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Spock tracked each second of his run from the turbolift to the transporter room.  The black hole was already in formation; Vulcan was already crumbling beneath the gravitational riptide.  Every moment spent in transit was a moment that would count against Spock when he reached the surface.  Urgency was critical; each step mattered.

He arrived at the transporter in time to witness Kirk and Sulu beam aboard.  Their impact was heavy enough to crack the protective casing on one of the receiver pads.  Statistically, at that velocity the only thing saving their lives was the matter stream inertial dampeners.  Spock found he could not recall the precise scientific equation to compensate, not even the basic formula, and a part of him recognized how concerning that was.  But the larger part was occupied with more pressing matters.

"Clear the pad," Spock ordered the prone men, buckling his utility belt to his uniform.  "I am beaming to the surface."

Spock knew he was acting beyond reason.  He understood distantly that leaving the Enterprise at this time could be a court martial offense.  That he was abandoning his post, and that if he did not desist immediately he would be in dereliction of duty and in violation of his oaths as an officer.  Logically, all these facts were true, and yet he could not concern himself with them.  There was no time to debate the merits of logic.  There was only time to do what was necessary.

Kirk and Sulu rolled partially to their feet, shuffling out of the way.   Spock ran a series of mental calculations, estimating the speed and expanse of the force consuming the planet below, the tectonic chaos he was likely to encounter on the ground.  His mind, normally so ordered, felt immeasurably sluggish and slow.  Panic was an unfamiliar enemy attempting to commandeer his thoughts.

"The surface of what?" Kirk panted, his face flushed red.  The Human's confusion was bold and demanding and something Spock had no time to address. Comprehension dawned a moment later, a blip in time.

"What, you’re going down there?"  Kirk asked incredulously.  "Are you nuts?"

Spock dropped into a partial crouch, balancing his weight for best possible stability on uneven ground.

"Spock, you can’t do that!" Kirk said, an air of authority to his voice that had not been earned, nor solicited.  The man's brazen disregard struck fiercely at Spock’s waning control.  He glanced upward, a brief blaze of rage threatening his shields; he banked it purely out of reflex.

"Energize," Spock said.

"Spock!" Kirk shouted, and then he was a blur, the slipstream of energy already beginning to envelope the pad - and surely that was not a hand Spock felt, surely that was not Kirk’s face staring at him from so near, blue eyes impossibly bright until they whitened and vanished in a blaze of light -

But it was Kirk's hand, and face, and eyes, and the rest of him was also in evidence when they materialized on Vulcan seconds later.  The heat struck Spock like a wall, rolling over him with impossible density as the rock beneath their feet shifted.  Spock reached automatically to steady Kirk as the Human staggered beneath the oppressive weight and fell to his knees, raising a shocked face to the destruction around them.

A hundred different reactions rose in Spock, all of them inappropriate, some of them violent.  But he could not waste even a second indulging them.  There was no time.

He said not a word as he gained his feet, already running for the entrance to the caves.  Kirk would follow or he would not.

"Spock!" Kirk shouted after him, and the Vulcan heard him utter a profane curse and then the scrabble of heavy environmental boots pounding over stone.  Spock was faster, but Kirk had the advantage of better traction.  It was seconds before the Human caught up.  He thought Kirk might reach out, try and stop him, and Spock prepared to sprain or break the man's wrist if he did.  But instead the Human ran in tandem, a string of foul language spilling from him as they stumbled and scratched their way over the wildly bucking terrain.  

Kirk panted audibly for air.  "Spock, we have to get back to the ship!"

"Go, then," Spock said, with sincere desire the Human would.  "Return."

"Can't leave you behind," Kirk retorted.  "What are we even doing here?  This is insane!"

The man would be better served by beaming back to the Enterprise, but if he would not go then Spock could not force him without wasting time and oxygen better spent elsewhere.  They ducked to either side of a boulder in the next moment, using the rock face to swing up and over it, and Spock tripped halfway up as the mountain shifted beneath him.  He might have slid off his feet entirely or into one of the crevasses below, but Kirk seized him by the arm and hauled him back to his feet, the Human’s forward momentum carrying them both.

"Crazy bastard," Kirk gasped, heaving for breath. "Get up!" Spock had an uncontrolled moment to wonder how the other man was faring in the thin Vulcan atmosphere - what little of it there still was, for what little time remained to it - no, there was no time for that, grief would come later, much later -

Spock led the way as they entered the caves, usually a cool reprieve from the Vulcan sun, now as choked with leaden heat as the surface.  Rubble piled high as they stumbled along, smaller pieces of stone shearing off from the walls as the intermittent quaking continued.  The entire tunnel system had the potential to give way before they could escape, but Spock could not turn back now.

"Shit," Spock vaguely heard Kirk wheeze behind him.  He turned just in time to see the Human duck beneath a rain of rock fragments, coughing and choking for air.  Spock slowed, for the first time uncertain.  He could not risk losing sight of Kirk here, when time was so short.  And yet the urge to continue, to reach his parents, his mother, drove him ever onward.

"Keep going," Kirk rasped at him, shielding his eyes as he waved him on.  "I’ll follow in a second."

"You cannot follow," Spock said.  "The tunnels diverge at three points along this path.  You do not know the way."  Urgency tugged at Spock but still he hesitated, dual concerns crowding his concentration.

Kirk grunted, heaving himself upright. "Alright -"

"No.  Remain here and do not move," Spock said curtly, a hand extended as though to contain him, this man who had already proven he would not be contained by any means.  "I will return this way."

"I’m not going to hang out here twiddling my thumbs while you -"

"You will hold this position and await my return," Spock said, and heard the thread of rage creeping into his voice again.  He fought to steady the beat of his own emotions. "That is an order."

"Like hell -"

"You will slow my progress," Spock said bluntly, and Kirk’s eyes widened in outrage. "This conversation has already done so.  Do not move, lest you endanger the lives we have come to save."

And he hardly waited the breath needed to see Kirk’s bitter, reluctant nod of acquiescence before he was gone, the faint scrape of the Human’s coughing falling behind him.

He had sacrificed precious moments garnering Kirk’s cooperation.  He paid for them now as he pushed himself beyond endurance, vaulting through the tunnels with dangerous speed.  In minutes he had reached the Katric Ark, the chamber widening to reveal ancient Vulcan statues, the crumbling staircases leading to the center altar.  Thousands of Vulcan katra’s whispered into Spock's mind, stored here from the time of the beginning, and the price of their impending loss was incalculable.  He took the stairs as quickly as possible, and his mother was the first to look upward, perhaps sensing him, perhaps merely reacting to the intrusion.

"Spock?" she asked, shock on her delicate face.  Spock locked eyes with her, reigning the impulse to simply snatch her and run from the room.

"The planet has only seconds left," he said, glancing at the others to ensure they understood the urgency. "We must evacuate." Immediately, he did not say, extending his hand to the woman he had risked everything to retrieve.  All others, even his father, to whom he owed allegiance and loyalty, paled suddenly in that single moment of inexpressible dread.

"Mother," he implored, beckoning.  "Now!"

He pulled her along, supporting her when she stumbled, ready to carry her entirely should she fall.  He was vaguely aware of the others crowding behind them, of the sudden spark and dimming of life as rocks and stone took several elders prematurely.  Death loomed closer with every moment and it was with some shock that Spock recognized Kirk, waiting as he had been bidden, grim determination painted across his pale face.

"Come on!" the Human shouted, gesturing them down the corridor as he led the way, the dull silver of his flight suit a welcome beacon.  Spock tracked their progress, already estimating with alarm that they would have minutes, perhaps less, to return to the ship before the ground beneath their very feet gave way.

Spock saw the light of a red sky ahead and exited the tunnel with Amanda tucked close.  He was in time to hear Kirk bark into his open communicator.

"Kirk to Enterprise.  Beam us out of here now!"

Ensign Chekov said something, presumably an acknowledgement, but Spock was no longer listening.  He took a single step forward and felt vaguely as though the increasing gravity had taken him in its grip and was pulling him along.  He took in the ravaged landscape of his home, watching as it literally tore itself apart.  Logic told him what was happening, that he was witnessing a planet’s - his planet’s - imminent destruction, but logic could not encompass this devastation.  Amanda stepped beyond him, and he felt her terrible shock as the end of all they knew came rushing toward them.

"Stay right where you are," Chekov directed, and Amanda turned to face Spock squarely.

"Transport in five."

Spock cast one last look over Vulcan, despair and grief like a rising tide.  He felt dematerialization begin with energy gathering at his core, and closed his eyes in an illogical but necessary farewell.

"Four."

There was a distant rumble -

"Look out!" Kirk shouted.

Spock snapped his eyes open just in time to see Kirk lunge forward, seizing Amanda as the ground began to crumble beneath her.  Spock reached for them instinctively, and Kirk threw out a hand, flailing for him as the Human staggered beneath her sudden momentum and tripped backward on one foot.  They began to fall.

