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Only Good For Legends, Part Two

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Spock does not have to wait a great deal longer before he discovers what Kirk's going-away present is; Kirk shows up at his door one afternoon and shoves a flower pot into his arms.

“You’ve got to be careful with it,” he says.

“Why did you give me flora?” Spock asks, following Kirk as he moves further inside.

"It's an orchid," Kirk explains. It's not much of an explanation. His eyes are wandering around Spock’s home, taking in details. Kirk has never been here - moreover, Spock never told him his address. It is probably not a crime, but it is certainly unsettling.

"Orchids, I believe, are very high-maintenance plants."

“I thought you'd like it," Kirk says. He still hasn't looked at Spock.

Spock sets the flower on the table carefully. “It’s very beautiful,” he temporizes. “But if it needs a great deal of attention, I don’t see how it will survive for very long.”

Kirk leans against the table, his hands in his pockets. “You don't do well with plants?”

Spock doesn't, but that's hardly the point. “I’m reluctant to accept responsibility for anything… delicate,” but he can’t help but trace a finger up the fine stem of the flower. He wasn’t flattering Kirk when he said it was beautiful; the flowers are dark yellow fading to deep red at the center, something lush and cheerful both. If it were a picture, he would hang it in his bedroom or his living room, somewhere his eye would catch it often and linger.

“It’s not hard, really,” Kirk says. He glances up at Spock and smiles, though it’s not a smile Spock’s seen before. “I can show you, give you a few lessons. By the time you go back to Frisco, you’ll be an expert.”

Spock smooths his finger over a petal. It’s soft as silk. He agrees, absently, thinking about the empty space on his windowsill and wondering how orchids do in full sunshine.

*

A few days later, he puts in a formal request for transfer. Chief Johnson harrumphs over the PADD but authorizes the request, and he actually says, "It's too bad, Detective. I just got used to your anal-retentive 60-page reports."

He waits, conscious of impatience, for three days; at last he gets a comm-burst from Chief Eliza Sideman, his former and favorite superior officer. "Please report at your earliest convenience to IDD Headquarters for debrief," is all it says, however. Spock frowns at the console and makes travel arrangements.

For all the times he has visited San Francisco in the last year, this is the first time he has gone through the doors of IDD since his transfer to Midwest General. The testimony he's given for the impending trial - five sessions thus far - has been in Federation conference rooms and assembly halls. Occasionally an officer from Starfleet is there, taking notes in a corner and avoiding Spock's gaze. Mostly, however, he faces lawyers and bureaucrats and representatives, and always, always Ambassador Imbelk, his smile like a knife.

The InterPlanetary Disputes Division buildings have little of the Federation complex's pomp and glitter, but they were built around the same time in the 22nd century and retain some of that era's sinuous grace, its lofty spires. The sheer scale is almost startling, after so many months at Midwest General. Several Riverside precincts could fit in the auxiliary building of IDD alone.

Chief Sideman looks up as he knocks on her door, and her face creases into a smile. "Oh my stars and garters," she says, getting up from her desk and raising her hand to greet him. "You are a sight for sore eyes. I thought for sure they'd have you hung up in a dungeon by now, prepping the Iron Maiden." She reaches past and closes the door behind them.

The only things he gathers from their contact is that her worry and delight are real, and she has a sore back. He smiles down at her and says, "I'm only lightly abraded, Chief. It's good to see you."

"Sit down. Sit down. I think you might still be growing, kiddo."

"I take up more space now," he says. "Iowa has a broadening effect."

"Yeah, I heard about those chicken wings." She sits down behind her desk, piled high with reports, PADDs, pictures of her family; sitting straight, he can just see her face over the top. "I wanted to talk to you face-to-face; I'm feeling just a little paranoid about comms."

"I understand," Spock says. "And I'm glad to come. You probably know--"

"That you've made the transfer request. I got it yesterday, after every other fussy-britches pencil pusher in IDD's liaison department got their greasy fingerprints all over it." The term is metaphorical, since transfer requests are electronic. "And I thought it would be best if you heard this from me."

He forcefully relaxes his body, sits back in the chair. "Yes."

There is a long silence, as the Chief visibly searches for the words she wants to say; he is familiar with this method of hers, and keeps still. "I don't want you in San Francisco, Spock. Not because I don't want you here," she clarifies, cryptically, "But because I don't want you here." She pauses. "Okay, that wasn't helpful."

Spock opens his mouth, but closes it when she holds up her hand.

"The IDD turned this case over to the Federation right after you left, per their demand, and they've been trying to frame the whole thing as a diplomatic... incident." She catches his expression and huffs. "Yes, well, that's what they do. You know that better than anyone," she allows, her hand twitching as though to encompass all of his past experience. "Ambassador Imbelk killed DiPalma, and they're not disputing that - they can't. And if this had been anybody else, he'd already be in prison."

"But he is not."

"No. The Ulnasians are - they're using this incident as a reason to cease negotiations for a peace treaty. And the Federation thinks that they'll go to the Romulans, or the Klingons, instead."

"Then why not simply release him into the custody of his planet?" Spock asks. As much as the idea horrifies him, he is familiar with politics - expediency often overrides justice. He has intimate experience in that area, most recently from this very case.

Joseph DiPalma had been an intern, working in the Federation Diplomatic Corp as a kind of general aide for alien diplomats, assigned to the Ulnasian corps after undergoing exhaustive training. Ambassador Imbelk had killed him for speaking without permission.

"Because your little OK Corral display last year made that impossible. Countering my orders and Commander Rigg's orders and the President's orders gave your case a lot of publicity," the Chief says. "Besides, and I know you don't believe me, but the Federation knows right from wrong, and he did kill that boy. They were never going to sweep this under the rug."

Spock disagrees, but he does not voice it. "Then I confess, I don't understand why you feel it necessary for me to remain away from San Francisco."

"Because a trial means there's a possibility Imbelk can win. And the only way he can win this case is if he puts you on trial, and if you were here you'd be getting called in for deposition after deposition, every hour on the hour. The defense team would grill you on your arrest record, grill you on your family, grill you on your past. They're giving it their best shot as it is - you've been subpoenaed about forty times, did you know that?"

"I--" Spock pauses. "I did not."

"Chief Johnson has saved me a lot of trouble by being an even bigger bitch than I am; he keeps quashing them, saying you can't be spared from Midwest General." The Chief smiles. "Stop looking so shocked when people do nice things for you, kiddo. It's not attractive. Makes you look like a fish."

Spock frowns.

"But the only way to win this is to keep you as far away as possible. If I could put you on the Enterprise when she goes on her deep-space mission, I would, but she's not launching for another two years and no matter how long it takes the diplomats to start this trial, it'll probably be resolved by then." She sighs. "I can put you on another ship, if you really want to come back to the IDD. God knows we need more officers up there," she makes a terse head nod indicating all of space, apparently. "Or there might be an opening soon on Tellar Prime. Or hell, you can transfer somewhere on Earth if Iowa's not your cup of tea."

"No, Iowa suits me perfectly well," Spock says.

She smiles. Spock notices some silver threads in her blond hair. "Okay. And listen: you have a job here when it's over, alright?” Spock nods, and she adds, “But you only have a job here when it's over."

*

He comms Nyota after an hour of wandering up and down streets that have been familiar since he was a child. He does not truly expect her to answer, since it is noon on a Wednesday and she is no doubt occupied with her studies. But she answers him and agrees to meet at a restaurant they both enjoy. "What's the matter?" she asks, a few minutes after they sit down.

"How did you know something was the matter?" Spock asks. She keeps turning her glass of water, her fingers twisting the stem of the glass.

"Because this is the first time since we met that you've asked to see me with less than three days' notice," she says.

"Oh." He wonders if this speaks of his dependability or if it implies something less desirable. "I wished to speak to you regarding my plans to come back to San Francisco."

"Okay," she says, eyes still focused on her glass.

"I requested a transfer back to IDD several days ago. I spoke with Chief Sideman, who was in charge of deciding my placement, and she has informed me--"

"You're not moving back?" she guesses.

"That's correct," he says.

She nods. The waiter arrives, but Spock finds himself unenthusiastic about ordering. Nyota glances up at the waiter and says, "Can we have a few more minutes?"

Spock watches the waiter move on to the next table; he is reluctant to meet Nyota's gaze. But when he does look back, she is once again staring down at the table. "So you're not moving back to San Francisco, and in a few months I start my first starship rotation, and after that..." She leans back in the booth, her hand still stretched out to fiddle with her water glass.

And suddenly Spock feels nauseated outright, his stomach clenching. "I'm not sure I see what your point is." It's not quite a lie, though it's far from honest.

Nyota takes a deep breath. "Spock."

"I realize that you were looking forward to my relocation, and I can appreciate your frustration with the circumstances, but I feel you should know that this was not a decision I had any part in. The IDD at the present time cannot offer me a position in the city, and I believe that my very presence--"

"Spock--"

"My very presence in San Francisco could result in the release of a dangerous criminal who is responsible for the death of an individual and would no doubt kill again upon the obtainment of his--"

"Spock." She lets go of the glass and touches his hand, and in that moment, he feels still want to kiss him/we can't sacrifice anything for each other/still want to see him laugh more often/relief/his home went somewhere else

He blinks, and her hand is still clasping his, and she's looking at him now.

"I see," he says, and moves away.

"Just, let me say something." She takes a deep breath. "I think we both like this relationship because it's... out of context. We're not part of each other's lives, we're a break from each other's lives."

She keeps her gaze level for a moment, then looks away, her arms crossed over her chest, hugging tightly to herself. The silence spins out for the second time today.

"I really like you. A lot. But I... you're going to spend the rest of your life on Earth. You're a great cop, I know you've got an amazing future ahead of you - you're already famous, the man who arrested an Ambassador. One day you'll probably arrest a Tribble, or a spaceship." She smiles like a light switched on and then off. "But I've got a future ahead of me too, and this year has been - I'm in the operations track, you know?" Spock nods. "I've decided to put in for a position on the Enterprise. I'll be Lieutenant grade by the time I graduate, I've got a good shot. But it's--we're never going to be in the same place at the same time. So maybe you staying in Iowa isn't such a bad thing." She chews at her lip, and says, "I'm not saying I want us to break up, exactly."

"You are saying we are not really together," Spock says.

She smiles, he notices, at times when a smile seems almost inappropriate. "Not even when we're in the same room," she agrees.

*

It is late in the evening when he returns to his apartment. He hangs up his jacket and notices a leather one, draped across the kitchen table.

Kirk mentioned that he could stop by during the weekend, to make sure his gift wasn't getting sunburned or dried out or one of a hundred things that Spock has learned can happen to an unattended orchid. Spock, distracted by Chief Sideman's request to see him and thinking he would enjoy a long weekend in San Francisco, agreed; three days was probably too long to leave something so fragile alone. However, it's been less than six hours since he boarded the shuttle; surely Kirk would not have come by so soon.

But when he peers through his bedroom doorway, Kirk is there, sitting gingerly on the edge of his bed, facing out toward the window. The line of his back is hunched, his hands are fisted in the comforter. Spock cannot see his face. He wonders if he should go back to the front door, open it again and close it, more loudly. If he should clear his throat or indicate, somehow, that he is here. But he stands and watches the curved spine of Kirk's back and does nothing.

"You're back early," Kirk says, after a minute. Spock would have expected embarrassment or guilt from anyone else, but Kirk has never excelled at shame. He does not even stand up, simply twists around to face Spock, his chin resting on his right shoulder. "Forget your toothbrush?"

"I keep a toiletry bag at my mother's house in San Francisco," Spock says, walking through the door. "What are you doing here?"

Kirk does stand now, and turns to smooth down the edges of Spock's comforter. "Sunset's prettier from your place," he says.

It is typical of Kirk, to answer a question in a way that is no answer at all. In fact, this entire encounter feels - too familiar. Kirk in a place he should not be, doing things he should not do. Perhaps he has gotten a job and stopped getting arrested once a week, but there is still something so monotonous about him, so routine and predictable.

"So how was Frisco?" Kirk says.

"It is called San Francisco," Spock snaps. "Please get out of my bedroom."

Kirk frowns. "I'm sorry, I just--"

"Yes, I am aware of why you are here. However, that is no longer necessary."

"Is something wrong?" Kirk asks, coming closer. He looks more curious than concerned. "You look a little - off."

