a different one, which he'd grown more and more fascinated by the more he learned.
But he still remembered the warning the other Spock had given him all those years ago, so he shut that line of thinking down at once and simply turned to another. "You know what?" he said. "It doesn't matter whether we're calling each other 'friends' or not. We made a good team back then. You helped me save the planet, and the whole Federation. In my book, that means you're a good enough guy that I don't like the idea of you sleeping on the streets. So set that backpack down - you're staying here with me."
"With all due respect, Captain Kirk," Spock said, and there was an edge to the way he emphasized the rank, "I have resigned from Starfleet. You have no obligation to me, nor do you have authority over me to force me to remain with you."
Jim gave him an incredulous look. "I wasn't pulling rank, Spock. I was..." He couldn't say he was 'offering', he realized. Spock would just decline it. "Look," he began. "It doesn't seem very logical to me that you should be out on the streets tonight when you could be staying somewhere more comfortable. I'm giving you an option you don't have - and if I don't say so myself, it looks like a better option than the rest. Isn't it logical to take it?"
Spock's focus seemed to turn inward, and after a brief hesitation, he nodded reluctantly. "Accepting your hospitality is indeed the logical choice," he muttered. "However, if this is an attempt to bargain with me for personal information I do not wish to disclose-"
"It's not," Jim told him, though hearing Spock say it so bluntly made his heart sink. He'd been hoping it might be incentive, but that wasn't why he was offering. "I just don't want you sleeping on the street, that's all. I want you to have a nice meal, a hot shower, and so on. I mean, it's not like I'm going to any trouble on your behalf or anything."
"Sharing your personal space with another might be considered going to a certain amount of trouble," Spock pointed out, but Jim was relieved when he did set the backpack down again.
Jim shook his head and gave Spock a smile. Funny how he was the one who was grateful for this resolution, rather than Spock. "Not really. Just ask anyone who knew me as a cadet - I've got no personal boundaries anyway."
Spock looked at him a moment longer, then lowered his eyes with a brief nod. "Very well - you have made a convincing argument. I will stay for the night."
"Good." Now the question was, how long could Jim manage to stretch that out...? He'd think of something later. He was stiff from the time aboard the shuttle, and everything that had happened since he landed had left him tense, too; he stretched slightly, taking off the light jacket he wore and hanging it up in the small closet to his right. "We have an hour or so before dinner - I was thinking I might take a shower, but if you want it first, go for it." Not that he seemed to be in great need. Aside from the scruffy look he was sporting, Spock's hygiene didn't seem to have suffered due to his homelessness.
"As you are expected for dinner, and I am not," Spock reasoned, "I suggest that you go ahead."
Jim gave Spock a curious look. "Just to be sure... you're not planning on sneaking out while I'm otherwise occupied, are you?"
"I have already agreed to stay the night," Spock pointed out.
But his eyes were averted. "Promise me," Jim told him. Spock simply nodded. "No, seriously. Say it," Jim insisted. "Promise you're not going to run away."
"You seem to have a great deal of faith in my word," Spock observed.
"Yeah, I do." Jim wasn't going to be coy, not when things were this bad for Spock. "Look me in the eye, Spock."
After a moment, Spock did so, with another small nod. "I promise not to leave without informing you."
That was something, at least. Enough to make Jim grin. "Thanks. Put your feet up, make yourself at home," he suggested. "Hang up your jacket, or whatever, if you want." He didn't even know if Spock had anything to wear besides what he was wearing. Which made him realize that Spock wasn't exactly dressed for an alumni dinner.
Which made him remember the false name Spock had given, and the way he'd offered his hand, which Jim had been informed was generally offensive to Vulcans. It was something for him to ponder under the spray of the shower - and damn, it was nice to have running water again, even if the sonic showers aboard most space vessels were more sterile and efficient, just something about feeling the dust run off you, he supposed - and he had his conclusion long before he stepped out of the bathroom, towel slung over his still-bare shoulder. Of course, his conclusion led to a whole bunch of other questions. Just to get the easy one out of the way... "So you introduced yourself as 'Stevens' back at the spaceport," Jim began, rubbing idly at his wet hair with the towel. "If someone asks, what else should I know about my friend Stevens? I mean, I'm guessing it's not your real last name."
"Neither you, nor the lieutenant, would have been able to pronounce my family name." Spock, having settled on the couch, seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, his fingers pressed together. "I had not given much thought to the alias. William, I suppose, is an acceptably common given name, and you may say that he is an independent mechanical technician. Considering the time you have spent around Starfleet personnel and interstellar travelers as opposed to earthbound workmen, the most plausible explanation for our familiarity is that you and William Stevens were acquainted before you enlisted, perhaps in your hometown in Iowa."
Jim nodded thoughtfully, ducking back into the bathroom to hang up the towel before picking out a fresh shirt from the suitcase. "So that leaves me with two really obvious questions, and I'm not sure which to ask first."
"I may not answer either, so it likely does not matter."
"Thanks for the honesty," Jim groaned.
"It was no trouble," Spock replied, straight-faced.
Jim fought the urge to roll his eyes as he buttoned up his shirt. "Okay then - first, why are you pretending to be a human?"
"There has been a history of awkwardness between humans and Vulcans since Nero appeared and destroyed the Kelvin," Spock reminded him, "due to the physical similarities between Vulcans and Romulans. Although Terrans seem to have a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the Vulcan race in general at present, a single Vulcan on their planet, when the vast majority are working to rebuild their own society elsewhere, is suspicious."
