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Only Good For Legends, Part Three

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Mrs. Turbino slaps Spock hard across the face and immediately pulls him into an embrace, her shoulders shaking.

Jim is alive -- by such a narrow margin that it is almost worse to hope he will recover than to believe he will die. Spock is too numb to do anything but let his arms wrap around Jim's mother and hold on; it is as though all emotion has bled out of him, leaving something dry and brittle in its place. He watched the emergency team stabilize Jim before being beamed over to the hospital, where he stood in a corner of the operating room and simply refused to leave. For hours they worked, murmuring to each other, regrowing organs, chasing after blood clots, beating back death. Someone else must have called Jim's mother -- someone else must have done a number of things.

"He will live," he says, not recognizing the voice as his own. "He will live, his mind is undamaged. He is gravely injured but in time--"

"Shut up," she whispers, "Just shut up. God, he's his father all over again. You stupid boy, you stupid, stupid boy."

After a few more minutes, she manages to pull away. Her hair is wild around her face, her eyes bloodshot and tears still fresh on her cheeks. "I can't decide if I want to slap you again or what," she says, pulling a handkerchief out of her back pocket.

"If it will provide comfort," he starts, but she raises a hand and puts it to his lips.

Terror/so stupid/his father/not fair/not his fight/so proud/relief and Spock jerks away, just enough to break the contact. If she is puzzled, she does not show it. "Do you mean comfort to me or comfort to you? Don't answer that." She scrubs her face with her hands. "God, I'm so tired. It's three o'clock in the morning, did you know?"

Spock did not. He has lost track of time. If anything, he is surprised it is not later -- he cannot imagine that so little time has passed. "I must speak with my colleagues at the precinct," he says. There was a murder earlier -- Ornees dead on the hull of the Enterprise, the Ambassador saying things Spock can barely remember now -- and he should make his report.

"They're around," Mrs. Turbino says vaguely. "Jeremy tried to interview me a couple hours ago, that was pretty hilarious."

Spock tries to understand. "Jeremy?"

"Jeremy McKabe. Officer Jeremy McKabe? My ex-husband?" She looks closely at him. "You must be more tired than I am."

"I should find them," Spock repeats absently.

But they have already found him; he watches their approach down the hall, side by side. Taken together, their relation is even more apparent; they walk with the same measured, implacable stride.

The interview is brief and to the point. Ambassador Imbelk has apparently saved Midwest General a good deal of trouble -- since he has claimed responsibility for the death of Ornees, and since she was from his planet, there is little more to do than a submit report. "We should probably send a message to the shipyard," Chief Johnson says casually. "Let them know to get a cleaning crew up on the hull of that ship of theirs." Spock wonders if the Enterprise has set some sort of record for earliest onboard fatality.

"Handy for us that Imbelk did it," McKabe says casually, scratching his nose as he reads something off his PADD. "If you or Jim had killed her, we would've had to obey Interstellar Law. I hear the Ulnasians don't believe in making executions quick. Or clean."

"Yes," Spock says. "I am aware."

"So we just need you to confirm the Ambassador's version of events," McKabe says. Spock watches Chief Johnson, who is watching Mrs. Turbino, who is watching the back of McKabe's neck.

"At the time, I was being strangled, therefore it would be difficult for me to confirm or deny the Ambassador's statement," Spock says carefully. "However I will say that Ulnasians are known both for their honesty and for their propensity toward killing each other as an approved diplomatic strategy. I can confirm that Ornees did make her intention to take Ambassador Imbelk's position very clear, therefore he would have judged it his right, possibly his duty, to kill her." He feels almost light-headed, but his voice remains level.

Chief Johnson says, "All right, that's all we needed. Let's go."

"Right behind you, sir," McKabe calls over his shoulder, then asks, "So is he gonna be all right?"

"Yes," Spock says. "The damage has been--"

"Yeah, I've been to the crime scene, I've seen the damage," McKabe snaps.

"Jer," Mrs. Turbino says. She puts a hand on his arm.

McKabe tenses, but puts his hand over hers for a moment. "Let me know when he wakes up. I'm going to have to interview him, too." He follows Chief Johnson back down the hallway.

Spock waits until they have disappeared from sight, then leans against the wall and breathes deeply.

"What about you?" Mrs. Turbino says. "Are you all right?"

Spock does not know how to answer.

*

Sam Kirk is easy to recognize when he comes down the hallway; the boy in the pictures and holos along Jim's wall match this young man's face, his quick stride. Spock is sitting in the small alcove across the hall from Jim's room; Mrs. Turbino was allowed to sit with Jim as his next of kin, but though she had invited Spock inside, he waited out here, mind carefully blank.

Spock gets to his feet as Sam approaches and says, "You must be Sam--"

"You Spock?" Sam interrupts. He is breathing more harshly than the walk would account for.

"Yes," Spock says, and immediately Sam pulls his fist back and punches him.

It is, oddly enough, exactly where Mrs. Turbino slapped him, and Spock feels the faintest edge of irritation in the ache. He puts up a hand and stops Sam from throwing another punch, his fingers wrapped around Sam's fist and squeezing hard enough to make a point. "Your mother is asleep in the next room," he says, trying to keep his voice low, "And unless you would like to explain to her why you are assaulting a police officer, I would advise you to desist."

Sam does not look inclined to take his advice. "You son of a--"

But by this time a woman has appeared from down the hallway; she drags Sam away by his elbow, scowling fiercely at him. "Jesus, George! What the hell are you thinking? I am so sorry," she adds to Spock, ignoring Sam, or possibly George's, halfhearted attempts to get away. "He was fine this whole way, then the nurses started telling him what happened -- he got a little worked up."

"I understand," Spock says. "Emotions are elevated."

"Exactly. But Jim's all right?" she asks. Her voice is pitched low, and she keeps glancing at the door to Jim's room.

"His injuries are very serious," Spock says, "But the doctors believe he will recover fully."

Sam, or George, seems to be settling down. "I--shouldn't have done that, probably," he says abruptly. He scrubs his hand through his hair in an uncanny mimicry of his brother. "But from what Jimmy's said, you've got a habit of arresting Kirks anyway, so I suppose it's only fair I give you a crack at it."

"Only your brother," Spock says. "I've never arrested your mother."

"Well, we can't all be heroes," George, or Sam, says, and sticks out his hand. "George Kirk. Sorry about the jaw."

Spock hesitates. "I am not sure if your brother informed you," he says, "But I am, to a certain degree, telepathic. When I touch people, I can read their--"

"Their minds?" George does not look perturbed, merely curious.

"Limited surface thoughts only. But I don't want to invade your privacy."

"Or have to hear about how I think you're a pointy-eared bastard for letting Jimmy get banged up," George observes. "This is Aurelan, my wife."

"It would've been a pleasure to meet you, Spock," Aurelan says, "If my husband hadn't been a moron."

"The past few hours have been difficult." Spock says.

"So what happened?" George asks. "The nurses told me -- I'd like a more reliable account."

"I doubt my account will make you any less angry," Spock warns. George laughs and takes a seat.

"I doubt it, too. But I won't hit you again, sound fair?"

He keeps to his word, although at several points Spock notices his hands flex into fists. Spock gives the same account that he did to McKabe and Chief Johnson, taking care to emphasize his own near-strangulation at the time of Ornees's death. Aurelan looks down at the ground the entire time, fidgeting with the hem of her skirt.

"And I promised not to punch you, right?" George says at the conclusion. Aurelan hits him on the arm, and he gets up. "Is anybody allowed to see him yet?" He looks agitated, full of energy with no way to spend it. Spock almost offers to let him punch him again.

"Your mother is inside now," he says instead.

"Right, you said. Okay," George says, and kisses Aurelan on the cheek. "I'm just going to peek in," he tells her, and opens the door quietly.

Aurelan watches him go, then sighs heavily and leans back in her seat. "He'll cool off," she assures Spock. "It's too bad Jimmy never introduced you two before this happened."

"Do you think he would have been less inclined to hit me if he knew me previously?" Spock asks.

"No, but at least you wouldn't think he's a total asshole," she says. "He's just--what's that term, when you're feeling guilty about something, but you're pretending that it's somebody else's fault?"

"Projection, I believe."

"That's it in spades. George used to protect Jimmy, in school, from their first stepdad, kind of from the world. Then Jimmy drove a car off a cliff and George realized there was nothing you could do to save someone who didn't want to be saved. So he stopped helping out. They've been a little -- strained -- ever since."

Spock can imagine it. Then he remembers -- "Why is it that you call him George, and Mrs. Turbino and Jim call him Sam?"

"Oh. Shit, thanks for reminding me," Aurelan says "Right -- their father's George Kirk, you know, youngest Starfleet captain and the shortest-serving one. Twelve minutes. George Samuel Kirk," she nods toward the door, "Was called Sammy when he was a kid, first just for convenience and after just because -- well. It's probably not easy to lose your husband," she says vaguely. "When I met him in college, he was calling himself George, but his family still sticks to Sam. So -- anyway, long story for a short answer, they call him Sam, everyone else calls him George. Including me, when we're not in Riverside."

"But when here?"

"Do as the Kirks do," Aurelan finishes, grinning.

A few minutes later George comes back out, lead by Mrs. Turbino, who looks very angry. "Let me see your cheek," she demands of Spock, snapping her fingers at him as he slowly rises to his feet.

Spock glances at George, who rolls his eyes. "Mrs. Turbino, I--"

"First of all, it's Winona, Jesus, you saved my son's life and didn't arrest my other son for assault, that deserves first-name basis, and second, don't even think about lying to me, Spock, I can make your life a misery in ways you can't imagine."

"I do not--" Spock starts, but he cannot finish the sentence.

Winona takes him by the shoulders and looks closely at his jaw. Her eyes drift over his neck; no doubt there are some impressive bruises blooming across his throat.

"We're going to have to sign a mutual non-aggression pact," she mutters. "Jim's going to be pissed when he wakes up if he finds out the whole family's been whaling on you."

"Because you think he'll want a turn?" Spock asks her, and her laugh is surprised.

"Maybe. Anyway, my eldest would like to apologize." She says, gesturing at George, who looks uncomfortable.

"I already apologized," he protests.

"For the punching part. Not for the acting like a son of a bitch part."

"I am a son of a bitch," George retorts, but takes a deep breath. "Sorry. I guess. And we can't shake on it, otherwise he'll know I'm not sorry," he says to his mother when she continues to glare at him.

"All right, fine, you're not grounded anymore," Winona huffs.

A doctor who Spock recognizes vaguely from the operating room approaches them. "Are you Mr. Kirk's family?" she asks, frowning down at the PADD in her hands.

"We are," George says, gesturing to his mother and his wife, who both smack his shoulders with considerable force.

"Yes," Winona says, her arm curling through Spock's. "We are."

The doctor looks dubious, but says, "I'm Dr. Barrett, I was the attending surgeon for your son's case. Mr. Kirk's injuries were severe, but we believe we've repaired everything and that he'll make a very quick recovery; two or three days of bed rest and then a week of restricted movement. I would like your permission to keep him in a medical coma for the next twelve hours; it will speed the healing process and prevent any accidental setbacks."

Everyone looks at Winona, who sighs. "Jim'd never forgive me if I let him sleep through anything. But I guess if it's under advice of a doctor..." She nods. "So we should come back this evening?"

"Yes. We can bring him out at about eight p.m.," the doctor says. "In the meantime, I would suggest you all get some rest at your homes."

"Let's get you settled in," Winona says to George and Aurelan after Dr. Barrett leaves. "You can stay in the guest room at the farm."

"Oh, Jesus," George groans. "I don't want those boxes tipping over on me in my sleep, okay?"

"The boxes are gone," Spock tells him. George and Aurelan stare at him; Winona smiles. "Jim converted the garage into a library this summer. It is very beautiful."

"Okay," George says after another minute, "I'm going to go before I punch him again. We'll meet you at the farm," he says to his mother, and he and Aurelan go, Aurelan making an apologetic face behind her husband's back.

"You make enemies like a master craftsman," says Winona, clearly admiring. Spock frowns and she waves it away. "Listen, you should go home, too."

"I am perfectly--"

"I know, you only need four hours of sleep, you're a superhuman. You're a half-human superhuman. But you need to get some sleep, and get clean, and you should probably have someone check those bruises on your neck. Not to mention the black eye you're going to get from everyone who's been smacking you around."

"I was hit by two humans who are not formally trained in combat," Spock says dryly. "I doubt very much that there will be a black eye."

"Like a master craftsman," Winona repeats. "Now shoo."

*

When he gets back to his apartment, he takes a shower and changes clothes and eats something. He still feels tight in his skin, too full of the emotion that he had thought gone a few hours before. He goes into his bedroom and lies down, and even closes his eyes, but his is aware of every minute that passes by, drawing him closer to eight o'clock. And finally the thoughts and feelings that Jim showed him -- gave him -- will no longer be pushed aside. Jim's fingers had felt chilled against this cheek, but his thoughts, even with the pulse of fear and pain, had been warm and clear, a promise whispered into his ear. It is a terrible way, he thinks, throwing an arm over his eyes, to find something only when you nearly lose it.

The communications console beeps; there is a message on his console from Chief Sideman. "Hey kiddo," she says, smiling into the viewscreen, "I just heard about what happened, and it sounds like everything's tied itself up pretty nicely. Ambassador Imbelk has, for once in his life, not been a gigantic pain in my ass -- not only did he kill off that bitch, he's apparently agreed to voluntary deportation. So it looks like whenever you want to come home, we're ready to have you. I've already talked to Chief Johnson and started up the paperwork, so unless you've gotten yourself a nice farmer's daughter girlfriend out there, I expect to hear from you about your transfer in the next few days. Talk soon -- and good work." END MESSAGE, the screen reads, and then shuts off.

Spock debates the merits of speaking with his mother, but he cannot find the energy. She will learn soon enough. Spock looks back at his bed but he realizes that being alone with his thoughts is the last thing he wants.

Instead he finds himself drawn back to the hospital, in time to see Winona and McKabe arguing in the hall. As he watches, McKabe says something that makes Winona bunch her hands into fists, though fortunately she does not strike him. Instead, she storms off in the opposite direction down the hall.

McKabe makes to follow her, then seems to think better of it. He notices Spock. "Lurking in the shadows, Detective?" he says.

Spock approaches. "Is everything all right?"

"Get him on the same page," McKabe replies, and walks away. Spock pauses outside the door to Jim's room, then grasps the handle and steps inside.

Jim is awake, lying on the bed and arguing with his brother, who's got his hands braced at the end of Jim's bed. "--heard it wrong, okay? I'm not talking to McKabe or anyone else until--" he breaks off when he notices who is standing in the doorway. "Spock?"

"Hello."

"Great," George mutters, and before Spock can get out of the way he shoves past him, out into the hallway.

Spock watches the door slam in his face, bemused. "I suspect your brother does not altogether approve of me."

"Yeah, I heard about the little love-taps my family has been dishing out. You never let me punch you," Jim says. "Sit down. You look terrible."

"You are not the first to make that observation," Spock says, taking a seat in the visitor's chair. "This is a most peculiar reversal of roles."

Jim grins, patting gingerly at his chest and stomach with his good hand; his left arm is encased in a compressor. "Tell me about it. Although apparently you couldn't even be bothered to come sit at my bedside."

"I did not wish to intrude. And your injuries were--"

"It wasn't your fault," Jim says.

"I was responsible."

"For no one's actions but your own." Jim stretches out on the bed, wincing slightly at some pain or other. "Sam said you'd probably go back to San Francisco after this," he says, the last few words stretching out into a kind of question.

"I have spoken with Chief Sideman at the IDD; she is eager to know when I plan to relocate."

"Yeah. That makes -- it makes sense. I mean, the trial's over. Which reminds me, we never did get that beer I promised you. I'll take you out sometime after you get settled in Frisco. Any good bars around there? I mean, it's got the Academy and Federation Headquarters, so I'd guess they've got a fair number."

"There are," Spock says.

"That's good. And hey, about that," he adds, as though remembering. "I mean, about the trial and everything." He laughs and gestures at the door. "McKabe just came in here and said that Ambassador Imbelk was the one who shot that asshole."

"Ornees was female," Spock reminds him again.

"And Ornees wasn't killed by Ambassador Imbelk," Jim says flatly. "Didn't you tell them what happened?"

"I told them that I could not recall the events that transpired with any degree of certainty, since I was being strangled and rapidly losing consciousness at the time," Spock says.

Jim gapes at him. "What?"

