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Fighting Gravity

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Jim wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings as he made his way through the San Francisco spaceport, wheeling his suitcase behind him. Even if he hadn't been back for five years, it hadn't changed a bit, and he knew it like the back of his hand. All the trips to and from Iowa, or just waiting for his mom or Sam to arrive for a visit, sometimes keeping Bones company before he headed out. Jim had never been sure which he dreaded more, seeing his ex-wife or getting on the shuttle, but his daughter had been enough incentive for Bones to brave either. And Joanna had come to visit him once, too, they'd picked her up at that terminal right over there...

This time, though, Jim was alone, not waiting for or with anyone. There would be someone waiting for him outside, supposedly, and that was still kind of funny to him - James T. Kirk, bigtime starship captain, distinguished graduate, honored guest speaker at commencement. The same part of him that thought that was funny had been really tempted to, in lieu of a speech, simply advise the new grads to party really hard once the ceremony was over and buy up all the real booze they could, because the synthehol available on board starships kind of sucked, and it was best to bring your own stash. He had a feeling the higher-ranking officers wouldn't appreciate that, though. Except maybe Admiral Pike. He might get a kick out of it. Before he kicked Jim in the ass.

The layout wasn't all that had stayed the same since his academy days; though the spaceport was in a good area, all clean and well-lit, the kind of place that just plain looked expensive, Bones had commented once on the ragged figures occasionally slumped against the wall outside. The two of them, he'd said, hadn't been too far removed from that fate when they'd first arrived - both of them hungover, carrying nothing but a bundle of neuroses and the clothes on their backs. Jim hadn't thought much about it before then, but Bones was right. Ever since, he'd tossed them a little something when he could.

The guy sitting against the wall now, though, looked a little different than the usual beggars. He wasn't all slumped over like they usually were, looking half-dead and pathetic. He was sitting up straight, even though he kept his eyes down, hidden behind his shaggy dark hair. Kind of odd. He didn't even have a stick out, so it wasn't obvious he was begging. Maybe he wasn't.

Even though his clothes were ragged, he had a pretty thick scruff on his jaw, he was sitting next to a worn backpack, and his wrists above the too-short sleeves of his dark jacket were awkwardly thin. Yeah, right.

Jim wasn't standing there and staring at him or anything. That would have been rude. Just no one was there to pick him up yet, since his shuttle had come in a little early, so he did look the guy over for a second. There wasn't much else to look at, and it wasn't like the guy was even looking in his direction to know. ...And Jim didn't know what it was, but there was just something weird about him. Something seemed off.

He sighed. And since he was stuck waiting there for a few minutes anyway, and it was the kind of thing he liked to do when he could - and on a captain's salary, he definitely could - he pulled his own stick out from his pocket surreptitiously and had a look. ...Yep, sure enough. Jim smiled a little to himself and honed in.

The guy visibly tensed when something in his pocket beeped, and tilted his head up to regard Jim with dark eyes. But just for a moment before he dropped his head again. "Your assistance is appreciated," he said, quiet and cold.

Since he wasn't looking at Jim anyway, Jim didn't feel too bad about giving him a pretty severe what the hell? look. For a second there, Jim had thought he saw something in those eyes, something he hadn't quite managed to grasp before they turned away - and then the guy offers about as much gratitude as a robot? Not that Jim did it for the thanks or anything, but still.

And his ride still hadn't shown up, so he was stuck here with the guy. Who shifted awkwardly, about as awkwardly as Jim suddenly felt.

There was really something odd about him, and since he wasn't looking Jim's direction anyway, Jim took the opportunity to look him over again. What was wrong with this picture? The eyes... Jim thought they might have been familiar. Maybe he knew this guy - they were about the same age. Maybe they'd known each other at the academy. The posture could have been explained by a military background, now that he thought about it.

As if the guy could feel Jim looking at him, he ducked his head lower, turning it slightly away, which served to obscure his face further behind the shaggy hair. Which only made Jim more curious, and he leaned away from where he was leaning against the wall himself, trying to catch at least a little glimpse of the guy's face. A light breeze gusted past, rustling his hair, but even that didn't do it.

On the other hand, that breeze lifted the hair by his ears just for a second, and Jim's eyes widened.

...Of course, just because he only knew one person with ears like that didn't mean it was him. Hell - there were several entire races he'd met by now with pointed ears. He hadn't even gotten a good look, maybe the ears weren't even really pointed. But the hair was the right color, and he had sounded totally emotionless when he talked...

"...Spock?"

There was no visible reaction at first, and then the guy turned his head a little further away. That was enough for Jim, and he stepped away from the wall, coming to stand in front of the guy and really get a good look at him. "Spock?" he asked again, but this time it wasn't a question of confirmation - just incredulity.

The dark eyes lifted again, meeting his evenly, if only for a moment. "Kirk," he quietly acknowledged with a curt nod, and then lowered his head again.

Jim just gaped for a second before he could manage to say anything. "What are you doing?"

"I would have assumed you had already guessed," Spock replied, his head still lowered, "seeing as you have given assistance. It is appreciated."

"No, I mean..." And having it confirmed, that Spock was actually begging for credits, almost shocked him speechless again. But not quite. "What are you doing here?"

"Certain features of mine, which make it clear that I am not human, are more acceptable to those who live near Starfleet facilities than those who live elsewhere," Spock reasoned. "Thus, the San Francisco spaceport is a comparatively safe place for those of alien blood, as pedestrians are accustomed to all manner of beings coming and going."

Jim stared. Spock had to know what he meant, which meant he was purposely dodging the question. But then again, he had so many questions that he didn't even know which he should be asking first, so maybe not.

And of course that was when a car pulled up, all shiny and white, settling on the concourse before them as Jim turned to look. "Captain," said the young man who stepped out and saluted, showing a lieutenant's rank braids at his sleeve. "We're honored to have you back."

"...Thanks," Jim said, after a brief, awkward pause. He wasn't used to being saluted. He had told his crew it wasn't necessary right from the start. And it really seemed wrong to have someone saluting him in front of Spock. Especially with Spock like this. Jim was suddenly very aware of the shiny new car that had been sent for him, the fine clothes he was wearing... He would have been more comfortable in an old t-shirt and some sweats for the duration of the travel, honestly, but he was expected to keep up appearances now.

And now the lieutenant was opening the car door for him, and that was just crazy. Even worse, "I'll get your luggage," the young man offered, already reaching for it.

Jim cut him off by reaching for the suitcase himself. "No, that's all right, I'm capable of handling it myself," he assured the lieutenant. "And your name is?"

"Lieutenant Nelson, sir. It's a pleasure."

"Likewise." Jim could toss off the appropriate pleasantries without thinking nowadays, which was good, because his mind was entirely elsewhere. He hadn't gotten any answers out of Spock, and considering the way Spock had been avoiding his eyes from the start, noticeably trying to hide his face after the first good look at him, he could guess that he wasn't going to be able to come back here later, when his brain was sorted out and there wasn't an over-eager officer waiting on him hand and foot. Spock would be gone.

Well, that made his options pretty clear. "Come on," he said, turning back to Spock. "You go ahead and get in while I take care of our luggage."

If he hadn't already known that it was Spock underneath that shaggy hair and unshaven jaw, the raised eyebrow would have been a dead giveaway. "Our luggage?"

"Yeah. My suitcase, your backpack." And while Jim felt mildly bad about it, if his guess was right and it did contain all Spock's worldly possessions, he bent down and picked up the backpack, lifting it to his shoulder as he went around the back. Spock kind of had to come with him now.

From the look Spock shot him as he obligingly got to his feet, he did not approve. But Jim didn't care. There was no way he was going to let Spock just... sit there and beg for money from travelers. Not Spock. And not when he was off to have a bunch of old Academy alumni drink toasts to him and shit like that. There was just no way.

Lieutenant Nelson seemed somewhat uncertain. "A friend of yours, captain?"

"Yup. And hey - don't think any less of him because he's not all dressed up at the moment," Jim warned the young man, closing the trunk and coming back around. "He's smarter than I am, the stuff he's wearing is way more comfortable for travel."

"...I see." Nelson still looked dubious, but Jim figured that was all right. Anyone smart enough to make rank would be able to tell there was something fishy going on. It was just that since he outranked Nelson, Nelson wasn't going to be able to call him on it. "They didn't tell me you'd have a companion."

"Actually, we didn't even realize we were both going to be here until today," said Jim. It wasn't a lie. "This is S-"

"Stevens," Spock interrupted, offering his hand.

Jim puzzled as the lieutenant shook Spock's hand. A whole new crop of questions had just popped up in his mind - and annoyingly, he wasn't going to get the chance to ask anytime soon, with this guy escorting them.

Well, the sooner they got to where he was being housed, the sooner he'd be able to ask. "All right, it's been a while since I've been back on campus," he told them, getting in the car himself and scooting over to the far side. "I can't wait to see what they've been up to. How about you, Stevens?"

"Perhaps you can show me around," Spock replied, climbing in beside him.

That was exactly why Jim had left his question vague, and it confirmed one of his suspicions. No going into detail yet, though, so he just smiled and nodded, ignoring the dark, pointed look that Spock was shooting at him as Nelson went around to get in the driver's seat. "Sure thing. I bet you'd like to get a look at their science labs."

"I certainly would," Spock replied flatly, settling down to stare out the side window as the car took off.

Jim had the feeling that Spock was kind of pissed at him for pulling a stunt like this. But then, that had kind of been the basis of their relationship from the start, hadn't it?


A suite had been readied for him in one of the faculty housing buildings, basically a small apartment he could call home for the few days he'd be staying. Being a starship captain sure had its perks, Jim thought as he glanced around the place. This was way better than the student housing, or most of the lodging Starfleet had secured during shore leave, or even his own quarters aboard the ship - there was an actual comforter on the bed, wallpaper, a kitchen, a full bathroom... Even if it was still lacking in any sort of personality, it was comfortable and well-furnished.

But he spared only a second to look around and be impressed. The time he had allotted was up as soon as Lieutenant Nelson and the commodore who had met them in front were on their way out, offering assurances that all he had to do was ring down to the office below if he needed anything.

There was only one thing that Jim needed, however, and the front office was pretty unlikely to be able to provide it. Especially since no one had recognized Spock on the way in. Jim activated the lock once the door was shut, to avoid any accidental interruptions, and then turned back to look at Spock.

It had been a very long time - almost six years now - but it all came back to him just from the way Spock was standing there in the center of the room. Hands clasped behind his back, he stood just as straight and proud with his shaggy hair and unshaven face and ratty faded clothes as he had when he was acting captain of the Enterprise.

It was really strange, seeing him like this, considering how tight and meticulous he'd been when they'd last seen each other. On the other hand, it wasn't a bad look for him at all. Jim had always been partial to the rumpled, just-fell-out-of-bed look, and before, Spock had been more or less the exact opposite of that. At the moment, Jim actually thought he looked kind of hot, what with his hair falling all around his face, and that stubble all up his jaw and neck like he'd been on a bender for the last week. He looked like a completely different person... except the posture. And the eyes.

The eyes were fixed on him, and they already looked hard. Not a good sign. "I assume you would like an explanation as to my current state."

"That's kind of an understatement," Jim acknowledged, "but it's nice to see we still get each other."

"I regret to inform you," Spock told him, "that you have wasted your time."

Jim narrowed his eyes, frowning at Spock. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means that I am not giving you an explanation," Spock stated, and leaned over to pick up the backpack that had been deposited on the floor by the couch. "I appreciate your apparent willingness to assist, but it is not necessary."

"Whoa, hold it." Jim automatically took a step sideways, between the door and Spock; possibly he'd unconsciously locked it just as much to keep Spock in as to keep anyone else out. "Where do you think you're going?"

"I am leaving," Spock told him, with a look that implied it should have been obvious.

"Where are you going?" Jim repeated, stepping back towards the door as Spock stepped forward.

"As I said, I am-"

"Give me the name of a place," Jim told him firmly, not budging any further as Spock approached the door, until they were less than a meter apart. "An actual place, somewhere you're intending to go. Where you're going to be staying."

Spock stopped there; he couldn't go any further with Jim standing in his way. And though Jim waited, he didn't reply.

Which was pretty much what Jim had figured. "You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"

"There are any number of places that I might choose," Spock replied.

"But none of them is yours," Jim countered. "You don't have a home, do you? You're living on the streets."

For a moment, he wondered if this was a good idea. There was a glint in Spock's eyes that reminded him - and it was so long ago that he would have thought he'd have forgotten by now - of the instant before Spock lunged at him on the bridge. And well, Spock's dad wasn't here to call him off this time.

But the moment passed, and Spock's eyes went simply neutral again. "It is none of your concern. I see that you have prospered since we last saw one another. I am only one of many who has not."

"You're not 'one of many'," Jim insisted. "You're my friend."

Spock's eyebrow raised as he gave Jim a challenging look. "We may have served together, very briefly - but I am not, nor have I ever been, your friend."

For some reason, hearing those words really hurt. Jim was briefly stunned, taken aback... but he recovered himself quickly. Spock just didn't know what he knew. "Well," he said, "we're supposed to be friends."

"A logical being cannot live by what is 'supposed to' happen," Spock replied. "Only an illogical being would deny what is, in favor of a more preferable fantasy."

Jim could have explained. He could have told Spock so many stories about their adventures together, the camaraderie that he'd been given secondhand. Those weren't fantasies, but reality. Just... a different one, which he'd grown more and more fascinated by the more he learned.

But he still remembered the warning the other Spock had given him all those years ago, so he shut that line of thinking down at once and simply turned to another. "You know what?" he said. "It doesn't matter whether we're calling each other 'friends' or not. We made a good team back then. You helped me save the planet, and the whole Federation. In my book, that means you're a good enough guy that I don't like the idea of you sleeping on the streets. So set that backpack down - you're staying here with me."

"With all due respect, Captain Kirk," Spock said, and there was an edge to the way he emphasized the rank, "I have resigned from Starfleet. You have no obligation to me, nor do you have authority over me to force me to remain with you."

Jim gave him an incredulous look. "I wasn't pulling rank, Spock. I was..." He couldn't say he was 'offering', he realized. Spock would just decline it. "Look," he began. "It doesn't seem very logical to me that you should be out on the streets tonight when you could be staying somewhere more comfortable. I'm giving you an option you don't have - and if I don't say so myself, it looks like a better option than the rest. Isn't it logical to take it?"

Spock's focus seemed to turn inward, and after a brief hesitation, he nodded reluctantly. "Accepting your hospitality is indeed the logical choice," he muttered. "However, if this is an attempt to bargain with me for personal information I do not wish to disclose-"

"It's not," Jim told him, though hearing Spock say it so bluntly made his heart sink. He'd been hoping it might be incentive, but that wasn't why he was offering. "I just don't want you sleeping on the street, that's all. I want you to have a nice meal, a hot shower, and so on. I mean, it's not like I'm going to any trouble on your behalf or anything."

"Sharing your personal space with another might be considered going to a certain amount of trouble," Spock pointed out, but Jim was relieved when he did set the backpack down again.

Jim shook his head and gave Spock a smile. Funny how he was the one who was grateful for this resolution, rather than Spock. "Not really. Just ask anyone who knew me as a cadet - I've got no personal boundaries anyway."

Spock looked at him a moment longer, then lowered his eyes with a brief nod. "Very well - you have made a convincing argument. I will stay for the night."

"Good." Now the question was, how long could Jim manage to stretch that out...? He'd think of something later. He was stiff from the time aboard the shuttle, and everything that had happened since he landed had left him tense, too; he stretched slightly, taking off the light jacket he wore and hanging it up in the small closet to his right. "We have an hour or so before dinner - I was thinking I might take a shower, but if you want it first, go for it." Not that he seemed to be in great need. Aside from the scruffy look he was sporting, Spock's hygiene didn't seem to have suffered due to his homelessness.

"As you are expected for dinner, and I am not," Spock reasoned, "I suggest that you go ahead."

Jim gave Spock a curious look. "Just to be sure... you're not planning on sneaking out while I'm otherwise occupied, are you?"

"I have already agreed to stay the night," Spock pointed out.

But his eyes were averted. "Promise me," Jim told him. Spock simply nodded. "No, seriously. Say it," Jim insisted. "Promise you're not going to run away."

"You seem to have a great deal of faith in my word," Spock observed.

"Yeah, I do." Jim wasn't going to be coy, not when things were this bad for Spock. "Look me in the eye, Spock."

After a moment, Spock did so, with another small nod. "I promise not to leave without informing you."

That was something, at least. Enough to make Jim grin. "Thanks. Put your feet up, make yourself at home," he suggested. "Hang up your jacket, or whatever, if you want." He didn't even know if Spock had anything to wear besides what he was wearing. Which made him realize that Spock wasn't exactly dressed for an alumni dinner.

Which made him remember the false name Spock had given, and the way he'd offered his hand, which Jim had been informed was generally offensive to Vulcans. It was something for him to ponder under the spray of the shower - and damn, it was nice to have running water again, even if the sonic showers aboard most space vessels were more sterile and efficient, just something about feeling the dust run off you, he supposed - and he had his conclusion long before he stepped out of the bathroom, towel slung over his still-bare shoulder. Of course, his conclusion led to a whole bunch of other questions. Just to get the easy one out of the way... "So you introduced yourself as 'Stevens' back at the spaceport," Jim began, rubbing idly at his wet hair with the towel. "If someone asks, what else should I know about my friend Stevens? I mean, I'm guessing it's not your real last name."

"Neither you, nor the lieutenant, would have been able to pronounce my family name." Spock, having settled on the couch, seemed to be lost in thought for a moment, his fingers pressed together. "I had not given much thought to the alias. William, I suppose, is an acceptably common given name, and you may say that he is an independent mechanical technician. Considering the time you have spent around Starfleet personnel and interstellar travelers as opposed to earthbound workmen, the most plausible explanation for our familiarity is that you and William Stevens were acquainted before you enlisted, perhaps in your hometown in Iowa."

Jim nodded thoughtfully, ducking back into the bathroom to hang up the towel before picking out a fresh shirt from the suitcase. "So that leaves me with two really obvious questions, and I'm not sure which to ask first."

"I may not answer either, so it likely does not matter."

"Thanks for the honesty," Jim groaned.

"It was no trouble," Spock replied, straight-faced.

Jim fought the urge to roll his eyes as he buttoned up his shirt. "Okay then - first, why are you pretending to be a human?"

"There has been a history of awkwardness between humans and Vulcans since Nero appeared and destroyed the Kelvin," Spock reminded him, "due to the physical similarities between Vulcans and Romulans. Although Terrans seem to have a great deal of sympathy for the plight of the Vulcan race in general at present, a single Vulcan on their planet, when the vast majority are working to rebuild their own society elsewhere, is suspicious."

"Not if that Vulcan's working for Starfleet," Jim pointed out. "So why are you hiding from Starfleet? You're one of their most famous graduates - they'd be glad to see you. I bet they'd offer you a position as an instructor even if you didn't want to serve on a starship..." It was a pretty obvious solution, considering Spock was a genius. Jim had no idea why it wouldn't have occurred to him. "...And then you'd have somewhere to live, some regular income..."

"I left Starfleet," Spock said flatly. "I will not return."

"I guess that would be one of the questions you're not going to answer, huh?"

"That is correct."

Figured. "I probably wouldn't have any luck if I asked why you left New Vulcan, either, would I?" Jim asked.

"I see that your observation earlier was correct," Spock noted. "We do still possess a basic understanding."

"Once a stubborn, snarky bastard, always a stubborn, snarky bastard," Jim sighed.

"Likewise, you do not seem to have rid yourself of the urge to involve yourself in things that do not involve you," Spock replied, quite matter-of-factly.

Spock looked up at him from his place on the couch, Jim looked down... and he couldn't help it. A slow smile spread across his face. It had been so long since he'd spoken to this Spock that he'd almost forgotten - they really were a good match for each other. Better than he remembered.

Since Spock didn't frown, avert his eyes, or do anything at all to discount that smile, Jim kind of thought the feeling might be mutual.

"That's all right," Jim said finally, shrugging and turning back to his suitcase. "Even if you aren't going to tell me what happened now, you know I've spent the last five years out there in deep space, figuring out the secrets of the universe? If I can do that, I think I can figure out the secrets of one single, stubborn Vulcan."

To his surprise, Spock did not deny it. He merely raised an eyebrow, and stated, "Keep in mind that you do not have five years. I believe the commodore mentioned you were staying for five days?"

"We'll see," Jim said with a grin, looping the tie around his shoulders. Semi-formal - he still wasn't used to this kind of thing. "In the meantime, if you don't want Starfleet to know you're here, I'm assuming you don't want to come to dinner tonight?"

"I would rather not."

"Then before I go, we should get something for you," Jim decided, and went to the kitchen, turning on the replicator and accessing the list. "I don't think this thing makes anything Vulcan..."

"It is not necessary," Spock told him, coming to stand behind him in the entryway. "The Vulcan metabolism is highly efficient; skipping meals has little effect."

"But the replicator's right here, and how many meals have you skipped?" Jim asked, looking over his shoulder to raise an eyebrow right back at him. Spock said nothing. "Yeah, that's what I thought. What would you like?" he asked again, turning back and continuing to scroll down the list. "Huh, they've added a lot since I was a student..."

"If this is an attempt to ply me for information," Spock began.

"It's not," Jim told him, cutting him off at once without even looking. "Even if you don't tell me a thing, I still want to see that you're fed and housed. At least while I can do something about it."