"What do you want?" Spock asks him. He's never Kirk asked this question before, and he is suddenly, desperately afraid of the answer.

Kirk is standing too close. But he says, "I don't know," and that, at least, is unexpected. "What about you?"

"I would like to be left alone."

For a moment Spock thinks that Kirk will argue with him, or laugh, or do - something new. He waits for long seconds as Kirk watches him.

But then he nods, and brushes past Spock. The heat of his body feels like the press of a hand on his chest, and Spock closes his eyes, wanting nothing more than to reach out and make Kirk understand. But he was taught as a child never to apologize.

Spock hears the door close and all he can think is that Kirk lied - the sunset looks very ordinary from here.

*

He goes back to San Francisco the following week to watch the opening arguments of the trial. He feels it incumbent upon him to witness this, even though there is no real need for his presence. Ambassador Imbelk has refused to appear in court, and the Byzantine negotiations that revolved around the procedure of this trial have allowed that; however, his retinue is in full force, and no doubt they will bring back news of Spock's appearance.

As he leaves for the evening, with a vague thought to staying at his mother's home for the night, he hears his name, with the strange pre-echoes and garbled frequency that marks the Ulnasian language. He turns, and a figure draws nearer.

"Detective. I acknowledge our meeting." He recognizes her as Ornees, the most senior assistant to Ambassador Imbelk, though to most she would look exactly like any other Ulnasian, with their sky-blue skin and white hair. "I wish you to listen to me now."

Spock inclines his head; he remembers the lessons he took in Ulnasian conversation, and any response he gives now will be seen as a rejection of what she says. He waits.

"Lord Imbelk wishes to take himself back to his home, to surround himself with people who are relevant. You prevent him from this."

His own actions prevent him from this, but Spock does not reply.

"I wish to know why you do this. You may speak."

Spock considers his response. "Ambassador Imbelk came to the Federation with the understanding that he would not be among his own people," he says. "Our laws are different from yours, and when they are broken, it is not the guilty party who decides the consequence. You may speak."

"Nor is it the injured part who decides, because Lord Imbelk killed him. It is you, who has no claim in their relation. Your decision to interfere was most strange to us, and you have not made it understandable. However I have studied much of Earth culture, and wish to offer you a trade for Lord Imbelk's liberty. You may speak."

"Bribery is also a crime on Earth," Spock observes mildly. "You may speak."

The woman's face is not built along traditionally humanoid lines; expressions are there, but they are difficult to read. However, Spock believes this one to be irritation. "There are many laws on Earth, yet your people break them often. We do not understand the sense of laws which anyone may break. If I may not bribe you, I wish to notify you that we are willing to harm you or others you love for the release of Lord Imbelk. You may speak."

"Threats are also inadvisable," Spock says, though he has to concentrate over the roar of anger in his ears. "You may speak."

"There seems to be little I can say to you, on this planet. I wish for you to someday come to mine, where I can say what I wish. I am finished." And she leaves, pushing through the crowd as though they aren't there at all.

*

Spock has a long list of people who want him dead. When he applied to the Police and Enforcement Academy, he was required to submit past histories, significant events that may have colored his reactions or viewpoints. He remembers going into a cluttered office and sitting down across from a skeptical woman.

"There are 347 people who want you, personally, dead?" she demanded.

Spock shrugged carefully, remembering to relax his shoulders after a moment. "I make an impression," he said.

The woman laughed and shook her head. "Chief Sideman," she introduced herself. "I think I like you, kiddo."

Since then the list has grown, and when his mother contracted a bodyguard detail from Starfleet, it was as much because of Spock's position as it was her own. But this seems different; the Ulnasians have already demonstrated that they make few threats idly.

"Spock," Amanda sighs, setting the plates down on the dinner table, "I do understand. But keep in mind that people have hated me for the entire span of your life, and for a few years before that."

"Nevertheless," Spock says, "I'd appreciate updated dossiers on your detail, and I am filing a request for supplementary guards from IDD." He places the forks, knives, and spoons down at their appropriate settings, and follows his mother back into the kitchen.

"Computer, bowl of dinner salad, Grayson Three," she says, and takes out the bowl when the replicator has finished. "Here," she says firmly, handing it to him. "Take this out to the dining room. What do you want to drink?"

"Lemonade, please." He adds, "I would appreciate it if you would also inform Nyota of the threat. Ambassador Imbelk has made it clear that anyone perceived as close to me could be in danger, and I do not wish her to be put harm's way."

"This sounds like the sort of thing that might come better from you," his mother says, and herds him into the dining room.

"You are more likely to see Nyota before I will," he says, sitting down.

"Really."

"Yes."

There is a pause while Spock serves his mother and then himself. Then, "I'll make you a deal," Amanda says. "I'll tell Nyota, and I'll even let you make my guard detail cry again--"

"I believe you are exaggerating Agent Samson's response to my conversation with him--"

"'Conversation'? He asked me what the Vulcan death grip was and I had to give him milk and cookies until he calmed down." Amanda sighs, then rallies. "Like I was saying, I'll let you do all that if you tell me what happened with you two."

"I do not believe I have had--"

"Spock." She doesn't sound angry, but she does not break eye contact, and her eyebrows are dipped, disapproving. "She's been awfully quiet lately."

Spock takes a bite of salad. "We discussed the parameters of our relationship when I was here last. I believe we both found the conclusion less than satisfactory."

"Oh," she says.

Spock feels the need to elaborate, but he is unsure what to say. "It appears that while we are compatible in our intellectual and social spheres, the respective professional positions we pursue are--"

"A fish may love a bird, but where would they live?" Amanda says, with the cadence to her voice that indicates she is quoting.

"I presume Nyota is the bird in this analogy."

"Either or. I just mean that you two are very cute together, but... you don't have a lot of interest in her world, and she's afraid of yours. It's not easy to care for someone who has - how many people are on that list now? Of people who've threatened to kill you?"

"A great many," Spock says; knowing that it had grown to 1,283 would probably do little other than concern her.

"A great many," his mother says; the smile she offers is tight at the edges of her mouth. "That sounds pretty terrifying."

"I did not realize that fear for another's safety was an impediment to a relationship," Spock observes. He sounds childish even to his own ears. "In most literature and media, danger is portrayed as quite romantic, in fact."

"Which is why real life is described as real life," Amanda reminds him.

*

Spock informs both Chief Johnson and Chief Sideman of the threat, and is received with a combination of exasperation and concern, variable in accordance with their temperaments and their regard for him. Johnson changes his shift to days and provides him with extra security at his home; Sideman sends a special shuttle whenever Spock's presence is required in San Francisco. "Perks of a whole new warm and fuzzy relationship with Starfleet," she tells him.

The only other person he feels necessary to inform is Kirk, though he is difficult to run to earth. Spock comms him with no result, and though he stops by the farm several times, he finds no evidence of Kirk's presence.

"He's around," Mrs. Turbino says. "Detective, your vehicle is a Grade-A piece of shit," she adds, hitting something on the inside of the engine with a hammer.

"I don't have any problems with it," Spock says, sitting cross-legged on one of her benches. His comm to her had resulted in an invitation to the repair shop that had seemed more like an order. Winona Turbino had once worked as a top engineer in Starfleet; some things have stayed with her, it seems.

"Does it fall out of grav every once in a while? Do the forcescreens blow in sometimes for no real reason at all?"

Spock doesn't respond; instead he asks, "If he's around, then do you know why I can't find him?"

"Probably he's mad at you for something. He's always been like that; get him mad, and he'll either fight back or he'll disappear. And good luck finding him. His brother's even worse," she said, though she does not elaborate. "You been having a spat?"

"I don't think so," Spock says, "Though it's sometimes hard to tell."

"Must be tough on Jimmy, having a friend like you," Mrs. Turbino says, straightening up. Her hair is tied back in a bun, though wisps of it have escaped to curl around her face. "Most of his pals are real winners - Jimmy's the best of the bunch." The sardonic twist she puts on "winners" suggests that it's meant sarcastically. "You're probably the only person in his life that expects anything out of him. I wonder why he bothers."

"I am sorry if you find my friendship with your son objectionable," Spock says after a moment.

"I don't find it objectionable. You're probably the best thing that's ever happened to him. Which is why I wonder why it took him this long to fuck it up." She looks at him, hard, and she resembles his own mother in that vaguely disapproving slant of her brow. "Check the Riverside Tavern, I think he's been hanging out there most nights. Just don't say I didn't warn you."

"You haven't warned me, yet," Spock points out.

Mrs. Turbino turns back to the bowels of the engine. "True."

*

Mrs. Turbino's information is correct; Spock finds Kirk at the Riverside Tavern that night. He seems to be pleasantly occupied, sitting at the bar and surrounded by a half-dozen jocular young people, all humans. One woman is curled around him, her very long leg slung over his hip. He slides his hand up and down her thigh as he talks to his friends, and the expression on her face is equal parts arousal and triumph. Spock makes his way through the crowd, distracted by speculation as to whether or not Kirk will sleep with her tonight, if he has slept with her before. She is unknown to him, though Spock is well aware that Kirk has done his best to keep Spock away from his friends.

"Detective Spock," Kirk says, catching sight of him. His hand remains on the thigh of the young woman, who is giggling into his shoulder. "To what do we owe the pleasure? Am I getting arrested for something?"

"No. I wanted to see you." He ignores the catcalls of the young men.

Kirk, however, does not; his smile spreads into a smirk. "Really, Detective? What did you want to see me about?" He takes another drink of his beer with his free hand. The woman giggles again.

"I believe our conversation would be best conducted in private," Spock says, risking a glance at the people now circled around him.

"Yeah, Jimmy, he wants to conduct it in private,” one of the men croons, leaning over Kirk's other shoulder and whispering harshly in his ear. Spock remembers boys like him at school in San Francisco; they would repeat what he said nonsensically, but with a mocking edge to their voice that made it clear that, though their behavior was imbecilic, it was Spock who was meant to feel shame. It still seems to have some effect on him, but he says nothing.

Kirk gets to his feet, steadying the woman as she stumbles slightly. "I'll be back in a sec. Melanie, watch my drink, okay? Next round's on me. I'm going to go have a private conversation," he says, and grins at the laughter and good-natured shoves his friends give him. Spock is jostled, too, though he doubts it is good-natured. It was a mistake to come here, he knows, but he is still glad to slide into a booth opposite Kirk, to see him well, if intoxicated. He debates on the best way to broach the subject.

"So when's your big going-away party?" Kirk asks. "You going to have a barbecue? A nice dinner? Or no muss, no fuss, you're just checking out?"

Which is an excellent opening, though it underlines the fact that Spock has not seen him in almost three weeks. "I am not leaving Midwest General Division at this juncture," he says. "I apologize for not informing you of this during our previous encounter."

"When you kicked me out?" Kirk is looking down at his beer; Spock is reminded, oddly, of his conversation with Nyota, the way she would not meet his eyes. He wonders if Kirk too will reach out and touch his hand, let him know the things that Spock cannot see and he will not say.

"I was... upset at the time. Is that why you are angry with me?"

"I'm not angry at you," Kirk lies, leaning against the booth. "So - why aren't you shipping out? Your punishment more extreme than you thought it would be, or what?"

"IDD judged it prudent that I remain at a certain distance from San Francisco until the Ambassador whom I arrested has been tried and either convicted or acquitted. Also," he adds, not knowing if this is relevant, "I do not feel that working here is a punishment."

This does make Kirk look up; his gaze travels across Spock's face intently. "You used to."

"I have changed my mind," Spock says.

"So," Kirk says, "After the trial ends, you'll stay here? Get a house with a white picket fence, marry your cadet, have two point five children?" He smiles, slightly, though it does not reach his eyes.

"Most likely not," Spock says, "Since Cadet Uhura and I have decided not to pursue our relationship further."

Kirk blinks, then looks around and gets the attention of a waiter. "Another," he calls, waving the empty glass at him. "I, uh, didn't know you'd broken up."

"It occurred shortly before I, as you say, kicked you out of my apartment," Spock says.

"Oh," Kirk says, shifting in his seat. He leans forward. "Look, I'm sorry. About you two. That's too bad."

Spock nods in acknowledgement. "However, it is not the reason I wished to speak with you," he says. "The Ambassador has made certain threats."

Kirk blinks, but he catches on quickly. "The guy you arrested. He made threats? Against you?"

