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There's a dozen places where McCoy could claim it started, because narratives are messy and it isn't like there's any kind of delineated beginning he could point to. The easiest would be the time when he looked at Spock across a crowded hallway and decided he didn't know who the pointy-eared bastard was, but he liked him. The most precise beginning, though, would probably be in his borrowed medbay in San Francisco, three days after the Vengeance went down.

 

Those stupid white uniforms they handed out to ground staff had been red up to the elbows from the casualties still coming in, and he'd have liked to have been able to say that he'd gone back to Jim's room to check up on his quietest patient; it would be nice to claim he'd had some revolutionary new idea on whatever ridiculous mitochondrial mutation was driving Khan, but the truth was just that his arm was bothering him and he wanted a place to change his ridiculous shirt and maybe breathe for a minute or two in peace. Not too much to ask for, in his humble opinion. And Spock, for all his claims of emotionless, had been right where McCoy had been hoping he wouldn't be; waiting by Kirk's bedside like some personality-free love interest, waiting for the fireman or whatever to wake up from the plot-demanded coma in a cheap holo.

 

The light had been coming through the windows in great white streams, like facing down a surgical light; he stood there for a second or two, no doubt making some indescribable face, as the light crawled into his eyeballs and reminded him quite how long he'd been on his feet. Spock, propped up in an uncomfortable hospital chair with a padd balanced on his knees, hadn't blinked. He looked at him quite calmly, despite the picture he must've made, doing a very poor imitation of a man with it together.

 

They nodded at each other in an unprecedented state of mutual understanding. Stressed, overworked, low on sleep and crammed into ridiculous impractical uniforms, both pretending they didn't care as much as they clearly did, they were, for a short time, in total agreement. Bones (He let himself be Bones, instead of Doctor McCoy, trauma surgeon, shift supervisor, when he was in Jim's room. The rest of the time he couldn't stand it,) yawned; he stripped off the offending garment and immersed himself in the familiar ritual of scraping the detritus of the emergency room from under his nails.

 

The brass gave Jim such a fancy room that it had an actual water sink, instead of a sonic-pressure steriliser. The cold breeze coming off the river stuck his undershirt to his skin and made goosebumps roll up his arms; outside, the reclamation crews hauled chunks of integrated vacuum-shielded hull from the water.

 

He wanted to tell Spock to knock it off and go home, take a nap, eat some food that wasn't reconstituted. Jim was going to be there a while. But he didn't, because he knew how long Spock had been here because it was almost exactly as long as Bones had been editing the staff rotation to put himself back on it. It was convenient to think that Spock didn't tell him the same thing for similar reasons, but it was probably just because he didn't particularly care.

 

"You are contused," Spock said, in that particular way he has, almost but not quite frowning. There was no tone of question.

 

Bones harrumphed. Harrumphing is a fine family tradition. "Can't you just say 'bruised?'"

 

"The two are, generally speaking, synonyms."

 

Bones grumbled vaguely to himself, or possibly to the sink; it was hard to tell. "Yes, congratulations, you've identified correctly that a fellow trapping his arm in a torpedo will occasionally leave a mark or two behind. Mark that down as one of your great scientific victories."

 

"You have an untreated injury, Doctor, and I wish to enquire as to why, considering that we are in a hospital."

 

He couldn't muster another harrumph. It turned into a sigh halfway through, letting down him and the whole McCoy family. "Didn't want to bother anyone," he said vaguely, aware that he sounded like a sheepish child, looking somewhere past Spock's left ear. "We're in a disaster zone, didn't you hear?"

 

"I see." Somehow, without any change in inflection, Spock managed to convey a whole spectrum of disdain. Or, at least, that's what Bones heard. Instead of subsiding again into disagreeable silence, though, there was a click from the cart as Spock opened the top drawer, sorting through shrink-wrapped sterile implements with single-minded focus.

 

"Hey, there, now! That's vital equipment for if Jim decides to flatline on us, you don't go messing with it for no reason!"

 

"I am aware," Spock replied. "It might help for you to consider yourself similarly. I passed command-track first aid certification, and have a basic facility with subdermal regeneration. If you will sit down."

 

This, too, was not a question. He did as directed, but not before saying several unconnected and meaningless syllables, waving a finger in the air, and mumbling 'fine' in order to express how much he didn't want to. "What'd'you mean, anyway," he said, again possibly to the sink. His voice pitched into a deliberately terrible imitation of Spock's accent and intonation. " Consider myself similarly meaning what, exactly?"

 

"As vital for if Jim... Decides to flatline on us," Spock said, and Bones breathed out hard through his nose. That, he could understand. That's their common language. But he continued, past that little demilitarised zone; "Vital in general, perhaps. Not to be 'messed with' for no reason."

 

He didn't push. Bones found himself unaccountably grateful for that; it would be impossible to be in a room with him, if he'd continued on that line of argument. He would've done something drastic. Sedated him, maybe, and then gone to stew in his hypocrisy in the OR for a couple more hours. He communicated this gratitude by glowering in silence at the wall.

 

Spock did, apparently, know his way around the subdermal regenerator. You can't just knit things together under the skin like a dermal regenerator does, without line of sight and easily-replicated immune-neutral epithelial cells, though he's sure the people in the medical physics department are working on something ridiculous and explosive with transport technology. But you can let the body do it for you; it's been working on it for a couple million years of evolution, after all. It stings like anything. It was strange, wet pain, like stretching muscles that've worked a little too hard, as the device set down helpful clotting proteins at the points where the damned torpedo had torn up capillaries and strained at membranes. The nerves, cut off, suddenly flushed with oxygen and fired in confusion, like walking into a hot room with freezing hands.

 

He shivered, involuntary. Spock set his spare hand down on the joint of his wrist, almost absently, still intent on the screen of the regenerator, picking out miniature tears with infuriating expertise. Bones blinked at him. It did distract him, and he wished it didn't, too busy with the mystery of why-did-he-do-that to occupy himself with bracing into the sting the way he wanted to. Then, with a numb, icy sort of feeling, the sting ebbed. So did the old, familiar ache in his head.

 

"Huh," he said, and wished intently that he'd taken up Professor Abiri on her offer of a summer research placement in xenoneurology. Aliens. As much as he wanted to be pissed about it, about the casual arrogance of reaching into his brain and picking at the sensory receptors, he was mostly just awed. Hell, he'd have killed to have been able to do that.

 

"You could'a just pointed at the NSAIDs," he said, gruff, and Spock looked up, confused.

 

"This was quicker," he said mildly. "With fewer possible side effects." Hold on. Confused? It was gone, but for a moment, he could've sworn Spock had been, just a little bemused around the eyes. Bemused is a better word, like he'd been contemplating a recalcitrant equation.

 

"Yeah," Bones conceded, a little like pulling teeth. The electric buzz of the machine faded. Spock looked at him coolly as he folded it away one-handed, though there was no more bafflement, just his standard non-expression. "Uh. Thanks."

 

By the time Spock backed off again and feeling slipped back, the ache had faded to a bearable prickle, but it was harder than it should have been to stand up again. Even the uncomfortable hospital chair was a relief, and he'd done enough night rotations that his brain insists this is the end of the shift.

 

"I'm-- Listen, Spock, I know this is your chair, an' all--"

 

"I can find another."

 

If he did, Bones wasn't conscious to see it.

#

Spock is demonstrating the amicable and mutual nature of their break-up. That was his intention, at least. Nyota, helpfully, is doing the same. As far as either of them can tell, demonstrating the amicable and mutual nature of their break-up consists of sitting in uncomfortable silence in the Academy mess hall, and is mostly serving to create an atmosphere entire opposed to amicable and mutual.

 

Cadets in red swarm the room. It hasn't been long since Spock could have identified half of those cadets on sight and listed their academic record, but the year he'd been on the Enterprise was enough that they'd all changed, moved on to other assignments and been replaced. The recruitment numbers had risen sharply after Nero; Spock applies himself to the question of why, so suddenly confronted with the consequences. It's easier than any of the other questions.

 

There is no sense to it.The destruction of Vulcan should have weakened interstellar faith in the strength of the Federation; the publicised Starfleet death tolls of the rescue attempt ought to have given pause to potential recruits. But the result was the reverse, and now a building that was once familiar is flooded with excitable new cadets, a higher-than-usual proportion of whom appear to have joined Starfleet mid-way through other careers.

 

Why are they here? He knows. It would be easier if he didn't. His father wouldn't have.

 

But things are different, now. He knows things he didn't know before, and the new understanding of the Starfleet governing staff is a pressing concern of which these new cadets are unaware. He is struck by the desire to tell them, before the reports are made public. How many would leave? How many more would stay? Of course, the impulse is easy to counter.

 

He isn't leaving. He's not sure he could. The topic of consideration that he had chosen to avoid an unpleasant conversation has shown itself to be more unpleasant than the initial object.

 

Nyota sighs. It's the first thing she's done in twenty minutes that could be construed as communication, so Spock looks up. She shrugs, an imprecise but useful gesture. "What a mess, " she says emphatically, ostensibly nonsequiteur, and the discomfort eases slightly. She understands him, and always had-- Or, perhaps, they merely had motivations in alignment.

 

He nods; the silence becomes marginally less likely to fry a stray insect caught in the crossfire.

 

"Odd," he says, setting his spoon down; any welcome distraction from his previous unwelcome distraction. "I had presumed the captain would remain in hospital several days more."

 

Jim is, apparently, arguing with the replicator, but as Nyota looks over her shoulder at the spectacle he's making of himself, Doctor McCoy reaches past him to indicate a symbol that Spock presumes to be the medical override.

 

"I'd thought he was awake yesterday morning?"

 

"The previous afternoon," Spock corrects, "Fourteen minutes past three. I... Suppose he is still under medical observation."

 

Possibly medical opposition.

 

Nyota smiles at him, and it isn't one of her patented political smiles. It doesn't say, look at the amicable and mutual nature of our break-up. Spock is subject to a sudden rush of relief. He acknowledges it; he finds the root of it, which is the possibility that there may again be a time where they can talk as they used to. The fact is noted and acknowledged. The feeling fades. This causes its own minor bout of relief at the disappearance of the first episode, which is something of an occupational hazard.

 

The arrival of Jim and Doctor McCoy interrupts the nascent cycle forming; they set down trays next to Spock and Nyota without asking, Jim with more vehemence than is usually directed at even particularly substandard mess-hall food. Spock finds that he is less concerned by the breach of standard etiquette than he ought to be. It is correct that they can expect to be welcome.

 

He prevents himself from analysing that, judging it a futile exercise, and instead watches as Jim glares at his meal. He is paler than is generally standard, tense around the eyes, and his hand shakes for several moments as he picks up a utensil.

 

"Doctor McCoy," he asks, "Has the captain been cleared for activity?"