There was a long silence. Jim actually glanced back over his shoulder after a little while, to see if Spock was even still there. He was, of course, just standing there and looking... well, basically unreadable. But he didn't look so tough about it as he'd looked before, there was a softer look in his eyes. Which he probably wasn't aware of, and would be displeased by if he was.

"So," Jim said, turning back around without comment. "Do you like Italian?"

"To be honest? No."

"Really?" Jim had to grin - he had mostly expected Spock to just agree with whatever he suggested. "How can you not like Italian?"

"In my experience, it relies too heavily upon garlic."

"Ah." Jim scrolled through the listings a little further. "Chinese?"

"Some dishes are generally palatable."

A little more questioning, and Jim had determined one thing for certain: Spock was a spice wimp. This was complicated further by him being a vegetarian - which Jim thought he'd already known, but he must have forgotten. But eventually Spock agreed to what sounded like a pretty boring salad, and Jim put in the order - looked like it would take a few minutes. And he wasn't sure why Spock wasn't doing this himself, he knew how to use a replicator. But no, he'd just been standing there, watching...

Afterwards, Spock did speak, quietly. "I do appreciate this, Kirk."

"You're welcome," Jim said easily. "It's seriously not any trouble. I'm just glad I can do something. And that you'll let me," he added.

Spock shook his head slightly. "I know of no logical reason for you to be concerned about my wellbeing. However, in our past encounters, you very seldom displayed logical behavior."

Jim shot him a grin and nodded. "That's the spirit."

He didn't know where to go from there, though, honestly. He hadn't spent a lot of time around this Spock.

...Which reminded him.

"Well, I guess I should be going," he said lightly, turning away from the replicator. "I've got a few things I want to check on before I actually go to that dinner. So enjoy yours when it's done, and just make yourself at home, use the terminals, the shower, whatever. If you want more from the replicator, feel free. I don't know exactly when this will be over..." And he couldn't help being a little wary, everything seemed to have gone almost too well so far. "You'll still be here when I get back, right?"

"As you surmised," Spock said with a nod, "I have nowhere else to go."

Jim couldn't say he was glad about that, or that it was a good thing. But... "You've got somewhere for the time being," he told Spock. "Don't forget - not taking advantage of it would be illogical."

Spock looked mildly put out by his using the word. "...Indeed."

Jim smirked and started for the door. "See you later." If not for his worry about what exactly had happened to Spock, this would be fun.

As it was, it was still kind of fun.

Chapter Text

The campus was pretty much as it had been when he left, as far as the layout and the atmosphere. Jim knew which of the buildings were likely to be mostly deserted at the moment, and which probably still had terminals he could use. He could have used the one back in his room, maybe, but he didn't want Spock listening in, for several reasons.

Once he'd found one in one of the tech labs (and fortunately was remembered by the guy checking students in; Jim was told to just go ahead), off in a back corner where he was unlikely to be disturbed even if more students did come in, he plugged in a code that was all too familiar to him now, seeing as he'd been using it for a few years. ...He hoped his estimation of the interplanetary time difference was accurate, and he wasn't calling in the middle of the night.

It didn't seem to be a problem - the connection was picked up quickly enough, and the elderly Vulcan on the other end appeared wide awake and pleased to see him. "Jim - this is a surprise. You are calling from the Academy?"

As usual, the tone of his voice, if not so much the expression on his face, made it clear just how much he enjoyed hearing from Jim. That was enough to soften Jim's anger a little bit; plus, he had to admit that if the two Spocks were steering clear of each other to avert the destruction of the space-time continuum or whatever, this one might not even know what had happened to the other one. "Yeah, I am. They wanted me to give the commencement at this year's graduation. Kind of funny, huh? Considering they almost kicked me out."

"They did not almost kick you out," Spock informed him. "Your reasoning would have won them over to your way of thinking in the end, had circumstances allowed."

"You think?"

Spock shook his head. "I know."

Right, so that was how it had gone down. "Huh. Interesting." Not that he needed the ego boost, and that wasn't why he was calling. Jim quit being pleased with himself and got serious. "Spock, what do you know about what happened to, uh, you?"

Spock's expression didn't change one bit, but somehow Jim could tell - the question made him defensive. "To what do you refer?"

"The Spock from this timeline, the one who never got to be my first officer because he went back to New Vulcan," Jim replied. "Do you know why he's not on New Vulcan?"

Spock's mouth opened, as if he were going to say something, then changed his mind. After a moment's hesitation, he simply said, "It is not for me to say."

"What do you mean, it's not for you to say? He's you, isn't he?"

Spock regarded him for a moment longer, then sighed, lowering his eyes. "No, Jim. He is not. We may be identical genetically, but our circumstances - and our choices - differ greatly. And all beings, ideally, would be free to make their own choices."

"Well, yeah, I'm not going to argue with that..."

"May I assume, since you are asking," Spock inquired, "that you have learned something regarding him?"

"You could say that," Jim muttered. Then, the hopefulness in Spock's voice when he asked made something occur to him. "...You didn't know where he was?"

"I had not received any information about his doings or his whereabouts since he left the colony."

"How long ago was that?"

"Only shortly after his arrival," Spock replied. "Just after the founding."

Jim stared at him on the monitor, incredulous. "That was right after we started the mission! So the whole time I was out in space, the other you was missing?"

"That is correct."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Jim demanded. "I mean, all the time you were telling me those stories about how great it was when you were with the other me, and I was thinking that maybe I'd go have a talk with him once the first mission was done, see if I could make him join me for the next-"

"Jim, I may have made a grave mistake."

The somber interruption made Jim stop short - Spock didn't usually interrupt him. But what could Spock have done to... "You didn't... mess up the universe by talking to him or something, did you?"

"I may have done precisely that," Spock admitted. "But Jim, I have a confession to make," he added quickly, seeing Jim's mouth open. "I warned you against revealing my presence not because it would cause disaster - I never believed that it would. I was simply hoping that the friendship I shared with my Jim Kirk would progress naturally, with the two of you learning to trust each other because you are both trustworthy, as opposed to having external interference. My intention was to remain uninvolved in the process."

"So you lied to me," Jim concluded.

Spock shrugged slightly. "I do apologize for my deception."

"Actually, that was pretty smart." Jim shrugged too. "Can't say I haven't been sneaky myself from time to time, so I can't look down on you for it."

"As a matter of fact, you might never guess who taught me the virtues of a well-placed deception."

"Can't imagine," Jim said. "Anyway, so the universe didn't implode when you talked to him, but something went wrong?"

"Not at first," Spock told him. "My counterpart was ready to make the wholly logical decision to resign from Starfleet and return to our people. Discovering this, I approached him and suggested that he forgo logic for the time being, and follow his heart. I remember quite well the loneliness I felt at his age - an emptiness which I did not recognize as what it was until I had found something that filled it. With his recent history having been even more traumatic, I thought it best to advise him of where he could find that friendship a few years earlier than I managed to find it."

"On the Enterprise."

Spock nodded. "But he still chose to join us in the founding of New Vulcan. Although disappointed, it is as I said before: I believe that all sentient beings deserve to make their own choices, for better or for worse. And perhaps, five years on, he would decide that he missed life in Starfleet. Perhaps the two of you would serve together at the same time you served together in my own reality, I thought, and thus the time stream would be settled."

"I guess that's a logical way of thinking," Jim said with a nod. "But then he left New Vulcan, and didn't go back to Starfleet. And you won't tell me why."

"I had wondered, from time to time, if my interference in speaking to him might have disrupted your reality more than I had thought possible. And I confess that I am concerned, Jim," Spock stated, folding his hands. "Your manner of speaking implies that whatever you have discovered about my counterpart is unpleasant. I will admit, too, that I have been concerned since his departure, considering our unique relation to each other."

Jim was tempted to tell Spock that he'd tell him what he knew if Spock told him what he knew, but that was just petty. He and Spock - at least this Spock - were friends. "...I ran into him completely by chance this afternoon," Jim explained. "He's been living on the streets, begging outside the spaceport."

Spock's eyebrows rose in surprise. "...That is... rather unfortunate."

"Both of you have a gift for understatement," Jim remarked. "And I haven't been able to get a word out of him about how he wound up that way - I was hoping that was something that he wouldn't have in common with you."

"I have heard nothing pertaining to him since he left New Vulcan, so I can be of no help," Spock restated. "There had been no word. Our father had not heard from him either, and was similarly concerned. We were unsure if he was still alive."

"Well, I can put your mind at ease about that, at least," Jim told him. "He's alive, and just as stubborn as he was during that first mission. And just as sharp, too - it's already been fun trading insults with each other, except for the part where I'd rather he'd just tell me what happened to make him end up like this."

"I am curious myself," Spock said with a thoughtful nod. "It is a relief to hear that he is... still himself."

"I could do with him being a little less himself, and more you," Jim admitted. "Even if you're both keeping things from me, at least you're giving me some reasons why."

"And the things I am keeping from you have very little to do with his current situation," Spock acknowledged.

"But you're still keeping things from me." Jim rested his chin in his hand and sighed thoughtfully. His eyes fell on the time in the corner of the display. "Do you think I can trust him to keep his promise and stick around instead of running? I'm supposed to be at a fancy dinner in a few minutes, and I can't help but think - what if he's gone when I get back, and then I never see him again?"

Suddenly, Spock looked quite curious. "He is with you now?"

"Not 'with me' with me," Jim said. "I talked him into staying with me for a couple of days, while I'm at the Academy. Assuming I can trust him and he hasn't already run off, he's back in my suite having dinner."

Spock raised an eyebrow. Jim was used to that gesture from him; it had been pretty cute, seeing the younger Spock doing it too. "You... talked him into returning to the Academy with you?"

He sounded just a little dubious. "...Okay, so actually I claimed he was a friend of mine and loaded his stuff into the back of the car without asking when my ride came," Jim admitted. "He didn't have much choice but to come along. But I did talk him into staying the night, and promising not to leave while my back was turned. I used logic and everything," he added brightly.

Spock cleared his throat, which Jim had figured out by now was his way of covering a chuckle. "Very good, Jim - I approve. And yes, I believe you can take him at his word."

"Awesome." Jim had almost forgotten about that dinner, thanks to all the crazy things they'd been talking about, until he'd just reminded himself. "I really should be going, but I'll keep you updated, all right?"

"It would be greatly appreciated."

"And," Jim added, "I'd really appreciate it if you decided at some point to fill me in on what you do know about how this started. Or, hey," he said suddenly, "maybe you could talk him into telling me? I could send you the code for the suite where we're staying..."

Spock shook his head slowly. "Jim, his reason for leaving was of a highly personal nature. If it were me, I would tell you without hesitation. But he is not me, and the choice of who to tell or not tell is his alone. I can only hope that his choice is to tell you."

That was pretty much what Jim had expected. "Well, just in case you change your mind," he said with a shrug and a smile. "Either way... talk to you later, old friend?"

"Anytime at all, my old friend," Spock replied with the hint of a smile. "I promise, if you have any questions to ask that are mine to answer, I will do so." The smile faded, however. "...And one more thing, Jim."

"Yeah?"

"Although our Vulcan physiology makes him physically strong and resilient... emotionally, I would not be surprised if he is quite weak."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Neither would I, really. Don't worry, I'll be gentle." He realized how absurd that was, and shot Spock a little smile. "Kind of."

"You need not be gentle, but do be careful," Spock cautioned him, that vague smile returning for a moment as he held up his hand.

Jim mirrored the salute - or tried. He still wasn't so good at it. "I will," he assured Spock. "Take it easy."

He had all of five minutes after ending the transmission to get to the other side of the campus, he observed as the screen went blank. And he wasn't dressed for running, or taking shortcuts through the hedges and so on. Well, if he arrived late, that was just less stuffy formality he'd have to sit through, he thought, and that wasn't necessarily a bad thing.


Semi-formal or not, dinner was actually not as dull as Jim had feared it would be. All right, so he should have known it wouldn't be too bad, because he knew Pike was going to be there, and Number One was with him - Jim hadn't seen her more or less since they docked last year. It was nice to have the chance to congratulate her on her promotion in person, and catch up a little.

And then there was the part where a lot of the "distinguished guests" that were joining them were older officers, guys who had been captains a long time ago and were now retired or serving in a less active role. Jim had known that much, but it hadn't occurred to him that some of them had been friends of his father's, even serving alongside him. After five years in charge of his own ship, Jim realized he didn't resent the comparisons nearly as much as he probably would have before, and actually found the stories they told him interesting. ...He wondered, a little, if he would have been an even better captain if his dad had been around to guide him. If maybe he could have avoided a few more of those "unavoidable" casualties, if he might have found better solutions to some of the problems he'd faced.

Of course, Spock had known that version of him, and he seemed to think Jim was doing a pretty decent job in this universe. That was a comforting thought.

It was the other Spock that mostly occupied his spare thoughts during the meal and the social drinks that followed, the uneasy feeling that he might bolt always present in the back of Jim's head. The older Spock had said he probably wouldn't, but apparently he'd been mistaken about his younger self somewhere, from the way he'd talked. And he'd never actually said what he thought he'd been mistaken about.

But mostly, Jim was just worried about the younger version; whatever had happened in the past, they were where they were now, and all he could do was take it from there. If he was allowed.

He was incredibly relieved when, after the walk back to the faculty housing, he went up and opened the door to find the lights on, and the sound of water running in the bathroom.

Jim grinned, and started for his suitcase. Even if the dinner hadn't been so bad, he still wasn't so enthusiastic about wearing a tie; he'd be glad to get out of the outfit and into something really casual. He'd brought some well-worn old tees along just for that reason.

Except that his suitcase wasn't where he'd left it. Well, Spock was kind of picky, or at least that was the impression he'd always gotten. He'd probably gotten sick of having it sitting there in the entryway, and moved it to the bedroom. Even if his own backpack was still sitting there at the end of the couch.

Sure enough, Jim found his suitcase leaning against the wall in the bedroom. However, it was empty. Jim gave it a confused look, as if it could tell him what had happened to his clothes. It dawned on him after a moment to check the closet, and yes - the clothes that should be hung up had been hung up. But only those clothes, which meant that he could probably assume...

Yes, the rest of his clothes, even including his underwear, had actually been put away in the drawers in the bedroom. Apparently, Spock was pretty thorough. He shrugged and worked the tie out of its knot, grabbing one of the tees before closing the drawer. It smelled funny, he realized, taking a deeper sniff as he pulled it over his head. ...Very interesting.

He'd decided to get into some sweats for the night too, when he heard the bathroom door open, and yanked the pants up before going to the bedroom door to ask...

Whatever he'd been about to ask was momentarily forgotten, because the guy that stepped out of the bathroom didn't look at all like Spock.

It obviously was Spock, of course - there was no mistaking that. No one else was going to have those eyebrows, and with his hair all flattened down from the water, the pointed tips of his ears were showing. It was just that he still hadn't shaved, so there was still that rough look to him... and his long hair was dripping on his shoulders - which were pretty nicely defined, even though his ribs were showing a bit - causing little streams of water to run down his chest. Which had hair to match his chin. Somehow Jim had never really expected Spock to have, well, body hair. Especially that dark little trail down his stomach, disappearing with the rivulets of water into the towel he'd tied around his waist.

...Damn.

Right, he was going to say something. Jim blinked. "...So, uh... you put away my clothes."

"I apologize if I have taken liberties with your belongings," Spock said, and then Jim could believe it was him. Still sounded like a robot, even looking like that. "It seemed ill-mannered of me to repay your offer of hospitality by simply sitting idle."

"Did you wash them or something, too?"

"I did," Spock confirmed. "It would have been inefficient to put away clothing that had not already been cleaned."

And that was the truth - everything except the professional-looking outfits had been traveling around with him for a while, and it wasn't like he'd needed to wash the things he only wore to sleep in every time he slept in them. Jim smiled a little. "Well, thanks."

"It was no trouble," Spock assured him. "I had thought to do my own laundry before showering, so that I might have clean clothing to wear afterwards, but I did not have enough for a full load. It was more logical to launder your clothing simultaneously than to waste resources."

Jim hadn't even thought about the fact they could do laundry here - it was actual housing, not just a hotel. No wonder Spock had taken advantage of the chance. His not having enough for a full load was kind of depressing, though.

On the other hand, it was hard to be too depressed. Spock came out of the shower looking like that, and he did the laundry for him? Jim tried not to think about how easily he could get used to that.

Spock tilted his head curiously. "Have I acted inappropriately?"

No, but I might. "No, not at all," Jim replied. "What makes you think that?"

"You have been regarding me with a strange, awkward expression since I emerged from the bathroom."

Oops. Jim shook his head; fortunately it was easy for him to come up with an excuse. "I guess I was just surprised that you took an actual shower. With water. I mean..." He caught himself, and thought maybe it was better he didn't invoke a certain destroyed homeworld. "You didn't exactly grow up around water."

"That is correct," Spock said, with a small nod. "However, your planet is water-rich, and I have spent much time here; having grown accustomed to it, showering with water is a luxury I can afford, even when other luxuries are difficult to acquire."

"Yeah, I like it a lot better than the sonic showers too." And Jim was not going to suggest that since they both liked real showers so much, maybe they should do it together. Even if he was really pleased with himself for having thought of it. "Well, go nuts," he told Spock. "It's not like I'm paying the water bill here anyway." Looking away - because otherwise he was going to keep staring - he went to flop down on the couch. "Anything else I can get for you while I'm here?"

"Actually," Spock said, stepping forward to follow, "I was about to inquire as to whether there might be something more that I could do for you."

The first several things that came to mind were definitely inappropriate. 'Put some clothes on before I jump you' wasn't a big improvement either.

"You have in fact provided me with food and shelter for the night," Spock added, since Jim didn't respond, "and I am aware that I initially repaid you with moderate hostility, which was not warranted." He still sounded completely neutral, but something in his eyes hinted at resignation. "I concede that I am poor at both showing gratitude, and accepting assistance."

"Which means you must be pretty terrible at getting handouts," Jim muttered, though he'd been aware of that before he even realized it was Spock. And possibly it was inappropriate too, but in a less inappropriate way, so he looked up to Spock. "Let's see... you could tell me why you're not on New Vulcan?"

"Is there anything I might do besides discussing matters which are none of your concern?"

"Okay, fine," Jim said, admitting defeat and activating the vidscreen. Maybe there would be something they could watch. "Hey, I had to try."

"I suppose that you did," Spock agreed.

"But seriously," Jim told him, as Spock began to turn away, pausing when Jim spoke. "You don't have to do anything but stay and be comfortable for a little while. I'm doing this because I want to, not because I think I'm going to get something out of it."

After a moment, Spock nodded. "Very well. But seeing as I am allowing you to provide me with something I require, it is only fitting that if I am able to repay you in some manner, that I should be allowed to do so."

Jim grinned at Spock's phrasing. "Way to turn it around, Spock. Anyway, sure, I'll agree to that."

Spock nodded again, briefly, and headed for the bedroom. It was probably a bad idea, but Jim glanced away from the monitor showing the program listings, looking after him. Yep, nice back, too. Who would have thought that underneath the bowl cut and the smooth shave, Spock had the kind of body he'd like to wake up next to? Well, one of them - Jim liked waking up next to someone else in general, and there were an awful lot of body types he found attractive. But back before his enlistment, getting up to find that in his bathroom after a night of barhopping would have made any hangover worth it.

But it was still Spock. He shouldn't think like that about Spock.

When Spock came back, he was dressed remarkably similarly to Jim, just a tee and loose-fitting pants. Jim couldn't help himself, he had to say something, even if it was an understatement. "You know, that's a good look for you."

Spock frowned vaguely. "If you intend to mock me-"

"No, I'm serious," Jim told him. "It really is. Less uptight, more relaxed, it makes you seem more approachable."

"'Approachable' is not my intention," Spock remarked, sitting down at the end of the couch as Jim turned his attention back to the programming. "As a matter of fact, my current appearance has no intention behind it whatsoever, aside from camouflaging my most Vulcan features from casual observers."

"Just a happy accident, then?" Jim didn't wait for whatever Spock would have to say about that. "See anything you'd like to watch? Let me know."

"I suggest that you choose. I doubt that our tastes are compatible."

"You might be surprised." Jim scrolled back up near the top of the list. "But if you're going to let me choose, then..."

The video popped up at his command, and the credits began to roll. At the title screen, Spock spoke up. "There is no need to attempt to impress me with your viewing habits."

"Who said I was trying to impress you?" said Jim, shooting him a little smirk. "Is it that surprising to think I might actually enjoy legitimate theater?"

"Frankly?" Spock replied. "Yes."

Jim grinned. "Let me guess, you were expecting something with a lot of explosions. Well, I used to like that kind of thing too, but I've seen too many things explode during that five year mission, and most of the time? It wasn't fun. So good acting, good writing, and non-explosive drama is more what I'm in the mood for right now."

"King Lear is not what most humans would consider an uplifting production," Spock pointed out.

"No, but I've never seen an actual production of it," Jim told him. "Just read it. I'd like to see it in action."

He glanced over to see Spock regarding him with an appraising look. "There appears to be more to you than I had expected," Spock admitted.

"Well, that's mutual, and hardly surprising. We didn't spend too much time around each other, did we?" Though he had an advantage in knowing the other Spock... Come to think of it, Jim knew what he was going to do first thing in the morning. "Oh - before we get too far into this, do you want something else to eat? I was thinking some popcorn might be nice, popcorn is good for movies. Traditional, you know?"

