The phone rings; it is thirteen minutes before three in the morning.
He answers because he feels that he must; there are no elective conversations at this time of night, and when he blindly gropes for the phone beside his bed he tells himself that the shiver down his spine is from cold, not from fear – he has not had a favorable history with three am phone calls. The phone rests where it always does, meticulously placed between the alarm clock and the framed photo of him and his mother that is a few years old now and growing older. “Hello?”
“Boooooones,” the voice at the other end whines. He doesn’t recognize it, and when he pulls the phone away from his ear he doesn’t recognize the number flashing on the screen either. “Come pick me up.” He clears the sleep out of his voice with a small cough, which the voice takes as a reply. “Bones, I’m sorry, I know it’s like three in the morning. But I’m cold and I’m sleepy and I’m... probably drunker than is healthy and you can totally yell at me tomorrow afternoon just come get me.”
It’s obviously a wrong number, erroneously dialed in a fit of drunken desperation, but he does not immediately hang up. It’s late, both in the day and the year, cold outside and getting colder; he’s already awake, but not enough to be rational. “Where are you?”
“I love you,” the voice drawls – Northern Midland, presence of the cot-caught merger transition and a fronting of the diphthongs . Faint though. Demonstrates a forward palatial /u/ vowel indicative of a mid-pubescent move to California, Sacramento region. He’s not awake but he’s not dead either, and he can’t help the way his brain takes off running – and stumbles over itself in the messy slur of alcohol. “You’re the greatest, you’re just – I love you, man. I’m at Crissy Field.”
Spock slides his feet into his shoes, and the line goes dead.
He assumes that the man lying prone on the picnic table is the mysterious caller; this is confirmed when he sits up at the first flash of headlights, swaying in place, and he’s blonde and only barely old enough to be legally drinking. The front of his leather jacket – not lined, no hood, and it’s too far into winter for this – moves as he cuts the engine. “I found a cat,” the man explains, pulling down the zipper to reveal a too-small scraggly kitten. It – she, calico – blinks matching too-blue eyes into the glare of the car’s lights.
“Are you keeping the cat?”
The blonde pulls up the zipper, curling a lanky frame over it protectively. “It needs me,” is all he says, but it’s the most lucid words from his mouth. The swaying increases until he nearly pitches face-first from the table, instead using the motion to lurch to his feet; he takes one, two steps toward the car. “Who the fuck are you?”
His voice, like his eyes and the way he’s not swaying anymore, sharpen into focus, narrowing at the unfamiliar vehicle. Spock moves slowly, telegraphing the motion, leaning across the console to throw open the passenger side door. “I am Spock.”
“Uh-huh,” and the blonde blinks, either passing out or processing, but he takes another hesitant step toward the car. “Why are you here?”
“Because it is very late,” Spock explains; it’s not his teaching voice, too early for that, but it’s the similar tone he adopts when explaining a particularly simple topic to a particularly simple student. “And very cold, and you said you needed a ride.”
The blonde considers, only proving his point when a sharp shiver wracks his frame; the kitten meows piteously at the upset, before he folds himself into the front seat. “Touch screen,” he offers by way of explanation, struggling with the seatbelt. “Thought I was calling my roommate.” He takes up the front of the car with his presence – legs folded, claiming the seat and the radio when he leans forward to turn the knobs, shifting from soft strings into something harder and louder and he melts backwards at the jarring drumbeat.
Spock ignores him, instead turning over the engine and shifting into reverse. “Do you make a habit of getting into cars with strangers?”
“Only ones who make a habit of offering rides.” When Spock chances a glance to the man in the passenger seat, he meets too-blue eyes and a crooked grin. “I’m Jim, by the way.”
He’s not sure if the noise is of assent or aggravation, but Spock finds himself humming a reply as he leaves the darkness of the shoreline behind them. It’s warm in the car, more so now with the addition of one – two – bodies, but the throbbing percussion echoing softly from the speakers keeps him from feeling sleepy. “Jim,” and the blonde’s head rolls to face him when he hears his name, “where do you live?”
His eyes blink slowly, comically so. “Umm... San Francisco?”
“An apartment... with walls.”
He regrets his decision to assist a stranger, to get out of bed, to answer his phone at all – no good comes from conversations at this time of night. “Well, that narrows it down from all those apartments without walls.”
Jim snorts; his eyes are already closed, hands gently cradling the lump that is a kitten against his chest. “You’re a little bit of a dick,” he says, weakly and drunkenly and Spock almost wants to apologize, but it’s three in the morning and he wouldn’t mean it. “That’s good. I was worried for a minute.”
“You know,” and one hand leaves its position as careful guard over the kitten – presumably sleeping and purring audibly – to move in vague, over-exaggerated gestures. “That you were actually a really good person. Then I would have felt bad for waking you up and throwing up in your car.”
“You haven’t thrown up in my car.”
The gesture continues its lazy path through the air. “Preemptive apology.” It’s lucky that theirs is the only car on Marina right now because Spock jerks suddenly, the car swerving into the opposite lane before correcting. A hoarse laugh, delighted with its drunkenness, bursts from the passenger seat before Jim whispers, like a secret, “I’m a little bit of a dick, too.”