"I'm losing them!" Chekov cried.

It was luck, nothing more, which brought Kirk into alignment just as Spock stepped forward. The Human caught at his wrist with wrenching desperation and it was almost too much, the grip and the sudden weight of two adult Humans nearly plunging them all to their deaths before Spock could wrap the fingers of his other hand over Kirk's.  Spock felt his boots slide out from under him, slipping on shale as though on slick ice.  He skidded a half length down before he managed to jam both heels hard into a jut of stone and pulled backward with everything at his disposal.

For a moment it seemed they might go over anyway, unable to thwart physics.  But in the next second Spock felt an impossibly strong hand clutch his shoulder and an arm wrap around his chest from behind and throw more strength into a backward heave.  Kirk came forward in a blur, Amanda's arm clutched in his grip, and all four of them went down, collapsed in a heap on the mountain side.  The lip of the crevasse crumbled further, buckling as they all scrambled away from the edge.

"Holy shit," Kirk choked, as Spock panted for air and felt through his father's grip the painful bite of uncontrolled terror and relief as Sarek reached around to seize Amanda's other arm in his grip.

"I've got them," Spock dimly heard Chekov say, as if from under water. "They're too close.  Adjusting matter stream to compensate -"

Spock had never felt more undone than he did in that moment, the four of them locked in a life-saving chain of limbs that should not have been possible.  Kirk coughed hoarsely, accompanied by Amanda's guttural gasps, nearly sobs.  Spock watched the Human with mute and unspeakable gratitude as the transporter caught them all up and the Enterprise whisked them swiftly back to safety, duty, and life.

"Bridge," Spock said automatically, as the transporter room shimmered into being around them. "Take us out of orbit."

Spock felt his father's grip fade from him, the first to unravel from their cluster as Chekov and the transporter tech leapt up to help.  The bleed of Sarek's emotions disappeared as the man moved away, and Spock only realized how strange that was after it was gone.  He had never felt his father lose such control before.  He watched Sarek take gentle hold of Amanda, saw them lever to their feet and step off the pad.

It was well after medical teams had arrived, after Spock had watched the other Vulcans step gracefully off the transporter, that Spock found himself still clutching Kirk's hand and arm in both of his.  And he realized Kirk had seized him in a shaking grip in turn and the imprint of the Human's skin and heat felt hot enough to brand.

~*~*~*~*~

Medics ushered all the wounded to sickbay, but it was only after ascertaining the status of the ship that Spock allowed himself to be shuffled to medical without protest.  Clarity of purpose returned to Spock in the wake of the crisis and reminded him keenly of his neglected duty.  He entered a reprimand in the command log.  Ultimately Captain Pike or Starfleet Command would have to determine the discipline required for Spock's actions.  The Vulcan understood his error, but could not bring himself to feel regret for it.  He reached to touch Amanda's arm, satisfying an illogical and primitive need to assure his senses she still remained with them.   No, he could not regret it; not at all.

The infirmary was overrun with people; crewmembers injured in the original attack by Nero’s ship, Vulcan’s beamed aboard in the midst of chaos.  Those that could find no room or relief in sickbay crowded instead through the Enterprise corridors.  Shock was obvious in them all, even the Vulcans, whose normally sacrosanct control was a distant and crumbling ruin.

Spock was vaguely aware of his father moving at the periphery of his vision, holding Amanda’s hand in what would have been a terribly scandalous fashion even a day ago on Vulcan.  But that planet no longer existed; all around them Vulcans of every sect and class huddled together, some faces expressionless as befit their kind, but many twisted into grief.  Amanda made no effort to hide her devastation and Spock could feel it radiating from her.  She was also immeasurably grateful, her relief in being alive singing through her so strongly he doubted anyone could miss it.  Spock closed his eyes when the bloom of her emotions became too much, redoubled atop his own grief.

"Spock," a voice said gruffly, and memory automatically provided a name for it: McCoy.  He turned to regard the doctor.  He could see the fatigue marking the Human’s face, the lines of his shoulders.

"Doctor?"

"We’re running routine scans on all the survivors for injuries.  Straighten up for a minute."

Spock did so, supporting Amanda as she stumbled to her feet as well, buoyed on her other side by Sarek.  McCoy ran his tests with minimal fuss on the three of them, checking the readings steadily.

"Shock and exhaustion.  Some minor abrasions," he said, making a notation on one of his pads.  "Spock, you've got some respiratory damage we'll have to look at more closely."  

McCoy turned to Sarek and Amanda.  "One of the design techs is arranging relief quarters for everyone.  I can add your names to the list, miss?"

Spock watched his mother blink in confusion.  It took a moment before she seemed to register some response was expected.  "Oh.  Amanda, please.  But you can add us under Sarek’s - under my husband’s name."

"Alright.  Make sure you check in with Ensign Riley to get your room assignment for the night.  Sleep'll be the best thing for you, if you can manage it."

Though Amanda smiled, sweet and aching, her eyes said plainly that there would be no sleeping tonight, or indeed any night soon to come.

"Doctor, I will need to return to the bridge," Spock said, breathing evenly through an unexpected and irrational fear of separation.  His family would be fine; they were alive.  Many others could not claim the same.  Anxiety at this stage was both illogical and unproductive.

"You're not going anywhere," McCoy said.  "You have debris in your lungs I need to flush out first.  Respiratory infection's nothing to scoff at."

"Doctor -"

"You can wait twenty damn minutes," McCoy said, and then glared over Spock's shoulder, barking: "Jim!"

Spock turned to observe the cadet - his duly appointed first officer - stumble to a halt on his way to exiting sickbay.

"Bones?"

"Sit your ass back down," McCoy said. "Your hand's a damn mess.  I'm not signing your release orders until we run a bone regenerator over those fractures.  You'll have to wait your turn like everyone else.  That goes for you, too, Captain," the doctor said, turning back to Spock.  "Don't make me get a nurse to sit on you two."

Kirk muttered something unflattering and vulgar and shuffled over to lean against the wall as McCoy stalked away.  Kirk looked exhausted; but then, so did they all.  Now that the doctor had drawn attention to it, Spock could see impressive red bruising was already darkening the skin around Kirk's fingers and wrist in a set of wide bands.  He curled his fingers into a loose ring, the sense memory of Kirk's skin beneath his touch extremely vivid.

"Is that your name, then?" Amanda said suddenly, and Spock looked down to find her studying Kirk intently. "Jim?"

"Yes, ma’am," Kirk said, a small smile flickering over his mouth and then fading.  "Jim Kirk.  And you are?"

"Amanda," she said.

Kirk’s eyes flicked from Spock, to Sarek, and then back to Amanda, taking in their close stance, the proximity they allowed one another.  Curiosity lifted his eyebrows, and Spock braced himself for a barrage of intrusive questions.

But Kirk had more discretion than Spock had credited him with, and said only: "Nice to meet you, ma’am.  I wish it could've been under better circumstances."

"Don’t we all," Amanda said softly, grief fluttering through her so that Spock had to close his eyes momentarily. "This is my husband, Sarek," she continued, gesturing with care to the older Vulcan at her side. "And of course, you’ve already met my son, Spock."

There was a brief pause. "Your - son?"

Spock did not allow himself to react, though the mixture of astonishment and disbelief was not unusual, or even unexpected.  He was unaccountably disappointed.

"Does my Humanity surprise you, Jim?" Amanda asked, her voice sharpening with familiar defensiveness, the legacy of a life spent in defiance of traditional values.  Kirk blinked, and Spock would have stepped in a moment later to settle any dispute before it could begin, but -

"No, ma’am," Kirk said sheepishly, darting a questioning glance at Spock. "Well, yes," Kirk amended after a moment. "Spock didn't exactly take the time to explain who we went down there for.  Guess he was in a hurry.  That makes more sense now."

Spock clasped both hands behind his back so no one could see them clench into tight fists.  The sudden flare of anger that rose at this implied criticism was immediate and volatile.  "I would have returned for the Vulcan elders regardless of my family's presence in the Ark."

Kirk did not respond to this challenge, but Spock read skepticism in his silence.  Anger became simmering displeasure.

"The council protects the cultural history of the Vulcan people," Spock said and the need to explain himself, to be understood, was almost compulsive.  "Their loss would have been immense."

"I didn't say you made the wrong choice," Kirk said, and Spock's relief was so sharp it felt like a wound.  Out of the corner of his eye he could see Sarek turn to him sharply, but he did not look away from Kirk.  "I just said it made more sense now."

"What happened to your hand, Jim?" Amanda asked, clearly searching for another topic of conversation.  "Is that the one you caught me with?"  Panic and fear were strong in her thoughts as she spoke, her wrenching terror in the moment she’d begun to plummet.  Spock couldn't stop a wince to feel it and bowed his head in pain.  Sarek experienced it as well, Spock knew, because a moment later his father closed his eyes and Amanda’s terror faded away, grounded in her husband’s control.  She sent him a grateful look.