 

Doctor McCoy blinks at him, as though he's said something extraordinary, but then, Doctor McCoy regards many things as extraordinary. "Light activity," he says eventually, and deflects an attempt to obtain possession of his portion of fries. Jim is evidently dissatisfied with his meal, which appears to be standard rations given to patients recovering from conditions that compromise the immune system. Spock adjusts his working theory of the effects of Doctor McCoy's transfusion, and based on the conclusions avoids an attempt on his own meal.

 

"There are allergens present in this vegetable matter that are not present in your ration," he says, which is true; humans tend to dramatically overestimate their ability to consume Vulcan food safely. "Therefore, you should eat what has been approved by your physician."

 

The captain is capable of accepting logical responses, when they are correctly presented. He sulks, but he acquiesces. Nyota makes an undignified snorting noise that ought not to be endearing, and takes a spiced protein segment for herself; Spock allows this as part of the standard human level of property violation.

 

"Are you two, uh--"

 

Jim elbows Doctor McCoy and makes an unsubtle gesture. Everything, once again, is awful.

 

"So," Nyota says, in a spirited attempt to talk about any other possible topic of conversation. "I got the alert yesterday evening for three months' leave while they repair the ship. Plans?"

 

"What?"

 

"Bones, do you check your Comm? I mean, ever?"

 

Doctor McCoy finds the alert, wading through automated messages from the New New Lancet; it appears he does not check his Comm. The interlude allows Spock to consider the question. He hasn't had three months of continuous time without a Starfleet assignment in almost a decade, and with visiting his mother off the table, he finds himself at a loss for how to spend even a week.

 

He hadn't thought of it before. He hadn't registered it before, because the alert had come in yesterday, when both he and Doctor McCoy had been busy checking Jim's brain activity. Or, more accurately, Doctor McCoy had been checking Jim's brain activity and relaying the findings to Spock in barely intelligible reports, balanced. with a precision he hadn't questioned until now, between so advanced that Spock would have to admit to not having a neurosurgery qualification and so basic that he would go out of his mind with worry.

 

The phrase is imprecise. The phrase is accurate.

 

"Anyway," McCoy announces, in an attempt to return his Comm to his own possession, "I'm going home, and I'm going to see Joanna. Jocelyn's scared me away long enough."

 

Spock, who has avoided learning more about his colleagues' personal lives than is necessary, fails to understand any part of that sentence other than 'I'm going home.' "My mother left me a property, unexpectedly," he says, and there is the kind of sudden silence that he is entirely unable to cope with. "I intend to use the time to restore it."

 

He hadn't formed the plan until he said it, but once it's said, it's clear.

 

The house was not, strictly speaking, his mother's; it was a possession of her sister's which she herself had unexpectedly inherited, and then transferred to him. He focuses on the material fact of it to avoid the vastness of the implications of transferred.

 

The silence continues to exist. He doesn't attach any metaphors to it; it just is.

 

"Restore it?" Nyota asks. "Is it in bad shape?"

 

"Unknown," he replies. "But it has been uninhabited for twenty-one years and three months, so I suspect so."

 

"Well, damn," Jim says, "That's a project. But, uh. Sounds like it might be some good for you."

 

Spock fails to understand his meaning, and is on the verge of saying so when Doctor McCoy looks up from his Comm briefly to ask, "Where's it at, your house?"

 

He objects to its classification as his house, which is illogical, as it is his legal possession. "Margaret Road," he says, ignoring his own objection, "Hazard County, Georgia, North American Continent."

 

"Hm," the doctor says, already losing interest, which is reasonable, because there is an article open on his Comm about the effects of a mutation on the haem protein structure that could improve deep-space oxygen retention, which is more interesting than what a disliked colleague is spending his break doing.

#

The moon drifts quietly past, waxing. Through the glass, ancient satellites, still hanging in the air as historical monuments, glitter on different schedules than the stars, and Leonard watches one for ten minutes as it orbits towards the skyline.

 

He wonders which it is.

 

The information is moments away, but he doesn't want to actually know. He just wants to wonder, because the wondering distracts him from remembering how it's gone past two in the morning and he still can't sleep. Something's wrong.

 

He can't hear the engines. God, what a mess he's made of himself.

 

The screen of the Comm is a quiet glow, the sensors picking up the dark of the room and turning down the blue to compensate, and the wince at the light is performed for his own benefit. Spock is at the top of the Recent Contacts list, because Leonard had promised to send him the literature on whatever the hell is up with Jim's platelets, and he'd mostly kept that promise. A strange impulse drives him to open it again.

 

He looks blindly through the half-transparent screen, not seeing anything he'd actually typed yesterday. The cursor blinks. Outside, a shuttle lands in the river and puts out fins, takes up gliding over the water like a catamaran.

 

I don't know what kind of state your house in Hazard is in, he types, And it might be pretty far from my place, but if you want to stay with me while you get it livable, that's fine by me.

 

It's not fine, of course. It's ludicrous. He hates that he'd even suggested it, it would be hellish, it's ridiculous. He doesn't want Spock in his space at all. He'll call him in the morning and explain that when he offered, he was in fact possessed, which is the only explanation that makes any sense.

 

But he can't sleep because the fancy apartment Starfleet had put him in is too quiet. Because there's nobody thumping on the wall. Because Jim's going to Iowa to repair his relationship with his brother, or something, which Leonard can attest has never once, in the history of humankind, worked. He can't sleep because the only thing waiting for him in Georgia is the house he once lived in with his wife, and when he'd told Jim she took everything, he meant it, even if the property belonged to him.

 

Maybe if he's busy arguing with Spock, or avoiding Spock, or sitting silently in his old living room while Spock pointedly ignores him, it'd keep his mind off things.

 

After ten minutes, the city breathing as he opens a window and lets the cold night air in, the Comm chimes politely.

 

A generous offer, Spock replies, and Leonard pretends he wasn't watching the screen for a response. It would be helpful, but I would prefer not to intrude.

 

Now that, Leonard understands. Manners dictate that he respond with No, I insist, it's no trouble, and that Spock appear to begrudgingly give in. It's a ritual he's memorised, and apparently one that Spock is, surprisingly, familiar with, because autopilot takes over without any trouble at all, and the question is closed.

#

The spring is just beginning to turn, and the quiet, comfortable warmth greets him as he marches out of the shuttle station like he's being pursued by Klingons. He is, in fact, only being pursued by Spock, who follows behind him like an irritated shadow.

 

(He isn't sure why he thinks he's irritated.)

 

Leonard stops firmly in the street and turns his face to the sun. He wants to close his eyes and tremble a little, but it'll have to wait until there's nobody watching. Which may be a long damn time, since he's made the stupidest decision since his last stupid decision.

 

The worst thing is that it wasn't actually all that bad, on the shuttle. Oh, it was awful, a detestable experience from start to finish, terrifying, nerve-wracking, and somehow even worse now that he knows enough about flying to worry about the pilot's qualifications, but as far as high-speed stratospheric shuttle rides go, he's had much worse. He'd managed to draft a full three sentences of his preliminary report on How The Fuck Jim Is Alive, which, all things considered, is a minor miracle.

 

The preliminary report is shaping up to be the biggest pile of bullshit he's written in his entire career, including an essay on Shakespeare he'd once written in the twenty minutes before the deadline, having not read a word of Twelfth Night.

 

The worst bit hadn't been attempting to calculate the maximum safe level of warp core exposure (zero,) or the empty ':)' response from Joanna, when he'd finally opened her reply to when he'd told her he was visiting. It isn't coming home, any more. The worst part had been the ten-minute stretch after liftoff, when the swoop of acceleration had pulled at his stomach and he could feel the angle of the craft, closer to ninety than forty-five. Spock, free of expression, had looked with studied indifference out of the window and then, loudly and pointedly, breathed in. It had moved his shoulders. It was a breath that probably counts as a deadly insult on Vulcan, especially following it with a metronome-steady pause and then the exhale, steady as a ventilator.

 

Leonard knows what that is, and he knows how to take a hint, and he also knows how to fly off the handle. But he didn't. He'd just been so ridiculously grateful that Spock wasn't looking at him, wasn't acknowledging the way he'd been gripping his own hands, that he'd followed the pattern.

 

It was textbook, and it was insulting, and it worked. When Spock had begun again on the inhale, so had he. He'd paused, held it, counted. Closed his eyes and everything. Looked so obviously like a man trying not to start shaking on public transport that the conductor had just walked right on past.

 

They'd levelled out somewhere over Washoe territory, and he hadn't once tried to lock himself into the bathroom, or ordered a single drink. He was a little pathetically proud of that. Spock, though, had just continued, the pattern slowing down, reducing to the kind of tempo that might kill a human, his eyes fixed on the window, still and silent.

 

For some reason, Leonard had stuck with the pattern. He knows how to breathe, okay, he didn't need the help. But he also didn't have any excuse for the way he kept watching Spock. His shoulders moved as he breathed, very slightly, without ever changing the parade-rest of his posture, and his mouth was just a little open.

 

So he did that, like some kind of idiot, most of the way back to Georgia. Now he's shaking out his sleeves on the pavement and trying to think of something to say that isn't I'm not a child, thank you, I know about feedback cycles, I can regulate my own emotions. So he says nothing. Spock, with infinite self-possession and disdain, calmly walks away in the direction of the ranks of vehicles for hire, and Leonard has to jog to keep up with him. It's really not a mystery why he doesn't like him, and he doesn't know what Jim is on about.

#

"No," Doctor McCoy says, very firmly. Spock takes his eyes off the road to question what the statement is in response to, since he hasn't spoken in eleven minutes, when they'd had the obligatory minor argument about whose name the provided vehicle should be registered under. It had been a pleasant diversion. He had won under the persuasive argument of what an interesting face the desk clerk would make when asked to spell his full name.

 

"No to what, precisely?" he asks; the wheel jerks, and he corrects it.

 

"No, you aren't driving."

 

"I'm not driving," Spock repeats, incredulously. He regrets it once he says it; it is a waste of words, and he wasn't cutting enough in his tone for it to be rhetorical repetition. "Who is, then?"

 

"Me," Doctor McCoy says, with an excellent tone of command, crisp and difficult to argue with. Luckily, Spock is Vulcan, and therefore lacks the standard Human response to that tone of voice.

 

"I believe my hands are on the wheel, which is a violation of the standard procedures," he says, in order to demonstrate his immunity. "If you are driving, then perhaps you should pay more attention to the traffic code."

 

"It sure is," Doctor McCoy asserts. Spock wonders briefly if there has ever been a person quite so assertive as him. "So you'd best pull over, so I can correct my oversight."