"The Ambassador has claimed responsibility," Spock tells him. "Due to the diplomatic treaties between our two planets, he cannot be held responsible by our government for her death. But should a resident of Earth kill an Ulnasian, the repercussions would be very serious." He does not look up at Jim while he speaks, focusing instead on Jim's hands, the way his fingers clutch at the sheets.

"So you lied."

"I prevaricated."

Spock looks up; Jim has an unfamiliar expression on his face. "You shouldn't have done that."

"Whether or not I should have is immaterial, Jim. I have done it."

"You chose expediency over your conscience?" Jim exhales loudly, his teeth gritted. "You know what happened, Spock. You can't be happy with this."

Spock stands up, discomfited by Jim's hard stare. "In choosing my conscience over expediency when I first arrested the Ambassador, I exposed everyone close to me to danger and watched you bleed almost to death in my arms. My happiness is not--" he realizes that he is angry. He takes a deep breath, his hands clasped behind his back. "It is not relevant."

Jim is silent; when Spock looks at him, he is staring up at the ceiling. "So you're saying that I shouldn't recall the events that transpired with any degree of certainty."

"Correct. I think that would be best for all concerned."

Jim is silent; when Spock looks at him, he is staring at the wall, gaze unfocused. "So I guess this means you'll be leaving pretty soon."

Spock frowns. "Pardon me?"

"Well, the IDD's begging for you to come back, right? So you'll be heading back to Frisco any day now." Jim's smile is entirely fake. "Must be a relief."

"I had not yet considered it," Spock admits. "Perhaps it is something we could discuss."

"What for?" Jim asks, leaning back in his bed.

"In view of what you revealed to me the other night--"

"Actually, I don't recall the events that transpired with any degree of certainty, Spock," Jim interrupts.

"I do," Spock says.

"No," Jim says, "You don't."

*

"Hey, kiddo," the chief says when he comms her the next morning. "You alive?"

Spock forces a smile. "I assume the answer to that question is self-evident."

"Not really. You look like a piece of rough trade off an Orion cruiser," she says, frowning at him through the viewscreen. "I got the report of what happened yesterday, but it lacked the proper detail. She really did a number on you, didn't she?"

"I assure you I am well," Spock says, "And would like to discuss my transfer back to IDD."

"Fair enough. I've already got the paperwork all set up; you can come back whenever you want." She smiles at him, and shakes her head. "Hell of a way to get a transfer request, I have to say."

"Yes," Spock agrees.

"It's up to you when you transfer. We'll take you back tomorrow, but I'm guessing you'll want some time to recover. Unless you really do have a farmer's daughter stashed away there in the Midwest somewhere?" she teases.

"No," Spock says, "I don't."

The chief shakes her head. "All work and no play, Spock. All right, I'm putting you on two-week mandatory vacation prior to transfer, because I know you and you're going to ask me to transfer you in tomorrow, aren't you?"

"I was planning on it," Spock admits. "And you did say--"

"Yeah, I say a lot of things," Chief Sideman says, "And you look about ready to fall over. I want you back at the IDD fresh and feisty, so. Two weeks from tomorrow. But come home to San Francisco before that, okay? Iowa doesn't seem to like you much."

The screen goes dark.

*

Spock finds a new apartment in San Francisco, at the top of a hill. It is a great deal more expensive than the one he'd had previously in the city, but he finds himself reluctant to relinquish the luxury of space that Iowa had afforded him. The kitchen has a large bay window with a recessed bench; he puts a breakfast table against it and sits there every morning, reading the news or a book, the sun warming his back.

A few days after he has finished unpacking, McCoy turns up with a bottle of whiskey. "Heard you got shown the door," he says, coming in without an invitation.

Spock sighs. "Did you learn this particular trick of finding people's residences from Jim?"

"I found it out from your mother, and it wasn't so much a trick as she said, 'Here's where my son lives, can you go and make sure he hasn’t stuck his head in the oven?' Which -- by the way, do you even have an oven?"

"No."

"I thought not," McCoy says, setting the bottle down on the coffee table. "I'm not sure when I got the job of babysitting you."

"I am not suicidal," Spock says.

"Great. Let's drink."

Spock resigns himself to the inevitable and retrieves glasses from the kitchen. McCoy is already comfortable on his sofa, squinting at the book Spock had put down. "Somehow I didn't figure you'd read Earth novels."

"What did you think I would read?" Spock asks, curious.

McCoy shrugs. "I don't know. Vulcan novels?"

"Vulcan is not renowned for its works of fiction."

“I’ll bet.” He takes the offered glasses from Spock’s hand and puts them on the table, opening the bottle with the assured movements of long practice. “So you’re back in San Francisco.”

“I am.” Spock sits down in the armchair opposite; McCoy hands him a half-full glass and leans back, kicking one foot up on the table.

“I went back to check on the patient a couple days ago," he says, jerking his head toward the east.

Spock drinks the alcohol; it’s unpleasant, sour in his mouth. He finds himself regretting the fact that it will have no effect on him.

“Jim’s doing well. Sends his regards.”

“I think this drink typically is served with some kind of soda or sparkling water,” Spock observes. “Would you like me to get some?”

McCoy snorts. “Let me guess, you don’t want to talk about it.”

“I am glad Jim is recovering.”

“Why’d you leave?”

There is something commendable about McCoy's bluntness. "Jim made his desire for my absence clear," he tells him. "As I had no other reason to stay in Iowa, I elected to return to San Francisco."

McCoy makes an irritated noise in the back of his throat. "So wait - okay, I'll be the first to admit that I've only ever dated women, so maybe I'm understanding it wrong. But when a woman tells you to leave, usually it means she wants you to stay."

"Are you not divorced?" Spock asks him.

McCoy rolls his eyes. "All right, I get--"

"And is the woman you are currently dating not currently on an entirely different planet?"

"You don't have to be all--"

"And I have heard accounts from Jim that prior to your romantic liaison with my mother, you--"

McCoy throws up his hands, imitating surrender. "All right, all right. I'm the last person you should take advice from. Doesn't mean you don't need advice from somebody. Can't you just do that little touchy-telepathy trick on him?"

"Without his consent, it would be highly unethical. And would serve little purpose."

"Don't sound so impassioned when you say it, you'll make me think you give a damn about him," McCoy snaps.

He is intent and upset, and Spock feels a sudden rush of -- not affection, but perhaps comradeship. They are two men who don't know each other well and may never be friends, but they are bound together inextricably; he deserves an answer. "I do," he says.

McCoy looks confused. "You do what?"

"Give a damn, as you put it. But I will not force information from someone who so clearly does not want to give it."

"So you don't like cheating, is that it?" McCoy pours himself another drink.

"Humans can only judge one another by actions and words. If I were to disregard what Jim has said and done in favor of what I think that he feels, I would be cheating, as you say. And it would be unfair to us both."

McCoy looks very unsatisfied at this answer. "So you just accept that you might not ever see him again?"

Spock looks down into his glass; he has emptied it without noticing. “I acknowledge it. He has done enough for me. And perhaps I have done enough to him.”

*

IDD welcomes him back, although the chief appoints him as envoy to Starfleet Academy, which appalls Spock almost as much as it must Starfleet Command.

"Suck it up, kiddo," Chief Sideman advises him when he voices his reservations at their meeting. "My not-so-betters made this call, and for once I actually agree with them."

"Chief, given the conflict between IDD and Starfleet this past year, and especially considering how I have been the primary cause of it, I can hardly see how assigning me as envoy will be anything other than a disaster."

"Exactly," she says, leaning back in her chair. "When you arrested Imbelk, they just thought you were an idiot. Now they think you're crazy, which is even better."

"Why is that better?" Spock asks.

"Well, for one thing, they've stopped thinking you're an idiot. For another, we've had a hard time keeping anybody in that position for more than a few months because Starfleet keeps walking all over them. I don't think you'll have that problem."

"No," Spock says, "Though it sounds like I will experience many other problems."

"Yep, sounds like." The Chief sounds cheerful about it. "Look, IDD and Starfleet have a long and proud tradition of sticking it to each other, and you've been a pretty sharp pain in their asses. So, there you have it. Make sure that you make your liaison officer cry at least once week."

*

Instead, Spock gets in touch with Captain Pike and suggests a meeting; as one of the few officers whose intelligence Spock does not doubt, his insights would prove valuable.

"Thanks for the love," Pike says, "How about this: we'll grab some drinks over at the Dead Presidents' Bar. There's someone I want you to meet."

When Spock arrives at the bar, Pike gets his attention from a nearby booth. He is sitting next to a human woman who watches his approach impassively; although Pike is in civilian clothes, she is wearing a Starfleet uniform, neatly pressed. Spock takes a seat across from them.

"Good seeing you again, Detective," Pike says. He makes as though to shake hands, but stops himself. "Sorry. Those interplanetary sensitivity seminars are finally getting through."

"After only seventeen of them," the woman chimes in, and Pike rolls his eyes.

"Spock," he says, "This is Commander Allison Chapel, my first officer. Number One, this is Detective Spock of the IDD."

Commander Chapel raises her hand, her fingers making a V between her middle and ring finger. Spock blinks in surprise.

"It is pleasing to meet you. The Captain thinks very highly of your abilities as an officer of the peace," she says. "And he has been eager for us to meet, since he believes that we will get along like a--" she breaks off, then turns to Pike. "An incinerated domicile?" she asks him.

"Like a house on fire, Number One, and it's not cute when you play dumb," Pike tells her, though he's smiling broadly.

Spock says, "I was not aware there were any other half-Vulcans in existence."

"I am fully human," she replies. "My mother was the Ambassador to Vulcan for nearly twenty years; I was born and raised in Nu'ri-Gol."

"That is very interesting."

Commander Chapel frowns. "Not particularly," she says. "It is merely an inevitable product of living amongst a particular culture; one tends to adopt their tenants and behaviors. Indeed, I understand you left Vulcan after your father's murder, when you were still very young."

"That is correct," Spock says.

"And you seem to have adopted many human mannerisms and methods of emotional expression. It is likely that any residual aspects of Vulcan behavior are mere habit, rather than genuine reflections of Vulcan societal expectation and influence."

Tact, Spock reminds himself, is not much admired on Vulcan. "It is true that I'm culturally more comfortable amongst humans."

"Fascinating," Chapel observes. "I myself was raised amongst Vulcans, and attended a Vulcan school, though I was a very poor student. I find humans at times to be somewhat tiring."

"She means me," Pike supplies helpfully.

"I mean many people, Captain," she corrects him. "My own sister is often quite exhausting."

Pike catches Spock's confusion, and says, "Parents divorced, dad brought little Christine back to Earth when she was, what, three?"

"Two years and ten months," Chapel says. "I was ten years five months at the time, and expressed my desire to remain on Vulcan. I was quite emphatic, if my memory serves me correctly." She does not smile, but there is a certain warmth in her expression.

"I wanted you two to meet," Pike says, "Because I'm putting Number One here up for the post of Starfleet liaison officer to the IDD, and I thought I'd skip a few steps and get the envoy's approval beforehand."

"I see," Spock says. "But as first officer aboard Captain Pike's ship, won't your present duties interfere with your responsibilities as liaison officer?"

"The Captain and I are both stationed here at the Academy until the completion of the Enterprise, which is not for another year."

"In the meantime, I've got to find her something to do," Pike tells Spock.

Again, the commander's expression changes very slightly. "Have I been annoying you, Captain?" she asks him.

"You've been bored, Number One," Pike tells her, "And when you get bored you get dangerous. So in the interests of preserving peace, I propose this alliance. Spock thinks most Starfleet officers are about as smart as a bucket of bricks, but he likes me okay, and I'll bet he'll give someone I recommend a shot." He glances at Spock out of the corner of his eye as he speaks.

Commander Chapel turns to Spock. "Is this the case?"

"I'm unsure how smart a bucket of bricks is supposed to be," Spock answers, "But he is broadly correct."

"Look," Pike says, leaning forward. "Everybody else is playing politics here, and what they're forgetting is that the IDD is the police force that oversees Starfleet Academy and the Federation. We need two people who won't play politics. People who will arrest an enemy ambassador and people who will single-handedly stop a war on a planet on the edge of space because they want to do what's right, not because they want to earn points."

"You stopped a war?" Spock asks Commander Chapel.

"I persuaded the opposing factions that there were alternate methods of resolving their dispute," she says.

"She got a demotion for violating the Prime Directive," Pike adds, "Which is my point. You want to stick it to Starfleet, or you want to do your job?"

Spock smiles and says, "It appears you have provided me with the means to do both, Captain."

Pike laughs. "God, this is going to be fun. Now," he says as he flags down a waiter, "Tell me about that scuffle on my ship."

*

Spock's new assignment comes with a staggering amount of what Chief Sideman calls "busywork" -- requisitions, memos, best practices, and on and on. After Chapel's confirmation hearing, Spock returns to his new office at Starfleet Headquarters to find no less than three hundred and ninety-eight separate documents requiring his immediate attention.

He comms Chapel, who arrives a few moments later. "My office is down the hallway," she says. She appears somewhat disgruntled. "How many documents did Starfleet send over for your review?"

"About four hundred," he says. "And you?"

"IDD has sent four hundred and sixty-seven," she answers. "I believe they may be trying to drown us in paperwork."

She ends up staying for the afternoon, sitting on the couch and scrolling through the documents on her PADD while Spock uses his console. At six o'clock, she is already halfway through, and has forwarded him the half-dozen reports that she thinks merits actual attention.

"You are quite adept at this," Spock says, looking down at his remaining three hundred and thirty-one documents.

"Most probably because of my upbringing," she says. "I find reports satisfying."

Spock bites back a smile at that. "I have been meaning to ask if you follow the precepts of Surak," he says.

"Inasmuch as any human can follow them." She sends him another document outlining allocation of resources for Starfleet ships carrying IDD personnel. Spock suppresses a sigh as he accepts it. "I take it that you do not?"

"Not since coming here. I was never a good student of emotional control."

"Please explain," she says.

Spock blinks, surprised at being the object of her curiosity. "My classmates repeatedly attempted to elicit an emotional response from me. They often succeeded."

Chapel looks even more puzzled. "Why would they do this?"

"I believe out of a conviction that my heritage made me inferior to them."

"Fascinating," she says. "I myself was treated with the utmost respect and cordiality by my classmates. My own disadvantage was never a cause for conflict."

"To what disadvantage are you referring?" Spock asks.

"My human parents," she says, as though the answer should be self-evident. "I am not Vulcan, though I was raised among them. Therefore allowances were made."

Spock tries to think of a suitable response, but is saved by a cadet knocking on the door. She shifts her feet, looking back and forth between them. "I'm looking for Commander Chapel."

"I am she," Chapel says. "What do you require, Cadet?"

"Commander Kovac wants to see you," the cadet says.

"Very well." Chapel stands up. "Detective, I believe your attendance may prove advantageous, if you have no objection."

"Certainly," he says.

Commander Kovac's office is crowded; for a moment Spock is reminded of Chief Sideman's office, but then he notices the clutter is not from PADDs or reports, but from conspicuous pictures and awards set out on the desk and arranged carefully on the wall behind him. The commander does not look up from his PADD as Chapel and Spock are seated, though Spock notices the slight flicker of his eyes that indicate he is aware of their presence. Chapel sits perfectly still and straight in her chair, but Spock leans back and puts his right ankle on his left knee. He considers lacing his fingers together behind his head, but Commander Kovac looks up before he can decide.

"Chapel, I don't believe I asked you to come with an escort," he says, looking at her. Chapel merely lifts an eyebrow, and says nothing. Commander Kovac seems stymied by this, so he ignores it. "I want to talk to you about your new assignment. With the IDD." He tosses a report on the desk, angled so that Chapel can read it if she leans forward. She remains where she is. "I think you heard about most of my objections at the hearing this morning," he continues, "But since nobody seemed all that interested in listening then, maybe I can persuade you to at least be careful."

"I am always careful, Commander. But I believe your objections at the time centered largely around your belief that Starfleet officers should not be answerable to any body of law other than their own."

Commander Kovac sighs, deep and melodramatic. "And the fact that this -- guy," he says, gesturing awkwardly at Spock, "Was put in charge of the liaison office means that my concerns count for approximately shit. But I'm talking more... specifically."

"If you were concerned with my performance as an officer," Chapel points out, her eyes narrowing, "You should have made those concerns public during the hearing this morning."

"That's not what I'm talking about. I really -- look, Detective, I'm going to have to ask you to step outside," Commander Kovac says, turning to look at Spock for the first time. His gaze skitters away from Spock's eyes; he's uneasy.