"Depends which hand you mean," Kirk said, either not noticing or more likely politely ignoring the byplay.  He solemnly held up one arm, where a brace could clearly be seen wrapped snugly around the wrist.  "Had a run in with some Romulans first.  Hard to tell what got me in the end.  At least this way I'll probably have a matching set when Bones finishes with me."

Amanda smiled, almost involuntarily, and Spock appreciated Kirk’s obvious efforts to put her at ease.

"Bones?" Amanda asked.

"The guy with the big mouth," Kirk said, pointing with a thumb over his shoulder.  "Ship's chief medical officer."  Said lightly, as though he and Spock were not aware McCoy had only stepped into that role with the untimely death of his predecessor mere hours ago.

"That doesn't sound like a promising name for a doctor!" Amanda laughed.

"Maybe why he's so keen to knit mine back together."  And Amanda's humor faded away.

"I'm sorry," she said.  "You saved my life.  How can I ever repay -"

But Kirk waved her off, brace and bandages shining dully in the low light.

"Don’t.  There's nothing to repay.  It was my honor, ma'am."

Amanda smiled tremulously.

"That's not how it works," she said softly.  "But I’m so glad you were there, Jim Kirk.  I’d be dead if not for you."

"Well, I originally went to keep an eye on your son," Kirk said wryly, glancing at Spock.  "Someone has to watch his back."

"I did tell you to return to the ship," Spock said.

"I don't leave people behind," Kirk replied simply, and Spock felt his whole body tighten into uncomfortable awareness.

"As his mother, I can't tell you how grateful I am," Amanda admitted fondly. "I'm glad he has you around."  Kirk grinned at Spock wickedly, raising both eyebrows, and the Vulcan could read the laughter in his face as they were both reminded of their antagonistic relationship thus far.

"Thank you, Jim," Amanda said quietly, something in her voice, her gaze, which Spock could not interpret.  He looked between them, but there was an understanding here he could not breach, a meeting of minds he was not part of.  "For everything."

"Jim!" McCoy called, gesturing impatiently when they all turned to look.  "Ready for you.  Get over here.  You too, Spock."

They walked side by side toward the doctor, shuffling into one of the few isolation rooms not already occupied.

"So that's your mom, huh?" Kirk asked in an undertone while McCoy relayed instructions to two of his nurses.

"Clearly," Spock said.

"You look just like her," Kirk said brightly, eyes laughing, and Spock blinked.  His mixed heritage had been the topic of ridicule, scorn, deep curiosity, and even indifference, but he had never seen it remarked on with anything remotely close to friendly humor before.

"You realize," Kirk continued, more solemnly.  "We don't have a lot of time now, right?"

"Time for what?"

"We have to assume Pike's compromised and being interrogated even as we speak.  We won't have long before Nero gets what he wants out of him and kills him."

"Yes," Spock said, bowing his head in respectful mourning.  "Given our lack of knowledge regarding Nero's motives, we will need to act quickly to warn nearby systems of possible attack.  Contact with Starfleet will be a priority."

"Well, yeah," Kirk said.  "But I meant we need to get the engines up and go after him before Nero can get his claws in.  We have a small window of opportunity."

"After - Captain Pike?" Spock enquired, clarifying.

"Of course,"  Kirk said, staring at him.  Spock stared back.

"We cannot pursue liberating Captain Pike at this time," Spock said, thinking this must be self-evident.  One of McCoy's nurses ambled over peaceably with a regenerator, attention on her work.  "The odds of success would be statistically insignificant."

"Mr. Kirk," the nurse said, "if you could just -"

"We can't just leave him there!" Kirk exclaimed, and she drew back in surprise.

"Sorry, what -"

"On the contrary," Spock said.  "We must leave him there.  We have no viable method of rescuing him."

"That doesn't mean we don't try!"

"That is precisely what that means," Spock said.

"I don't leave people behind," Kirk said, and in the undertone of his words, Spock heard his silent accusation and felt anger try to rise again.

"Then fortunately for the safety and security of this crew," Spock said, lowly, scathingly, "I am in command of this ship.  Not you."

"Okay, that's enough," McCoy said, pushing in between them.  Spock dimly realized he and Kirk had gravitated closer to one another, the intensity of emotion winding them together like tightening rope.  He could vaguely see the two nurses watching warily, both clutching their instruments close.

"If you two want to argue command politics, you can do it outside my sickbay," McCoy ordered, glaring.  "I don't have time or space enough to put up with it here.  Five minutes and you'll both be gone, so save it!"

They lapsed into silence while the nurses got to work, but it was in no way comfortable.  Whatever brief truce their experience on Vulcan had inspired, it would clearly not survive the rigors of a shared command.

When McCoy finally dismissed them, Spock spared one brief glance for Sarek and Amanda on his way out, still awaiting a room assignment and release orders in the main sickbay.  The thought of leaving them behind created an ache that should not exist.  Amanda smiled at him shakily, then with growing confusion as Kirk stalked out the door ahead of Spock.  He followed at a more measured pace after.

"You know he'd never leave you behind," Kirk said when they stepped into the turbolift, and Spock allowed himself a brief moment to close his eyes for composure.

"The needs of the many must outweigh the needs of the few.  Or the one."

"Except when it's your mother," Kirk said, viciously, and Spock turned to him and raised a hand and for one breathtaking moment thought the impulse to strike had overwhelmed his control, thought he hadn't checked the movement before he followed through.  By the look on Kirk's face the Human recognized his danger, but rather than back away Kirk glared at him, daring him to break.  For countless moments the man's courage and defiance were incandescent, and Spock felt the urge to hit him morph into a wilder, more primal impulse.  Something more dangerous by far.

Spock knew then that he must have this man off the ship.  The Human saw too much.  And the war of instincts inside Spock was nauseating, a constant intermix of anger and fear and elation and, now, attraction.  There could be no logic in it, and this seemed reasonable only in that Kirk rebelled against all logic.

Spock barely waited for the first real opportunity, the first example in which Kirk took his rebellion far enough to merit discipline for it.  It didn't take long; once they arrived on the bridge the conversation quickly continued to devolve along familiar lines.

"He ordered us to go back and get him," Kirk said, immovable and irrational and volatile.  His disrespect threatened to unravel what little control Spock still had.

"I alone am in command," Spock berated him coldly, and Kirk would have argued; he could already see the words forming.  Spock surged to his feet and the momentum of emotion almost carried him further, right into Kirk's personal space.  Close enough to touch; close enough to -

"Security," Spock said, burying all other impulse behind his formidable will.  "Escort him out."

Kirk fought, of course, as Spock had known he would, had counted on.  He waited until the Human turned away, busy throwing off restraining hands, and then Spock allowed himself to touch, slid his fingers over the man's neck -

Passion and anger and betrayal, bold insubordination, determination, curiosity -

Everything cut out as Spock pinched and Kirk tipped over, unconscious.  He let the man go, his fingers still tingling with the Human's surprise.

"Get him off this ship," Spock told the security officers.  He sent written orders two-point-six minutes later, and felt no regret for them.

The brig would not be enough; the Human was too ingenious to be contained so easily.  So Spock sent him to Delta Vega, amidst the shock and disapproval of the crew.  He did not pay heed to their objections.  And he did not tell Amanda.

~*~*~*~*~

Repairs occupied most of Spock's attention the next day.  They were moving at maximum impulse toward their destination, but they would need warp drive to rendezvous with the remaining Federation Fleet.  Spock forced himself to consume a protein supplement at required meal intervals and twice ignored messages from Uhura requesting to know if he was well.

His mother he could not ignore.  When Amanda and Sarek met Spock in Engineering and his father formally requested an update, Spock obliged just as the ship finally engaged the required speeds.

They'd been underway for forty-one-point-six minutes when the intruder alert came through the Bridge terminal.  Spock had a three second delay in which he did not immediately recognize the man on the view screen, in which Kirk's scientifically impossible appearance did not make sense.  This was three seconds longer than it should have taken him to understand the information.  Spock made a mental note to address his suboptimal processing at a more appropriate time.

"Why is this a surprise to everyone?" Amanda asked, looking about her at the bridge crew with some confusion.  "Where did he beam over from?  Was he not onboard the ship?"

Spock had a moment to consider the illogic of having her present.  He could not quite recall his reasoning for bringing Amanda and Sarek to the bridge when an update would have been better supplied elsewhere, but it was only as he began to explain past actions that he realized his own error.  Civilian personnel really had no place on the bridge during a time of crisis, yet he had been unwilling to part from them as protocol demanded.  Now he had cause to revaluate both his logic and the consequences; had they not been present, there would have been no need to explain Kirk's absence to Amanda.

She was not best pleased.

"You sent him to Delta Vega?" she asked.  "Oh, Spock.  Why?  That planet is in an ice age.  The predators on it are massive, and the upper ice crust is unstable."

"Kirk would have been adequately protected by the pod had he remained in its confines," Spock explained.