"Actually, I am unfamiliar with this tradition."

"Really?" Jim paused the video to look at him. "Have you ever had popcorn?"

"I do not believe I have."

"Well, you're going to," Jim decided, getting up and heading for the kitchen.

There were, Jim discovered, several settings on the replicator for popcorn, with varying amounts and combinations of spices and butter. Remembering Spock's attitudes towards spice - or really, anything with flavor - he reluctantly chose the "lightly salted" setting.

When he returned, Spock still seemed reluctant to just dig in and grab a handful like Jim did the second he sat down. "This is a traditional food to eat while watching movies?" he inquired.

"Yeah, it goes back centuries," Jim told him between crunches.

"It seems illogical," Spock observed, "seeing as chewing it makes so much noise. I would have assumed it to be an annoyance."

Jim paused in his munching. "...You know, you're right," he admitted, swallowing, "but there are a lot of traditions and customs that don't make much sense. It's not just humans, either - I've seen them all over the universe." He gave Spock a grin. "I bet Vulcan customs all make sense, though, right?"

Amazingly, Spock shook his head, just slightly. "There are some Vulcan customs which make no sense whatsoever, in my opinion."

It was pretty surprising to hear him say so, and Jim looked at him incredulously. "Seriously? Like what?"

Spock just shook his head again, lowering his eyes. Undaunted, Jim offered him the bowl of popcorn. "...So anyway, are you going to try it? Or do I have to eat it all myself?"

Hesitantly, Spock lifted a hand to pluck a single kernel from the bowl, eyeing it before he placed it in his mouth. He considered while he chewed, and his eyes widened approvingly. "Although uncomfortably loud, the taste is pleasant."

"You should taste the real thing," Jim suggested. "Much better than the replicated variety. Though actually, it's even more crunchy," he admitted, "so maybe you wouldn't like it."

Spock took another single kernel - was he really going to eat it one piece at a time, Jim wondered? But after a little while, he was at least reaching for another piece while he chewed the first, which Jim supposed was something. In fact, since he'd had a good dinner, and he preferred his popcorn basically smothered in butter and salt, he held back. This apparently wasn't a problem, because Spock was finishing it off just fine on his own.

In fact, they were only half an hour in by the time the popcorn was gone. That was amusing enough in itself - but then when Jim looked over a little later, just because Spock had been silent for so long, he saw the Vulcan's head tilted back, resting on the back of the couch with his eyes closed, his breathing deep and even. Jim couldn't help but smile. It was just cute, seeing Spock like that. He never would have expected that when they'd first met, either. Well... maybe, just because it was always funny to see someone who looked so together all conked out and vulnerable.

He probably hadn't had a comfortable night's rest in a while, though, and that thought made Jim's smile fade.

Jim turned off the program, took the empty bowl to the kitchen, and dimmed the lights. He supposed this solved the problem of where Spock was going to sleep - he'd been tempted to tell him to take the bed, since even the couch in this apartment was probably bigger than the bed he had on the Enterprise, but suspected that would have led to an argument. Maybe they could have that argument tomorrow.

It probably wasn't a comfortable position to sleep in, though, so before Jim went to bed himself, he left one of the pillows and the comforter from the bed draped over the end of the couch. If Spock woke up, he'd get the idea.

It occurred to him at some point while he was drifting off to sleep that he wasn't worried at all about Spock running off before he woke up. It wasn't going to happen. Somehow, he just knew.

Chapter Text

Just as Jim had expected, Spock was still there in the morning. He must have gotten up at some point, because he was horizontal now instead of just leaning back, and making use of the pillow and blanket. He had his back turned, so that Jim couldn't see his face, but it didn't look like getting up had disturbed him, so Jim was of a mind to just let him be and start his morning routine.

Usually a little workout was a good way to wake up, and Jim thought he'd deviate from the routine he'd adopted in space; there were generally treadmills, and the Enterprise was big enough he could take an actual jog through the corridors if he started early enough, before the majority of the crew was awake, but it wasn't very interesting. He'd taken to quicker, more efficient exercises that could be done in his quarters most of the time. But since he had the opportunity? Might as well go have a run through more interesting surroundings. It was nice to be back on campus anyway.

It was quiet at the early hour, most of the buildings still dark, no one else around but some cadets who seemed to have the same idea he'd had. It sort of took him back... except for the part where he got winded much earlier than he used to. He paused by one of the buildings, catching his breath, and vowed not to tell Bones when they got back to the ship. The guy was already on his case for putting on a little weight, even though that was perfectly normal when you were mostly confined to an enclosed space for years at a time. Plus, spending some time on Earth might correct the problem, if he kept going for these morning runs. With that in mind, he continued on his way once he'd rested a little while.

The sun was up properly by the time he was done, and remembering the idea he'd had the night before, Jim swung by one of the campus gift shops, knowing they used to have some basic amenities for people passing through. Sure enough, in with some of the little trinkets and souvenirs, there were some travel games. Small and cheap and plastic, nothing as nice as the set still in his quarters aboard the ship, but at least it was a chess set, and it was available.

And whenever he and Spock went their separate ways, it folded into a self-contained little box that would fit in his backpack just fine, though Jim didn't want to think about that.

It gave him some other ideas about things he might want to pick up, but Spock had said he was bad about accepting assistance, and buying him some new clothes was probably kind of presumptuous anyway. Especially since everything in the shop had the Starfleet Academy insignia on it, and if Spock was trying to hide his identity for some reason - and if that reason was actually a good one - he probably didn't need the connection. Jim left it at the chess set for now, and on the way back tried to brainstorm a way he could trick Spock into letting him take him shopping.

Since he'd been out for a while, he was a little surprised to find Spock still asleep on the couch. Spock must have been really tired, he assumed, and went to take a shower. During which he couldn't help thinking about Spock coming out of the shower the night before. He wondered if Spock would have the same reaction if he came out in a towel... Nah, probably not. Spock might not even swing that way, considering he'd been dating Uhura. And even if he did, Jim probably wouldn't be able to tell, just because he was a Vulcan.

Also, Spock still hadn't moved when Jim emerged, despite the coming and going and the sound of splashing water. Jim was starting to wonder if something might be wrong, actually, and after getting some clothes on, he went to have a closer look. Spock was breathing, quite obviously, and when Jim bent over him, he didn't seem to be in any sort of discomfort. Just in case, though, he reached out and dared to rest the back of his fingers against Spock's forehead.

...That couldn't be good.

"Spock!" Jim hissed, taking his shoulder and shaking him lightly. "Hey, Spock, wake up, can you hear me?"

Spock's eyes opened, and they peered up at him, slightly sleepy and momentarily startled, but clear. "Yes, I can hear you quite well," he replied. "Is something the matter?"

Suddenly Jim wasn't sure, but... "Listen, you're burning up - how are you feeling?"

"Perfectly fine," Spock answered. "A Vulcan's body temperature is naturally higher than a human's, if that is what you are referring to."

"...Oh." Jim felt dumb. "I thought... well, you had been sleeping for a long time. I thought something was wrong, maybe you were sick... or something."

"Not at all." Spock pushed the blankets back and sat up as Jim straightened. "I simply had not slept in a comfortable location for a long time; I was taking advantage of the opportunity."

"Oh." Now Jim felt dumb and like a jerk. "Sorry I disturbed you. If you want to get some more sleep, I'll stay out of your way. And try to be quiet."

"It is not necessary," Spock told him. "I have rested sufficiently. It is also unnecessary to apologize," he added, "considering that it is by your generosity that I experienced a restful night of sleep to begin with."

Jim had found the formality of his speech a little irritating at first, so it took him a moment to recognize what Spock was saying in the second part. When he did, he gave Spock a curious look. "I thought you said you weren't good at expressing gratitude or accepting help."

"It becomes much easier when I have gotten past my initial resistance. I reached that point yesterday evening."

...Spock was so weird. But, well, Spock was Spock, so Jim just smirked a little. "Good. Because I've got something for you."

"Further assistance is not necessary," Spock began, though he did look curious.

"Maybe not, but that's all right - it's not just for you," Jim informed him. "It's for both of us. But maybe we should have breakfast first, I'm starving." Just after he said that, he thought better of it, remembering how thin Spock's wrists were, how he could see the edge of his rib cage the night before. Well, neither of them was going to be literally starving anytime soon, he told himself, starting for the kitchen. "Do you want to look at the menu yourself today? Or should I just pick something?"

"I will choose," Spock replied, getting up to follow.

It was just as well, because whatever the stuff was that Spock chose, Jim had never heard of it. And it definitely didn't look as appetizing as his own breakfast, a nice old-fashioned bacon-and-eggs combo. But if that was what Spock wanted, it was fine by him. And at least it didn't reek, like some alien cuisine Jim had experienced during the mission.

The silence was a little awkward as they ate, or maybe it was just that Jim wasn't used to silence when he wasn't alone, so he finally asked. "Traditional Vulcan breakfast?"

"Actually, this is a Terran dish," Spock replied. "The grain is not as common as rice, wheat, or corn, which is why you may not have recognized it."

"True, I'm not really that adventurous when it comes to grains." Mostly because grains weren't, as far as he knew, adventurous at all. "I'm pretty happy with the usual."

"There is nothing wrong with the common grains," Spock acknowledged. "However, when one is a vegetarian, one must be creative if one wishes variety in their meals."

Variety? The stuff looked like oatmeal, just the lumps were a little differently shaped. "...Yeah, I guess you can't just eat salads all the time, can you?"

"An unfortunately common misconception," Spock remarked, and paused. "Perhaps you would like to try it?"

Well, it didn't look like it was likely to be disgusting, Jim thought. Just really boring. "Sure, why not?" he said, picking up the spoon that had to this point remained unused, scooping up a little of the stuff as Spock nodded his permission.

His eyebrows raised, appraising, as he stuck it in his mouth. ...Kind of bland, but Spock was apparently eating it without much, if any, seasoning, and there was more flavor in there than plain oatmeal already. Sort of a nutty taste. "Not bad," he admitted. "I think I'd want to mix something in with it, maybe some maple syrup or something..."

"That is one way humans have been known to embellish it," Spock agreed. "Or, when eaten as a main dish, one may add more savory spices."

"Hmm. I can't see it as a main dish," Jim remarked, setting the spoon down. "I'm too active - I need things with protein, like this," he said, gesturing to his own plate with the fork, and spearing a chunk of egg with a grin.

"Actually, one of the advantages of quinoa is that it is high in protein," Spock informed him. "And in many dishes which make use of it, contains minimal calories or fat. I continue to be surprised that Starfleet has not promoted such foods more heavily aboard starships, rather than relying mostly upon more perishable, less nutritious food sources."

Jim just looked at him. "...Yeah." It did seem like a good idea, in theory, but he wasn't so sure his crew would go for it. Especially him. Or Scotty, who was still pretty enthusiastic about his food even years after leaving Delta Vega. "Maybe we humans are just tied too tightly to traditions. I mean, I grew up in the corn belt, there are certain things I'm just used to."

"You are certainly entitled to familiarity," said Spock. "In fact, it may be that when humans are far from home, on starships, that is when they most need a touch of familiarity."

Jim nodded - he wholeheartedly agreed. But that got him thinking about Vulcan... He wondered how many things had been destroyed there, foods and plants and... works of art and artifacts... well-known landmarks, favorite places, all kinds of things that the survivors had grown up with and could never experience again. The older Spock didn't talk much about it, except in passing; maybe it was just that he'd spent so much of his life off-world as it was, the actual destruction had been more devastating than knowing he could never go back. But this Spock was younger, most of his life had been lived there...

Not that Spock looked particularly nostalgic or pensive at the moment. He was just eating that... whatever it was called. Meanwhile, Jim was the one who had the urge all of a sudden to go back to Iowa, just to stare at the cornfields for awhile.

They lapsed back into silence again, but it was less awkward this time. Possibly because Jim was thinking. There was something he'd wanted to say the night before, but then Spock fell asleep, so he hadn't gotten the chance. And maybe it was just as well, because he'd never figured out how exactly to say it, thanks to Spock being so defensive.

Possibly there wasn't a good way to say it, so finally he just said it. "Hey, Spock? I know there are some things you don't want to talk about," he began, as Spock looked up from his breakfast. "Why you left New Vulcan, why you don't want to go back to Starfleet... But just so you'll know, if there's anything you do want to talk about, I wouldn't mind listening."

Spock peered at him thoughtfully through the shaggy dark hair. "So that you can formulate a hypothesis based on limited information, I suppose."

"What? No." Then again... "Okay, maybe you're a little right on that count, because I do want to know what happened to you. But also, it's obvious you've been through a lot, and I dunno - maybe when the time is right, you'll want to talk it out. Or part of it. And hey," he pointed out, "it's not like I can use anything you say against you. No offense, but it looks to me like you can't get a whole lot lower."

"None taken. You may be correct," Spock conceded. "And your offer is a thoughtful one. However, the Vulcan mind is well equipped to process events and ideas internally; speaking our thoughts aloud seldom leads to more successful rumination."

"Unlike humans."

"Correct."

Jim was sorely tempted to remind Spock that he was half human himself, but if he was trying to get Spock to actually talk to him, it probably wasn't a good idea. Based on what the older Spock had told him about his early life, being half human may have been a part of what drove Spock to leave New Vulcan. "Either way," Jim told him. "It's just something you're welcome to do, if you want."

"I will consider it, thank you," Spock said, the same way he said basically everything - so Jim had no idea whether or not he would, or if Spock was just humoring him to get him to shut up. At least he hadn't induced any homicidal rages yet. Not that he'd ever done so without trying. Well... not with Spock, anyway.

Once Jim was done, he put his plate and last night's popcorn bowl in the dishwasher - funny, he'd had a yeoman to take care of this sort of thing for him on the ship, but the discipline he'd learned as a cadet still stuck - and pulled out the box he'd purchased earlier, beginning the process of setup without a word. Spock watched him over the last few bites of his meal, and quickly recognized the structure that was forming as it unfolded and the joints snapped into place. "You play chess."

"I do," Jim confirmed, fishing out the small pieces from the tray and pushing it to the center of the table. Hmm, magnetic - he should have expected that in a travel set. "How about you?"

"I have not had the occasion to play for a long time," Spock replied.

"Does that mean I should go easy on you?" Jim asked with a smirk.

"It has been longer still since I found an opponent who could beat me," Spock added, raising an eyebrow. "Seeing as chess is an inherently logical game, I see no reason why my skills would have diminished."

"So I guess that's a no." Jim shot him another smirk past the pieces. "Good. I don't like going easy on people."

"I am quite certain it will not be necessary." Spock reached out and took hold of the board, turning it so that the white pieces were on Jim's side instead of his. Jim supposed that was a good indicator of Spock's certainty of his chess skills.

Under most circumstances, he was certain of his own. This time, he had to admit that there were some variables. The other Spock had tipped him off about the chess, of course; apparently his own version of Jim had been able to beat him consistently when first they'd started playing, just because their tactics were so different. It was much easier to predict logical moves than risky, game-changing ones. Jim knew he played unconventionally as well, but who knew about this Spock? And for all he knew, he wasn't as good at chess as his own counterpart, who'd apparently been a little more serious about intellectual pursuits than he'd been when he was younger. So it was potentially anybody's game.

Which gave Jim an idea. "Want to make this more interesting?" he asked, leaning back in his chair to watch Spock take his own empty bowl to the dishwasher.

Spock gave him a curious look. "You know of an alternate rule set, perhaps?"

"Er, not quite what I had in mind. Though that might be interesting sometime." Apparently Spock didn't know that particular Earth idiom. "What I meant was, would you like to bet on the outcome."

"Although I understand that the concept of a 'friendly wager' is often appealing," Spock replied as he returned to sit down, "particularly to beings of a certain temperament, I do not believe it would be logical at this time, between the two of us."

"Oh? Why's that?"

"Quite simply, a wager between us would be essentially impossible, for you have already provided me with more than I would have asked for no reason whatsoever, and I have nothing to offer in return."

"That's not true," Jim told him. "Maybe you don't have anything to offer in a material sense, but you've got plenty to offer in other areas." Which was why the 'no reason whatsoever' was untrue as well.

Spock considered for a moment. "Are you once again attempting to pry into my personal affairs?"

"Hadn't even crossed my mind," Jim said honestly. What he'd been thinking of was probably nothing Spock would be any more comfortable with, though. Things like companionship. Friendship. ...Getting to watch him in the shower... No, that was a road he wasn't even going to start down. "Nah, I'll get you to talk to me the old-fashioned way."

Spock looked dubious. "Furthermore, you have already taken me in for the night, and seem more than willing to accommodate me for a bit longer. I would not ask more of you."

"You wouldn't be asking for anything," Jim pointed out. "You'd have won it. That's completely different."

"There is nothing in particular I have need for that you are not currently providing."

"I dunno... I could always scrub your back for you in the shower." Oops, hadn't he just told himself not to think in that direction?

"I am quite capable of washing my own back," said Spock, apparently willing to take it as the joke that it was. Mostly.

"Seriously," Jim insisted. "I'm sure there's something useful I could do for you. I know - I could take you shopping for some new clothes. The ones you've been wearing look like they've been around the block a few times." And it was something he'd wanted to do anyway, if he could think of an excuse. If Spock actually won, it would be perfect.

Spock nodded slowly. "That would indeed be useful. However, I must point out that I would be taking advantage of you - for I believe I have the advantage when it comes to chess. My mind is trained in such a way that the game comes naturally to me."

Jim wasn't so sure... but then again, he was willing to let Spock think that. "Well, if I'm the long shot, then I should ask something really crazy in case I win."

"You have not suggested even something reasonable as of yet."

True... This was his chance, Jim thought. He had a perfect excuse to make an interesting proposition. And actually, things pertaining to Spock being wet and naked weren't anywhere near the top of his list. In fact, first on his list had to do with Spock being on the Enterprise when it took off for the next mission.

That was a really tempting thought.

On the other hand, he still didn't know why Spock hadn't gone back to Starfleet after leaving New Vulcan. For all Jim knew, he might have a good reason. And although the whole point of a bet was to put the other person out a little, he didn't want to make Spock promise to do something that would really make him miserable.

He decided to scale it back a little. "How about this? If I win, you don't go back to begging at the spaceport once I'm done at the Academy. You come with me instead."

Spock didn't look wary so much as puzzled. "...Where are you intending to go?"

"Well, my plans weren't completely set yet," Jim admitted. "Ever since the end of the mission, though, I've been shuttled between various starbases and so on, giving reports and updates. This is the first time I've actually been back to Earth - really down on the surface, I mean. So there were a couple things I wanted to do... Bones is back in Georgia at the moment, with his kid, so I was going to go see them while I was here. I haven't seen my mom for awhile either, though she was there when the ship docked. Figured I should spend some time in Iowa..."

"I suppose that neither of those locations would be unpleasant," Spock conceded. "Not at this time of year. However, I fail to see why you would want me to accompany you."

"Because we did some really awesome stuff together, then never saw each other again?" Jim suggested. "Seems like a good enough reason to me. Plus, you were the one who shot down that drill - you saved this planet. And you said it was the only home planet you had left... How much of it have you actually seen?"

"Very little," Spock said, somewhat reluctant.

"Me too, actually," Jim admitted. "I've spent years off-planet now, but I've only ever been to two continents. But don't worry," he added, "I'm not in the mood to ship us down to Antarctica at any time of year."

"It still seems as though it would be more of an inconvenience to you to bring me along, rather than a prize," Spock noted. "After all, I cannot pay my own way."

"Do you have any idea what Starfleet pays me these days? Don't worry about it. Even if it doesn't seem logical," he told Spock. "I'm not a Vulcan. And I'm the long shot anyway, remember?"

"...Your point is taken."

"So do we have a deal?" Jim asked. "You win, I buy you some new clothes. I win, you take a little road trip with me."

Spock nodded briefly. "I suppose that we do have a deal."

"Great - then let's get started."

"Very well. The first move is yours," Spock reminded him, folding his hands before him on the table.

Jim discovered quickly that Spock played exactly like the other Spock said he played - his setup was formidable, but also predictable. Jim didn't even bother trying to avoid it or outmaneuver it, but just poked holes in it. Even if it meant sacrificing a bishop he really could have put to better use later.

They were well-matched in skill, Jim thought, if practically opposites in their style of play. Spock was recovering from his unorthodox tactics swiftly and regrouping, and for a large portion of the game, Jim was a little nervous. But then he remembered what was at stake, and realized it was okay if he lost. He'd get to buy Spock some clothes - and as for his own wager...? If he'd already gotten Spock back to his suite, talked Spock into staying the night, and convinced him that he might as well stay a few more, then given a few more days, he could figure out some other way to get Spock to follow him onto a shuttle out east.

He wasn't even sure why he wanted that so badly. The other Spock had said right out that they weren't exactly the same people, and so as much as Jim enjoyed the feeling of having someone trust him and believe in him that much, it wasn't as if this Spock was guaranteed to like him at all, much less form an intense lifelong friendship. Or vice versa. Potentially he could be setting himself up for disappointment once they got to know each other better.

But despite the fact that Spock was starting to acquire a disgruntled look as the game wore on, Jim didn't think so.

The disgruntled look had turned downright dark for a little while, but by the time Jim made checkmate, Spock just looked baffled. "...This outcome is illogical," he muttered, still staring at the board, eyes darting from piece to piece as if looking for a way out.