"Against myself and against those I care for," Spock confirms. "I have informed my superiors and my mother, and Cadet Uhura is aware. But I believe that you should be informed, as well, since we are--" he stops before he says "friends," because all at once he is unsure if they are. He had thought so, but this conversation, the young people at the bar, the hard edge to Kirk's voice, all conspire to make him doubt. "You are someone I care for," he finishes instead, knowing it sounds ridiculous.

"Oh," Kirk says again.

Spock is not sure what he was expecting, but Kirk's blank face is somehow unsatisfying. "I have taken enough of your time this evening," he says as he stands to go. Kirk struggles to his feet, less steady. "Please be careful, and I would appreciate the opportunity to equip your home with some additional security, as well as anywhere else where you may be spending significant time. I would recommend that you only associate with those you know well, and can trust. Also I have informed the shipyards that they are to implement the highest security measures for you."

"I wondered what the cavity search was all about," Kirk comments. He is still peering at Spock's face as though expecting to discover something. "Look, Spock, maybe we should--"

"Jimmy! Are you done with your private conversation?" someone calls from the bar.

Kirk glances over at them, then back to Spock. "I'll be careful," he promises.

"Thank you," Spock says. He slips out the door before Kirk can say anything more.

*

"Your home is extremely vulnerable,” Spock says. He is standing in the yard behind Kirk’s house, staring out over the cornfield. He turns to face Kirk. “I will require permission to make extensive improvements."

Kirk is leaning against the porch column, hands in his pockets. He has followed Spock through the house, around the perimeter, an uncharacteristically quiet shadow. "Sure," he says now. "Whatever you need."

"It is not about my needs, but about your safety."

Kirk smiles, and shakes his head, though it doesn’t seem to be a negative gesture. "My safety's going to come in pretty expensive if you plan on improving all five hundred acres," Kirk says, descending the steps slowly. The evening light makes his hair look lighter than it truly is, gives him a golden hue that is not real. "Might be easier just to put me in protective custody until it's all over."

"Expense is not an issue."

"You're saying Starfleet's going to foot the bill?"

"No. I will pay for the necessary improvements. It is only fair, since I am the one responsible for their necessity."

"Spock, you can't--"

"I assure you I can."

"That's got to be five years' pay for you."

"Fortunately, I do not need to rely on my salary." Kirk still looks distressed, and Spock explains, "My family has amassed extensive personal wealth, both from my mother and her accomplishments and my late father’s family and position. There is no burden."

"Oh." Kirk looks away.

“Additionally,” Spock says, reluctant but determined, “I must ask if your relationship with the young woman you called Melanie is one that… influences your social calendar to any great extent. If you spend a great deal of time with her, it may be necessary to—“

“No, um, no. She doesn’t influence my social anything. We’re just—“ Kirk scubs his hand through his hair. “It’s just, you know, casual.”

The answer is vague and unhelpful and frustrating. "I understand that you may not wish to share details of your personal life, Kirk, however, I must know these things in order to protect you--"

“Hey,” Kirk interrupts, finally sounding as irritated as Spock feels himself, “I’m not the one who breaks up with his girlfriend and doesn’t even tell his friends about it until like a month later!”

“It would be easier to inform you of significant events if you answered one of my seventeen comms—“

“I was busy!” Kirk protests.

“Yes, I could see how busy the other night,” Spock says mildly.

Suddenly Kirk coughs, and when Spock looks at him he’s not coughing, but laughing. “Look,” he says, after a minute, “I’m sorry. I was really just – I’m sorry, okay? And no, I’m not going to see Melanie any more. If you think I shouldn’t.” His laughter has faded now, though his smile is still there. “For the sake of my safety and everything.”

Spock takes a deep breath; he hadn’t been aware of holding it. “I do believe it would be best for you to restrict your movements for the time being.” He adds, “I would like to apologize, again, for being the cause of this. I am aware of the burden it places on you.”

"It’s okay," Kirk says, quietly.

Spock's communicator chirps at him.

The first thing his mother says is, "I'm all right, and I'm safe," and Spock all at once feels as tense as wire, strung too tight.

"What happened?" he asks, although he knows already.

He hears her sigh. "There was a person who... I was attacked. But I’m not hurt, and I have police with me now. But I'd like you to come home, as soon as you can. Please?"

"I will be there shortly." He tries to think of something else to say, some reassurance or declaration, but his throat closes around any further words.

"I love you, darling," she says, and comms out.

The sudden silence is far, far too loud. Kirk, standing close, is not moving for once in his life - stillness seems wrong for him.

"You're--what's happening?" Kirk demands, and this at least is familiar. "Is your mother okay?"

"Yes. No. She was attacked, but she is unharmed."

"Did they find the people who attacked her? Is she safe? Where is she?" Kirk sounds almost panicked, and it is a kind of comfort.

"Yes. She is in San Francisco, with a police escort. I am sure they are doing all that is necessary." Spock walks toward his car, then stops and pulls out his communicator again.

Nyota does not answer, and he comms off after thirty seconds, weighing his options. Starfleet Security is in the best position to protect her, but the cost in time of explaining the situation may prove too great. Instead, he comms Captain Pike.

"Pike here. Is this Detective Spock?"

"Yes, sir," Spock says. Kirk, shadowing him, frowns but keeps quiet. "I have a favor to ask of you."

"Shoot," Pike says, though his voice is wary.

"My mother was just attacked by someone I believe to be targeting my friends and family members. I have reason to believe that Cadet Nyota Uhura may be a target as well, and I would like to ascertain her whereabouts. She is not answering her comm at this time."

There is a brief silence. "What do you need?"

"If you could assure me of her safety at this time, I would be most appreciative," Spock says.

"I've got her profile up and I'll head over to the residences myself. Give me five minutes. Pike out."

Spock closes the communicator and starts toward his car again. "I must find a shuttle that will take me to San Francisco tonight. I am--"

"Fuck that," Kirk says, and takes him firmly under the elbow toward the barn. "Come on."

"Kirk, I have to leave."

"Yeah, I know," Kirk retorts, and opens the barn doors. Inside is a - vehicle. It looks like an automobile, but there are no rubber wheels, only the anti-grav wheels of a atmo-worthy craft. Kirk pushes Spock into the passenger seat and climbs into the driver's side.

"Now," Kirk says, slamming the door shut, "Let's roll." He kicks the vehicle into motion with a purely unnecessary groan of the antigrav field, lifting up and away from the ground. "So okay,” Kirk says, once they’ve cleared, “I know where San Francisco is, but I'll need directions once we get into the city."

"Do you have authorization to pilot this vehicle?" Spock demands.

“Well, I have the ability to pilot it, does that count?” Kirk says, sounding distracted.

“This is not a model of anti-grav vehicle that I recognize, ergo it is most likely your own design. Which leads me to further conclude that you have constructed it without proper protocols—“

"Honey, when you yell like that it makes it very hard to concentrate," Kirk says through gritted teeth. “Besides, proper protocols? You think this thing’s going to fall out of the sky all of a sudden?”

“No,” Spock says, “I trust your craftsmanship implicitly. However that does not negate the fact that this is, strictly speaking, an illegal craft.”

“That’s almost sweet, Spock,” Kirk says, his mouth twitching in a smile.

Spock frowns, and settles back in his seat while Kirk fusses with the controls. They are chasing the sunset over the planet’s curvature; Spock notices, with disinterest, the beginnings of the Rocky Mountains in front of them. He is about to ask how fast they are going – most antigrav vehicles that are not shuttlecraft are capable only of 400-500 kilometers an hour – when Kirk clears his throat.

“What did you mean before? About your dad's position. Was he some big shot on Vulcan?” He glances over again, and this time seems to see something in Spock’s expression. “Big shot, you know. Muckity-muck, high-falutin. Bigwig. Big cheese.”

“There is a curious preoccupation among human males with size when denoting something of value,” Spock observes.

“Anybody who says size doesn’t matter is lying, Spock,” Kirk says.

Spock ignores that. “Vulcan is ruled by a group of elders known as the High Council. My father’s family had someone on the Council for several hundred years.”

"Wow,” Jim says, then, smiling, he adds, “So you're a prince.”

“The translation is imprecise,” Spock says, “But as far as Vulcan recognizes royalty, you’re correct. When I was a child, I was raised with the expectation that either my brother or I would one day stand on the Council.”

“I’m guessing that expectation is no longer—“ Kirk makes a vague waving motion with his right hand.

“If that means that the family no longer has a place on the Council, you are correct.” Spock braces himself for the next question, the question of why his brother is not standing on the Council, even though Kirk must know, must remember the murder in its broad strokes if not in its painful details. It had been a story spread across the Federated Planets, every particular available to anyone who wished to know. But it has rarely stopped his acquaintances and colleagues and even friends from prodding for more information, thinking that an eyewitness must surely have something interesting to add.

His comm beeps; it's Pike once more. "She's fine," he says, "And really pissed at me."

"Give me that," he hears Nyota in the background, "Sir."

Evidently the comm was handed off, because Nyota's voice sounds closer. "Spock, what the hell is going on? Why are there a dozen goons looking through my underwear drawer for bombs?"

"Nyota, are you well?"

"Spock, I don't--" she breaks off, clearly uncomfortable, and Spock understands all at once what this appears to be.

"Mother was attacked this evening, and I was not sure if the danger had passed," he explains. "I am... sorry to have inconvenienced you, but I was concerned for your safety."

"Wait, what? Is Amanda okay? What happened?"

"The attacker was unsuccesful, it seems, although I do not know anything more. I am on my way to San Francisco at the moment."

Nyota pauses, and then sighs deeply. "All right. Uh, Captain Pike is treating me and my roommate to a hotel room tonight; he's not going to tell us or you where for security purposes, but Gaila's excited about the room service."

"That sounds very sensible. I - am glad you are safe."

"Me, too," Nyota says, and comms out.

"So, just out curiosity," Kirk asks, diving through several layers of cloud cover, "What's your get-out-of-jail-free card?"

Spock blinks. “Pardon?”

“The thing you broadcast when you’re in hot pursuit or whatever, to tell other cops not to pull you over. You know, the P-something.”

"It's called a Police Pursuit Designation,” Spock informs him.

Kirk rolls his eyes. "Yeah, okay, whatever - what is it, so I can punch it in for broadcast and shake off the -" He peers at the rear view screen, "Seven cops that are on my tail right now."

"As well they should be," Spock says, noticing their speed for the first time; they are going at least 1500 kilometers an hour. "I should arrest you myself."

"Arrest me later. You can call this hot pursuit if it makes you happy."

"Kirk, how fast is this vehicle capable of going?"

"Uh, pretty fast. I mean, it's not going to warp or anything, but I could probably get you to Auckland in a half-hour if you needed." Kirk grins. "Impressed?"

"Appalled," though he is smiling against his will.

"Yeah, be appalled later, give me the number now."

"Nonetheless--"

"Oh my God, just give me the number already!"

"Two-Q-Three-U-L-N-F-K-Eight-Three-Seven-Seven-W," Spock says, trying to understand the way Kirk's knuckles clutch the wheel, the violence with which he punches in the PPD in the console.

"Thanks," Kirk says; Spock sees the police vehicles peel off or slow down, receiving transmission, and somehow Kirk convinces the vehicle to break further laws of physics as they barrel toward San Francisco.

*

There is a crowd around his mother’s house, curious bystanders kept at bay by members of the IDD. Spock is allowed entrance with a minimum of questioning, though someone in a uniform frowns at Kirk.

“He’s with me,” Spock assures her, and walks inside. He can feel Kirk as a nervous presence behind him.

“Keep feeling like somebody’s going to arrest me,” Kirk mutters as they climb the stairs.

The living room is crowded with sober people going about their business, discussing things in low tones. There is a forcefield around one corner; Spock can see analysts working inside, setting up holographic imagery for further study. A image of a body has already been turned on, though Spock cannot see any more clearly than that.

Amanda is sitting on the couch; next to her is Chief Sideman. They look up, and Amanda smiles, getting to her feet and extending her hand out to him. Spock takes it and is drawn onto the couch; he curls his other arm around her shoulders. “Are you well?” he asks her.

“I’m a little shaken up, but I’ll live,” she says. She leans against his shoulder, and he can feel her shaking, slight tremors that shudder through her.

“Can you tell me what happened?” he asks the Chief.

