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When Spock is a child the special doctors he visits every week test everything he does. They measure how he walks, how he runs, how he breathes, how he blinks. His first words are analyzed for hidden intonations, inflections, and meanings. His physiology is carefully studied for concealed aberrations that might manifest as time goes on. Will his skin be human-delicate, prone to destruction under the harsh light of 40-Eridani-A? Can his lungs handle the oxygen-thin atmosphere of Vulcan? Will the local plants prove poisonous, the minerals in the water toxic to his strange body...

Every type of food he eats is introduced carefully because his immune system is still being monitored for adverse reactions to everything he encounters. The scientists studying him are almost surprised at the hardiness of his physique. He seems by all accounts to be a medical success; but he is young, and Vulcans are by nature a cautious people. Spock is watched carefully for years.

Later, he will wonder what sort of influence – if any – this might have had on him.


 

Like most young Vulcans, Spock is used to functioning under a strict structure in his daily life. There are set times for education, study, meditation, personal enrichment – of late, Spock has been studying the ka'athyra – and personal time with the family, among other activities. Meal times are also carefully planned.

As he is fifteen, Sarek and Amanda have been taking short trips off-planet for diplomatic purposes for some time. Just two days ago, however, they left for an extended trip to Antares which may last as long as five months. Amanda disapproves of such a long absence from their son; but Spock agrees that it would be illogical to disrupt his education, and by Vulcan standards he is quite old enough to watch himself. He knows how to contact other Clan-members in the case of any emergency.

At the moment Spock is studying a bacterial culture in his room drawn from an infected sehlat wound. As he watches a small organism flail its flagella and dart toward another bacterium in a predatory manner, he realizes that it is technically time for him to make dinner.

Spock is now old enough to prioritize his own time. He briefly contemplates what he might be able to cook tonight. He does not feel particularly inclined to eat, though of course eating is a necessary biological function. But as he considers this he is distracted by the tiny bacterium under his microscope flailing forward to clasp itself around its smaller counterpart.

Spock leans forward, his interest piqued anew, and forgets his previous line of thought entirely.


 

During the night, Spock dreams.

Vulcans do not dream, but Spock does. It is something he does not speak of to anyone, not even his mother, partially because there is no need to do so and partially because his dreams are often very disturbing.

In the dream a bird without eyes turns its beak toward him and opens its mouth. It flaps its broad silver wings, undulating them in rippling motions like long sheets of falling rain. This rain feeds the plants of the earth, the animals that graze from the land, the fish that swim in Vulcan's increasingly small oceans.

A great wind bowls over the bird. Blinding waves of sand crash into its feathers. It starts to drown, gasping for air, for water, for succor. The bird's throat bulges green as it gapes for moisture and meets only dust.

The land turns barren and the bird's sleek feathers twirl away one by one.

There is water above, Spock thinks. It could reach the rain-clouds in the sky. He knows it could do so with the surety only dream-logic brings. It could drink right from the clouds and become glorious again. It could become beautiful.

But it is not trying to fly. It never tries to fly, not even once.

The bird becomes a fish and bakes until its bones join with the dirt.


 

Dreams are a disturbance that should not occur. Spock wakes and meditates for an hour as Vulcan's sun curves over the horizon. He changes into his formal robes and begins the slow journey to school.

He does not have time to eat breakfast.

By lunch he is feeling pangs of hunger, which are easy to ignore. They leave as soon as he eats and he feels no different than any other day, so it is not such an inconvenience.


 

Long-distance calls through space are not something made lightly, but there are some perks to being an ambassador – or an ambassador's wife. Amanda Grayson has promised to call her son once a week. Though it has been only three days since Spock has last seen her, she already seems tired and anxious when Spock opens the view-screen.

“Honey, it's good to see you,” she says, relaxing immediately. Spock knows from experience that it can take Amanda about a week to reconcile herself to the idea of leaving Spock behind during a journey; usually her trips last no longer than two or perhaps three weeks, though. “How's school? Are you eating alright? Everything fine?”

“I am doing adequately, Mother. School is no different than it was three days ago.”

Amanda smiles ruefully. “Yes, yes, I'm sure you'll be fine, I just worry.”

Spock nods patiently. His mother is human. He will not judge her concern. He wonders, briefly, if his father is somewhere beyond his view of the screen. But he immediately dismisses the thought. Spock is fine, and therefore Sarek has no reason to speak with him. So, he will not. It is strange that Spock would think otherwise.

Perhaps he should meditate later.

“Remember that you can call your grandmother if there are any problems,” Amanda says. “Or your great-aunt T'Min, or Storin, or - “

“I will remember, Mother.”

“Yes. I know.” She sighs. “...Well, why don't I tell you about our flight. I saw the strangest man when we were boarding our shuttle, you know, I swear he was trying to smuggle aboard a targ pup - “


 

In Vulcan lower-education establishments it is a common practice for test scores and student ranks to be commonly posted and disseminated. Competition is considered logical; judging peers for sub-par work is not. There is therefore no reason to withhold such information, educators reason.

As such, Spock is immediately aware of the change when he drops from being ranked first in his age group to third.

So is everyone else.

Sonak and Talok – the two Vulcans who have suddenly jumped ahead of him in terms of grades – do not say anything directly to Spock on the matter, both because this would be uncouth and, more importantly, because they do not have any time alone with Spock after the scores are released. There are some people in Spock's year with whom he has a neutral, almost amiable relationship – meaning, no relationship at all – but Sonak and Talok are cousins, both with fathers in minor governmental positions. Their fathers are not accepting of Sarek's political leanings; they, in turn, are not accepting of Spock's existence.

But: “It was only a matter of time,” Sonak comments to Talok when they see the scores. They are surrounded by classmates, and Sonak talks as though he is commenting on a simple detail about the landscape. “The half-breed's success was only a fluke. It is known that human intellect is not comparable to that of Vulcans'; this can be seen through simple statistics.”

Spock ignores the words.

His stomach is clenching with the pain of a forgotten breakfast, skipped in his haste to secure the house against a sudden sand-storm. He focuses on this like the fire of a meditation candle, burning away the flickering attempts of embarrassment that threaten to emerge. He forgoes lunch to study and his focus sharpens. All is well. All is fine.

He returns home managing to avoid the pair and absconds to his room to study, starting with astrophysics and working his way carefully through the biological sciences, geology, and chemistry. He finishes by brushing up on rhetoric before sorting through all this information during meditation.

All this knowledge is important and it is clear, judging by his latest test scores and his class-standing, that he has been neglecting his academics as of late. He skips over dinner in the benefit of saving time and doesn't think much of it. Missing one meal doesn't hurt anything, after all.


 

Spock wonders if there is any possibility that a surge of calories could be a deterrence to his mental capabilities, because he seems to perform better during his classes when he does not eat breakfast. The bite of hunger sharpens his perceptions, and the sense of the thin, stretched ache along his abdomen makes him feel focused.

He stops eating breakfast. It will not make much of a difference to his body, he reasons – usually he only eats a few kreyt biscuits or pir mah with some tea, anyway. But if the lack can help him academically, even a little, this could be very significant.

With diligence his grades rise; his scores on his next exams are perfect, as has been typical before.

This still puts him in second-place behind Sonak.

Somehow, almost without trying, Spock also accomplishes something else. During his musical lessons he catches the personal attention of director Tekav, the head of the Shikaar Youth Orchestra who is visiting Spock's school for another reason entirely.

“For one so young, you display impressive potential on the ka'athyra,”  Tekav informs him. “If you are interested in developing this skill, joining the orchestra would be beneficial. If you are willing, discuss the matter with your parents and give me your answer tomorrow.”

“My parents are off-world for the next several months,” says Spock. Tekav's eyebrow arches slowly. “I would be interested in participating, if you believe I am capable of it.”

“Will you have time to join the orchestra?” asks the maestro gravely.

“Yes,” says Spock immediately. He will make time.

The director does not question him. “Very well. Practice is three times a week for two hours after the cessation of your classes. I expect to be informed beforehand of any absences.”

Spock does not anticipate being absent, not ever. He nods.


 

Spock creates a new schedule without fully thinking about it. Eating at least once a day becomes his self-directed rule. Vulcans have mandatory education every day of the week, with one day off every two weeks so that other necessary matters – visits to the physician, interviews, important meetings, and so forth – can be scheduled. On these days it is somewhat more difficult to remember to eat, because he does not eat during the school-day, but he reminds himself nevertheless. Eating every day is all that is important, really. Meal times are social constructs – suggestions more than rules.

The problem is that Sarek and Amanda prefer natural food to synthesizers and Spock has always lived the same way. When they left they arranged for a carefully pre-arranged amount of supplies to be delivered to their domicile at two-week intervals, and Spock is not eating much of it.

Waste is anathema to Vulcan nature. Spock does not think he is wasting much; one person does not eat, or refrain from eating, huge quantities of matter in a month. Yet he finds after a few weeks have passed and two more deliveries have arrived that the food is rotting, wasting, piling up. It is more than he has expected. More than he knows what to do with.

Sarek's property is large, meant for a family larger than their own. There is a compost pile at the edge of the land that will suffice as a site to dump some of the rotted food, and they also have a modern matter recycler, but Spock still finds it extravagant.

He sits in his house for awhile wondering what to do with the food, spreading out the half-stale remnants on the counter and picking out what needs to be tossed. Some of the food will be good for a few more days, but has just been rendered obsolete by the last shipment. Wasteful. So wasteful.

He has already eaten today. He picks up a pre-cooked kreyla biscuit and starts to chew.

He eats two, three, barely tasting them through the speed of his swallows. He eats a raw mashya tuber and the leafy fronds of a yarmok plant that crunch, wilting and pale green, between his teeth. A handful of nuts follows. The tangy flesh of a gespar fruit, over-ripe, makes him lick his lips as the juices dribble down his chin.

He drops the fruit when he finishes, taking a breath.

...Gluttony is illogical. Immoral, even. The taste is pleasant but his stomach is swollen. He is stunned by his own lack of control.

He gathers up the food and takes all of it to the compost in the back.

Even the newest shipment, so he will not be tempted to indulge like this again.


 

His stomach cramps the next morning and Spock responds to this fact with resignation. He skips breakfast as usual, but he also does not eat lunch. No one notices, of course. By the time he returns to his home the pain has dissipated.

Spock also feels hungry, which almost surprises him after his gluttony of the previous day. He does not make any food as a dinner, however, not even for a light snack, because he is wary of disturbing his stomach again.

Studying the digestive processes of the body proves to be a sufficiently diverting task.


 

Two months into the absence of Sarek and Amanda, classes are unexpectedly canceled due to a sandstorm. Spock takes the opportunity to stay home and practice several of his katas in one of the larger halls. He meditates for two hours when he grows tired, and then, feeling refreshed, he studies until night comes and goes to sleep.

When he wakes up the next day, he feels immediately unwell.

There is an unpleasant peeling pain throbbing behind his right eye that persists all throughout his classes. He skips lunch because he feels dizzy and faintly nauseous, and hopes that fasting will help him feel better; he drinks so much water he can see his classmates side-eying him, muttering to each other about strange human physiology. When he gets home he does not feel particularly inclined toward work or meditation; deciding that he can forgo dinner in favor of trying to alleviate his discomfort, he immediately heads to his room and tries to sleep.

Sleep is often a useful remedy for head-aches, but he drifts in and out of consciousness over the next few hours feeling increasingly worse. At last he wakes in the the middle of the night, wide-eyed, still vaguely queasy, and wanders downstairs from sheer insomnia.

He makes a bowl of plomeek soup and feels the pain in his temples sharpen as he smells the spicy vegetables boiling. If he is becoming ill, however, it is important to be ingesting a proper amount of nutrients.

Even with this knowledge, it surprises him when he feels almost immediately better upon eating.

Relieved, he excuses the fact as a fortuitous coincidence, cleans his bowl, and returns to his room to sleep until morning.


 

“Hunger is an inevitable physiological reaction,” Spock's meditation teacher says. “However, as with most forms of pain it can be pushed aside with mental discipline and conscious control of the body. This is best done only in extremis, because hunger serves as a useful warning and a reminder to provide the body with nutrition. You should exercise your best judgment when using this skill.”

Spock understands the words. He does not understand the lesson because he is having a hard time remembering hunger. He does not hurt or long for food anymore. Perhaps, he thinks, he has mastered the skill so absolutely he does not realize he has done so. Perhaps hunger is only another type of emotion after all, despite what the teacher says, and Spock has ruled it.