"Maybe that's because the winner played illogically," Jim said brightly. "You can't spring traps when the enemy just ignores them." Spock said nothing, a stern frown on his lips as he continued to study the board. "Come on, it's not that bad, is it?" Jim asked him with a grin. "I mean, so you lost. Which means you get a trip across the country. It's a lot better deal than you would have gotten about ten years ago - usually my rule then was that the loser had to wear a dress Friday night."

Spock turned that stern, mildly incredulous look on Jim himself. "...I see."

"We could always give that a shot," Jim suggested. "If you want to go again."

"No - once will be sufficient for the time being." Spock looked back to the board. "Perhaps after I have reconsidered my strategies. Besides," he added, "I am certain you have things to do today that are more important than playing chess."

"Nope, not really," Jim told him, almost reaching out to start putting the pieces away, and then stopping. Spock was still studying it, and it didn't really matter if such a small chess board stayed on the table for a while. "I thought I might get in touch with a few people from my class that stuck around. A couple of them are instructors now."

Like Spock had been. Jim hoped belatedly that it wasn't a sore spot, and had to admit there was no way he could tell if it was. Spock retained the same neutral tone when he spoke again. "I would not keep you from your friends. If you are still concerned that I might leave without telling you, I must point out that it would be illogical for me to disappear now, if I am to leave San Francisco with you in a few days' time."

The last part caught Jim by surprise, and he found himself smiling in wonder. "You're really going to come with me?"

"You won the game fairly," Spock said, beginning to take down the pieces himself. "We had an agreement, and a Vulcan does not give his word if he is not prepared to keep it."

"I thought as much," Jim admitted, "but it's good to hear you say it." He also found himself pleased that Spock wasn't just taking the board apart - in fact, he was setting it up again. "Did you change your mind about a rematch?"

"Not only do I have no desire to either wear a dress or see you wear one," Spock stated - and Jim almost laughed out loud, because that was the kind of thing the older Spock might have said - "but as I said previously, I would not keep you from your friends."

"You're not," Jim told him, suddenly feeling much more relaxed about having Spock there with him. "Because you're my friend too, remember?"

"I still maintain that there is no reason for you to think of me as such, but will concede to illogical human opinion." Spock shook his head slightly, looking at him through the levels of the chess board. "Frankly, your assertions to this effect are bewildering."

"Well then, I'll just have to prove that it makes sense," Jim told him, getting up. "And now I've won myself a little more time to prove it." Which reminded him... "By the way, I'm taking you clothes shopping anyway before we leave. If you're going to be hanging out with a starship captain, you don't have to dress as well as him, but you should at least have clothes that fit you."

Spock peered up at him curiously. "I did not win the game."

"No," Jim agreed, "but I suggested it because it's something I wanted to do for you anyway, and I wasn't sure you'd let me do it for no logical reason. But now there's an logical reason - you'll be traveling with me, and I have an image to uphold."

"So in other words," Spock concluded, "you arranged it so that if I won, it would be to my material advantage as well as your emotional advantage... and that if you won, it would also be to my material advantage and your emotional advantage, but to a greater degree."

Jim gave him a broad grin. "You remember how back when we first met, I told you I don't believe in no-win scenarios? Well, I do believe in win-win scenarios. Think of it like a reverse Kobayashi-Maru - no way you can lose."

He'd expected that to be met with a dark look, but instead Spock raised an eyebrow thoughtfully. "...Fascinating," was all he said.

Jim's grin grew wider as he headed out of the kitchen to finish getting ready. It was probably best to wait until another time to tell Spock the chess set was for him too.

Chapter Text

Even if Jim was having fun with Spock, once he'd set out to track down his old friends, he wound up not coming back for a long time. After checking out Ryder's workshop and the old hoverbike he was reworking in his spare time before his shift, he had lunch with Muniz, who told him that Robertson was still in the area, just not on campus. It didn't take much discussion before they called him up, and the three of them spent a couple hours playing games in one of the student lounges, just like they used to do when they were students - much to the amusement of the actual students, who apparently were impressed by seeing three grown adults, one of whom was an instructor and one of whom was a starship captain, trash-talking each other. By the time they were done, Thorpe was done giving some freshmen a final exam, and more than willing to join them for a little goofing off and a walk around before dinner.

They kept saying that being a captain had changed Jim, especially when the subject of their personal lives came up, but aside from none of them having a beer in hand at any point throughout the day, it felt like old times to him. In fact, even the letdown of heading back to his rooms in the late evening was offset by the fact that it wasn't empty - he had a roommate.

Who was wearing what he'd been wearing when Jim left, and was sitting there in the silence, browsing some texts at the terminal. Spock looked up, nodded his acknowledgement, and went back to his reading.

Jim couldn't help but feel bad about it. He'd been off having fun with old friends, and it looked like Spock had just been sitting there all day. "...I spent longer out than I thought I would," he said, slightly apologetically. "I guess we got carried away, not having seen each other for so long, one thing led to another... Did you go out at all?"

Spock shook his head. "I thought it best to keep my movements minimal. There are many here who might know me, and I would not care to explain my circumstances to them any more than I care to explain them to you."

He had a point, but it actually made Jim feel a little worse. He supposed that meant he wasn't going to be able to make it up to Spock by taking him out and around tomorrow, or anything like that. He kept his mild guilt hidden, however, behind a little cockiness. "At least I know it's not just me, then."

"No, it isn't," Spock replied. "I had assumed you were already aware."

"Actually I was," Jim sighed, flopping down on the couch, on the other side of the room from where Spock was sitting. "So did you manage to keep yourself amused?"

"I would not call it 'amusing', but I spent my time productively, which is better than amusement."

Jim scratched his head idly. "...I was going to say I disagree, but I'm not actually sure I do anymore. Not after so much time flying through space with nothing to do but relax until we reached our destination." Maybe his friends had a point, about him changing...

"There are times when doing very little is as productive as doing significant work," Spock observed, swivelling his chair to face Jim. "For instance, I have had very little time in a truly restful environment for the last few years, or access to healthful foods. Today I was able to take in nutrition, rest so as to take full advantage of it, and even indulge in some meditation."

"So in other words," Jim deduced, "you ate, took a nap, and sat around thinking."

"Which was precisely what I required at the moment."

"Good." Jim grinned. "Though you kind of sound like Bones - he was always telling me I needed to slow down and take it easy once in a while."

"He sounds like a wise man. This is the friend you were intending to visit in Georgia?"

Right - Jim had forgotten this Spock hadn't spent much time around them. The other Spock knew who he meant when he talked about Bones. "Yeah, Dr. McCoy. Remember him? You promoted him to CMO when Dr. Puri was killed in the initial encounter with the Narada."

"I do," Spock confirmed. "He was rather... colorful. And as I recall, responsible for your presence on the Enterprise."

"That's the one."

Jim could almost see him trying to reconcile the memory with the statement he'd made about McCoy being a 'wise man'. "Perhaps time and responsibility has changed him?" Spock inquired.

Jim laughed. "Not a bit." And given what the other Spock had said about the odd sort of adversarial friendship that he had shared with the Bones in his universe, suddenly he was really looking forward to that visit. "Best doctor in the fleet, though - best friend a guy could ask for, too. I've missed him since we docked."

Jim missed everyone, though, honestly. His whole crew had been great. They had to be - if you got stuck on a ship with mostly the same people for five years, either you grew to like every last one of them, or you went crazy. Fortunately, he hadn't had to grow to like most of them, because they were already awesome. Even if some of them weren't quite as certain about him at first.

...He wondered what Uhura would say if she knew he'd found Spock. Maybe he'd say something the next time they got in touch. Not about Spock's situation, of course, just that they'd run into each other, because it wasn't her responsibility or anything; she'd gotten over the disappointment years ago. Not that it was actually Jim's responsibility either. Even knowing what Bones would say - he was already of the opinion that Jim took too much on himself - he hoped it was a responsibility he didn't wind up having to share.

"So what are you up to?" he asked. "Research?" The brief glimpse he'd caught of what Spock was looking at seemed to involve a lot of big words and a few schematic diagrams.

Spock nodded, glancing back at the display momentarily. "I was curious about what Starfleet may have been able to learn from the Narada's drill; it was raised from the bay a few years past. Since its technology is entirely alien, and a century ahead of current Romulan technology, even the wreckage might have yielded valuable information."

"That's right - I remember hearing about that," Jim recalled. He'd also heard, when he was younger, that even the scans and visual records resulting from the attack on the Kelvin had led to some interesting innovations, but he didn't let himself think about it too much. It felt eerie to think that Starfleet was finding a bright side to something that had killed his father, caused so much pain to his mother...

But it didn't bother him so much now, since he and Spock had taken the thing down. He found himself feeling a renewed surge of fondness for Spock suddenly, and one that had nothing to do with the stories the older Spock had told him. Taking out the Narada had felt great, and it was the two of them who had done it.

"There have been research teams studying it ever since," Spock continued. "Though portions of the mechanism were damaged beyond the ability to determine the function, much less replicate it, others were still useful. Unfortunately, it was not a self-contained mechanism; it relied upon a power source aboard the ship. Information about the power source would have been of particular interest."

"Yeah, I bet..." Jim knew from the history of the last few hundred years that new and improved power sources were always welcome. "On the other hand, we're not actually supposed to know any of this stuff yet. At least we can be assured that we'll figure it out in another century or so."

"I predict the Federation will be able to apply the information much sooner," Spock remarked, "with a specimen to work from. And then our technological advances and scientific knowledge beyond that point will be accelerated as well."

"As long as we don't skip anything crucial by copying other people's work," Jim muttered thoughtfully. "There's something to be said for figuring things out yourself."

Spock lifted an eyebrow at him. "Indeed - the end result of a process is only a single step like any other, though usually more satisfying. I am surprised to hear you advocating an organic approach to science, rather than shortcuts."

"What, just because I cheated on your test?" Jim asked him with a grin. "That was an organic approach, not a shortcut. I went in figuring that doing things naturally would get me the same result every time, tried the experiment a few times, and confirmed my hypothesis with repeated identical results. That's not scientific enough for you?"

Spock just looked at him, unreadable. "Anyway," Jim continued. "I'm not saying it's a bad thing to learn what we can from the Narada. We've already kind of messed things up chronologically, thanks to Scotty and..." He'd talked about the other Spock with Scotty, and sometimes Bones, so he had to catch himself here - and then remembered he'd just been told he didn't have to. "...the other you, who gave him his own equation for transwarp beaming. So getting a few pointers on hardware evolution isn't going to shake things up too much more." He paused, thinking. "It's just kind of funny, being effectively on the other side of the Prime Directive than usual."

"An interesting way to put it," Spock mused, "but perhaps accurate."

"But just like when the Federation does it," Jim added, "there's usually no way to turn it back - all you can do is hope that the affected civilizations don't destroy themselves with it. And I like to think that we're beyond that, at least with something as relatively innocuous as a piece of mining equipment." Spock had fallen silent, regarding him with a look that Jim couldn't quite place. "...What?" he asked.

"It has been a long time," said Spock, "since I had the opportunity to participate in a reasonably intelligent conversation, particularly about such subjects as scientific method and morality."

Jim was... actually, he was really flattered. "...Thanks," he told Spock with a little smile. But he couldn't help teasing. "Only reasonably intelligent, though?"

"Perhaps my judgment is off," Spock noted, making Jim's smile a little wider. But then Spock added, "Perhaps it is only intelligent compared to other recent conversations."

Jim made a face at him. "Jerk." But somehow, he could tell Spock was kidding - maybe because he'd seen that same deadpan on the other Spock. "But yeah... I guess there wouldn't be a lot of opportunity for good conversation."

"When one is living in an unusual situation," Spock observed, "it is no surprise that the majority of conversations tend to be about said unusual situation."

"And considering you don't want to talk about that," Jim added, "that probably leads to not much conversation at all." And since he was enjoying the 'reasonably intelligent' conversation they'd been having, he left it at that. "So have there been any interesting breakthroughs with that drill? Nothing so big it made its way to my notifications, or I'd already know, but I suppose you understand a lot more of that text and its relative significance than I would."

There were parts he didn't understand even when Spock was summarizing - he got the parts about the unusual molecular structure that they were trying to replicate, and that that molecular structure was probably responsible for the Narada's surviving a trip through a black hole, and a series of lenses to focus the energy, and so on, but the details of frequencies and radiation and such were nothing he ever had to deal with as a captain. The diagrams helped. Sometimes. Even so, he just nodded and let Spock talk. It was a subject he was obviously interested in, and it was kind of cute to see him so animated - and if he hadn't gotten to talk about things like this for a while, then Jim was willing to listen.

And it was a good thing that he was listening, because otherwise he might have missed it when Spock referred to something that had happened "during the brief time I was involved in the effort."

"Wait," Jim said immediately, sitting up straighter. "What do you mean, you were involved?"

"I spent some time on the project after returning to Earth," Spock said simply. "As I did not wish to re-enlist, I submitted an application with my credentials, and was hired to join one of the research teams, independent from Starfleet."

Jim frowned, curious. "But this project is still underway. Why..." He stopped himself; no prying into Spock's personal affairs tonight.

"Why am I not still a part of it?"

Jim hadn't expected him to respond. "...Yeah."

"It became a hostile work environment," Spock replied. "I was the only Vulcan involved. Meanwhile, there were Romulans present on the drill - or rather, inside - when it crashed into the ocean. One of the simplest and quickest discoveries after the drill had been raised was that Romulans and Vulcans are more similar biologically than had been expected. The visual similarities had been noted during the attack on the Kelvin and the days that followed, but now there is evidence that our two races are virtually indistinguishable from one another."

"Seriously?" Jim exclaimed, putting two and two together quickly. "They thought you were a Romulan?"

"My very presence on Earth was suspicious, more so since I was alone," Spock reasoned. "Everyone involved with the project knew what had become of my planet, what my people were faced with. There was question as to why a lone Vulcan would return to work on a research project, and my unwillingness to explain why I was not on New Vulcan with my people made it more questionable. Furthermore, they did not know of my background in Starfleet, and thus did not know why I was already familiar with some of the details of the Narada. It is not particularly surprising that they would be suspicious."

Jim's glare grew deeper as Spock went on. "That doesn't make it right to make assumptions about you."

"Unfortunately, your people's history proves that there has always been an undercurrent of xenophobia," Spock pointed out. "Humans have an inherent tendency to fear what is different. You are not alone in this - Vulcans have at times done the same."

"Just because Vulcans have done it doesn't make it right either," Jim grumbled. "So what - they fired you because they thought you were a spy?"

"Background checks confirmed my identity before I was hired," Spock replied. "However, those confirmations were not a matter of public record. My superiors knew that I was who I claimed to be; my immediate coworkers did not. They began to cause trouble, and to exclude me from their work. I thought it best to resign, and let them work in harmony; they would accomplish more without my presence as a distraction."

By the second, Jim was getting more irritated. "Not that I'm saying what they did to you is okay no matter what, but why didn't you fight back? Get someone to tell them who you were...?"

"I attempted it. It seemed to have little effect." Spock shrugged lightly. "I have observed that humans frequently believe what they want to believe, whether or not there is evidence to support it. And the approval of a supervisor is not definitive evidence besides."

So he'd caved to bullying. Jim wasn't going to say it, but he couldn't help but think it. It still wasn't Spock's fault, though. "...I'm sorry," he said. "That humans can be such assholes."

"Humans are not the only race who have done such things," Spock replied. "And I have never understood their eagerness to individually apologize for things that they, as an individual, have no control over."

"It's not really an apology, just sympathy," Jim told him. "And a little disgust that I come from the same species as people like that."

"I do not hold it against you. If I have learned nothing else of humans, I have learned that there is a significant amount of variance among them - and even knowing this, I am still occasionally surprised."

It was nice, at least, that Spock wasn't professing a wish that he'd let Nero wipe out the planet or anything. Maybe if he was able to accept humans - despite the major failings some of them had - he'd be able to accept the human side of him... That was what the other Spock had said he had a problem with at that age. Come to think of it, from what the older Spock had said, Spock probably knew better than anyone that Vulcans could be assholes just as much as humans.

But this Spock probably wouldn't be willing to talk about that, especially if that was why he left. Which it could have been, if he'd given up a good job that he was well-suited to just because people were spreading nasty rumors. "And I guess that's how you ended up outside the spaceport?"

"Essentially. I held assorted other jobs, but none for long. The scientists involved in the project were not the only ones who were suspicious of my identity. Attempts to hide my Vulcan attributes met with varying success, and were generally discovered; then, the fact that I had hidden my Vulcan heritage simply made me more suspicious. Other jobs, I was simply not suited to." Spock paused, thinking. "I did well enough in construction for a time. As long as I could do the heavy lifting that was required, it did not matter if I kept to myself. However, it is a seasonal job, and sporadic even then."

The idea of Spock, with his Vulcan brain and all the scientific knowledge that lay within, wasted on manual labor? That was enough to short out Jim's own puny human brain. He didn't even know what to say anymore.

"This topic is making you uncomfortable," Spock observed, when Jim had no response. "However, I assure you there is no need for discomfort. What has happened has happened, and I have grown accustomed to it. In fact, presently I am in no distress whatsoever - and that is due to your assistance."

"Spock," Jim told him plainly. "You don't have to try to make me feel better about it. It's supposed to be the other way around."

"As I stated, you have already improved my situation."

"And meanwhile, my situation's just fine - you don't have to do anything." Jim was frustrated, yes, but it wasn't aimed at Spock. "And actually, I'm glad you trusted me enough to tell me," he added. "I know you didn't want to talk about all of this..."

"I had no reason not to talk about this portion of my experiences," Spock remarked. "Jobs I have held since my return are not personal matters."

All right, so maybe a little of that frustration was aimed at Spock. If he'd been around, he would have encouraged Spock to stand up for himself, be proud of who he was, don't let anyone keep him from what he wanted and needed. And maybe he had logical reasons for talking about some things and not others - everyone did - but Jim couldn't figure out what criteria he was judging by that made being run out of a good job by paranoid racists not personal, and things like his presence on Earth too personal. All he could figure was that whatever happened on New Vulcan must have been really bad. He'd get the story out of Spock someday, he told himself. "I'm still glad."

Spock nodded in acknowledgment. "I believe a change of subject is in order," he suggested. "As I have informed you of my doings today, perhaps you would care to discuss yours."

Jim blinked. Was that the Vulcan way of asking 'How was your day?' "...I don't know," he admitted. "I had a good time, but I doubt anything I did would be especially interesting to you."

"You are probably correct, but it seemed polite to inquire."

Rather than being offended, Jim was just amused. "At least I can trust you to be honest. Let's see... checked out the workshop one of my old friends works in here on campus, had lunch with another, we called up another and he came out to goof off with us in one of the lounges-" Jim had an odd thought. "Say, you don't play air hockey, do you?"

"I cannot say that I have played any variety of hockey," Spock replied.

"Not surprising. But I figured I'd check - I mean, you didn't look like you expected me to play chess either." Jim mused a little. "Maybe I should show you sometime."

"I suspect that I would enjoy myself more by continuing my study into recent scientific advances." Indeed, Spock didn't look thrilled at the idea. "Whereas humans such as yourself exert physical energy for recreational purposes, Vulcans are content to exert intellectual effort."

"Then maybe I should teach you how to shoot pool instead," Jim said. "It's all geometry." He found himself amused again when for a moment, Spock actually looked mildly interested. "...You are such a nerd," Jim observed with a grin.

"Such terms," Spock noted, "are often applied to those who excel at cerebral activities. Such as - for instance - chess."

"Ouch." Jim pretended to wince. "But seriously, I didn't mean it in a bad way. It's just..." ...Cute. "...different, I guess. Say, speaking of chess - want a rematch before bed? Because honestly, I don't think my day was likely to be interesting to anyone but me." Or at least not to a Vulcan.

"We may indeed have exhausted the possibilities for mutually interesting conversation for the moment," Spock agreed, closing out his connection at the terminal. "Particularly since it is getting late. Chess would be an acceptable way to end the evening."

"Are you actually admitting to being tired?" Jim asked, a little surprised, as he stood, and Spock followed.

"It has been a long time since I had a comfortable sleeping arrangement. Perhaps it is fatigue, or perhaps I am merely more willing to take advantage of that particular luxury at the moment."

"Hmph. Then you're taking the bed tonight." The board was still set up on the table, and this time it was Jim who turned it, so that Spock had white.

"That is not necessary," Spock told him. "The couch is sufficiently comfortable, and I am merely your guest - the housing is yours."

"If the couch is sufficiently comfortable, then I don't mind taking it," Jim reasoned. "I seriously do think it's bigger than the bed I've got on the Enterprise."

"All the more reason you should make use of a bed while it is offered." Spock moved out his first pawn.

"Or the couch," Jim argued, doing likewise. "Since you haven't had anything comfortable for a while, that's all the more reason for you to have the extra comfort."

"Would it not be logical for both of our sleeping arrangements to have improved, than for only one?" Spock inquired.

It was, Jim supposed, but he didn't really care. "How about this? Winner gets the bed."

"That is acceptable," Spock said immediately, and made his next move.

...He'd agreed to that a little too fast, Jim thought, and only moments later realized why. "Wait, scratch that. You'd just purposely throw the game, and that's no fun."

Spock did look, for a moment, as if he'd been caught. "You could have done likewise," he pointed out.

"That's a terrible way to play a game, though, with the goal of losing." He thought for a second. "So instead... winner gets to choose who sleeps where," he finished, moving another pawn out of his way

Spock gave him a curious look and did the same. "The choices are already made; we would each choose the other's comfort above our own."