Chief Sideman, for her part, looks more angry than afraid. “Someone got into the house, we don’t know how. He attacked your mother and her friend, but luckily her bodyguards hadn’t actually left for the night, and they managed to neutralize him before he could—“

“The important thing is that I’m all right,” Amanda interrupts.

“Where is the attacker now?” Spock says. “Has he been questioned?”

“Not exactly,” the Chief sighed. “He’s dead.”

Spock blinks. “I did not realize your security detail was equipped with weaponry that could kill,” he told his mother.

“They aren’t,” she protests, struggling to sit up straight. “He – Hsiao had him down on the ground, just there, and all of a sudden something came foaming out of his nose and he died.” She is still shivering, and after a moment, she adds, “I think it was his nose.”

Spock glances up at Chief Sideman, who says, “It was an Arcturian, probably hired assassin. We’ve already contacted their embassy; they say that they don’t have any bonded assassins on Earth at the moment, but of course that’s what they would say.” An officer bends down to murmur something in her ear, and she gets up. “Excuse me a minute, folks.” She walks over to a huddled conference in the hallway.

The rest of the Chief’s explanation runs through Spock’s mind again. “What friend was here with you?” he asks his mother.

It is this that quiets her tremors, although the color on her face is somewhat startling in contrast to the previous pallor. “Oh. My – friend. Yes, I think he’s being questioned in the kitchen.”

Just then, they hear Kirk say, “Bones? What the fuck?” and Dr. McCoy comes stumbling through the kitchen door. He catches sight of Spock and Amanda and groans, putting his hand over his eyes. Kirk, following after him, bursts out laughing.

“Dr. McCoy?” Spock turns to his mother. “You are friends with Dr. McCoy?”

“Yes?” his mother says, looking worried.

They are not friends, clearly. Spock bites down on the inside of his cheeks, though the smile is not so easily dislodged. “That sounded like a question, Mother,” he says.

“Angels and ministers of grace, defend us," Dr. McCoy mutters, his hand still over his eyes. He pulls it away to glare at Spock. "Your mother and I were on a date, all right? That satisfy you?”

Kirk starts laughing again. Spock gives up trying to keep himself from grinning. “I am perfectly well satisfied, Doctor.”

“Please,” Amanda protests, “Call him Leonard.”

Kirk leans against the wall, shoulders shaking. Spock smiles up at Dr. McCoy, who seems torn between wanting to kill Kirk and wanting to kill himself. “Is that amenable to you?” he asks him.

“Sure,” Dr. McCoy sighs. “Knock yourself out. Knock me out while you’re at it.”

Amanda beams at them all, then seems to notice that Kirk is neither a detective nor a member of Starfleet. She turns to Spock. “Is that—your friend?” she asks hesitantly, rising to her feet.

Kirk stops laughing, and says, “Um.”

Spock realizes that Kirk has not been introduced – he suffers a momentary qualm at the idea of his mother meeting Kirk, but it’s far too late to worry about that -- and stands up, keeping one hand against his mother’s back. “Mother, this is James T. Kirk. This is my mother, Dr. Amanda Grayson.”

“It’s a pleasure, ma’am,” Kirk says, coming forward and extending his hand.

Amanda shakes it firmly, her gaze very intent. “I could wish it was in better circumstances, Mr. Kirk, but I’m glad to finally meet you.”

“It’s Jim,” he says, glancing over at Spock as he adds, "Please."

Amanda smiles. “I’ve heard so much about you, Jim.”

“Really?” Jim seems frozen, unsure how to react. He glances at Spock again. “Uh—"

“Sorry to break up the party,” Chief Sideman says, “But I’d like to speak with Dr. McCoy, if you don’t mind?”

“Look, I already told your goons everything I know,” Dr. McCoy protests.

“Well, that didn’t take long, then, did it?” the Chief says. “If you’ll come with me?”

Grumbling, Dr. McCoy allows himself to be pulled back into the kitchen, leaving Spock alone with his mother and Jim, who says, “If you’ll excuse me, ma’am, I think I’d better be heading back.”

Amanda sighs. “I would insist that you stay, if only so we could talk, but I’m afraid the house isn’t exactly mine at the moment.”

“That’s quite all right, ma’am.” Jim glances at Spock. “Do you want me to… um."

“I will remain here for the foreseeable future,” Spock tells him, “There is no need for you to stay.”

Jim nods. “Okay. Ma’am, again, it was a pleasure.”

Spock watches him dodge around various people toward the door, before he feels a sharp nudge in his ribs. He looks down at Amanda’s disapproving face.

“What is it, Mother?”

“Spock.” She pauses, significantly, then sighs when he does not respond. “Did you thank him at all for bringing you up here?”

He didn’t, he realizes. “One moment,” he tells her, and follows in the wake of Jim’s departure.

Jim moves quickly, however, and he’s already at the vehicle by the time Spock catches sight of him again. “Jim,” Spock calls, over the heads of yet more officers.

Jim turns, hand braced on the door. “Spock?”

Spock reaches him; Jim is holding himself very still, and Spock is reminded of how he looked when Spock got the message from his mother, as though he were waiting for some great catastrophe to fall on his head.

“Thank you,” Spock says. “I was not suitably appreciative of the trouble you went to in order to ensure I arrived here as quickly as possible. And I wish to tell you that I am, indeed, very grateful.”

“Grateful enough not to arrest me?”

Spock considers. “I will see what I can do to ensure that your permit is expedited, so that we may avoid such misunderstandings in the future.”

Jim grins, and steps closer. “That’s pretty devious of you, Detective.”

“I have been learning a great deal from you,” Spock says.

“I’m glad I’m rubbing off,” Jim says. “You should probably get back to your mom. And your new step-dad,” he adds, his grin widening impossibly as he gets into his vehicle.

Spock shakes his head, and goes back inside.

There are more questions for his mother, and more people to ask them; Spock has never been at the other end of this procedure, and he is surprised at the level of sympathy he now has for those who have endured it at his hands in the past. It does indeed, as of one of his more lugubrious witnesses once said so memorably, “suck goat balls.”

It is after midnight by the time the last police officer leaves, though only as far as the door – security has been posted at every entrance to the house. Dr. McCoy leaves shortly thereafter; Spock retreats to the library as his mother says her farewell.

He watches the sullen fire in the fireplace and wonders if he should arrange for a meeting with Dr. McCoy sometime in the next few days, to inquire as to his intentions; it’s tempting to play on the doctor’s obvious unease. But he ultimately dismisses the idea. His mother is nearly fifty years old and has never been patient with male posturing.

She joins him in the library, hooking her arm through his and leaning her head upon his shoulder. “That,” she says, “Was excruciating. I like you considerably less now, darling, if that’s what you do to people on a regular basis.”

Spock smiles, but does not turn away from the fireplace. “I was thinking something similar,” he tells her.

“Well, thanks for coming so quickly. I survived the attack, but I wasn’t sure I would survive the questioning.”

Her tone is jovial, carefree, utterly at odds with the way she had leaned against him earlier. “Please do not make light of this. You were nearly killed.”

Amanda looks up at him, surprised. "Spock, it's all right." She pats his cheek. "It was frightening, but I'm fine now."

"Fine has variable meanings, Mother."

"Okay," she admits, and fusses with his collar. "I'm still scared." She looks up at him. "What about you?"

"I am--" he looks down at her hands, and covers them with his own. "Unsure," he admits.

"Oh, darling." She pulls him into her arms, resting her chin on his shoulder. He allows himself a moment, five of her sluggish heartbeats, to hold on.

He is, truthfully, not certain of his own emotional state; the price of his heritage, he supposes. As a child on Vulcan, he was taught emotional control under the assumption that feelings were like toys, to be taken out one at a time before going neatly back to their assigned position. But he has only ever experienced them as a confusing jumble, constantly underfoot. He finds himself thinking of Jim, probably almost home by now, his hands tight on the wheel.

His mother lets him go when he pulls away, and smiles up at him. “Tea?”

He nods, and they go into the kitchen, avoiding the forcefield that is still up around the area where the body had been. Spock is grateful to see that they turned off the holographic projector.

"So," Amanda says, putting the kettle on the warmer, "You think it was Imbelk?"

Spock sits down at the kitchen table, and absently adjusts the placemat in front of him so that it is aligned with the table's edge. "It is the most likely conclusion, in view of the timing."

"I have been attacked before," she points out mildly. "Like I said, I've been unpopular for a long time."

"Three times in thirty years is a remarkably low rate of attempts, given your status and the controversy present in your life."

Amanda laughs, but after a pause she says, "This makes it four, you know."

The first attempt had been shortly after her wedding to Sarek, by an enemy of the Syrranite movement. The second had been a bomb, intended to dismantle the Universal Translator project, which the culprit had believed would hurt his business of warmongering. The third, of course, had been Sybok.

"Your security detail will be increased - this will not happen a fifth time."

Rather than replying, Amanda takes out their mugs from the cupboard and places them on the table, then takes out her old china teapot. She fusses with the strainer, putting in some herbal tea mix that Spock enjoys. The kettle whistles, and pours the hot water into the teapot, then drops the tea in. "I'm sure it won't," she says at last. "You're very good at taking care of people, Spock. You'll make a wonderful father one day. But I'm not sure I can do my work here if every place I go has to be secured three days ahead of time, and there are six burly men and women following me everywhere."

She does not seem distressed when she says this. "Do you have an alternative solution in mind?" he asks.

"The Science Academy has offered me a post," she says. "Apparently I've managed to impress them; they want me to train some of their xenolinguists to work on the Universal Translator project. Vulcan is one of the few planets with one language, even with the dialects, and they need someone who is truly polylingual to--" she stops herself. "Well, they'd like me to bring my expertise to bear for a few months. I'm going to ask Nyota to come as well; she can apply it toward her ship-year, and it seems like it might be a good idea for her to be out of range, too."

"I see." It is an elegant solution; Vulcan is a more self-contained society than Earth, and will offer far fewer opportunities for an alien to make an attempt on either hers or Nyota's lives. And whatever Spock may have suffered as a child, his father was still a member of the High Council and his mother is even now highly respected. "Leonard will no doubt be disappointed," he observes, and delights in the fact that once again he has made his mother blush.

"Well, maybe he can visit. Besides, it's not like I'll be there forever." She lifts her chin defiantly, then seems to remember herself. "You don't - mind, do you darling? He's really a very nice young man, and I--"

"Mother, your happiness has always been of utmost importance to me. I will request that you not disclose the details of your courtship, however."

"Deal," she says, and pours the tea. "Speaking of which, it was nice to finally meet your friend Jim."

Spock takes the offered mug. "Indeed, though I admit to some unease at the idea of you two getting to know each other well."

"You were never worried about Nyota and me knowing each other," Amanda notes, sitting down on the opposite side of the table.

"Nyota is a much different person than Jim," Spock says. There is a curious pleasure in the use of his first name; it already feels comfortable, comforting.

"He looks better in a leather jacket and jeans, for one thing."

Spock blinks, confused by the turn in conversation. "I - had not considered that."

Amanda pauses, then puts down her mug. "You're friends, aren't you?" she asks. She sounds curiously sad.

"Yes," Spock confirms. "I assure you, leather jacket aside, he is…" he considers and rejects several descriptors, before settling on, "A good man."

"Patient, too," Amanda says cryptically, then sighs. "All right, I'm taking this to bed. Thank you again for coming to the rescue."

"Good night, Mother," Spock says, submitting to the kiss she places at the top of his head. He feels a wash of fear and relief and amusement, gone before he can analyze it. He stays at the table until his tea is finished, thinking about Dr. McCoy and Jim and Nyota and his mother, bound up in actions he took before even knowing most of them. How different their lives would be, if he had simply followed his duty instead of his conscience.

*

Amanda and Nyota leave at the earliest opportunity, aboard the Farragut. Spock speaks personally with Captain Garrovick and secures his word that they will be given the utmost protection on route. "I was briefed on the attack on Dr. Grayson," Garrovick says, "And I'm not about to allow anything like that to happen aboard my ship." Which is explanation enough - Spock has yet to meet a captain who does not have an almost unnatural regard for his or her vessel.

But he is easier in his mind when the ship breaks orbit. The Chief confirms Spock's guess, that there is circumstantial evidence linking Ambassador Imbelk's retinue to the attack on his mother, but with the current trial already so burdened by diplomacy, there is little chance that a new arrest will result in anything but a political disaster.