During his biology classes another teacher says that hunger can evaporate like water in the sun when food is not available. The metabolism of a starved body slows and crawls over time. A deprived body learns not to hunger, because the pain becomes useless.

This is an interesting fact, Spock thinks. He wonders what such a thing would feel like. He is grateful he does not live on a famine-stricken world.


 

Spock sometimes is so caught up in his studies that he overlooks his own eat-every-day rule, but no more than once or twice a week, which is not so bad, he thinks. Usually he remembers.

When he realizes that he frequently gets headaches after missing a meal the rule becomes even more important. Sometimes he gets headaches anyway, and this is the only time he will eat outside his prescribed meal-times. Headaches are not conducive to studying.

Lately, he has had many headaches, and even snacking does not always make them dissipate. Perhaps it is just a quirk of hybrid physiology, he thinks. Something he must learn to accept.

His schoolmates have enough opinions about Spock's physiology; they would doubtlessly have an opinion on this, too, were he to ask them. Which he won't.

“He does not even look like one of us,” says Sonak to Talok one day, gesturing to Spock as though the half-Vulcan is not physically present. “See the angle of his shoulders?”

“He nose and eyes are rounded,” agrees Talok.

“Note his features,” says Sonak. “See how his cheeks are soft, his chin and skin fat? An effect of his human heritage, his water-heavy birth - “

“This is nothing you have not said before,” Spock interjects calmly. “Have you been reduced to redundancies?”

Sonak looks at him coldly. “You clearly need to hear your lessons repeatedly,” he says. “They do not seem to be understood with the first iteration.”

“That seems inaccurate,” says Spock pointedly. Bragging is vulgar. Spock lets his eyes drift across the room, almost absently, where all three knows the scores for the exams are posted.

Spock is first in his age-group again.


 

And, here is something:

Spock finds the words of his classmates irrelevant. Really. Due to the circumstances of his birth he is examined frequently by healthcare examiners and is always declared to be of fine health. In fact he has sometimes been told he is mildly underweight, given that the mix of his innate human bulk and Vulcan muscle density should leave him heavier.

In the future, when he no longer has the metabolism of a child, there is a possibility he will have to make an effort to maintain that lightness. If so he will be concerned about that when it happens, and not before.


 

Spock knows that he is healthy because he is not losing weight.

Not really – in several months he has only lost an average of 2.8 kilograms when weighed. He was already underweight, admittedly, but this is not much. Given that he has also been expending more calories due to an increase in his exercise regimen – both in the form of katas and even his musical practice – this is surely expected.

(The metabolism slows rapidly when a person is not eating much. The Vulcan metabolism is especially adept at preserving fuel, accustomed as it is to surviving through desert-famines. Spock does not think of this. Spock knows this, of course. But Spock does not even once think of this.)


 

“Spock! Are you taller?” Amanda exclaims, delighted.

“No, mother,” says Spock honestly. He endures the tactile assault as Amanda wraps her arms around his shoulders. He is now sixteen. Such touch should not occur, even between family, but his mother is human.

(Also, he does not completely mind.)

“I think you are,” she says, dismissing his words. She brushes imaginary specks of dirt from his clothes, eyeing him critically a moment, and then reluctantly steps back in respect for his space. They have a certain, unspoken compromise over space; Amanda is permitted to touch him in greeting and farewell, but otherwise understands that her son is, after all, a Vulcan.

“Your father is a day behind,” she says. “He's taking care of some business at the embassy, so it's just you and me right now.” She smiles at him gently. This news is in no way pleasant to hear, of course – why should Spock enjoy hearing that his father will not be joining them? “Why don't I make dinner? I bet you've missed my cooking.”

Spock has eaten already today and has just been thinking of his latest experiment, but he has not, after all, seen his mother in-person for five months. He concedes to himself that spending time with her, both in the kitchen and in preparation for a meal, will not be a waste of time. “Very well,” he agrees.

“You can help me cut the potatoes,” she says.

Spock sighs quietly and trails after her. “Mother,” he says, for far from the first time, “That is not what they are called...”


 

It occurs to Spock around the time that Sarek returns that he needs to eat more.

Specifically, this is what happens:

Spock is meditating quietly, expecting an hour of reflection before needing to leave for school when a quiet knock comes at his door. He answers and is surprised to find Sarek standing there, arms folded, one eyebrow bent disapprovingly.

“Spock,” Sarek starts. “I understand we have been gone some time; this is no excuse to neglect your mother's attention.”

Spock considers this statement carefully. “I do not understand.”

“Join us for breakfast,” says Sarek flatly.

Spock does not particularly want to eat. He is not sure that there is any good way to say this; he particularly does not want to say this under Sarek's quelling eye. He nods.

Amanda looks relieved to see him. “Did you sleep in?” she asks, though of course he would do no such thing. She plies him with sweet pir mah and and a pastry with naric-berries that cloy his throat, all accompanied by savas juice. It is worth a day's meal, at least.

He makes small talk with Amanda, eating slowly as he realizes that he can hardly skip family meals. Sarek seems appeased; he leaves to school with his mind whirring.

Spock skips lunch to give his stomach a chance to adjust. And, from here, things change.


 

Spock eats an average of two meals a day for the next year and a half. Frequently three, when he also eats lunch at school; sometimes one, when he skips through breakfast for meditation and also does not eat lunch; but he is fairly consistent.

His headaches almost entirely disappear. He feels healthier. He realizes – and this is strange, to think that he did not realize it before – that eating poorly can affect his health.

Logically, he should not fall into such a pattern again.

Then he applies to Starfleet Academy.


 

After he is disowned for leaving Vulcan, the humans at Starfleet warn Spock, “You will have to make many personal sacrifices throughout your career.”

Spock has just had a head-start, then.

Classes are easier than he expects, but not so easy that he is concerned. Starfleet Academy attracts the best and the brightest; they are simply not prepared for someone who is considered a genius among what is popularly looked upon as the most intellectual race in the Federation.

One thing Spock learns, something he does not expect, is that Terran food is strange. It has strange smells, strange tastes, strange additions. Little of it is actually natural. For one thing, most people use synthesizers unless they are buying from restaurants; and even then some restaurants use them, which does baffle him.

It is even less tempting to take the time from his day and extra interests – his studies in the expansive Starfleet computer labs, the chess club, the music halls, the park – only to sort through unappealing, unappetizing Terran food.

Even worse, he needs large quantities of Terran food to be healthy. He requires supplements and injections, the doctors tell him, if he does not want to be anemic. Spock is not particularly concerned with what the doctors are saying, however.

He is confident he can manage without. Constant injections seem tedious. And Spock has had enough of being a scientific experiment. His parents are no longer around to force him to listen to doctors; he quits seeing anyone outside Starfleet-mandated physicals, and he eats when he eats. So long as he can function appropriately for the purposes of his job and does not unduly injure himself, he does not imagine that anemia will actually be harmful. Many people live with anemia, after all. So can Spock.

At first, Spock tries to eat regularly. He does. Soon, though, it just seems like a strain.

His schedule is strange and mutable. Spock has courses at different times every day. He is concentrating in Astrophysics and Command, and is taking his courses at an accelerated pace at that. He quickly becomes a TA for a general physics course and a course in the Vulcan language. Sometimes he assists in the computer lab. All of this, he is told, will make him a more attractive prospect for potential postings when he graduates. Spock believes it.

(Some of the other students say, “What is a Vulcan doing in Starfleet, anyway? Why is he even here? Have you heard how he talks, how he looks at us – they're pacifists, you know, can't trust them in a fight – wouldn't trust him at all - “)

He studies in his free time – there isn't much of it – and meditates frequently in place of sleep. Food is simply not a priority, and good food is less of one.

Eating something once per day, simply for fuel, is enough of a goal without worrying about further complications.

Spock finds that he is better these days at blocking out pain than he had been at fifteen. He learns to hone this skill to perfection until he can ignore hunger, ignore head-aches, and even occasionally focus through faint moments of dizziness.

Clearly, he simply needs to adapt. He will adjust in time.


 

Captain Pike is impressed by Spock's academic record and takes him aboard the Enterprise as the ship's science officer straight from the Academy. It is a huge honor. Spock does his best to prove worthy of this trust.

Becoming the head of a department is a great deal of work, especially because the Enterprise herself is a new ship with completely new staff. There is a lot of settling-in to do. Nevertheless, Spock is actually surprised to find himself with more free-time than at the academy. He has more time to meditate and practice his ka'athyra. The synthesizers even have plomeek soup programmed into them. It is more of a breakfast dish than anything, despite common belief, and this is the only Vulcan dish aboard the Enterprise. But if Spock is to remain aboard for more than a year or two perhaps he can add more.

In any case, he approves.

With more time on his hands he eventually tries to eat better. He falls in and out of this pattern, but the years that pass blur together. He does not think they are bad years.

Incidentally, though, plomeek soup is still an effective cure for head-aches.


 

Captain Kirk is a man Spock can immediately respect.

He does not expect, though, that he will come to admire him; and Spock certainly cannot anticipate that they will be friends, close in a manner that Spock has never experienced with anyone before.

When Gary Mitchell dies Spock sits with Kirk on the Observation Deck watching the stars. There's an almost meditative silence between them, but Spock is not restful; he is, on the contrary, hyper-alert to any hint of distress the captain might exhibit. When Kirk stirs he tilts his head toward the other man, signaling attention without wanting to hover.

“I'm glad you're here,” is all Kirk says.

And Spock can't think of anything to say to this, except a faintly surprised, “Of course, Sir.”

Judging by Kirk's faint smile, it's good enough.

Somehow, though, Spock is so concerned with considering the personal ramifications of Mitchell's death on Kirk that he fails to understand the logical consequences of the death of a starship's first officer. A replacement must be found, quite likely from among the ship's own senior staff.

Spock has, after all, been serving on the Enterprise for over a decade.

He is surprised nevertheless when Kirk turns and asks him to be the new first officer, but perhaps he shouldn't be. He is undoubtedly honored by the trust inherent in this request. Of course he agrees; it is within his abilities, after all, and he has a duty to Kirk. Somehow, he is certain that this duty goes beyond the constraints of the service – but that is a matter to explore later, in due time.

Spock does not quite anticipate how much time will be demanded of him as first officer.

It is not too much. Kirk asks this more than once, and Spock honestly is able to say that he is quite capable of balancing his duties. Still, most First officers are not science officers as well. Of course, most first officers are not supremely capable, supremely quick Vulcans.

Still.

Still, Spock finds that rest is more appealing the more one works. This is a logical correlation. He has more duties; he works longer hours; he is, therefore, more tired and more desirous of sleep and meditation.

Another correlation, and one he perhaps should have anticipated, is that he really does not want to eat.

Eating does not take much time, he reminds himself when he considers skipping an afternoon-meal to do more research in the labs, or play chess longer with Kirk, or simply sleep. To eat on-board the Enterprise he simply uses the synthesizers, which is a simple matter of inserting a food card and taking the tray that appears.

Food is never very appealing in general; distractions do not help.

It is not the taste of the pre-programmed meals, or the standard nutrient-cubes – which are, truly, much more flavorful than they appear – or even the time spent eating, he concedes finally. Not anymore, perhaps. He does not want to eat. But giving in to an unhealthy desire – and that is what this is, a desire contrary to the correct functioning of his body – is not logical.

This being said, it has never harmed Spock in the past.

A few head-aches – which he can ignore, if he so wishes – does not constitute harm. Dizziness, also ignored with Vulcan discipline, does not constitute harm. And Spock will get more work done without tedious breaks.

He frequently works double-shifts, sometimes triple-shifts without pause. His physiology makes this easy. Food is not necessary. Even water is not necessary, for a desert-bred Vulcan. A certain number of breaks are mandated legally in non-emergency situations; these serve very well for light meditations between shifts, or to allow him to check on the science labs.

All in all, Spock thinks he has found an excellent balance.


 

The aftermath of the Psi-2000 incident distracts the entire crew of the Enterprise for several days. Many members of the crew are embarrassed, which creates its own set of problems; others are angry at actions taken by their colleagues under the influence of the unstable virus that affected nearly 67% of the ship's contingent. The ship has also received considerable strain due to petty acts of vandalism and anger acted out by those affected by the virus. By the time the aftereffects of this crisis seem to have been cleared away, a landing party is being sent down to the ice-planet of Alpha-177.

