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“... which marks the beginning of the First Republic of Bajor, which flourished between twenty and twenty-five thousand years ago.”

Jim sighed, propping his head in his hand and tried to keep his eyes open.  This did not bode well for the semester.

This period can be characterized by the great accomplishments of art, science, mathematics...”

His advisors warned him to get the history credit before his final year, but he ignored it, and now he understood why.  No one should be expected to do a thesis, advanced tactical and command courses, and a campus job on top of the world’s most boring class at 0800 hours.

“... as evidenced by the classical architecture seen in B’hala by the great designer and artist, Sarisen.

Jim doodled a few notes on his PADD and let his gaze wander.  The lecture hall was half-filled with first year cadets in their first week, as evidenced by eager expressions and frantic note taking.  Jim was sitting in the optimal spot: almost in the back of the room, an aisle seat nearest the door, something these fresh-faced cadets hadn’t learned just yet.  He glanced around, noting a pair of cute Human girls to his left and a trim looking Kressari male a few rows ahead of him.

“... upon which the Bajoran caste system was built.  Such evidence of these findings...”

And right in the middle of the room of a sea of cadet red uniforms, in the first row, the seat closest to the lecturer (a space that even cadets in their first week knew not to occupy) sat a lone Vulcan.  This caught Jim’s curiosity immediately.  He stuck out with his pointy ears, unfortunate choice of seating, black Vulcan robes, and he was puny.  Vulcans were usually tall, and this guy looked like a child compared to the other students.  Jim stared at him a few moments more, noticing that he didn’t even twitch, just stared at the professor, hands clasped, and not even taking notes.

This calls for speculation to which of the first expeditions to Bajoran space yielded, what scholars later called...

Jim’s PADD lit up with a message from his roommate.

lmccoy: Late night?  I thought you said you didn’t have time for bed hopping his semester.

Jim stifled a snort and typed a reply.

jkirk: I slept in my room, unlike some.  Early class this semester.

lmccoy: Lunch at 1300?

jkirk: can’t. work.

That concludes today’s lecture.”  No sooner did those words leave the professors mouth, Jim stood up and started making his way down the stairs to the door.  As he got there, the short Vulcan came into view.  Jim got a good look at him and realized with a shock, he was wrong.

The tiny Vulcan wasn’t short, like a kid.  He was a kid.

-----

If there was one thing to be said for HIST108: Non-Federation Civilizations, it was easy, allowing Jim to multitask.  He could listen to the lecture, take the occasional note, and read for his Interspecies Ethics class.  Or Exochemistry.  Or Advanced Astrotheory. Or any of the other six courses he was taking this semester because he was a glutton for punishment and saw his ticket off Earth at the end of the finish line.

Two weeks had gone by, and they had covered Bajor, Selay, and Kesprytt III.  He aced his Command and Conduct essay and had found a great study group for Advanced Subspace Geometry, which was one of the few times he had this semester for anything that resembled socializing.

Not that he hadn’t had offers.  In his history class, especially, a number of the first year cadets had chatted him up, including the pair of Humans, a rather handsy Andorian, and a Breen doing a semester at Starfleet as a cultural exchange.  Breen.  Seriously weird.

The little Vulcan kid was still in the class, still sitting in no-man’s land, attentively listening and never fidgeting.  Jim hadn’t given him more than the cursory glance until week three, when the handsy Andorian tripped over the kid’s satchel before class, making the blue man spill his morning drink over his uniform.  Jim only barely missed getting splashed on his way to his seat.

Qi’tarr’wae,” the Andorian snarled.  “Your boots will be in water.”  Which probably didn’t sound like much, except to those that spoke Andorian and understood the implication of the slur, like Jim.  The kid seemed to understand the full meaning as well, the tips of his ears turned green and he looked away, seeming to shrink in on himself.

