When one of the more junior officers had the night shift Jim liked to make a habit of taking his own breakfast with them on the bridge, if some disaster or bureaucratic inevitability didn’t prevent it. He walked down the hallway from the mess to the bridge, balancing his napkin wrapped egg bagel on his arm and checking the automatic downloads on his PADD.
“Good morning sir,” Chekov said as the doors opened.
They were moving along at an unhurried warp one point five, since Jim had been allowed a full night’s sleep it was safe to assume nothing disastrous had happened during Chekov’s shift.
“A new mission assignment came through, Captain,” Chekov said, “It was not marked classified, I sent it through to the whole crew.”
Jim saw that he did have an updated file, he yawned and took a sip of coffee. “Very good, are we on course?”
Chekov stifled a yawn of his own but he aimed his reproachful look at the console instead of Jim. Jim liked that about Chekov, young and enthusiastic enough to have some kind of respect for the chain of command Jim worked hard to keep clearly established, but not too cowed by anyone’s authority.
“Yes, at our current speed we will arrive in six hours.”
The mission was purely diplomatic, first contact had been established virtually, the system had sent warp capable probes out, but apparently was not the sort to send out particularly many manned missions. Jim set his bagel on his lap and put the PADD aside, sipping his coffee and taking a moment to just watch the viewscreen. Chekov had gone right back to his comfortable lean in his chair, a display screen with what looked like Spock’s latest science project’s results on it.
The mission being purely diplomatic, he could take himself and Spock down, leaving the rest of the crew to take standby shifts, except for Scotty, to whom he could offer the extra command hours if he wanted them. It would make for a nice and simple start, and if things went well, Uhura could come down and work through a more sophisticated linguistic and cultural exchange, and if things went spectacularly well, Bones might come down too for some scientific and medical exchange.
He should have known better than to get so ahead of himself as to plan for things going well. Although they started off alright. The planet was quite beautiful and naturally smelled very faintly of citrus, which might have been from the plant life that filled even their indoor areas. The Lord Governor, city government, and several delegates from further afield met them as they beamed down. Despite the large array of people there to meet them, they did not seem inclined to stand on formality or play to their version of the press. In a remarkably short time, Jim and Spock had been introduced to everyone present, and invited to take their own tours of the Citadel. Spock had taken one look at the truly remarkable biodome that filled the center and sensing his clear interest, the young guide had whisked him away to investigate it.
Jim’s communicator beeped. “Kirk here,”
“Captain, I have been observing the flora in Citadel’s biodome—”
Lord Governor Bani-vnin’s head snapped around, “Where is your officer?”
And that was how it started.
It became immediately clear that talking was the last thing to do, so Jim merely followed the Lord Governor and his flock of guards and when they met Spock and his disapproving accompaniment of guards Jim put a subtle finger to his lips. Spock’s scathing look said quite clearly that he had also gotten the message.
The Lord Governor lead them and the guards through the corridors and down several flights of stairs at a brisk pace, in complete silence. Jim wondered if it was a sign of anger, or if it was customary for everyone to take a temporary vow of silence in the presence of one who had transgressed. With increasing frequency, Jim was beginning to wish Starfleet would just assign him a whole extra ship full of crew, to do things like extra research on various planets’ obscure religious laws and the punishments for breaking them.
They were shown into a small room with no furnishings to speak of, just intricate diagramming on the floor. Spock was shown where in the pattern to stand and Jim was similarly maneuvered into place. Finally, Bani-vnin spoke.
“Were you aware that speaking while inside the sacred grove is a gave offense to all tranquility?”
Spock hesitated just a moment, maybe unsure if he would be further rebuked for speaking again, and settled on shaking his head and looking down.
“You may speak in this room. Are you aware that such an offense is punishable by a month in the service of the public good for every word spoken?”
“I was not aware, I apologize for my actions, it was not my intention to disrespect your traditions,” Spock said.
“Lord Governor,” Jim said, jumping in before anyone else could speak. “As the Captain, I am responsible for the actions of all the members of my crew, I also apologize, and I will take whatever action I can to make things right.” He was sure they weren’t going to solve the issue then and there, though he could always hope, but he and Bani-vnin had been getting along nicely before Spock had erred, and Jim was confident he would have a better time advocating for himself not to be incarcerated, by the sound of things, or maybe assigned some kind of community service, as long as they’d let Spock off the hook.
“Ah, are you his legal relative by blood, marriage, or guardianship?” the Lord Governor asked, suddenly much calmer.
“No, I’m his Captain.” Spock was trying to catch Jim’s eye, but it seemed like the ensuing negotiation was going to go better without Spock’s assistance, and Jim kept his gaze on the Lord Governor, who looked mildly confused.
“Then we must discuss this at greater length.” He gestured to the guards, and they began to whisk Spock away. Perhaps seeing Jim open his mouth to protest, Bani-vnin assured him, “he will be held in our facility while we sort out the relevant differences in our legal systems. I promise you Captain Kirk, he will not be harmed.”