Rather than brooding on what he cannot change, Spock instead shifts his focus to taking care of the one remaining vulnerability. Jim's home is a nearly 200-year-old house, made mostly of wood, and the task of making it impervious to attack is a daunting one. The logistics are not his forte, but he receives assistance from an unexpected quarter when Mrs. Turbino shows up at the precinct one day, a PADD tucked under one arm.

"I heard you might need an engineer for your little project," she says, perching herself on the edge of his desk. "Here. Jimmy said you're trying to turn the farm into Fort Knox because of some crazy."

"Yes," Spock says, taking the PADD from her. From what he can understand - which is admittedly little - of the schematics, they seem ideally suited; a kind of shield, similar to the ones used on starships. Best of all, the house itself will not be impacted; Spock had been reluctant to make any alterations to the house. "Thank you," he says, "I appreciate your assistance."

"It's me who should be thanking you, Detective. If anything happened to Jimmy, I'd probably come after you with a wrench, and I'm too old to be cooling my heels in prison." She smiles at him and he hands back the PADD. "I'll supervise this myself. If you don't have any objections?"

"None whatsoever," he says. "Again, thank you."

"Again," Mrs. Turbino says, "It should be me thanking you."

He receives a few messages from Jim, mostly complaining that the whole point of his mother's remarrying was so that she wasn't living with him anymore, and with these so-called security measures, and the amount of time she spends at the house implementing them, he's in more danger than ever, mostly from committing matricide. "Spock, when you get this message, you should totally put it in evidence," Jim tells him, sounding more amused than aggrieved.

But when Mrs. Turbino pronounces her work done, Jim invites her and Spock to the "Fortress of Solitude," as he now calls it, and Spock sits at the kitchen counter, watching Jim and his mother argue over what to cook and how to cook it. He has done what he can to combat the threat from Ambassador Imbelk, and whatever comes next, he at least knows that Jim will be spared.

*

Someone is snoring. Spock opens his eyes and sees a white ceiling, sunlight dragging across it and throwing the tiny flaws into sharp relief. He is lying on a bed, and he feels like one large bruise.

Moving his head is difficult, but he shifts enough to see Jim, sprawled inelegantly over two chairs, his boots tracking dirt across the seat of one as he drools gently on the backrest of the other. It's clear that he's been there for some time; there is stubble spread over his cheek like a blush, and his hair looks wild, as though fingers have run through it endless times.

It is this, rather than his own pain, that makes Spock realize he's been injured, that he's in a hospital, and that Jim has come to watch over him.

Whatever tangle of gratitude and affection Spock feels is cut short when Jim awakes, abrupt, his legs tangling in the chair as he pulls himself upright. For a moment, he simply rubs at his eyes, his shoulders slumped as though he has not rested at all.

"Are you all right?" Spock asks.

"Jesus Christ!" Jim yells, and nearly tumbles off the chair. He manages to gain his feet, his hands balled into fists as he stares - no, he is glaring - down at Spock.

"Apparently not," Spock observes. "What are you doing here?"

"What am I--what are you doing here?" Jim says. He is clearly angry.

"I--" his memory is failing him. He can remember answering an all-units broadcast at the end of a shift, getting into his vehicle and pulling into the air, and then-- "I do not recall."

"Someone ran over you. While you were still in your car. You crashed at close to 200 kilometers an hour. It's a miracle you're alive - do you know how many bones you broke?"

"I would imagine not many," Spock says, "Since my bone density is--"

"Seven. You broke seven bones. Two ribs, four fingers, and your skull is damaged." Jim waves his head at each damaged portion of Spock's body, coming closer until he is looming over the bed. "Probably beyond repair, because you're a moron! I ought to arrest you for negligent suicide something!"

"You are not a police officer." Spock wants to add that Jim's yelling hurts his head, but he stops himself. He has never seen Jim so flushed and agitated, breathless with emotion.

"I'll make a goddamn citizen's arrest," Jim hisses, bending down suddenly, both hands braced on either side of the bed. "Spock, you can't--"

"Detective!" booms a voice from the doorway, and Jim flinches upright, spinning around to face whoever has come in, keeping his body between them.

Spock can't move to see past Jim's shoulders, but he says, "Yes?"

"You're awake," and the man - a tall, rotund human who reminds Spock of the paintings of St. Nicholas - pushes Jim to one side. "I'm Dr. Kemblowski. How are you feeling?"

"Like I was in a vehicular altercation," Spock replies. "Also I'm a bit thirsty."

Jim pours a glass of water and gives it to him. He's still scowling, but Spock has just caught sight of his own bandaged right hand, can feel the ache of broken ribs, and thinks perhaps there is more than just irritation at play here. "Thank you," he tells Jim, and takes the cup with his left hand.

"Jimmy, you mind stepping out for a minute? I need to talk to my patient." Dr. Kemblowski does not phrase it like a request.

Jim hesitates, then leaves, closing the door behind him.

"Why is he here?" Spock asks, curious.

Dr. Kemblowski looks surprised. "He's listed as your emergency contact. There was some confusion the other night when you came in, the computer glitched, but it was straightened days ago."

A computer glitch. Spock sighs, then the rest of the explanation catches up to him. "How long have I been here?"

"Three days," the doctor says, "And frankly I'm surprised you're awake right now. You were a mess when you came in; we set and healed most of the muscular damage, but bone damage - that's one thing we'd still prefer to let time do the work."

"What about the other driver? Were the police able to apprehend the culprit?"

The doctor looks almost serious, though clearly he has a face more suited to good cheer. "I think your Chief Johnson will want to talk to you about that. They haven't found the vehicle that forced you out of the air, but they're looking. For what it's worth, you were brought in with parts of your vehicle embedded in your body - whoever did this wanted to flatten you."

"I see," Spock says.

"So," Dr. Kemblowski continues, sounding more brisk. "You've been healed of a whole passel of internal injuries; we had to regrow your liver and repair your right lung, which collapsed in the accident, and your head got knocked around pretty fierce. You have two broken ribs and your right hand, as you've already noticed, was damaged. However, like I said, everything but the bones are healed, and those won't take too much longer. Technically you're free to go, but I've told Johnson you're not fit for duty, not even sitting at your desk, for at least a week. And I'd prefer you have someone stop in and check in on you every few hours, make sure your head's okay; human brains I know, and Vulcan brains I can read up on, but your brain isn't exactly one or the other." He grins. "I imagine you won't have trouble finding someone to take care of you, though. Doesn’t look like Jimmy’s going to let you out of his sight."

"So it would seem," Spock says. "I - thank you."

"It's been our pleasure," Dr. Kemblowski says, "Although we'll all be grateful once you get him out of our hair."

"Has he been here the entire time?"

The doctor, who had been drifting back toward the door, pauses. "Since about an hour after you were admitted," he says, "Although the nurses kicked him out when they gave you a sponge bath, don't worry. And he left for a while each day, something about feeding a cat?"

He opens the door and Jim slides in, as though afraid of missing anything. Dr. Kemblowski shakes his head and leaves, and Jim collapses back in his chair, scowling at Spock.

"Thank you." Spock's not actually sure what Jim's done, other than sleep on a chair for two nights in a row, but it seems unkind not to acknowledge it.

Jim rolls his eyes. "Yeah. Come on, let's get out of here." He claps his hands in an authoritative manner.

Spock frowns. "Pardon?"

"You heard the doc," Jim says.

"You should not have," Spock points out.

"The disapproving look is really good on you, but let's go. Hospitals give me the jumps."

Somehow - Spock isn't sure how, which probably has something to do with the pounding headache and the way Jim wraps his arm carefully but inescapably around his shoulders - they make their way out of the hospital and into Jim's automobile. Spock closes his eyes, anticipating the cacophony of whatever terrible music Jim is listening to this week, but the speakers are silent.

So is Jim; he drives only a few kilometers over the speed limit, hands tight on the wheel, eyes straight ahead. Spock watches him and doesn't notice they are not driving toward his apartment for several minutes. It takes him several more to decide he doesn't care; Jim's guest room has a soft bed, and he can probably ignore the boxed-up books long enough to get some rest.

He wakes up without realizing he'd fallen asleep; the car rumbles to a halt in the driveway of Jim's house. Spock rubs at his eyes, more tired now than he was in the hospital. The house's new forcefield flickers slightly in the sunlight.

Jim gets out of the car and circles around to Spock’s side, opening the door. “Upsy-daisy,” he says, leaning over to unclasp the belt. He smells of nerves and coffee and the leather of his jacket. Spock takes a deep breath of it. “Spock? Come on.”

He manages to get to his feet, although it’s harder to balance on the dirt driveway than it was on the smooth concrete of the hospital driveway. Jim reaches out to help him up the porch steps, and their hands graze.

He’s okay/he’s okay/he’s okay and Spock flinches away before he thinks about it. Jim grabs at his shirt and keeps him upright, and Spock doesn’t need to touch him to feel the confusion shift into embarrassment on Jim’s face. “I’m sorry,” Spock blurts, knowing that he’s seen something he shouldn’t, even if he can't understand it. The panic underneath the thoughts was far too strong, as though it were a brother who had been injured instead of simply a friend.

“It’s fine,” Jim responds, but when he helps him up the steps, their hands do not touch.

When Jim opens the door, there is a strange smell in the air – wood varnish, he thinks. “Have you done something to the house?” he asks. Guests are supposed to express interest in the host’s home, he remembers, feeling blurred around the edges.

Jim smiles. “You could say that. Check this out.” He brushes past and opens the garage door.

But instead of an old automobile and neat rows of tools, the door opens to reveal a room filled, floor to ceiling, with books. A large skylight and three bay windows, one in each wall, fill the room with light. Spock enters the room slowly, trying to take in every detail. There is a fireplace, dark at the moment, though it looks as though it is intended for actual firewood rather than a hologram. Facing it is a very large couch, dark brown and comfortable-looking, flanked by two deep armchairs. The wooden floor is covered by several worn but clean rugs, and from the rafters hangs a lazily-spinning fan. Spock moves toward a bookcase; he can see no clear pattern in the order of the books, but he would not be surprised if there was one, known only to Jim.

“This is beautiful,” he says, reaching out to touch the spine of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

“Thanks,” Jim replies.

The windows are deep enough to allow for a low seat in each one; curled on a cushion on the far window is Watson, who lifts his head lazily at their appearance. Next to him is Jim's orchid, slightly ragged around the leaves.

"You should put the plant somewhere out of Watson's reach," Spock says. "And how did you gain access to my apartment?"

"I think we should save that for when you can actually arrest me for it," Jim says, still leaning against the doorway.

"You may be right," Spock says. He pulls out a book of poetry, one he has not heard of. “Are these all the books your father owned?”

"Yeah. Plus some that I picked up from a few places," Jim says. "I, uh, thought your library idea was… anyway, when we were putting up the forcefield, I got to thinking this might be a fun project. Got some ‘bots from the Shipyards on loan - and yes, they were on loan, thanks," he says, grinning at Spock.

"I did not say anything."

"Your eyebrow said it all for you." Jim gestures to the couch. "Lie down, you don't look like you can manage the stairs by yourself and we're not Laurel and Hardying our way up there together."

"I'm unfamiliar with the reference,” Spock says, and sits down. It is almost obscenely comfortable, and he lies down immediately, letting his shoes fall as he toes them off. He is still holding the book of poetry; Jim plucks it out of his grasp and sets it on the table, just out of reach. “I wanted to read that,” he points out, but he yawns halfway through the sentence.

He falls asleep to the feeling of Jim spreading a blanket over him, to the warm lump of Watson jumping onto his feet.

*

The next morning, Jim wakes him up with toast and coffee. "I wasn't sure what you liked, but toast is pretty universal," he says, putting the tray down on the coffee table. "And I've seen the way you mainline coffee."

Spock huddles under the blanket, unwilling to move. He's been injured before, broken bones torn muscles and on one memorable occasion, shot by a projectile weapon. He knows that as soon as he tries to sit up, his muscles will protest and his bones will ache with that dull throb that is worse than a knife across skin.

Jim sits on the coffee table, leaning over him. He looks worried. “You okay?”

“No,” Spock says, “I am sore and hungry and I don't want to sit up. This is an excellent couch. Also I want my mother to be here." He thinks about what he's just said coupled with the grin that's fighting its way onto Jim's face. "And I am beginning to think the medication required for these injuries makes me talk too much,” he admits.