 

Ah. Doctor McCoy is dissatisfied with the quality of his driving. Spock had assumed that, after the shuttle had bounced on its own antigrav field and McCoy had briefly done an impression of a sheet of paper, he would prefer to be left to regroup, but he considers that his reaction had been precisely the same as Spock's after the run-in with the particularly malicious hallucinogens on Guinn Four, which had been to immediately scour the onboard biochemical data for an antidote. Perhaps this is a stress reaction, or perhaps Spock has forgotten more of his qualification than he'd thought.

 

Piloting a starship is much more like piloting a Desert Flyer than a terrestrial hovercar. The difference is in physics, in the sensitivity of the controls, of the mechanism of propulsion itself; he keeps relying on muscle memory and reaching for course-correctors that don't exist. He beings to suspect he may have done so more often than he had first realised. Doctor McCoy taps his foot impatiently, which is an effective choice, since the metal flooring of the cab provides an acoustic surface that makes it echo.

 

Spock looks to the road again, realises he's drifted into the centre, and turns sharply to correct. The overcorrection sends him drifting towards the hard shoulder, so he supposes the decision has been made for him.

 

This is not going to be a pleasant experience, if Doctor McCoy persists in being correct. He breathes out quietly, content in the belief that it is a mannerism too subtle to be noticed. The hovercar jolts to a halt, Doctor McCoy grabs the back of his seat in a display of drama more suited to the stage, and Spock yields the driver's seat with all possible grace.

 

The vehicle slinks low as it settles on its own magnetic field, shifting like an unsettled sehlat; Doctor McCoy stomps over the gravel of the hard shoulder with his characteristic temper. "Honestly," he glowers. "Ain't safe!"

 

Spock acquiesces. He retreats to the other seat, and acknowledges the unpleasant swoop in his stomach as a reflection of the fact that he has miscalculated his own skill, with possibly severe consequences. He will not repeat the mistake. The second takeoff is noticeably smoother.

 

"So what is it?" McCoy asks, belligerent, which is familiar but currently unwelcome. "Are Earth roads illogical?"

 

"As a matter of fact, yes," Spock says, and doesn't think he has allowed irritation to enter the tone of his voice. "But you are correct in that I have miscalculated my own ability, for which I... Apologise. It has been some time since I have used this form of transportation."

 

"Well, hells, don't pout at me," McCoy breezes, which doesn't make any sense at all. "Can you use one of them Vulcan hover-things?"

 

"Flyers," he corrects. "Yes."

 

"Don't know if you can get them shipped out down here, or if they're road-legal, but we'll look into it-- Things are far apart out here, you'll need to have some way to get around."

 

They're still passing out of the city clustered around the transit hub, and doing so in a noticeably smoother manner, but apparently Doctor McCoy is in possession of enough sentimental attachment to their destination to assume himself there already. There is already a difference, though; Spock is used to Vulcan, San Francisco and space stations, where space is at a premium, but the land here sprawls. The roads are wide, the sky broad; it suits the way that Doctor McCoy fills the space around him.

 

What an odd thing to think. "It lacks the public transport infrastructure I am accustomed to," he agrees, and, unexpectedly, Doctor McCoy nods in agreement.

 

"That wasn't easy to adjust to, no," he says, and Spock develops a suspicion that he is attempting to engage in conversation , which is unprecedented. "When I went to med school. Nobody drives nowhere, 'cause people don't have to, but I grew up out in Hazard County, where you gotta borrow your dad's horse to get to your next neighbour's place before sundown. You know, tech does a lot of things, but distance is distance."

 

Spock contemplates whether or not to object to the double negative, and decides against it. He just makes a quiet noise to indicate that he has functional hearing, and watches the unlit street lanterns pass by.

 

He is used to this planet. No matter what McCoy may think, he understands it, it is familiar, he doesn't regard it as an alien any more. But the house he has been left is somewhere he has never been, and where his mother spent summers as a very young child. That is unfamiliar. He keeps finding new things that he didn't know about her, and that leaves him as off-balance as Earth did, when he was young and running away.

 

The sun burns through gauzy clouds across the horizon; the roads get narrower and the houses further apart.

 

"I'm not going to be weird about it," McCoy says, again abruptly. Spock turns away from the window; he's glaring down the road, not looking at Spock. Admittedly, that is in line with the traffic code. "Y'know. If you-- 'Cause it was your mom's place. And."

 

He stops, wrinkles his mouth, and, like pulling teeth, continues, "And I won't be weird if you don't."

 

Spock stares in confusion. "What?"

 

"You can get emotional or you can not," McCoy says, glowering into the mirror as he makes a turning. "I won't bring it up. And I get it if you get snippy. Loss ain't logical. And that ain't supposed to be a dig."

 

Oh, no. He's being sincere.

 

Spock ceases staring, and instead watches the ceiling, unblinking, while he attempts to parse that. He would much rather have a screaming row. There are reasons why most people would choose not to temporarily cohabit with belligerent colleagues.

 

"You are correct," he says eventually, and the words leave his mouth quieter than he had intended, "It is not logical."

 

He stops before the next words can say themselves without permission, swallows, and continues, "I appreciate the consideration, but it is not necessary." The pause proves the statement false, but McCoy doesn't mention it. Instead, by mutual agreement, they continue the rest of the way without speaking while the an enthusiastic Andorian on the radio bloviates about avant-garde holographic audio-visual sculptures at an exhibition somewhere on Mars. Spock learns more about Martian fine arts than he had ever intended.

 

 

#

The drive back from the transit station to his house is longer than he'd remembered. The show on the radio changes three times; Spock doesn't appear to object to any of the programming, which is a shame, because it leaves him with nothing to do but wonder how in the seven hells he's going to survive this.

 

The offer hadn't quite been an olive branch, but he'd had some kind of idea after making it that he might be able to build up a couple burned bridges. Should have known. It'd never worked before; once someone gives up on him, that's it. Leonard had tried to say he wasn't going to be an asshole and then tripped right into being an asshole in the same sentence; he'd looked quickly sideways, the sort of darting glance a man makes when he's scared to find someone looking back at him, and Spock hadn't even been looking blankly out of the window the way he had on the plane; he'd been watching the ceiling with a faint green colour on the top of his cheekbones, like the way some people go red when they're absolutely furious. Leonard had taken that clear sign and shut up, but it keeps running through his mind, and he can't seem to find something else to think about.

 

The sky tends to a sundress yellow, clouds reaching out from the horizon in sunrays; lining the streets, the lights begin to flicker on. The one hovering over the square outside the library doesn't list to the side any more, and it doesn't spark and shutter off as he drives underneath. It's jarring. The town is the same, settled cheerfully into a stable population and a firm architectural shape, but the little things are changed. If someone had built some kind of corporate neo-Brutalist monstrosity just off the main square, he could be properly annoyed about the onwards march of time, but as it is, Hazard has been getting on just fine without him. It feels much longer than it actually is since he's been back.

 

A woman walks out of the second floor exit of the library onto a hovering transport, and her sensible blazer looks, in the horizontal evening sunlight, like Jocelyn's navy blue suit, the one she wore to cross-examinations because it made her look like she knew everything there was to know. But the woman's hair is clipped close and a golden red, and Jocelyn never liked skirts like hers, and Leonard shakes the memory out of his head perhaps more violently than it deserves.

 

Spock contemplates raising an eyebrow. Leonard can hear him doing it. Thankfully, or perhaps not, he decides against it.

 

Margaret Road isn't like the road out of town that his house is on, it's a street crossing out on the edge of Hazard's meagre industrial district, the sort that remains from back when the town was still a dilithium deposit with dreams of being a manufacturing centre. New spacefaring industry had got excitable and built big fancy houses, and then abandoned them when the tiny vein ran out, and though most of them seem to have disappeared, replaced with houses for the people who actually kept Hazard running, apparently Spock's mom had hung onto hers.

 

The Grayson family has a habit of doing things like that, he remembers. He won't pretend not to have looked up Spock in every xenogenetics journal he could get his hands on, back when he'd first started butting heads with Jim, but that's academic interest.

 

He doesn't need the address, not really, because between high, maintained complexes and the occasional warehouse, the place they're there for is low and almost crumbling. It's an actual stone house, instead of modern synthetic fabricated housing, which must be hell in the summer. Wisteria twines up the front facade and curls in through the missing windowpanes, a genetically modified orange that Leonard is pretty sure is generally only seen in conjunction with some strong toxins but is cheerful and unthreatening when attached to that house, even in a state of serious disrepair. The garden had roses in, once, and there's a small tower of tile fragments from where the roof had suffered a minor landslide.

 

It's gorgeous. It has what estate agents call 'good bones' and what most sane people call 'a shit-tonne of work to be done,' and Leonard is glad that his offer wasn't totally nonsensical, because there's no way Spock could live there while he gets it fixed up. Actually, he begins to wonder what Spock had planned in the first place, before he offered. The statistics of it must be absurd; given one Vulcan hybrid and one country doctor, what is the probability that their great-great-grandparents bought land in the same Georgia boom-town in the twenty-second century?

 

Spock's said nothing since they stopped, so he nudges him with an elbow, disturbing him from his intensive programme of staring out the passenger-side window.

 

"There's your place, right? Thought I'd swing by before we got back--" He doesn't say 'home,' because it hasn't been his home in a while, and it never has been and never will be Spock's. He fails to find an appropriate synonym, and instead deposits a full stop neatly where it doesn't belong.

 

Spock nods, and Leonard leans backwards, so that he can see out of his window. He just looks; Leonard hasn't the faintest idea what he thinks of the place, which is fair enough, since it would be logical to assume that if he's inherited it, then he's been there before, although the state of disrepair suggests otherwise. Perhaps Spock's extended family take very little care of their possessions, though that's hard to believe.

 

"Hm," he says. That appears to be all. Then, with the familiar microsecond twitch of his upper lip that says that this time it's just for his own amusement instead of because he's actually offended, like some of his grammatic idiosyncrasies, he says, "I believe this is an incorrect use of the word 'back,' since we are not returning, but approaching from a different place."

 

Things quickly devolve. By the time they pull up outside Leonard's house, Leonard is making the argument that, in fact, since there was a point during the Big Bang when every point occupied the same space and every space overlapped the same unit of matter, everyone is actually returning, wherever they go, Spock is pulling up articles on Graph Theory that he 'just happened' to have saved, and Leonard is too thoroughly distracted to mope.

 

 

 

#

Spock blinks through jet lag as he closes the door behind him, the street painted in blue-greys in the early morning. He could have taken Doctor McCoy's route and allowed his circadian rhythm to catch up slowly, but that would require a temporary re-ordering of his routine, and he hasn't changed his alarm time in years, and doesn't intend to begin now. Still, he begins to regret it as he suppresses a yawn.