"Spock, would you have stayed in the pod if someone sent you down there in one?"

"If it meant the difference between my safety and my inevitable demise, yes," Spock said.

"Then what about the predators?  Those pods aren't indestructible.  And Vulcan was just -" Amanda swallowed, looking painfully away, and Spock glanced to the side to allow her privacy for her emotions.  He was acutely aware of the bridge crew listening with intent silence as this argument went on.  The audience was quite unwelcome. 

"Vulcan was just destroyed by a black hole," Amanda finished quietly.  "And you sent the man who saved my life into exile on a nearby planet with no idea how that might change the conditions there.  What if the Enterprise was delayed getting back?  How many provisions did you send with him?"

That was an excellent, logical question, and more disturbing was the answer; Spock had sent none, only what the pod already contained.

His mother must have seen the answer in his face, because she turned away from him, sorrow a bleeding wound in her every move.  Sarek went to her, offering two fingers, and Spock looked away with frustration.  It subsided slowly, and Spock had never felt more exposed than in that moment with the crew looking on while he struggled for control in the wake of what seemed in retrospect an impossible error.  If only the Human did not threaten Spock's control so easily.  Perhaps then he could have maintained logic and kept the man near.

That was the chaos the security team brought Kirk and his accomplice into a moment later.  

"We are travelling at warp speed," Spock said, staring at Kirk in curiosity. For a moment, all other considerations faded into the background, only the defiant blue gaze of any real meaning. "How did you manage to beam aboard this ship?"

"Well, you’re the genius," Kirk sneered, insolent and angry; very angry. "You figure it out."

The Human’s impertinence was infuriating and somehow impossibly thrilling. "As acting captain of this vessel, I order you to answer the question."

He should not have been surprised, and yet somehow he was, to hear the Human retort: "I’m not telling, acting captain."

"Spock," a soft voice said behind them, and he turned, just slightly, to see Sarek and Amanda staring at him from across the bridge.  In his father’s eyes Spock saw nothing, as befit a proper Vulcan.  But in his mother’s – frank disapproval, disappointment, and reproach.  He almost had to look away.  Disapproval was not something he had often seen on Amanda’s face, she who was always supporting him, even as he defied all others.  She had never looked on him with condemnation before.

"Is there a conference room nearby?" she asked, and he blinked.  It had seemed expedient to bring Kirk to the bridge, where Spock might deal with him directly and efficiently, but of course doing this off-bridge was reasonable.  Only moments ago Spock had been considering the weight of the crew witnessing his error, and now he was potentially compounding that.  That should have been immediately apparent, but his thought processes were inexplicably slow to respond.  What had seemed logical minutes ago was clearly less so now.

Spock could not remember the last time he had experienced cascading failures of logic.  He tried to remember when he had last successfully meditated and realized he had failed to take himself off shift since the Academy hearing.  Kirk's Academy hearing.

"We may use the adjoining meeting room," Spock said distantly.

And that was where they found themselves moments later, the security detail with their prisoners, Spock, Sarek and Amanda because to let his mother from his sight was beyond bearing, and Uhura and McCoy because they refused to be left on the bridge.  Spock only barely kept himself from expelling the doctor by reminding himself he would also need to expel Uhura as well.  And Spock could not endure more disappointment from others at this time.

"Are you a member of Starfleet?" Spock asked the unknown intruder, ignoring Kirk entirely.  The man stuttered at him in confusion.

"Yes -" the man said, and Spock went on before he could finish.

"Then you will answer me or I will pursue having you court-martialled.  Explain to me how -"

"Don't answer him," Kirk interrupted, and rage flared dangerously before Spock could stop it, veering sharply toward violence.

"Stop," Amanda said, and when Spock turned she was staring at him, eyes wide with fear.  That look knocked the breath from him in a way a physical blow never would have.  He had seen Amanda afraid before; he had never seen her afraid of him.

"I see what you're doing," Amanda said, not to him; to Kirk.  The Human looked away, tense and unhappy.  "You're closer to success than you think.  You don't know how dangerous that is."

"More dangerous than sending me down to a barely-M-class planet with nothing but survival rations and a prayer?" Kirk asked, challenging.

"You survived that," Amanda said.  "In this you might not be as lucky.  Vulcans have three times the strength of Humans.  Spock could break your neck without meaning to if you provoke him."

"Mother," Spock said, and was startled at the sound of his own voice, hoarse and grating.  He had never heard himself in such a way before.  Emotional.  Raw.  "I would never."

"You'd never what, Spock?" she asked, soft and trembling.  She stepped close enough to put one hand on his arm and he covered it with his own, reeling at the feel of her horror, her fear.

"You'd never send a man to his potential death because he was inconvenient to you?" she asked.  "You'd never threaten someone with court-martial because they refused to answer a question from you?"

"As acting captain, it is within my right -"

"You'd never beam down to a dying planet," she said softly, "to save a handful of elders and your family, putting your ship and crew at risk, hundreds of lives for just five in return?"

"I could not have left you," he said, glanced to include his father in that, and felt the shame of it for the first time, the desperate emotion that had driven him, that drove him even now.

"I know that," she said.  "And I'm so proud of you.  I've never been more proud.  I love you.  But you can't say you'd never, Spock, because you already have."

He looked down and away, disgraced.  She tried to reach for him again and he stepped aside.  Spock knew he was a poor facsimile of a Vulcan and always had been, but he'd never felt so untrue to his heritage until this moment.  Realizing he'd thrown it all away at the first true test, gone so far beyond his own control he hadn't even noticed it happening.

"I am no longer fit for duty," he agreed, quietly.  "I hereby relinquish my command on the grounds that I am emotionally compromised."

"Oh, Spock -"

"Mother, don't," he said, sharply and turned to leave but found Kirk blocking his way.  The Human's eyes flickered behind Spock, and by the degree of angle he was looking at Amanda.  Spock burned with humiliation to think of this man witnessing him brought so low.  Low enough he'd marooned the Human with no real provocation, to satisfy a petty need for distance, to waylay the man's unprecedented ability to influence Spock into feeling when he could not bear it.

"As acting executive officer of this ship, I'll accept the transfer of command," Kirk said.  "But I won't accept your resignation from duty."

Surprise had both Spock's eyebrows winging upward.  Of course; Captain Pike had granted Kirk the role of first officer, and now the captaincy fell to him.  Spock had not quite forgotten this, but he had failed to realize what his own incapacity would do for the Human.  He had the sudden thought that this was not an unintended outcome; Kirk had planned for this.

It was rare that Spock found himself outmaneuvered so neatly.  He wondered vaguely if Kirk played chess.

Spock could see the security officers to either side of Kirk exchanging puzzled looks, and behind them the doctor was frowning fiercely.

"What the hell?" McCoy said.

"Pike made me first officer," Kirk said.

"You've got to be kidding me!"

"Kirk is correct," Spock conceded.  "The Captain assigned Cadet Kirk's field promotion before he piloted the shuttle to Nero's vessel."

"Right," Kirk said, then looked back with a triumphant expression at one of the security officers, who was gazing back in horror.  "So no more security team for me.  Back to your stations, gentlemen.  Cupcake."

They went, filing out with bewildered confusion.  Spock managed some small empathy with this; Kirk seemed to leave most people he encountered in a state of confusion.

"Okay, so normally I'd be all for letting you settle up with yourself in privacy," Kirk said, stepping close.  Spock allowed it warily.  "But we don't have time for that.  We have to think up a way to get ahead of Nero before he does to Earth what he did to Vulcan."

The mention of Vulcan was enough to send Spock's heart pounding and he automatically tried to regulate it, blinking when he failed. 

"I cannot help you," he said.  "My control is not enough to help myself.  I have just proven that."

"Spock, you just lost your planet," Kirk said, gently.  "Nothing you can do will change or control that.  But you can do this."

"I can be of no use to anyone when I have been emotionally compromised -"

"You can't command when you're compromised," Kirk corrected.  "You can follow.  I need you with me on this one.  You saved five people from your planet that would otherwise be dead; two of them are in this room.  Help me save billions more."

Spock looked away, caught Uhura's imploring gaze, caught Amanda's.  But ultimately it was his father's impassive face that had his attention.

"Emotions run deeply within our race," Sarek said, calm and bold, as if to speak it out loud did not violate deeply held stricture in Vulcan etiquette.  "You are not the only one compromised, my son.  You saved your mother when no one else could."  Sarek shared an intense look with Amanda, who smiled shakily and touched their two fingers together in mingled grief and fear.  "We are among the fortunate few to still have among us those whom we love."

"Trust me, Spock," Kirk said, when Spock found he had no words to express himself.  The Human's confidence was powerful, buoying flagging resolve until Spock found he could finally grasp minimal control, wrest the runaway reactions in his body back into his regulation.

"I'll watch your back," Kirk said.  "If you'll watch mine."

And Spock could do naught but follow him.