Spock makes to get up, but Chapel puts out a hand. "Commander, as of twelve-hundred hours today and until Starfleet Command rules otherwise, Detective Spock is my partner," she says, "And while he is attached to Starfleet his rank is equal to that of Commander. You lack the authority to ask him to do anything."

Commander Kovac is fully human, Spock believes; it is therefore surprising to see him turn that particular shade of red. "All right, have it your way. I think I have the authority to discuss the Detective's history of noncompliance, then? The fact that the whole business in Iowa was due solely to his bungling of an incredibly delicate diplomatic situation which could have resulted in an interplanetary war?"

"If I recall correctly, it was you who initiated the motion that I be reprimanded for my actions in stopping a war three years ago. You seem to have a somewhat inconsistent viewpoint on this matter. And may I remind you that though you have expressed your desire for Detective Spock to leave, he is still in the room. Perhaps you should address your concerns to him directly?"

"Fine," he snaps, and very deliberately turns to Spock, addressing him in slow, measured tones. "I think you're dangerous, I think you've already shown that you can get innocent people hurt. Which was fine when you were off in Iowa, but next time you might endanger someone important. And I won't tolerate you getting in the way of my men."

"Pardon me?" Spock says. He cannot have heard correctly. "What unimportant person have I put in harm's way, Commander?"

Commander Kovac sighs, and waves a hand dismissively. "That kid, whatever, the one who got gutted like a fish. That was your doing, wasn't it?"

"Jim Kirk is not unimportant," Spock says. He can see Chapel tense out of the corner of his eye, as though readying herself for something.

"Maybe not to you," Commander Kovac grunts.

"I believe we have taken up enough of your time," Chapel says, and gets up quickly.

She all but pushes Spock out of the room, shutting the door behind her. Spock stares at the knob for a moment before lifting his eyes to meet hers.

"I believe we have more paperwork to review," is all she says, but her expression is, as far as he can tell, kind.

*

Spock's new office is within walking distance of his new apartment, and he walks home that night, the sunset following him. San Francisco is stubborn in the face of progress and resists the escalators and various other people-movers that have taken over other Earth cities; people still trudge up and down the terrain of the city, faces flushed upon arrival, or wait in patient lines for the trolleys that clang up and down the hills.

The city itself is relatively quiet, but he is still conscious of noise: trains and vehicles and people, laughing and talking all around him. The susurrus is familiar -- but it is also stifling and uncomfortable, like a winter coat brought out of storage after a long, warm summer.

*

His mother contacts him before the beginning of the following semester; she and Nyota are coming home.

He goes to the house a few hours after her ship docks; she is in the living room, sitting on the couch and doing something with a skein of wool and some knitting needles. Spock comes up behind her and observes for a moment.

"Spock," his mother says, "You know I love you. But one of these days you're going to sneak up on me like this and give me a heart attack."

He leans over the back of the couch and kisses the top of her head. "Hello, Mother."

She turns her face to look up at him; her face is less familiar at this angle, oddly inverted. "Hello, darling. How are you? You look thin."

"I am well and in good health," he says as he circles the couch to sit beside her. "How are you?"

"Well, and in good health," she teases and gives him a hug. "Happy to be home. Happy you're home."

"What are you doing?" Spock asks.

"What? Oh, this," she says, sighing at the sad tangle of wool in her lap. "T'Pau gave it to me as a going away present. The finest fabric on the planet is made from this, she told me. It used to be made into cloaks for the kings and princes of Vulcan." She smiles up at him. "So I'm making you a sweater."

"Oh," Spock says. "Thank you." He is careful not to say more; while his mother's forays into nineteenth-century domesticity do not typically last very long, they can be disastrous when they strike. Her one and only attempt to bake had sent Spock to the hospital with food poisoning on his eighteenth birthday.

"You're welcome. So," she says briskly, "Tell me what happened."

"I sent you a message detailing the attack," Spock tells her.

"Yes, and it gave me nightmares for three nights running. I'm asking about what happened after the attack. I'm delighted you're back in San Francisco, but I would have thought..." she trails off.

Spock waits, but she doesn't seem inclined to say anything else, so he answers, "The Ambassador agreed to a voluntary deportation, and I believe Jim is fully recovered. Have you let Leonard know you have returned?"

"Spock," Amanda says, impatient. "I'm asking you."

"I do not anticipate seeing Jim again," Spock says.

"Oh." They sit in silence for a moment, then Amanda puts the knitting to one side and gets up. "Tea," she says firmly.

"Yes," Spock agrees.

Following her into the kitchen, he sits down at the kitchen table and watches her move around the room. "How many times, do you think, have you sat there and watched me make tea?" she asks him, pouring the hot water. "When I was on Vulcan, I would be in the middle of doing this and I would miss you so much. Very silly, I know." She brings a cup over to him and sits down. "I know you don't want to talk about it, so we won't."

He nods and looks down at his cup. "Did you enjoy your time at the Science Academy?" he asks.

"I did. I forgot how much I miss talking to people who don't care about the political applications of my work. I wasn't once asked if the Translator could be altered to provide a slightly more flattering matrix of translation to a certain party; everything was about the science of it."

"That must have been gratifying."

"It was. And actually, T'Pring was one of my best students. Do you remember her? T'Pau is her great-aunt; you used to be in love with her when you were four."

Spock does remember her -- a girl with large eyes and hair plaited down her back. "Wasn't I bonded to her at some point?"

Amanda laughs. "According to T'Pau, you still are. She kept asking when you were coming back to Vulcan to make an honest woman out of her grand-niece. She said you'd need a little time, since you would logically have to learn certain things before your pon farr and your bonding ceremony. She was very confused when I burst out laughing."

"And you explained to her that I--" Spock isn't sure how to complete the sentence.

"I explained until I was blue in the face. It didn't seem to matter. You should probably send her a message and tell her that you're no longer interested, otherwise she's going to have T'Pring's dress picked out and the flowers ordered."

"I will," Spock assures her.

"Of course," Amanda sighs, though her eyes are sparkling, "She could just think you're just being obstinate."

"Obstinate?"

Amanda puts her hands up, as though in surrender. "I don't know, I'm just pointing out that you've let them think for all this time that you would do right by T'Pring, and now you're planning on jilting her. Seems very sad."

"Mother, I can hardly go through with a marriage just because I did not even know it was still..." he doesn't even know what the right word is.

"Don't worry, there's a perfectly straightforward ceremony that you can undertake in order to dissolve any bond that you might have."

"A ceremony?" Spock asks.

Amanda pats his arm. "Vulcan traditions are taken very seriously. At least," she qualifies, "By Vulcans. Which reminds me, three of my students dropped out of the Science Academy while I was there in order to undergo Kholinar."

Spock blinks. "That seems unusual."

"Oh, believe me, it was. Blame Nyota for that."

It takes him a few moments to make the connection; when he does, he cannot help but laugh. "I take it all the students who withdrew cited excessive emotional compromise as their reason?"

"Good guess," Amanda says. "The funny thing was that none of them gave her a second glance until they realized she was as smart as they were. Vulcans really do go for the brainy ones, it seems."

"Naturally," Spock says.

*

He contacts Nyota a few days later, when she has returned from seeing her family in Victoria Falls. She accepts his invitation to dinner and even offers to bring dessert. "No chocolate," she promises, laughing, and signs off.

She arrives at his door looking much different: hair bound in the traditional Vulcan style and a long skirt that brushes her ankles, a sharp contrast to her Academy uniform or the loose linen trousers she used to favor when off-duty. "I see you have taken the full-immersion approach regarding Vulcan culture," he says to her as she leans forward to kiss him on the cheek. He feels a brush of affection in her touch.

She rolls her eyes and smiles back, coming into the apartment as he closes the door behind her. "You're one to talk," she shoots back.

"I dress very well," he protests.

"You dress like a cop," she replies.

"Perhaps, but a well-dressed one."

They settle down for food and conversation; she is full of interesting stories about the Science Academy and Vulcan itself. She does not inquire into his affairs, clearly sensing his own disinclination to talk about himself. He is not surprised by her insight; Nyota's intelligence has always shone out clear and strong, as easy to see as her beautiful eyes and confident stride.

At the end of the evening he walks her to the transport shuttle that will take her back to the Academy. It's a pleasant evening, cool and still, and they walk slowly.

"Did you enjoy yourself on Vulcan?" he asks. "You have told me about what transpired, but not your feelings on the matter."

"I haven’t?” she says, clearly surprised.

“You have not.”

“Well," she admits, curling her arm through his, “There might be something in your comment about the full-immersion course. I guess they rubbed off on me a little.”

“I know someone,” Spock comments, “Who would make a regrettable pun at this juncture.”

She laughs. "It was incredible -- I loved it. I'm thinking about transferring my focus from Operations to the diplomatic track, asking for a permanent posting."

"What was it that you found so impressive?" Spock asks, genuinely curious.

"Well, it's beautiful. Everything is made for a purpose, so you would think everything would just be stark and utilitarian. But the very fact that everything has a use means that everything goes together. We spent most of our time in the capitol -- did you know there are buildings there that hang down from the mountains? I've never seen anything like it. And... it was nice, to be around thousands of students who all wanted what I wanted, which was to learn. Starfleet isn't exactly overflowing with academics."

"That is undeniable."

She laughs and bumps shoulders with him. "I really missed you," she says. "Everyone on Vulcan looks like you, but nobody cracks a smile. It's kind of nice to be back on Earth where I can tell a joke and not get people dissecting it to death."

"Have you learned any new jokes?" Spock asks. "As I recall, the ones you told before were quite dreadful."

"Coming from you, that's practically an expert opinion," she shoots back. "Okay, there was one I heard on the shipride back, about a one-legged Deltan and a Tiberian bat."

*

The Academy's semester begins with a general assembly, which Spock attends as part of his ceremonial duties. (The sheer number of ceremonial duties assigned to the envoy to Starfleet Academy that have little if anything to do with law enforcement is discouraging; Spock is beginning to believe the reason IDD cannot keep someone in this position has less to do with frustration than it had to do with sheer boredom.)

Spock sits among senior cadets and graduates and feels restless after the third hour of speeches. Starfleet never held any allure for him; the officers who had bullied his mother during the long, painful transition to Earth when he was a child erased any ideals he might have entertained about the Federation's peacekeeping and humanitarian armada. And yet, watching the faces of these young people who all seem so intent on Admiral Barnett's speech, it seems possible that he has failed to grasp something fundamental.

Something catches his eye; he turns and sees McCoy seated several rows above him, halfway across the hall. McCoy is not listening to the admiral, but is rather leaning over to whisper something to the cadet next to him, who--

Admiral Barnett stands and dismisses the cadets; instantly the entire room rises to its feet and begins to exit the hall. Spock cannot keep McCoy and his companion in his sights; everyone else is in either red or grey and for a moment Spock recalls the games he used to play as a child, picturebooks and holograms in which the principle aim was to locate one distinct person in a mass of people who looked exactly alike.

He exits out onto the steps of the Great Hall, peering intently at the faces of each cadet he sees, but he hears him first: a laugh that prompts several people to turn their heads in the direction of the sound. Spock spins on his heel and almost runs into them; McCoy, and Jim.

The uniform looks truly bizarre, though physically it fits him very well. Spock has never seen Jim wear anything more formal than jeans and a clean t-shirt, and feels unready for the sight of him in well-tailored red.

Jim is grinning at McCoy, about to say something, when he notices Spock. "Hey," he says, the smile fading quickly from his face.

McCoy, however, looks positively delighted. "Spock, imagine my surprise. Who'd have thought you'd be here of all places." He pats Jim on the shoulder. "Listen, I've got to go."

"Uh, right," Jim says.

McCoy descends the few steps between Jim and Spock, and claps Spock on the shoulder. "Nice seeing you," is all he says, before disappearing into the crowd.

Jim, for his part, has seemingly regained his poise. "So how're you doing?" he asks.

"I am--" There are hardly words for what Spock is at the moment. "Surprised," he settles for, and at least Jim has the grace to look guilty. "I was unaware that you had enrolled at the Academy."

"It was kind of a last-minute thing," Jim says.

"That is not an explanation."

"Well, that make sense," Jim says, "Since I don't owe you one."

"Clearly you do not. However, I would have expected--"

"What, a warning? Sorry for crashing your city, might want to stay away from Starfleet Academy? If I'd known you'd be wandering around the campus, believe me, I wouldn't have..." he does not finish the thought.

"As the IDD envoy to Starfleet," Spock says, "I am afraid that I am here frequently."

"You're -- what?" Jim's eyebrows furrow. "You're working at Starfleet?"

"I am surprised Dr. McCoy did not inform you. The majority of my time is spent on campus."

"Perfect. That's just -- that's the best news I've had all day." Jim turns as though to leave, following the last of his classmates down the stairs.

"Jim," Spock says, and Jim stops, but doesn't face him. He watches the hard line of Jim's back and says, "I believe we are in the midst of an argument, but I am unclear as to what it is about."

"We're not."

"Your behavior indicates that you are angry with me."

This does prompt Jim to turn around. "I'm not, I'm just -- look, whatever, forget it. I'm sorry I didn't tell you."

"Apology accepted," Spock says quickly. "And I am aware that you are not required to provide an explanation, however I would be most appreciative if you could enlighten me as to how you came to enlist."

Jim begins to smile, and squints up at him, one hand shielding his eyes against the sun. "I've got class right now, but I'm free around seventeen-hundred hours. Sound good?"

"Yes."

"Great. Meet me here, I'll enlighten you all you want."

*

Spock finds it more difficult than usual to concentrate on his work; Chapel actually retreats to her own office for the first time since the beginning of their partnership. "Please let me know when you have stopped making that irritating tapping noise with your stylus," she says as she leaves.

Spock goes out to the steps at five minutes to five. He is half-convinced that Jim will not show up, but a few minutes later he sees him approaching from a neighboring building.

"I was thinking we'd grab something to eat, if you wanted," he says before Spock can say anything. "Mind if we go to my room first, though? I've gotta change out of this thing, I swear to God it's giving me hives."

"Certainly," Spock says. He doesn't notice any rashes on Jim's neck, but it's likely that Jim is merely being facetious.

Jim's room is orderly -- or rather Jim's half of it is. The other half is a morass of dirty clothing and computer modules. "I've got a sixteen-year-old roommate, how fucked up is that," Jim says as he rummages in a drawer. "Don't get me wrong, Chekhov's great, some kind of whiz kid. But one of these days I'm going to find a BioHaz team working in here." He peels off the uniform shirt and hangs it in the closet, pulling a more familiar t-shirt over his bare shoulders.

Spock looks out of the window; it's a pleasant view of the quadrangle, the lush green lawn dotted with the reds and greys of Starfleet cadets and officers. He hears the sound of boots coming off and rustling clothes behind him. "I am surprised that you agreed to live in student housing," he says.

"Academy rule," Jim replies. "You've got to spend freshman year on campus. Bones has already abandoned me for an apartment in the city, that heartless bastard. So I'm left dealing with pre-teens. You can turn around," he adds, and when Spock faces him again, he's sitting on his bed, wearing jeans and work boots, his leather jacket folded across his lap. He's smiling wryly. "You recognize me now?" he asks.

"I recognized you before," Spock points out.

Jim's hands tighten on his jacket and his smile fades, though Spock can see its remains in the corners of Jim's eyes. "Come on. I'm starving."

They end up at a restaurant specializing in Indian/Andorian fusion cuisine; Jim orders from memory and thanks the waitress by name. "I assume you have patronized this establishment before," Spock says.

"Every day since I got here last week," Jim admits. "It's great food, as long as you don't mind drinking about a gallon of Andorian tea to keep your tongue from burning off. So, you want to hear about how a little old country boy like me came to the big city?"

"Yes."

"Your friend Captain Pike," Jim says. Spock waits for the rest of the explanation. Jim shrugs. "That's pretty much it. He came to the shipyards a few weeks ago to make his inspection -- you know the Enterprise is his next command, right? Anyway, he heard about the thing with the--" he makes a vague gesture with his hands, "And he wanted to meet me. He's the first guy I've ever met who didn't like my dad."

Spock frowns at the non sequitur. "I do not follow."

Jim laughs. "Yeah, I guess -- I don't know. He said George Kirk was thirty-two years old before he saved anyone, and he had to blow himself up to do it. I guess he just thought I'd do better. So I joined up the next day. Pike says with my engineering background and all, I can probably graduate in a year and a half, unless I pick command track."

The food arrives just then, and Spock is distracted from his next question by his curry. "It's blue," he observes.

"Andorians like their food colorful. It tastes great. Promise."

Spock tries it. "It does," he says.