"So it's settled," Jim summarized. "Winner takes the couch."

Jim looked up from the board to Spock, who had the strangest expression on his face. "The winner's prize would be mild inconvenience, which is no prize at all."

"And yet we'd both play to win, wouldn't we?" Jim told him with a grin.

"That is completely illogical," Spock stated.

Jim couldn't help it - he chuckled. "Yeah, it is. This is one of the dumbest things I've done since graduation."

Spock might have been amused too, though it was awfully hard to tell - mostly it was that he didn't look annoyed. "...An interesting exercise in self-sacrifice, I suppose."

"Something like that," Jim agreed, placing a rook now that the way was clear.

"And another of your 'reverse Kobayashi-Maru' scenarios, perhaps?" Spock asked. "I would say no. Although the loser does stand to gain, the winner stands to lose in a sense."

Jim thought about it for a second, and shook his head. "I'd say this one is a mixed bag either way." And it had been a while since dinner. "Hey, do you want something to eat? I could get us some popcorn again..."

It was bizarre how comfortable this was already, just him and Spock playing a game of chess for a ridiculous wager, over a bowl of popcorn, mostly in silence aside from the occasional crunching. Of course, it could be that it was just comfortable for him, Jim thought, because there was another Spock he felt so comfortable with. Not that he and the other Spock had actually gotten together in person, but that Spock was so obviously used to him, and so pleased to talk to him, Jim had come to feel completely at ease with him in no time. So he had that advantage. He hoped it felt comfortable for Spock, too.

Well, Spock was going to be comfortable in at least one way tonight, Jim thought, as the game ended in much the same way it had that morning. "And I seem to recall you saying that Vulcans don't go back on their word," he reminded Spock.

Spock was still staring down the board as if it might have rearranged the pieces all on its own. "Quite illogical..." he murmured, but he did look up to Jim with a nod. "Very well, but you will keep the comforter and pillow."

"Hey, I wasn't going to purposely try to make myself uncomfortable," Jim protested. Even though he had been wondering if Spock might want the comforter, because it was plenty warm for him.

"Good." Spock stood, looking down at him almost warily. "If you don't mind, I think I will take a shower, then sleep."

"Fine by me," Jim said. "Especially since you're taking the bedroom. Not that I'm planning on staying up much longer myself."

As Spock headed off to the shower, Jim put away the popcorn bowl, set up the chess board for another game (he was pretty sure that wasn't their last), made his bed up, grabbed his PADD out of the bedroom to check messages and news feeds... and listened to the sound of water splashing. He didn't really have so much to do at the moment, and by the time the water stopped, he was lying all wrapped up in the comforter with the PADD in hand, reading stories he had no interest in whatsoever - but he wasn't going to close his eyes just yet, since it was possible he might get another glimpse of Spock wearing a towel, and he didn't want to miss that.

Eventually the door opened, and this time, he was prepared enough that his stare wasn't obvious. Or so he hoped. Yes, that was still really hot - that on its own might have been enough to be worth taking Spock in for a few days. He didn't stay in the towel for long, though, and Jim tried not to turn his head to follow as Spock walked by to the laundry, retrieving the same old clothes he'd apparently deposited on the way to the shower. Not that anyone but a perfectionist Vulcan would wash their clothes after sleeping in them once, but it was kind of cute. ...Jim wondered if he could talk Spock into letting him buy him something more to sleep in than just the couple of options he apparently had. Or maybe he could buy himself some actual pajamas and give Spock his old tees and boxers, because Spock looked really good all dressed down. Of course, he liked to think he did too.

He wasn't expecting Spock to come back out after he'd gone to the bedroom to get dressed, but he did return, standing by the end of the couch, and Jim looked up curiously. "Am I to assume that your wager on the game tonight meant that you chose our sleeping arrangements for tonight specifically?" Spock asked him.

"...Yeah, I guess." As tempted as he was to say it was intended as a permanent arrangement, because the couch really wasn't bad at all. But it hadn't been what he meant.

"Then I propose that from here on, we alternate nights," Spock said. "I believe that would be fair. I still receive more than I am due, but you are not entirely left lacking."

"I don't think I'm lacking anyway," Jim told him, turning off the PADD, "but I guess that would be fair, sure. Just one problem."

"Yes?"

Jim grinned up at him. "I'll have to think of something else for us to bet on to make our chess games worthwhile."

"Will you...?" Spock cocked his head slightly, puzzled. "I find our games quite worthwhile in their own right."

Jim's grin softened. "I'm glad to hear it - so do I, actually. But I want you to stay motivated to try and beat me."

"There is no danger of my losing my motivation," said Spock. "Having been beaten through such irrational methods of play leaves me perplexed; I will not be at ease until I have formulated a strategy that can defeat it."

He said it so matter-of-factly that Jim had to chuckle. "We'll just see about that... I can be pretty irrational."

"So it would seem." Spock regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "I believe it is time to say good night."

A drop of water had dripped down from the hair over one ear onto his cheek, Jim saw, and was slowly seeping its way down his jawline... all rough and still unshaven. Jim told himself firmly that the sudden urge to lick it away was absolutely absurd. "Night, Spock."

"Good night."

Jim just lay there for a second after Spock had disappeared into the bedroom before he remembered he was going to turn off the lights. ...That drop of water, he suspected, was going to haunt his dreams.

Chapter Text

One clear advantage Jim found to sleeping on the couch was that it was much easier to start his morning routine. With Spock sleeping in the bedroom, behind a closed door, Jim didn't have to be nearly so careful about disturbing him - just headed out for the morning run, locked up behind him, and didn't bother trying to be especially quiet on his way back in.

He did, however, have to get some clean clothes out of the bedroom for after he showered. He'd have to remember to just leave some out the next time... And speaking of, maybe he could use this as a reason for him to take the couch all the time, if he got up earlier than Spock did. Not that Spock moved a muscle while Jim was in there - he seemed to be fast asleep, lying there on his back with his eyes closed through the quiet sounds of Jim carefully sliding the drawers open.

... And since Spock hadn't moved, Jim just set the clean clothes on the end of the couch and went to the terminal. It might be early morning in San Francisco, but other planets went by entirely different schedules.

As usual, the other Spock seemed glad to see him. In fact, he said as much, in his own half-Vulcan way, when he picked up. "I must admit that I am surprised to hear from you again so soon, old friend."

"Really?" Jim asked. "I thought it would be obvious I might call a little more often, what with a mystery to unravel that's about you. Sort of."

"That is fair," Spock agreed. "May I ask how I am doing?"

Jim found the habit of this Spock to refer to both of them as the same person quite odd, and somehow funny. And as for himself, he was willing to play along. "I think you're doing all right... Asleep, at the moment. I got you to take the bed last night while I took the couch."

Spock raised an eyebrow. "That is impressive. I remember having a certain resistance to generosity - largely because I often mistook it for pity."

Which was something Jim felt too, but it wasn't the main factor at the moment. Neither was generosity, actually. He couldn't quite explain what was driving him to do all this, except that it was... well, it was Spock.

"How did you manage it?" Spock inquired.

Jim grinned. "Bet on a game of chess."

"I see," Spock mused. His face brightened noticeably, which with a Vulcan was probably the equivalent of outright glee, Jim thought. Yeah, he'd thought Spock would like that. "Should I take that to mean that I am able to defeat you in this reality?" Spock continued.

"Nah, we made it a contest to see which of us was the most self-defeating."

"Ah, so you threw the game."

"...Not quite."

There might have been some question as to whether or not the younger Spock was as amused as Jim was by the idea of both of them bringing their best game in order to win the less comfortable spot, but there was no question about the older Spock. He actually almost chuckled when Jim explained. Jim couldn't help wondering how the Spock that was in the bedroom sleeping, the one who was all business, could wind up like this, so close to laughing.

Then again, from hearing this Spock's stories, he was how. And Bones, and Uhura, and Scotty, and everyone else on the Enterprise.

Finally, after some idle chatter, Jim got around to asking. "Actually, Spock, I was calling just to ask a quick question before you wake up. When do you usually get up? Or when did you get up, when you were this age?"

"When I was that age," Spock replied, "I woke up an hour, sometimes two, before my shift on the bridge, to give myself time to prepare for the day ahead."

"Okay... that's not going to help in this case," Jim said. "Left to your own devices, did you stay up late and get up late? Or go to bed early and get up early? Or some combination?"

Spock honestly looked stumped. "...I was never left to my own devices; I had been serving aboard a starship. I had duties. I did what was necessary, and slept when it was convenient to do so. Vulcans can, if necessary, go without-"

"Yeah, that's what he told me too," Jim broke in. "So you don't really know if you have sleeping habits?"

Spock shook his head slowly. "I have sleeping habits nowadays - but someone of my age tends to rest far more than he did when he was a century younger."

"Heh. I bet."

"In fact, thinking back," Spock remarked thoughtfully, "I slept very little during those years, and rarely felt a lack."

"Well, you're apparently feeling it now," Jim told him. "The other you has been sleeping through the night, until a while after I get up. And napping during the day."

"Then I must assume he requires it." Spock paused to consider. "I fully expect that he has exhausted himself, and is presently using the time to recover."

"He actually said something like that himself," Jim remembered.

"Then there is likely no need for concern," Spock concluded. "Once he has had sufficient time to recover, he will find a natural rhythm, whatever that rhythm may be."

"And let me guess, it probably won't involve sleeping as much as humans do," Jim muttered. "There goes my brilliant idea - I was going to make him take the bed every night so I wouldn't disturb him with my coming and going while he's still asleep."

"Vulcan hearing is quite sensitive," Spock pointed out. "Simply being in another room would not keep sounds from disturbing me."

"...Oh." Jim was beginning to realize there was an awful lot he didn't know about Vulcans - and here he'd thought after comparing notes with this Spock for a few years, he probably knew more than most. Since they'd only interacted through intentional transmissions over great distances, there were some things that just never came up, he supposed. But then, that made him chuckle a little. "Reminds me - yesterday I woke him up doing something really stupid..."

And perhaps he'd already forgotten about sensitive Vulcan hearing, not to mention his own lack of it, because when the other Spock - the young one - opened the bedroom door, Jim turned to find him already dressed. Just for a second, Jim froze, then remembered. There wasn't really a reason that Spock shouldn't know about, er, Spock.

Jim relaxed a little. "Good m-" he began, only to stop short when the younger Spock gave him a stern nod and started for the front closet, his backpack slung over one shoulder. As much as Jim wished he could think of another explanation, there was only one reason for that. "Hey, wait - are you leaving?"

"That is correct," Spock told him, setting the backpack down while he retrieved his jacket. "Although I appreciate your hospitality, I believe it would be best to move on."

"What?" Jim stood up, going to follow him. "Why?"

Spock shot something approaching a glare at the terminal, where his older self was watching, a vague look of concern on his face.

"What, because I'm talking to the other you?" Spock didn't dignify that with an answer, and just turned away, starting for the door. "Wha... why shouldn't I... I mean..." Jim floundered. It was hard to figure out what to say about that when all he really wanted to tell Spock was that he didn't want him to leave, and he wanted to say that very badly. "...Can't we talk about this? Uh, logically?"

"Are you using that word as it should be used?" Spock asked, and at least that got Spock to look at him. "Or are you using it in hopes of affecting me with an otherwise insubstantial argument?"

"No, I'm - look, I don't know why you're flipping out over this," Jim admitted, and quickly, because Spock's hand was on the button to unlock the door. Jim was at his side before he had the chance to press it - not standing between Spock and the door like he had before, just standing with him. "Can't you tell me-"

"Spock," a deeper, more serious voice spoke up suddenly.

Both Jim and the younger Spock turned to look at the terminal, where the older Spock was regarding his younger self seriously from the screen.

"I have told him nothing," said the older Spock firmly. "I have not broken your confidence. He and I have been friends for some time, and enjoy speaking to one another. That is all." His expression softened somewhat then. "After what happened on New Vulcan, are you still so unwilling to listen to your human half?"

Surprised and made curious by the reference, Jim turned to look at the younger Spock again. His expression was still dark, but he had frozen in place, seemingly thinking.

"I apologize for making things uncomfortable," said the older Spock. "For both of you. And as it is the two of you who must reach an agreement, I will speak to you later. Either, or both, at your request."

"...Yeah," Jim said after a second's thought. "It's okay, yeah, I'll talk to you later." If the younger one was okay with it. ...He wasn't sure what he'd do if he wasn't. He looked back to the younger Spock, waiting for some kind of response, but Spock said nothing, his expression unchanging as the terminal beeped, indicating the end of the transmission.

Still Spock said nothing, so finally Jim did. "...Maybe we can talk about this now?" he suggested.

Finally Spock shook his head. "I will consider it," he murmured, almost to himself. And although he headed back into the bedroom, closing the door behind him, Jim was just relieved he hadn't left.

Yet. Jim had been intending to take his shower once he finished talking to the older Spock, but now he didn't dare. It was like they were starting this all over again, he thought to himself as he sat there on the couch, just waiting for Spock to get done considering, or whatever he was doing. And he didn't even know why they were having to start all over. The two Spocks had spoken with each other, it wasn't like the existence of another Spock was a surprise or anything. In fact, the more Jim thought about it, the more he thought Spock's reaction made it look like he hated the older Spock. Or more to the point, like he thought the older Spock threatened him somehow. There had been that comment about not telling him anything... The older Spock knew something that the younger Spock didn't want him to know, obviously. So obviously, in fact, that Jim had already known it - hadn't they already discussed that when he called to ask what happened? But if that's all there was to it, he didn't think the younger Spock would have reacted so strongly.

It seemed like hours, but was probably more like half of one before the bedroom door opened again, and Jim's head immediately turned to see Spock standing there, still wearing the old jacket. His heart sank briefly, but then Spock spoke. "I have decided it would be more sensible for me to stay, assuming I am still welcome."

"You are," Jim said quickly. "...I don't even know what just happened, so as far as I'm concerned, there's no reason you wouldn't be."

Spock nodded, and started towards the door again, but he wasn't carrying the backpack, and only went as far as the closet, to hang up the jacket again. "Logical reasoning led me to the conclusion that he was telling the truth about not having broken my confidence."

Jim nodded, getting up to... not really follow Spock, but just be a little closer, so he wasn't calling across the room. "He really didn't," he said, and maybe he shouldn't be so forthright, but maybe that was exactly what he needed to gain Spock's confidence. "I called him right after I found you, actually, to ask if he knew what happened to you, why you left New Vulcan. He said it was your decision whether or not to tell me, and if you hadn't told me, neither would he."

Spock's eyebrow rose slightly. "Fascinating..."

"I don't even get why that's 'fascinating'," Jim admitted. "It seems like a pretty sensible decision to me, not to out other people's personal business. As frustrating as it is for those of us who want to know what the hell's going on."

"I was not certain he considered it 'other people's' personal business," Spock said under his breath. "Convinced as he is that we are one and the same."

"Actually, he doesn't seem convinced of that at all anymore," said Jim. "Whatever happened with you two, he seems to think he did something he shouldn't have."

"Then the two of us are in agreement about that, at the least."

Jim had seen disdainful Vulcans before, with a cool tone to their voice that conveyed just how highly they thought of whoever they were speaking to. Spock's tone, on the other hand, had a certain heat to it - an intimate disgust rather than the detached variety. Tempted as he was to ask if that was his human side talking, Jim decided not to push his luck. "So... since you're staying, maybe we should have breakfast."

"That would be appropriate, given the hour," Spock agreed, and Jim only breathed a sigh of relief when he'd started for the kitchen.

The silence was awkward, however, as they waited for the replicator to finish. This might have been due to the dozens of questions Jim wanted to ask. Just maybe. But he didn't want to stir things up all over again, and... oh, hell. "I know you're sick of me asking questions you don't want to answer," Jim said, "and I guess I don't really expect you to answer any of them at this point, but would you get really pissed off if I just asked?"

"Depending on the question, I might reconsider my decision," Spock replied, "but whatever my reaction might be, I assure you that I would not be 'pissed off'."

All right, then Jim had to figure out the least potentially dangerous way to phrase it. But there wasn't any better way to say it, so... "What just happened?" When Spock just looked at him curiously, he clarified. "You found me talking to the other you, and then decided to leave, but then you holed yourself up in the bedroom for awhile and decided not to leave after all."

"Yes."

That wasn't exactly what he'd been trying to ask. "So what happened? Why did you try to leave just because I was talking to the other you?" Except that Jim thought he knew - he just didn't understand it. "You don't like him, do you?"

Spock hesitated. "...Would you answer one question for me, before I answer yours?"

"Well... sure," Jim agreed, though he was puzzled. He wasn't the one with all the secrets.

A small nod of affirmation. "Why do you insist upon doing this for me?" Spock inquired. "What is your motivation for giving me food and shelter, and suggesting that I accompany you on your personal travels?"

Jim frowned vaguely. "Honestly? I can't quite figure that one out myself. I just want to." There were various reasons, but none of them was a single, solid explanation.

"Is it because of the information he has given you about his reality, and the two of us as we existed there?"

Spock's eyes on him were intense, as if he was waiting to pounce. Suddenly Jim realized what must have been bothering him, though he wasn't sure why.

"No," he said, shaking his head emphatically. "That's not it at..." That wasn't quite the truth, Jim had to admit. "Okay, it factors in some," he conceded. "I like the idea of us being friends like he was with the other me. But it's only one factor among many, because I know things are different here - your life has been different, my life has been different. He and I are already friends, so it's not as if I need an exact duplicate of him. Meanwhile, there are all these other reasons I want to help you out. For instance, I don't like to see anyone else going through hard times. And then there's the fact that you saved my life, and my planet."

"You were responsible as much as I; in fact, more so, since it was your plan that ensured the Earth's safety."

"Maybe, but you were the one who stole that ship," Jim pointed out. "And the one who shot down that drill. I owe you for that."

"You owe me nothing; it was my duty."

"I didn't mean literally," Jim explained. "I mean I appreciate it, and I definitely don't think someone who saved the planet should be stuck living on the streets. And there's more than that, too," he continued. "Especially since I brought you here. I appreciate the fact that you keep your word. You play a good game of chess. You're an intelligent guy, and have interesting things to say. I'm having a lot more fun here than I would be having if I was in this housing alone for the weekend - and if it could go on a little longer, I'd be happy to keep sleeping on the couch." Jim omitted the part about Spock looking really good wet for the time being. "Plus, you've given me a mystery to solve, and why do you think I'm out there exploring the universe? I like solving mysteries." Spock didn't look convinced, so he said it again, more directly. "It's not about him. It's about you." Jim fixed him with a firm look. "Do you want me to go on giving you reasons why I'd like you to stick around? Because I can, if you really want me to - I've got plenty."

Spock was silent for a few seconds longer, then looked down. "I believe that is sufficient," he said, opening the replicator to retrieve his breakfast. ...Right, they'd been making breakfast - the replicator had finished, and Jim hadn't even noticed. He grabbed his own after Spock was out of the way, settling across the table from him, and took a few bites while waiting.

Finally Spock answered his question... kind of. "My counterpart seems to have very strong ideas about how things will be, based on occurrences in his own version of our timeline. He has gone so far as to invoke such concepts as 'destiny'."

"Yeah?" Jim was aware of that - that's how he'd gotten back on the Enterprise, wasn't it?

Spock raised an eyebrow at Jim, as if the conclusion should have been obvious. "I do not believe in destiny, and I never have. I find his insistence that I follow in his footsteps - the idea, in fact, that I should follow in anyone's footsteps rather than choosing my own path - intrusive and unpleasant."

Jim considered this for a moment, over a mouthful of bacon. "...I guess I can understand that." He might have felt the same way, if the destiny that he'd been told about hadn't been so awesome.

"So I must ask," Spock continued, regarding him seriously, "as the two of you have been communicating: do you share his views on predestination?"

Slowly, Jim shook his head. "I don't think even he believes in predestination the way you seem to think he does. Maybe he did before you left New Vulcan, I don't know - but he doesn't now. He told me, when I called him up to let him know I found you, that every sentient being deserves to make their own choices."

"Yet you seem content to follow the path he has prescribed for you," Spock observed. "At his urging, you returned to the Enterprise, and through a series of unorthodox actions, attained command of the very ship he claims you were destined to command."

Jim gave him a slightly exasperated look. "Spock, I haven't done anything I've done because he told me to do it. Beaming back aboard the Enterprise, taking command, becoming the captain for real... he might have suggested it, but I did it because I wanted to. And he and I aren't friends just because he said we were - maybe it started out that way, but you can't maintain a friendship just because you're supposed to be friends. You have to genuinely like each other."

"And it doesn't bother you that things have unfolded precisely as he would have had it?" asked Spock.

Jim shook his head and shot him a smirk. "I'll start worrying when things start happening that I don't like enough to put in the effort for. Because my so-called destiny didn't just happen while I was sitting on my ass - I worked for it."

Spock nodded slightly, but said nothing. After a little more thought, something extremely unpleasant occurred to Jim, and he couldn't help but ask. "...You didn't leave the New Vulcan colony just to try to get away from some destiny he told you about, did you?"

"On the contrary, he told me from the start that a greater destiny lay elsewhere," Spock replied. He stared down into his food absently. "I would rather not speak of this any further. We have established that I do not care for my older counterpart because of his views, and that you do not profess to share them. Does this not clarify the earlier misunderstanding between us?"