Impossible was a word Spock had come to associate with Kirk, and in command he exemplified this, a contradiction in most every way that mattered.  His plan was simple, and then endlessly complicated.  Chance of success was marginal, and yet the Human made it clear there was no chance of failure.  Spock would have called his determination blind optimism, illogical in the extreme, but somehow the Human's instincts won them a victory Spock would never have believed possible.  Spock watched as the Romulan who had destroyed his home planet was swept away in the tide of his own insanity and hubris and consumed by the same weapon he had used against so many others.

"I would rather die in agony than accept assistance from you," Nero seethed as the image of his ship and bridge distorted with the gravity well expanding around him.  Spock tried not to feel triumphant, tried to restrain the vicious satisfaction in watching one who had caused untold suffering, now suffering in turn.

It was not the Vulcan way to revel in the distress of others.  It was not Spock's way.  But for a moment, uncontrolled and wildly inappropriate, it was all that mattered.

With Nero's death, Earth was spared from further threat, and they was grateful.  Pike was grateful, the crew were grateful.  Spock was grateful.  And it seemed they all owed their gratitude to the same man.

~*~*~*~*~

It was weeks into the aftermath of Nero's destruction before the Enterprise was stood down and removed from the active duty list.  The crew were granted temporary long-term leave or reassignment while Starfleet re-evaluated priorities in the wake of losing half their primary fleet.  Earth remained, Nero's path of annihilation having been interrupted.  But the loss of the vessels and crew who had gone to Vulcan's aid and the destruction of a founding member's home world placed the Federation in an acutely vulnerable position.

"Spock," Uhura said, as they stood poised to temporarily go their separate ways.  She had been assigned to Planetary Defense to monitor and decode increasing intra-space messages in the wake of Nero's chaos.  Romulan intelligence, particularly, had been involved in ongoing chatter.  Only Nero's assertion he had been a rogue combatant had so far prevented Starfleet from entertaining thoughts of war with their neighbour.  That, and with the remaining fleet engaged in the Laurentian system, resources were stretched quite thin.

"Nyota," Spock said.  "Congratulations on your assignment.  Do you anticipate being gone for long?"

"Until they reactivate the Enterprise," Uhura sighed.  "Maybe longer."

Spock felt one eyebrow creeping up.  He had failed to consider someone with Uhura's unique aural talents would be highly sought after at this time.

"Would you accept a permanent ground assignment?" Spock asked.

"Maybe.  I don't know.  I just feel like one quick trip through space was enough for a little while."

"Understood," Spock said.  "If that is your decision, the Enterprise will lose an unmatched officer, but Planetary Defense will gain."

"Still haven't decided," she said.  "Have you?"

Spock stared back impassively.  "I have not."

"Well, if you go, the Vulcan colony would gain, but Earth would definitely lose," she said, leaning up to kiss him once on the cheek and then on the lips.  "You know my door's always open for you, and I even promise to let you sleep on the right side of the bed."

"Presuming someone else does not occupy it," Spock said gently, shrewdly.  "I understand Lieutenant Scott will also be on assignment with Planetary Defense."

"Well, they do want to know more about his trans-warp beaming equations," she smiled unrepentantly and he nodded at her, satisfied.  "From what he was telling me he's not always been on the up-and-up with the brass."

"I am certain you will have much to talk about while you are away," Spock said.

"Well, talking will probably be part of it," she agreed.  "He's definitely my type.  You're fine with that?"

"As agreed.  You are free to pursue whomever you choose."

"And so are you," she said astutely.  "Don't think I didn't notice you can barely look away when he's in the same room."

"That is untrue," Spock insisted.

"I know you like them smart, but you couldn't have picked Chekov?  He's a genius.  Or anyone else, really."

"Ensign Chekov is not of eligible age.  And I have not picked anyone.  Though fortunately, were I to do so, the Enterprise was assigned many intelligent individuals."

"Yeah," Uhura said cheerfully.  "But you only want one of them, and he wasn't even assigned."

Sometimes it was a blessing to have a friend that knew one exceedingly well.  Other times it was remarkably inconvenient.

The weeks of calm following the crisis had allowed Spock an opportunity to rest and re-establish mental and physical harmony.  Emotional control returned swiftly as he found new equilibrium.  In the wake of Nero, Spock had been assigned as interim xeno-biosciences department head, a position that only emphasized Starfleet's desperate lack of competent senior officers.  Spock weighed this against the devastating loss of Vulcan life and how he might contribute to the restoration efforts.  The issue of leaving or staying in Starfleet weighed heavily on Spock's mind; duty versus racial loyalty.

To Amanda, the matter was not so simply divided.

"Oh, Spock," she said.  "You know I'll support you no matter what you choose.  But you've been happier and more settled in Starfleet than I've ever seen you before."

"I have been satisfied to work with an organization dedicated to the defense and exploration of this system and all life within it," Spock said.  "But my personal satisfaction is not at issue here."

"Of course it is.  Spock, I'm your mother.  Your satisfaction is all that matters to me."

"I might discover greater satisfaction in helping to rebuild our race," Spock said.  That would be logical and rational.

"Rebuilding Vulcan is critical," Amanda agreed.  "But perhaps you can do more for it by staying in Starfleet."

"I do not understand."

"Spock, do you remember the night you left Vulcan?" Amanda asked.

"Of course," Spock said.  He could not have forgotten.  It was the last time he had spoken to his father in the years since leaving his home planet, until they were brought together by the circumstances of its destruction.  Sarek had never agreed with Spock's decision to turn away from the Vulcan Science Academy, nor his choice to pursue a career with Starfleet.

"When you declined the Science Academy you told me you could have no part of an institution that failed to uphold the basic tenants of Vulcan philosophy.  Kol-Ut-Shan was meant for all, you said, not just those the Council approved of."

"That is true."

"Six months after you arrived on Earth I asked you if Starfleet had met your expectations.  Do you remember what you said?"

Spock did, of course.  He looked away from his mother, troubled.

"I told you my expectations had been exceeded," he said.

"Do you still feel that way?"

"I feel no way," Spock demurred.  "I continue to find Starfleet an excellent organization in which to achieve optimal utility and function.  That is not the difficulty I am faced with."

"Vulcan is going to need a voice in Starfleet.  Strong ties to keep the memory of Vulcan alive.  Did you know two members of the remaining Vulcan Council tabled a motion yesterday to withdraw from Starfleet membership?"

"I did not," Spock said, suppressing his surprise.  "That would seem most illogical.  Vulcan is in dire need of Starfleet's support and assistance.  In what way would it benefit us to relinquish membership?"

"The Council is concerned about contamination," Amanda said quietly, eyes lowered in a manner Spock had seen her use often, usually when faced with a prejudicial mindset.

"Contamination," Spock repeated without inflection.  "That is a term favored by the isolationist faction."

"That faction's gotten stronger since Vulcan was destroyed," Amanda said.  "Louder."

"I see," Spock said, and he did.  With Vulcan numbers reduced to an endangered level, cultural purity would be a priority for many.  Logically, isolationist philosophy would have considerably more weight at this time than it would have had previously.

"Your father spoke on behalf of integration," Amanda said.  "The Council informed him that as the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth and Starfleet, his perspective was considered biased."

Spock heard in Amanda's voice that she understood the deep disservice the Council had paid Sarek with that remonstration.  To accuse a Vulcan of bias was to accuse a Vulcan of emotional favoritism.

"You implied that my remaining in Starfleet might allow a Vulcan voice to speak for our people.  But logically, my father would be better poised to maintain this in his role as the Ambassador to Earth."

"Your father's been temporarily removed from his position," Amanda said, and for a moment Spock was uncertain he'd heard that correctly, but of course he had.  "While the Council reconsiders its necessity."

"I fail to see the Council's logic."

"If the isolationists have their way, an Ambassador to Earth won't be required."

"I believe I will need to speak with my father about the implications of this," Spock said.

"I thought you might.  You can find him in the astrometrics lab.  They're still trying to find a suitable available planet for recolonization."

Spock rose to his feet, pausing when Amanda stood also, folding her hands together.

"Spock," she said, softly, and then was silent.

"Yes, mother?"

"Before you decide, there's one other thing to consider."  She hesitated, and the prickle of her uncertainty was uncomfortable.  Spock gently raised his shields to block out her projection.  "Our family owes Jim Kirk a debt.  One I have no way to repay."

"Do you mean to imply my staying in Starfleet could be leveraged as compensation?  I do not believe he would agree with that assessment, mother, nor does he appear to view his actions as requiring repayment."

"I do," she said, and Spock bowed his head in agreement.  Vulcan traditions were steeped in reciprocity, in equivalency and balance.  Life debt was an old custom, but still respected in clan law.

"He does not need me," Spock said, speaking aloud the truth which had kept him from approaching the man since they had been taken off active duty.  "That we worked together well in critical circumstances does not mean we would be well-suited to cooperation on more mundane matters."