"Can I pick 'em, or what?" Jim agrees, his mouth full. Spock nods and begins to eat, feeling hungrier than he has since leaving Iowa.

*

A week later, when Spock comms him to invite him out for another meal, Jim makes his excuses.

"I'm still getting used everything, and I just joined the rugby team -- we've got practice tonight. Maybe some other time."

Spock understands, and is equally understanding at the second refusal the following week, and the third the week after that. But then he begins to grow suspicious.

"I was not aware the Academy even had a tri-dimensional chess team," he says.

"They sure do," Jim says, his voice tinny through the comm. "Talk to you later, I'm late for Tactics."

Chapel, from her now-customary seat on his office couch, lifts an eyebrow. "Clearly he has already mastered them," she comments.

Spock resists the urge to glare at her. "So it would seem."

"It is unfortunate that you have no interest in learning the intricacies of tri-dimensional chess," she says after a few minutes' silence. Spock glances up from his paperwork; she is frowning down at her PADD, an expression of artful unconcern on her face.

"Why is that?" he asks.

"Because as an envoy to Starfleet Academy, you enjoy the same privileges as any officer stationed here. Therefore you would be permitted entry to any extracurricular activity held on campus. But I believe you have mentioned your disinterest in the game."

Spock considers this information. "Do you know what time--"

"Eighteen-hundred hours," Chapel says, tapping something on her PADD. "In the Obama Annex, room three seventeen."

At five forty-five, Spock enters the tri-dimensional chess club's room. Four cadets are gathered around two others hunched over a board. One of them looks up, and Spock recognizes Gaila. Upon seeing Spock, she emits a high-pitched squeaking noise and rushes over to him.

The first time he met Gaila, Nyota had been running late and told him to meet her at her dorm room. He had been confronted with a suspicious roommate clad in a bright orange bathrobe; she’d conducted an impressive cross-examination regarding his preferred sexual positions, which to this day he does not know why he answered.

“What are you doing here?" she asks, though she seems pleased to see him. "Do you want to learn to play chess? It's good to see you! Am I in trouble for something? Are you well? This is Heuthor, and Namnia, and Chin, and Sulu, and Umgwe. Everyone, this is Detective Spock, he’s wonderful. Not sexually. Actually,” she corrects herself, “According to my sources, he is wonderful in a sexual context as well.”

Namnia, one of the cadets seated at the board, waves languidly. “Nice to meet you. It sounds like you're used to Gaila, so I won't apologize for her.”

Gaila looks indignant, so Spock says, "There is no need for apology."

"So Gaila's sources are accurate, is what you're saying?" Chin asks. Namnia kicks her shin. "Ow."

"Her, I should apologize for," Namnia says sweetly.

“So are any of us in trouble?” Sulu asks, twisting in his chair to face Spock. His smile indicates that the question is not in earnest.

“I take it you know who I am?” Spock says, looking around at the cadets.

Heuthor makes a clicking sound in the back of its throat and gestures at his badge with its tentacles. “You’re neatly labeled, Detective, even if we hadn't seen your face on newsvids. And everyone knows about the IDD assigning a babysitter to Starfleet.”

“That’s not true,” Gaila insists, “He’s not here to stop us from doing anything wrong.”

“No,” Umgwe replies, “Just arrest us if we do.”

“I’m here to learn how to play tri-dimensional chess, nothing more,” Spock says.

Sulu’s expression clears, as do several others’, though Heuthor and Umgwe still look suspicious. “Well, pull up a seat, Detective,” Namnia says, patting the one beside her. “We'll have you playing Grandmaster level in no time.”

Several other cadets come in the door, but Spock does not see Jim among them. Chin and Umgwe set up another board nearby; Gaila bumps his shoulder. "You know, I never would have figured you for a tri-D chess player," she says.

"I assure you," he says, "I am not."

Nevertheless, the game is almost interesting. Spock is set up with a board in one corner of the room and Sulu and Gaila take turns playing against him, while the other advises him. Mostly, the advice consists of things he is not allowed to do, which is frustrating, but he soon gets absorbed in the intricacies despite himself. Before anticipated, the chronometer indicates it is eight o’clock, and he notices the other cadets exiting in chattering groups of two or three.

He also notices that Jim is not among them.

*

The Academy library was obsolete centuries before it was ever built; books like the ones collected by Jim's father are curiosities, collected not for practical use but for the tactile pleasure they give. The three million bound volumes it houses are insignificant compared to the central computer database. Nevertheless, students use the library religiously, studying at tables and desks, observing the ancient silence. Spock walks through the rooms quietly until he finds what he is looking for.

Jim is slumped at a table in the northeast corner of the east wing, one hand fisted in his hair as he reads something from a PADD in front of him. Spock can hear the soft tap of his heel as his leg jitters nervously under the table.

"Did you lose track of time this evening?" Spock asks, sliding into the seat opposite him.

Jim starts; the PADD drops from his hand, making a loud noise on the tabletop. "Uh," he replies.

"It is quarter to nine," Spock continues, "And although you mentioned that you had tri-dimensional chess club this evening, you were not, in fact, in attendance. I can only assume that your studies were sufficiently absorbing to render you unable to recall the time."

"Well, you know how it flies when you're having fun," Jim says.

"Have you ever attended a meeting of the tri-dimensional chess club?" Spock demands.

Jim looks guilty. "Sometimes. Once or twice. You went to my chess club meeting?"

"I do not think you can claim it as yours," Spock says. "And yes, I did."

"And then you tracked me down when I didn't show up." Jim rests his head on his fist, his expression softer than his tone would indicate. He looks tired, dark circles under his red eyes. "There's something kind of terrifying about you," he says.

"Have you been sleeping, Jim?" he asks.

"No. Yes." Jim sighs and pinches the bridge of his nose. "Look, I get that you want to be buddies again, it's just that I've got a lot going on and--"

"I do not," Spock says.

"It's just, um, what?" Jim squints at him.

"I do not want to be buddies," Spock clarifies.

Jim shuts his eyes. "What do you want?" he asks.

Spock looks Jim over while he considers how best to answer. There is a faint, almost-healed bruise high on his left cheek, and there are fresh burns on the ring finger brushing his mouth. His uniform is rumpled and there is a hole at the collar where something sharp poked through. Spock is suddenly, overwhelmingly jealous of all the stories he has not been allowed to hear -- that Jim has refused to tell him -- when they are written so plainly on his body.

"I want you to attend the chess club next week," he says, standing up. Jim opens his eyes with difficulty, blinking up at him. "And I want you to get some sleep," he adds.

"Okay," Jim replies, sounding very young. Spock leaves, wondering if it is only his imagination that makes him believe Jim's eyes watch him go.

*

The following week, Jim arrives almost half an hour late; he straddles a chair and watches quietly while Spock finishes his game with Chin, then takes her place.

“Would you prefer black or white?” Spock asks. He feels curiously nervous.

“Your choice,” Jim says, sprawled in his chair.

Spock touches a white knight; Jim snorts softly but makes no other comment.

“Have you been enjoying the Academy?” Spock tries to remember if he is permitted to move to the third level in the first move. He places a pawn on the second level, just to be safe.

Jim shrugs, eyes traveling over the board. He places a knight on the second level. “Sure. It’s not as tough as putting together a vintage Corvette using only period parts, but it keeps me busy.”

“The classes have not been challenging you?”

“It’s the first semester. I don’t think they're challenging anybody. Are you going to move?”

Spock picks a piece more or less at random. “I am sorry to hear that.”

"You can't move that piece yet," Jim says.

Spock moves it back, and tries something else.

"Why?" Jim asks, placing a pawn forward on the first level.

It takes Spock a few seconds to determine what Jim is asking. “Because one reason you enlisted was to be offered a greater scope for your abilities. It is no doubt frustrating to come here and find yet more tedium and regulations.”

Jim smiles at that. "Well, I've got all my extracurriculars to keep me busy," he says.

Spock tries moving a knight onto the second level. “In what other clubs have you enrolled?”

“If I tell you,” Jim says, spinning a bishop between his fingers, “Are you going to show up at them?” He places the piece three squares forward on the second level.

“I do have a job, Jim,” Spock points out.

“Yeah, and part of your job seems to be stalking me,” Jim says.

The tone is mild, but the comment still stings. Spock straightens in his chair. “If you feel discomfited by my presence here,” he says, “You have only to say.”

Jim narrows his eyes. “You’d leave if I told you to?”

“Do you wish me to leave?” Spock puts a rook on the second level.

“No,” Jim says, then adds, "You can't move that piece there." When Spock looks up, Jim is smiling.

*

The semester proceeds from Tuesday to Tuesday; gradually Jim relaxes again, sprawling out in his chair or leaning forward with his elbows on the table, and their conversations wander from strategy and class workloads into less neutral territory. They argue about the ethics class that Jim is taking, discuss Cardassian poetry, and talk about modern music -- Jim has been learning to play the guitar in one of his many intramural clubs.

“I’m basically shit at it,” he says, “But it’s good clean fun. Great way to meet girls."

Spock ignores that. “Check."

"You can't move your knight like that," Jim reminds him.

"Oh." Spock moves it back.

"So, Bones told me he's going to introduce your mom to his daughter this weekend. And if you move your rook there, I think you'll be putting yourself in check.""

"Is this a ploy to distract me?"

Jim grins. "Is it working?"

"Yes," Spock admits. They play in silence for a few moves. "It seems that their relationship is... progressing well."

"Are you okay with that?" Jim asks, moving a pawn back onto the first level.

"I believe so, though Dr. McCoy is not the person I would choose for myself."

"I know," Jim mutters. When Spock looks up, he adds, "I met Cadet Uhura, remember? Plus I've seen her around. She's a lot hotter than Bones, I'll tell you. Anyway Joanna's a great kid, I'm sure your mom will love her."

"My mother is predisposed to love children; that is not a concern."

"But there is one," Jim says. "A concern, I mean."

Spock sighs. "My mother is worried that Joanna will not like her."

"What, are you kidding? She'll be fine," Jim says, moving his queen. "Check."

Spock tries to find an escape. "I have tried to assure her on this point. I also suggested that bringing a present would be one method of ensuring a positive outcome."

"You manipulative son of a bitch," Jim laughs.

*

Despite his advice, Amanda comms him on Friday evening. "Could you come over to Leonard's tomorrow, darling?" she says. "Leonard wants you to meet Joanna, too."

"What were his exact words, Mother?" Spock asks, alternately frowning at the orchid and reading from a text on plant care. It has been in ill health for the past few months, but he has yet to discover the cause, and he is reluctant to jeopardize the precarious reestablishment of Jim's friendship by telling him that his gift is dying.

His mother sighs deeply. "He said if I had to drag you along, so be it, but you'd better not make her cry," she admits.

"I assure you I will not," Spock says, smiling. He is beginning to feel affection for McCoy, he realizes.

"Well," Amanda says, sounding hesitant, "You have before."

"I have not even met Joanna," he protests.

"Yes, but you don't do well with children."

"I never made any of them cry."

"Ethan Howitzer, when you were in the seventh grade. I seem to recall the unauthorized use of a spotlight from the theater club."

"He was a suspect," Spock argues.

"He was nine years old, Spock. And he was a suspect in the theft of your lunch money."

"I am sure that he has fully recovered," Spock mutters, and returns to his text. "Psychology has made remarkable strides in recent years."

"Well, just -- I'd like you to be there, darling. For moral support."

Something in his mother's voice, a cheerful brightness, makes him narrow his eyes. "You wish me to be there so that you will appear more likeable by comparison," he concludes.

"Eleven o'clock, Leonard's apartment. Bring some cake," Amanda advises, and shuts off the comm.


*

McCoy's apartment is actually the first floor of a small building on Hancock. McCoy answers the door and scowls in a way that is almost friendly. "So," he observes, "You're here."

"I brought cake," Spock says.

McCoy holds the door open as Spock walks in. "We're all out back, come on." He gestures toward an open door on the opposite end of the apartment, where an outdoor area is visible, and plucks the cake out of Spock's hands. "I'll be out in a minute with this. Go."

"My mother told me to bring this," Spock tells him.

Somehow McCoy must sense what Spock means; his expression softens very slightly, and he says, "So far there's been no bloodshed."

"Did you anticipate violence?"

McCoy shrugs. "Put it this way -- Joanna's her mother's daughter. But she's warming to Amanda all right. As long as you," he says darkly, "Don't screw it up."

Spock nods and leaves McCoy to rummage through kitchen drawers. He follows the sound of laughter, out into a sunny, well-tended garden. Spock pauses in the doorway; he has not yet been noticed.

The first thing he sees is Jim, lying on the grass, one leg bent at the knee and the other crossed over, his arms spread wide and relaxed. He is once again in battered jeans and a thin t-shirt, boots lying abandoned to one side. He seems to be asleep.

Sitting next to Jim is Amanda and a young girl. Joanna resembles her father to a remarkable degree, even though at the moment she is smiling as she tries to teach Amanda some sort of game involving string. "You've got to go like this," she says, turning his mother's hand a certain way. "And then you put your fingers like this."

"It's very complicated," Amanda says, and Joanna makes an exaggerated noise of exasperation.

"Aunt Jimmy doesn't have a problem with it," she says.

"Aunt Jimmy doesn't have a problem with anything except you calling him Aunt Jimmy," Jim replies, craning his head to look at her.

"Daddy said I couldn't call you Uncle Jimmy because that'd give him an aneurysm," Joanna tells him. "But he said it was okay to call you Aunt Mandy," she says to Spock's mother, "So it must be okay to call you Aunt Jimmy."

"Thwarted by nine-year-old logic," Jim sighs.

"I'll take nine-year-old logic any day," Amanda laughs. She looks up and notices Spock. "Darling! Stop hovering and come meet Joanna." She murmurs something to Joanna, who gets to her feet as Spock approaches.

"Hi," she says. "Aunt Mandy said not to shake hands."

"Yes. Hello," Spock says. "I brought cake. Your father is bringing it out."

"Cool," Joanna says.

"It's vanilla," Spock adds. Behind Joanna's shoulder, he can see Amanda covering her face with her hands and Jim grinning at him, one arm tucked under his head.

Joanna looks very serious. "I like vanilla."

"That's good."

"Oh, for God's sake, this is just painful," McCoy growls from behind him. "Come on, everybody grab a slice."

McCoy has brought the cake out, along with some recyclable plates and forks. Joanna squeaks and darts toward her father, hugging him around his waist. McCoy ignores her and manages to set the food and utensils on the picnic table despite having a child attached to him.

Amanda gets to her feet and comes to the table, squeezing Spock's arm affectionately as she goes up to McCoy and firmly takes the knife away from him.

"Dammit, Mandy," McCoy growls, "I'm a doctor, you think I don't know my way around a knife?"

Spock walks onto the lawn to stand next to Jim, who hasn't moved from his prone position.

"Hi," Jim says, squinting up at him.

"Aunt Jimmy?" Spock asks.

Jim groans. "I know I said Joanna was a great kid," he says, standing up and dusting off his jeans, "But in the interest of full disclosure, I should also tell you that she paid me to say that."

"Bribery or coercion of a Starfleet officer is a serious offense," Spock tells him. There is a dried maple leaf just above Jim's ear. Spock reaches up and brushes it off, his fingers carding through Jim's hair.

Jim freezes. "Spock," he says, very quiet.

"There was a leaf," Spock explains.

"You want cake or not? Joanna'll be happy to take your share," McCoy calls out to them.

Joanna insists on sitting between McCoy and Jim, and Amanda and Spock sit opposite. Spock steals glances at Joanna, who has her eyes fixed on her cake; he feels responsible for the silence, which had not been present before his arrival.

"What game were you playing?" he asks. Joanna looks up, eyes wide. "With the string," he clarifies.

"Cat's Cradle," she says.

"It looked very... engrossing." Spock notices her frown. "I mean it looked interesting. Perhaps you could teach me?"

Joanna looks surprised. "Don't you know how to play?"

"The opportunity never arose," Spock says.

"You're telling me you never played Cat's Cradle when you were a kid?" Jim asks, propping his chin on his hand.

"Vulcan children do not play games," Spock replies. "And when we moved here, I was... disinclined to learn."

Joanna is distracted by this. "You never played games? Like ever?" The expression on her face indicates that she finds this a tragedy.

"No. It was considered a waste of time."

Amanda makes a disapproving noise. "It wasn't considered a waste, it was just -- all the games there were educational," she explains. "And they were all graded, if I recall correctly."

"You do," Spock tells her.

"So is that why you're so terrible at tri-D chess?" Jim asks, grinning.

"I am a beginner," Spock corrects, and Jim laughs at him.