 

Pale streaks of cloud cluster on the horizon; the breeze is cold and slightly unpleasant, though he has familiarised himself enough with the climate to know that within an hour it will have returned to more comfortable temperatures. Across the road, an Andorian woman blinks at him, antennae twitching.

 

Spock pauses for a moment, doing up his coat, wondering if her expression is hostility, curiosity, or something else unrelated to his presence. The latter is more likely, but he is unfamiliar with the political makeup of this area, and the continuing calculation of how fully he needs to integrate is impossible to do away with completely.

 

She nods. He returns it and, unnerved for no logical reason, leaves at a veritable clip.

 

Once he is certain that he recalls the route from the previous day's travel, he finds an appropriate audio file. The sounds of waking birds filter past a calm voice reading features of protein biology; while he knows that Doctor McCoy is unable to publish his work on Khan's genome, he would be remiss in his duties to the Enterprise science department, disbanded though it may currently be, if he did not attempt to understand it enough to provision for ongoing research.

 

The walk is long, but the time is spent productively, and Surak, after all, said that time spent serenely is not time wasted, as it provides for understanding of the self.

 

He begins to understand why Jim had suggested that a holiday might be a fruitful way to spend his time, though he certainly does not intend to 'acquaint himself with chilling.' Spock is already 'chill,' and fails to understand the implication. There must be context he had missed.

 

The house on Margaret road is enclosed in a low wall, but the security is substandard for an unoccupied dwelling, as he scales it without effort. A sweetgum tree has spread dense, new-budding branches across the front yard, with a sharp, trimmed-back edge to the canopy where it threatened to encroach onto the street; the flowers, in their close clusters, hang lower than the leaves. Grasses have grown up over what were probably once banks used for growing crops, and old fallen twigs crunch under his boots.

 

Yesterday evening, Doctor McCoy had looked up the specific cultivar of wisteria that coils over the front facade, which Spock had considered to be an unusual display of interest in botany until he had brought up the laws regarding the spread of organisms with lab-modified genomes, and so Spock has brought an identification guide for the plants that sprawl and slink across the yard, and he intends to conduct a full survey of present species.

 

The long grass is a fine habitat for insects. Despite the distant sounds of the town, the rustling of thousands of small lifeforms going about their business muffles the dull thuds of heavy industry. A murmuring hiss, like wind in leaves, might be the sound of something moving through the grasses, out of sight, or might just be the noise of his own movement.

 

The sun rises fully. Spock settles into the comfortable, familiar heat, almost like home, though the breeze and the resinous smell of leaves and the man standing at the gate with his arms crossed are all new. Spock says nothing, initially; a man may stand, if he wishes. But, eventually, much like the Andorian, the behaviour becomes odd enough that he turns to face him and tucks his surveying PADD into a pocket.

 

"You got permission to be here?" the man asks, unprompted. "Ain't ever seen someone out here."

 

"Yes," Spock says, and doesn't allow any portion of his tone to tend towards defensive. "I own the property."

 

"Thought Miss Jeanne's family owned it. They sell?"

 

"No," he says, though, in truth, he never knew his aunt enough to be comfortable using the word 'family.' He had never raised the subject, but a woman who leaves her species to marry a Vulcan is not likely to have very amicable relations with her close relatives. "I am Jeanne Grayson's nephew."

 

He doesn't explain the circumstances of his unexpected inheritance; he has an illogical instinct to defend his presence, though he has more right than the unknown gentleman. It is a persistent urge, but, he has found, supremely unhelpful.

 

The man whistles. Spock considers the many things that could indicate, and dislikes the majority of the options.

 

"You got your work cut out for you," he says, and his accent and intonation is unexpectedly so similar to Doctor McCoy's that Spock wonders at them never having discovered a point of familiarity in Hazard. Still, Spock had never previously made any attempt to visit. He just nods, says nothing, and sets his expression firmly at 'Vulcan' until the man wanders off, apparently aimlessly.

 

That was also odd.

#

Spock clatters in the late afternoon, though Leonard knows he'd object to the description. He nods politely, and there's a greenish tint to his forehead and the bridge of his nose that he hopes, childishly, is sunburn, not out of any actual maliciousness but rather because the thought is amusing; Spock looks half the time like he should be striding around some icy city in a coat buttoned up to the neck, formal and pale and shiny, but he's built for hotter temperatures than Georgia in summer.

 

Truth be told, it's nice to have him back, though he'd deny it if anyone were stupid enough to ask. That morning, when he'd woken up half an hour before his meeting at the General and had to rush through an empty, dust-covered house-- that was precisely what he'd been afraid of.

 

Spock settles a bag next to the door; something inside thumps.

 

"You carry that all the way back from the garden centre?"

 

"Yes."

 

"Well." He clears his throat. "I was, uh-- I drove down to the General, next to the library. I could'a given a lift back, if you'd called."

 

Spock blinks oddly at him. When a man is given so little to work with in the way of facial expressions, he starts reading a great deal into what may well just be a standard garden-variety blink. "I see," he says. "You are resuming clinical work?"

 

"Yeah-- Couple surgeries a week, they get to drop my name, I get to use their testing labs. Isn't quite the Enterprise set-up, but it's better than my kitchen."

 

Of course, a couple shifts a week to keep his hand in will quickly turn to standard hours, even though he's supposed to be on vacation, but at least here he has off-hours. On the Enterprise, as much as he may covet the multispectrometer, he's CMO all the time, every hour of the day.

 

"Then I may occasionally contact you for that purpose," Spock says, very seriously. "Thank you, Doctor McCoy."

 

"Aw, hells," he sighs, turning his coffee in his hands. "Can't you call me somethin' else? Unbend a little, I've seen your pyjamas with the little stars and planets on them, I'm not going around calling you Commander Spock."

 

Spock's eyes narrow fractionally, and Leonard has the awful feeling that he's said something terribly wrong. Maybe the space pyjamas are off-limits.

 

"Perhaps you ought to," he says, with one eyebrow inching upwards in the particular way it does when he's amused instead of pissed, "As that would be more in line with Starfleet regulations."

 

"Starfleet ain't regulating my living room, unless there's been a major change to interstellar law."

 

"Perhaps not, but your doctorate is independent of your rank, and you have just mentioned that you are continuing to practice. Good manners are not subject to the boundaries of professional conduct, though I wouldn't expect you to be familiar with either."

 

Leonard splutters cheerfully. "Professional conduct my ass," he says, just to push Spock's other eyebrow up; the first appeared to be getting lonely. "Besides, good manners change depending on where you're at, you wouldn't go using Vulcan manners with Klingons. We're in Georgia, and in Georgia, we use people's names."

 

"Would you prefer that I use the Captain's favourite appellation?"

 

"You try that, and I'll peel you."

 

"Perhaps the Klingon comparison is apt," Spock says, just to be a dick. "Very well; I accept that etiquette is culturally dependent. Perhaps a different address is appropriate."

 

Leonard settles smugly back into his chair just as Spock activates a handheld datareader, appears to ignore him completely, and adds, just as smug as Leonard had been, "-- Lieutenant Commander McCoy."

 

He throws a cushion at him.

#

The road out into Hazard is neat but rough, white gravel trimmed with a bank of grass to keep wild animals from rushing into traffic, though there's none to speak of, since the road goes nowhere at all. This is why Spock is particularly surprised to see a woman walking along the bank, approaching from the other direction with a bag in hand.

 

Through the early-morning mist, she advances slowly, and since she doesn't increase her speed to meet him, he presumes that her purpose is something other than meeting with him. It's only when he's close enough to make out her face that he recognises her, if it can be called recognition; in Doctor McCoy's garage, where yesterday morning he had gone unfruitfully hunting for shears, there was a holographic picture of her and a small child, the image distorted by dust collected on the projection lens.

 

She smiles to him as he passes, the distinct expression made by someone who feels like they must begin a polite but unnecessary conversation they don't wish to have, and he obliges her; he nods and walks on in silence, looking past her in order to remove her perceived responsibility to make conversation. She sighs and relaxes, and he congratulates himself on successful understanding of human nonverbal communication, which, among all known sentient species, is possibly the most difficult to understand.

 

A sufficient distance grows between them that he judges her unable to hear him; he pulls out his Comm.

 

Doctor McCoy takes several seconds to activate the receiver, and, when he does so, makes an undignified "Hnrg?" sort of noise; Spock was correct in that he is still asleep. Spock, oddly, does not find the noise so distasteful as he usually would, for all that it may be a mark of a lack of composure.

 

"A woman is approaching your home who resembles the photograph you keep in your garage," Spock says. "I estimate, based on the distance and her walking speed, that you have sufficient time to make yourself presentable if you rise now."

 

Doctor McCoy makes another ridiculous noise, this time a low groan, and hangs up without ceremony. Either he is still mostly comatose, or he is irritated at Spock's decision to alert him; in the absence of evidence either way, he puts the matter out of his mind.

 

The mist lifts slowly, silvery in the low sun. Birds sing. He categorises them first by family and then by species; there are many that he has previously not encountered, and he notes their locations, so that when visibility has improved, he might return to observe them.

 

Lacking a serious topic of thought, the protein structure of human fibrinogen forms in his mind, pleat by pleat, disulphide by disulphide. When he was very young, a full proteome sequence had been taken; though he hadn't been involved in the study, a research subject rather than a researcher, he had pored over it regardless of his lack of understanding, attempting to understand how he was made. His clotting factors are firmly Vulcan, as opposed to human, and he had learned the differences; now, with the dying dawn chorus around him, he catalogues them now. Khan's clotting factors had been humanoid, but not quite; he considers efficiency of healing against the risk of thrombosis, and how, if he, instead of evolution, were to design the protein, he might change it.

 

He had been treated as a child for insufficient clotting features, and then, when the medication prescribed would raise the risk of complications to unacceptable levels, modified his own genome, very slightly, in order to remove a silencing factor from the promoter region of the gene. Still, it had been suggested by an inexpert medic that he simply activate the suppressed gene for human fibrinogen, and in order to refute the suggestion in as much detail as it deserved, he had detailed the potential fallout of an immune reaction to his own blood, in a three-dimensional presentation with sound effects. It had brought him an unreasonable and unwanted amount of joy, and his mother had clapped.

 

A potentially very productive thread of thought on the process of modification performed on Khan is derailed suddenly by a Piedmont azalea, putting out early Spring flowers, graceful and dark pink, throwing scent into the air. The reminiscence-- Because he is sufficiently self aware, yes, to acknowledge his own sentimentality, the fruitless nature of the circular memory-- Has brought with it the memory of his mother's frequent attempts at gardening. Raised beds, hovering over the sand to prevent cultivated Earth species from becoming invasive on Vulcan, had been clustered throughout the grounds, and though the redder light of Vulcan's sun had proved detrimental to the growth of Earth plants, so closely tuned to the light of Sol, one similar to this one had persevered temporarily, long enough to put out flowers but not long enough to realise that there were no others on the planet to allow those flowers to bear fruit.