"Yeah, but I still think you've got it wrong about him." Jim didn't feel like arguing any further though - not this early, not when he'd already been worried once this morning that Spock was going to run off and disappear without a trace again. "Anyway, just to be sure - have I put your mind at ease yet? No vanishing act?"

"I will hold to my word; I will not leave without informing you," Spock confirmed.

"Good. Thanks." Though there were a million other things that Jim could have said, that he wanted to say, he thought it better to just eat, and not press his luck. He'd already averted one catastrophe today. ...There were a lot of things he could have said about why it was a catastrophe, too, but he'd already tried to analyze that once. That was enough.

He was relieved when Spock spoke again. "Do you have plans for the day?"

"Nothing really specific," Jim replied. "But I did have something in mind, if you were up for doing something other than sitting around the suite all day."

"Oh?"

Jim let himself grin again. He just hoped it didn't cause any further little disasters.


Jim had never seen much appeal in shopping for clothes. Left to his own devices, he was inclined to grab a couple t-shirts - he knew what size he wore - slip on a pair of jeans and pick up a couple more of whatever fit, maybe shrug on a jacket over what he was already wearing to make sure it was wide enough in the shoulders. That's how it had been since grade school. Then he became a starship captain, and most of the stuff he wore wasn't purchased, but issued. It was a relief, actually, even if it meant he had to buy some slightly nicer things for when he was off-duty but still around Starfleet personnel. He didn't wear the nicer things much anyway, so they'd keep.

It was more fun, he discovered, shopping for clothes for someone else. Especially when that someone else was attractive.

"I would consider this impractical," Spock remarked, tugging at the shirt he was wearing as he stepped out of the dressing room. "It is unnaturally tight."

"It's supposed to be snug," Jim informed him, rather enjoying the view as Spock eyed his reflection in the mirror. "Form-fitting. You know."

"The uniforms at the Academy were snug and form-fitting," Spock replied, still tugging at the hem. "I would consider this constrictive and overly revealing."

"I don't know about the first point, but the second? Again, that's how it's supposed to be."

"Then I fail to see how this is appropriate attire for one who is accompanying a starship captain."

Damn - he had a point. Kind of. "I think it would look good with a jacket over it," Jim suggested.

"It is uncomfortable already."

"Those uniforms buttoned all the way up the neck, and you think this is uncomfortable?"

"The uniforms were not uncomfortable if one retained proper posture. This, on the other hand, is not so well-tailored for humanoid anatomy, and seems to promote slouching."

"All right, fine," Jim sighed. He could dream, couldn't he? "How about the button-down?"

"More appropriate, and I believe it would interfere less with movement."

"Let's give that a try, then," Jim agreed, watching as Spock disappeared back into the dressing room.

He was still a little anxious, after the scene that morning. Somehow he'd forgotten that even if it felt like this was the way things should be - 'destiny' be damned, it just did - there were no guarantees, and Spock didn't seem to feel the same way. Or feel at all, for that matter, but Jim knew better. Come to think of it, no wonder Spock hadn't been too thrilled to find him talking to the other Spock. He could potentially have learned all kinds of things that Spock didn't want him to know, even if so far he hadn't. At least he didn't think so.

If he could make captain after three years at the Academy, Jim told himself, he could get to Spock. Maybe the whole captain thing had been fate, like the other Spock had thought, but their friendship was supposed to be the same way. He wouldn't mind the help, but if he had to do this all on his own, he would.

When Spock emerged again, he gave Jim a questioning look. Jim considered. "Not bad, but you wear it a little too... neatly. Too tucked-in, too buttoned-up."

"The buttons would not be there if they were not meant to be fastened," Spock pointed out. "And as for tucking the shirt in, it would look absurd to have one's shirttails hanging out."

Actually, Jim thought it would look pretty sexy. "Yeah, I know, but right now the shirt looks a little more put-together than the rest of you," he said, stepping forward to tug at the shirt a little, making it looser around the waist. "Maybe it would look more natural if you shaved-"

"I had considered it," Spock said, looking vaguely wary as Jim's hands tugged on his clothing, "but we are still close to the campus, and there are many who might recognize me - and please refrain from touching me," he added more emphatically, taking Jim's wrists and removing his hands from his collar when Jim tried to unbutton the top button.

"Right, sorry," Jim said automatically as he stepped back - not actually sorry at all, seeing as he'd been careful not to touch Spock's skin. The other Spock had told him about the touch-telepathy thing, and Jim didn't particularly want Spock sensing him thinking about how hot Spock looked in decent clothing. "So what do you think, does this work for you?"

"It is acceptable."

"Great." Jim nodded affirmatively. "We can get you a few of these, a couple different colors maybe, for when you've got to be dressed up, then-"

"It seems that I must remind you," Spock interjected mildly, "that I will need to carry anything which I am to own. If you purchase too many items for me, they will not fit within the backpack I have been traveling with, and will have to be discarded. Furthermore, items which require special maintenance, such as removing wrinkles, may prove difficult, given my lack of resources."

It was a depressing reminder of the current reality of their situation. Jim's face fell slightly, and he made himself close his mouth, not tell Spock there was room in his luggage. He couldn't even offer to buy Spock something that would hold more than that backpack - Spock would still have to carry whatever he owned. He nodded, reluctantly. "All right, but you need at least one nice shirt, and a jacket and pants to go with it. Something professional, something that fits you. It'll make you look good when you're looking for work, too."

"That seems logical," Spock conceded.

"All right, then let's see..."

Jim didn't know a thing about fashion, he couldn't have explained (and hardly could even figure out) the difference between one jacket and the next, aside from color - but he knew when the clothes Spock tried on looked good. And they did. Any ideas he'd had when they met about what Spock looked like were falling by the wayside, because... he didn't look like an entirely different person than the instructor who'd stood up in the assembly all dressed in black, or the officer on the bridge with the science division badge pinned to his shirt, but seeing that same straight-laced guy unshaven and shaggy-haired, wearing business casual, he looked... Jim couldn't quite pin it down. He looked respectable, but definitely not like an officer or instructor. Or anyone with a reputation for being stuffy and uptight.

The tone of his voice ruined that illusion, though. "I may assume this is acceptable?"

Jim nodded. "So that's settled. Now," he said, turning to look over the rest of the men's department, "we should get you some stuff that's lower-maintenance, like you said."

"I have enough casual attire to get by," Spock began.

Jim shook his head, heading out of the racks of suits and ties towards sportswear. "I've seen some of that stuff you've been wearing around the suite. It's practically rags. Might as well restock, it's not as if t-shirts and jeans are expensive."

"Was not the point of this excursion to acquire quality clothing, so that no aspersions would be cast upon your choice of traveling companion?" Spock reminded him, catching up and falling into step at his shoulder.

"Yeah, but since we're here..."

"It is not necessary," Spock argued.

Jim stopped short to give Spock a little smile and a little shrug, as he also came to a quick halt to avoid bumping into Jim. "No, not really. Look, I know you're not so good with accepting handouts, and I can't blame you. However," Jim said cheerfully, "it's like this: Either I buy you some new clothes today - or I'll just buy myself some new clothes, and give you my old ones because I've kind of got limited space for the time being too." As nice as the idea of Spock wearing his clothes was... "Wouldn't you rather have something more to your own taste?"

Spock said nothing, but he was close enough that Jim could see his eyes narrow, whether in annoyance or thoughtfulness Jim couldn't be sure. That was good enough for Jim, and he turned away again. "So, anything in particular you'd like to have?"

He was actually somewhat surprised when Spock answered. "Long sleeves are preferable."

Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Makes sense," he agreed, and glanced around. From the looks of things, it wasn't exactly the right season for long sleeves, but a good store probably kept the basics on hand year-round...

Although Jim hadn't been sure he approved of the long-sleeved idea, and he'd definitely been a little disappointed when Spock seemed to gravitate towards high collars - why cover up a good thing? - he had to admit that Spock looked right in a mock-turtleneck when they found a shelf of those. Probably because the Academy uniforms had high collars, and Starfleet uniforms looked similar. Spock looked like the Spock he'd known before, just a little softer around the edges. And in casual but less ragged clothing than he'd been wearing, with the neutral shades he was picking out, Jim could actually see some resemblance between this Spock, and the older one he'd spoken more regularly with.

Still, Spock was picking out neutral shades, and for some reason Jim felt like speaking up as Spock eyed the brown and the grey to go with the black he'd already chosen. "Why not blue?" he suggested from the other side of the display. "For some reason, I think you'd look good in blue."

The sharp look Spock gave Jim over the display jarred him into recognizing why he thought that. ...Well, Jim thought defensively, he had looked good in blue. He found himself disappointed when Spock chose the grey.

A few other items - a couple shirts to layer over those mock-turtles, socks (and if Spock claimed not to need them, Jim could make use of them) - "Hey, do you need underwear?" Jim asked, noticing another display as they headed for the counter. "Are you a boxers guy or a briefs guy?"

Spock looked at him blankly. "I believe what I already have will suffice."

Briefs Jim thought to himself. Definitely briefs.

At the checkout, there was another minor snag in the plan - Jim hadn't bothered actually looking at the price tags for some of the stuff, and Spock clearly had not expected the total to be so high, judging from the rise of his eyebrow. "It's fine," Jim told him, before he could protest. "I've got it covered."

"I will return the less necessary items to the shelf," Spock stated, and began to go through the pile on the counter.

"No he won't," Jim told the cashier. "Ignore him."

"It is entirely too much for you to be spending on my behalf," Spock argued, lowering his voice so that it was audible mostly to Jim right beside him. "I refuse to allow you to spend such an amount on things which are unnecessary."

"All right, in that case..." Jim already had his stick out, and Spock blinked in surprise as a soft beep came from within his own pocket. "You can pay for it yourself," Jim told him with a grin, slapping him on the back lightly. The cashier looked as if she thought they were both insane, as Spock gave Jim a long-suffering look, but did indeed slip his own stick from his pocket.

Spock seemed to be avoiding his eyes on the ride home, half-listening to Jim's attempts at small talk and barely responding. Self-conscious, Jim supposed, and didn't think too much of it. He didn't have any reason to be self-conscious as far as Jim was concerned.

Finally, however, Spock spoke up after they had disembarked from the local shuttle. "I apologize for my uncooperative behavior," he said quietly, almost a murmur, as they began the walk back to the campus housing.

Jim gave him a funny look. "Uncooperative?"

"I was argumentative and stubborn," Spock stated. "It was a poor repayment for your generosity."

"...Not really," Jim said, after thinking about it for a second. He'd expected Spock to resist a little. "I mean, I understand. It took me a while to learn that I could depend on other people - and even though I know now I've got people I can absolutely depend on, I don't want to do it too much. They deserve better... and I wouldn't want to take advantage of them either." He gave Spock a smile. "But you're not taking advantage of me if I'm the one suggesting things."

Spock hesitated for a moment before speaking again. "I mean no offense, Kirk, but I am not one of those people upon whom you can depend absolutely."

"...Maybe not," Jim acknowledged. Not yet, anyway. The other Spock, sure, but this one was still up in the air. "But that's not the point. The point is, I'm one of those people you can depend on. Even if you can't accept it."

"If one is not willing to accept something," Spock pointed out, "the logical conclusion is that it is unwelcome."

Jim shook his head. "You weren't willing to accept all this stuff until I pressured it on you," he said, hefting the bag he carried in one hand. "But I think you'll find it comes in handy. Maybe someday you'll feel the same way about me," he added with a smirk.

He expected some kind of vaguely sarcastic reply, and when Spock said nothing, he glanced over to see Spock looking straight ahead, presumably lost in thought. Jim's smirk softened to a smile. Maybe someday soon.

Spock waited until they were back in the suite, stripping the tags from their purchases, before he said anything more. "I am aware that I have asked before," he began, "and although I do not anticipate you will have changed your answer, etiquette dictates that I must ask again; is there anything I may do to repay you for your assistance?"

"You keep asking me that," Jim replied, shooting a pleased little smile in Spock's direction, "and I might come up with something crazy for you to do, just because you're so persistent."

"That would be preferable," Spock told him. "It leaves me uncomfortable to accept your help and give nothing in return."

Jim scratched his head idly, thinking. "...Spock, trust me - you give me open-ended offers, and I might take advantage of them."

"Did you not say earlier," Spock returned, "that when someone is offering, it is not taking advantage?"

"Yeah, but you don't know the kinds of things that I can think up without even trying," Jim told him with a grin. It wasn't hard at all to come up with a couple things he wouldn't mind seeing Spock do, but they were more in the vein of a stupid Academy-days dare or hazing than something that could be useful. Not that he could think of anything useful that he needed. But then, since useful was right out... "Spend a night out with me tonight?" he suggested. "Just hanging out, having a couple drinks... well, me, anyway, I know you're not into that. And you did seem kind of interested in learning how to shoot pool."

"Ah, yes - you had mentioned geometry," Spock recalled. "However, what interests me is of no consequence. If you would find it beneficial in some way for me to accompany you and learn how to play a game tonight, I would gladly do so." He paused. "Although I do not see what benefit this would offer."

Jim rolled his eyes in exaggerated fashion. "Good company, and probably a pretty awesome opponent once you get the hang of it?"

"I am not so certain about the estimation you have of my company," Spock replied, "but I will concede that a game is more satisfying when one has a skilled opponent."

"Yeah, and branching out from just chess might be fun." Jim glanced at the display on the wall; they hadn't been out shopping for that long, and it was only mid-afternoon. "But I guess if I'm going to be out tonight, I should really figure out what I'm going to say during my speech now."

"Of course, your speech. When are you to give your speech?" Spock inquired.

"Uh, tomorrow morning," said Jim, slightly sheepish. And growing more so as Spock tilted his head questioningly. "Don't look at me like that - I'm still not even sure I should try to write a speech. You should have figured out by now that I do my best work when I'm improvising. Just look at our chess matches," he said, with a gesture in the direction of the kitchen.

"Even so, it seems unwise to stand in front of the assembly entirely unprepared."

"Yeah, I've got a few ideas I've been turning over in my head," Jim assured him. "I just haven't written them down yet, to make sure I get to those points, and come up with a way to get from one to the next. Smooth transitions, that sort of thing..."

Spock seemed dubious. "Perhaps this is something I could offer assistance with?" he suggested. "Not to be immodest, but throughout my education, my writing skills were considered exemplary."

"That's exactly why you probably shouldn't help," Jim admitted. "You have a great vocabulary, yes, and your grammar's excellent - I bet you could write a really incredible speech. But can you imagine the kind of speech you'd write, coming out of my mouth?"

"...Point taken."

"I was asked to give a speech," Jim explained, "and if I'm going to give a speech... I want to give that speech, if you know what I mean."

"I do," Spock agreed with a nod. "If you do need assistance in some area, however, I would be willing."

"Yeah, I know you would." Jim shot him another smile. "I appreciate it. And I might take you up on it. ...Later, after I've had some lunch," he finished, getting up and heading for the kitchen. "I just realized, I'm starved."

Spock rose to follow, looking thoughtful. "Although it is indeed past lunchtime, would this be a method of procrastination?"

"Once an instructor, always an instructor," Jim muttered good-naturedly, looking over the replicator's listings.

Chapter Text

Jim honestly wasn't going to agonize over that speech he had to give. It didn't have to be long - the graduates would probably appreciate it if it wasn't - and he was fully confident in his ability to pull something coherent out of his ass, if not outright inspiring. But there were a couple things he wanted to touch on (besides the need for good booze), and he wanted to make sure his thoughts were ordered.

So to that end, after lunch he sprawled out on the couch with a PADD, poking his ideas into place, while Spock was at the desk reading scientific journals or something equally nerdy on the terminal. They didn't converse, or even really look in each other's direction; they just did their own thing independently. Jim hadn't spent a significant amount of time sharing space with anyone since the Academy days, so it was a change from what he'd been used to recently. Not a bad one, he decided. Actually, having the captain's quarters all to himself, being alone there every night, had been a little depressing, and he'd made an effort to avoid it when possible. But even with that in mind, it was surprising and rather nice to find out how well he and Spock could manage in close quarters. Sure, they'd been doing it for a couple days, but for most of that time one or both of them had been asleep or gone, or they were doing something together. There was something to be said for just coexisting.

Once he thought he had it together, he dared to disturb the companionable silence as he clicked the PADD off, declaring himself to be "about done". Spock seemed unsure of this, but said that he was only reading to pass the time, doing nothing of importance...

And therefore, an hour later found the two of them in one of Jim's favorite bars from some years back, just barely off-campus. Still looked pretty much the same as ever, even if pretty much all the faces had changed, between former cadets graduating and former employees finishing their education in subjects other than pouring drinks. Some of the cadets recognized Jim anyway, even out of uniform; he was met with a handful of salutes as he walked in, and he just grinned and told them to relax - he was just there to cool off. Which was going to be pretty easy, because the beer was still cold, the atmosphere was still laidback, the pool tables were still level. Looked like they'd gotten a new set of cues, but Jim was hardly going to complain about that.

"So the whole point," he was explaining to Spock, gesturing with the hand that wasn't holding the bottle, "is just to make the balls go in the hole. Except this one here. This is the cue ball - what you do," he said, picking it up and placing it near the edge of the table, "is use this ball to move the other balls. Like, say, you want the five-ball to go in the side pocket." He picked that up as well and placed it for an easy shot, setting the beer aside to take up one of the cues and bend over the table. "You just line up the two balls like this, and..."

Spock looked unimpressed when the five-ball did in fact go into the pocket it had been placed beside. "If I may say so," he remarked, "the game does not appear to be very challenging. Perhaps it is simply that my Vulcan mind is more suited for simple matters of geometry..."

Jim laughed and shook his head. "Nah, it's not always that easy - that was just an example. Thing is, you can't pick up the balls and move them around, you have to shoot however the table's laid out. So now the cue ball's over there, see?" he said with a gesture, heading around to the other side of the table. "And now, the six-ball's not in a direct line with the cue ball and any pocket, so you have to take another approach if you want to pocket that one..." It was actually a pretty easy shot too, just a bank off the side rail, and the six-ball fell easily. "You see?"

Spock nodded. "I believe so. ...However, it still does not seem particularly challenging."

"That's because I've only shown you basic shots," Jim told him, reaching for his beer again with a grin. "When you're really good, you can do things like send two balls into different pockets with a single shot. Put a spin on the ball, even make it hop over a ball that's in your way."

Spock cocked his head thoughtfully. "Why don't I start a game from the top," Jim suggested, "and then you can see what I mean?"

"That would be acceptable," Spock agreed, and reached for a cue of his own as Jim started to gather the balls for the rack.

A few of the cadets who had recognized him were still watching curiously as Jim demonstrated the break shot, explained the basic idea behind eight-ball, and chose stripes. The first couple shots were easy, but then he missed one, and eased back, shaking his head. "Think you've got it? Your turn, if you want it - or I can keep the demonstration going a little longer."

"No, I believe I understand," Spock replied, rounding the corner of the table. "I am to make the solidly-colored balls fall in the pockets, by causing a chain reaction originating from the white ball. And I assume I am to avoid causing the striped balls to fall."

"Yup, you've got it," Jim told him, watching as Spock placed his hand on the table to steady the cue, and shifted it a few times. "Like this," Jim said, leaning over beside him to demonstrate. "Fingers here, stick here..."

Spock's first shot was... not inaccurate, exactly, but the force behind it caused a loud bang as the balls smacked into the rail, and one ball leapt off the table entirely. Jim tried not to laugh as he retrieved it. "Yeah, it takes a little while to figure out exactly how hard you have to hit the thing. For some shots, you'll need a gentle touch, for others you'll have to be a little firmer."

"So I see," Spock muttered, moving around the table to try another shot, once Jim had replaced the ball. "I will keep this in mind."

The next couple of shots were still disastrous - particularly the one that managed to ride up over the corner of the table to knock over Jim's beer bottle, which was fortunately almost empty anyway. Vulcan strength, Jim suspected, going to replace it among the chuckles from those observing. He hadn't had much occasion to see Vulcan strength in person. By the time he got back, however, Spock seemed to have figured out how to rein himself in, and made an absolutely perfect bank shot. "Nice," Jim said, nodding in approval. "I figured you'd be able to do this."

"It was a simple shot," Spock replied, already setting up another and bending over the table. "The only difficulty thus far has involved gauging the necessary force."

His next shot fell also. "Well, you seem to be getting the hang of it..." Jim remarked as Spock moved again. His next shot sank two balls into the same pocket. "...Yeah, definitely getting the hang of it."

Jim watched with a growing feeling of horrified fascination - what had he unleashed on the world? - as Spock shot, paused to think, lined up another shot, and shot again, systematically clearing the table. "An interesting application of the principles of geometry and physics," Spock remarked, straightening to speak to Jim as the last ball fell, and the watching cadets applauded and whistled. "I am beginning to see the appeal."

"...Good." Though suddenly he was not so sure about this idea, Jim took another drink from the bottle and reached for the rack. "You want to do the break shot this time?"

"Is the objective only to scatter the balls at random?" Spock asked, going to the end of the table with a nod. "Or shall I also attempt to put the balls in the pockets while doing so?"

Jim didn't even know what to say. "Uh, it's to scatter the balls and maybe pocket one, but you don't have to."

"The probability of being able to put them all in the pockets is essentially nil," Spock replied, leaning forward as Jim took the rack away. His eyes narrowed in concentration, darting back and forth across the table. "But I may be able to succeed with a few."

Three balls fell on the break shot. Jim cringed as Spock straightened, ignoring the cheers from their small audience. "And now it is your turn?"