Jim’s smile is very beautiful, but Spock manages not to say so. Barely. “I can call her if you want. Your mother, I mean.”

“My mother is on Vulcan, teaching at the Science Academy. Also it would be very embarrassing for her to see me looking like this.” The toast smells good. “May I have some toast?”

Jim hands him a piece. There is butter on it, melted. Spock runs a finger along the top and tastes; it is delicious. “This butter is delicious,” he says. “What kind of medication am I taking?”

“I don’t know, but I sure like it,” Jim says. “Um. You should try and get some more rest. After you finish your toast. I don’t think you should be awake too much longer.”

The toast is excellent, and he finishes it in a few bites, wondering if he could ask for more butter on the next slice. But when he turns to ask Jim, there’s only darkness, and he’s asleep.

*

The second time he wakes up, it's afternoon; the sun is shining through the skylight onto the back of the couch. Watson is slumped across the entire expanse of sunlight, his tail twitching occasionally. Spock flexes his toes and weighs the pressure of his bladder against the prospect of standing.

"Hey," he hears, and he turns from watching Watson to see Jim, sprawled out in one of the armchairs. He's reading a book, thick black glasses perched on his nose, and his feet are bare. It's surprising. "You want to get up for a while? I've never seen someone sleep like that."

"I have to urinate," he says. "That medication has not worn off, it seems."

"Thank God," Jim grins, and comes over.

Spock hesitates, then manages to get to his feet without assistance; he sees the realization flicker in Jim's eyes, but he only smiles wryly and follows him, step by step, to the bathroom.

It would be humiliating to have that kind of attention paid, to be so obviously weak in front of someone else, but the simple act of moving around is, as he’d predicted, painful enough to push out any other concerns. The parts of him that are not broken are still bruised and sore, and his head is pounding.

But he can move, and when he closes the door to the bathroom, he realizes he's not dizzy or nauseated.

"Don't forget to take more of your medicine," Jim says from the other side of the door. "It's in the little cup on the sink."

The array of pills is truly impressive; Spock wonders why the doctor didn't send him home with hyposprays, but he doesn't ask, merely swallows them all obediently after he's relieved himself. He eyes the shower, but he's still so tired and Jim would never forgive him, or himself, if Spock fell asleep in the shower and injured himself further.

When he opens the bathroom door, Jim is standing very close. His expression is complicated, and Spock pauses, trying to remember what that combination of soft mouth and wide eyes means. But Jim just smiles, wide and bland, and shoos him back toward the library.

"You look like death on toast," he says, spreading the blanket over Spock's knees.

"Thank you," Spock says; the mention of toast, even in the context of an insult, is enough to make his stomach rumble. Jim, leaning down over him, hears it and laughs.

"I think that's my cue. You like soup? What kind?"

Spock says, "Tomato, please," without thinking about it. When he was young, his mother would make him tomato soup whenever he fell ill; in the arid, hostile mountains of Vulcan she had managed to nurse Terran tomato plants, and she would let him pick them, red and green and purple. He had tried to grow a small pot of them when he moved to Iowa; they'd died within two weeks.

"Coming right up," Jim murmurs, and disappears. Spock struggles to his feet again and wanders toward a random bookshelf, with the idea of taking one to read while he eats.

Ten minutes later, he has a precarious pile stacked on the bay window furthest from the door, the one still bathed in sunlight. He manages to collect his blanket and a pillow from the couch and curls up on the deep seat, shifting slightly so that Watson can collapse at his feet. He opens the first one, almost impatient; he remembers this book, his favorite as a child, though he has never met anyone who has read it.

Jim comes in a little while later - Spock notices that there is no chronometer in this room, not so much as a clock - and seems confused to find the couch empty. When he catches sight of him, he pauses. "You look..." he blinks, seems to remember the tray of soup in his hands, and walks carefully to the coffee table. "You're feeling better?"

It's a meaningless question, which Jim does not often indulge in. "Better has variable meanings, Jim," he says. The soup smells excellent. "May I eat the soup here?"

"Sure," Jim says, an easier smile on his face now. He tilts his head to read the title of the book Spock holds, and his smile widens. "'There once was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it,'" he recites, placing the bowl in front of Spock's crossed legs.

"You have read this?"

"Sure," Jim says. "Sailing on a ship, looking for the end of the world with your friends? Sounds like a good time. Plus there's kids turning into dragons, lakes that turn people into gold, isn't there a hot chick there somewhere, like descended from a star?" Jim sits down, careful not to disturb the cat, the soup, the books, or Spock, and leans against the window.

"Yes," Spock says.

"What made you pick these?" Jim asks, examining the pile.

"They are books that I remember from childhood. My mother has a library, even larger than this one, though perhaps not quite so well-appointed," Jim smiles, obviously pleased, "And she read to me stories from Earth. I was not encouraged to explore my human heritage when we lived on Vulcan, but she insisted that I have that much. They did give me a somewhat strange picture of humanity, however."

"I bet. Earth's not a whole lot like Narnia." Jim stretches his back, then gets up. "Eat your soup, Spock," he says, in what is probably an imitation of Mrs. Turbino. Spock sets the book aside and picks up the spoon.

"What time is it?" he asks Jim. "And what date?"

Jim pauses, and frowns. "I'll find out," is all he says.

*

When he wakes up for the third time, it's early morning. He blinks at the chronometer that Jim placed on the coffee table, which informs him that he’s slept for something like thirty-six hours. He’s dismayed but not surprised; Vulcans tend to respond to injury with intense healing trances, and he’s been injured often enough to know he’s inherited more than his fair share of that.

Wrapping the blanket around his shoulders, he makes his way to the bathroom, where he finds the medication that had been issued to him before discharge. He reads the dosage and side-effect warnings, and doesn’t take the muscle relaxant that may cause verbal incontinence.

Instead he examines himself in the mirror, stripping off his shirt to look at the dark, heavy blotches of green and blue of his skin, bisected neatly by the device compressing his chest so that his ribs will knit together correctly. He takes a deep breath, experimentally - it's as unpleasant as he suspected. There is a bruise on his face that starts at his forehead and goes down his  left cheek; where he hit the vehicle window, most likely.

He takes off his trousers and briefs and shirt, stuffing them into the wash-dry next to the sink, before turning on the shower. Jim doesn't have a sonic shower; instead hot water sputters through the pipes for a moment before coming out in a steady stream. He steps under the spray and turns the water as hot as it will go, several degrees cooler than he would prefer but probably hot enough to burn a human’s skin.

It still feels good; the faint plastic smell of the hospital, the sweat of his own distress and discomfort, and the stale stink of sleep, all are washed away in satisfying order. He rarely takes hydroshowers; during his early childhood, Vulcan's water conservation and technology made them a waste. When he and his mother came to San Francisco, he insisted on using the sonic shower; he'd screamed and screamed the first time she'd tried to draw him a bath. But hydroshowers are undeniably pleasant; there is something sensual about the drumming water, the rivulets that run randomly down his skin. He closes his eyes and leans back into the spray, feels the headache recede, and he can imagine the water is washing it, too, down the drain. The bandages on his hand and around his ribs are uncomfortable, but they are waterproof and he's unwilling to take them off now without being able to put them back on; and he won't wake Jim up for that, not after everything he’s already done.

Spock has made few friends in his life, preferring the formal ties of profession or the occasional pleasures of romance, and he's clumsy with Jim, he knows. Stupid and slow in this one area, and Jim makes him want to learn to be good at it, as good as Jim is. But it is still something that he holds close to himself, the knowledge that Jim had come for him, and stayed, and brought him home.

He'd looked so tired, draped across the chairs at the hospital. Spock remembers watching him and thinking he was fragile - a notion he quickly discarded when Jim woke up and raged around so beautifully, captivating in his anger.

Abruptly, Spock realizes that he's hard, and the water is getting colder by the minute. He turns to face the spray, gritting his teeth and willing his erection down. By the time he turns off the tap, he is in control of himself, and shivering, and aware that he forgot to get a towel.

He wraps himself back up in the blanket - he can clean it easily enough, his clothes are almost finished - and opens the door, trying to remember where he has seen something that might be a linen closet. The first floor is unlikely; he climbs up the stairs, wincing at each creak and each drip on the floor.

The first door is open, and he can hardly believe that it's the same room that he stayed in, drunk and protesting, months ago. With all the books now gone, the room looks almost empty, the bed still the only furniture. Spock rewraps the blanket around himself and pads down the hallway. The closed door at the end is no doubt Jim's room, but there is another bathroom halfway down the hall, and a closed door next to it. Spock opens it - the linen closet, with several towels and sheets shoved in with no particular care for order or wrinkles.

He reaches up to tug down a dark blue towel when he hears Jim's door open. “Spock?” he says, though he can’t see around the door. Spock loses his grip on both the towel and the blanket, and bends too quickly to try to retrieve them, cursing as his ribs and hand protest.

“Hey,” Jim says, his footsteps coming nearer, “Are you—“

He appears from around the door and Spock notices several things at once -

1) Jim sleeps in flannel pajamas.
2) His hair, normally brushed and somewhat orderly, is wild and tangled when he wakes up.
3) When he blushes, it spreads from his cheeks down his neck and all the way to his chest, as hot and red as a sunburn.

"I took a shower," Spock explains, feeling embarrassed and guilty and resentful for both those feelings, "And you do not keep towels in your downstairs bathroom.”

"Yeah," Jim says, still staring at him, still half-asleep and confused. Spock grabs another towel from the closet and wraps it hastily around his waist. That seems to jerk Jim awake, and he blinks, meeting Spock’s eyes as though he weren’t still bright red. “Uh. Do you need help with those bandages? You should probably get them reset before you put, uh, clothes on.”

Spock is reluctant, but it's a sensible suggestion, so he simply says “thank you” and follows as Jim grabs the fallen towel and blanket and goes into the guest room. Once inside, he has the strangest urge to close the door, but of course there’s no one else in the house, just Watson, who is probably trying to eat the orchid again.

Jim puts the other towel on the bed and turns to face Spock, who makes sure not to look away from Jim’s face. “How did you sleep?”

“Very well,” Spock answers. He presents his right arm, and Jim busies himself with taking off the compressor.

“I’m glad,” Jim murmurs, tossing the compressor onto the bed and picking up the towel. Spock’s hand looks strange, slightly misshapen, but it’s almost healed and he can move the fingers slightly. Jim traces the tendons of his hand with the towel, lightly, but even that contact makes Spock hiss with the unexpected flare of pain. “Sorry,” Jim mutters, “Sorry – we’ll just, uh, let that air out for a second. And I’ll um,” instead of finishing, he gestures toward the bed.

Spock frowns. “What?”

“I think it’ll be easier to do the ribs if you’re sitting down,” he replies.

That doesn’t make sense, but he sits down, and Jim climbs onto the bed behind him, fingers tugging lightly at the clasps of the device. The quiet is unnerving, and makes it hard to determine Jim’s thoughts. Usually it's a case of sifting very carefully through all the cheerful bullshit that Jim lets tumble from his mouth, but right now Spock has nothing to work with, other than the persistent blush and elevated breathing that could mean many things.

The binding at his ribs comes loose and Spock takes his first deep breath in days, regretting it almost immediately.

“Shh,” Jim murmurs, breath soft against his neck. He runs the towel down Spock’s back, then up to his neckline, before gathering the towel in both hands and sliding it around his sides to his chest. The touch is light enough to avoid setting off the pain, but it’s disconcerting to be so close to Jim, almost touching. He’s going to have to arrest him for breaking and entering, he remembers suddenly.

“You all right?” Jim asks into his right ear. “I’m not hurting you?”

“You’re not hurting me,” Spock answers. The first question is vague enough to ignore.

Jim’s hands withdraw slowly, careful not to jostle him, and reach around him to take hold of the hand compressor. It would take very little for Spock to shift a few centimeters and touch Jim’s skin.

Spock keeps himself perfectly still, holding steady as Jim rewraps and reactivates the hand and chest compressors.

“There,” Jim says, hovering again just over his right shoulder.

“Thank you,” Spock says and makes his escape.

His clothes are clean by now; he fumbles into them and returns to the library after stuffing the blanket into the wash-dry. The window alcove still has his pile of books on it; he opens one and sits down to read.

Jim comes thudding down the steps an hour or so later, clothed more traditionally in his jeans and t-shirt, his hair damp. “Hey,” he says from the doorway, “You want some breakfast?”