"No, you're terrible. It's almost a strategy, except then you still lose." He takes a bite of cake, licking the frosting off his upper lip. Spock turns deliberately to Joanna.

"I would appreciate a lesson in how to play," he says, and she beams. Amanda hands over a piece of string, but just as Joanna begins to construct some complex pattern between her fingers, her communicator chirps. She looks up at McCoy.

"Can I?" she asks, and he rolls his eyes.

"It's probably your mother, so go," he says, and she wriggles out from the table and dashes inside, her fingers still tangled. McCoy scowls after her. "Can't get more than ten minutes without Jocelyn making sure I haven't accidentally killed my own daughter," he mutters, stabbing at his cake.

Jim bumps his arm. "So Joanna'll tell her she's fine, and that Daddy's new girlfriend is way prettier."

"You," Amanda says, "Are incorrigible." She doesn't sound displeased, however. McCoy's scowl eases and when Amanda holds out her hand, he takes it.

Amanda's communicator goes off. "Excuse me," she murmurs, and gets up from the table, squeezing McCoy's hand affectionately before she walks out onto the lawn.

Spock looks away, somehow embarrassed at the sight. He feels a pressure against his shin. He looks up to see Jim watching him, his eyebrows lifted almost to his hairline. Spock tries to think of a way to show he is all right, but he is aware suddenly of the desire to hold out his hand, stretch it out across the table, toward Jim.

"Spock," Amanda says, returning, "Did you ever send that message to T'Pau?" She looks puzzled and somewhat alarmed.

"Yes, several weeks ago. I have not received a reply."

"Well, you just did," she says. "She's coming with the delegation. And I don't think she's here for the Federation's session."

"What's going on?" Jim asks.

Amanda sighs as she sits down again. "The Federation is holding its annual session in two weeks--"

"Yeah, we noticed all the transports," McCoy mutters. "Plus the three new edicts a day about what constitutes appropriate behavior towards and around the delegations."

"Many of those edicts are from my office," Spock points out.

"No kidding."

"And usually," Amanda continues, "Vulcan only sends their Ambassador. Anything more would be an illogical waste of resources." She sounds as though she were quoting someone.

"But this T'Pau person is coming instead," Jim says.

Amanda nods. "Along with any number of others -- T'Pau is a member of the Vulcan High Council, and illogical or not, she's bound to have a sizeable retinue."

"So what does she want with Spock?" McCoy asks.

"She--" Amanda stops, and looks over at Spock. "There's a family matter that she wants to discuss with Spock," she says delicately.

"It is hardly a secret," Spock says. "When I was young, I was -- 'betrothed' is the closest Standard word, although it is not precisely accurate -- to a girl named T'Pring, who is T'Pau's grand-niece. There seems to be some confusion as to whether or not I am still obligated to marry her when I come of age."

His mother clears her throat. "Yes, well, that's the condensed version."

McCoy gapes at him. "You're engaged?"

"No," he says firmly. It is important to be clear.

"Betrothed. Whatever."

"No," Spock repeats.

"But they think you are?" McCoy's voice has not lowered in volume; if anything, he has grown more agitated. "And you, what, just forgot about this little arrangement?"

"It was put in place when he was seven years old," Amanda argues, "And we just never thought--"

"What, that it might come back to bite you on the ass?" McCoy snaps.

"Leonard," Spock says, "Please do not speak to my mother in that tone of voice."

Amanda blinks at him, then chuckles. "Sorry, darling."

"It is not you who should apologize," Spock insists.

McCoy glares at him, but says, "Sorry. I'm just a little surprised to hear you've got a sweet young thing out there somewhere and never said--"

"I do not," Spock says slowly, "Have a sweet young thing anywhere. There is no question that I will break this... arrangement."

"Why?" Jim asks.

He has been silent this whole time; Spock has not watched his reaction, but now he looks at Jim and is somehow surprised to see Jim's relaxed slouch, a slight smile on his lips.

"Pardon me?" Spock asks.

Jim shrugs, chasing the last crumbs around his plate with his fork. "Why are you going to break it?"

"Because he's a person, Jim, not one of Archer's prize beagles. Arranging a marriage isn't what we do in a civilized society!" McCoy slaps his hands on the table, leaning forward slightly. "And I'd think you of all people would--"

Joanna comes running back outside. "Can I have another piece of cake?" she asks, wrapping her arms around McCoy's neck.

The late morning shifts into the afternoon. Joanna is by turns solemn and hyperactive; she is clearly used to being the focus of her father's attention, but submits gracefully to the imposition of three other adults, and Jim keeps her occupied. They duel with the lightsabers Amanda brought as her present -- "Bribe," Jim teases her -- and Jim swings her around by her arms while she shrieks and giggles. McCoy and Amanda continue to talk in low voices at the table, but when Spock looks over they are smiling at each other, holding hands again.

It is not until later, while Joanna is teaching Spock the intricacies of Cat's Cradle, that Jim broaches the subject once more. They are sitting together on the lawn, Jim and Joanna going through the motions while Spock observes. Joanna succeeds in performing what appears to be a difficult transfer and holds it up for him to admire; the pattern in her hands is quite beautiful. "That's extraordinary, Joanna," he says.

She looks pleased. "Thanks. You want to try now?"

Spock hesitates, glancing over at Jim. "Very well," he says.

Joanna immediately closes her fingers; the cradle is reduced to its primary state once again, a simple loop of string. "Okay, so put it around your palm like this," she instructs, adjusting his hands. She has forgotten the prohibition against touching, but Spock does not truly mind; she is projecting little more than happy/cake/sunshine and he agrees with all of it.

She loses interest after Spock has mastered the preliminaries, however, and wanders over toward the picnic table; Spock can hear her asking if there's any cake left. He is about to untangle his fingers from the string when Jim stops him.

"You want to keep going?" he asks.

Spock mutely holds his hands out toward Jim, and Jim leans forward, picking at crossed threads and pinching together string.

"I guess you don't have to worry about Joanna liking you," he says quietly.

"The judicious application of cake can surmount most social obstacles," Spock agrees. He can feel the warmth of Jim's skin, so close; he wants to curl his fingers around Jim's wrists, thumb brushing against his palm. But he keeps perfectly still.

Jim twists his fingers around, pulling the last string free of Spock's hands; the cradle shifts from one pattern to another, all pleasing to the eye. Jim keeps it taut for a moment, then gestures for Spock to make another attempt. "Don't sell yourself short," he says. "People like you even without food and presents."

"I am not as confident in my ability to win friends as you seem to be," Spock says. He is unsure how to proceed from this point; the pattern is not one that Joanna showed him. He makes a guess.

"Is that why you're thinking about not going through with the betrothal? Or whatever," Jim corrects himself. "You think this girl won't like you?"

"I do not care if she likes me, Jim," Spock says. "I do not wish to be married to her."

"Well, maybe T'Pau will change your mind," Jim says. "If that's why she's coming."

"It may be somewhat arrogant of me to assume that is her reason," Spock admits. "However, it seems a reasonable guess."

"Yeah, it does. And hey, if you do decide to go through with it, I'll throw you one hell of a bachelor's party, deal?"

Spock's fingers slip, and Jim flinches away before their hands graze; the string devolves into an incomprehensible mess. "That is very generous," Spock says.

"I do what I can."

*

He gets a comm from T'Pau less than an hour after the Vulcan delegation beams down. "Spock," she says, "It is pleasing to see you." She lifts her hand in the Vulcan salute.

Spock returns the greeting. T'Pau has not changed appreciably in the years since he last saw her; her hair is still black, edged with grey at her temples, and her face carries no new wrinkles or signs of age that would be evident on a human's face. But there does seem to be a difference, a slightly harder edge to her visible even in the few seconds that she has been on the viewscreen.

"You are still unable to make that salute correctly," she observes. "I remember attempting to teach you when you were smaller."

"Clearly the fault lies with the student," Spock replies. "How may I be of service?"

"I wish to meet with you. Come to the delegation's housing immediately."

"I regret I am not immediately available," Spock says, "However, if--"

"I expect you within the hour." The comm screen goes dark.

Chapel, on her couch, is actually smiling at him, though she seems to be trying to repress it. "What is it?" Spock demands.

"I have never heard anyone being reprimanded for their execution of the salute. It is curiously... I was amused," she admits.

Just then, Pike enters, knocking on the open door with two knuckles. "Hey, Spock, have you seen -- there you are," he interrupts himself, catching sight of Chapel. "Your office looks like it hasn't been used in months, are you even... wait. Are you laughing?" He spins on his heel to level a glare at Spock. "How'd you do that?"

"Evidently my Vulcan salute is sub-par," Spock tells him. Chapel puts a hand to her mouth.

Pike turns his glare back to her, then says to Spock, "Well, you'd better brush up. I was just at the delegation's greeting ceremony at Federation Headquarters, and one of them's looking for you -- Tipow, Tippoe, something. She had a look in her eye, too. Like my old English teacher." Pike does not elaborate on this, but the shudder he gives is illustrative.

Chapel, who has recovered herself, says, "I believe it would fall under the parameters of the IDD envoy to Starfleet Academy to meet with a delegation member as prominent as T'Pau."

"I agree," Spock says. "Thank you."

Chapel nods. As Spock gathers his things and prepares to depart, Pike sits down on the couch next to her and complains, "You know, I've spent almost seven years of my life telling you really funny jokes so that you'd laugh, and it takes Spock just a few months to learn the secret."

"It would seem that it was only the detective's embarrassment in front of a superior that provoked an amused response, which indicates my latent sense of humor may be heavily influenced by schadenfreude."

"So you're saying if I ever want to see you laugh again, I should slip on a banana peel in front of Admiral Barnett," Pike clarifies.

Spock closes the door behind him before he can hear Chapel's reply.

*

The Vulcan delegation is housed in a beautiful complex overlooking the coast. Spock arrives a few minutes before the deadline set by T'Pau. He is greeted at the door by a young male Vulcan who makes no inquiry or introduction, but simply stares at Spock with blank patience.

"I am here to see T'Pau," Spock says after a few moments.

The young man opens the door wider, offering entry. Spock steps inside and into an empty antechamber with windows facing out to the sea. "You will wait here," the young man says to Spock.

There is nothing to sit on, and no pictures or objects to examine -- the very austerity of the room is most likely meant to be impressive, but to Spock it seems dreary. He moves toward the window and watches the surf break on the shoreline; it seems odd that the delegation of an oceanless planet would choose a house with such a view. A memory surfaces, clear and sudden, of his mother explaining tidal forces to him and his father. Amanda laughed as both he and his father asked question after question, intrigued by the very idea of the moon exerting gravitational pull on the water. When they visited Earth for his sixth birthday, he and his father stood together on the beach for hours, watching the crashing waves.

He hears footsteps and turns to face T'Pau. "Spock," she says.

"Hello, T'Pau" he replies. "I trust I find you in good health?"

This seems to unsettle her. "Do you wish to engage in a human greeting ceremony? I have already performed one today, and I find them quite meaningless. Inquiries into my health are not pertinent."

"Very well," he says carefully. "You wanted to speak with me?"

"Yes. Come." She turns on her heel and disappears through a doorway. Spock takes one last look out the window and follows.

The room she takes him to is not quite so spartan -- there is a low couch and several chairs surrounding an open fireplace -- but it is still echoingly empty, unwelcoming. She sits down on the couch and gestures for him to be seated. "Amanda Grayson," she says, "Has told me that you refuse to honor the bond between you and T'Pring."

Spock takes a seat on one of the chairs. It is very uncomfortable.

"Is this the case?" she asks.

"No," Spock answers.

"I see." She doesn't not register any emotion, but there is a sense of tension lessening. "Then you will return to Vulcan during your first pon farr and complete the bond?"

"No."

T'Pau frowns. "Explain."

"Your first question would have been impossible to answer with anything but a negative. It's not that that I refuse to honor the bond; it's that I refuse to follow through with it. Honor is not relevant to the matter at hand."

"Honor is entirely relevant. Your bond was arranged by your father before his death. It is incumbent upon you to carry out his wishes."

"My father also wished me to be completely Vulcan, and wished me to enter the Science Academy, and no doubt wished me to one day ascend to the High Council. Do you think any of those things will happen, T'Pau?"

"Your resentment is very human," T'Pau says with distaste.

"I am very human," Spock points out.

"Only insofar as your inability to control your emotions. You are still, biologically, mostly Vulcan, and as such you must complete the bonding ceremony before your first pon farr. Short of koon-ut-kalifee you have no right to withdraw yourself."

"I have every right," Spock says. "If there is nothing else, T'Pau, I will go." He stands and bows his head, then makes for the exit.

"You have not thought the consequences of your refusal through, Spock," T'Pau calls after him. He turns back to her; she has gotten to her feet, her hands clasped in front of her. "You have a duty to your people."

He feels the first stirrings of ill temper. "I sincerely doubt you have any idea who my people are, T'Pau. Good evening."

The cold air outside is welcome after the stifling heat of the complex; Spock can remember finding San Francisco a clammy misery when he and his mother first arrived, but now it soothes him and he walks for several blocks before buttoning up his coat. It is Tuesday, he remembers, and well past six o'clock; he should go and make his apologies to Sulu and Namnia for being so late.

Instead, he turns south and makes his way home.

*

Somehow the dark figure leaning against his front door is not a surprise.

"Thought you'd been kidnapped," he calls to Spock as he approaches. "Detective Spock, absent without leave. The end of the world can't be far off." His breath puffs out in white clouds as he speaks.

"How long have you been waiting here for me?" Spock asks.

Jim shrugs. "A little while. So what happened with T'Pau?" he asks.

Spock opens his mouth to ask the obvious question, then thinks about it for a few moments. "You spoke with Commander Chapel," he guesses.

"Actually, Captain Pike. He was hanging out in your office when I came around and spilled the beans."

And then Jim came here, not knowing when Spock would return. He waited without a coat on a cold night, and Spock can see by the way his jaw is clenched that he is trying very hard not to shiver.

"Come inside," he says.

Jim shakes his head. "I should probably go back--"

Spock feels that same odd anger rising in him again. "I am in no mood to deal with finding your frozen carcass tomorrow, Jim," he snaps, and opens the door. "Come inside."

Jim follows meekly enough, up the four flights of stairs and through the apartment door. He hovers in the entryway, however, watching Spock take off his heavy coat with unreadable eyes. "Look, maybe call me a cab," he says, "If you don't want me walking."

"If I merely wanted to save you the trip home, I could authorize an emergency beam straight to your dorm room," Spock tells him. "I will make some tea. You should get warm."

"I'm fine," Jim says.

"Your lips are blue," Spock tells him.

"I'm trying a new look."

Spock herds him into the kitchen and turns on the kettle before looking in his cupboard for some of the tea Jim likes. "Hypothermia is not as attractive as you might think."

Jim watches him for a few minutes as the water heats and he arranges mugs for them both. "So you haven't told me," Jim says, "How it went with T'Pau."

"That is true," Spock replies. "I assume you still drink your tea with honey?"

"Spock."

Spock turns to face him. "I will answer your questions in this matter, but first you must answer a question of mine."

"What question?" When Spock doesn't answer, Jim rolls his eyes. "Fine, yes, you've got yourself a deal," he says, and takes the offered mug from Spock's hand. "What's your question?"

Spock takes a deep breath. "Why do you care?"

It has the intended effect; Jim's eyes widen in shock. "What?" he said, his voice pitched high.

"I would like to know what impact my conversation with T'Pau has on you. You will understand, I hope, that given your recent behavior, it is not immediately apparent why you would be interested in my potential future nuptials."

"So you're going through with it," Jim says.

"My question first, please."

Jim stares at him for long moments before something in his eyes seems to break. "Fine," he says. But instead of answering immediately Jim leans against the table, his hands in his pockets, brow furrowed as though gathering his thoughts.

Uniform aside, it is an achingly familiar picture, taking Spock back to a hundred different moments in their friendship: Jim leaning against his car and laughing, against the side of a building and talking about the watergun fights he'd had with his brother as a child, against the pillar on his porch and telling Spock that he could do whatever he needed.

"I care," Jim says now.

Spock waits, but there seems to be nothing else. "Is that all the explanation you can provide?"

"Yes. No -- look, I don't know what you want me to say," Jim says, frustrated. It is satisfying to see.

"I want you to tell me why," Spock says. "I have trusted you all this time, Jim. I thought that there must be a reason why you have been so -- so stupid, these past few months."

"Stupid?" Jim demands.