 

He feels more human, now, than he has in a very long time. It is indescribably unpleasant.

 

His Comm chimes.

 

Thanks, Doctor McCoy sends, belatedly. That was Jocelyn, yes. A pause. Spock begins to form a theory, based on the compelling evidence of the holographic image, the few fragments of history he had learned from Jim, and the particular way that Doctor McCoy had spoken her name previously. He considers the subsequent message of ' She says hi' to represent evidence for less extant hostility than previously believed.

 

Attempting to decipher his colleagues' complex personal histories is an insufficient distraction.

 

 

#

Jocelyn isn't evil. She's not even particularly cruel, for all that things got nasty at the ends. He tried thinking of her like that for a little while-- maybe a long while, if he's honest-- after everything, but the fiction didn't get very far. It's an easy little narrative, but it makes no allowance for either of them to be human.

 

She's got a nice place, now. It's up in town, beside the courthouse, and the walls bend close, weighed down with paper books. Old-fashioned, that's her, and the place smells of dust and paper, leather, expensive wood; dark green plants line the counters, reaching up to the windows. It's a place he thinks he might have liked to live. She shuffles through a case-file to avoid looking up at him, and it's so familiar, it's like being kicked in the chest.

 

It used to be like this all the time. The way she surrounds herself with beautiful things; him, almost beautiful by association; her just trying to live, and him wrapping her up in love stories and happy endings, falling apart after the ending; her not telling him what's wrong; him not telling her anything. Jim told him, once, after a couple drinks back when they were roommates, that he'd thought Leonard was a very angry man when they'd met, then he'd learned. When Leonard raises his voice and waves his arms around, gets inventive with the expletives, it's not because of anger, it's because of worry, or love, or fear. Mostly love, pushed down and coming out sideways. When he's actually angry, he doesn't do anything. He doesn't do anything at all.

 

He'd never wanted to hurt her. Maybe that's how he did.

 

She looks up through her dark eyelashes, suddenly. He feels like a butterfly pinned under glass; her shirt is undone at the top button, the tie loose, comfortable and almost-home, and the dark lines of her neck never change, graceful and strong. She looks like she's hurting; she looks like she wants something.

 

"Was surprised to hear you'd come back," she says, accent like his childhood. He realises that his own has changed by comparison, a little of the intergalactic transatlantic crispness around the edges that he hadn't noticed creeping in. "After all that time, and with... your young man."

 

He clears his throat in surprise; heat rises in his face and he sputters, somehow more embarrassed than insulted. "He's not," he says, with a little squeak. "He's just staying here a little while, he's-- A friend."

 

Is he?

 

Yes. Yes, he decides, he is. It's difficult to see a man in pajamas with planetary systems on and not be friendly with him. There are folk on the Enterprise he's just colleagues with, but he decides that even if he isn't friends with Spock, or if Spock wouldn't consider them friends, he'd like to be. Of course, that doesn't change much; they still snipe at each other whenever they get the chance.

 

She smiles, and then stops the smile in its tracks, as though she didn't want him to see. He has a sudden terrible premonition of why she keeps looking at him edgeways, sad and hopeful, the way he looks at her.

 

"If you ask," he says, very quietly, "I couldn't say no to you. So don't ask me, Lyn. It's the worst idea you've ever had."

 

A bird sings in the distance; the electric lights flickers.

 

"Didn't used to be like that."

 

"That's why it's like that now."

 

"All right, then," she says, at once hurt and relieved. "When d'you want Joanna to come by?"

#

The coffee at Hazard General Hospital, stunningly, has declined in quality since he left. Leonard drinks it anyway, since it gives him an excuse not to reply to Noki Tchaikovsky for a moment or two longer. Having to reply to Noki Tchaikovsky reminds him why he invests so much energy into being a joyless misanthrope, which the man appears to have forgotten. He seizes on the second excuse, so kindly presented by the universe, to ignore him; the door to the walk-in clinic chimes.

 

He and Clay Treadway face each other, wary, like wild animals, meeting unexpectedly. Treadway appears to be engaged in the dangerous business of propping up a swaying Spock, which just makes everything about ten times worse, except that he's willing to bet that Spock is much more of a compliant patient than Treadway would be, even considering Spock's tendency to jump into active volcanoes.

 

Hauling Vulcans around comes with all kinds of medical ethics regulations attached, since you have to do it with as little accident mind-meld as possible, and either Treadway knew this, or Spock had managed to give him a refresher course on what Leonard presumes was the journey from the other side of town. Since Spock has gone an unhealthy, markedly Vulcan, blueish sort of colour that indicates hypotension at best and capillary leakage at worst, he doubts that he was very involved. Even in his blearly state, he manages to wave the most lacadasical ta'al in recent history.

 

"Well," Leonard announces, taking the opportunity to drop the mud passed off as coffee into a recycler as he strides past Tchaikovsky and thumps a section of wall. "What've you gone and done now?"

 

"He got bit?" Treadway says, and, to his credit, he seems genuinely concerned. Leonard might consider revising his opinion of him, but it'll have to wait, because he's busy with directing Spock onto the bed unfolding with a distinct lack of haste from the wall panel.

 

"Are you askin' me, or are you telling me?" he snaps. Later, he'll regret his tone.

 

"He is telling you," Spock says, attempting to sit up, either illogically cheerful about it or lacking blood flow to the brain. " Agkistrodon contortrix . Hello, Leonard."

 

Luckily, he's had just enough experience with rambling patients to ignore the 'Leonard' as a symptom of some sort, or he'd have gaped. As it is, he just reaches for a safety blade and starts slicing fabric from his ankle, where characteristic fang marks are still seeping copperish blood.

 

"You're going to be just fine, sir," Tchaikovsky says, in his canned response tone, which is only marginally better than Leonard's.

 

"Yes," Spock agrees, very firmly. "Doctor McCoy is very good."

 

"Our policy prohibits doctors treating patients they know when there's another available, actually, but it's nothing to worry about, it's a quick antivenom and then we can seal up the wound--"

 

Spock's general lack of expression, unusually bleary but still remarkably neutral, begins to slip about halfway through Tchaikovsky's speech, eyes unusually wide, lips pressing together. He breathes in, as if to speak, but Leonard gets there first-- "He's Vulcan, you dime-store excuse for a doctor," he says, in a tone that, this time, he won't regret at all, because the usual regulations of good manners are suspended when it comes to this. "Human antivenoms would send him into three kinds of anaphylaxis at once. Hospital policy can go hang on this one, unless you re-specialised in xenobiology without me knowin' about it. Can we get this man a damn room?"

 

He suspects that when Spock regains control of his brain, he'd choose against doing his 'loopy on low oxygen saturation' thing in front of strangers. It's just a hunch.

 

The bed detaches obediently from the wall when he thumps it, and he doesn't shove Spock to get him to lie back down, but he does make a warning gesture that strongly implies that he will, and that has the same effect. Treadway makes some kind of noise; Leonard looks up at him and freezes for a long moment.

 

God.

 

"Thanks," he says, and he knows, he really does, that it makes him sound like an asshole, the way he has to snarl the words out, but he means it. Maybe the bastard isn't so bad. He looks away before he can see what Treadway has to say to that, because it's none of his business what his ex-wife's new Vulcan-rescuing boyfriend thinks about him.

 

The partition opens as he hauls Spock and the shock kit in it's direction, even though he isn't sure that he's even got privileges here any more, which is a gift, because otherwise he would have kicked through it, or something else totally reasonable.

 

Spock blinks, still irritatingly teal-coloured about the ears. Then, nightmarishly, very slowly, he smiles.

 

"No," Leonard says, very firmly, like speaking to a recalcitrant child. "You put that thing away, mister."

 

Spock's face goes very serious, eyebrows pulled together, and he nods as though considering saluting.

 

"Ain't right," he grumbles, possibly incoherently. "Now, I'm gonna give you a thing to bring your blood pressure back up, counteract some of the effects-- Palliative, but better than nothing. It might knock you out, but that'll be a good thing, since I'm going to irrigate that thing out and put the subdermal on it, to stop serious capillary or nervous damage until I can synthesise an antivenom that actually won't kill you. It'll sting like a motherfucker, just so you're warned, but hey, you stood on the snake in the first place."

 

"Yes," Spock says, and Leonard has a vivid and very unwelcome sense-memory of him, three weeks ago, wielding the subdermal generator in Leonard's direction. "I remember."

 

"Hm," Leonard says, in place of something actually useful, overhauling the settings on the vital.

 

"Like on Ecthel-2," Spock continues. From the other side of the partition, there comes the distinctive sound of Tchaikovsky stopping what he's doing in order to listen in on Leonard's mythical adventures in space. He'd refused to talk about them, and is now beginning to regret that, since as soon as the gossip mill figures that Spock has all the stories, they'll descend like the Furies on some hapless Greek murderer. "When you were bitten by the Venomous Lunar Grapefruit."

 

"Somethin' like that," he says, as Tchaikovsky drops his clipboard.

 

"Except that I'm unlikely to go purple."

 

"You goin' purple can be arranged-- There we go."

 

Spock's breath whistles gently as he falls asleep. Irritatingly, the sound is endearing. He'd much rather be straightforwardly annoyed by it, instead of this obnoxious convoluted annoyance. It interferes with his thought processes.

#

Waking up wasn't necessarily a surprise-- Spock operated on a principle that one should try to keep track of unconsciousness, which was widely disdained by other members of the Enterprise's bridge crew, and which, admittedly, he did not follow as closely as would be optimal-- But the state in which he did so was. Through a cloud of blurry memories, he had expected to either be under the care of someone vastly unqualified, or, perhaps, under the care of Doctor McCoy, but dyed purple in punishment. Under gauze, his ankle throbbed vaguely, oddly numb.

 

He takes the opportunity of peace, as rare as it is, to slip into meditation for several minutes, pulling on the tendrils of the healing trance; when Doctor McCoy pushes the door open with his shoulder, one earpiece of a stethoscope still in place, he opens one eye and regards him. The book in his hand is interesting enough to slide into the real world for.

 

"Well," Doctor McCoy says, with one of his rare startled smiles, the kind that push the rest of his face away to accommodate. "I'd brought this by so you didn't wake up and go out of your head with boredom, but since you've processed that stuff quicker than expected, I've got some things to run by you first."

 

He brought him a book on gravitational lensing, in case he was bored. He did so even after how angered he'd been when Spock was brought in. He extended the offer of accommodation when it brought him no benefit at all. Either Doctor McCoy has a very remarkable ulterior motive that requires such things, which even Spock doesn't believe will stand up to extensive scrutiny, or Spock has been considerably misunderstanding their interactions.

