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You look pensive, Mr Spock.’

Jim slipped a glass of whiskey across the desk in his quarters, and smiled. Spock was in the chair opposite, as he was so often, but his spine wasn’t as ramrod straight as it was when he was on duty. It had been a tiring day for all of them, and it must have been hard for Spock. His First Officer would never mention the mental toll of a mind meld, but Jim had seen him perform enough of them, and the effort it cost him was plain. How much more effort would it take to meld with what was essentially a robot, with a being so very different from himself? He had seen some of that effort when he had been forced to drag Spock away Nomad and shake him out of the meld. Spock had needed to wrench his mind away from Nomad’s grasp, and he had appeared shaken and confused when he had finally come around. Jim had been afraid he had hurt him, he had handled the Vulcan so roughly, but of course Spock hadn’t complained.

Ninety percent of the time Spock would refuse alcohol, but he was sure that tonight he would take it – and Spock did. His long fingers curled about the glass, absently, as though he felt it but didn’t see it. He lifted the glass to his lips, sipped, and put it down again.

A whisky night , Jim thought. There were nights that sherry or Andorian wine would do, but tonight was a whisky night.

Spock?’ he said again. ‘What are you thinking about?’

Spock blinked, and his eyes came into focus. The light was dim in the captain’s quarters, throwing the Vulcan’s face into shadowed facets. He looked a degree more alien in this light, a degree more removed from human life.

When you spoke about the changeling,’ Spock said.

His fingers were still on the glass. His lips were wet with the alcohol.

Yes, Spock,’ Kirk said gently, trying to tease him out. This was going to be about emotions. It was like trying to coax a creature from a shell, sometimes.

You said – ’ His forehead creased as he tried to remember. ‘Forgive me, it was just after the meld. A – muddled time.’

It’s all right,’ Jim encouraged him. ‘Take your time.’

You said – A changeling was a fairy child that was left in place of a human baby. The changeling assumed the identity of the human child,’ Spock said after a moment of reflection. ‘Why would any creature do this? Give up its young to another parent?

Well, cuckoos do it, on Earth,’ Jim said. ‘You know about cuckoos.’

They are birds which lay their eggs in another’s nest. Yes, I know about cuckoos. There are definite advantages to that practice for the species as a whole. Are you implying that human parents look after fairy children more successfully than their own kind?’

You know fairies don’t exist,’ Jim said with a smile. Of course Spock knew that.

Spock’s eyebrow quirked. ‘That is a given.’

Well.’ Jim took his own swallow of the rich drink. ‘For a start, faeries, not fairies. F-a-e not f-a-i.’

Spock looked intrigued now. ‘There is a difference?’

Jim smiled. ‘Didn’t your mother ever teach you about fairies?’

Spock shifted uncomfortably. ‘There were a few books my mother had, which she used to introduce me to various Earth flowers – specifically, European ones, because that’s where the author originated. They were known as ‘flower fairies.’ They did not strike me as liable to indulge in kidnapping, or abandoning their children, should they have children .’

Ah,’ Jim said.

He thought on it for a moment. He wasn’t sure he really knew enough about faeries to satisfy Spock, who would be capable of absorbing an entire literature on the subject in a single night.

Faeries – the original type of fairy – have a more sinister origin. They – ’ He creased his forehead. ‘I think they led Sir Orfeo to the Underworld.’

Orpheus – ’ Spock began, and Jim shook his head.

No. This was something of the Late Medieval. British, not Greek, A retelling of an old tale . Faeries were a sinister force. They were often malevolent creatures. They caused trouble.’

Hmm,’ Spock said, ruminating. ‘Like your Grimm’s Fairy Tales in their original forms. Quite disturbing stories, which were then sanitised for twentieth century mass consumption.’

He sat for a moment, silent. Jim could see the thoughts moving behind his eyes.

Why would a faerie people exchange one of their own children for a human baby? Were they particularly bad parents? What would happen to the human baby?