"I cannot think of a better term for it. You have been acting as though I've done something wrong--"

"Because you did, okay?" Jim says, as though it has been pulled out of him. "You lied, Spock." He pushes himself off the table. "When I met you -- the first day I met you, you told me that you don't lie. Ever. A year and a half later you damn near perjure yourself just to keep me from -- what? It was self-defense, it would have never gone to trial! But you lied to protect me, and it made me think maybe -- I don't know." He sighs and looks away, out the window into the evening.

"You think I picked up a bad habit from you?" Spock asks, because he cannot think of anything else to say.

Jim makes a huffing sound, almost a laugh. "Right. Well, when you say it like that, it sounds pretty dumb." He slumps against the table again, as though the fight has gone out of him.

"I think," Spock says, "That I ought to clarify a few things. You are clearly laboring under several misapprehensions."

Jim rolls his eyes. "Look, Spock--"

So quickly he surprises even himself, Spock lifts a hand to cover Jim's mouth, stopping short by just a half-centimeter. Jim tenses and does not move, his hands gripping the sides of the table.

"One, to answer the question that you came all this way on a cold night to ask: my wishes have remained unchanged in regard to any arranged marriage with someone from Vulcan. T'Pau disapproves of my choice but cannot deny that it is my choice.

"Two. The Enterprise is a Starfleet vessel. Even before its commission, anything that happens on the ship is subject to Federation law, which means that you would not have been tried for Ornees's murder here on Earth. You would have been sent back to her homeworld, where you would have been killed." Jim's eyebrows dip down, and Spock knows he is about to argue. "You would have. The Ulnasians do not place much value on individual lives, but they place even less on the lives of aliens. You certainly would never have gotten a trial, so in that you are correct."

Jim's breath is warm and damp against his palm; his eyes are wide.

"Three. I am not an angel of grace nor a paragon of virtue. It is true that I never lie, but had I been honest, I would have had to trust someone else to keep you from being taken away. And I have also told you that putting my trust in the judgment of others is not one of my strengths. An ethically slippery position for an officer of the peace, to be sure, but I have no regrets. You are alive."

"Spock," Jim says, barely audible.

"And finally, while I can understand your disappointment that I have not managed to live up to the high ideals you have set for me--"

"That's not--"

"Then why, Jim?" Spock asks. "I would very much like to know." He takes his hand away and waits.

Jim does not move for a long moment; his chest rises and falls in measured breaths, and then he takes his own hand and places it, slowly and deliberately, on Spock's cheek. It is the same place that he touched months ago, dying on the Enterprise, but Spock cannot think about that now.

tired of fighting/tired of wanting/so much/you won't let me go/I don't want to need you/please and so much more, but for the first time it is not an overwhelming flood of disconnected emotions and thoughts. Jim's mind slides easily alongside his, like the joining of hands or the joining of bodies, and Spock is already forgetting what it is like not to touch him.

He opens his eyes -- he did not realize he closed them -- and feels Jim's fear as a low churning in his stomach.

"What do you want?" Jim asks him, already sure of the answer, already planning to walk out the door, and there is only one possible response to that. Spock knocks Jim's hand aside and steps closer, pressing Jim's hips against the table, and kisses him.

Jim is still for a heartbeat, then he jolts into motion, pulling Spock closer, his mouth opening under him and his hands fisting into Spock's hair. Their desire is like a physical force, and Spock pushes Jim almost flat against the table. He can taste honey in Jim's mouth and slides his hands under his shirt to find the warm skin beneath, greedy for it and for the sounds he can feel Jim making against his mouth.

Jim breaks away as Spock touches him, his chest heaving. "God," he pants, head resting against the table. Spock takes advantage of the expanse of neck and jawline exposed and presses his mouth to Jim's pulse. Jim tenses, and suddenly Spock himself staggering backward, colliding almost painfully with a wall. Jim slides a thigh between his legs, and Spock pushes back against the sudden sweet pressure against his erection, which has been ignored since he first pushed Jim against the table. He can sense Jim's delight and desire humming against his hands. so good/yes/tell me/please, and Spock cannot resist this, cannot believe he ever tried.

"I want you," he murmurs against Jim's ear.

"Yes, Christ, yes, now," Jim says.

Spock pushes him away for just long enough to peel off the uniform shirt, and takes advantage of the moment where Jim's arms are tangled in his sleeves to reverse their positions again, pressing Jim up against the wall. He smooths his hands across the bare skin of Jim's back, reveling in the feel of him.

"You just going to grope me all night?" Jim asks, rocking his hips against Spock's, the hard heat of his cock rubbing against Spock's own.

"I can think of other things we might do," Spock replies, sliding his hand under the waistband of Jim's pants. He is rewarded with a harsh gasp and pulls far enough away to take in the sight of Jim like this, eyes dark and lips swollen. "Though perhaps we might relocate."

oh, is all he feels, a kind of wonder in Jim's mind, and he pulls Jim down the corridor to the bedroom and pushes him down onto the bed; he intends to stand up again and remove his clothes, but somehow he gets wrapped up in Jim's arms and legs.

"We should--" Spock starts, but Jim bites his earlobe and he loses his train of thought.

"Mmm?" Jim mumbles, his teeth still worrying Spock's ear. Spock's hips jerk, and Jim laughs.

"Clothes," Spock manages after a moment.

"Right," Jim says, and lets Spock get to his feet.

Spock takes off his shoes and is reaching to remove his suit jacket when he notices Jim has not moved. "Would you care to undress?" he says, feeling suddenly unsure.

Jim pulls himself back to his feet. "You first," he says.

Spock stills as Jim approaches, waiting. Jim circles around him once before coming to a stop in front of him, bare centimeters away. The slight height difference between them is evened by Spock's bare feet and Jim's boots. "Do you--" Spock begins.

Jim kisses him, slow and sweet, and Spock closes his eyes, as drunk on the steady pulsing of lust and joy that he can feel as he is by the warm, wet slide of Jim's tongue in his mouth. Jim puts his hands under the lapels of Spock's jacket, pushing it off his shoulders, and Spock hears it land softly on the floor. Jim's fingers are cool against his skin as they trail down from his throat to his stomach, unbuttoning his shirt slowly as they kiss.

The sudden pressure against his erection is a shock, and Spock gasps against Jim's lips, opening his eyes. Jim pulls back slightly, his smile not entirely sweet, and watches Spock narrowly as his hand rubs slowly up and down.

"Do you like that?" he murmurs.

"Yes," Spock says. "Very much."

Jim hums in acknowledgment, then frowns, his gaze traveling downward. "Your face -- it's green. And down your neck."

"Vulcan blood is not red, but -- green," Spock manages. He balls his hands into fists to keep them from grabbing hold and shoving Jim back onto the bed.

"So you're blushing," Jim concludes, hands busy at the fastenings to Spock's trousers.

"I am aroused," Spock corrects, and bites his lip as Jim pushes his trousers and boxers down. He steps out of his clothes and stands naked in front of Jim, who makes no secret about his appraisal.

"Yes. You are." Jim kisses him again and steers him gently toward the bed. Spock sits down and looks up at Jim, standing between his legs. "Lie back," Jim instructs.

Spock obeys, and listens to the sounds of Jim taking off his pants and boots. The air on his skin feels cool, maddening. He raises his head just as Jim puts a knee on the bed.

They have seen each other naked before, but this quiet room seems light years away from Iowa, from neighbors' ponds and guest rooms. Spock sits up and reaches out to him, touching the two white scars on Jim's stomach and chest. He opens his mouth to say something, but when he does he cannot imagine what would be appropriate.

But Jim seems to understand. "I meant it," he says.

"I know," Spock says, and pushes him down. Jim is pliant underneath him, and Spock takes a moment to savor the way his arms stretch out across the bed, offering himself without reservation.

With Nyota, with his previous lovers, touch was both a pleasure and a nuisance; so many thoughts and sensations made focus difficult. But not this time. Spock is not much given to imaginative flights of fancy, but in this moment he can almost believe that parts of Jim's body are speaking for themselves: a light brush against the base of Jim's neck makes a hissing yes, the hard press of a thumb against the hollow of his hip prompts a whine of more, the scratch of nails against the inside of his thigh gives Spock a whimpering please. Jim takes it -- begs for it -- in his mind and in his body, his desire so tangled in Spock's that there is no hope of knowing what belongs to whom. Spock wraps his hand around Jim's cock and it feels like he is taking himself in hand.

No, it feels better.

"Oh God," Jim gasps, twisting underneath him, "Please, Spock, anything, I want--" Spock watches Jim's face as he falls apart: the way his eyes are screwed shut and his mouth is soft and open, the sweat on his brow that soaks into his hair. Jim's eyes open and Spock barely recognizes them, blue overwhelmed by black.

It is impossible to believe that he ever had difficulty understanding Jim's desires.

Jim pushes up into Spock's hand, his entire body singing out to him. Spock increases the rhythm and cannot remember if he is touching Jim or if Jim is touching him; all he can feel is the shattering, hollowing release that echoes through them both. He cries out -- or Jim cries out -- and for a moment he's so lost in feeling Jim's climax that he barely registers his own.

Spock manages to lie down next to Jim rather than on top of him, but Jim immediately rolls into him anyway, slinging a leg over Spock's hip and pressing their bodies together. Spock raises an eyebrow; he knows exactly what Jim meant to do.

"You weren't messed up enough," Jim answers, unrepentant; he slicks a finger through the mess now on Spock's stomach. "Needed to get you a little dirty."

Spock does not reply; instead he captures Jim's hand and sucks carefully at his finger, tasting Jim and himself and curling his tongue around the rough calloused pad. Jim makes a sound that is very undignified, and Spock smiles, bites softly at the tip.

"You really are going to kill me," Jim decides.

Spock releases Jim's hand and kisses him, hand tight in his hair, possessing. He knows he has no right to ask this, no right to expect it, but Jim’s only reaction is soft happiness, as warm as melted chocolate. "I may," he says, "But not tonight."

After a few minutes, Spock manages to get out of bed and make his way to the bathroom, running washcloths under the tap. He cleans himself off with one and comes back with the other for Jim, enjoying the way Jim twitches away from his touch as though ticklish. "I am ticklish," Jim points out, but doesn't try to stop him.

After Spock is finished, he lies back down. Jim is stretched out on his stomach beside him, his arms wrapped around a pillow, sheets pulled loosely to his waist. Moonlight through the window limns the dip of his lower back and the curve of his shoulder. He looks back at Spock, sated and comfortable and smiling.

"You are very beautiful," Spock tells him.

Jim chuckles. "That's a first," he says.

Spock gives in and puts a hand on him, savoring the way Jim arches into his touch. "You remind me of Watson."

Jim's smile widens. "You're the one that purrs," he says. One arm uncurls from the pillow and wraps around Spock's waist, pulling him closer.

"I do not purr," Spock protests.

"Sure you do. I think it's the Vulcan version of snoring. It's cute," Jim assures him, kissing him lazily along his cheek, down his throat. "First time I heard it was when you got flattened and crashed on my library couch. I knew I was pretty far gone when all I could think was how much I liked it."

"You did?"

"That," Jim admits, "And how disappointed I was you weren't crashing in my bed. Took a lot of willpower not to jump all over you that week, I'll tell you what." He tightens his hold around Spock's waist as he finds a tender spot just below his ear.

"I am impressed by your forbearance. Though I -- oh -- wish you had not had quite so much of it."

"Hey, I wasn't getting the green light until, like," Jim makes a show of looking at his wrist, though he does not have a chronometer on it at the moment, "Half an hour ago. Forgive me for wanting to cling to a little dignity."

"The first time I met you, you were in the midst of a bar brawl," Spock reminds him. "And the following evening I arrested you for swimming naked in a neighbor's pond. Your dignity is somewhat in dispute."

But Jim does not seem to be paying attention. "You remember that?" he asks, clearly delighted. "What else do you remember?"

"Everything," Spock tells him.

"God, you say stuff like that--" Jim climbs on top of him, biting down on his shoulder as he rocks against him, already half-hard again. "It makes me want all kinds of things."

"Could you specify?" Spock asks as Jim traces his tongue up his throat. He can feel the exhale of Jim's laughter, then the gentle press of teeth at the hinge of his jaw. He gasps and arches against the weight of Jim's body.

"Everything," Jim murmurs, in the razor-thin space between them.

"Tell me," Spock insists, and Jim pulls back, the not-quite-nice smile back on his face.

"You want me to tell you?" he says.

"Yes."

"All right," Jim says. "Fuck me. I want you to fuck me, spread me open--"

Spock cannot help the laughter that escapes, suddenly remembering.

"What--" Jim looks confused. Spock manages to regain control.

"I do not possess the requisite supplies," he confesses.

There is a moment of silence, and then Jim laughs too, a braying and inelegant and beautiful sound. He rests his forehead against Spock's shoulder. "You don't have any lube?"

"It is hardly something that I would have use for without a sexual partner," Spock says.

"What about your right hand?" Jim asks, grinning down at him. Spock shakes his head. A distant part of him suspects that this is not typical conversation for a sexual encounter, but there is something unalterable about Jim -- they would have this conversation in bed, or over lunch, or while driving, or anywhere of a thousand places where Spock has and wants him.

"I do not masturbate," Spock says, and is somewhat nonplussed by Jim's surprise.

"Spock, I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you won't actually go blind," Jim tells him, and before Spock can ask what he's talking about, Jim kisses him again, a quick press of lips against his. "You got a replicator?" Jim asks.

"Yes, in the kitchen," Spock says. "Why--"

"Stay put," Jim tells him, and is abruptly gone. He comes back a few moments later, and Spock has just enough time to notice something in his hand before Jim is on top of him again, warm and heavy, his mouth latched onto his neck as though determined to draw a bruise from his skin. Spock presses him down on the bed and takes the object from him; it is a generic tube of lubricant, innocuous and bland.

"Where did you get this?" he asks, opening it and slicking his fingers.

"Replicator," Jim says, spreading his thighs. “Remember two minutes ago? When I asked if you had one? And you said yes?”

Spock shifts himself down, settling between Jim's knees. He looks up at Jim's face, and is arrested for a moment by the beauty of the picture; Jim staring down at him with dark eyes, his cock flushed and hard against his stomach, his entire body an invitation. "I thought you did not approve of replicators," he says.

"They have their uses -- oh God," he gasps, as Spock slips a hand between his legs, pushing inside with one finger, shallow and testing. "Please, Spock, I want--"

"Yes," Spock soothes, and his finger slides in deeper, impossible heat and pressure around him. He pushes firmly against Jim's prostate and is rewarded with an inelegant stutter of Jim's hips, as though Jim cannot decide if he wants to get away or get closer. Spock moves his other hand up Jim's thigh, running his thumb along the crease between his leg and his hip, feeling the flex of muscle as Jim starts to push back against him.

"You really are killing me." Jim's laugh dissolves into a long moan as Spock slides in another finger; the sound is low and animal and intoxicating.

"I sincerely doubt it," Spock replies, his focus on the stretch of Jim around him. He spreads his fingers and Jim whimpers, but there is no pain, only the pleasure and joy and relief that he's felt all this time, with an added flare of impatience, hunger for more/now/no more waiting.

"I mean it," Jim argues, "I'm going to -- die, right here -- God, right here--"

Spock moves up Jim's body, still moving his hand, and kisses him again, drinking in the way Jim shudders and sweats beneath him. "You are given to exaggeration, Jim," he says. "I promise you will survive this."

He sits up and withdraws his fingers, kneeling over Jim and wrapping his hands around Jim's hips to pull him closer. Jim stares up at him, eyes half-lidded, skin flushed; every thought he has right now is yes. Spock presses inside, slow and careful and then slower still, feeling Jim relax around his cock while watching him writhe against the sheets. It's good, unbearably good -- he can feel Jim's pleasure in his own, building fast, and the first full thrust elicits a moan that Spock feels more than hears.

Jim's legs wrap around his waist tightly and he meets the next thrust, his hips twisting in Spock's lap, taking in more of his cock as he strokes himself. With his other hand he drags Spock down for another searing kiss, his fingers wrapped tightly in Spock's hair. Spock steadies himself with one hand on the mattress and tries to push himself back up, but Jim keeps tight hold, his smile huge and blurry in Spock's field of vision.

"What do you want?" Jim whispers. He drags his mouth from Spock's ear to his jaw, kissing his way back to Spock's mouth and biting down on his lower lip.

"You, this, you." He feels as though he is breaking apart -- nothing is solid except the man underneath him, around him. "I want you -- I have you -- mine--"

"Spock--" Jim gasps, and comes, shoulders digging into the bed as his back arches. Spock lets go and feels his own orgasm shudder through him, darker and wilder than he's ever felt, the echoes of mine still in his head.