"Did you know the word around Starfleet headquarters is they’re going to give him the Enterprise?"

Spock had suspected this would be the case.  He knew, of course, that the admiralty planned to award Kirk the rank of Captain; they had approached him for his opinion on the promotion some days ago.  After first informing them that he considered the meteoric rise from cadet to captain extremely unwise, he had described Kirk as an uncommonly skilled commander with a gift for intuitive strategy and a keen insight into his opponents, though prone to impulsivity and emotion.  They had promptly offered an assignment as executive officer to Spock, ship designation undisclosed; it seemed obvious this must mean the Enterprise.  Spock had so far deferred a decision.  Serving in Kirk's command would be a fascinating experience, but of course if Spock left Starfleet this possibility would not be open to him.

The potential lost opportunity rankled in many ways.  Though Kirk had proven himself uniquely creative and brilliant, he was still essentially untested.  If he stayed, Spock knew he could find deep satisfaction in the challenge of working alongside him as he grew into his authority.

"He has much to learn," Spock said finally.  "But he appears to have the potential required to act as an adequate command officer."

"You could teach him," Amanda said.

"Mother," Spock admonished.

"Sorry.  I won't push you.  You know that whatever you choose to do, I'll be proud of you."

"Do you have any message for me to convey to Sarek?" Spock asked, choosing to ignore her emotionalism.

"Just that I'll be in the commissary for dinner in an hour."

Spock did convey those words to his father, when he found him.  Sarek was not in astrometrics; he was in conference with a Starfleet officer and an elderly Vulcan in a nearby office.  All three turned at Spock's arrival and Spock paused in mid-step, surprise momentarily eclipsing his control.

The Starfleet officer was Captain Pike.  The Vulcan -

"Greetings," the elder said in Spock's voice.  He was older, certainly; the gray and white of his hair implied significant age, and he was somewhat stooped but not at all frail.  He was very recognizably familiar.  Spock saw the outline of his features in the mirror every day.

"You are how Kirk found his way back aboard the Enterprise," Spock said, rapidly making the connection between Lieutenant Scott's vague and suspiciously incomplete report of an 'old guy' on Delta Vega who had assisted with the trans-warp beaming process and the Vulcan now standing before him.  It had not been clear from Scott's report how this aid was rendered, but access to a figure from the future with the requisite knowledge had undoubtedly eased the way considerably.

"I assisted him, yes," the elder said.

"The Vulcan ship I piloted was yours."

"Commissioned by the Vulcan Science Academy in a time and place that no longer exist," the Vulcan said, soft and wounded.  Spock looked away.

"Why did you send Kirk," Spock asked, "when you alone could have conveyed the truth?"

"Because you needed each other.  I could not deprive you of the revelation of all that you could accomplish together.  Of a friendship that will define you both -"

"Well, friends might be taking it a bit far," Pike said wryly.  "From the reports it sounds like they barely managed not to come to blows.  By the way, congratulations on that, Spock.  Kirk's had his nose broken more times than I can count, and there's a reason for that."

"This would seem to imply his new command assignment may be premature," Spock said.

"Heard about that, did you?" Pike asked, using both hands to propel himself away from the desk.  Spock looked down to see him roll backwards; he was using a mobile chair.  The Captain had yet to fully recover from his encounter with Nero and still required supportive devices.

"It appears to be common knowledge," Spock said, clasping his hands behind his back in a stance of readiness.  He noted with interest that his counterpart stood in a similar pose; apparently a lifetime lived would do little to remove old habits.

"Something else that's common knowledge," Pike said.  "You declined your assignment to the Enterprise as First Officer."

"I have neither declined nor accepted at this time."

"Semantics, Spock."

"I encourage you to accept the position," the elder said, his calm features relaxed in a way Spock had never observed in himself.  This was a man who had settled so deeply into his own nature that he no longer experienced the constant battle for control.  Spock considered asking him how many years until he'd acquired that innate aptitude, but logically the events of their two lives would have already diverged and must now proceed quite differently.

"Explain," he said.

"Logic will direct you to resign your commission with Starfleet in order to assist our race.  But I urge you to remain.  Consider that, given my existence, you have the ability to be in two places at once."

"An interesting consideration."  He turned to Sarek again.  "Mother informed me your position as Ambassador is being re-evaluated."

"Yes," Sarek said.

"I was unaware the isolationist faction had such influence over the Council."

"The Council has been reduced to four members," Sarek said.  "Consequently, the weight of one voice has increased exponentially.  My recommendations are no longer sought at this time."

Spock deduced by Pike's expression this had not been shared with him yet.

"May I enquire as to the Council's reasoning?" Spock asked.

Sarek blinked once, long and slow, and looked fractionally away.  There was an ugliness to his stillness that spoke of something deeply affecting.

"I have been informed my marriage to an outsider is considered illogical and wasteful.  The Council has requested I sever the union," Sarek said without inflection.

The elder turned to regard Sarek was one eyebrow raised, saving Spock from the need to respond.  "The Vulcan Council does not have the authority to petition the dissolution of marriage vows."

"That is true," Sarek said.

"Did you inform them of that?" the elder asked, with something that was scandalously close to a smile on his face.  Spock would never have dared project that level of emotion himself.

"I did.”

"May I ask what else you informed them of?" the elder said, and now his amusement was very clear, and Spock could not understand the source of it.  The subject seemed quite serious.

"I reminded the Council that such a request could be considered interference in a marriage bond and that any claim of kal-if-fee would need to be completed outside of the Council chambers," Sarek said calmly.

"I imagine they withdrew their request at that time."

"Indeed," Sarek said, as if he had not actually threatened the Vulcan Council to a trial by combat for their presumption.

"May I assume this is the reason your official status is now being reconsidered?" Spock asked.

"That is logical," Sarek agreed.

"Have you considered what you will do if they dissolve the Ambassadorial position?"

"Your mother and I intend to remain on Earth regardless of the Council's decision.  She is not to be permitted to join the colony and I will not leave her."

"I see," Spock said, barely keeping his voice modulated.  For once he and Sarek were in perfect agreement.

"I estimate a sixty-three-point-one percent probability the Council will vote in favor of removing me as the Ambassador to Earth even should they decide to retain the position," Sarek continued tonelessly.

"I expect," the elder interjected. "That probability will be significantly lower once I attend the Council session this evening."

Spock, Pike, and Sarek regarded him with varying degrees of curiosity, but no revelation followed, only more enigmatic calm.

"Fascinating," Spock said.

"On that note," Pike said, looked thoroughly entertained.  "The Federation Council is also considering their next steps.  Spock, you can expect to be called for your testimony about Nero soon.  Kirk'll be up to the plate at the same time.  Command team and all."

"Captain Pike," Spock said, reminded shamefully of his dereliction of duty.  "I have yet to receive word of formal reprimand for my actions while I was in command of the Enterprise.  I remind you I submitted my report in the ship's duty log."

"Worried a formal reprimand might interfere with you leaving Starfleet on a high note, Spock?" Pike asked skeptically.

"No," Spock said truthfully.

"Good.  Because I've recommended you for a commendation and I might have included an urgent memo that Starfleet can't afford to lose you as an officer and should do everything in their power to convince you to stay.  So keep in mind if you stick around you can probably write your own ticket."

"I do not understand," Spock said.  "It seems most illogical to commend an officer for dereliction of duty in a crisis."

"Want to know how Kirk described your actions at Vulcan in his written report?" Pike asked, then went on before Spock could answer in the negative.  "He said your determination to save even just five more lives showed you had the fortitude and resolve necessary in all exemplary officers serving aboard a starship."

"That seems unlikely," Spock said.

"Well, he did criticize you for failing to apply that same principle to me," Pike admitted.

"He was most determined to retrieve you," Spock said, and Pike bowed his head with a wry smile.

"He's going to need a good First to settle him.  Kid wears his heart on his sleeve sometimes."

"Surely not," Spock said.  "Human anatomy does not allow -"

Pike interrupted him by handing him a PADD.  "Sir?" Spock asked, taking it.

"Your appointment before the Board, in two days."  Pike gestured, smiling.  "Say hi to Kirk for me, won't you?"

And Spock found himself unceremoniously ushered from the room with no further discussion, but this was logical.  He had much to consider and perhaps little enough time to do it.

Spock gave testimony two days later, as ordered, after spending thirty-two hours in deep contemplation, mediation, and sleep.  He spent none of that time preparing to see Kirk again, and it only occurred to him that perhaps he should have after it was already too late to do so.

Free from the influence of crippling emotion, this time Spock was well able to control the instinctive rise of heart beat and blood pressure, the inappropriate impulse to touch.  If Spock had considered Kirk attractive in the height of crisis, with adrenaline and unfortunate emotion running high, he had not realized how weeks of healing and relaxation could temper Kirk's energy into something finer, more restful.

"Wow," Kirk said, as they walked out together after completing their interviews.  The Human wiped the back of his hand dramatically over his forehead.  "Tough crowd, huh?"