Jim exhaled. It was too late for this. It had been a very, very long day, a very odd day . Scott had been killed and revived, Uhura’s memory had been wiped clean and she was having to relearn her entire life from scratch . The whole ship had almost been destroyed. Sometimes speaking with Spock was like talking with an ever-curious child. When one question was answered, another would be asked.

I don’t know,’ he said eventually. ‘I honestly don’t know. I’ve never made it an area of study. I think it’s just a way for human parents to explain why their child doesn’t grow into the person they expect them to be. There’s a theory it was a way of explaining autism. I don’t really know.’

Spock looked up, and there was a moment of deep perceptiveness in his gaze. Sometimes, it felt as if Spock was seeing into your very soul.

You’re tired,’ he said. ‘I am sorry.’

Don’t be silly,’ Jim said quickly. ‘I invited you in here for a drink. I don’t expect you not to talk.’ He took another sip of his own drink, then asked, ‘Why changelings, Spock? Why are you asking about changelings?’

Spock lifted his drink and stared into the depths, as if expecting to see something in there.

Nomad,’ he said eventually. ‘ You describe d Nomad as a changeling. It was a child of two worlds.

He had, hadn’t he? He had been standing with Spock in the corridor, holding him, after wrenching him away from that meld with the robot creature. He had described Nomad as a changeling then, and Spock had remembered, and quoted him precisely.

Don’t feel too bad for it, Spock,’ he said with a shrug. ‘It was a construction. It wasn’t alive.’

Spock glanced up, and Jim saw worlds of unspoken thoughts there. Spock had melded with the thing. He had accessed its mind. If the thing had a mind, wasn’t it alive? If Spock could connect with it mentally, wasn’t it alive?

I a m not feeling bad for it,’ Spock said.

Jim gave a little snort. ‘I’m sorry, Mr Spock. I didn’t mean to imply you were having feelings.’

Half a smile touched Spock’s lips.

I do have feelings, Jim. I choose not to act on them emotionally.’

There’s a difference between feelings and emotions?

There’s a difference in how one feels and how one acts. There is a difference in how one rationally processes information.’

So you’re here processing information about changelings? If you want to get illogical, Spock, ancient Germanic folklore is a good way to go.’

Spock sat in silence. He drank a little more whiskey. He put the glass down and steepled his fingers and regarded the point that they made.

I – am processing information about myself,’ he said finally. ‘A changeling. A child which neither parent can quite understand. A child of two worlds, who fits neatly in neither.’

Oh,’ Jim said softly.

Spock looked up at him, held his gaze, then looked away.

I can’t speak for your parents, Spock,’ Jim began, ‘ but – ’

Was that a snort? Jim looked up, startled. He was sure Spock had snorted, but there was no sign of it on his face.

Few can speak for my father,’ Spock said, looking very intently not at Jim, but past his shoulder. ‘I dare say few can speak for my mother, either.’

What had he touched on, here? He had always got hints that Spock’s relationship with his parents wasn’t all he would want it to be, but that was more because of how little Spock said, than because of how much. He knew nothing about Spock’s parents at all, apart from that his mother was human, and a teacher, his father Vulcan, and an ambassador. An ambassador of what, a teacher of what, he didn’t know. Vulcans were allowed considerably more privacy in their personnel files than humans. They were allowed considerably more privacy in most things.

Well,’ Jim said softly. ‘I can’t speak for your parents, but you’re not an outsider here.’

That wasn’t true, he knew. Spock constantly felt himself an outsider, on a ship full of emotional humans. But here, in Jim’s quarters, he wasn’t an outsider. He wasn’t a Vulcan, a half-Vulcan, a half-human. He was Spock. Just Spock.

Spock drank the last mouthful of his drink, and set the glass down. Jim was feeling warm around the edges. Spock probably hadn’t felt any effect at all from the alcohol. It was the talking that was relaxing him .

It’s late,’ Spock said. ‘We both have first shift in the morning.’

Yes,’ Jim said, but suddenly he didn’t want to let Spock go. It was late, he was tired, but after the insanity of the day, sitting here in the dim light, drinking with Spock, was the perfect place to be.

Why don’t you have another?’ he asked. ‘It’s not that late. I want to talk.’