Spock finds it somewhat difficult to concentrate during what happens; he almost refuses to believe that Captain Kirk could have attacked Yeoman Rand until it becomes clear that half of him was, in fact, responsible for the crime due to a freak transporter accident. Kirk is troubled over what this implies for his own morals; Spock is troubled over his blind faith when it comes to this human.

Later, when the paperwork is done - “And aren't the brass going to love this,” Kirk mutters tiredly – they make their way to one of the rec rooms to eat. Kirk sighs and rotates his neck around the soft snapping and cracking of locked joints as they approach the synthesizers.

Kirk inserts a series of cards into the synthesizers. After a moment, the machine beeps and a turkey sandwich pops out, neatly arranged with a pickle and a selection of fried vegetables. Kirk stares at the meal with distaste.

“This,” he says, “is not a steak.”

Spock raises an eyebrow tiredly. “Shall I report a malfunction?”

Kirk snorts. “No,” he says, taking the sandwich and stepping away so Spock has access to the machine. “Dr. McCoy's been restricting my diet. He seems to think I'm putting on weight.” Kirk rolls his eyes.

Spock arches an eyebrow, but doesn't comment. He steps forward and inserts his own cards, retrieving, a moment later, a salad containing Vulcan-native greens.

When he settles into a table with Kirk, it occurs to him that this is the first time he has eaten for several days.

Kirk glares down at his sandwich, then picks it up and takes a grudging bite. “Delusional man,” he mutters around a mouthful of food. He swallows.

The door to the rec room opens and Spock and Kirk both look up. Yeomon Rand stares at them both briefly, her foot hovering over the threshold of the door. An ensign edges around her to move into the room. As though this has snapped her awake, Rand properly shifts to her other foot, spins around, and exits. The door slides shut behind her.

Kirk sets down his sandwich.

“Jim,” Spock begins.

“Don't,” Kirk sighs. “ - I don't think I'm hungry after all.”

He starts to stand, but Spock surprises himself by reaching out and grasping Kirk's wrist. The captain stares down at him in surprise.

“What happened was not your fault, Sir.”

Kirk's eyes soften a bit. He removes his hand gently. “It was some part of me,” he says. “But I know what you mean. I just - “

Kirk looks at the door.

“...It'll take some time,” he says at last. Shaking his head, he picks up his tray and walks over to dump it in the recycler that sends the biological matter to be re-sequenced into energy for later use.

Spock watches the captain leave the room. His stomach is churning. He looks down and prods at his salad; it seems wilted and colorless suddenly.

He puts this in the recycler as well, and decides to meditate instead.


 

“Mind your own business, Mr. Spock, I'm sick of your half-breed interference! Do you hear?”

The words ring in Spock's ears even when the Enterprise has left Exo III long behind. Captain Kirk mostly seems pleased that Spock caught on to the false-Kirk so quickly.

The message was a tactic used to alert Spock to the imposter's presence. The idea was successful, which is all that matters. It is therefore illogical for Spock to keep thinking of the android, an automated system, saying in Kirk's cold voice:

Half-breed.

Half-breed.

Half-breed.

Lieutenant Uhura comes up to Spock while he sits in rec room 3 and smiles at him. “Mr. Spock, try one of these – Ensign Denevers and I made some strawberry macaroons, they turned out great - “

A sugary-sweet scent wafts through the air. Spock shifts his head in the negative. “Thank you, but I must decline,” he says gently. “Sucrose has a negative effect on Vulcan physiology.”

“They're sugar-free,” she assures.

Spock hesitates. “Nevertheless.”

Uhura shrugs, not offended, and moves away to offer the treats to someone more appreciative. Spock looks down at a plate of nutrient-cubes. He picks up his fork and spears a blue square through the middle.

It tastes like ash in his mouth.


 

“This is one of my favorite places on the ship,” Jim says.

It seems like an incongruous statement. They're walking around the hydroponics bay, and a passing Ensign grins when she overhears the remark. Jim (when has he become Jim, Spock wonders?) smiles back.

“Why is that?” Spock asks.

“It reminds me a bit of home,” he says. “I grew up in Iowa, you know – I'm a bit of a farmboy at heart.”

Spock is somewhat doubtful of this statement. He cannot imagine James Kirk anywhere but here, leading a starship, though they have only known each other several months. “It is a pleasant place,” he says tactfully. This is even true. The light, natural smell of grass hangs over the room; they wind around collections of blooming flowers, brown-stemmed shrubs, leafy green bushes and yellowing mosses. Dark winding vines climb over carefully-set posts and a strange mobile plant waves and twists to follow the motion of the pair as they walk.

Not quite like Iowa, Spock thinks.

“I would not think you were prone to the human phenomenon of 'homesickness', Sir,” he says.

A year ago, he would not have said this to anyone for concern of accidentally causing offense; but he correctly assumes that Jim will understand what he means. “No, perhaps not,” the man concedes. “Everyone misses home occasionally, though. And I do like nature, is more what I mean. Now, I'll never regret joining Starfleet, but if I could just bring a forest or a mountain on a starship...” he laughs when Spock slowly raises an eyebrow. “No, perhaps not. But it's a nice fantasy, isn't it?”

“As you like, Sir.”

Jim looks wistfully at a few plants just developing their first buds. “My father was a Starfleet officer, but my mother worked the farm, you know, and so did Sam and I. There's nothing quite like food you grow yourself. The synthesizers – it's never quite the same.”

“You sound like Doctor McCoy, Sir.

Jim is startled into a laugh. “Well, I do, don't I? Don't tell him I said any of that – he has enough ammunition against machines without thinking I agree with him. Come on – we have a briefing soon.”


 

After Captain Pike has been left on Talos IV and the Starfleet admiralty have somehow been convinced to ignore Spock's acts of outright treason, Spock continues to wait for some form of reprisal from Captain Kirk. Jim does not respond well to betrayal, and his fury during Spock's court-martial had been unmistakable.

Spock has apologized. Jim has, verbally, accepted this apology and offered forgiveness. This is not the same as forgetting.

And yet, on Alpha Shift the next day Jim acts as though nothing is different. The rest of the bridge crew is tense, certainly – few people know the precise details regarding what has occurred, but Spock's blatant take-over of the ship was not subtle.

But Jim smiles gently at Spock when he asks for a status report. He lounges in his chair, relaxed and apparently at ease. The crew relaxes, too, which makes Spock realize:

Ah.

So, Jim will reprimand him privately, then.

When Jim requests his presence at lunch Spock presumes that this is some sort of euphemism. Spock agrees with something like relief.

He is faintly confused when Jim actually gets a tray of nutrient-cubes and juice, sitting across from him in rec room 2 with a smile.

“Our next mission should be quiet,” he says idly. “The crew can use a little down-time.”

(Spock tries to figure out if this is a subtle jab.)

“We've had a bit of excitement, lately.”

(It's probably a subtle jab.)

“We're up for shore-leave soon, you know. I know you've said you normally stay on the Enterprise, but there's an art museum I was thinking about visiting. Would you like to join me?”

Spock stares at Jim, looking for any hint of duplicity or malice. Any hint of a trick. Jim's eyes are strangely serious. “...I would,” says Spock slowly. He does not know how else to respond.

At once, a pleased smile breaks over the captain's face. Tension falls from his shoulders as though some great burden has been released. “Wonderful,” he says. “I'll make the arrangements.”

Spock keeps waiting. Keeps waiting. But over the next few days Jim doesn't show any sign of holding him responsible for the events on Talos IV. McCoy is markedly cool toward Spock, but even he grudgingly starts to soften.

Days earlier, Spock committed treason with the full knowledge that his actions would be – should be – punished with execution. Now, he is alive and still the first officer of Starfleet's flagship. He is Captain Kirk's friend.

He does not know what to do about this.

He rejects Jim's invitation to eat lunch the next day, and the day after; but when Jim frowns he makes an offer, in turn, to play chess at 2000 hours. Jim's expression clears immediately.

Spock finds a reason to work a double-shift every day for the next three days, though there is little to merit his sudden interest in the science labs. He justifies this behavior easily enough, even to himself. He has a department to run, after all. He should know his people well. He has a personal duty to them. Indeed, he speaks carefully to his staff about their projects and several of them seem very pleased to have the chance to chatter about their selective specializations.

He meditates frequently.

A week after leaving Talos Spock finds himself forcing aside the pain of head-aches and deprivation during the hours he works.

When his shifts end he does not put aside the pain. The hollowness of his stomach is tangible; his head pulses and throbs with the phantom-dryness of his mouth.

He probably deserves this.


 

It is two weeks after Talos IV and Spock has had a kaasa fruit just the day before during breakfast with Jim, so he feels fine. His headache – and this particular one has existed for three days running – is beginning to be difficult to ignore, but it does not affect his work. Which is all that matters.

He goes to the bridge anticipating a normal day. The captain is eyeing Spock oddly as he sits down, but the Vulcan cannot imagine why. A discreet check assures him that he is properly attired. He wonders – for a quick, surely irrational moment – if Kirk is upset with him. But, no. Spock is relatively certain of his ability to read human facial expressions after so many years, and from what he can tell the man seems more amused than either angry or sad. But then, humans often find amusement in odd sources. Perhaps Kirk is thinking of other matters entirely. He decides further consideration is pointless and returned to his work.

But sometimes, as the captain might say, intuition is far superior to logic.

The doors open just minutes after shift begins. Glancing over, Spock pauses as he takes in a strange sight: CMO McCoy, flanked by two security officers and Lieutenant Robin, one of Spock's best scientists. The lieutenant-commander seems well satisfied with himself.

“Duty calls, Mr. Spock!” The physician sings out. “And I have your replacement raring to go, so no protests!”

Spock arches an eyebrow. “Excuse me?” He prompts, concentrating on sounding level and unperturbed.

“Dr. McCoy tells me you've been dodging your physicals, Commander,” Kirk drawls. Despite his light tone, the man's eyes are dancing with amusement. “For... how long now, Bones?”

“Eleven years,” McCoy grouses. “How do you even do that? Well, I've been nice for five months now, and to hell with it. You're coming down if these two gorillas have to drag you, captain's orders, and you're on duty so no complaints! I know you haven't got anywhere to be.”

The two security officers don't seem very enthusiastic about the idea of dragging their intimidating first officer anywhere, but they step up obediently at Kirk's nod. To Spock's chagrin the rest of the bridge-crew are surveying the scene with indulgent amusement, though at least he senses nothing malignant about the affair. Perhaps this is another example of Terran humor, something meant to be 'funny'.

Spock isn't laughing.

“It is extremely irregular for on-duty staff to - “

Sickbay, Mr. Spock,” Kirk interrupts, greatly amused. “That's an order. Go before you give my Medical Officer a coronary, will you?”

Kirk's tone is casual, but the weight of the order is sincere nonetheless. Slowly, reluctantly, the Vulcan rises.

“Personally, I think using the guards would be more amusing,” he hears McCoy mutter. The guards twitch uneasily.

Spock tries to calculate his chances of avoiding the physical as the turbolift moves, considering and discarding a dozen unlikely scenarios. He can do nothing which would not seem petty and childish at best, or outright mutinous at worst. Given Kirk and McCoy's obvious and combined determination to have him examined, such an escape will only serve to prolong the inevitable anyway.

No. They are already on the level for Sickbay, and Spock finds himself reluctantly trailing the cheerful physician. Once inside the examination room McCoy dismisses the guards, practically bouncing on his heels in delight. Spock debates slipping from the room when McCoy turns around to snap on a pair of old-fashioned latex gloves - quite superfluously - but he does not put it past McCoy to actually order Security to capture him, which would not be positive for discipline.

He waits.

“I prefer to do things the old fashioned way,” McCoy explains. “And I'll turn up the heat for that part so your Vulcan hide doesn't freeze, don't you worry. But first we'll go over everything with the tricorder and medical scanner.”

The medical scanner. Yes, he thinks, that alone should probably be sufficient.

It only takes about a minute for McCoy to lose his cheer.

He re-examines the readouts as though trying to make sure the results are correct. Then he wanders over to the computer and pulls up Spock's file, a frown deepening over his features. He shoots quiet, troubled looks at Spock as he reads.

Finally, he turns to Spock and asks, “Commander, my records indicate that you're supposed to fall along Vulcan-normal standards to be at a healthy weight for your body type?”