“Yes. Thank you,” he adds.

“Sure thing. Good book?”

Spock opens his mouth to answer, and realizes that he’s on page seventy-six and cannot remember so much as the title.

*

The rest of the week is spent resting, answering questions from Chief Johnson via comm, and trying to go home. Jim does not imprison him, precisely, but there seems to be something else pressing every time Spock mentions that he might be well enough to return to his own apartment.

But it is an easy captivity, in the quiet house, framed by silent fields. Jim is a presence, but not an intrusive one; he will read quietly in a corner, improbable glasses obscuring his eyes, then drift off into other rooms, coming back occasionally with coffee or medication or a message from the precinct. Neither of them admit that Jim should be working; instead Spock takes the coffee and the pills and the comm from Chief Johnson, and says only "Thank you."

But Jim does leave the house for a few hours every day, coming back with grease and sweat on his shirt. A few days into his convalescence, Spock wanders outside, puzzled by his absence and restless after so many days inactive. The air is crisp, the first frost a few days off, and Spock has pulled on one of Jim's hooded sweatshirts from the coat rack. He finds Jim in the barn, which he has apparently turned into his garage. He is working on something that, to Spock's inexpert eye, looks like a collection of metal and wires, about the size of a vehicle. The only thing he can recognize is Jim, crouched down with one knee on the dirt floor, squinting into the recesses of the object.

Watson, who is sitting next to Jim, looks up and greets him with that strange chirruping noise he makes, and trots over to twine around his legs. Spock bends down to pick him up, cradling him carefully as the cat's tail flicks against his arm.

Jim notices his presence and gets to his feet, squinting against the sunlight at Spock's back. "Hey," he says. "You're... are you cold?"

Spock looks down at the sweatshirt. "I apologize for taking this without requesting permission first. I assumed you would not mind."

"I don't," Jim says quickly. "You can, uh, it's fine."

"What is this meant to be?" Spock asks, drawing closer. He can see something - the overall shape, or perhaps the lines of design - that reminds him of the vehicle that took them to San Francisco.

"Oh. I'm building another car-vee hybrid. Like the one you almost arrested me for."

"You permit came through for that, by the way," Spock says.

"Fantastic. Anyway, what do you think?"

Spock is at a loss. "It's very interesting," he tries.

Fortunately, Jim doesn't seem to require more of an answer than that; he turns back to what he was doing. "Well, right now it's kind of a mess. But Mom's coming over in a while to help me out."

Spock remembers the old automobile Mrs. Turbino first picked him up in. "I take it she has more experience in hybridization than you?"

"She's got more experience in everything. Almost everything," Jim adds, and grins. "I drew it up and she said the design was solid, but there's something off about the construction - I don't want this thing seizing up on you, and it's going to be a lot more heavy-duty than that rig," he says, pointing his chin over at where the original vehicle is parked.

"I see. Are you planning on starting a business?" Spock asks. It would most likely be successful; Jim's original vehicle is seductively graceful, beautiful curved lines married to obvious power, and it would no doubt be highly popular among those who could afford such luxuries.

Jim laughs. "Definitely not," he says. "After this one, I'm done building cars. They're a real pain in the ass." He bends down again to examine something, and wipes sweat from his face with his arm. "But it's worth it," he adds, and Spock settles onto a workbench to watch him work.

*

Four days later, Spock returns to his apartment. Jim drives him, since his own vehicle is beyond even Mrs. Turbino's aid. "The department will allow me to borrow one of theirs for the time being, until I can buy another," Spock says.

"Well, don't rush it. You want to get something that will keep you in one piece if you get bitchslapped out of the sky again."

"I am not eager to repeat that experience," Spock says, "But I recognize that events often unfold counter to our plans."

"It all seems to work out pretty well, though," Jim replies.

Spock is holding the orchid between his knees, his hands cupped around the flower to protect it from the wind through the open windows. Jim has something deplorable and loud on the radio, and it is a beautiful morning.

Jim escorts Spock to his apartment door, but does not stray from the doorway. "Comm if you need anything," is all he says by way of farewell, and he’s gone before Spock can turn around to say goodbye.

He looks around his apartment; it's been a week and a half since he's been here, but aside from some half-rotted tomatoes in the bowl on his kitchen table, it appears unchanged. He goes into his bedroom and puts the orchid back at its previous place at the window, angling it carefully. It had gotten morning sun at Jim's house, and he wonders if being back here will affect its growth, if he should not have simply left it under Jim's care, even with Watson's curious teeth.

He notices his console blinking at him; he frowns and presses the comm packet. Three messages from his mother, sounding progressively more worried over the course of seven days; the last was left a few hours ago. He calculates the time difference, but makes the comm request anyway - she is most likely asleep, but he knows she would prefer he wake her with good news.

She answers the comm from her bedroom, wrapped in an ugly pink robe. "Spock? Oh, my God, what happened to you?"

He is still wearing the wrist compressor, which is visible to her; some of the bruises on his face and neck have not yet faded. "I am well," he assures her, "And I did not want to concern you."

"Concern me? Spock, I'm your mother. I'm concerned all the time. Are you all right? Tell me what happened."

Spock tells her, leaving out the more distressing details. "I have been recovering at Jim Kirk's home, and have only just come home."

Amanda seems amused by this. "Really?" she says. "How is Jim?"

"He is well. I am very grateful for his help."

"I am - very glad that he was so helpful," his mother says, but she does not sound precisely glad. "And I suppose he didn't have a comm system? You couldn't send your mother a message to keep her from worrying?"

"Jim's house is not equipped with an interplanetary communications module," Spock says, but even to his own ears it sounds like an excuse.

"I see."

"How are you?" Spock asks. "Is your security detail--"

"My security detail is just fine, Spock. I'm doing very well, and I think Nyota might have to be pried out of here with a crowbar. She's in her element; for once in her life, everyone around her is as smart as she is."

Spock smiles; that does sound like an ideal environment for Nyota, whose conflicts with her fellow cadets stemmed always from a need to wait for them to catch up with her. The Science Academy would hold no such frustrations.

"I went to the old house again," Amanda continues, "Though it's now being used as a guest residence for visiting ambassadors. The Council offered it to me, actually, but--" she makes a theatrical shuddering sound, "Not terribly tempting. And I've seen T'Pau a few times; she hasn't changed much."

"There would be little reason for her to."

"True. She asked if you were in good health, which was shockingly emotional of her. I think she misses you."

"That is highly unlikely," Spock says. "But it is flattering."

Amanda smiles, which turns abruptly into a yawn. "All right, darling, I'm glad you're in one piece, even though that piece looks a bit black and green from what I can see. I'll talk to you when I've had more sleep - but don't forget, I'm going to yell at you for a long time for not telling me what happened."

"Yes, Mother," Spock says, and turns off the comm.

*

McKabe has, during Spock's recovery, taken over the majority of Spock's workload; he greets Spock's return with a grudging smile and a great deal of paperwork. "Good to have you back," is all he says.

Spock makes little progress in discovering answers to his own investigation; there are no real leads to pursue. The vehicle that impacted with his is most likely a standard atmo-craft, ubiquitous and untraceable; there were no witnesses or video records of the incident. Worst of all, his own memory will not serve him; he can remember getting off-shift and going home, hearing the all-units call early in the morning, and then--nothing.

The all-units call had not been faked; a dilithium refinery had suffered a fire, and Spock's absence had not been noticed until his vehicle's distress beacon had gone off. He was found on a cornfield halfway between the refinery and his apartment, unconscious and trapped in the tangled remains of the craft. Dr. Kemblowski's and Jim's assessment of his injuries, he now understands, were not exaggerations - he is surprised, in a distant sort of way, that anything could have survived at all.

Rather than waste time throwing his own limited resources at the problem, Spock notifies Chief Sideman, who swears for a few minutes before demanding every detail - she had not been made aware of the incident. "This is why I hate working with General," she snarls, "They always think they can handle it themselves, don't think to call us when they're in over their heads."

Spock feels strangely stung by this remark, but says only, "I contacted you for precisely that reason - I do not believe our resources are adequate to the task at hand."

"Damn right they're not. All right, thanks for sending us the data. And for God's sake, Spock, be more careful. You do realize that if Imbelk's really behind this, he's not going to stop."

"I am well aware of it," Spock says. "However I believe I am equal to the threat, now that I know it to be--"

"Personal?"

"Persistent."

The Chief sighs. "Persistent isn't quite the word I'd use. Well, one good thing is that it should be over in the next week or so. The prosecution wrapped up its case a few days ago, and the defense is already halfway done. By this time next week, Ambassador might be safely shut up and stuck on the Moon."

"We do not have a prison on the Moon," Spock points out, smiling.

"I didn't say he was going to be in a prison. Aren't some of the old biodomes from the 21st century still up there? Maybe one of them hasn't leaked all its atmosphere. It'll be perfect for him."

It's an old and oddly endearing trait of the Chief's, to dwell on possible punishments for the suspects they present for trial. Spock finds himself comforted by it despite himself.

This leaves him with the more typical caseloads, and also the need to purchase a new vehicle. He asks Jim's opinion, and Jim enthusiastically accompanies him to several dealers, but he is so openly disdainful of the models there that Spock always leaves the way he came, in the passenger seat of Jim's own eccentric vehicle.

Until roughly two weeks later, when there is a loud rap on Spock's apartment door.

Spock freezes. He has increased the security for the entire building, and added considerable improvements to his own apartment, but the realities of his situation prompt him to reach for his phaser. He then reaches for the ident vid, which shows - of course - Jim, bouncing idly on his heels as he waits in the hallway.

Sighing, Spock puts away the phaser and goes to the door.

"Hey," Jim says, when Spock opens it.

"Hello."

"How's it going?"

"Well. Would you like to come in?"

"Yeah, yes. Actually," Jim stops himself, abruptly; he seems full of barely-leashed energy, "Actually, I came over to show you something. It's downstairs, come on."

Spock follows him, amused at the way Jim clatters down the stairs and waits, chin tilted up, for Spock to catch up. They exit the apartment building into a blazingly bright autumn day, temperature comfortable for him but probably a bit warm by most humans' standards. Jim is wearing a thin t-shirt and some of the jeans Spock suspects are held together as much by willpower as by the battered thread; he is sweating slightly even with so little clothing.

An automobile is in the parking lot, deep blue and familiar; in the general outlines he can recognize the vehicle that Jim was working on during his recuperation. Jim strolls up to it, his hand trailing along the hood the way it had slid up Melanie's thigh that night at the bar. The design is similar to the prototype, but somewhat larger and with a feeling of greater mass than the original. There is a transparent windshield and windows, although they do not seem to serve much purpose; there is no roof.

"What do you think?" Jim asks, spreading his arms.

"It is beautiful," Spock says, and runs the back of his hand along the hood; the smooth gloss of automobiles feels more pleasant than the alloy used in most standard vehicles and shuttlecraft.

Jim grins. "Not just beautiful. This baby can do everything but make you a cappuccino, and if you want I could probably put that in. Engine's a modified shuttlecraft reactor, can go up to sublight if you're in hot pursuit again, and more safety features than the bubble boy would know what to do with."

"I see," says Spock after a moment. He is trying to process the "you" in Jim's explanation. Rather than asking, he looks down at the interior of the car, and frowns. "What are those?" he asks, pointing at something hanging from the rear viewer.

"Fuzzy dice," Jim says, as though it should be obvious. "So? Is is perfect or what?"

Perfect for what is a question that would probably not be welcomed. "It would be difficult to go at any speed in a car that was open to the elements," Spock points out, less from a belief that Jim hasn't thought of that than curiosity to see what will happen next.

Rolling his eyes, Jim produces a set of keys. With the press of a button a standard anti-grav vehicular roof descends; as far as Spock can tell, it appears atmo-worthy.

"I see," Spock says again.

"So, you want to take her out for a spin?" He tosses the keys, and Spock instinctively reaches to catch them.

"I - is this a present?"

Jim shrugs, his hip leaning against the passenger door. "It's an offer. If you want to buy it."

Spock lifts an eyebrow. "So this is a commercial transaction."

"Well, I heard you were loaded, so I thought maybe you could send some of that hard-earned cash my way," Jim says, grinning. "Come on, quit dicking around. I want to show you how to do a barrel roll at 500 kilometers an hour."