"Actually, you can keep going," Jim told him, sitting back and taking a longer drink.

The audience around them grew, bit by bit, as Spock once again essentially demolished the table. "I am confused, regarding the rules of this game," he addressed Jim. "When is it your turn?"

"Probably never," Jim muttered, reaching for the rack again.

But it was fun, he had to admit, watching Spock make every shot. Well, almost every shot - every now and then there was a misjudgment of force, more often now too little rather than too much, and his shots fell just short. And sure, he'd step in and make a couple shots himself at first, but Spock still won every game. Pretty soon, some of the cadets were setting up trick shots for him to attempt, and Jim had something to do very briefly as he explained how to make the ball hop. Spock had figured out putting a spin on it all on his own. There wasn't much else for Jim to do but just sit back and watch the show - and quite a show it was, because Spock usually did make the trick shots, much to the amusement of his audience. He never seemed to acknowledge them with more than a brief nod, he didn't seem pleased by the admiration - he simply went about his business.

Jim found this... well, fascinating.

The show was interrupted an hour or so in, by the arrival of another ranking officer; with half the bar watching Spock, at first it was only a handful of cadets that straightened to salute, but the others saw and caught on almost immediately. When Jim spotted who they were saluting, he straightened as well for his own salute.

"At ease," Admiral Pike told them with amusement, wheeling himself towards the crowd, looking up at Jim as he emerged from it. "Fancy seeing you here on a Friday night, Kirk."

"Like old times, isn't it, sir?" Jim agreed, settling down at one of the tables to be a little more on Pike's level as he approached. "What are you even doing here, if it's not to check up on me?"

"You think there haven't been any other cadets since you that needed checking up on?" Pike said wryly. "You weren't the first, and you definitely weren't the last. You did, however, convince me it was worth it."

Jim smiled slightly. "Thanks. Everybody seems to be on their best behavior tonight," he remarked, "but maybe that's because I'm here, right? A couple of them recognized me on the way in, and I bet the whole bar knows by now."

"As long as they're not doing anything crazy, I don't care so much why," Pike stated, glancing towards the crowd around the pool table. "So what's going on over there?"

Jim remembered, just before he spoke, that Spock was, officially, not here. "...Just a game of pool."

There was a cheer, and Pike smirked. "Sounds like some game."

"You could say that," Jim agreed, trying to think of how to turn the subject to something else.

"Should I let you get back to it?" Pike asked. "You weren't bad, as I recall. Your opponent seems to be pretty good, though, going by the reaction he's getting."

"...We're not exactly playing anymore," Jim admitted. He'd just never actually put the cue down. "He's doing trick shots."

Bad idea, Jim told himself immediately. Now Pike looked curious. "Oh, really...?" Before Jim could think of an excuse for him not to look, Pike was heading towards the pool table, the gathered cadets parting to let him through. Jim followed, feeling like an idiot.

He was able to spot the exact second where Pike recognized who it was at the table, the instant where curiosity turned to surprise. Pike's eyebrows lifted, his eyes widened. And rather than just being pleased to see him, Pike looked stunned, almost worried for a moment before a wondering little smile appeared on his lips. Jim wondered what he knew.

Someone had stacked some glasses into two towers in the middle of the table - Jim wondered if the bartenders realized what was going on, then realized that a couple of them were standing there watching too - and Spock appeared to be attempting to shoot two balls between the towers into the furthest corner pockets. A sharp crack, and then the balls sank, never touching the glassware.

Pike waited until Spock had stood up again and the noise had died down before raising his voice to address him, almost incredulous. "Spock...?"

Spock's expression was unreadable as he straightened further, settling the cue at his side. "...Admiral."

"I didn't know you were still in the area," Pike said, with a cautious smile. "Or is this just a visit?"

"Merely a visit, sir," Spock replied. For a moment, his eyes went to Jim, and it looked like he might say more, but he did not elaborate.

"...Well, it's good to see you again," Pike said with a nod. "You and Kirk both. I've already caught up with Kirk, though - want to have a seat? It's been a long time since we spoke."

Spock now looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I dunno, Admiral," Jim spoke up, feigning cheerfulness. "He seems pretty busy entertaining the cadets." If Spock didn't want to talk to Pike, and it seemed obvious that he didn't, Jim was willing to give him a hand. Not that there was any reason for Spock not to talk to Pike, as far as Jim knew - Pike was one of the most understanding guys Jim had ever known, and definitely the least obnoxious authority figure. And Spock had been his first officer, they must have known each other for longer than just that one mission to trust each other as they had...

Pike was shrewd, however, in addition to being understanding. "...You're pretty handy with a cue yourself, Kirk," Pike pointed out, giving him a slightly cocky smirk that was just a little too tight in the corners of his mouth. It was quite clear that he really did want to talk to Spock, whether or not either Spock or Jim approved. "Why don't you entertain them for a while, while Spock and I have a chat?"

"Hey, I'm not that good," Jim protested, but Pike was already wheeling himself back, heading for Spock. Spock's expression was entirely neutral as he obediently stepped away from the table, handing the cue to the nearest cadet. Jim sighed as the kid's eyes brightened. "All right - but let's get rid of that first, okay?" Jim told the cadets, waving in the direction of the towers. "Nobody wants to clean that up the hard way, and I'm really not that good."

He'd agreed to just a normal game with the cadet who happened to be holding the stick - next in line played the winner - by the time the glasses were put away and he could rack it up properly. He stole glances now and then at the table at the far side of the room, where Spock and Pike were talking quietly, and considered throwing the game just so he could join them. Nah, he was too competitive to throw a game without a really good reason, and he suspected that if he approached, they'd stop talking - because well before the game was over, Pike had gone from looking friendly to dead serious. Spock, of course, was completely unreadable. No sense throwing the game - he beat the cadet without much difficulty, and stole a couple more glances while the next cadet in line was racking it up.

Pike's expression had gone from serious to urgent before long, and he was gesturing emphatically with his hands, but Spock remained blank, simply shaking his head. Jim suspected he knew what the discussion might be about, and he wasn't sure whether to feel frustrated that Pike wasn't getting through, annoyed that Pike was bothering Spock, or kind of glad that someone else was having this conversation in his place, and not getting any better results.

He was moderately surprised when Spock spoke up behind him all of a sudden while he was lining up a shot. "Kirk. Although the evening's activities have been interesting, I would-"

"Don't bother," Pike broke in, not far behind. "I was just making the rounds, making sure everything's in order - I'll be on my way in a moment. But Captain, could I borrow you for a moment?"

Beside him, Spock seemed tense. But Pike outranked either of them, and he was a friend besides, and... "...Sure," Jim agreed, giving Spock an apologetic smile and handing him the cue. "Want to take over for me here, Spock?"

The groans and cheers celebrating Spock's shot (and the inevitable defeat of the cadet who had challenged Jim) faded as Jim stepped outside, following Pike's chair. It was kind of odd seeing him actually using it - for years he'd seen Pike only stationary in front of a viewscreen, passing along information or taking reports, and Jim had almost forgotten. "All set for tomorrow?" Pike asked.

That wasn't what Jim had been expecting, and he nodded. "The speech, you mean? Yeah, I think I'm all right. Not like they're wanting a thesis from me."

"No," Pike agreed, "I'm sure they'll appreciate it being a little shorter. I'll be interested to hear it - I know all too well how much you've learned since you went out into active duty, and I'm curious about what you think are the most important parts of that knowledge."

Jim grinned, scratching his chin self-consciously. "Sounds like you already know me well enough."

"Maybe..." Pike looked up at him, his expression mock-stern. "I don't have to worry about any funny business, do I?"

"What, me?" Jim gave him wide-eyed mock innocence in return before sobering. "No, sir - I'll behave. I've been good since they made me captain, haven't I?"

"Most of the time." Pike smirked, just looking up at him in the moonlight. "I'm glad to see I was right about you."

"I'm glad too," Jim said honestly, "because myself? I thought you were way off."

Pike shook his head. "...Jim? Can I ask you something?"

"Of course."

"Unofficially," Pike added, "so if you feel it's a betrayal of personal confidence-"

"Let me guess, it's about Spock." What Jim did know probably was a betrayal of personal confidence, and anything else... "Actually, I'd hoped you might be able to fill me in... But I guess even if you do know what's going on, it would be a betrayal of personal confidence for you, right?"

Pike nodded, resigned. "Something like that. In that case, can I just ask you to take care of him, as long as he'll let you? I may not understand what he's going through, but I know you and he managed to find a sort of mutual trust back then, as fellow officers - and anything a person can go through, it's better that they don't do it alone. I'd had an eye on him since he was an undergrad, and I bet if he'd stayed with Starfleet a little longer, he could have learned to make those kinds of healthy connections with others. But he left, and I think it was too soon."

"I agree completely," said Jim. "Don't worry, I've already forced him to let me help more than he wanted. And he's still talking to me, so I apparently haven't messed it up too badly."

"Talking to you, and shooting pool in a bar." Pike snorted in amusement, shaking his head. "Be his friend, but don't completely corrupt him by the time you're done, all right?"

"I'm pretty sure he's incorruptible," Jim replied. "Unfortunately."

Pike nodded. "That's why I wouldn't mind seeing him back."

Jim nodded too, slow and thoughtful. "You and me both."

They remained in silence for a moment, considering, then Pike clasped Jim's arm briefly. "Go back to your games, Kirk. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes sir." The more personal farewell didn't merit a salute, but he did nod respectfully before turning back towards the bar.

As he had expected, Spock had easily defeated the cadet that had faced Jim, and now faced another, who didn't look too enthusiastic about the whole thing. Spock, on the other hand, seemed quite content to remain as he was, now that he was not in danger of having Pike corner him again. Jim started another game with a different cadet, who claimed she'd rather play than watch, on another table. That was fun, at least, and afterwards Jim sat back with another beer, just watching with a grin as Spock demoralized Starfleet's best and brightest, one by one.

"This 'pool' is indeed a more interesting pastime than I might have expected," Spock admitted later, as they were walking back. "If you are of a mind to play again in the near future, I would be willing to accompany you."

"Yeah, I might be." Jim smirked. "But I think I need to play chess with you a few more times first, because you completely decimated my self-confidence. Need to build it back up before you completely crush me."

Spock gave him a mildly surprised look. "I had assumed your resources in the realm of self-confidence were infinite."

Jim's smirk grew wider. "Not really - but if one of my ideas got you in a good enough mood that you're cracking jokes at me, that'll get it going again."

Although Spock didn't reply, it was comfortable. Just the two of them walking through campus at night, Jim enjoying a light buzz, Spock apparently relaxed, even after that talk with Pike...

Right, that talk with Pike. Jim wondered if it was a bad idea to bring it up, but it wasn't as if he was going to put pressure on Spock. He just was curious. He waited until they were almost back to their building to ask, though. "...So, when Admiral Pike pulled you aside in there..." Jim began. "I bet I know what you two were talking about." Spock paused, and Jim did too, turning to look back at him. "Did he ask you to re-enlist?"

Spock appeared hesitant, but then nodded. Yeah, that's what Jim had figured. "But I take it you turned him down."

"I did," Spock stated, and the relaxed mood was gone, just like that. "My reasons are my own, and although I understand that Starfleet is currently suffering from a shortage of experienced officers, I have no intention of returning."

"Yeah, I know," Jim admitted. "Even if I don't understand why, I know it's your decision."

"...Thank you," Spock said after a moment, continuing along the path. "I appreciate it."

"No problem," Jim told him, moving on as well.

But he kept thinking about it, as they got back to the suite, as Spock took his shower and Jim took advantage of the replicator for a late-night snack. He suspected he had at least one of the answers he'd been seeking.

When Spock had changed into some of his old clothes to sleep in and returned to the living room to remind Jim that it was his turn to take the bed, Jim decided to just come out and ask. "Is it because of something the other you said, that you won't come back to Starfleet?"

Spock peered at him curiously, but said nothing. That was enough to make Jim think he was on the right track. "Did he warn you about some... destiny, or fate, or something? Is that why you won't come back to a job you were really good at, to an organization that accepted you as you were?" Still Spock said nothing, and Jim thought he could guess what might have that kind of effect on a person. "Did he warn you about Khan - is that it?" Jim asked. "Because he won't tell me a whole lot about what might or might not happen, he knows I have to do things for myself - but he did tell me about that, because it caused a lot of pain to a lot of people. Believe me, if I see that ship, I'm not reviving anyone until we're somewhere where they can be taken straight to a maximum security prison."

Spock shook his head. "I do not know about this 'Khan'. However," he admitted, sitting down beside Jim on the couch, facing straight ahead, "my counterpart did tell me of a destiny that awaited me in Starfleet."

Jim puzzled over this. "He didn't tell me about anything else I should worry about. Was there really something worse than Khan?"

"I could not classify it as 'worse', as I do not know the specifics of this Khan," Spock said, "or in fact necessarily negative."

Although Jim waited, Spock didn't clarify at all. "...Doesn't that imply it's something positive?"

"As I explained previously," Spock told him, finally looking at him directly, "the idea of destiny displeases me. If I am to do something, I would prefer to do it for myself, and take responsibility for it, whether good or bad."

Slowly, Jim nodded. "...I understand. But it kind of seems like shooting yourself in the foot to run from it this hard, when running puts you out on the street without anywhere to go or anything to eat."

"Regardless," Spock said again. "If I am to experience what I have been told I may experience, I alone would like to be responsible, rather than have it explained away as being foretold and dictated by some inexplicable cosmic force. If I re-enlist, and this 'destiny' finds me, I will be unable to prove that it was by my own merit that it was achieved."

Jim just nodded again. "Like I said, I understand. Your decision."

"Indeed," Spock stated.

It was late, and Jim figured he might as well get into something he could sleep in too, not to mention getting out of Spock's way so he could make up the couch. And that was a battle he could fight another day.

He was still thinking about this particular issue as he prepared for bed, though, and he went back to the living room one more time once he was done. "Hey, Spock?"

Spock glanced up from where he had settled on the couch, to where Jim was standing in the bedroom doorway. "Yes?"

"For the record, I don't believe in destiny either," Jim said. "In the other reality, my father lived to see me become captain. Since that didn't happen here, that kind of puts it to rest, doesn't it? And in the future, in the time the other version of you came from, your home planet's still there - and there are Vulcans out there who did important things, who will never even be born in our reality. I doubt Nero's special future-tech allowed him to be the one being in the universe who could circumvent destiny - which means either there's no such thing, or any one of us can do it. Either way... as far as I'm concerned, whatever awesome thing it is you're supposed to do, I believe it'll be on your own merit."

Spock nodded. "...You have not said anything I have not considered," he told Jim. "But it is good to know that you also reject the concept of predestination."

Jim had kind of been hoping it would be something that Spock hadn't considered, because then it might change Spock's mind, but he supposed it was good enough for now. "Yeah, it's nice to have someone who feels the same way about things, isn't it? ...Anyway, night, Spock."

"Good night, Kirk."

That was still jarring. "You know, you could call me by my first name," Jim suggested. "You're not Starfleet anymore, you don't have to be so professional. And I call you by your first name."

"Only because you cannot pronounce my family name."

"I'd still call you Spock even if I could," Jim countered.

"And I might well correct you, if you could."

It was too late for this kind of banter, Jim decided, turning back towards the bedroom. He couldn't decide whether it was annoying or funny. Probably both. "Maybe I should practice - then we'll see about that," he said brightly. "Anyway, good night."

"Good night."

Chapter Text

Jim's memories of his own commencement were vivid, largely because it hadn't been a commencement, for the most part. For those graduating, yes, but he'd already had his first command, if briefly, he was awarded a medal and given a ship; graduation was pretty anti-climactic in that sense. His mom and Sam had shown up, and he'd said they didn't have to, it was just going to be a lot of talking, it didn't mean anything that they didn't already know, but his mom had insisted it was important. She'd cried, and Jim just... didn't really know what to say. He never did, these days. It was so much easier when he knew she wasn't seeing his dad in him.

But at any rate, he'd been right. A whole lot of talking. And a whole lot of relatives out there watching. He could have hoped that none of the grads this year had the same kind of baggage, but considering how many people had been killed by Nero only six years past, every one of them someone's parent or sibling or child, odds were there were plenty graduating who were doing so in someone's shadow, wondering if they could ever possibly measure up to those great men and women who shared their name and their blood, made greater by fond memory.

With that in mind, he didn't need to glance over his notes as he waited for his turn to come; he was neither nervous nor bored by the ceremony. He wanted to say it, and when his name was called, to wild applause (which was kind of surprising, but he couldn't say he was unhappy about it), he just adjusted his dress uniform discreetly and stood, shaking the hands of the admirals in attendance on the way to the podium. Pike squeezed for a moment, shooting him a grin, and Jim still had his own grin when he turned to face the assembly.

"Thanks," he said, nodding his acknowledgment to the crowd's response. Someone whistled, and there was scattered laughter, some of it from him. "Really, thanks," he said in the general direction it had come from. "Glad to know someone still thinks I've got it."

There was more laughter, but he toned his grin down. "Because you know what?" he began, growing more serious. "To tell the truth, I don't have a thing that all of you don't have, except a little more experience. I do have a ship - the flagship, the USS Enterprise - but it's not really mine. I just get to borrow it, and I have to give it back when I'm done. Unfortunately," he said, flashing another grin, to a few laughs. "And all right, so I have a medal pinned to my uniform. It's nice, it's shiny," he acknowledged, reaching up to toy with it a little, making it catch the light. "It's a great honor. But you know what I did to earn it? I did the same thing everyone else on my ship does on a daily basis - the same thing every one of you will do too - I did what I could.

"When you're out there in deep space," he continued, "cruising on a starship, staffing an outpost, building new colonies and starbases - you're going to have to make decisions. Some of them will be easy, and some of them will be practically impossible. What you've been doing here for the last four years - give or take a few - has prepared you for the common decisions. But just as the universe is infinite, so are the problems you'll face. And you could stay here at the Academy for the rest of your life, take every course, run through all the curriculum, and there would still be something out there to completely stump you.

"Of course, Starfleet has rules to guide you through a lot of those times - that's another thing you've learned during your education and training. And hold onto that, because you'll need them. However, once again, the universe is infinite. There will be times when no rules apply, when rules get turned on their head. And that, right there, is why Starfleet needs you.

"You are a living, thinking, reasoning individual. Rules and protocol can't follow themselves, nor can they bend themselves in extreme situations. There may be times you will have to go against protocol. It's never a decision to make lightly, but it is a decision you may have to make, using your own individual judgment, based on your personal experience and observations - which are updated a whole lot faster than the databases, trust me on that. Your own mind is more invaluable than any technology Starfleet may equip you with, and more advanced.

"I know some of you aren't so sure about that right now, just because you know you're starting off on a whole new part of your life, that you're about to do things you've never done before except in simulations," he acknowledged. "Or maybe you're feeling pretty good now, but the second you set foot on the bridge, or see your assignment, you'll start wondering - am I really up to this? Maybe you'll be a year in, or two, or three, when something comes along that hits home, and you'll feel just as small and stupid and helpless as you felt when you stepped off the shuttle your first day here, got your room assignment, got your uniform... and then couldn't even figure out how the damn thing fastened." There was another smattering of laughter - he knew from experience it was a common problem.

"When it happens," he urged them, "don't deny it. Acknowledge it. Hold on to that feeling and remember it. Not as a check on your pride, not to remind you of your limits, but I'll let you in on a little secret: every sentient being in the universe has felt that way at some point. Whether it's the crewman next to you, the new race you just came face to face with on a distant, unexplored world, or the enemy glaring at you from the bridge of an attacking vessel - every single one of them knows what it's like to be afraid and uncertain. It's something that unites all of us, allies and enemies, and can help us to understand each other, have empathy with one another. You'll need that empathy to make the decisions Starfleet would have you make.

"After all, you are not setting out to dominate and conquer, to mark boundaries across the universe. You're heading out to erase the boundaries that separate us from others, to discover and celebrate all the diversity the universe has to offer, and to help it flourish in its own unique way. Which, when you get down to it, is exactly what Starfleet has been doing with you for the years you've been here - giving you the resources and the foundation you need to thrive as a single, small individual in a great big confusing universe, and companions to help you along the way. All they're really asking of you is that through your actions, you pass it on."

Jim wasn't sure where the applause started, but it spread. He paused, a wondering smile on his lips, as he looked out at the appreciative assembly. Truth be told, he still had no idea how he'd wound up here - he could almost believe in Spock's concerns about the concept of destiny.

The thought of Spock momentarily disrupted his concentration. Spock was probably watching this on the terminal back in their suite. Jim couldn't help but wonder what he thought, if this Spock finally believed he deserved to be where he was. If he would disagree with his statements about what Starfleet really meant...

Well, he could ask later. "Thank you," he said with a nod as the applause began to die down. "To sum it all up, I may be a captain. I may be, according to the honors I've been awarded, some kind of hero. But I don't have anything to offer that you don't already have as a graduate of Starfleet Academy. You're as ready as you're ever going to be, as ready for service as I am now. If you keep those ideals in mind, and support each other when the going gets rough, there is nothing you cannot accomplish."

Another round of applause - he supposed it did sound like he was finishing up, which he was. Maybe. He was still tempted.

...Oh, what the hell - he'd gotten a good reception so far, so what could they do to him?

"I will, however, offer one very important tip for survival, when you're on a long mission way out in deep space. One specific guideline I've learned to always follow, from my own personal experience." He paused for dramatic effect. "Bring your own booze. Synthehol's terrible."