“Approximately Vulcan-normal, yes. There is slight room for variation.”

Slight room,” McCoy says, like this is very important. “Well. It's hard to tell, since Vulcan mass is based more on density – you lot seem to think being thin is a matter of course – but you're very underweight. I'd want you to put on a good twelve kilograms to be in an acceptable range – and you could stand to gain more.”

Spock raps his fingers slowly against the biobed. “...I see.”

“S'not that surprising, I suppose,” McCoy says, putting down his padd. “Damn synthesizers and meal-plans on this ship are oriented toward human biology, not Vulcans. Even without adding your wacky genetic problems to the mix. Still, that's a lot of weight to be missing. You're anemic too. I'll give you a list of foods to help combat that, but given the synthesizer limitations you'll mostly have to work with supplements.”

“Of course.”

“And this,” McCoy adds, “Is why physicals are important, Commander. You'll feel much better once you're eating properly. Now don't you feel silly skiving off physicals for so long?”


 

It's – reassuring.

McCoy grumps and growls and stabs Spock with a dozen supplements. He warns Spock to eat more, to 'add a few pounds' and 'put on some fat'. But he doesn't seem concerned. He just sighs a little each time Spock gets weighed, waving him off with more warnings and more vague threats.

Jim always seems a bit amused.

“Come on, Bones,” he says one day after McCoy has jabbed an appalled finger at Spock's plate – which contains just a piece of bread and kaasa fruit. “He eats fine.”

It is 1800 hours ships-time. This is the first meal Spock has eaten all day.

“He damned well does not. And he's not going to gain weight eating like a bird, either.”

“I'll give you some of my extra weight,” Jim says. “We'll call it even.”

“If only,” McCoy says.

Spock tries to ignore both of them, but McCoy adds, “You know, it'd probably help if you tried adding a little meat to your diet. Fish, even. The human body - “

“As you so frequently remind me, I am not human, doctor.”

“You're part human.”

“Many humans are also vegetarians or vegans and are quite healthy.”

“Yeah. And you're not. So, speaking as a medical professional? You need some meat on those bones.”

“That's Spock's choice, Bones,” Jim chides.

McCoy raises his hands. “I'm not saying there's anything wrong with it – although I can't understand how anyone can go without meat, myself. But it would help - “

“And I shall give your medical opinion all the consideration it deserves,” says Spock serenely.

McCoy narrows his eyes. Jim grins.


 

McCoy's admonitions do a little, but not much. Spock is... still anemic, probably, but at least receiving supplements and therefore better off than before. It is noteworthy that the next time he eats consistently, and in any great quantity, is after a man who goes by the name Anton Karidian is revealed to be the genocidal dictator Kodos the Executioner, murderer of 4000 colonists on Tarsus IV twenty years ago. Kodos is an infamous figure. He is someone who should be dead. He is someone who, a very long time ago, nearly ended the life of a young James Kirk before it could truly begin.

(Lately, it seems as though Spock's eating habits have largely revolved around the well-being and disposition of James Kirk. He is unsure how to react to this realization.)

After Kodos is dead Jim and Spock play a quiet game of chess in the captain's quarters until, an hour in, the captain talks. He talks about the famine that Kodos used as a justification for murder. He talks about seeing his family die. He talks about the words he heard, the screaming, the blood that ran through the fields when the phasers ran out of power and the guards resorted to bludgeoning the last colonists to death.

Jim talks about the hunger.

“You don't know what it's like,” Jim says. “You can't know... We have it so good here in the Federation, and we don't always think about it. The synthesizers make things so easy. No one is poor. Well, people are I suppose – there are class differences, maybe, I know things aren't perfect – but children don't go hungry. No one goes hungry. The very thought is appalling. But you can – you can really go mad, without food.”

Spock listens and offers his presence. He does not offer his thoughts.

He does not like the sensation, low and twisting, that shivers down his spine.

The next day Spock is working on the labs, but he excuses himself for an early break and goes to the mess hall. He retrieves a lunch and retreats to his quarters to eat.

For some reason, he does not want to be seen.

He picks steadily through rice-covered vegetables covered with mun sauce. Roasted legumes follow. Terran cornbread. A high-protein nutbar...

He breathes uncomfortably against the weight of this food pressing against his abdomen when he finishes. He sits silently for an additional ten minutes, willing the pressure to leave, before reluctantly leaving to attend to his duties.

The pattern continues. Vegetarian lasagna, plomeek soup, cheesy pastries, fruit juice in place of water, a dozen platters of nutrient-cubes... Doctor McCoy seems to notice the sudden influx of food during meal-times and approves.

Spock simply hopes that the Doctor never thinks to actually check the computer-log of his meals in order to track Spock's 'progress'.

His head-aches ease. Stomach cramps become common. He feels sore and bloated.

“What gluttony, I told him,” he hears a passing Lieutenant tell her friend one day. “I told him, there are starving kids on the colony-planets, right? And he's shoving his face full of all this mass-produced food he doesn't even need.”

“And getting fatter and fatter,” the other woman answers.

“Right. Everyone is getting fat. Maybe we have too much food, you know? We don't appreciate it any more.”

Spock cannot think there is too much food; not when surplus alleviates suffering.

But it is good to be reminded that gluttony does not end the ills of others.

(His headaches return within a few weeks.)


 

On Omicron Ceti III, Spock is happy.

This happiness comes at a strange price. He ignores his duties – he ignores Jim. He abandons everything to flee with Leila Kalomi, for whom he holds no true affection. But she is appealing because to be with her is to let his responsibilities fall away. She loves him already, though he does not know why; he could stay with her blithely and blankly forever in the strange fog offered by the planet's intoxicating flowers.

He runs with her among the fields and they climb trees together. He would not usually be so undignified, but he does not care for dignity. They watch the clouds and kiss because she wants to and he wants to please her. She takes his hand in her own.

Later, they eat strawberries in the sun, and he savors the taste.


 

Jim, as both a person and a Starfleet captain, is someone willing to open his mind to different perspectives and cultures. It is this trait which makes him so well-liked among his crew and the various worlds the Enterprise has visited; it is also this trait which has contributed to the lauded success of the Enterprise's missions, allowing them to succeed when more narrow-minded officers might have ignored options or factors alien to their ways of thinking. Usually, Spock admires this trait about his captain.

Sometimes, though, it can be a nuisance.

“Captain,” he says, “I am certain it is not necessary to sample all of the local delicacies offered by the Janarians. In fact, Dr. McCoy - “

“Bones is no fun at all,” Jim says cheerfully. He accepts an odd, alarmingly neon-colored item of food from a happy server. Close up, it looks suspiciously bug-like. “I love this planet.”

Offering and accepting food is considered a necessary part of diplomacy on Janari VIII. The more food accepted, the happier the ties are implied to be between two negotiating parties. The Enterprise personnel have found this an unusual but pleasantly diverting task, and the locals, likewise, seem satisfied with Starfleet's offering.

Now the personnel attending the diplomatic banquet simply have to eat the food.

“Oh, this looks vegetarian – is this vegetarian?” Jim asks the next woman handing out food. “Thank you. It's a shame so many of these meals include meat,” he tells Spock, handing him what seems to be a sort of butter-drenched shish-kebab.

“...Indeed.”

“Do you think Bones' excuse of needing a medical exception to the food is working? He looks a bit ill.”

“I believe he has over-indulged.”

“Bones knows better than to drink at an official function – well, to drink too much, I mean.”

“I mean that he has over-indulged on a concoction resembling mint ice cream.”

“Ah. Well. That's possible.”

Spock inspects the item in his hand with some skepticism. The rich smell of it churns his stomach.

“Eat up,” says Jim.


 

In the year 1930 there are no synthesizers. Jim is the one to buy food, which means he is also the one to notice that Spock is not eating.

“Even old Earth had vegetarians,” he coaxes on day three, when this becomes too evident to ignore. “I'll make a vegetable soup. I'm not a bad cook.”

Spock doesn't look up from where he's working on building the processor. “I do not need to eat,” he says.

“Everyone needs to eat, Spock. Vulcans aren't that different.”

“Vulcans can go without food for extended periods of time. And given our limited funds, you will benefit from our resources more than myself.”

He immediately realizes that this is the wrong angle to take; Jim does not like the thought of anyone hurting themselves for his benefit. Jaw tightening, the captain says, “I'll make the soup. And I expect you to eat it.”

Spock sighs.

His nails chip and break when he tries to pry out a small metal wedge from a selection of connected aluminum plates. It's fairly temperate outside by human standards but not by Vulcan ones, and Spock is wearing his stolen hat even indoors. His fingertips are flushing gray from the cold. He keeps his back to Jim in the vain hope that the captain will not notice for just a little while longer.

The scent of onions, cut carrots, peppers, and potatoes fills the air. Spock sighs again and reaches for a screwdriver.

They are here voluntarily, but they do not know what to expect from this time and place – not really. They are in the past to find McCoy, who fell through the Guardian of Forever before them and altered history - but they do not know if McCoy is here already. They do not know when he might arrive.

It is Spock's duty to make the instruments that could tell them this by using only the crude materials available on twentieth-century earth, and his hands are becoming numb and slow.

Jim curses softly. Spock looks up and sees that a small rag has somehow caught on fire.

Well. At least he is not the only one having trouble in this century.

In a few minutes the meal is laid out and Spock is scooping out slow, shaking spoonfuls. Jim is not as good a cook as he thinks he is; the vegetables are still half-hard. Spock does not comment.

“Spock,” Jim says. “Your hand.”

“It is only the cold,” he answers.

The stew is luke-warm. He pokes at it without enthusiasm.

“I'll get another blanket,” Jim says worriedly.

Spock doesn't bother arguing.

It won't help.


 

Spock burns.

It starts low in his chest and migrates to his throat, his lungs, his fingers. His groin throbs and he doesn't understand. Air doesn't reach his brain; everything spins and no amount of meditation can turn the world to rights.

The fire in his veins burns everything he eats to ashes. At night food and yellow bile pulses up his throat like his own body is rebelling. He stops eating entirely – again, again – and still his body demands that he expel something that isn't there. His mouth tastes like desert sand.

He misses the desert.

It is almost a mockery when Nurse Chapel brings him plomeek soup, which is normally the one food that is a solace when he can stomach nothing else. He sends it spinning through the hall in a fit of rage. This alone is a testament to his state of mind. Something is very wrong.

It is pon far. It is pon far and he returns to Vulcan only with the support of Jim Kirk, and it is Jim Kirk he nearly kills.

Naturally, Jim doesn't even seem to care.

“It wasn't your fault,” he says gently – always gentle, always too gentle – when they are back on the ship. “It's biology. You said so yourself.”

It is one more betrayal on a growing list. Spock does not understand how Jim can fail to see this. He is certain, though, that one day Jim's capacity for forgiveness must run dry.

“You trust me too much,” Spock tells him at last, failing to properly articulate his thoughts. Jim laughs.

“I trust you more than anyone alive, Spock,” he says. “And it's fully deserved. Can't you return the favor and have a little faith in my judgment?”

Spock wishes it were so easy.


 

Given the alternative, it is almost a comfort that his parents do not want to speak to Spock.

Amanda smiles at him when Sarek is not watching, but Spock tries to ignore this. If she cared for him still, she would have contacted him in the 20-odd years since his departure from Vulcan. Amanda is an assertive woman; Sarek's influence is not so strong that she would not have defied his wishes to speak with her own son, had she truly wanted to do so.

(This does not seem to stop her from telling embarrassing anecdotes of his childhood to the rest of his crewmates during diplomatic dinners, naturally. Spock is unsurprised.)

After Spock saves Sarek's life through a dangerous blood donation, Amanda comes by his quarters to apologize to him for her harsh words the day before.

Amanda glances over the interior of his quarters, then dismisses the place almost immediately, as she has done before. “I'm sorry for yesterday. I know you don't understand my emotions,” she says ruefully. “But I do love both you and your father, and sometimes, that love can make me behave irrationally.”

Spock returns her look evenly, not giving an inch. “There is a greater disconnect between us than you would think, if you imagine that after thirty-seven years I have not begun to understand humans or emotions.” Perhaps cruelly, he adds, “I do not think you know the Vulcan mind as well as you might think.”

Amanda just looks bewildered. She steps forward; Spock steps back. Amanda steps forward again, wrapping her arms around Spock's stiff form.