“Back off,” Jim said in an even tone.  “Not his fault the bulls left you their tails.”  That, too, was a slur to any Andorian male.  All eyes in the room were trained on the scene at the front of the room.  The other man glared but didn’t challenge Jim, giving the kid one more disgusted look and took his seat.  Jim glanced down.  “You okay, kid?”

The young Vulcan nodded, wide eyed.  Jim gave him a small grin and walked to his seat.

The next time class met, the kid moved his seat to the very back of the room.

-----

On Tuesdays, Jim could find a few minutes to meet Bones for lunch, which was mostly spent stuffing his face as quickly as he could and ignore the stink eye his roommate would give him while watching Jim eat.

“French fries don’t go in your milkshake, you heathen.”

“Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Jim replied around a mouthful of fries.

“Disgusting,” Bones muttered, trying to take his attention off Jim’ train wreck of a lunch.  “He’s here again.”

Jim reached over to Bones’ tray and tried to swipe a napkin but got his hand smacked.  “Hey!  You’ve got plenty.  Who’s here?”

“He was here last week too,” Bones mused.  “Same seat and everything.  I think he’s staring at you.  No!  Don’t turn around.”

Jim smirked.  “Is he cute?”

Bones looked over Jim’s shoulder, considering.  “Yes.  Some might say adorable.  For a Vulcan.”

“Adorable?” Jim repeated, intrigued.  “Is he my type?”

Bones gave him an enigmatic smile.  “No.”

Jim scoffed, and turned around.  “Since when don’t I go for adorable men...” Jim whipped back around, and glared.  Bones was shaking from silent laughter.  “It’s the kid, isn’t it?” he asked, kicking the doctor under the table.  Bones nodded, immensely amused by himself.  Jim flicked a fry at him.

“Do you know him?”

Jim nodded, resuming his french fry dipping.  “In my history class.  The kid’s auditing or something, I think.”

Bones’ eyes widened.  “He’s coming over,” he muttered.

Jim looked around, and sure enough, the youth was headed his way.  But instead of approaching their table, the kid kept walking and sat at another table, this time in Jim’s line of sight.  He pulled out a PADD and wrote some things on it, occasionally making notes and glancing at Jim.

“He is looking at me,” Jim muttered, frowning at the kid.

“Maybe he’s shy?” Bones suggested.

“Or maybe he’s a stalker,” Jim muttered, and picked up his empty tray.  The Vulcan kid was still looking at him, eyes following him as he walked.

“Are you watching me?” Jim asked.

The Vulcan flushed green, but did not look away.  “Yes.  I was trying to be covert, but obviously I have failed.”

Jim stifled the urge to roll his eyes.  “Why?”

“There are many studies that indicate if the subject is aware of being observed, the subject’s behavior will invariably change.”

Great.  He was a science project.  “Why are you watching me?”

“I am gathering data on humanoid behavior,” the boy said earnestly.

“Look...”

“I am Senik,” the boy supplied.

“Look, Senik, it’s great you’re interested in science and all, but most humanoids don’t appreciate being secretly watched.  It’s creepy.  Either stop doing it or ask permission first.”

Senik nodded solemnly and Jim left to dump his tray.

----

Jim worked at the Starfleet library in the astrometrics processing lab desk.  It was both the best and worst job in the solar system, but Jim was magnificently suited for it.  Every workday he took the bike across the bay from the Academy campus in Sausalito to ‘Fleet HQ in San Francisco.  He sat at a counter for a few hours, minimal interruptions, and occasionally pressed a button on a machine or answered a patron’s question.  He could spend the rest of the time studying, which was a huge bonus and far outweighed any tedium of button pushing and minimal foot traffic to his area.

So it was unusual when the minute his shift started, a patron was already waiting at his desk.

“So, you’re a fan of astrometrics?” Jim asked.

“I am interested in a great many topics,” Senik said, glancing around the empty room and desks that made up Jim's area.

Jim waited silently and when it was obvious the youth was not going to speak, he cleared his throat and got Senik’s attention.  “Can I help you with something?”

“May I observe you in this environment?”

Well, the kid got points for following the rules.  “Sure.  Why not?”