“I guessed that,” Spock says, utilizing the red light to fix the other man with an acerbic glare.
It has the opposite of its intended effect, Jim’s lips instead curling into a languid smile – his voice is heavy now, not just his eyes, halfway asleep already. “But you still came to get me?” He must drift off for a moment, lulled by some combination of heat and motion and what smells like an entire bottle of whiskey, because his next movement is a jerky, startled one. “Why did you come get me?”
Spock doesn’t speak until they’ve turned onto Powell, some minutes later. “Because you sounded very drunk,” he admits, “and it is very cold.” Again to emphasize his point, the kitten – almost forgotten about, as still and silent as she’d gone – sneezes pitifully. Almost unconsciously, Jim’s hand moves to rub her behind the ears and her tiny, pleased purring returns. “And because you would be a danger to yourself or others if you attempted to make your own way across town in your condition.”
“Well, I mean, I really appreciate it, but you’re kind of an idiot.” It’s another red light, and Spock takes the moment to glare; the sudden change in Jim’s mood has him on edge. “What if I were a serial killer?”
He glare softens in understanding. “Somehow I suspect that you would not be difficult to escape from, given your current level of intoxication.” Jim is mouthing the words after he speaks them, face drawn in concentration, and he rolls his eyes when he gets to the end.
“What if you were a serial killer?” He seems to realize the predicament then, glancing from the empty roads to the small interior, surrounded by closed doors, before fixing Spock with an accusing stare. “Are you a serial killer?”
His tone is again that of the exasperated, over-simplified explanation – he’s rarely like this with his students, maybe once or twice a semester given extenuating circumstances, but finds himself drifting here with alarming frequency when addressing Jim. “I’m a teacher,” but Jim’s already not paying attention, head drifting down against his chest as he drifts down into sleep. “At San Francisco State University.”
The parking spot in front of Spock’s building is still vacant; given the lack of other cars on the road, he’s not surprised. When he cuts the engine there’s no reply from Jim, and with another of those exasperated noises Spock moves around the car to open the passenger door. Jim stirs. “Huh?” His brow wrinkles in confusion but he allows himself to be helped from the car, body like a liquid that spreads from the seat to the road to Spock, draping over his shoulders carelessly. “This isn’t where I live.”
“No,” Spock agrees, adjusting the weight that rests heavy against him to free up his hand with the keys. “This is where I live.”
“I don’t know what you’re thinking,” Jim says, his entire frame gone soft and sleepy, “but I’m not that kind of girl.”
Spock can’t help the snort that escapes him, something not quite a laugh but the potential is there, and when he attempts to hide it behind a roll of his eyes he sees Jim in the peripheral, smiling up at him. “I’m thinking that you’re too drunk to remember where you live,” he says, and he means it to sound chastising but it apparently does not, not with the way Jim melts further against him. He manages to get them both through the front door and into the elevator, reaching in blind frustration for the controls until Jim shoves his hand away and asks which floor. “Three. I am also thinking, since I am already awake, that I have a bed where you can sleep it off. I’ll take you home when I leave for work.”
His words are met with an irritated groan. “Oh god,” and Jim sounds physically pathetic, leading Spock to worry if this is the foretold moment of vomiting. “You are a really good person.”
Apparently it is not. “I’m not feeding you and I leave for work in just under four hours.”
Jim groans again, this time in disgust, but he walks out of the elevator on his own strength. “You’re a monster.” Once inside, he does not comment on the condition or contents of Spock’s studio apartment; he does, however, move to the bookshelf with interest.
“Bedroom is through the back,” Spock gestures vaguely, taking advantage of the lack of interest to remove his coat and shoes and retrieve the stacks of file folders balanced on the small table near the kitchenette. “The cat-”
“Bill,” Jim says suddenly. “S’name is Bill.”
“Her name,” and this time it is his teaching voice, warm and infinitely patient; Nyota tells him it’s unsettling, sitting in on his classes, because he comes off as inviting and approachable when he’s actually anything but. He’s never sure if she’s teasing or not. “Cats with calico coat mutations are rarely male.” He gestures toward the bedroom door, slightly more deliberately this time; Jim is swaying on his feet again. “I was only going to say that the cat – that Bill is welcome to join you. I’m not allergic.”
“Good.” Jim nods his head, thrusting the small handful of sleeping animal into Spock’s startled grasp before fumbling out of his jacket; he lets it fall to the floor in a pile. “My roommate is.” Spock barely has time to react beyond cupping his hands around the kitten, who wakes only enough to blink her eyes and tuck her tail – it’s shorter than it should be, maybe only half as long – beneath her, before Jim plucks her back. He ruffles the fur of her neck again and she lets loose a new torrent of purring that follows them down the hall, audible even once the door to the bedroom is closed.
Glancing at the boots and jacket – matching beaten-up black leather – strewn across the floor with a mixture of disbelief and distaste, Spock drops the files of papers waiting to be reviewed onto the table in front of the couch. A quick trip back toward the kitchen and he makes a mug of tea – in the microwave, not the kettle, out of respect for his guest, but he shudders at the very thought of it and wonders exactly where in the week his life went so drastically off course – before following the papers, dropping heavily to the couch.
It is thirteen minutes before four in the morning.