It would have to do, because Spock and the guards disappeared down the passage in the opposite direction from the way Bani-vnin was beckoning Jim. “Come to my office.”
The Lord Governor’s office was a very pleasant and comfortable room, with butter yellow walls and tiling, that complemented the plush earthy rugs and soft seating. There was no desk or table, which Jim found slightly odd, but several large display monitors at various heights and places around the room. Jim was encouraged to sit, and Bani-vnin brought one of the lower, angled monitors over to where they could both see it.
“Now then, I am unfamiliar with the legal ties of your people. We will be glad to release your officer into the care of his legal relative or whatever is the equivalent in your people’s culture.”
“You’ll release him?” Jim asked, trying not to sound surprised.
“Yes of course,” Bani-vnin said, still with a look of mild confusion. He had pulled up some kind of document on the monitor and appeared prepared to fill it out. “If you would be so good as to explain your relation.”
“His husband is on my ship right now,” Jim said, not quite daring to believe the whole thing would be quite as easy as it was beginning to appear.
“I’m sorry, I thought you were making the request as legal relation.”
“I am legally responsible for the actions of my crew, as their Captain, but perhaps it would be simpler this way.”
In what Jim was beginning to understand was something of the custom on their planet, the Lord Governor tilted his head in a gesture of accommodation. “You cannot make the request on behalf of another, his husband must request release into his custody personally. I will take his call here, but he must be the one to make it.”
The visual from the ship was displayed on one of the larger screens on the wall across from them, Bani-vnin was apparently poised to fill out the form he had shown Jim with whatever information he was about to need from McCoy. Uhura had the visual taken at a wide angle to display the entire bridge, since Bones was out of position for the close view of Jim’s chair. To their credit, his crew appeared perfectly composed, and Bones was only scowling a little bit.
“I’m Spock’s husband,” he said, “I understand you’re willing to release him into my custody.”
“Yes of course, we have but two forms to complete, and you will be able to retrieve him at the public entrance.” Bani-vnin was all polite smiles and bureaucratic bland efficiency. “To begin, please state your name.”
“Leonard H. McCoy.”
“Your date of birth.”
“In Earth time, January 20th, 2227.”
“Your place of birth.”
Jim began to regret asking to be present for the form filling out process.
Fifteen minutes later, he was sure he regretted it.
“Your husband’s name.”
Bones frowned. Around him, the rest of the crew were very professionally attending to their posts, though Jim imagined they were getting as bored as he was.
“Do you have the Vulcan alphabet on that thing?”
Bani-vnin frowned as well, “I am quite capable of translating your names into our writing system.”
“I’m not sure I can pronounce Spock’s name, I’ll give you the English spelling, that’ll have to do. Given name Spock, family name, capital S, apostrophe, lower case c, h, n, then there’s a space in the middle, capital T, apostrophe, lower case g, a, i.”
Bani-vnin taped at the monitor for several seconds.
“Birthdate, and place,”
“Again, in Earth time, January 6th, 2230, ShiKar, Vulcan.”
In all likelihood they were going to go through the same excruciatingly long list of detailed but extraneous details about Spock that they had just done for Bones. Jim wondered how long and how well you had to know someone before you memorized their entire personal file, or maybe he had pulled it up to read from.
“First primary residence.”
That kind of information wasn’t even in his personal file.
“Date and location of your legal marriage.”
“Stardate 2262.19. ShiKar, Vulcan.”
“Date and location of your religious marriage.”
“The same date.”
“Date of consummation.”
Jim, who had been staring at the side of the monitor, idly wondering whether it was built into the wall, or just mounted on it, did something of a double take. Bones was blinking, as if he couldn’t believe what he had just heard, Uhura’s eyes were wide as she carefully turned her face away, and Sulu at the helm was biting his lip while staring far too intently at his controls.
“Could you repeat the question?” Bones asked, voice a bit tight.
“I require the date your marriage was consummated,” Bani-vnin replied with absolutely no indication that he picked up on their discomfort. Jim was of half a mind to put a stop to the whole thing and find some other way to get Spock out of whatever time he had to serve. There was a limit to what Starfleet could reasonable expect them to share in the name of diplomacy, and details about one’s sex life, especially for Vulcan crewmembers (Jim could recite regulation just as well as anyone else) were firmly over the line.
But Bones was already saying, “The same day,” with only the barest hint of a blush.
With another several forms and only a couple more incidents of embarrassment, finally, Bani-vnin smiled and tapped something on his monitor, saying, “That is perfectly in order, thank you. You have the coordinates for retrieval, and cut the connection on Bones’s quietly shocked face.
It was a rather pointed silence as they walked down the road, they had seven kilometers to go until the Citadel’s shields wouldn’t interfere with beaming, and while they had been willing to provide transport for both of their arrivals, they had not offered any transport back to the site. Spock wasn’t particularly subdued, he had been escorted out to meet them in silence, and walked with no apparent embarrassment down the long stairs next to Jim as normal. Bones couldn’t seem to decide if he was more angry or amused, he kept throwing conflicted glances at Spock, and then frowning intently at the path a head of them.