"Not if that Vulcan's working for Starfleet," Jim pointed out. "So why are you hiding from Starfleet? You're one of their most famous graduates - they'd be glad to see you. I bet they'd offer you a position as an instructor even if you didn't want to serve on a starship..." It was a pretty obvious solution, considering Spock was a genius. Jim had no idea why it wouldn't have occurred to him. "...And then you'd have somewhere to live, some regular income..."
"I left Starfleet," Spock said flatly. "I will not return."
"I guess that would be one of the questions you're not going to answer, huh?"
"That is correct."
Figured. "I probably wouldn't have any luck if I asked why you left New Vulcan, either, would I?" Jim asked.
"I see that your observation earlier was correct," Spock noted. "We do still possess a basic understanding."
"Once a stubborn, snarky bastard, always a stubborn, snarky bastard," Jim sighed.
"Likewise, you do not seem to have rid yourself of the urge to involve yourself in things that do not involve you," Spock replied, quite matter-of-factly.
Spock looked up at him from his place on the couch, Jim looked down... and he couldn't help it. A slow smile spread across his face. It had been so long since he'd spoken to this Spock that he'd almost forgotten - they really were a good match for each other. Better than he remembered.
Since Spock didn't frown, avert his eyes, or do anything at all to discount that smile, Jim kind of thought the feeling might be mutual.
"That's all right," Jim said finally, shrugging and turning back to his suitcase. "Even if you aren't going to tell me what happened now, you know I've spent the last five years out there in deep space, figuring out the secrets of the universe? If I can do that, I think I can figure out the secrets of one single, stubborn Vulcan."
To his surprise, Spock did not deny it. He merely raised an eyebrow, and stated, "Keep in mind that you do not have five years. I believe the commodore mentioned you were staying for five days?"
"We'll see," Jim said with a grin, looping the tie around his shoulders. Semi-formal - he still wasn't used to this kind of thing. "In the meantime, if you don't want Starfleet to know you're here, I'm assuming you don't want to come to dinner tonight?"
"I would rather not."
"Then before I go, we should get something for you," Jim decided, and went to the kitchen, turning on the replicator and accessing the list. "I don't think this thing makes anything Vulcan..."
"It is not necessary," Spock told him, coming to stand behind him in the entryway. "The Vulcan metabolism is highly efficient; skipping meals has little effect."
"But the replicator's right here, and how many meals have you skipped?" Jim asked, looking over his shoulder to raise an eyebrow right back at him. Spock said nothing. "Yeah, that's what I thought. What would you like?" he asked again, turning back and continuing to scroll down the list. "Huh, they've added a lot since I was a student..."
"If this is an attempt to ply me for information," Spock began.
"It's not," Jim told him, cutting him off at once without even looking. "Even if you don't tell me a thing, I still want to see that you're fed and housed. At least while I can do something about it."
There was a long silence. Jim actually glanced back over his shoulder after a little while, to see if Spock was even still there. He was, of course, just standing there and looking... well, basically unreadable. But he didn't look so tough about it as he'd looked before, there was a softer look in his eyes. Which he probably wasn't aware of, and would be displeased by if he was.
"So," Jim said, turning back around without comment. "Do you like Italian?"
"To be honest? No."
"Really?" Jim had to grin - he had mostly expected Spock to just agree with whatever he suggested. "How can you not like Italian?"
"In my experience, it relies too heavily upon garlic."
"Ah." Jim scrolled through the listings a little further. "Chinese?"
"Some dishes are generally palatable."
A little more questioning, and Jim had determined one thing for certain: Spock was a spice wimp. This was complicated further by him being a vegetarian - which Jim thought he'd already known, but he must have forgotten. But eventually Spock agreed to what sounded like a pretty boring salad, and Jim put in the order - looked like it would take a few minutes. And he wasn't sure why Spock wasn't doing this himself, he knew how to use a replicator. But no, he'd just been standing there, watching...
Afterwards, Spock did speak, quietly. "I do appreciate this, Kirk."
"You're welcome," Jim said easily. "It's seriously not any trouble. I'm just glad I can do something. And that you'll let me," he added.
Spock shook his head slightly. "I know of no logical reason for you to be concerned about my wellbeing. However, in our past encounters, you very seldom displayed logical behavior."
Jim shot him a grin and nodded. "That's the spirit."
He didn't know where to go from there, though, honestly. He hadn't spent a lot of time around this Spock.
...Which reminded him.
"Well, I guess I should be going," he said lightly, turning away from the replicator. "I've got a few things I want to check on before I actually go to that dinner. So enjoy yours when it's done, and just make yourself at home, use the terminals, the shower, whatever. If you want more from the replicator, feel free. I don't know exactly when this will be over..." And he couldn't help being a little wary, everything seemed to have gone almost too well so far. "You'll still be here when I get back, right?"
"As you surmised," Spock said with a nod, "I have nowhere else to go."
Jim couldn't say he was glad about that, or that it was a good thing. But... "You've got somewhere for the time being," he told Spock. "Don't forget - not taking advantage of it would be illogical."
Spock looked mildly put out by his using the word. "...Indeed."
Jim smirked and started for the door. "See you later." If not for his worry about what exactly had happened to Spock, this would be fun.
As it was, it was still kind of fun.