“Because my data will be compromised by your knowledge of my observation.”

Jim was unaccountably amused.  “It was a rhetorical question.”  

Senik nodded once.  “What is it that you do here?”

Jim pointed to the two machines in the behind him.  “If they beep, I press the buttons.  If someone needs help finding astrometrics data stored in the database, I help them retrieve it.  I spend the rest of the time studying.  Make sense?”

Senik nodded.  “Should I move away from the desk?”

Jim gestured to the empty room.  “You don’t want to keep all the other people waiting, do you?”

Senik looked behind him and then back to Jim.  “There are no other people here, Cadet Kirk.”

Jim rolled his eyes.  “Stand wherever you like.  Let me know if you need anything.”

Senik nodded, and Jim started typing at a computer console.  He tried to concentrate on writing his tactical analysis report of this morning’s simulation, but was very aware of Senik standing at the desk.  He glanced up once and sure enough, the Vulcan youth was staring at Jim.

“It’s rude to stare,” he said.

“I am somewhat unfamiliar with Terran social rules,” Senik replied, but took the hint and averted his gaze.

“When you say you are observing, are you observing me?  Just me?”

Senik nodded once.  “However, I believe I have observed enough, at this time,” the boy said.  “I require your assistance, now.”

James looked up expectantly.  “Yes?”

“Are you currently engaged in a relationship?”

“What does that have to do with anything?”

“It is part of my the data I am collecting,” Senik replied.

Jim decided to humor him.  “No.  I’m single.”

Senik nodded.  “Do you have a gender preference?  Or preference for any species, humanoid or otherwise?”

Jim narrowed his eyes.  “No, not particularly.”  Senik nodded again.

“I request your assistance in another matter,” the boy announced and Jim nodded warily for him to continue.  “I wish for you to accompany me to dinner.”

Jim’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline.  “Dinner?  Kid, I think you got the wrong idea,” Jim said.  “While I’m sure you are a nice young person, I do have a preference for adults.  I mean all the time.  Adults only.  That’s the rule.”

Senik tilted his head quizzically.  “You misunderstand, Cadet Kirk.  I am not requesting to partake in Human courtship.  I have no interest in you in that manner.”

“Oh,” Jim said faintly, not entirely sure that was an improvement.  “Well, I’m glad we have that settled.”

“Will you accompany me to dinner?  There is a suitable establishment outside the library and--”

“Sorry, kid,” he interrupted.  “I really don’t have much time for that sort of thing.”

“Humans require nourishment and social interaction to maintain optimum performance,” Senik pointed out.  “It would be efficient to combine the two activities.”

“I’m functioning just fine, thanks,” Jim said.  “I’ve got a paper due next week, so unless you’ve already audited Interspecies Ethics or have a first hand knowledge of the interspecies marriage practices--”

“I can assist you in your Interspecies Ethics class,” Senik interjected.  “During dinner,” he added for clarification.  “It would be the most efficient use of your time.”

Jim frowned.  “You know about interspecies marriage laws?”

“I can assist you,” Senik repeated earnestly.

“What about your time?  Aren’t your parents expecting you home?”

Senik’s face shuttered.  “No.  My mother is currently aboard the USS Stokholm.”  He didn’t offer any more information, but Jim could fill in the wide gaps of knowledge with his own experiences.  He considered a moment, and Senik met his gaze.

“Okay.  I get off in three and half hours.”  

Senik nodded....

And stood silently in front of Jim the next three hours and twenty nine minutes.

----

Senik led Jim to an eatery a block from the library, a fusion restaurant that catered to the diverse palates of Star Fleet personnel.  It was a tad sophisticated for what was supposed to be, in Jim’s mind, a study session with a precocious pre-adolescent.  The intimate tables had cloth napkins and real candles, a far cry from three full years of cafeteria food and greasy dives.  A cheery hostess led them into nearly deserted dining room and a waitress brought them their drinks, a Coke and tea.  Jim perused the menu, sipping on his soda when he noticed Senik staring at his beverage.