“Maybe I don't understand,” she sighs. “But you don't make it easy, do you?”

Spock squares his shoulders stiffly and does not move.

Amanda pauses. She lowers her arms, running them over his frame. “ - You're so thin,” she sighs.

“Mother.”

The word is full of reproach. Amanda steps back.

“We would like to see you more, you know.”

“The circumstances surrounding my departure from Vulcan would seem to contradict your statement.”

“Sarek was hasty. He still loves you.”

Spock does not bother addressing this statement. “I have been disowned. If Sarek desires to renew communications, I would not oppose this.” It is a concession. “It does not change as much as you seem to think.”

“You're both so stubborn.”

Her words seem so absent, so automatically fond that Spock steps back. She acts like he is playing out the steps to some old dance, not facing a very real dilemma. “And you have never seen enough,” he regrets. Amanda frowns sharply. “ - Leave me.”

“Spock - “

“If you would.”

“You can't hide from everything,” she chides. But she goes, and the door slides quietly shut and leaves the room ringing with silence.

In her absence, his quarters smell faintly of Vulcan sand.


 

One of Spock's lieutenants has a problem.

She is fading before his eyes. He sees it. The signs start slow. He does not sit with her at meals; they do not share quarters. But he notices the fatigue in her movements, the way she touches her stomach and sighs. Her friends seem to not notice at first; then they begin to seem worried, too. But he does not think they understand.

The lieutenant's efficiency falls in a way that Spock's never has. Humans do not know their own limits. And of course, he reminds himself, she has a problem - where Spock does not.

Her name is Angela Rodriguez and when Spock takes her aside to ask, delicately, if there is anything she wants to discuss, she will not meet his eyes.

“No, Sir.” She says.

“Would you prefer to speak to Nurse Chapel?” he asks, just firmly enough to make it clear that this is not quite a suggestion.

Rodriguez folds her arms across her chest. Spock's delicate ears detect the familiar sounds of stomach acids gurgling, fizzing. She nods.

“I shall tell her to expect you.” Spock pauses a beat. “ - If you do desire to speak, my offer stands.”

She nods again, eyes full of resignation. But she hesitates when she turns to go, and before she leaves she says something that Spock finds strange:

“Thank you, Sir.”

(He wonders over these words longer than he would prefer to admit)


 

It has to fall apart eventually.

“58 days,” McCoy says*.

They are in Spock's quarters. Spock hears the unspoken words behind McCoy's desperation and anger. If this were not an emergency situation McCoy would have Spock in Sickbay already, forcibly if necessary. He might even be hooked up to intravenous tubes 'for his own good', because even modern medicine hasn't yet found a better method for forcing nutrients into a weakened body. Vulcans can survive without food for much longer than humans, but not in optimum condition. And certainly not forever.

“I am aware, Doctor. I am also aware that when we arrive at the planet we will have barely four hours to effect rescue. I believe those symbols are the key - “

“Well you won't read them by killing yourself! You've hardly eaten or slept for weeks!”

McCoy has clearly started to look over the meal-logs.

“Now if you don't let up, you're going to collapse.”

“I am not hungry Doctor. And under stress we Vulcans can do without sleep for weeks.”

McCoy sighs. He runs his scanner over Spock. “Well, your Vulcan metabolism is so low it can hardly be measured, and as for the pressure of that green ice-water you call blood - “

“My physical condition is not important, Doctor.” Spock keeps his eyes on the computer, staring at the by-now familiar structure which may hold the key to recovering Jim. Jim, who he has not seen in 58 days and counting. “That obelisk is.”

“My diagnosis is exhaustion,” says McCoy, who doesn't want to listen. “Brought on from overworking – and guilt. You're blaming yourself for crippling this ship just as we've blamed you.”

Of course he blames himself. It is his foolish command-decision which failed to destroy the asteroid headed toward the planet toward which they are currently traveling; it is his decision which left Jim marooned on the same planet, alone, possibly in grave danger or dead.

Spock does not see what relevance this has to his own health.

“Well we were wrong. So are you. You made a command decision; Jim would have done the same. My prescription is rest. Now, do I have to call the security guards to enforce it?”

Silently, Spock exhales. He turns away without answering and retreats deeper into his quarters. McCoy pauses uncertainly; then, apparently taking this as a concession, he leaves Spock alone.

Spock lays flat on his bed for a moment. He waits to hear the swishing sound of his door closing behind McCoy. After a minute he stands back up. The world shifts uncomfortably.

He slowly walks over to his chair, sits down, and begins examining the obelisk again.

When Jim has finally returned and the asteroid has been deflected Spock is troubled on multiple accounts. It disturbs him that it took him so long to realize that musical notes were the key to opening the obelisk. He is also troubled by the captain.

Captain Kirk has lived with another society for several months. He integrated fully into their society due to amnesia. He gained a wife who became pregnant; now she is dead.

Not even a Vulcan would be unaffected by such a thing.

But Jim wants to return to his post as though nothing has happened, and McCoy's evaluations – which Spock has never trusted, anyway – all declare him fit.

Spock tries to maintain the delicate balance between providing space while still offering a supportive presence. On Jim's third day back he convinces the man to agree to a chess match in Spock's quarters, discerning that Jim only agrees in an attempt to appear as though everything is normal.

“So what have I missed?” Jim asks brightly, as though he's been on vacation.

In truth, Spock doesn't have much to say. He has primarily spent the past two months examining the obelisk and the asteroid for ways to help Jim. “Deck 14 has flooded recently, but repairs are being effected and should be complete within two days,” he says slowly. “Ensign Teevo has been transferred to Engineering. Lieutenant Marshalls is pregnant - “

Jim enjoys hearing about his crew, and the mundane news relaxes him. After two matches he is reclining back against his seat and fiddling with a pawn that has been taken off the board.

This is when he says: “I really did love her.”

“I would expect nothing else,” Spock responds.

Jim glances at him sharply; but Spock means it. Jim is never anything less than sincere in his affections. After a moment, the defensiveness fades from the captain's posture. “None of it was her fault,” he says. “And if I hadn't gone to that planet - “

“If not for our interference, the entire planet would be destroyed – not just Miramanee.” Saying her name makes Jim wince. “It is illogical to think in terms of what could have been, Captain.”

“I know. I know that. But I'm just human, aren't I?”

Jim looks like he's about to add something, but he hesitates over the words. Spock waits, the board between them.

The atmosphere is heavy but restful. Perhaps too restful. As Spock waits for Jim to speak the dim lights in his quarters seem to glimmer off the red wall-hangings. The room smells pleasantly of incense and tea. He hears distant sounds he can't quite make out -

Jim is suddenly very close. Spock jolts upright, and Jim blinks. “Did you fall asleep?” he asks, astonished.

It would seem so. Spock is mortified to have essentially abandoned the captain when the purpose of the evening was to provide support, but Jim seems more bemused than upset. “You must be exhausted,” he says. He waves Spock down when the Vulcan moves to stand, already putting aside the chess pieces with deft motions.

“I apologize, Sir - “

Jim gives him a smile full of fondness. “Don't be sorry,” he says. “I – I was going to lose her anyway, Spock. But you helped me remember the Enterprise. And I'm glad to be here – I'm glad to have you.”

Jim reaches down and brushes a hand along Spock's shoulder, curling it so that his palm rests briefly against the Vulcan's nape. The touch feels cool against the softness of his skin.

“Go get some sleep, Spock,” he says kindly.

And Spock apparently obeys, because when he wakes before shift the next morning he's curled on his own bed, stretched out and more relaxed than he has been in two months.

Unfortunately, this means he is still exhausted.


 

Spock wakes each morning after being roused by his own internal clock. After his chess game with Jim he stirs so slowly that he is almost late for his shift.

It is not a precipitous start.

His head pounds and no amount of self-discipline can push away the pain. He feels light and stretched, almost weightless. When Spock reaches the bridge and stares out at the view-screen across the room he seems to gain a dual perspective, as though he is looking down on himself from above for just a brief moment. It is a disconcerting sensation.

Spock swallows past the dryness in his throat and slowly walks to his station.

He relieves the lieutenant standing there – he does not see who it is – and takes his seat.

An indeterminate amount of time later a voice says, “Commander?”

Spock looks up. If asked, he could not have said what he was doing or for how long; but his hands have been moving over his station in slow, even movements. Jim is staring at him quizzically. “I said, can you scan the asteroid cluster ahead of us?”

Spock stands and realizes belatedly that he should answer. “Yes, Sir,” he mutters somewhat quietly. Jim frowns but settles for watching him as Spock turns toward the scanner.

His feet shift under him. He bends down to look into the scanner and sees a mosaic of black and gold. He breathes -

There are arms bracing his shoulders. A pain radiating up from his elbow. Spock stares forward blankly, his head falling back, and realizes he is looking at Sulu in the captain's chair.

Next to him, Jim leans down and starts pulling Spock to his feet – he's not sure when he fell to the floor.

“Are you alright?”

His heart is beating in his ears. It flutters fast against his side. Jim pushes Spock back against his chair and the Vulcan scrabbles for a purchase, trying to keep his balance.

He realizes that he hasn't answered a minute later when Jim looks even more worried and turns his head. “Bones,” Jim is saying – though surely Dr. McCoy can't have made it to the bridge, not already.

McCoy... sighs. “I did warn him,” the man grumbles.

Spock wishes they would stop moving him.

“Shift your legs, Spock, come on - “


 

When Spock wakes up – properly, this time – he's greeted by the unfortunately familiar beeping of a Sickbay monitor pulsing above his head.

“You know, Spock, there's a reason I'm the medical doctor on board – believe it or not.”

Spock breathes out and tilts his head. Jim is frowning at McCoy, who is glaring down at Spock with his arms crossed. “Bones - “ Jim starts quietly.

“He brought this one on himself. Two months!” McCoy waves a hypospray threateningly through the air. “You're off-duty for the next four days, Spock. At least. And if you do anything but sleep and eat during that time, I'm going to extend that – are you even understanding me right now?”

Spock blinks blearily, but the feeling is starting to return to his limbs. He nods.

Jim's frown is deepening. “Two months?”

Spock sits up as McCoy turns to the captain. “Your first officer barely ate or slept the whole time you were gone,” he sighs. “I should have done more about it, but, well... although, I don't know why you're collapsing now, Spock. You've been back a few days, haven't you had a chance to rest?”

“Evidently, I will have the opportunity now,” Spock says mildly.

McCoy narrows his eyes.

“Why weren't you sleeping?” asks Jim slowly. He's doubtlessly remembering the night before.

“Gee, I wonder,” McCoy mutters. “S'not like he was worried or anything...”

“It is possible,” Spock says, “that in my attempts to understand the writing on the obelisk and determine how to deflect the meteor I... accidentally neglected my health.”

“Accidentally,” McCoy repeats. “Because it's not like I was right there, telling you to get some rest - “

“Yes, thank you, Doctor - “

“That's enough,” Jim interjects. “Whatever the reason, I don't want to see you going near anything related to work until Dr. McCoy clears you.” The doctor in question seems particularly pleased with this decision. “And I don't want to hear about anything like this happening again – you should never need to work yourself to exhaustion, and certainly not on my behalf.”

Spock thinks this is a ridiculous thing to say. What better cause could there be?

“I'll talk to you tomorrow,” Jim adds. “Feel better.”

After the captain leaves, McCoy turns back to Spock.

“Now,” he says. “Let's have a little talk about ignoring our doctor's orders...”


 

Spock is released from Sickbay a day later under strict orders to do absolutely nothing but rest and eat frequently. “You can meditate too,” says McCoy generously when Spock is clearly left floundering at these instructions.

The Vulcan is not appeased.

He eats a bowl of soup at night that sits in his stomach like a solid stone, bubbling and gurgling when he moves. It's a relief to fall asleep, and he sleeps for a long time.

The next day he meditates, sleeps some more, and is relieved at around 1900 to be visited by Captain Kirk. The man is holding a chess board and a rueful grin.

“I know you'll be stir-crazy by now,” he says. “ - I won't tell Bones if you won't.”

Jim leaves after a few hours, but the distraction is pleasant. Spock rests easier, anyway, and even the light ache in his temples doesn't seem so horrible.


 

Spock reports to Sickbay after four days to be cleared for duties – probably light duties, taking into account McCoy's paranoia, but given the alternative Spock is willing to take whatever concessions he can find.