 

He suppresses the urge to say 'fascinating,' which would be true, but incoherent.

 

His period of silence was sufficiently alarming that Doctor McCoy drops the book on the side-table in his rush for the vital display, squinting at him as though he's liable to start hemorrhaging at any moment.

 

"There is nothing to be concerned about," he says, which draws a look of suspicion. "I was simply distracted. I... Appreciate the book."

 

"Can only meditate so long, huh?"

 

"Yes. At the thirty-hour mark, it begins to lose its appeal."

 

McCoy barks a laugh, and it pulls one side of his mouth out, so that his smile is lop-sided.

 

"I believe it was mentioned," Spock says, after another moment of inexplicable silence, "That in this setting, you ought not to be treating me, as doctors who are familiar with their patients outside of the medical setting are more likely to make mistakes or suffer unduly in the course of their work."

 

McCoy stiffens, in a way that Spock, most likely, would not have noticed yesterday, without this new motivation. "It's a fine idea," he says, "But you think that sort of thing would fly on any starship, huh? And this was a special case, you're--"

 

He stops speaking. Spock begins to wonder about the difference between the way that he behaves when he is hurt, as opposed to angry. "You are correct. I meant no offence, merely that you are in the habit of encountering circumstances when the correct path is often to abandon protocol."

 

"Well," he says, and harrumphs. A curious noise, and one with no better descriptor. "Protocol's designed to deal with generalities. Starfleet gets awful confused about what 'guideline' means. But I-- I know where my priorities are, all right? I know what I'm about, and sometimes the generalities are damn foolish when applied to the specific."

 

"It is commonly accepted on Vulcan that if one begins from the truth, the correct and indisputable axiom, then, like geometry, so long as one's deductions are correctly done, it is impossible to step wrongly. But nobody has yet found the correct starting point, and this is where... Disorder arises."

 

"You sayin' my starting point's messed up?"

 

"On the contrary, Doctor. I agree with you."

 

He has never been able to act without a code of behaviour, guidance, a decision on what is right and what is wrong. It is impossible, so his father taught him, for one man to correctly deduce each point of morality, and so conduct is the agreement of many, efficient, more likely to lead to social harmony. He doesn't disagree. But he has always been unable to find the instinct, in the breach, that makes it workable from moment to moment, that he thinks McCoy calls 'having his priorities in order.' He suspects that whatever code he lives by is better defined than any Spock has been able to find, and that what he would once have called reckless disregard for protocol may in fact simply be a case of good judgement. Spock trusts in his own methods, but though everything would indicate them to be diametrically opposed, he finds that he also trusts in Doctor McCoy's.

 

"I mean," McCoy says waving the book around in a state of some agitation, "If you thought I'd fu-- Misjudged, and I wasn't able to, what, fix you up from a copperhead bite because my view'd been clouded by something, sure as hell, you'd tell me."

 

"Every time I have seen you rely on your judgement," Spock says, looking resolutely at the wall, "You have been correct. But you are correct now, as well, and I would not hesitate to mention it."

 

McCoy makes an odd humming noise. His face has flushed, and he is at a loss to explain why; he considers why it might be, and in the contemplation finds himself distracted by a catalogue of the various ways that, unrestricted by regulation, his appearance has changed; though he has never been parade-neat, the new stubble on his jaw and the changed curl of his hair is, if not noticeable, then different at least in tone. He looks... Tired, in a worn-in way, but then he often does. Spock wonders if it might, in fact, be appropriate to refer to him as 'Leonard,' and then wonders if he is having an adverse response to a medication of some sort.

 

Three weeks ago, in Jim's hospital room, he had taken a liberty he should not have, numbing the sting of the subdermal regenerator, slipping into his unguarded axial pathways and silencing receptors, and he'd learned something that he should not have. In his defence, he had not expected McCoy to demonstrate any particular feeling towards him, except perhaps anger, and so had not planned on shielding against it. He had worked to put it out of his mind, under the auspices of medical privacy, but it would be dishonesty to himself to deny that it had not been a factor in his decision to accept the unusual offer.

 

He remembers it now. He remembers the unexpected warmth, not of his skin, but of his mind; he wants, with a familiar and comfortable want in a new context, to draw up the warmth again, deliberate. He wants to press on the muscles of his strong forearms, where his rolled-up sleeves rest, and he wants to be permitted to do so.

 

To deny what one knows to be true is the opposite of logic.

 

Doctor McCoy taps his fingers on the book, a nervous habit of some kind. "How'd you even get bit, anyways? Did you actually step on it?"

 

"Juvenile copperhead snakes demonstrate caudal luring behaviour," he says, pushing himself back to a sitting position. "They have brightly-coloured caudal sections-- Tails-- Which they agitate in a pattern which is observed to mimic the movement of worms and caterpillars in a manner sufficient to lure insectivorous prey to within striking distance. The behaviour is very interesting, and also seen in many other juvenile snake species, including some that are so specialised to as mimic specific species of veriforms. It is fascinating, and I wished to observe it."

 

"You're insectivorous prey," McCoy says flatly, evidently amused.

 

"Perhaps I allowed my scientific interest to lead me to take a risk that would otherwise be foolish," he admits, because he is not a habitual liar. "I underestimated the distance that they require to strike."

 

"I'm telling Jim about this first chance I get, you realise. And half of the science department. Sulu is going to loose it."

 

"Neither the Captain nor Mr. Sulu have any grounds to comment, considering their own behaviour."

 

"Talk about glass houses," McCoy says, with another almost-laughing smile. "But hey, they ain't logical risk-calculating Vulcans, are they?"

 

"So you acknowledge, then, doctor, the human species' illogical tendency towards reckless bets against the universe?" He, himself, is in the sort of dangerous state of mind that leads to reckless bets against the universe. "A key feature of human society is a lack of adequate risk forecasting. Take Lister. He suspects that immersion in a corrosive toxin will improve patient survivability; his immediate response is to test the theory on major surgeries. Take the Wright brothers. They suspect they've discovered a method for powered human flight. They climb into the machine themselves."

 

"So how come we've survived so far, if we're all so stupid, huh? If you don't take any risks, you ain't getting nowhere!"

 

"You are correct. Against every probability, the species succeeds. The greater the risk, the higher the probability that humans will behave as if success is a foregone conclusion. Inexplicably, from what I have learned during my time in Starfleet, they appear to be right."

 

McCoy just looks at him, lips pressed thin. "You haven't ever worked in an emergency room, have you," he says. "You haven't looked at the long odds and operated anyway and got exactly the fatality rate you expected."

 

Spock takes the hint. He discards a half-formed plan, clears his throat, and asks, "What did you wish to tell me?"

 

"Hm?"

 

"When you entered, you stated that you had 'something to run by me.'"

 

"Huh?" McCoy blinks, and then his expression clears. "You distracted me with talk of snakes with worms on their tails. Yeah, I do, I thought I'd pick your brain about biochemistry."

 

He scuffs a hand across his new stubble, settling into the spare chair as provided for visitors. "Thing is," he says, "You got weird antibodies, as you know, and so do other Vulcans, in a different direction of weird, and the antivenom we've got relies on a certain angle of attachment to stick to the molecule properly."

 

"An angle which mine make no allowance for."

 

"Nail on the head. And if we made monocolonal ones edited to fix that, there's no guarantee that they wouldn't trip your own immune system, which would be nasty. And, obviously, I can't give you human ones. But if we don't do anything at all about it, well, you'd probably be fine, but it may well mess with your ankle long-term."

 

Spock steeples his fingers, considers the ceiling, and appreciates the distraction.

 

 

 

 

#

"What are you doing?"

 

The music had stopped a while ago, but Leonard had hoped that it was because Spock had put the lyre away and actually gone to bed at a reasonable hour. More fool him.

 

"Cooking," he says, squinting at the saucepan as the passata bubbles. It smells funny, and he can't work out what's wrong-- Surely pasta sauce should be simple. "Can you cook at all?"

 

"Yes. I find the practice rewardingly systematic."

 

"Can you cook human-edible food that tastes good?"

 

"Can you?"

 

He pokes the proto-sauce; it bubbles and hisses, and when he scraps it across the bottom of the pan, it comes back charred. "Evidently not," he sighs. He'd hoped it would taste something like what his father used to make, but he hasn't cooked since he was a teenager, and there's no way Joanna would choose to eat this. Still, at least he's learning that now, so he can replicate something appropriately exotic tomorrow, and tell stories of how her daddy ate spiced sweetmeats on Ecthel Four during negotiations with the plant-people who were going to war with the species who had colonised their seas without them noticing. Or something. "Damn."

 

"This," Spock observes, leaning on the table to take the weight off his ankle, "Is not salvageable."

 

"Gee, thanks," he says, but he manages to avoid any real sharpness in the tone. There's been too much of that lately, and besides, it is.

 

"What is it?"

 

"Go fuck yourself," he says, and doesn't even mean it. "Some kind of tomato ragu. I loved it, when I was Jo's age, so I thought-- Well."

 

The light in the kitchen is warm, but Spock is right next to the window, which means that he's all silvery under the shine of tonight's bright moon. It turns his eyes metallic and reflective, alien, but it's hard to look too eerie, sitting in his grandmother's old rocking-chair. "Get your jacket," he says, decisively, standing; Leonard squints at him.

 

"What do I want my jacket for?"

 

"We're going to the market."

 

"And what are we doing at the market at eleven at night?" he asks, not really expecting an answer and reaching for his jacket anyway, throwing the pan in the sink in a cheerful return to pre-med bachelor habits.

 

"Buying new tomatoes," Spock says, one eyebrow twitching up; Leonard laughs, and offers him an arm to lean on.

 

 

 

The problem arises when they pull up (Well, Leonard pulls up; Spock is forbidden from driving,) in the parking lot. Shopping requires walking, which is currently difficult for Spock. Maybe, he can admit, maybe it would be nice for him to lean on Leonard again, Vulcan-warm against his arm and criticising his purchasing choices right into his ear, nice in a ridiculous and childish way that he, childishly and ridiculously, refuses to analyse, but he's got a brain still. Touch telepath. Touch-averse culture of origin. Leonard is capable of putting aside his own inclinations in the matter, but that requires getting creative.

 

He surveys the building, a flashing 24-hours beside the door, cleaning robot beeping its way through the aisles visible from the window, black sky deep and shining against the artificial light. "You can sit in a shopping cart," he announces.

 

"I will not."

 

(He does.)

 

 

 

"Okay, but replicator food is sterile," he explains, waving an orange around in a useless but satisfying gesture. What Spock wants with an orange for bolognase is a mystery, but at least it'll insulate Joanna from scurvy, if she eats anything like he does. "It's all cells that were never alive, so there's no wriggling things in it. And people ain't sterile. In fact, we've all got substantial populations of wriggling things."