He opens his eyes; his head is resting on Jim's shoulder, and he is still on top of him, still inside him. He looks up at Jim, who is watching him with some combination of amusement and wonder.

"You ready for round three?" he teases, his hand still combing through Spock's hair.

"Mmm?" Spock manages.

Jim cants his hips invitingly, and Spock can feel that wildness surging up again -- it would take very little to hold Jim down and take what he wants. It is surprise more than anything that jolts him out of his languor; this violent possessiveness is unlike anything he has ever felt after making love to someone. He shakes his head even as he turns into Jim's touch. "I am very well satisfied at present," he says, and carefully withdraws, watching Jim's face for any sign of discomfort.

But Jim just grins as his fingers smooth over the point of Spock's ear. Spock shivers -- his ears are more sensitive than a human's, and typically any touch has been too rough, too casual. But Jim's fingers are feather-light, tracing along the edges to the tip and back again, an endless pattern that is almost hypnotic.

Spock closes his eyes and rests his head against Jim's chest, the slow throb of Jim’s heartbeat comforting against his cheek.

*

They sleep until mid-morning; Jim jerks awake with a start, as though an alarm had rung. Spock, woken by his flailing, watches him take in the unfamiliar room, clearly confused, before he looks down at Spock with an entertaining expression. "Uh," Jim says.

"Very eloquent," Spock says.

"Yeah." Jim settles back onto the pillows, though he still seems tense. "That happened, right? I'm not just in the middle of a really good dream."

"I do not know what your dreams might entail," Spock tells him, "But if you are asking whether or not we engaged in coitus last night--"

"Oh my God, you said 'coitus,' this isn't a dream." Jim claps his hands over his face; Spock can see his grin through the gap between his palm and thumb. "Not even in the darkest depths of my subconscious have I ever imagined you calling it 'coitus.'"

"What have you imagined?" Spock asks.

"Wouldn't you like to know," Jim says, and leans over to kiss him on the lips, mouth closed. "You got a spare toothbrush?" he asks hopefully, palming Spock's hip under the sheets as though he cannot help himself. Spock can hardly blame him; he reaches out for Jim by instinct already, as though Jim's body has belonged to him for decades and not hours.

"What?" he says, realizing Jim asked him a question.

Jim laughs and kisses him again.

Spock does have a spare toothbrush; he lies in bed and listens to the sound of Jim moving around in the bathroom. "So here's a question," Jim calls out to him. "If you've got a spare toothbrush, why don't you have lube?"

"You believe that anyone who stays the night here would be a sexual partner?"

Jim's head pops around the doorframe. "Well, why would you be prepared for a guest and not prepared for a, you know, guest," he says, laying emphasis on the last word. He crawls back onto the bed and settles himself on Spock's lap; his mouth tastes of mint. "How come your breath doesn't smell?" he asks after a few minutes.

"Vulcans do not house bacteria in their orifices the way humans do," he answers, as Jim trails kisses from his jaw down his neck.

"Huh," Jim says. "And Vulcans don't believe in sex, either."

"I did not say that," Spock corrects him, tilting his head to allow Jim to nip at the base of his throat. "I said that without a partner, there is little point in sexual release."

"And with a partner?" Jim asks, biting down less gently.

"With a partner, we become--" he hisses at the feel of Jim's teeth-- "Rather more amenable to the idea of recreational sexual activity."

Jim laughs. "So you become an insatiable horndog, basically."

Spock can feel a prickle in Jim's thoughts, an acknowledgment of Spock's alien half, but there is no fear in it; instead Spock catches brief glimpses of Jim's idle fantasies. "I am unsure why you call me insatiable," he says, "When it is you who imagine that I bend that way."

"You don't? That's a bummer. I would've thought Vulcans would be extra flexible," Jim murmurs against his ear.

"Do I not meet with your expectations?" Spock asks, pushing Jim flat on his back and swinging a leg over Jim's hips. He threads their hands together and presses them down into the mattress. "Please provide feedback so that I may provide satisfaction."

*

At noon, they venture out of the bedroom for food and water. "God, Spock," Jim says, squinting at Spock's replicator, "Couldn't you have gotten a fridger or something? I can't handle these things."

"It is perfectly adequate to my needs. And it does have its uses, as we both discovered last night." Spock points out.

Jim rolls his eyes. "Whatever, I'm buying you one and we're going to stock it with real food that's been grown from a plant or killed by somebody." He pauses; Spock reaches out his hand to touch him, and feels his embarrassment at assuming he had any say in Spock's domestic arrangements.

"You do have a say," Spock tells him.

"I -- it's going to get creepy, how you do that," Jim warns, though he registers no unease or discomfort. In fact, he covers Spock's hand with his own and thinks, very clearly, honestly, I hate replicators so much, you should get a fridger/also, you're really cute in flannel pajamas.

Spock laughs and pulls Jim into his arms. He comes with no resistance, pushing Spock against the counter. "I should comm Pavel," he mutters into Spock's neck, "Let him know I'm not dead in a ditch. Otherwise he'll call the authorities and order a manhunt."

"I am the authorities," Spock points out. "And your roommate seems very invested in your well-being."

"Are you jealous?" Jim demands, delighted. "Because I swear, honey, he's nothing to me." He resumes kissing along the line of Spock's throat, tonguing the bruise he left earlier.

"You think very highly of yourself, to imagine that I would feel jealousy," Spock says. "After all, we have been a romantic couple for less than twelve hours."

"We've been a romantic couple for about a year, Spock, don't kid yourself," Jim says, holding him tightly for a moment before letting go. "Okay, if I don't eat now, I'm going to collapse. I guess I'll take a peanut butter sandwich. Hard to mess that up."

The communicator console buzzes; Spock leaves Jim to poke and growl at the replicator as he goes to answer it.

"Darling?" His mother looks surprised, and Spock realizes he is wearing only his flannel pajamas, without a shirt. "Are you... all right?" she asks.

"I am very well, Mother. I did not--" he makes to break the connection, before finding his robe and calling her back in more suitable attire.

"Spock, you wait just one minute," Amanda says. "Is that -- do you have a hickey?"

Spock wonders if there is any possible way to salvage this conversation. Jim, who has given up on the replicator and is examining the apples on the kitchen table, seems to notice what's going on, He grins at Spock and leans against the counter, tossing an apple from one hand to the other. Spock resists the temptation to throw something at him.

"Spock, do you..." Amanda looks away from the viewscreen at that point, as though even the sight of her son without his shirt is uncomfortable. "I can talk to you later."

"Wait." He sighs. "Jim is with me."

Amanda says, "Oh. Um. Is he..."

Jim pads over and waves at the viewscreen. "Hi, Amanda. Nice seeing you. Sorry for the, uh. Hickeys." Spock can see, out of the corner of his eye, the flush of bright red spread from Jim's neck up his to his face and down his chest. He keeps his gaze fixed on his mother, however.

"Oh -- oh!" She seems torn between surprise and delight and embarrassment; Spock can entirely sympathize. "So, you two--" she flinches away from the end of the sentence.

"Yes," Spock says, because anything else will only prolong the conversation.

"Well. All right. I'll leave you two alone, and Jim, thank you very much for finally talking sense into my son. And now I have to go collect a dinner from Leonard." She pauses before hitting the logoff button. "And I'll be collecting from you too, Jim."

She logs off. Spock blinks at the dark viewscreen.

Jim bites into the apple and makes a face. "God, you even replicated apples, you're depraved," he mutters, before focusing his attention on Spock. "Are you okay?"

"What do you suppose my mother meant by 'collecting a dinner' from Doctor McCoy?"

"They've been betting on how long it'd take us to get together. Amanda put down by the end of this year, McCoy said before I graduated from Starfleet Academy."

"Betting?"

"It's a game of chance? Otherwise known as gambling."

Spock curls his fingers around the waistband of Jim's borrowed pajamas. "And why do you owe her dinner?"

"I put in a bet, too," he says, easing a thigh between Spock's legs even as he takes another bite of the apple.

"When did you think we would get together?"

Jim smiles, but it does not reach his eyes. "When hell froze over, Spock."

Spock's grip tightens, and he kisses Jim hard enough to be almost a punishment. "You should not gamble, since you are clearly terrible at it."

Jim's smile is slow and real and breathtaking, and when he kisses back, it is a soft brush of lips and a teasing tongue, gentle and sweet. "Nobody's happier about that than I am." Jim tosses the half-eaten apple into the recylcer across the room. "Okay, I'm fed and watered. Ready for round three?"

"Four," Spock corrects him. "And you miscounted deliberately."

"Just wanted to make sure you were keeping track."

"I assure you," Spock says, tugging at Jim's drawstring, "I am."

Chapter Text

Jim honors the terms of his bet with Spock's mom in his own way -- an invitation to Iowa for a home-cooked meal. "Well, you don't really have a kitchen," he explains as he tosses his dufflebag into the backseat of Spock's vee. "A replicator and a sink won't do the trick."

"I am sure Dr. McCoy and my mother will appreciate the trouble," Spock says.

"The hardest part'll be getting Bones into a shuttlecraft for the trip -- hey, did you know he's afraid of flying?"

"It seems curious for an aviaphobe to have chosen a career in Starfleet."

Jim laughs. "Tell me about it." He gestures for the keys as he goes to stand by the driver's side.

Spock raises an eyebrow at him and puts his own bag in the trunk. "It is my vehicle, Jim."

"And I built it for you, so hand 'em over," Jim replies. Spock does that thing where he rolls his eyes without rolling his eyes, and tries to get past him. Jim puts a hand on Spock's chest, not out of any real desire to stop him but just to get in his space and get under his skin.

It seems to work; Spock leans forward to kiss him, sliding his warm hands along Jim's waist where his shirt rides up and his jeans ride low. It's Friday, just three days since they first fell into bed together, and so far Spock's still as grabby as he was the first night. There's a running theme in people Jim's dated, how they tend to drape themselves over him and on him, like keeping an arm around his shoulder or a leg over his hip is going to keep him in place. But Spock's the first one who doesn't try to be smooth about it; he pulls Jim closer and threads their fingers together and makes it clear that Jim belongs to him, now.

Jim smiles against his mouth, his teeth catching on Spock's lower lip. "You just can't resist me, can you?" he teases, his hand smoothing down Spock's stomach to curl around Spock's belt. Spock lets himself get dragged forward half a step, crashing against Jim and pressing him up against the car as they kiss.

"No," Spock says immediately.

It's something that Jim's still getting used to, even more than the proprietary way Spock handles him, even after two years of friendship and three days of -- more than that. Spock tells the truth, every time, without hesitating for a second. It's still weird, almost scary, that Spock can hear what he's thinking and feeling whenever they touch, but Jim's learning that he can know what Spock's thinking and feeling, too. "Good," he murmurs, and steals the keys from Spock's hand. "Get in. I'll let you have shotgun, how about that?"

Sighing, Spock gets into the passenger side.

The ride home is just a half an hour, but by the time they get there it's almost sunset. He touches them down in the driveway and sees his mom's vee already there. "Oh God," he mutters. Spock looks over, his smile resigned and amused, and brushes his fingers along the back of Jim's hand.

Sure enough, Mom's opening the screen door as they climb the steps, wiping her hands on her jeans. "I see you made it," she says.

"Mom," Jim says, opening the door for her, "What are you doing here?"

"You commed and said you were coming home. Wanted to make sure the sheets were fresh and the house was aired out," she says, kissing Jim on the cheek. She turns her eye on Spock, giving him a long look. "You boys got everything fixed up?"

It's worse than when Mom cross-examined Kelly Kemblowski in eighth grade. "You going to ask him what his intentions are?" he asks her.

"Oh, I'm not worried about his intentions," Mom says. "Well, looks like I'll have to put even more pressure on Sam and Aurelan to start giving me grandchildren -- unless Vulcan men are able to carry the young?"

"Thanks for coming over, Mom," Jim says loudly, putting an arm around her shoulder and walking her down the stairs. Spock stays up on the porch while Jim basically stuffs her back into her vee and waves her off. When Jim turns around again, Spock is still standing there, smiling just a little.

"What do you want to bet she left us some pie or something?" Jim calls to him.

She left two pies -- a shepherd's and a blueberry, still warm. They eat the food on the back porch, sitting together on the couch, close enough so that Jim can steal some of the blueberry filling from Spock's plate.

"So, sleeping arrangements," Jim says after a while, "I figured we'd give your mother the guest room, make Bones sleep on the couch in the library."

Spock looks a little surprised. "You do not wish Dr. McCoy and my mother to sleep together while they are in your house?"

"Well, I don't have a problem with it, but I figured you'd maybe--" With the fork pinched between his thumb and index finger, Jim spreads his other fingers out and makes a see-sawing motion.

"I do not pass judgment on my mother's personal relationships," Spock says mildly.

"Wow, really?" Jim's impressed. "That's been, like, a main hobby of mine since I was old enough to talk back, criticizing my mom's choice in men."

"Your mother has been widowed once and divorced three times," Spock says, and that could mean anything, so instead of replying Jim steals the last bite of Spock's pie crust. Spock lets him, which is another sign Jim's starting to read.

"Speaking of sleeping arrangements, I don't think the tour I gave you of the house ever included the master bedroom. You want to check it out?" He takes Spock's plate away from him and tries his very best dirty-young-man leer, which he's found out is pretty effective on Spock.

Sure enough, Spock's eyes drift down to Jim's mouth and stay there, even while he says, "You are forgetting, I did see the master suite when I was making improvements to your home security system."

"Spock," Jim sighs, standing up, "You take all the fun out of innuendo, you know that?" He reaches a hand out and pulls Spock to his feet.

Spock has seen the master bedroom before, but there's a difference between glancing from the doorway and walking into the room itself and looking over everything, which is what Spock does now. Mom wasn't kidding when she said she changed the sheets and aired out the rooms; there's a warm breeze coming in through the open window, and one side of the bedcovers is turned down, which is horrifying in an abstract kind of way.

Jim watches Spock for a second while he turns in a slow circle, taking it all in. He's only brought a handful of people up here and he's always been nervous, worried about what they'd see in the fact that there's nothing to see here. But Spock looks at the bed and the dresser and the blank walls without comment, and without looking like he wants to comment, and when he turns back to face Jim again all he does is pull him close, holding onto his hip and his shoulder. "Jim," he says.

"Mmm," Jim replies, kissing along his jaw. Spock fumbles with Jim's belt buckle and jeans and Jim makes a high-pitched sound as Spock's fingers graze against his side. "I told you," he protests, "I'm ticklish."

"I will be sure never to use that in any way against you," Spock says solemnly.

Jim glares at him, one hand gripping Spock's bicep, the other still around his waist. "I thought you said you never lie," he huffs.

Spock backs up one step at a time toward the bed. "Perhaps occasionally I do make promises that may be unworkable," he admits.

"Uh huh," Jim says, and they fall onto the bed, struggling out of their clothing while they make out, getting distracted from a kiss by the need to pull off a shirt or getting distracted from taking off their shoes by a hand sliding into a back pocket. It's still so new, to be allowed to do whatever he wants to Spock and to know that Spock wants to do all those things right back -- but at the same time it feels like years have passed since the first time, like he knows Spock's body better than his own.

But that's not quite true -- as Jim kisses his way down Spock's body, he can feel Spock tensing underneath him. He's not telepathic but he knows when someone's not onboard. "Jim--"

"What?" Jim says. He pulls away from Spock's nipple and looks up at him. "You don't want me to return the favor from last night?" He thinks back. "And two nights ago?"

Spock shakes his head. "I am happy to engage in -- you do not need to provide fellatio if you do not wish," he says. He's not quite meeting Jim's eyes.

Which is just weird, so Jim sits up, trying really hard to ignore the fact that he's straddling Spock's legs and Spock's whole body is laid out underneath him, soft and warm and his. "I don't need to?" he asks. "Is this some kind of repressed thing? But -- you've done it to me like twice already, so that's not it."

Spock's still not looking at him. "You are not telepathic; it will not bring you the same level of enjoyment as--"

"Wait wait," Jim interrupts, "You think giving head isn't enjoyable?"

"I have been... under that impression," Spock says. He finally looks up at Jim. "Telepathy often brings with it more information than is desirable to have."

Jim doesn't really mean to laugh, but it comes out anyway. "Okay, clearly you've only slept with, I don't know, assholes who aren't me before this. But I," he assures Spock, "Like it."

"You do?"

"Sure." Jim kisses his neck. "I like the taste," he murmurs, sliding down Spock's body, "And the way it feels, stretching my mouth, pushing down my throat."

Spock lifts his head to watch Jim press a kiss to his heart, before sliding still further down. It's like he can't stop watching.