However, McCoy is acting strange when Spock arrives. He asks the Vulcan to enter the private examination room and spends a minute fiddling with the computer – the monitor turned away - before turning to Spock and saying flatly, “So. I suppose you're here because you think you're fit for duty.”

McCoy's choice of phrase is... interesting. “Yes,” Spock replies guardedly.

McCoy comes to his side with a medical tricorder; whatever it shows him makes his lips thin. “You've rested well,” he says. “I guess that means you're only trying to selectively drive me crazy, Spock.”

“You will have to clarify, Doctor.”

And McCoy says the words Spock has been unconsciously expecting for years:

“I've been monitoring your caloric intake, Spock.”

Spock tries to answer and fails utterly.

Apparently not noticing the Vulcan's suddenly stiff posture, McCoy continues. “I just wanted to make sure you actually listened and ate properly – not to mention I've had my suspicions that you weren't eating very well before this whole mess. We've had that talk, and you're still underweight. I can understand you might have slept through a few meals, but according to the logs all you've gotten from the synthesizers in the last four days is...” McCoy checks. “Water, a bowl of plomeek soup, kaasa juice, and some nutrient-cubes.” McCoy pauses a beat. “ - The nutrient cubes were from this morning.”

Spock consciously quells the rapid beating of his traitorous heart. He is calm. Yet somehow, the only thing he can think to say is: “I fail to see your point, Doctor.”

McCoy's face steadily reddens. “Do you?” he asks slowly. “Very well, Mr. Spock. You haven't put away enough food to satisfy a tribble, is what I'm saying. A Vulcan male of your age should easily be consuming at least 2700 calories a day. Now, your body is a lot more efficient than in humans with converting vegetable matter and whatnot, but I refuse to believe plomeek soup is quite that powerful.”

“Indeed not,” Spock agrees, “However, any physician would recognize that after periods of extended fasting it would be unwise to quickly re-introduce large amounts of food - “

“Your body can handle it fine,” McCoy says flatly. “You can handle more than this, at any rate. And what about your Vulcan voodoo? Can't you control your metabolism, stop your body from rejecting what you eat?” McCoy taps the console in front of him. “I want to see improvement.”

“That should not prove difficult,” Spock lies.

McCoy appraises him. “ - Good,” he says at last. “ - I'll keep monitoring the log. You can go on light duty – but nothing more until you get some real food in you.”

Spock feels nauseous at the thought.

He nods again.

“Good,” McCoy repeats. “Then get out of here and eat something, for god's sake.”

And the first day, Spock actually listens. Desperation, if nothing else, is a beneficial form of motivation. He eats a cucumber sandwich, lentil soup, more nutrient cubes, Terran juice, oat-bars, cheese-covered garlic bread drizzled with tomato sauce -

He is not ill. McCoy is right; Spock knows how to force his body to accept the sudden increase in calories without rebelling. But the weight sits in him heavily.

The next day Spock is given leave to go back on regular duty and Jim invites him to lunch, but Spock just – can't.

He gets a perfectly attractive asparagus and goat-cheese sandwich, then stares at it dubiously as Jim talks.

“Captain Salehi thinks the stalemate has to end soon,” Jim is saying. “Mind you, she was also working in that section of space without any contact with the brass for three months. I think she's forgotten just how ridiculous bureaucracy can be, lucky woman - “

“Perhaps you do Command a disservice,” Spock murmurs. “Surely they are more sensible than - “

“No, I really don't think so,” Jim says ruefully. “Oh, we have some good people there, but as a collective agency the admiralty twiddles their thumbs far too long over anything important – though I suppose that's the complaint anywhere – are you going to eat that, or just analyze it, Spock?”

Spock starts. A tomato is sliding slowly but steadily out of his sandwich, pulled along by the inexorable force of gravity. “ - I believe I am finished,” he says, pushing away the tray.

Jim eyes the untouched meal, amused. “I wouldn't want to eat that, either,” he says. “Well, alright. Let's stop by engineering first – Scotty said something about showing off an update for the processing computers.”

And this is when something occurs to Spock:

Waste is illogical, but waste on a starship is recycled.

He is not lying if Dr. McCoy never asks any questions.


 

Dr. McCoy actually seems pleased the next time they talk, a state of emotion which manifests itself in the fact that he only calls Spock a “skinny green beanpole” in place of the usual insults.

No reference is made to Spock's eating habits, or lack thereof.

A week later finds Spock in rec room 3 with Lieutenant Uhura, his ka'athyra resting in his lap. Like the rest of the Alpha-shift bridge crew his sudden collapse nearly two weeks ago alarmed her, and she seems reassured to see him relaxing.

Uhura watches his fingers flow along an old, familiar pattern on the strings. She's wearing a very tiny smile. “Oh, that's lovely Mr. Spock,” she says. “I think I have it.”

Spock hands her the harp and watches her motions, gently correcting a few minor errors. She gets a few scattered claps from crewmembers around the room when she finishes the piece, which makes the lieutenant laugh.

“Excellent progress,” Spock says, because it is true, and because humans benefit from praise. “Would you like to continue?”

“No, no. My fingers are going to get sore, and I promised to meet Janice in an hour anyway – we're going to be painting.” She smiles. “But thank you for the lesson.”

“It was an enjoyable exercise,” he says courteously.

Uhura checks the chrono. “Do you want to join me for dinner?”

They sit at a corner table and Uhura tells him about her latest translation project – the universal translator isn't properly grasping the intricacies of rank and familial relations among Tevarians. “Talking to a person of a higher class, you could be saying hello,” she says. “The same phrase to your next-door neighbor, you'd be challenging them to a formal legal debate – there are entirely different dialects between classes - “ and Uhura neatly picks apart a reconstituted chicken breast and a side of cheese-covered asparagus. Spock prods at his nutrient cubes but does not eat them, listening closely as she talks.

“ - and it's interesting, that a society so focused on grouping people into labels doesn't have a gendered language,” she adds.

“A somewhat human-centric notion. You are aware that many non-human languages lack that quality - “

“Yes, yes, but I'm referring specifically to their tendency to lump people into categories – they even have specific pronouns and reflexives which can differ depending on what region a person seems to be from, what color they're wearing, height, so it just seems strange... Oh, I'm sorry Sir, I need to get ready to meet Janice - ”

Spock inclines his head, shifting back as Uhura moves to take her tray to the recycler. He waits until she has left. There are few people in the rec room. He glances down at his full platter, picks it up, then stands. He disposes of it just as Uhura had done moments before and turns to exit.

McCoy is lounging near the entrance of the rec room, arms folded. “Now, don't you think you're a sly one?” he asks.


 

McCoy takes him to Sickbay with an air that is somewhere between exasperated and self-satisfied – as though he has known that Spock was playing tricks, and is just glad to be able to call him out on it. He bustles Spock into the same private room as before and the Vulcan sags onto the open biobed, resigned.

“I don't know how you think any of this is logical,” McCoy adds. “Wasting both our time, lying like this.”

“I have not lied, merely - “

“Don't even pull that 'misdirection' nonsense with me.” McCoy snorts. “Now, I get that those two months must have been unpleasant, but if you're having problems eating now we need to work to get you back onto a proper schedule – not avoid the problem entirely. Good god, man, do you want to starve?”

Spock squares his shoulders. “Doctor - “

“Computer, pull up Commander Spock's synthesizer logs for the past six months.”

Spock abruptly lunges to his feet. “I must protest,” he snaps.

McCoy seems honestly surprised. “We can use the early months as a baseline,” he says. “Although this might be good time to adjust your diet, and - “

McCoy looks at the screen. His voice trails off.

“...Okay,” McCoy says. “Give me a moment.”

Spock waits. McCoy examines the monitor for a moment, then pinches the bridge of his nose. Exhales. “It wasn't just the two months, was it?”

The doctor's tone isn't angry. In fact he sounds carefully calm, which is almost more unnerving when coming from this over-emotional human. Spock is immediately wary.

He could say that his eating habits during the two-month period of Captain Kirk's absence were, in fact, significantly worse than the norm – but this is only a matter of statistics, percentages, relativity. Subtracting nothing from nothing does not leave much in remainder.

Spock carefully keeps his tone even. “...I am sure you have reached your own conclusions, Doctor.”

“How long has this been going on?”

Spock does not even pretend to misunderstand. “To one degree or another, twenty-two years.”

McCoy looks like he has been dealt a physical blow, which seems like something of an overreaction to Spock. After a beat the physician says, “I can't believe I missed this.”

“It did not raise my opinion of your medical proficiency,” Spock says dryly.

“See, you're not going to start an argument with me,” says McCoy. “You're trying to piss me off, and it's working. But that's not going to get you out of this conversation.”

Spock looks away.

“You realize I can't just – let this go.”

“I have managed myself for this long - “

“You fainted,” says McCoy flatly. “Just weeks ago, you fainted. If you call that 'managing' anything, than you're more deluded than I thought.”

Spock clasps his hands and returns McCoy's look silently.

After a moment, McCoy releases his breath in a gust of air. “Sorry,” he says. And he sounds it. “Sorry, I just – that was unprofessional.”

“Perhaps not untrue.”

“You're not deluded.”

“You would not have said it if you did not - “

“Shut up and let me be nice,” McCoy snaps, and then immediately rubs a hand over his face. He is clearly not adept at being polite to Spock.

Sighing, McCoy decides to continue. “Alright. Listen. This is what's going to happen. I have to put you under monitoring to make sure your health doesn't deteriorate – that's non-negotiable if you want to stay on the Enterprise, if you want to prove you can function as an officer. That means weekly visits, weekly tests - “

“I understand.”

“What I'm not going to do,” McCoy says, “is actually make you eat a certain amount per day.”

This, Spock has not expected.

“There's a certain line of thought that forcing people to conform to healthy standards is counterproductive – and I tend to agree. If you'll alright with it I'd like to bring in Dr. M'Benga later, and preferably confer with a Vulcan nutritionist long-distance to make a plan – but you can choose whether to follow it or not.”

(Spock is somewhat suspicious.)

“You can go at your own pace.” McCoy says. “There just needs to be... some sort of consistent improvement, some sort of sign you're working on changing...” McCoy's eyes flicker to the computer screen again. “ - this.”

It can't be so simple.

“You'll need to talk to someone. That's regulation, too. It can be me, M'Benga, or we can find someone else – we don't have anyone who specializes in this issue, or Vulcan psychology, but if you want - “

“Yourself. If I must.”

McCoy looks surprised. Relieved. “Okay, I – are you alright?”

“Adequate,” says Spock flatly.

He mostly wants to leave. Meditate, preferably. His skin is itching. His temples are pounding and in any other circumstances he might even be tempted to find something to eat simply in an effort to sate the pain. Right now, he doesn't think he could stomach it.

“Are we finished?” he asks, rising from the biobed.

“There's one more thing to discuss,” McCoy adds.

Spock looks at the doctor.

“Jim.”

“...I do not see that the captain needs to be involved in - “

“Regulations state,” McCoy says abruptly, “That you're entitled to your medical confidentiality unless something endangers a mission, dramatically affects your job, or you're putting yourself at risk. And I know you and Jim don't normally mind everything being shared, but I assume you want this kept quiet.”

The relief is almost overwhelming.

“So. To clarify: are you a danger to yourself?”

“No.”

McCoy looks at him. “ - And I'm going to take your word on that,” he says. “For now. If that changes, I'll have to make a report, but for the moment all details are staying in your medical file.”

“I understand.”

“And listen, though,” McCoy adds. His voice is almost gentle. “You could tell him yourself, you know – it's good to have people helping you. And lord knows I can't guess what's in your head right now, but you don't have a thing to be ashamed about. The prevalence of anorexia nervosa - “

“Thank you, Doctor McCoy,” says Spock firmly. He clasps his hands behind his back. “If that is all?”

McCoy works his jaw. “Sure,” he says. “For now.”

Spock nods his head and exits as fast as he dares.


 

The Enterprise is scheduled to ferry the Andorian ambassador, Shras, to Starbase 8 for diplomatic talks on the way to their next assignment. No one on the Enterprise is ever particularly pleased to have a diplomat aboard, though they try to hide this, but Shras – with laconic bluntness – notes their discomfort immediately.

“I do love the human tendency to lie about your feelings,” he tells Kirk when he comes to the bridge after beaming aboard. His voice is very soft, almost gentle. “You all try so very hard to be polite, even when you want me to be anywhere but here.”