 

"What are you attempting to communicate?"

 

"That a growing girl ought to have a microbiome that doesn't come entirely from a sample that some scientist in New Kentucky grew in a lab," he says. "There's a reason we try to get fresh food on starships when we can."

 

"I was led to believe that it was because it tastes better."

 

"What would you know," he says, as Spock, with the demeanour of a man attempting long division in his head, compares two types of long-grain rice, which Leonard knows for a fact doesn't go in any pasta sauces at all, "You're an astrophysicist."

 

"An appreciation of the higher sciences has no bearing on a man's appreciation of cuisine," Spock says, "But the dearth of spices in your kitchen may."

 

"You know what really shows no appreciation of 'cuisine?'" he says, pushing on the shopping cart so that it rolls neatly down the aisle, Spock included, to rest next to the vegetables. "Plomeek soup. That stuff is thick water and you know it. Spices . From a Vulcan. Don't try that on me. What?"

 

Spock is either contemplating something strange or in a fierce argument with the celery, he can't tell, but the pitch of his eyebrows indicates something.

 

"You have never behaved as though I were anything other than Vulcan, even when you would rather I were not," he says, and Leonard has the sudden feeling they shouldn't be having this conversation in the groceries aisle. "It is... An unusual perspective, being, as it is, technically incorrect."

 

There is a great deal of bitterness in the 'technically,' as well-concealed as it is. It isn't something he can see, it's something that he knows. He scuffs a hand through the growing-out fluff at the nape of his neck and thinks.

 

"That's what you call yourself," he says. "And it isn't like I have any kinda authority to decide who is and isn't Vulcan. Neither do most other people, gen'rally."

 

"Others disagree with you."

 

"Yes, well, there's a lot of people on this planet who lack common-or-garden manners."

 

"Hm," Spock says, which is an agreement by any other name, because Spock is just as much as a curmudgeon as Leonard is, most days, even if he's too polite to let on.

 

 

 

"Hey," he says, turning off the road and onto the path back home, where the kitchen light is still on in the blue distance. "Listen. I don't rather you were not."

 

"Not what?"

 

"Not Vulcan. Like you said earlier. When I argue with you it ain't because you're from space, and I really fucked up if I had you thinkin' it was."

 

Spock hums briefly, which may be an indication of just about anything, but Leonard chooses to take it as a question, because it's convenient.

 

"No," he continues, attempting to inject a little levity into a conversation that he suspects may be dragging him significantly closer to his grave, "It's just because you're wrong. About everything."

 

The moon is hovering high over the town, round and broad; Spock is still unfairly shiny under it, like a man made of metal, polished, something valuable. "If that's the case," he says, "Then you wouldn't like my help with your alleged ragu."

 

"It's not like you've got anything better you'd rather be doing," he replies, because it's an empty threat, and that's all the fun.

 

"No," Spock says, and the light catches on the line of his neck, the point of one ear, which really ought to be illegal. "I don't."

#

The windows are open, and the smell of rain drifts through the kitchen. Cold air comes in gusts, almost welcome after the heat of the previous days, though Spock is not so well-inclined to the turning of the weather as... He can relax his adherence to conduct regulations now, he supposes. It would be worse not to. Leonard, gleeful, had stood in the back garden in the rain, face turned to the water, even as Spock had searched for a spare undershirt.

 

He might not like it, particularly, but with the sound of the water drumming on the roof like a meditation chant, he can understand why one would. It's an atmosphere conductive to thought, at least, even if Leonard insists that it's an opportunity to run about the countryside with his jacket held over his head. Spock had been alternating between the flood of articles still poring over Mister Scott's marvelous equation and the classified-stamped report that Nurse Chapel had sent to Leonard this morning for an hour when the sound of voices outside had broken his focus.

 

Leonard has found an umbrella, a relief, since Spock had begun to grow concerned about his health, if he insisted upon sitting in his damp clothes for so long as the clouds remained open; the umbrella, though, is too small, sized as it is for a small child and printed with dinosaurs, so its effect in holding off the rain is minimal. By the way that he beams as his daughter leans up on her toes to hang her yellow Macintosh by the door, though, there is not a person in the universe less likely to notice his own imminent death by exposure than Leonard McCoy.

 

She thumps through the house, her father trailing behind her, exclaiming at this or that change since she'd last been here. Spock stirs the ragu, makes appropriate preparations to make himself scarce for the remainder of the visit, and turns to find Joanna standing in the doorway and eyeing the stove with a cunning gleam. She holds out a hand in front of her and separates the middle two fingers with her other hand, and then smiles, one canine missing. "Hi," she says. "Is that for me?"

 

He returns the ta'al, wonders absently who taught her that, and nods. "Yes, but not immediately. It needs to simmer longer first, or it won't taste as good."

 

It's been a very long time since he's interacted with children, not since the evacuation of Dessai Seven, and he's stiff, not sure what tone to take in terms of technicality or formality, but she doesn't seem to care, bouncing on her toes, dripping water on the floor. "My stepdad can't cook, but he keeps trying, and he burns all the burgers, and Mom has to replicate them before he notices." She delivers the information with the severity of a new ensign delivering a report, and he matches her seriousness in lieu of any better idea.

 

"That's very kind of your mother," he says. Then, because when he was young he was unreasonably delighted to feel that he was let in on a conspiracy or secret, he adds, "Yesterday your father burned water."

 

"Woah," she says, turning to Leonard with a smile that echoes his. "How does water burn? Does it smoke, or does it just go black? Did you set it on fire?"

 

"Yes," Spock says, uncharitably, before Leonard can defend himself, but he doesn't seem to mind.

 

She pulls a chair to the counter to look in the pans and see the bubbles, as she explains, and then considers the room. "Do you got any holo-games?" she asks, with her father's accent and the air of someone looking for diversion.

 

"Uh," Leonard says, and frantically looks to Spock, as though he's about to produce some thin air to make up for this deficiency in provision. "No, we don't. I didn't know what you like, these days."

 

"Dinosaurs," she says firmly. "I'm going on a field trip to Canada next month to look at dinosaur skeletons. I like games where they eat people."

 

Leonard appears to be frantically absorbing this information like a student in the front row of the lecture, and sinks further into evident misery when she asks, "Do you got any horses?" to which the answer is, again, no. The house's failure to yield up appropriate entertainment for a girl of eight is damning. An ache begins to radiate again from his ankle; he breathes slow and calm, isolates the source, assures his sensory neurones that he understands the warning, and it fades.

 

"Do you got playing-cards?" she asks eventually, after examining Spock's datapads on the table and deciding, reasonably, that they provide no entertainment. The answer this time is a relieved 'yes,' but Spock experiences a creeping and sourceless dread as she grins like a snake and asks, "D'you know how to play Fizzbin?"

 

He acknowledges the feeling as he indicates that he does not, but he fails to adequately locate the source of it, which means he is unable to rid himself of it. A matter for meditation, this evening.

 

A sudden gust of wind throws droplets up against the windowpanes, distant trees thrashing, seeming greener and more alive in the rain. She chatters about the coming storm as she moves datapads from the table to the floor, from which, at personal expense to his ankle, Spock removes them and neatly squares on the counter top. Leonard comes down the stairs, heavy footfalls on each step, and holds up a packet of cards triumphantly; he recognises them, battered, promotional decks for the opening of a new museum in San Francisco.

 

Joanna seizes them, ruffles them with more care than one would expect, but Spock pays no attention, because as Leonard sits down he pulls off his sodden jacket, and underneath his shirt is damp and water clings to his neck. The recent sun has brought down colour onto his bare arms that the sunless lamps of space had leached out, and even in the rain-grey light, Spock has a sudden and indefensible thought that he looks like he's sitting in a beam of bright golden light. It may be the new freckles across the bridge of his nose and the span of his forearms; it may be the his guileless smile as he watches Joanna cut the deck.

 

"Right," she says decisively, interrupting a spiral of thought, "I'm dealing, 'cos you don't know how to play. Y'get six, except for you, dad, you get seven. You can turn up the second card, because it's daytime, still."

 

Abruptly, he understands the source of dread and turns up the card as directed. She reels off the value of the various hands, of which there are more than appear to be reasonable for the average human, lacking a VSA-trained memory capability, to remember for the purposes of a children's game. She mentions ante and buy-in. He realises it is not a children's game.

 

 

 

"Did the Captain perhaps teach you any other games?" he asks, and it's a credit to his upbringing and his strength of will that no desperation shows in his voice.

 

"Yeah," she says, laying down a king, which is apparently catastrophic to Leonard's hand. "He taught me chess."

 

Spock looks up to find that Leonard is looking back at him with the mirror-image of his own despair. "I have a board, if you would like to try a different came."

 

"Sure," she chirps, puffballs of hair bouncing. "You're both really terrible at Fizzbin. But we're not done yet."

 

His own hand looks damningly up at him; two jacks and an ace, and then the next card, face down, that, via an elaborate series of trades and charades half an hour ago, he knows is another jack, and disqualifying. The wind turns, throwing water at the open windows, and, possibly fleeing, Spock stands to close them, leaning on the windowsill.

 

Over the garden, sprawling and green and comfortably wild, fireflies are rising. There aren't many, thanks to the rain, but they're there, glinting and flickering in the early evening light. He sits again, and, unceremoniously, turns his second card face-down.

 

"Your Mister Spock," Joanna announces accusingly to Leonard, "Is cheating."

 

"I am not," he responds, and is relieved to find, by the way she grins, that he's judged correctly, and, like her father, there's nothing she likes more than a challenge. "In fact, the two of you are in violation of the rules as described, and so I invoke the fourth penalty clause."

 

"But it's not night yet!" she announces, delighted, arms akimbo.

 

"I think you'll find it is; Leonard, would you consult my copy of the Starfleet Field Entomology Handbook, under the heading 'Lampyridae?'"

 

"Certainly," he says, because this is old-fashioned theatrics, which Doctor McCoy is well-trained in. "Here it is, Jo; says they're only visible at night. Spock, you've made an observation?"

 

"I have indeed, and therefore, one must conclude that it is night, and that Rule Two, the second card being face up, except at night, when it must be face down, is in conflict with your present array."

 

"That's logic, honey," Leonard agrees, smiling, which is foolish on his part, because he hasn't yet seen that he is the planned victim.

 

Spock makes the appropriate demands in line with the fourth penalty clause, which delivers to him the appropriate components of his planned hand, the Half-Fizzbin, and leaves Leonard spluttering indignantly at his now-ineffective array. Joanna grins, gap-toothed, across the table, and pushes her glasses up her nose.