"The interview was thorough," Spock agreed.

"Reminds me of the last time I was up for a review with those guys," Kirk said lightly.  "Academic dishonesty, wasn't it?"

Spock blinked, considering.  The Academic hearing seemed far removed from current circumstances, but in reality of course that was not the case.

"I told you there were no real no-win scenario's," Kirk said.

"It is certainly clear you believe that to be true.  Your Kobayashi Maru results attest to that," Spock said.

Kirk laughed, throwing his head back so the sound echoed off the corridor around them. Spock watched his throat work, his laryngeal prominence bobbing in rhythm, and was not surprised to find his body reacting to it in a predictable fashion.

"You just don't give up, do you?" Kirk asked, chuckling. "You know they gave me a commendation for original thinking for that?"

"I am aware," Spock said.

"I get the feeling part of their decision was based on a recommendation from the program admin," Kirk said.  "Who had a change of heart."

"One's heart has no bearing on one's mental faculties," Spock said.  "I was convinced by observed evidence that you demonstrated a profound understanding of the exam outcome and purpose.  That is ultimately the only merit required to pass the test.”

"You probably still think I cheated, though."

"You did cheat," Spock said.

"But at least I did it with style," Kirk said.  "Hey, join me for lunch?  We should catch up."

"That is agreeable," Spock said.

"So what's new, Spock?" Kirk asked as they gathered food on their trays in the disturbingly empty Academy commissary.  "How have you been?" 

"I am functioning at optimal efficiency," Spock said.

"Of course you are," Kirk said, and though he wasn't laughing Spock could read humor in his face.  The humor fell away into neutral blankness a moment later.  "I saw Uhura got reassigned.  Sorry."

"There is no cause for regret," Spock said.  "She anticipated the assignment."

"Oh," Kirk said, confusion evident.  "But aren't you two..?"

Spock waited, but the Human did not complete the sentence.

"Are you requesting information about our romantic relationship?" Spock asked.

"Well, I wouldn't say requesting," Kirk hedged.

"Lieutenant Uhura is free to pursue other engagements," Spock said simply.  "As am I."

"Oh," Kirk repeated.  "I didn't realize that was a thing Vulcans did."

"What?" Spock said.

"Never mind.  I heard you’ve started the paperwork to drop your commission and go play build-a-colony with your people."

"I have not confirmed that decision yet," Spock said.  The Council still had not come to a determination about Sarek's Ambassadorial role, but Spock rather suspected their response to Amanda would set an unfortunate precedent.  There was a chance even if Spock did choose to join the colony, they would not have him.  In some ways that was a refreshing change; now racial intolerance was openly discussed instead of being ignored, or spoken of obliquely.

"Oh?  Anything I can say to convince you to stay?" Kirk asked with a smile Spock judged was meant to be charming.

"Possibly," he admitted.

"Really?" Kirk asked, stopping abruptly so Spock had to curve around him to avoid a collision of their food trays.

"Unclear," Spock said.

"What the hell does that - okay, here, sit," Kirk said, gesturing, and they relocated to the nearest table.  Kirk shoved his entire tray to the side, completely focused on Spock, who automatically redirected the dilation of blood vessels in his face, hands and ears until the beginnings of a blush subsided.

"Tell me," Kirk commanded.

"Information has come to my attention which indicates it may not be in my best interests to relocate to the new Vulcan colony," Spock admitted candidly.

"This have anything to do with them giving your dad the boot?" Kirk asked.

"How do you know of that?"

"Your mom was pretty pissed about it."

"In what capacity have you been in contact with my mother?" Spock could not quite suppress the initial sharpness of the question, his surprise bleeding through unexpectedly.

"Ran into her at breakfast the other day.  She filled me in.  You never told me she used to be a teacher."

"You did not ask.”

"The Academy's in desperate need of academic instructors, you know," Kirk said.  "Pike told me they're looking at civilian contractors, and I mentioned your mom's name to him.  With her history, not to mention living immersed in another culture off-world for the past thirty years, she could be a great asset.  And truth be told she could probably use the distraction."

Spock was speechless, an unforeseen gratitude overtaking his control for endless moments.  Spock was used to being Amanda's most outspoken champion, even at times her only champion.  Sarek had always been detached, as befit his station, and no one else would speak on a Human's behalf amongst Vulcans.

He had a moment to wish Kirk would not be so accommodating and amiable.  It made the ongoing issue of Spock's attraction to him most difficult.

"My family's debt to you continues to grow," Spock said resignedly.

"You don't owe me anything," Kirk said, his brows furrowed in what might have been annoyance. 

"You saved my mother's life," Spock said.  "There can be no repayment for that."

"There's nothing to repay.  I wouldn't want you to even if you could."

"A noble sentiment, but honor demands a price.  Jim, I would know: why did you follow me into the caves on Vulcan instead of returning to the Enterprise immediately?"

"To be honest, I didn't have much of a higher purpose in mind at the time, Spock," Kirk said after a brief hesitation. "I just couldn't leave you behind."

"It would have been safer."

"Safer isn't always better," Kirk said with a shrug.  "But I certainly didn't go down there to generate some kind of debt.  Isn't favor and debt illogical, anyway?"

"There is much in Vulcan culture which does not strictly adhere to logic," Spock admitted, thinking long on the history of prejudice he had endured through the years.

"I'm sorry, what was that?  Can I get that in writing?" Kirk said, laughing.

"Negative."

"You know if you decide not to join your people on the new colony, Starfleet would be more than happy to keep you," Kirk said, almost coaxingly.

"I am aware," Spock said. 

"I'd be happy to keep you, too," Kirk said very brightly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"On the ship, I mean," Kirk said hurriedly.  "The Enterprise.  Don't tell anyone I already know they're giving her to me, alright?  I won't get my official orders until next week, but Sulu overheard the Council in session after his testimony, and, well, Pike hasn't exactly been subtle."

"I was offered a commission as First Officer," Spock admitted.

"Yeah, I thought they might give it to you," Kirk said candidly.  "I was still a Cadet a month ago.  I doubt they'll let me choose my own First unless I really fight them on it.  If you want it, you have to know it's yours for the asking."

"You would support my assignment to your command team?"

"Is that even a question?" Kirk asked.  "Spock, you know you're the most highly sought after executive officer this side of the sun, right?"

"And is it your belief that you and I could work together in a successful capacity?"

Kirk grinned, excited. "Oh, yeah.  Look, I know we’ve had our differences, and we don't always see eye to eye, but that's one of the advantages of a diverse command structure.  If you stayed on, I think Starfleet would benefit from one of the best teams they could ever hope for."

Spock looked at the Human a long time, taking in the fine features of his earnest expression, piercing blue eyes shading into grey hazel in the dim artificial light.

"I will consider your words," he said finally.

"I hope you do," Kirk said, and seemed to realize he'd forgotten about eating during his impassioned narrative.  He grinned and pulled his food tray back to him.  "But in the meantime, you heard your dad was awesome, right?"

"I was provided some perspective on that matter," Spock said.

"Did you hear 'Fleet's giving the Vulcan Council hell about the Ambassador position?  Pike was saying -"

When lunch ended, Spock found himself reluctant to part with Human and recognized he had acquired a growing dilemma.  Each conversation with Kirk revealed new qualities that only added to Spock's attraction.  Unless he meant to act on this connection, the logical course of action would have been to sever all nonessential contact.

Instead Spock asked Kirk to share lunch again in two days and the Human quickly agreed.  The speed of his acceptance was almost suspicious, and Spock found himself studying the man narrowly, looking for the cause.

But Kirk's sincerity, his smile, his eagerness seemed genuine.  If they weren't, Spock was not familiar enough with the man to detect his deceit. 

Three more times they met in the intervening weeks, and Spock found his indecision growing in almost symmetrical proportion to his attraction.  The more contact he had with Kirk, the greater his resolve that his optimal potential would be best served by remaining with the man, chiseling the Human's passion and drive into finely honed command prowess.  But now the root of the decision lay not with Spock's original intent to accompany his race to new Vulcan; instead it lay in the difficulty of pursuing a romantic liaison with someone who could shortly be Spock's commanding officer, if he chose to retain his commission.

It was a most interesting dilemma, and it might have gone on that way for some time.  But Kirk was not the sort to wait in idle passivity, and his perception was greater than Spock had given him credit for.

This became very clear to Spock when the man kissed him.

They'd been in the middle of a heated debate about the application of regulations in first contact scenario's.  Spock favored a conservative landing party configuration, whereas Kirk unsurprisingly favored one in which the Captain was present.  Spock had just redirected the argument to take into account the arrangement of diplomatic training in security personnel when Kirk leaned forward and declared unexpectedly:

"There, you see?  This is why you can't leave."

"I beg your pardon?"

"This!  You're actually convincing me to limit the number of away missions I attend.  Do you know how hard it is to convince me of something once I've made my mind up?  Ask Bones.  He'd never believe it."