Jim smiles pleasantly. “I would rather have you here where I can watch you, Ambassador; and I wouldn't dare be rude to one of your...” he pauses pointedly. “... importance.”

Shras huffs out a breath, his antennae flicking forward. He seems both amused and disappointed; Andorians come second only to Tellarites in appreciating a fight. He understands quite well what Kirk is saying, but he wants the man to either squirm or challenge him. Not deflect.

Dismissing the captain as an unappreciative opponent, he rounds the bridge slowly and examines the others. His eyes sweep over Sulu and then linger on Ensign Chekov, who is eyeing him with open distrust. The expression prompts Shras to tilt back his head, squinting his eyes thoughtfully in a gesture that looks perfectly innocuous to humans and completely rude to Andorians.

Chekov, of course, doesn't notice the display and turns back to his console with a sniff.

Spock is just wondering what criteria is used in selecting diplomats – for, surely, a skill in actual diplomacy does not seem to be a prized trait among the many officials he has met – when Shras turns to his side of the bridge. A swift, speculative glance is given to Lieutenant Uhura.

Except he recalls that Lieutenant Uhura helped the ambassadorial staff mediate with the engineers regarding environmental issues in their quarters upon their arrival, which means -

“Commander Spock,” Shras greets. “I regret that we did not have the opportunity to speak more during my last visit to the Enterprise. I trust your father is well?”

“He has largely recovered from his medical issues. Dr. McCoy managed to restore him to health.”

“I have worked with Sarek of Vulcan several times. He has never mentioned you before our last meeting.”

“My father is a private person.”

“Most Vulcans are,” Shras agrees blandly. “Dispassionate... cold, even.”

The irony of the statement cannot be lost on anyone. Spock raises an eyebrow even as he carefully adjusts his console, which gives him an excuse not to look at Shras.

“Some might say so.”

“You displayed some interesting behavior during my own visit, however,” says Shras pleasantly. “Perfectly laudable. I have never seen such... devotion to family in a Vulcan. Such loyalty, such care. If only all Vulcan could hold such evidence of passionate emotions, my people would have much less trouble dealing with you.”

There is awkward silence over the bridge; no one, not even Shras, is unaware of the insult being offered here. Spock glances upward. The Andorian is smiling politely.

“I am sure all races could benefit from finding commonalities and working to understand each other,” he says blandly.

Shras inclines his head in apparent agreement, eyes glinting.

“Why don't I show you the rest of the ship, Ambassador?” Jim asks lightly.

“It would be my pleasure, Captain.”

The Andorian contingent does not cause as many waves as feared over the next few days, though Spock has to fend off a few curious aides who try and wander into restricted sections of the science labs. He joins Jim and McCoy for dinner three days later in rec room three and the captain comments, “I'll be glad to see the back of them, but Shras could be worse, as politicians go. In fact he's almost fun.”

“Fun?”

“Oh, you have to be careful. Say one offensive thing – and he wants you to say something offensive, you know – and he'll jump. Verbal sparring. But at least he's not outright unruly, like the Tellarite group was last year – or so devious you can't tell what he's doing.”

“I would not recommend mentioning that last observation to the Ambassador, Captain,” Spock says. “He may take it as a challenge.”

Jim nods agreeably and stabs his fork into his baked potato with relish. Cheese and sour-cream drips off the side.

Dr. McCoy opens his mouth, glances at Spock, and then says nothing.

Spock notices, of course. He has been carefully pushing around his rice and fried vegetables for the better part of twenty minutes. He has eaten three carrots, a tiny branch of broccoli, and a small portion of rice. Jim doesn't seem to have noticed.

McCoy keeps looking at him.

The next bite contains a burst of flavor - a soft mushroom and several nuts. The sour slide of oil-slick rice running down his throat makes Spock swallow hard. Jim adds, “Where are they now, anyway?”

“I believe Shras mentioned that he desired a closer tour of the Engineering deck.”

“Ah. Scotty will love that, I'm sure.”

“Indeed.”

McCoy is glancing at Spock's plate now. Spock is waiting for the habitual words; You don't eat enough, or maybe, watching you eat is like looking at paint dry, or, being a vegetarian doesn't mean eating like a rabbit, Spock – you need to get your weight up! Even, take a hint from Jim, Spock, put on a few pounds -

But McCoy says nothing. He just turns to Jim, taking a casual sip of his cranberry juice. “Five credits that Shras insults the Enterprise and Scotty decks him.”

Jim stills, then heaves a long sigh and looks mournfully at his plate.

McCoy snickers.

“I'm sure he - “ Jim starts, then gives up as even Spock raises a skeptical eyebrow. “ - I'll go distract them,” he says, defeated, and stands to leave, taking his tray with him.

As Jim goes Spock considers leaving as well. He has found it useful, in social-dining situations, to excuse himself when someone else has already left; his own leaving usually seems less notable, and in any case, he and Dr. McCoy rarely have anything to discuss together.

But Dr. McCoy is already turning to Spock.

“So Ensign Syed came to me with his hand covered in blisters,” he says. “What kind of safety protocols are you teaching your staff, anyway? That's the third time this week I've had someone from the Sciences down there for a minor accident.”

“Some human error is unavoidable - “

“Oh, so it's human error, suddenly - “

“It is not my fault that this language is ethnocentric to the point of automatically assigning blame to humans - “

McCoy's half-hearted complaints are natural enough that time passes easily. The doctor wants to know Spock's opinion on a medical article he's just read – (the doctor waits to hear Spock's thoughts before offering his own, as usual, making Spock suspect that McCoy just wants to be belligerent by disagreeing) – and they sit debating as crewmen flow in and out of the room.

Over an hour later, McCoy smiles and says he needs to go get some work done. Spock nods picks up his tray to exit as well.

Nearly two-thirds of the rice and vegetables are gone. Spock pauses for a moment.

He makes his way back to his quarters very slowly, and thinks.


 

It is not, he reminds himself later, a bad thing that Dr. McCoy was able to distract him into acting in a way that is – technically speaking – beneficial to his own health. Except Spock stills feels tricked, somehow.

He decides ultimately that it is more the violation of privacy he contests; he would rather that McCoy should have no reason to intervene on Spock's behalf in the first place. He would prefer that neither McCoy, nor anyone else, be privy to Spock's problem.

Nevertheless, it is illogical to deny what is, in fact, true.

As McCoy already knows of Spock's unhealthy relationship with food, and in fact has access to the synthesizer logs from the duration of his time on the Enterprise due to his status as Chief Medical Officer, there is little use in trying to ignore reality. Spock must brace himself for the possible ramifications of this knowledge – the potential that Dr. McCoy will refuse to accept his reluctance to eat, or somehow signal his ongoing dysfunction to the rest of the crew.

As of yet, that has not happened – but Spock must remain careful.

He meditates to restore his own equilibrium; and, before he sleeps, he recalls that in less than seventeen hours he is due to meet Dr. McCoy for their first appointment to check his 'progress' and discuss his thoughts.

He slips into sleep doing his very best to feel nothing at all.


 

Spock does not have to talk to Dr. M'Benga, which is a relief. He is familiar with the other physician of the Enterprise, who after all interned on Vulcan and is therefore involved with many of Spock's treatments, but he does not particularly want to know how McCoy explained this matter.

Dr. McCoy gives him a chart and lays things out:

“This is a recommended meal plan based on your physiology. There's a separate section with the minimum I'd like to see from you in the next few weeks; I don't expect improvement immediately, but it's something to work toward.”

Spock inclines his head.

“Aside from that,” McCoy continues, “There will be a cursory medical check each week – to make sure you're doing better, or at least not worse – and I'd like to talk for, oh, I think half an hour after. An hour, if you feel like managing it.”

“...I see.”

“Do you?” McCoy seems oddly amused. “And what exactly do you think I mean to accomplish with these talks?”

“I presume they are meant to approximate therapy,” he says, putting some distaste into the last word.

“Approximate?”

“I am certain I do not have to tell you that most forms of therapy are ineffective on Vulcans.” Spock pauses. “To my knowledge, the most commons forms of talk-therapy to treat this particular problem would be either interpersonal therapy or cognitive behavioral therapy.”

McCoy snorts delicately. “Well, it has to be clear which one I'd use.”

Spock raises an eyebrow.

“Interpersonal therapy deals with identifying and controlling your emotions and actions, Spock,” McCoy says. “If thirty-seven years as a Vulcan hasn't taught you that, I can't help you. Now, if your logic is faulty, that's another matter entirely.”

Spock blinks slowly. At first he isn't certain he has heard correctly. “...You mean to instruct me in logic?”

“I mean to help you understand why you're coming to the wrong conclusions,” McCoy drawls. “Because, see, I figure if you're convincing yourself it's a decent idea to starve, you've decided there's some logical rationale behind it all. I'm going to prove you're wrong. Nice, orderly debate, Mr. Spock. All you have to do is show up and talk.”

“My logic is not in error,” Spock says, still ruffled.

“Well,” McCoy says, eyes glinting. “We'll see, won't we?”


 

At Starbase 8 there is a three-day layover while supplies are shuttled around and the Enterprise undergoes repairs in the docking bay.

Jim and Spock escort Ambassador Shras to the transporter room. As he prepares to beam down he turns to them and says, “If you will be on the station in the near future, please consider yourself invited to join me for a formal dinner, Commander – oh, and you as well, Captain.”

Captain Kirk just smiles pleasantly. Spock recalls that Andorian formal dinners include seven courses. “Thank you, Ambassador,” he says. “We shall remember your offer.”

Jim rolls his eyes once the ambassador has gone. “Yes, I'll remember, you bet,” he mutters. Near the transporter console Scotty snorts. “That aside, we have an actual offer to have dinner with the head of the base, Commodore Ceder. I'd suggest we accept that, at least.” He grimaces a bit.

“And good luck, Sir,” says Scotty with a cheerful grin. “Better you than me.”

Jim sighs.

The two do, in fact, attend dinner with Commodore Ceder later that night. The uncomfortable press of his dress-blues could not fail to remind Spock of the formality of the occasion even if the unnecessarily opulent surroundings had failed to do so. The hall the Commodore sits them in is clearly suited for much larger gatherings, though aside from himself and the captain the Commodore has also invited four other prominent members of the station – none of whom, Spock notes, seem very enthused to be there.

At least he and Jim are pretending.

“Bet this looks nice after three years of ship-food, Jim,” says Ceder cheerfully. The captain had mentioned earlier that they knew each other on the USS Farragut.

“Sure, Adam. Do you have your own cooks?” It's a relevant question, but probably not for the reasons Ceder thinks.

“Two of them,” is the quick reply.

Spock immediately senses Jim's opinion of the man fall a notch further.

Anticipating a dull evening already, Spock turns his attention to the food in question.

He immediately raises an eyebrow, folds his hands over his lap, and says, “I've noticed the number of Starfleet personnel for this base is also unusual.”

“Oh, yes, we're not particularly close to anything interesting scientifically speaking, but a lot of ships stop here for refueling and trade, so our security...”

They let Ceder talk – he seems to enjoy talking – but Jim frowns after awhile, glancing at Spock. At the end of Ceder's monologue he cuts in and asks, “I don't suppose you would have a synthesizer around here?”

Ceder actually looks offended. “A synthesizer? Are you saying my cooks didn't do their jobs properly? Or - “

“Or a vegetarian option,” Jim adds dryly, and tilts his head toward Spock.

Ceder pauses, understands, and then settles for looking flustered. “I – didn't think about – my apologies, Commander - “

“Quite alright.”

Jim looks at him with exasperation. “No, it's not,” he says.

“I am not hungry,” Spock dismisses.

“Oh, excellent,” says Ceder blithely. Jim pauses to look at him incredulously. Even the other, mostly silent guests seem discomfited. “Anyway, after dinner you should see this concert - “

“I think we need to leave,” says Jim. “It was... very nice to see you, Commodore. Spock?”

Spock rises smoothly at the implied order in Jim's tone, ignoring the Commodore's evident confusion. Jim backs out with plenty of large smiles for everyone, none of which reach his eyes, and only drops the facade once he reaches the door. He seems plainly irritated.

“Really, Captain,” Spock begins.

“If you're going to tell me you didn't need to eat, please don't. Really.”

Spock wisely says nothing.

They return to the ship early and Jim suggests getting an actual meal, “since ours was disturbed.” They meet Dr. McCoy after retrieving their food, who is evidently surprised to see them.