"I like the control," Jim continues as one hand palms Spock's dick, squeezing a little as his thumb swipes over the head. "The noises it forces out."

Spock actually props himself up on his elbows now, and he's breathing hard. Jim shuffles back a little until his mouth is right over Spock's dick and his lips can brush against the head. "And after--"

There's an honest-to-God whimper from Spock, and his hips twitch like he's trying to behave himself but can't quite do it. Jim grabs at Spock's hipbones and holds him down, which means he only has his mouth to use on Spock.

That's fine, though. "And after," he continues, "I love the soreness in my throat, in the corner of my mouth. The way my neck will ache, reminding me every time I turn my head that I was doing this."

"Jim, please," Spock whispers.

"Yeah," Jim whispers back, "I love that too."

It's not like this is anything fancy; Jim keeps his hands on Spock's hips and just uses his tongue and his lips and his teeth, tasting Spock and mouthing his shaft before opening wide and sucking at the head. The taste of cock is always a little surprising at first -- it's not unpleasant, exactly, but it's also not like anything else Jim usually puts in his mouth, so to speak. He gets over it pretty quickly considering the encouragement he's getting. Spock feels like he's breaking into pieces underneath him.

"Jim," Spock gasps, and Jim looks up at him and that seems to do even more to fuck up Spock's ability to function. "You are -- it feels--" and just like that Spock's coming already, his fingers curled into the sheets -- Jim makes a mental note to teach Spock how to pull hair when he's getting a blowjob -- and his mouth and eyes wide open. It's beautiful and kind of hilarious all at once.

Jim pulls off and just lies there for a second, still hard and buzzing with arousal but there's something to be said for savoring someone else's afterglow, and Spock really seems like he's glowing, just a little bit.

But Spock's all about reciprocation, and pretty soon Jim's been rolled onto his back and laid out spread-eagle while Spock works his way down Jim's chest and stomach. Every few seconds Spock looks up and makes eye contact before resuming whatever he's doing. "What?" Jim asks after a while. "Why do you keep--" Spock does something really amazing with his teeth, just below Jim's bellybutton, and Jim forgets what he's saying. But Spock picks it up anyway.

"I wish to gauge your responses," he replies.

"You know my responses."

Spock considers this for a second, and the fact that he's being contemplative while his hand is sliding down to curl around Jim's cock is sending all kinds of conflicting information to Jim's brain. "I know how you feel about certain things," Spock says. "For example you enjoy when I kiss you here," and he presses his lips to the base of Jim's cock. "But you also enjoy it when I kiss here," and this time he mouths at Jim's balls, lips gentle. Jim thrusts up into Spock's grip, and Spock smiles against his hip. "And I enjoy it when you respond with your body as well as with your mind."

"Do you," Jim manages. He's proud of the fact that of the two of them, he's the one who can hold a coherent conversation while he's getting a blowjob. "Oh, God," he adds when Spock licks a long, lewd stripe from Jim's hole to the tip of his cock. Okay, maybe not always so coherent.

"I am very selfish," Spock says after another few seconds, and Jim has to screw his eyes shut and block out the picture of Spock lying between his thighs in order to concentrate on what Spock's actually saying. "It is not only for your pleasure that I pay such attention, but for my own."

"I think I can live with that -- fuck--"

Thank God Spock stops talking right about then in favor of sucking Jim down with all the finesse of a porn star or someone who's tapped into every single thing that drives Jim up the wall. Jim lies back and focuses on the feelings; he doesn't know if it makes it better for Spock, but he likes to think so. Besides, it's not like it's a hardship or anything.

He comes with one hand tight on the back of Spock's head, trying not to push but probably not succeeding, if the discreet coughing is anything to go by, but he can't feel much beyond a blurry sense of goodwill. He tugs Spock up again and Spock goes willingly, settling half on top of him. They watch each other for a few minutes, quiet and Jim at least isn't thinking anything particular.

"I enjoyed that," Spock says, "Although I believe we may want to change the sheets before going to sleep."

Jim laughs, torn between the sleep dragging at his eyes and the unpleasant wet spots on the bed, but Spock rolls off and Jim has to get up anyway. He finds some spare sheets and they change the bed; Spock crawls in first and Jim wraps himself around him, the tangle of their legs already familiar. Jim's about ready to doze off, but he can feel Spock looking around the room again, shifting slightly in Jim's arms. "You thinking about getting me curtains?" Jim mumbles against his shoulder. "Or a painting for the wall or something?"

"It has crossed my mind," Spock says. "I would not have expected your bedroom to be so--"

"Soulless?" Jim asks.

"Lonely," Spock says. "Had I not seen your dormitory quarters at Starfleet, I would have assumed that all your personal effects were there."

"I don't really go in for personal effects," Jim says.

"No. You do not." Spock doesn't say anything else.

Jim takes a deep breath, and then another, watching his breath stir the hair on the back of Spock's head. "I -- I left. When I was sixteen, I left home. Lived off the grid for a few years, and then on my twenty-first birthday I get a call from my mom, telling me she's moved out of the house, it's mine now. I didn't want it, but... it's been in the family for almost two hundred years."

Spock settles his hand gently on Jim's, like he's giving Jim some kind of support. Jim keeps going.

"But then I moved in here -- everything I owned fit in a dufflebag -- I came here, and I just, I guess I thought there'd be some kind of epiphany, you know? Coming back to my childhood home as a man, sleeping in the same room that my father was born in. But it never really felt like there was anything here for me. I don't know what I'm talking about," he adds, pushing his forehead into Spock's shoulder. "I guess I just never thought of this place as my home. More like a repository for bad memories. Well," he amends, "Not all bad ones."

"You built the library," Spock says.

"Because you wanted it," Jim snaps, not even sure who he's pissed off at. "I never -- if Ornees had dropped a photon torpedo on this place, I wouldn't have minded."

Spock clutches at Jim's wrist, hard. "She would have been sure that you were in the house when that happened."

"I know--" but the fingers around his wrist aren't letting up, and Jim adds, "Ow, Jesus, Spock," and twists out of Spock's grip. "Remember that I'm a fragile flower, would you?"

Spock turns to face him. He looks at Jim's wrist and then up into Jim's face, a searching look. "I am sorry," he says.

"It's okay," Jim says.

"Not only about your wrist," Spock clarifies.

"It's okay," Jim repeats, and kisses him softly on the mouth.

*

Spock's mom and Bones arrive early the following evening; Bones doesn't look too good. "Leonard got a little airsick on the ride over," Amanda explains while Jim carries her suitcases up the porch stairs. "I really don't understand what he thinks he's doing, going up into space."

"Inertial dampeners are a hell of a lot more reliable in space than they are in atmosphere, thank the good Lord," Bones says, staggering over to the nearest rocking chair and collapsing with a groan. "I think I'm dying."

"You're not dying," Amanda tells him, before turning back to Jim. "Where's my son?"

"He's helping me cook," Jim says, and Amanda's reaction is pretty priceless. "I've got him on potato-peeling duty," he tells her.

"Oh, thank God," she says. "You had me worried for a moment."

Jim puts her suitcase in the hallway and says, "So, would you like a quick tour? Bones has already seen the place, so..."

"Such a good host. Honey," she says, turning to McCoy, "Will you be all right for a few minutes?"

"Don't mind me, my stomach's just trying to crawl up my esophagus."

"He's fine," Amanda decides.

Jim's got a vague idea that he'll save the library for last, but it's right there off the hallway and there's not a graceful way to get past it. Amanda goes in and looks over the whole room in silence, walking around the perimeter, examining one book or another as they catch her eye. Jim watches her from the doorway and sees her son in the way she frowns at Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and the the way she smiles over a copy of Romantic poets.

"So this is where Spock stayed while he was recovering?" she asks, trailing a hand over the back of the couch.

"Yeah," Jim answers.

"When we lived on Vulcan, before Spock's father died," and her face doesn't look the way Mom's does whenever she talks about Dad; Amanda looks happy, as if the good memories never got overwritten by the bad ones, "Sarek built me a library for all my books. He thought it was an illogical waste of space and that I was overly sentimental to bring so many with me, but he built that library and gave me a fireplace that I don't think I ever used -- Vulcan's a bit hot for a roaring fireplace -- and Spock loved it." She thinks for a second and adds, "His brother did, too. It was their sanctuary from Vulcan logic and control. And mine.

"When Spock and I came back to Earth, I found a place that had a library and I think he spent our first year holed up in that room, curled up in his brother's armchair and staring out a window." She says all of this while she's looking out at the sunset through the window, and when she turns back her eyes are red. "I wonder if he had much choice at all, falling in love with you."

"He started it," Jim says, which doesn't make sense but it's true all the same, and Amanda laughs at the same time that tears fall down her cheeks.

Bones's entrance is pretty perfect timing, even though he still looks a little queasy. He takes in the scene for a minute, and he probably sees the way Amanda is dabbing at her face with the sleeves of her dress, but all he says is, "So you want to flip a coin over who gets the guest bed and who gets the couch?"

"I'm sure the boys won't be too horribly scarred by our sharing the guest room," Amanda says, going over to Bones; he wraps an arm around her shoulder.

"What, you don't think they'd get scandalized by the way you go to bed at 8:30 and spend four hours doing crossword puzzles?" he asks.

"No," Amanda says, glaring at him, "But they may be deeply offended by your snoring."

"I've heard it before," Jim says. "It's pretty memorable."

Spock finally makes his appearance from the kitchen, wiping his hands on a dishtowel. "Mother. Leonard," he greets them, and Jim bites his lip at the way Spock pronounces Bones's first name -- there's something about the obvious enjoyment Spock gets out of Bones's discomfort. "I trust you are well?"

"I'm dying of airsickness," Bones says, "But other than that we're all right."

"I was showing your mom the library," Jim says.

Spock's reaction is odd -- or maybe not so odd, considering what Amanda just said. He looks nervous as he says, "And how do you find it, Mother?"

"The books aren't in any order that I can see," Amanda tells him, "But other than that, it's lovely. Reminds me of our old library on Vulcan."

"Yes," Spock says, embarrassed now, "I have always found it pleasant."

Jim thinks nobody's ever said anything so nice to him before in his life.

*

Amanda and Bones like the spread Jim's laid out for them -- or at least, Amanda says she likes it and Bones goes back for seconds on everything. Spock eats his fill but about halfway through he stops and stares at Jim.

"What?" Jim mutters, trying to be quiet.

"I believe you have been assured of the quality of the meal," Spock replies. "Perhaps now you should try some for yourself."

Jim looks down at his plate, piled high with smashed potatoes and chicken and corn, and can feel the blush on his cheeks. But he just lifts a forkful of potatoes to his mouth and grins at Spock, who returns to his own meal.

For a few more minutes there's quiet, and when Jim looks up Bones is making a face at him -- the I Feel Awkward face, which Bones pulls whenever some cadet finds out he's a doctor and starts describing a medical condition or whenever he has to talk to his ex-wife. Jim manages not to laugh at him and instead says to Amanda, "Have you and Cadet Uhura finished that paper on the new translation matrices? I heard you wanted to get it finished before the start of the Federation session."

Amanda looks surprised at the question, but she answers quickly enough. "We cut it a bit close, but yes -- and I'm bracing myself for all the angry diplomats I'll have to face."

"Are the new matrices controversial?" Spock asks.

"Only if you're a moron," Jim says, at the same time that Amanda says, "Yes." She wrinkles her nose at Jim for a moment, then smiles and continues, "It depends on your point of view. The old system was to translate the alien language -- call it Language A -- into Standard, and vice versa. Which works fine when at least one member of the group speaks Standard. But there've been problems with third parties using the Translator, because then you get things like Language A being translated into Standard and then into Language B, or Language C, or Language Q. What the matrices will do is offer a more direct translation when neither of the parties are native Standard speakers."

Spock frowns. "And what is the source of the controversy?"

Amanda says to Jim, "I think you can answer this."

This is one of the many reasons Jim's sorry that he ever told Amanda about his interest in xenolinguistics. "The controversy is that Dr. Amanda Grayson, despite the fact that she pretty much created the Universal Translator from scratch and speaks thirty-nine languages with native fluency, isn't actually a native speaker of any language other than Standard. So there'll be a lot of accusations that she's not qualified to make any translation program that isn't Standard-related." He reaches across the table to take another scoop of smashed potatoes from the bowl. "Accusations that will be complete bullshit, by the way."

"It's a valid point to bring up," Amanda counters.

"Again I refer you to the 'only if you're a moron' argument," Jim says.

The debate continues through the rest of the meal and into dessert -- apple pie, because Jim loves the classics -- and in the end even Bones has waded into it with his opinion, digging into a third helping of pie and arguing with Jim over the most recent redrawing of the Klingon Neutral Zone. Spock stays out of it, though, and when Jim glances over his way he's just sitting there watching the rest of them while he drinks his tea, a tiny smile on his face.

"All the same, you can't deny that the prison planets have been a major source of conflict for over thirty years," Bones says, and he's about to continue when they both notice Amanda and Spock having a different conversation toward their end of the table. A conversation that involves Amanda saying, "--finished your sweater."

"Ah. Thank you, Mother," Spock says. He doesn't look that thankful.

"Sweater?" Jim asks after a moment. He can feel Bones starting to laugh, and he kicks him under the table.

"My mother knits sweaters for me," Spock explains, his face completely deadpan and probably Spock has never kicked anybody under the table in his life, but he probably wants to right now just to get the smirk off Jim's face. And God knows Jim doesn't want to be smirking right now, but he can't make himself stop. "Usually to mark some festive occasion such as Christmas."

"Now, be fair," Amanda says, "I haven't made you a sweater with a reindeer on it since you were in school."

Bones's shoulders are shaking, even though he's not technically making any noise, and Jim kicks him again. "So -- you just made him another one," Jim says to Amanda.

Amanda nods, obviously pretty pleased with herself -- for the life of him, Jim can't tell if she's honestly proud of the sweater, or if she's really as evil as Jim suspects and it enjoying watching Spock not-squirm in his seat. "Yes, it turned out pretty well, if I do say so myself. I got all of this wool when I was on Vulcan, and I had to do something with it. And Spock says they're very nice."

"That is true," Spock says. "I will be sure to come by your house when we return to San Francisco and collect it."

"Oh, I brought it with me," Amanda says. That seals it: definitely evil.

Jim asks, "Can I see it?" at the same time that Bones does.

The sweater, when Amanda takes it out of her suitcase, is impressively ugly -- it's dark blue and light blue in some indescribable pattern that looks like blatant abuse of the Mandelbrot set or something. Jim can see a couple of holes from where Amanda probably got distracted and dropped a stitch. One side hangs slightly longer than the other.

The fabric itself, though, is kind of interesting -- it looks a little like cotton, but it's shinier and fuzzier, and it catches the light in a way that no fabric Jim's ever seen does "What is this?" he asks, fingering the sleeve. "This isn't wool."

Amanda smiles and hands it to Spock, who holds it stiffly at arm's length. "It's krovill wool -- it's a Vulcan animal, a bit like sheep, or more like goats really. Very intelligent, and they'll eat anything. But they're rare, and their wool is terribly expensive. Giving someone a gift of krovill wool is a high honor." She frowns at Spock. "Well, put it on, I want to see how it looks."

Spock looks like he wants to sigh, but he obeys and pulls the sweater on over his head. He says, "It is very... comfortable."

"Oh, dear," she says, not paying attention to him, "I didn't think that hole in the torso would be noticeable. Oh, well. At least this one's not too long in the sleeves."

That's true -- in fact the sleeves stop halfway up Spock's forearm, exposing ten centimeters of his shirtsleeve. Spock tugs at the cuffs, and looks up at Jim through his eyelashes. He could be irritated or he could be embarrassed -- knowing Spock it's probably both at the same time. Jim wonders what a nice person would do in a situation like this.

"It's really great, Amanda," Jim says. "Spock's lucky to get this. I'll make sure he doesn't put in the washdry and shrink it."

"I have plenty of wool left over," Amanda tells him, wide-eyed and earnest and totally, totally evil. "I could make you one, too, if you'd like."

"Oh," Jim says. It's like he didn't even see that coming, except he totally should have. "That would be just great."

"Lovely," Amanda beams. "You'll be a matching pair. Now hold on just a moment, I think I have a recorder in my purse downstairs, I'll get your measurements."

In the ensuing silence, Spock takes off his new sweater and folds it carefully in his hands. "I am certain you will enjoy it as much as I do," he tells Jim.

"Oh, undoubtedly," Bones agrees.

"Shut the hell up, both of you," Jim says.