"The duty of any executive officer will be to guarantee the safety of the captain," Spock said.  "It is only logical that any competent officer in that position would be giving you precisely the same advice."

"But why should I listen to them?" Kirk asked interrogatively.  "What if they're wrong?"

"Any officer can be wrong.  None are infallible.  Even you," Spock noted blandly.  Kirk laughed, sitting back.

"And why should I make do with less, when I have the best sitting right in front of me?" Kirk demanded.

"I still have not finalized my decision -"

"Yes, you have," Kirk said knowingly.  "You're just not sure it's the right one."

And then he leaned unexpectedly forward into Spock and rather abruptly kissed him.

For the first time in a very long while, Spock found himself without words.

"There," Kirk said, when they parted and the Human leaned back.  "Now we've got that out of the way, maybe you can finally get your head in the game."

"I do not understand," Spock said, and meant those words dearly.

"It's not warp science, Spock," Kirk said with a smile.  "And you're more obvious than you think."

"You were aware of my attraction," Spock realized.

"It's not exactly one-sided.  D'you know the first time I knew I could trust you?" Kirk asked.

"I would speculate it was when I relieved myself of duty."

"You'd be wrong," Kirk said, smiling softly, and leaned in to kiss Spock once more, this time gentle and lingering.  "It was when I realized you'd gone back to Vulcan to save your mom."

"That would seem a particularly inauspicious moment," Spock admitted, licking curiously at his own lips.  The Human had left the faint taste of salt and spice behind.  "I was in clear violation of my duty as acting captain of the Enterprise."

"I know," Kirk said.  "But that's when I knew."

"I do not understand.  Knew what?"

"That you could make the same mistakes as the rest of us, and for all the right reasons.  I'm due to relieve Pike of his duties tomorrow, Spock," Kirk said quietly.  Spock said nothing.  "Next week the Enterprise returns to active duty, and your name still isn't on the roster.  I know you want to be there.  I even know why you haven't signed on yet.  And if the deal breaker is me, you should know I'm more than willing to give it a chance.  If it doesn't work out, well; we're both adults.  We'll figure it out."

"I would not have you because you recognized my desire.  I would have you because you share in it."

"Spock," Kirk said, laughing.  "I'll tell you a secret.  You remember when you knocked me out on the Bridge?"

"It is a difficult thing to forget," Spock said. 

"That was probably the most inappropriate time for me to realize I really wanted you to touch me," Kirk admitted.

"Fascinating," Spock said.  "Because that is the first time I did so knowing I wanted to."

"Match made in heaven," Kirk said brightly, and leaned forward so they could kiss again, more deeply and thoroughly.  When they separated, the Human put one hand on Spock's face, so close to the meld points it might have been an accident but probably was not.

"This seems quite unwise," Spock said quietly.  "Even should I submit my acceptance of the assignment, to engage in romantic relations with my commanding officer - "

"Spock, if I have you on my ship, there's no chance I'm going to be able to keep my hands to myself," Kirk said.  "Not unless you want me to.  Do you want me to?"

"No," Spock admitted.

"Then we might as well try it out now.  If you wake up in the morning knowing it was a mistake, well.  There's more evidence for you."

"An intriguing point of negotiation."

"Are we negotiating?" Kirk asked with a grin, leaning back.  "That could be fun.  Do I need to make you promise to be gentle with me?"

Spock bowed his head, chastised.  "I give you my word I would treat you well.  You need fear no further violence from me."

"No, that's not what I - oh, never mind," Kirk said, and he was grinning, the flavor of his joy deep and powerful, but also - easy?  Common, perhaps.  Kirk was someone for whom both superficial and profoundly genuine emotion came often.  Spock leaned in toward Kirk, feeling drawn as if by an invisible string.

"C'mere," Kirk said indulgently, and then was kissing him again.  Spock analyzed the feeling of it, the pressure, the technique.  All were pleasing.  Kirk's firmness was interesting, his forwardness unique to Spock's experience.  The implicit permission to touch was irresistible, and Spock felt daring enough to give in to desire.

Kirk was warm, his skin almost startlingly hot to Spock's fingers when he skimmed them down his neck and slipped them beneath the collar of his uniform.  Kirk seemed to take this as some sort of request and swiftly divested himself of the offending garment so Spock could let his hands roam freely.  The static of the Human's quicksilver thoughts prickled against the tips of Spock's fingers.

"Is this alright?" Kirk asked, between one heated press of his lips and the next.

"'Alright' is an inadequate descriptor."

Kirk laughed like it had been surprised out of him.  Spock was fascinated; he was uncertain he had ever managed to startle someone into laughter before.  It was an intriguing thing to be the cause of.

When Kirk turned to press him into the firm softness of the couch beneath them, Spock did not resist.  He did not resist when the Human wedged a knee between both of his, or when a hand followed shortly after.  He did not resist when nimble fingers fumbled with the fastening of his pants, or when Kirk wrapped the warmth of his palm around Spock in a breathtaking tangle of pleasure.

He suspected he would have great difficulty resisting most things Kirk requested of him now. 

"What do you like?" Kirk murmured.  "Tell me what you want."

But Spock had not the words.  He slid his hand behind the Humans neck to draw him down and near, traced the fine bones of his ear, his face.

Kirk tilted into the pressure of his fingers, turning to brush Spock's palm with his lips.  Spock was near enough to the meld points that the lure of the Human's thoughts was almost unbearable.  Spock slid his hand down to the man's chest to remove temptation, and then lower.

It was languid; a slow rolling of hips and skin, Kirk's hand guiding and Spock's exploring.  It was a basic combination of friction and heat, and it seemed to set Spock's whole body ablaze.  He would have thought it too tame for Kirk, who pushed boundaries in every way, but the man never looked away and there was nothing in him that indicated disappointment.  Spock felt the intensity of the moment like the slipstream of the transporter, rebuilding every part of him.

Kirk was the first to peak, and in the moment of climax Spock almost slid beneath the surface of his thoughts without intending to.  The Human's pleasure was shattering.  It swept them both away, and Spock had never felt so content to be lost in sensation.

Kirk lay atop him afterward, panting and spent, while Spock took his weight with ease.  He brushed the tips of his fingers over the wings of Kirk's shoulders, the bony expanse of his spine.  The Human's trust was immeasurably satisfying, as fulfilling as physical climax but in an entirely different way.

"Sorry," Kirk said, muffled.  He raised his head.  "That was.  I didn't mean to jump you like that."

"I had no objection," Spock said truthfully.

"Oh, well then." And he flopped back down and Spock huffed a breath as the air was expelled forcefully from his lungs.  He could feel the Human's amusement coloring them both.  They shifted, rearranging the remnants of their clothes, drawing garments back on as they settled to rest in the aftermath.  Some time passed while Spock marvelled at how oddly comfortable he felt.  The sensation was comparable to having spent an hour in deep meditation; body and mind in pleasing and harmonious alignment.

"What time is it?" Kirk asked twenty-two-point-six minutes later, still face down on Spock's chest.  Spock tentatively carded both hands through the man's hair, blinking when Kirk arched into the contact sensually.  The reflex seemed almost feline in nature.

"18:32 standard," Spock said.

"I have to go soon." Kirk lifted his head with a conspiratorial smile.  "I have a dinner date."

Spock stilled, searching the man's face with wary confusion, but he sensed no malice from Kirk; quite the opposite.  And yet also no deception.

"Don't worry," Kirk said solemnly.  "She'd never have me; she's got better taste than that.  And she's a married woman, and I hear your dad might kill me if I tried anything, anyway."

Spock blinked.  "For what purpose could you be meeting my mother?"

"Your mom's pretty great.  That's basically all the purpose I need," Kirk said, and Spock tightened his hands minutely before regaining control of himself.  "But Pike also asked me to scout her out to take on one of the teaching assignments.  I don't think she'll turn me down."

No, Spock rather doubted she would as well.  Not only because their family owed Kirk a great debt and Amanda might find this an equitable trade to begin restitution, but also because Spock was aware his mother enjoyed teaching and imparting knowledge and it had been many years since she was last able to do so for a genuinely appreciative audience.

Spock could feel emotion try to swell past the border of his control.

"Perhaps I will join you," he said.

"You're always welcome," Kirk assured him, and then rolled up and to his feet.  Spock tried to follow and found a hand pressed to his chest, delaying him halfway up.  He glanced an enquiry and chanced to see a look of intense appreciation of Kirk's face.  Spock felt a blush rising and automatically regulated the rising body temperature until it subsided.

"I could get used to this sight," Kirk said leadingly, smiling.

"As could I."

Kirk's face lit up with delight, and he leaned in while Spock tilted against the pressure of his grip so they met in the middle.  He gently rested their foreheads together and caressed one finger over Kirk's temple, shivering.

"So," Kirk said.  "Does this mean I can expect you to sign the transfer orders I keep sending you?"

"I already have," Spock admitted, and then pushed forward to kiss him.