“Thought you were down at the base, having a fancy dinner with the Commodore.”

“Spock didn't eat,” say Jim tersely.

The anger in his tone makes McCoy pause with his glass half-way to his mouth, eyes flicking between them. “So you just found out about,” he begins.

“The Commodore neglected to take my dietary preferences into account,” says Spock smoothly.

“...Oh.”

Jim stabs at his slab of roast with undue irritation.

Exchanging glances, McCoy and Spock mutely agree to leave him to it.


 

A few weeks pass. The sessions go as McCoy says – less with an atmosphere of clinical analysis, as Spock had expected, and more with one of spirited debate.

And, for Spock and McCoy, 'spirited debate' is really just a euphemism for arguing.

“A schedule is important,” McCoy will insist, “because it lets you remember when to eat every day - “

“As a Vulcan I have no issue with my memory, as humans do - “

Neither of them point out that Spock has skipped and 'forgotten' many, many meals. “But this way nothing unexpected can stop you from eating, because if you take the time to plan around meals...”

Setting aside time for meals every day, McCoy says, is important. Getting food from the synthesizer and making an 'effort' to eat – even if it doesn't work, even if he stares blankly at the meal and then discards it later – is also important. It gives him a chance to consume food that he would not have if he were to sit in his quarters; it puts him in the habit of thinking about meals passively, without being necessarily in a stressful situation – as he always is when he tries to hide his behavior during meals with others – and even if none of this works, McCoy stresses, “a trial run hurts nothing, Spock. Isn't it only logical to try out my ideas? For a month, Spock. Give it a month and see if you don't feel better.”

So Spock grudgingly agrees. At set meal-times he takes food to his quarters, completes his work on a padd, and discards the food.

Usually.

Four weeks later he is sincerely surprised when McCoy is able to gloat quietly and show him the slight upward tilt on his weight-chart. With his eidetic memory he carefully considers the meals he has been eating recently; he has, in fact, been consuming more.

Spock graciously refrains from denigrating McCoy's intelligence for a full fifteen minutes into their usual debate.


 

“Commander Spock,” Ensign Chekov calls, “You will tell Sulu he is wrong, yes?”

Spock pauses from where he is about to leave the botany lab. Ensign Chekov is standing next to Lieutenant Sulu and waving around a bowl of some viscous red liquid. Neither are scheduled for duty at the moment, so they are probably here for one of Mr. Sulu's pet projects.

“Don't bring him into this,” says Sulu with exasperation.

“Vulcans should know this,” Chekov insists.

“Know what, Ensign?” Spock asks with a raised eyebrow.

Kissel,” Chekov says. “Russian recipe.”

“Fruit soup,” Sulu says. “With potatoes.”

“Potato starch!” Chekov protests. “It is very sweet!”

“Indeed,” Spock identifies, recognizing the term. “My people have similar dishes.”

“Ugh,” Sulu grimaces. He picks up a padd by one of his plants and, with the other hand, turns and presses a small cup into Spock's hand. The Vulcan looks down and blinks. “You have it then. Please. I think I can smell the Russian nationalism.”

Chekov huffs. “Hikaru!”

Rolling his eyes, Sulu pushes Chekov out of the room.

Spock inspects the cup of kissel for a moment. The container feels slightly cold against his skin. He glances around. There is no one else in the room.

He doesn't know why Sulu protested so much; the taste really is quite pleasant.


 

Dr. McCoy lulls him into a false sense of security, is how it happens.

“So tell me this: why did you decide it was logical to hurt your health in exchange for your appearance? That just seems out of character for you.”

Spock blinks slowly. “I believe you are suffering from a misapprehension, Doctor,” he says.

“Oh?”

“I do not have any objections to my physical appearance. Certainly none that would provoke unhealthy behavior. That would be illogical.”

McCoy opens his mouth. Closes it. Squints.

“...I think you believe that,” he says at last. “...Okay. Let's. Try this, instead; why do you go days on end without eating? Even when it hurts you?”

Spock realizes the trap immediately, because now he is forced to explain himself.

...This is a difficult thing to do, when he is not even sure he knows his own motivations.

“...It was not intentional,” he says slowly. It is only as he says this that he realizes it is true. “Not at first. It simply – happened, and I did not care enough to eat.”

“In humans, you know, that's a good indication of depression.”

Spock chooses to ignore this comment entirely. “Sometimes it seemed... beneficial. In ways that are difficult to vocalize.”

He pauses. And then says nothing else.

When it is clear he is done McCoy nods slowly. “...And you think that's logical?” he asks, in a tone which implies that he disagrees entirely.

(Dr. McCoy is not, perhaps, a traditional psychologist.)

Spock frowns slightly. “Sometimes – at the start – I could focus better without eating. Or be more efficient with my time.” Spock realizes he is twisting his fingers; he forces them to be still. “ - Later, my physical state degraded slightly to the point where this excuse could not be maintained, though I never allowed myself to become excessively unhealthy. Nevertheless I cannot explain why I continued – continue,” he amends, “to do it.”

“Which means I'm guessing it's prompted by an emotional response,” McCoy quips dryly.

“Doubtful.”

“Oh, don't worry. I'm not looking for some soul-to-soul confessional; I'd probably consider it far more alarming than all of this if you started getting sappy on me and admitting to having feelings. No, this is helpful.” McCoy leans back. “Okay. You started because... you don't know why... but there wasn't a point to stop. You see a point now, don't you? It's unhealthy. You're unhealthy. You fainted awhile back. Your health's at risk, your personal life, your work. And it sure doesn't benefit you professionally or mentally to deprive your body. You have to realize that.”

“The effects of malnutrition are difficulty to ignore,” Spock agrees. “And not particularly pleasant.”

“So why do you keep doing this?”

There's no accusation in McCoy's tone; just genuine curiosity, which is the only thing that keeps Spock in his seat. Even so the rigidity in his posture makes him look like a statue. He considers this question very carefully – even moreso than the inquiry about his motivation.

And at last, he can only say, “Perhaps some things are not logical.”

(In all their sessions, he has never seen McCoy look quite so frightened.)


 

“So,” says Jim one day. “You've been spending a lot of time with Bones.”

They are in the captain's quarters, playing chess, and the words come as a surprise but they should not. Spock has, indeed, been spending an increasing amount of time with the doctor – even outside the boundaries of their weekly sessions. The doctor is careful not to hover, but somehow his presence is not always provocative. Sometimes it is even – pleasant.

He tries not to think about this too much.

Spock considers how to reply. But he looks at Jim – who is eyeing him somewhat thoughtfully over the board – and he thinks of how much he dislikes lying. It contradicts Vulcan philosophy, lying. He thinks of how much less he likes lying to this man, his friend.

Still, he is not sure what prompts him to admit, “I have frequently been in Sickbay the past several weeks.”

Jim straightens. “I haven't heard anything about that.”

Spock flicks an eyebrow. “There is such a thing as confidentiality, Sir,” he says mildly.

He can see Jim's mind whirring. There is such a thing – but it hardly exists, not between them.

Jim stares at him, waiting. Spock reaches out and carefully moves a rook; the captain ignores the game entirely.

Spock has already made the gravity of what he is about to admit clear simply by virtue of the fact that he is reluctant to discuss it; yet now, at the last minute, he hesitates. He considers saying, there is no major issue; we are simply coordinating with a doctor on Vulcan to be more prepared for future treatment issues. He could say, We have been running periodic tests to determine the baseline of my physiology, but the scans have not been alarming. None of these things are untrue. Or, he could lie: We were concerned that I was re-entering pon far, but it seems we were wrong...

Spock inhales carefully. “Doctor McCoy discovered that I have been... concealing certain facts from him, facts which are in truth quite medically pertinent.”

Jim is sitting very still. He has gone pale.

“There is no reason to be alarmed - “

“Is this like the last time you were hiding an illness from us?”

“It should not prove fatal, if that is what - ”

Jim's voice goes sharper. “Should not?”

“Jim. Calm yourself, please.”

“I'm calm. I'm calm.”

“Jim - “

“Spock, are you alright?”

Spock hesitates again. Jim lurches to his feet, looking seriously alarmed now. “Yes,” says Spock hastily, also standing, “Yes, Sir, I am fine - “

“Then why are you seeing Bones?” Jim demands. “Why are you so nervous - “

“I am not nervous - “

“Why are you - “

“Will you allow me to speak?!”

They both stop. They are standing close enough that Spock can feel Jim's frightened breathing across his cheek, can see the fear gleaming from his hazel eyes. “...I'm sorry,” Jim says quietly. “I'm sorry, but – just tell me what it is. Let me help. Whatever...” His voice trails away.

“Whatever you are thinking, Jim, it is not so severe.”

Jim clearly doesn't believe him.

“Tell me.”

Spock centers his breathing. He carefully focuses his gaze on a spot around the captain's ear; it is easier, and something of an immature trick, but a useful one. “I have been seeing Doctor McCoy for assistance in managing what is referred to in the medical community as an eating disorder.”

It is clear that Jim is not expecting this. “ - What - “

The next words are hard ones. Spock prefers not to think them, even in his own mind, but Jim has asked for things to be stated plainly. “Humans refer to it specifically as anorexia.”

And Jim – Jim starts shaking his head a little. He doesn't take his eyes off Spock. It's not quite denial, more like confusion, but slowly the look in his eyes turns more stunned.

“No,” he says. “You - “

Spock stares back at him for just a moment. Then he clenches his hands behind his back and looks away.

Jim asks, “How long?” as though the words have just slipped from his throat.

“Twenty-two years.”

“Twenty-two years,” Jim echoes. “Twenty – god, Spock.”

And suddenly he's stepping right into Spock's space, wrapping his arms around the Vulcan's shoulders and drawing him forward. Spock can feel the man's slow, human-steady heartbeat pounding against his chest like a metronome. Warm hands run down his arms.

“I almost wish you were sick,” Jim says, the words a little muffled against Spock's shoulder. “ - Just a little sick, mind you."

"Jim?"

"This is almost worse.”

Spock is confused. “How is this worse?”

Jim pulls away enough to look at him, touching his wrist. “Because it means you were in pain this whole time,” he says. “And no one noticed. We should have – I should have. I'm sorry for that.”

Spock leans back. “You cannot be blamed for my - “

“I'm not blaming anyone. I'm sorry anyway.”

Spock tries to find a response for this. “...Illogical.”

Jim laughs a little. It isn't a good laugh. “I'm sorry,” he says again.

Spock isn't sure what he's apologizing for this time.

“You said... you said you're working with McCoy.”

“Yes.”

A silence stretches out.

“...How are you?”

It's a common question, and it also holds more than it seems. Spock closes his eyes and thinks.

Not well, maybe. But.

“Better.”

“Good. That's. That's good.”

Jim touches his shoulder again, their chess game wholly abandoned. Good, Spock thinks.

Maybe it is.


 

McCoy is pleased, even if he tries to feign indifference. Spock does not understand why the doctor even tries to hide his emotions; he is very bad at it.

The next time the three of them eat together, though, Spock waits for some sort of reaction. He is in control of his emotions; there is, logically, no reason he should not be able to lift up his utensil and take up a piece of baked pepper.

He fiddles with his fork, turns, and asks Dr. McCoy if he has received the Science Lab's results regarding a microbial strain from Argelius.

As Dr. McCoy complains about the speed of the labs - “Really, Spock, how are you training these kids - “ Jim keeps sneaking glances at Spock. After a few minutes he opens his mouth to say something.

There's a loud thud under the table. Jim winces and shifts around to glower at McCoy.

“Eat your salmon, Jim,” says McCoy serenely. “So, Spock...”

The captain is not perfect, and his own desire to help can sometimes make him agitated. But he tries. This is all anyone can do.

And Spock, himself, is much more at ease with the knowledge that he is hiding nothing. He is working at his own pace; he is making progress. These are positive things.

It takes effort – months of effort and continuous exertion. It never ends, really, the way he must carefully pay attention to his health, must be certain he does not slip into old habits.

With support, and understanding, it is a bit easier.

Time slips by, though. And Spock learns to be content.


 

(Until, years later, he arrives at a Vulcan monastery where the visitors are fed bread and water. They are advised to fast and purge the body of impurities. Spock breathes in the sands of his birth like this alone will sustain him. And he meditates until he feels as light and ethereal as air - )