 

"Mister Spock," she says, and there's no doubt that, like the infernal game, she'd learned that from the Captain, who she insists on referring to as 'Uncle Jim,' "I would like to propose an alliance against our mutual enemy. In exchange for your Three of Hearts, I'll play the ninth clause, which'll take Dad outta the game."

 

"Miss McCoy," he responds, just as seriously, "I accept your terms."

 

Leonard retreats, making noises of injustice and bouncing on his toes, to plate the pasta; Spock sets down his Half-Fizzbin, first class, strengthened by the lack of the Three of Hearts; Joanna lays out seven cards, in quick succession, forming the eponymous Fizzbin, and Spock is suddenly very, very glad that they were not playing for money.

 

 

 

Through the softening rain and the glimmer of the fireflies, the headlights of Jocelyn Treadway's hovercar disappear into the distance. The porch is shielded from the weather, a barrier against the night, and Spock dwells on the peculiarities of the architecture of the house on Margaret Road. Then, knowing as he does so that the question is out of his purview and possibly considered invasive, he asks, "There are options for officers with children to organise for their care aboard starships. Why did you not take them?"

 

Leonard laughs, a warm and ragged sound, and sinks into a chair as though bracing himself. "She wouldn't be happy there," he says, shrugging, white shirt and the pale skin of his neck where the sunburn doesn't extend bright in the light from inside the house. "Sure, I would be-- I see her and start grinning like a loon. But she needs to be around people her own age, and she's smart, sure, but she doesn't want to sit in a lab. And I just-- I could say I'd make time, you know, but I know myself, and I wouldn't, because if you've got to choose between sewing someone's guts up and watching your daughter, it hurts, but you choose the guts. And she deserves better than that."

 

"Hm," Spock says, because there's little else to say.

 

"I mean, sure, she'd grow up just like me, and I'd love her, but I'd rather she grew up happy. An' if you're not willing to make that decision, well, you shouldn't be having kids in the first place."

 

"Oh," he says, very quietly, as several things that he had previously known but not understood begin to make sense. He sits down and, silent, watches the movement of the trees, the light on the louring clouds. Through the storm, birds sing in the evening.

 

"Shit, you must be freezing," Leonard says, sitting up. "You should have said something-- I would've closed the windows again, this can't be within your optimum range."

 

He has no doubt that Leonard has the optimum temperature ranges memorised for every crew member of the Enterprise and probably a significant fraction of the remainder of Starfleet. Still, he finds himself denying it, because when he's looked at like that, an odd, sourceless warmth comes creeping up and settling, like it's always been there.

 

"Lies," Leonard announces, without malice, and corrals Spock inside in search of a jacket with all the good nature and persistence of a herding nightclaw.

#

The clouds this morning were watercolour; as the evening closes in, they darken and cluster, until he's looking out of his bedroom window at some Romantic painting, meant to be beautiful through its ability to inspire fear, the shining image of Nature with a capital letter, spread out against the sky, so much bigger than Man.

 

When he was a kid, when he was living in his grandmother's house with her and Dad and nobody else, he would hide out on the roof whenever the storms rolled in. His mother had told him that being brave was being scared and doing it anyway, and he'd wanted to be a brave hero so bad that he'd gone and found excuses to be scared. In hindsight, she was right, but it would have been a hell of a lot better just to tell him that he was seven, and nobody should have been making him scared.

 

But this isn't his grandmother's house; it's nicer, for one, and there aren't any stables, and it's a hell of a lot easier to go out and buy groceries. He doesn't think it's Jocelyn's house any more, either, and when he leans on the windowsill and watches the light of the sun behind the clouds sink down, he isn't scared any more.

 

So that's awful nice.

 

Thunder rolls. It's far away, but he can tell how it would feel right above him, like someone up in heaven throwing their best china plates at the tiles. Like-- And he's not happy to think this, because he's a doctor, and he took an oath-- Like a really good, knock-down, break a table bar fight. He hopes for lightning, and he counts, one two three four, and the horizon goes white.

 

Once, his grandma had said, they let the lightning tumble right on down to the earth, and they didn't know how to calm the clouds down, and the winds would tear at buildings and shake up trees. He's old enough and wise enough, now, that he's seen what happens on planets without weather nets, but he's only seen the aftermath, he's never seen the arc from sky to ground in person. What he does see is the way it hits a mile above the land and, burning, blue-white, spiderwebs sideways through the atmosphere and dissipates harmlessly, leaving the gas glowing with excited orbital electrons.

 

There's nothing tame about it, but it's safe, and as the afterimages fade, it's beautiful.

 

In the garden, regulation rain jacket buttoned up tight around his throat, Spock walks out over the grass and stands just outside of the shelter of the house. Leonard opens the window wider and leans out; water overflowing off the gutters hits his face. "What are you doing?" he shouts over the noise, but he knows.

 

Spock calls back, "Attempting to understand why you did this yesterday." Leonard laughs, pulls his head back in, and thumps down the stairs.

 

The rain is warm from the sun on cloud-tops, still; in a few minutes, it'll soak down to the skin and start to evaporate, and then he'll shiver, but for the first few moments, it's sweet. Spock stands with the water dripping from the straight-cut edges of his hair, radiating confusion as to why anyone might do this, blurry-edged in the fading light.

 

"You gotta look up!" he says, and it's difficult to hear over the noise, but he thinks this isn't a time for shouting. "Or it's just standing around."

 

"We are, indeed, just standing around," Spock says; he steps closer. Because of the noise, probably. The water pushes his fringe back from his face, interferes with the triangle points of hair by his ears, rolls down the curve of his jaw where it meets his neck; Leonard is self aware enough to admit that he's watching him instead of the storm.

 

"Warp drive," Spock says, after what could, realistically, have been any length of time between a second and a decade, counted out in raindrops.

 

"What?" he asks, and Spock points upwards, and he sees it; in the moments between the flashes, when the light picks out the rain as it falls, if he turns his face up to meet it, it streams past his face like stars past the viewing window, radiating from the vanishing point. "I've... Never seen it like that before."

 

He doesn't mean the rain, he means the warp drive, the stars moving against the black; he'd never thought of them as part of that capital-N Nature that's beautiful in its vastness. Just something outside of the Earth, and somewhere he shouldn't be, even after anything. Dizzy with craning his neck, he feels unrooted, unmoored, like being young and having epiphanies without even getting roaring drunk first. The edges of the atmosphere are blurry, the planets are also part of the sky, and the world goes on to the edges of the galaxy, and then on to the next one.

 

He sits down in the grass. A puddle soaks into his jeans. Thunder creeps closer, and it won't be long until it's right over head. Spock sits down beside him with water on his eyelashes, and--

 

"Do you have a second set of eyelids?"

 

"Yes," Spock says, serenely, which is not an adjective for a man with a second set of eyelids sitting in a puddle. Leonard wants to kiss him, and he doesn't even want to just to make him look dishevelled and human afterwards. He wants to kiss him because he's sitting in a puddle, and he has a second set of eyelids keeping the water out, and he thinks the rain looks like stars, and Leonard Horatio McCoy feels like he's been possessed, or something.

 

"Listen," he says, and, yeah, maybe he looks like a man struck by a meteorite, but his head isn't screwed on right today, "I'm glad you--"

 

He doesn't know where his tongue was going. Glad he came to stay? Glad he could suffer through hours alone with Leonard without actually snapping and killing him? Glad he's sitting here, now, as the skies opened up? Whatever it is, he doesn't finish it, because Spock turns his head and blinks water off his eyelashes and sets his hand down neatly on top of Leonard's in the long grass. It shuts him up about as efficiently as the traditional human version would have. He reminds himself frantically that Vulcans are weird, and they use the gesture for all sorts of things, maybe...

 

Spock raises an eyebrow just enough to convey how much he thinks Leonard's being a world-class idiot, and he gets a clue, abruptly, sweet and warm and clean as the morning after the storm. He turns his hand palm-up, thinks suddenly of Shakespeare, and smiles from ear to ear.

 

Sure, he can say, objectively, that Spock has nice hands, and they're even nicer pressed up against his own, Vulcan-warm and long-fingered, skin smooth and taken-care-of. But that appreciation appears to be insignificant, compared to the way that Spock breathes in hard when he runs a thumb along the side of his palm; the lightning shivers across the sky, and in the brief light he can see that his dark eyes are darker, pupils wide and fixed.

 

"Y'know," he says, just teasing, still halfway giddy and not in much of a state to put together something properly charming, like his history suggests he ought to, "I suspect you're gettin' rather more out this than I am."

 

"Yes," he agrees, and the air of his speech is warm against Leonard's jaw. "Could I show you?"

 

The offer draws him up short. It's less of an offer than asking permission, and he sure does appreciate that, because, for several seconds, he's not sure that the answer is 'yes.' But Spock just watches him, not pressing, without even the flicker of mental static that implies someone sending out a surveillance mission down his axons. He winds their fingers together, taps against the fine tendons of the back of Spock's hand, and watches as his mouth falls open, just a little, like a man transfixed.

 

"Yeah," he says, "Yeah, show me."

 

He does.

 

The sensory data transposes over his own like a virtual reality training simulation, sensation without proprioreception; the prints of his own fingertips are picked out in perfectly precise spirals against the back of a hand that isn't his, and the pressure against the delicate webbing is warm and inexorable. There is an awareness of himself as another entity, another mind, nerve clusters that spring open to be seen and understood. Bursts of data slink across, unbidden, static, but in the absence of any frame of reference they go liquid and shivery and impossible to understand. He presses on a tendon so it moves across the bone of the knuckle, and he feels the wanting that that creates.

 

It's the kind of power that could go to a man's head, if he let it.

 

Underneath all of that, though, and it is an all, is a tangle of feeling and reasoning and impression, far more neatly marked out from each other than they would be in his own mind.

 

Huh. That's him. He asks if he can look, and knows as he does that if Spock didn't want him to see, it wouldn't be there, clear and plain and beautiful as a beating heart after the bone saw.

 

It's him, but inflected strange, images from the outside. Fragments of memory catch onto the shape of him, under the Enterprise lights, furious, fond. Early mornings, in the halls at shift changes, against the windows in San Francisco. It's all very flattering. Then there's the calculation-- the un-self-conscious list of pros and cons. The forecast, like Spock's sat down and thought, what if I kissed him, and ran the numbers. He has. There are error bars and citations. What if I kissed him. The answer is: Very probably, it would go well, for a long time.

 

Leonard is an old romantic. He's soppy and he used to sneak sonnets, furtively, like contraband. He thinks with his heart, and he knows it. But he's also getting old, and he had his big stupid passionate romance already, and it fell apart. He pulls Spock down into the grass, and lightning burns into Lichtenburg figures on the surface of the weather net, and he kisses him. This time, he even uses his mouth. Not tame, but safe, and beautiful.