“Something wrong?”

“Your drink is carbonated?” he asked, obviously intrigued.  

Jim nodded and pushed the drink towards the boy.  “Want to try it?”  Senik shook his head.

“Have you had it?” Jim asked.  The boy shook his head again.  “Then how do you know if you don’t like it?”  Jim tried not to dwell on how much he sounded like his mother, and pushed the drink closer to the boy.  Senik tentatively took the glass and held it up to observe.  Jim watched expectantly, thinking all the ice in the glass would melt before Senik tried a sip.  Suddenly, Senik put the glass down and pushed it back towards Jim.

“Spock,” Senik said suddenly without explanation.

Jim frowned.  “What’s spock mean?”  Was it Vulcan slang?

“I am Spock,” a smooth voice said from behind Jim’s head.  Jim turned around to see a tall, lean Vulcan male.  This was Lieutenant Commander Spock, by the looks of his instructor’s uniform.  Jim pushed back his chair and stood at attention, out of habit.  Spock ignored him.  “Senik, you were expected to be home at 1700 hours.”

“I have asked one of my classmates to partake in a meal with me,” Senik replied, avoiding the adult Vulcan’s gaze.  “It was not my intent to cause a disruption to your evening, tomasu.”

Spock glanced at the Human, still standing formally.  “If you had informed me of your plans, there would have been no disruption.  You did not answer your comm, but I was able to triangulate a signal.”  He turned to face Jim fully.  “Cadet, you are excused.”

Jim glanced over to Senik, who was obviously displeased.  “Cadet Kirk cannot leave.  My obligation to him is unfulfilled.”

Spock turned to Jim, questioning.  “What obligation does this child have to you?”

Jim frowned, disliking the accusing tone.  It’s not like he abducted the kid.  “Sir, I’m not sure if-”

“I assured him that I could assist him with his Interspecies Ethics course,” Senik said firmly.  

That made Spock turn back to the youth.  “This assistance could be as effectively done through other means, such as a conference video.”

“Cadet Kirk’s time is valuable, as his course load is 42% more demanding than the average third year cadet.  He is also employed at the library astrometrics lab, leaving little time for meals and sleep,” Senik replied.  “Cadet Kirk rarely partakes in nutritious or frequent meals.  I concluded that a shared meal would be the most logical choice, benefiting all parties.”

Although neither Vulcan had raised his voice, and it sounded like a they were commenting on the weather, Jim got the distinct feeling he was caught in the middle of an angry family fight.

“Look,” Jim said, both pairs of eyes turning toward the Human, “it’s okay, I should be going anyway.  That extra 42% won’t get done on its own.”

Spock raised his hand and motioned for Jim to stay.  “My apologies Cadet Kirk, please continue your meal.  If you would not mind, I will join you and escort Senik home at the conclusion of the meal.”

“Oh.  Sure,” Jim said, feeling incredibly awkward.  Neither caught Senik’s pleased expression as Spock took a seat next to Jim.

----

Jim knew a few things about Vulcans.  For one, most were touch telepaths and as such, didn’t appreciate casual physical contact, so Jim made an effort to keep all limbs to himself.  He also knew that Vulcans were vegetarians, and in deference to his dinner companions, Jim was eating a fusion dish of vegetable lasagna with Tellarite cheese.

It was revolting.

After the second bite of fermented squash and cheese that reminded him of a cross of Wensleydale and feta, he abandoned his plate and tried to casually grab another roll from the communal bread basket.  However, it was impossible to be discreet, because two pairs of Vulcan eyes were trained on him, unblinking and unjudging.  Jim wasn’t sure if they were both naturally horrible dinner conversationalists, or if it was a cultural thing.

“So, what can you tell me about interspecies marriage laws?” Jim asked Senik.

“My knowledge of the topic is minimal,” the boy replied staring at his food.  Jim frowned.