When they were sufficiently far away that it didn’t seem any risk to speak McCoy burst out, “They asked me when our marriage was consummated and made me promise to discipline you.”
Jim choked quietly between them. Chekov had erupted into a coughing fit when Bani-vnin had first explained the requirement, and Sulu had been biting his lips so hard Jim was worried he was going to break the skin. Uhura had turned her chair entirely around to hide her face while Bones’s eyebrows practically flew off his forehead.
“Discipline, punish, reprimand,” Bani-vnin had helpfully clarified, maybe in concern that the translator had made an error. Jim had only been able to close his eyes and hope they were almost finished with filling out forms.
Spock was too dignified to wince, but he did say, “Doctor,”
“Don’t ‘Doctor’ me! I spent an hour filling out about a million and a half forms verbally because you broke local custom!” Bones sounded like he wanted to be angry, but there was a distinct note of glee in his voice. It wasn’t often Spock made a mistake like this one.
Spock’s eyebrow went up. “I only wished to apologize for the inconvenience, but if you would prefer I stayed silent, I will abide by your wishes. That is within your prerogative to request, as it was explained to me.”
For some reason, that seemed to take the wind out of McCoy’s sails.
“You couldn’t have known,” he said waving a hand.
“Perhaps I owe you an apology as well, Captain,” Spock said.
“I wouldn’t worry about it, we’ll have that much more to include in our report,” Jim told him, smiling.
There was silence until they had reached then end of the paved road, only another three and a half kilometers to go.
Bones said, “I can’t believe you went and offended them so badly, after all the times you’ve lectured me about cultural sensitivity.”
On Jim’s end, in hindsight, the whole debacle was starting to looking rather hilarious, but Spock’s expression grew slightly pained.
“Did they not tell you? Was there not a sign? Didn’t you notice no one else talked once they went in?” Bones continued. “I’m supposed to make you do some kind of appropriate public service.”
“I believe the hand gesture the attendant made before allowing me entrance to the biodome was meant to convey the need for silence, in retrospect,” Spock replied, appearing as though it physically pained him to admit.
“And you told me off for not asking first when I got kicked off that colony three years ago after stepping on their sacred plants!” Clearly, the events of the day were going to become a thing. “If we lived here, and you did it again, I’d get in trouble too, for not keeping you in line in public.”
Spock’s expression grew steadily more pained. “I was informed.”
“There’s not a set time limit on that either, we’d have to petition to give your autonomy back, and provide proof that you’d atoned appropriately.”
“Leonard,” Spock said, in the same tone as before. McCoy shushed him.
“Do you know how lucky it is I still remember all those fiddly details from your file? They asked me where both sets of our parents were married, whether they were still married, the last five cities we’ve both individually lived in, and no, they did not count starships or space stations, and that’s not to mention how often we update our marriage certificate, which I had to explain isn’t a thing on Vulcan or on Earth, and so instead we had to fill out a whole separate form to justify the exemption from answering that question.”
“Is this lecture the discipline you spoke of?” Spock asked. Sometimes, Jim figured there was nothing to be done but hang back and let the two of them run each other out of steam.
“No. I want you to call your mother.”
“I spoke with her three months ago,” Spock replied.
“That doesn’t help your case at all, Spock, because I know she called you, and I’ve spoken to her twice since then.”
Alternatively, there were some conversations that didn’t end in either of them running out of steam, but built up into potentially destructive, more genuine conflicts, that Jim had no interest in finding himself in the middle of.
“The frequency with which my mother and I speak—”
“Absolutely is my concern, Spock, don’t—”
“Gentlemen,” Jim interrupted. They had both actually stopped walking to argue with each other, which was exactly why Jim needed to curtail their ‘discussion’ before things got too heated. “If, perhaps, we could save the domestic until we are back on the ship?”
They both bowed their heads and caught up with him. Suitably chastened.
“A minor, reoccurring disagreement, Captain,” Spock said softly.
Jim nodded, to let them know he understood. They always sorted things out, it was just that now wasn’t the best time or place to do so. He felt Bones’s arm brush against his back, their silent apology to one another. There was no further conversation, but the tension built slowly as they reached the edge of the Citadel’s shields.
When they re-materialized on the ship Jim was quite ready to relegate the whole fiasco to ‘amusing anecdote’ status. No one had been hurt, no diplomatic ties had been cut, all in all, it had been surprisingly easily handled, and it hadn’t even taken significantly longer than Jim had budgeted. They had an hour left on shift, but there wasn’t much of anything to be done.
“Write up your reports,” Jim told the two of them, “and consider yourselves done for the day.”
“Captain,” Spock said, and Bones only nodded before they both disappeared into the hallway.
“Well,” Scotty said cheerfully at the transporter controls, “we’ve had worse days, haven’t we?”
“We certainly have, Mister Scott,” Jim told him, and went to find himself a glass of water.