*

The verdict for the trial comes down five days later, and he listens to the Chief rage over the comm for almost three hours. He spends the remainder of the day seated at his bedroom window, trying to remember the long-forgotten steps to Vulcan meditation, before sunset comes and he realizes that he is already calm. There is something almost peaceful in failure.

*

When Spock tells Jim about the verdict, the following day, Jim says only, "Eight o'clock, you, me, and some tequila. And mudslides," he adds, the laughter bright through the comm's system. "We'll meet at the Liftoff, okay? For old time's sake."

"It does not count as nostalgia if it only happened eighteen months ago, Jim," Spock says, but Jim just laughs again and signs off.

Hours later, Spock is standing in his bedroom, examining his off-duty clothing and wondering what would be most appropriate for a conciliatory drink at a disreputable bar with a friend. He pulls on a dark brown jacket and reaches for his hat when there is a knock on the door.

Sighing, Spock goes to answer - it is typical of Jim to decide on a time to meet and then show up like this, as though afraid Spock will get lost between his apartment and their designated meeting place.

But it is not Jim at the door.

"Detective, I have waited a great deal of time for this," Ambassador Imbelk says.

Spock manages to nod acknowledgment.

"I would like to come into your home, speak," he continues.

"That may be unwise, Ambassador, in view of recent events. You may speak."

The Ambassador nods, as though agreeing with an assessment of the weather. "You are correct to feel this way. However, I have come alone, and am unarmed, and I give you my word that I will do you no harm nor will I allow another to harm you. Whatever the faults you may find in me, you will I think agree that I am honest in all things, speak." He smiles - an unattractive expression on an Ulnasian's face, but the expression is meant to convey friendship and trust, according to Spock's research.

Spock's phaser is two meters away, in a locked cabinet. He knows enough about Ulnasian strength to discount any thought of a hand-to-hand altercation, though when he looks down at Ambassador Imbelk's hands, he sees they are empty. "Please come in, Ambassador. You may speak."

Ambassador Imbelk drifts through the doorway, gazing at the living room with polite interest. Spock closes the door behind him. "Your home is pleasing, and not what I would expect for someone so reserved. You are more sentimental than you appear."

Spock is suddenly glad that Jim's orchid is in his bedroom, behind a closed door and away from the Ambassador's too-frank appraisal.

The Ambassador continues, sitting himself down at the table. "I wish to congratulate you on your attempt to incarcerate me, though it was a failure. I admire your diligence, though it has cost me great personal inconvenience. It is strange that this trial has made my people more interested in trade with the Federation, rather than less, speak."

"I was not aware of that consequence, Ambassador, but then I am not a diplomat. You may speak."

"No, you would not have made a great success as a diplomat. You, I think, have never played chess, speak."

"I am not overly interested in games, Ambassador." Spock moves toward the kitchen area. "May I offer you a drink? You may speak."

"No, I am not thirsty. I wished to speak to you of the attempts on your life in the past few months. My very well-paid attorneys did not inform me of much, for fear that I was responsible, but with the recovery of my freedom, I have now learned the details."

Spock opens his mouth, then remembers that the Ambassador has not relinquished the conversation. Instead he sits down at the table and waits.

Ambassador Imbelk notices, and smiles again. "You have learned well the consequences of interruption, Detective. I am glad you do not make the same mistake as DiPalma, speak."

"So you admit to killing Joseph DiPalma because of a petty breach of protocol," Spock says. "You may speak," he adds.

"Of course," says the Ambassador, "But it was not petty, nor was my response extreme. I did not kill anyone else in his family, or his friends. But I now understand," he continues, seeing Spock's expression, "That there are different rules within the Federation, which may make any trade a difficult feat indeed. We do not count life as you do; you value every creature regardless of its relevance. This is something that perhaps no education will make comprehensible to us, speak."

"Perhaps you are correct, Ambassador. You may speak."

"But this is not why I came. The attempts on your life are, I believe, from one of my retinue, but not from myself. This is troubling to me, and I wish to know if you have any information that may assist in finding out the culprit, speak."

Spock considers this. "Why does it trouble you? And why did you promise that you meant me no harm? I recall our last meeting very well, Ambassador, and you were... eloquent on the matter. You may speak."

Ambassador Imbelk laughs. "An excellent question, Detective, though the answer will no doubt affirm your worst conclusions about my people. I wish you harm, of course, for you have caused me trouble and lessened my relevance among my people. But anything that happens to you will no doubt provide your police force with enough reason to detain and question and possibly incarcerate me again, causing me even further trouble. Moreover, your family has more relevance within the Federation even than my own on my planet, therefore killing you would be a breach of manners. Unless, of course, I killed your entire family, and I understand your brother is imprisoned on Vulcan. Very difficult to arrange an assassination, speak."

"Your planet's mores are indeed, very different from ours," is all Spock trusts himself to say. His communicator goes off, and he fishes it out of his pocket. It's Jim, of course. "If you will forgive me, Ambassador," he says, and the Ambassador waves his hand dismissively. "Yes, Jim?"

"Get the fuck off me, you asshole," Jim snarls. Spock blinks, but then Jim continues, "Spock. Spock? Can you hear--I swear to God, I'm going to kick your ass if you even think about it."

There is a silence, and then Spock feels the world shudder to a halt - the comm is picking up garbled static, the only thing that ever comes through when an Ulnasian speaks. Ambassador Imbelk catches his eye, and nods - he hears it, too. Without a word, they make their way to the door and go down the stairs, out into the dying sunshine.

"Spock, you've gotta - we're on the Enterprise, he told me to contact you, but fuck you--" and this last seems directed at whoever is holding Jim, "I'm not--" he stops speaking, and there is a horrible sound, wet and cracking. Spock gets into his vehicle starts the engine; he recognizes that sound, the sound of a human arm being broken.

"Jim, I am on my way."

"No, Spock, you can't - I'll be fine, just get out of here--"

The Ambassador has climbed into the passenger seat, holding the seatbelt with a quizzical expression. "I do love Earth machinery, speak," he says conversationally.

"Precinct," Spock says, using the vehicle's channel so as not to lose his connection with Jim, "This is a 911, please send all available units to the shipyards, authorization Spock Alpha Seven Six. We have a hostile with hostage, there are injuries."

"I'm fine," Jim laughs, though Spock can hear him gasping for breath, "It's a flesh wound--" and the Ulnasian does something else, and Jim screams.

"I believe that is a negative sound, speak," the Ambassador observes.

"You are correct," Spock says, through gritted teeth.

Already the shipyards are in view, the shape of the Enterprise rearing up like a great beast over the plains. The scanner picks up lifesigns on the saucer, and sure enough, he can see them - the pale blue of the Ulnasian and a darker figure, Jim, on his knees.

Spock manages to land the vehicle and grabs his phaser, taking a second he does not have to put the setting on stun. "Please remain here, Ambassador," he says.

The Ambassador ignores him, and gets out of the vehicle. Spock follows him quickly.

"You have disappointed me gravely with your incompetence," Ornees calls out to them. She is holding Jim up by his hair. Jim is struggling against her, despite the grotesque angle of his left arm, but she seems not to notice. She holds a very large knife in her other hand. "The only talent you seem to possess is making things difficult. You may speak."

"I did not realize I was causing such inconvenience," Ambassador Imbelk says. "However, in my defense, I was unclear as to your motives. Perhaps if you had told me of your plans earlier, I could have been more useful to you, speak."

"I believe that was sarcasm, Lord Imbelk, and I admire that ability in light of the circumstances."

"My position was achieved through more than simply use of alien witticisms," Ambassador Imbelk interrupts. "You will tell me why you have done this, speak."

Ornees glances down at Jim, as if she had forgotten he was there. "I will kill him, and Spock, and blame you," she says, as though it were obvious. "I have had great difficulty accomplishing this, but now I am confident in my success. You may speak."

"That is a very intelligent plan," Ambassador Imbelk admits.

Spock, who has been waiting to hear the sounds of sirens, snaps, "Please explain that logic, Ambassador."

Ambassador Imbelk simply stares at him, and Spock wants to squeeze the trigger; his hand trembles with the effort to stay still. He can hear Jim gasping for air.

"Speak," he says.

"Ornees wishes for my position," the Ambassador explains, as though confused that this is not obvious. "I can only assume the trial has lessened my relevance further than I had assumed. It is a pity, however, that Ornees has learned the human trait of shifting blame; she would not make a good replacement."

"Better than someone so powerless that he allowed himself capture--"

"I did not say you may speak, Ornees," Ambassador Imbelk says. "And you will not take my position, speak."

But she doesn't; instead, she drags Jim to his feet, still with her grip in his hair, and tightens her grip on the knife. "We are not given to enjoy kills," she tells Spock, "But I will enjoy this accomplishment." And she plunges the knife into Jim's stomach.

The sound is very quiet, amidst the wind, but Jim's gasp rings in Spock's ears. He aims the phaser and fires, hitting Ornees in the shoulder as he walks toward her; but she does not fall, merely staggers and remains on her feet. Spock fires again, and she laughs, yanking out the knife only to stab into Jim's chest, on the wrong side to pierce his heart, but she seems unconcerned with a quick death. Jim's eyes are wide open, his jaw clenched, and his left arm curls around his stomach, blood spilling over his wrist.

Spock drops the useless phaser and lunges for her, breaking her grip on Jim's hair with a blow to her arm. She turns to face him, and her expression is triumphant. "I should have killed James T. Kirk months ago," she says.

Ulnasians are strong, but not remarkably quick; Spock manages to elude her grasp and the point of the knife. He tries to think of strategy, how to disarm her while keeping her unharmed, but he can feel his rage shouting for vengeance. He knows that for her to catch him will mean his death, but all he wants to do is grab hold of her and tear her apart with his bare hands.

He focuses on the knife, and puts his hands on her wrists, hoping to break it with one clean snap. But instead her other hand grabs at his throat, squeezing with enough force to cause instant loss of consciousness in a human. Spock struggles, but he watches the knife come toward him with a strange resignation, almost relief. He does not know if Jim is still alive, and in that uncertainty he can die with hope, at least.

Then, a high-pitched whine, and the grip on his throat tightens before going lax. Ornees's expression is surprised as she falls, gracefully, to the deck of the ship; Spock collapses on top of her. After a moment, the gray fog lifts and he can look up.

Jim is holding his phaser, unsteady and shaking, the red light indicating that it has been set to kill. He smiles weakly at Spock, and says, "Is he dead?"

"Ornees was female," Spock says blankly, before getting up and kneeling at Jim's side.

Ambassador Imbelk joins him, gently taking the phaser from Jim's grasp. "You have saved him," he tells Jim, "I did not know humans would kill for such a reason, speak."

Jim blinks up at them both. "We're just full of surprises. It's nice to meet you, Ambassador."

"And you as well, James T. Kirk." The Ambassador looks at Spock. "That human trait of shifting blame - I think it may come in useful now, speak."

Spock doesn't listen to him; instead he grabs the knife and cuts Jim's shirt open. "I am more than happy to accept responsibility for killing her," he snaps.

The knife wounds are every bit as serious as he'd feared; a distant part of Spock's mind, still overrun by the shouting rage, is impressed that Kirk's lived for entire minutes. Spock takes off his jacket and his overshirt, and tries to press against the frantic flow of blood.

"I do not intend that you take blame, Spock," Ambassador Imbelk says, "That would be stupid. But I will - no matter the interference of your government, I know you cannot arrest me for killing one of my own planet. A very handy loophole in your endless rules, by the way, speak."

Spock can at last hear sirens - a great many of them, it seems. Jim's movements are growing weaker, slower; he blinks up at the sky as though he cannot remember where he is. "Please, Jim," Spock says, "You must hold on. There is help--"

"I don't think so," Jim says quietly.

"You cannot die, Jim," Spock orders him. "I will not allow it."

"I believe this is beyond your sphere of influence," the Ambassador observes. Spock glares up at him, the rage rising again, but the Ambassador only smiles. "I will leave you to your goodbye."

"Spock--" Jim grips his arm. His fingers are cold and Spock wants to close his eyes as he feels you're okay/worth it/not sorry/worth it/love you/not sorry/please/be okay/worth everything but he can do this much, keep his eyes open to watch Jim reach up and touch his cheek  and smile, obscene red at the corner of his lips. this was always worth it.

Spock holds on to him, listens to the sirens wail nearer, and feels the blood flow through his fingers.