“You said you knew--”

“I said that I would assist you,” Senik corrected, spooning diced tomatoes into a brothy soup and stirring, refusing to look up.  “My cousin is a product of an interspecies marriage, and would be an excellent source of knowledge.”

Cousin... Jim glanced at an annoyed Spock, correctly inferring that he was the cousin in question.  The cousin that was responsible for Senik while his parents were away.  The Vulcan (half Vulcan?) instructor's lips were firmly pressed together, but he did not move to speak or correct Senik.

“Was it part of your plan to trick him into coming here?” Jim asked, gesturing to the disgruntled adult Vulcan.

“He would not have come on his own,” the youth replied, still not looking up.  “I said I would assist you, and I have.”

“You should have said so,” Jim admonished.

“I am unfamiliar with Terran social rules,” Senik replied for the second time that day.

The level of awkwardness just went up a few notches.  Jim snuck a glance over to Spock, who looked stern, but not murderous, at the young Vulcan’s bending of the truth.  “Cadet Kirk is correct,” Spock said.  “You were being purposefully vague to achieve your objective.  An objective that is still not entirely clear.”

“May I be excused to the restroom?” Senik asked, and without a reply, got up and retreated out of the dining room, both adults staring after him, befuddled.

Jim felt that the second ring of hell must be similar to this.  Eating terrible alien fusion food with an adolescent under false pretenses, joined by a stern and proper Vulcan professor with perfectly trimmed hair that Jim was itching to run his fingers through, curious if he could untame the dark hair from its rigid position above slanted eyebrows.

Jim sighed, and Spock’s eyes swung back around to regard the cadet.  “I think I’m his science project,” Jim shared.

Spock lifted one eyebrow, which Jim thought was a little incongruous on a Vulcan’s face, but was oddly appealing.  “Please elaborate.”

“He’s been watching me for awhile, I guess.  Observing me for a humanoid behavior project.  I interrupted his observations at lunch today, so I think he’s trying to watch me in unique environments."

Spock nodded thoughtfully.  “Senik has been on Earth for two months, and is having difficulty adjusting to life here, away from his parents.  I was the one that suggested studying his classmates for insight into non-Vulcan behavior.  I did not anticipate that he would be so... thorough in his pursuit of understanding.”

“So you’re raising him?”

“His mother is of my father’s house.  T’Mae is aboard the Stokholm on a scientific expedition from the Vulcan Science Academy and has granted me to-tashan, or guardianship, of Senik in her absence,” Spock said, sipping his own Vulcan tea.

Jim grabbed another roll, ripping off a piece and chewing it slowly.  “Must be rough for him, not having any real friends his age here.”

“Vulcans do not require social interaction in the way that Humans crave,” the other man replied.  Based on Senik’s odd behavior, Jim had a hunch that it was not entirely true, but did not disagree.  “I have observed that Humans often try to draw parallels between themselves and other species where none exist, in an effort to create a relationship.  It is how Humans relate to the universe.”

“So you think we all try to make others more Human because we couldn’t accept other species as they are?” Jim asked, a little perturbed.  Spock wouldn’t be the first person to accuse Humans, especially those serving in Starfleet, of giving Earth undue influence in Alpha and Beta quadrants, to the point of a cultural hegemony.

“Not at all,” Spock said.  “The Human trait of empathy has proven to be a valuable trait in the formation and continuation of the Federation.  I believe it is a trait that I did not naturally inherit from my Human mother, but something I learned as I grew older.”

Human.  Spock was part Human.  “I hope you don’t think I’m being rude for asking, but I am very interested in hearing about your parent’s story, from an academic perspective, of course.”

“I would not be opposed,” Spock said, and Jim smiled gratefully.  Over the next ten minutes, Spock shared the the riveting story of Human Amanda Grayson and Vulcan Ambassador Sarek, a perfect parable for interstellar law and ethics.  

Although Jim would never admit it to anyone, let alone Lieutenant Commander Spock, the story was also terribly romantic.  Jim always had a thing for star-crossed lovers.