That got the loudest applause yet, thanks to the cheers and laughter accompanying, and Jim steadfastly refused to look in the admirals' direction as he grinned out at the crowd and raised a hand to wave. "Thank you - congratulations, and have a great time tonight. You've all earned it. Thank you, class of '64!"

He did, however, glance in the admirals' direction on his way off the stage. Two of them had very odd expressions on their face, clearly trying to keep it even... and Pike had his head in his hand. He looked up to Jim, however, and Jim thought he saw a chuckle. He grinned back, and returned to his seat for the rest of the ceremony.

He'd been seated with similarly ranked officers; Number One gave him a stern look as he sat. "Hey, it's about the only thing that's a constant about serving on a starship," he told her with a laugh.

"Perhaps so, but it's an inappropriate time to suggest it," she murmured, keeping her voice low and her eyes forward as the show went on. "Do you have any idea how many dignitaries are watching this ceremony, around the Federation?"

"...Not really," he admitted.

"Besides." Her lips curved up gently, in a little smirk. "They would have figured it out on their own eventually. Christopher did."

Surprised, Jim glanced at her. "Oh, really?"

She nodded, eyes still forward on the speaker, and Jim tried not to bust out laughing. Maybe he wasn't that surprised.


It took a little longer than Jim expected to get back to the suite once it was all over, thanks to all the people who wanted to shake his hand and compliment him - and occasionally ask him what his preferred drink was. Jim was glad he'd given them something to remember, but he sure hoped the rest of the speech had gotten through as well as that last bit.

Spock was waiting, of course, when he returned. "Well?" Jim asked, getting started on the dress uniform's jacket - it made his throat itch. "What did you think? You were watching, right?"

"It was... moderately impressive, for a speech which had not been written in advance," Spock replied.

"Like I said, I do best when I'm winging it." Jim slid the jacket off and hung it up in the closet. "And believe me, I've had a lot of practice winging it on speeches since I wound up captain of a starship."

"It struck me, as well, as having an unusual focus on humility," Spock continued. "When attempting to inspire by example, one generally attempts to elevate the listener, rather than the speaker lowering his own status in their eyes." He hesitated momentarily. "You do not think as highly of yourself as you pretend to, do you?"

The question seemed, somehow, more personal than Jim would have preferred, so he ignored it. "I was just being honest about what they're going to find out there. Every single one of us is a speck of dust, existing for only a second in the vastness of space and time," he pointed out. "And nowhere is that more obvious than when you're flying through it at warp eight, passing planets bigger than your own and stars a thousand times more massive, and it still takes forever to get where you're going."

Spock seemed puzzled by this. "Humans are not usually aware of their own miniscule place in the cosmos from childhood?"

Jim gave him a look. "I take it Vulcans are?"

"Yes."

"Come to think of it, that doesn't surprise me." Jim scratched at his neck - damn gold braid. "Maybe it's because our brains aren't quite so logical that we usually can't grasp the scale of the space/time continuum for more than a brief moment at a time - or maybe it's just that our emotional nature keeps us from comprehending it very long, because we'd be feeling pretty insignificant if it was something we were always aware of. Kind of a defense mechanism in our brains."

"In other words," Spock asked, "humans must deny the truth of their situation and artificially inflate their sense of self-worth in order to function?"

"...It sounds kind of nasty when you put it like that," Jim complained. "But hey, if you turn it around, there's an argument for it. Bones told me once, when I was feeling down on myself - sure, the universe is this vast, infinite place, and we're so small in the midst of it that we're invisible. But even so, in all this great big universe, there's only one of each of us."

"This is incorrect."

Jim hadn't expected Spock to respond to that much at all, as it was admittedly a little sentimental, but he definitely hadn't expected him to deny it. "Incorrect...?"

"There are in fact two of me in the entirety of the universe," Spock pointed out.

Jim made a face at him. "You're a special case," he told Spock. "And besides, that's not really true either. Even the two of you aren't quite the same person, because of your experiences. You've both said that yourselves. Which, I admit, kind of goes against my point," he added with a smirk.

"Indeed," Spock agreed. "The statement of obvious fact is not a meaningful similarity."

"Yeah. Meanwhile, he's got a different past than you - his whole life from your age on was different, at least." Jim gave Spock another smirk. "And he can beat me at chess."

"Can he?" Spock mused.

"Yeah, so if you're dead set on not turning out like him at all..." Jim said meaningfully.

"It would be illogical to object if we happen to have a few positive commonalities," Spock said, in a deadpan that matched the older Spock's so perfectly that Jim was momentarily baffled that they were even having this conversation. "And is that a challenge?"

"It could be - because there's no way I'm playing pool with you again tonight," Jim stated. But there was something else he had to do before they got started, since he'd just reminded himself. "Just let me grab something to eat first, and make a call before it gets too late out east."

Jim left his uniform slacks and undershirt on, though the boots came off shortly after the jacket - it was a big day on campus, and there was a possibility he might need to go out again for some reason before the night was through. In fact, he found it kind of hilarious when he realized that tonight was the biggest night of the year for a huge portion of the alumni, there were parties going on all over the place... and here he was preparing to spend the night in playing chess. With a Vulcan. And if they did any snacking, it would probably once again be popcorn, lightly salted. Well, if any of those dignitaries Number One had mentioned had gotten the idea that he was some kind of wild, uncontrollable boozehound who somehow conned his way into the captaincy, he could just give them a live feed of what he was doing after the ceremony. That would settle them down.

There was one particular person who probably would have been completely floored by him spending a party night like this, if he'd said so a few years ago - and that was who he was calling now.

Bones must have been using a handheld, since what Jim was seeing behind him on the screen looked like a shady front porch. "Hey, Jim - how'd it go?"

"Not bad," he replied. "I might get complained at a little, but I think the grads'll thank me."

He was treated to the familiar sight of one of Bones's trademark grimaces. "What did you do?"

"Just told the truth," Jim said. "Warned them about synthehol."

Bones snorted. "If anyone objects to that, they need their head examined. And not by me, mind you," he added. "Not only am I biased, but I'm on break, and enjoying it very much."

Jim smiled. Bones did look pretty relaxed, even if his words were as cranky as ever. He was all settled down in a t-shirt, in what looked like a pretty comfortable wicker chair, and he could hear girlish giggles somewhere nearby. "How's Joanna?"

If he'd looked relaxed before, Bones looked just plain radiant now, his face lighting up. "God, Jim - she's amazing. She's grown so much, she's a young woman now instead of my baby girl. She was a little tiny thing when Joss kicked me out, just learnin' to write full sentences," he recalled, growing wistful. "Now she's reading and writing in two languages and starting on a third, doing geometry, she's finished up a couple biochemistry courses with full marks... Sure, we've seen each other since then, but not for long. I've had pictures and everything, but they're not the same. It's like... I've missed so much."

"Yeah, I bet." Jim couldn't exactly relate, since he didn't have a kid and his only brother was older, but he knew how much he'd changed in the last nine years. A kid still growing was even more obvious. "But you're there now, right?"

"Right," Bones said with a nod. "And loving every second of it. I don't know what I would've done if Joss refused. Probably spent my break the same way I spent the couple weeks before I enlisted."

"Nah, you're older and wiser now," Jim told him. And it wasn't really his business, but Bones was his friend, so... "...About Jocelyn. How's that going?"

Bones took a deep breath and let it out in a sigh. "Let's just say - now that I've spent some time back here, I'm remembering why we split."

"Ouch."

"Yeah..." The smile was gone, but Bones still looked relaxed, at least. "She's willing to give me a chance, as far as trusting me to take care of Jo while she's gone, and not to do anything stupid while I'm under her roof. Which used to be mine," Bones growled faintly. "But she's always had to be in control, always had to have things on her terms, and I've never exactly been content to let people have their way all the time."

"Or ever," Jim corrected him, with a little smirk.

"Well, yeah," Bones admitted sheepishly. "S'why I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. Anyway, she's got a gentleman friend besides, I guess they've been together for a while. And I'm not gonna be an ass about it - just because we're no good for each other doesn't mean she doesn't deserve to be happy with someone else."

Even if he did look a little dejected about it, he didn't look crushed, so Jim supposed he was telling the truth. As far as he was concerned, Bones was better than his ex-wife deserved anyway. "You know," Jim said, changing the subject, "you're getting your accent back."

That made Bones laugh. "I noticed that too. Guess I can't really help myself, being back home."

Good. Now that Bones was all relaxed and cheerful again... "So you've got the place to yourself, right? Well, you and Jo?"

"Yeah - were you still planning to stop by for a couple days?"

"As long as it's still all right."

"Sure thing, Jim - there's plenty of room, especially with Joss gone. Just let me know if I need to get a ride for you."

"I think I can manage," Jim told him. "But hey, Bones? Would you mind too much if I brought someone along?"

Bones arched an eyebrow at him. "Found someone worth stringing along for longer than a day or so, did you?"

Jim grinned. "You could say that."

"Just as long as it's someone who's not going to be a bad influence on my daughter," Bones told him firmly. "My impressionable, fifteen-year-old daughter. So no floozies."

Jim pretended to consider for a moment. "I don't think he qualifies as a floozy."

"A guy this time, huh? Yeah, probably not exactly what I was thinking of as a floozy, then."

"Your call to make, though." This line of thinking was amusing Jim, and he glanced over his shoulder. "Why don't I bring him over, let the two of you size each other up?"

"Not really necessary, Jim. I trust you not to be too stupid."

It was too funny for him to not do it, though, so Jim got up. "Just a second, I think you really should meet him."

"Don't tell me you're getting serious about someone now," he heard Bones mutter as he headed off to the kitchen.

Spock was sitting at the table and waiting, having already prepared the chess board after they'd eaten, and he looked up as Jim entered. "I do remember your friend, somewhat," he said, standing. "His voice is vaguely familiar."

Right - Vulcan hearing meant Spock had probably heard the entire conversation. Good thing he hadn't teased Bones with any disturbing ideas about who or what he might be bringing. "You're still okay with coming with me, right?"

Spock nodded. "As I have said, I did give my word."

"Okay, then let's go re-introduce the two of you," Jim said. "But don't tell him who you are just yet - I want to see if he recognizes you."

Sure enough, it was obvious the second Spock appeared in the picture, because Bones's eyes narrowed thoughtfully before he spoke. "Hi - Leonard McCoy. Jim's ship's doctor," he introduced himself. And then, after a pause, "...Do I know you?"

"I don't know," Jim spoke up, before Spock could reply. The voice might give it away, and he wanted to see Bones think about it for a while. "Do you?"

Bones frowned. "...You look really familiar. Starfleet?"

Spock glanced at Jim, and Jim nodded. "Formerly," Spock replied.

"Yeah," Bones murmured, nodding his head while he considered. "Unless you were from the Atlanta area or went to Ole Miss, Starfleet's probably the only place I'd know anyone from. Were you in medical?"

"Not precisely."

"Not 'precisely'," Bones pondered, squinting at the screen. "Sciences, then?"

"Yes."

Jim just stood back, grinning, as Bones hemmed and hawed at Spock. "I know I know you," Bones said finally. "Why don't you just tell me, Jim?"

"Indeed," Spock said, turning to address Jim. "I find this game you are playing between myself and the doctor to be highly illogical."

"Spock!" Bones burst out, incredulous. "It's Spock, isn't it? Just couldn't see those pointy ears of yours."

Jim couldn't help but laugh, particularly at the puzzled look on Spock's face. "Come on, Spock - that was a dead giveaway."

"What was a dead giveaway?" Spock's frown grew deeper. "For that matter, what is a 'dead giveaway'?"

"Well, there's another one," Bones remarked, with a grin of his own. "Well. Didn't expect to be seeing you again - Jim said you went back to the colony with your people."

"I did," Spock confirmed. "However, after some time, I returned to Earth."

"Well, what do you know..." Bones sounded pleased. "So what have you been up to?"

This could lead to some uncomfortable questions for Spock, Jim realized, so he quickly took charge of the situation. "A minute ago, he was setting up a game of chess for us," Jim replied. "Did you know he plays chess?"

"No, but I'm not surprised."

"Anyway, I figured we could all catch up when we fly in tomorrow," Jim said. "As long as Spock doesn't count as a floozy."

"Yeah, he's fine," Bones agreed with a laugh. "A Vulcan's about the last person who's gonna be a bad influence on Jo. Tomorrow, then? What time?"

"Probably afternoon or evening," Jim told him. "And like I said, we can find our way there on our own, I've got the address."

"All right, it's pretty straight-forward," said Bones with a nod. "We were going to go out to lunch, but we should be around after that."

"Great! So I guess we'll get on with that chess game," Jim said. "And let you get back to... whatever you're doing."

"Me? Not a whole lot - Jo's got a couple of her girlfriends over," Bones informed them with a smile. "I'm just keeping an eye on them, and they're just hanging out in the yard. Talking about boys. Boys, Jim - since when is she old enough to be interested in boys?"

"Hey, fifteen is plenty old enough," Jim retorted. "I was chasing girls around when I was half that age."

"Don't you use yourself as a point of reference - you're not normal," Bones told him with a mock scowl. "And that reminds me, Jim - she's the prettiest girl you'll ever meet, but there's a reason why there's that old caricature of the father sitting on the front porch with a shotgun, and you're it."

Jim pretended to be shocked. "Okay, I get the idea, hands off," he agreed with a smirk. "At least until after another mission."

Bones rolled his eyes. "Go play your chess before I change my mind about this whole thing."

"Yessir, Pa," Jim teased him. "See you tomorrow."

"See ya. You too, Spock," Bones added. "Good to see you again."

Spock nodded. "Indeed, Dr. McCoy."

That, Jim thought as the connection was severed, had almost turned uncomfortable. He glanced over at Spock, who didn't look uncomfortable, at least. "Do you want to make up some kind of explanation for what you've been up to, for when he asks again?" Jim offered. "Because he will. Anyone who knows you is going to ask how you've been."

Spock considered, and shook his head slightly. "I do not see why the truth is inadequate."

"If you're comfortable with it, all right," Jim agreed dubiously. "But it's going to make anyone who you tell ask why you're here on Earth, and why you didn't go back to Starfleet. And since you don't want to explain that..."

"Since I do not care to explain that," Spock said simply, "I will not. Perhaps others will be more willing than you to accept that it is none of their business."

Jim sighed. But at least Spock didn't actually seem offended, just... completely impenetrable. "I guess we'll see," he said, starting for the kitchen, and the chess board. "I'm just trying to make it easier for you," he added.

"I had determined that already," Spock told him. "And it is appreciated."

"Okay... just making sure."

Their game was interrupted partway through by another call; when Jim got up to answer, it was Pike. "You dodged a bullet, Kirk," he stated.

"...Yeah?"

"The board of directors got a message from HQ, on the topic of that last bit of the speech you gave," Pike informed him. "From one of our most distinguished senior council members."

Jim did manage to look a little apologetic. "I hope they let HQ know that was all mine, sir."

"As it turned out," Pike continued, "he loved it. He said he wished someone had given him that advice at his own commencement."

Jim laughed out loud. "I can forward it to you," Pike offered. "He had some other praise for you too."

"Sure, thanks," Jim agreed.

Pike reached forward to his own terminal's display, and a few seconds later, an icon in the corner of Jim's was blinking. "So now that that's all taken care of... Are you still heading out tomorrow?"

"To Atlanta," Jim replied with a nod. "I'm stopping in to see Dr. McCoy and his daughter."

"Good - I hope he's doing well." Pike hesitated for a moment. "Do you know what Spock's planning to do?"

Jim did love being able to give Pike pleasant surprises. "He's coming with me."

Pike definitely looked pleased. "How'd you manage that?"

"A bet."

Pike paused, curious. "I'll assume it wasn't on a game of pool."

"No, sir - chess." At the look Pike gave him, Jim shrugged. "How come no one ever believes I'm good at chess?"

"You're not bad at pool, either," Pike pointed out. "But you're not a Vulcan."

"Well, I was beating one at chess in the kitchen when you called," Jim informed him.

Pike chuckled. "All right, I'll let you get back to that. Have fun, Jim, and give McCoy my regards. And Spock, for that matter."

"Sure," Jim agreed. "You take care too. Oh - and is Number One around?"

"She's right here."

Pike turned the terminal a little as she stepped into view. "Hey," Jim greeted her. "Thought I should say goodbye to you too. You're going to be taking off before I head out again, aren't you?"

"That's the way it looks."

"As soon as it's set, let me know when and where," he told her. "I want to be there. You were a great first officer, and you're going to be an amazing captain."

Those rare, sincere smiles of hers made her look like a completely different person than she usually was on duty. "Thanks, Jim. It was a pleasure working with you. ...And about that, is your situation resolved?"

"Not yet, but you know me. I always come up with something."

"I'm well aware of that by this time," she said dryly. "Let me know if I can be of any help."

"You know," Pike put in, leaning into the picture, "I was thinking of a possible solution myself, last night..."

Jim nodded. He knew exactly what Pike meant. "Can't say it hadn't crossed my mind," he said. "I like the idea, but we'll see what happens."

He was a little surprised when Spock had no comment after he'd returned to the kitchen. Maybe he'd already guessed the idea he and Pike had had in common. Jim figured it was just as well he kept his mouth shut - it wasn't why he was doing this.

Sure would be a nice side effect, though.

As usual, Jim won, and Spock declared the outcome illogical as he studied the board. And then they had a snack, while Jim relaxed with some vids and loaned Spock his PADD, so Spock could do some reading somewhere other than the desk. It made for an absolutely unremarkable night, but Jim was glad for that. If everything was perfectly normal and acceptable, then maybe it would stay that way, and Spock would stick around that much longer...

It was Spock who suggested that they start to pack up their things, so they wouldn't need to in the morning. Jim still wasn't sure he actually believed Spock had agreed to it, but he wasn't going to ask over and over. Badgering him would probably make him change his mind faster. "Is there anything you need to do around here before we leave?" Jim asked while they were packing, as an alternative. "Anyone to see, anything to do...?"

"I have no outstanding business in the area," Spock replied.

"Anywhere else you want to go before Georgia?" Jim added. "Because it's not a long trip by shuttle - we could make a stop somewhere else first and still get in before it starts getting dark, even with the time zone shift."

Spock shook his head. "In fact, I have no outstanding business anywhere. One place is approximately as adequate as another, as far as I am concerned."

Somehow, Jim found that incredibly sad.

Chapter Text

Although it had been Jim's turn on the couch again, when he woke in the early morning, he didn't take advantage of it to get up right away. He thought about it, but there was something else he'd remembered that he should do, and he was thinking about that. It wasn't necessary, strictly speaking, but he should probably do it... He was aware he should have done it before, though.

Maybe he'd do it after he went out for his morning run, Jim told himself, pushing the blankets back to sit up. Maybe he'd be all fired up and ready.

The terminal was sitting right there on the desk, though. And if he went out first, it was possible Spock might get up while he was out, and then he'd lose his privacy... Was that better or worse than making himself do it now?

Jim shook his head and stood, stretching. It would have been better to do it now, except that it was too early, even when you factored in time zones. He didn't want to make it any worse by waking her up; morning run it was.

Excuses, excuses.

The campus was quiet and still at the early hour, more so than usual due to it being a Sunday - and the Sunday after graduation at that. There were very few others out and about already, most former students probably sleeping off a late night, and those Jim saw were wheeling luggage, probably on their way to the shuttle station for an early flight to somewhere, maybe a new post. Or maybe just home for a little while before they officially reported for duty.

The concept of 'home' seemed to be a recurring theme lately, he acknowledged. Even before he'd run into Spock, whose lack of one brought it to the forefront of his attention. Before talking to Bones, who looked more relaxed than Jim had ever seen him since the day they met. Coming back to the campus was comfortable and familiar, too, just...

Jim ran faster, and longer than he'd really intended, and let himself believe it was because he was going to miss the place.

By the time he got back and had showered, it was probably late enough for him to make the call, and if Spock was awake, he hadn't shown himself yet. There were plenty of reasons for him to talk himself out of it again, but he went ahead and sat down before he could do it.

She picked up pretty fast, and didn't look particularly groggy - and the smile she gave Jim told him that she wouldn't have cared if he'd woken her anyway. "Good morning, Jim!"

"Hi, Mom." Jim flashed her a smile in return. "I guess I'm not calling too early after all."

"Not at all - I expected I might hear from you this morning." Her smile softened. "I watched the feed of your speech yesterday. I'm really proud of you."

"Thanks..." he said with a nod. Not that he was surprised. "It wasn't really anything, though. I just said what was on my mind."

"Well, that just goes to show you were meant for this," she told him. "You were right on target about why Starfleet exists - you just cut through all the big words and red tape to the fundamentals." She paused, and Jim willed her not to say it. Fortunately, she didn't. "So I take it you're leaving the Academy today?"

He nodded. "Yeah, that was the plan..."

"Unless you're taking off right now, I guess I can't expect you for lunch," she observed. "Will you be in for dinner? I was thinking we might have dinner somewhere after I picked you up, but if you're going to be late, I could cook something..."

She looked so eager. That was why Jim hadn't wanted to call. "Actually, Mom... I got an invitation from a friend of mine to come visit for a little while. He heard I was going to be back planetside for the speech, and since he was in Atlanta for the time being, he thought maybe we could get together. We haven't seen each other face to face since the ship docked."

Although she was careful not to let it be too obvious, Jim could see the light in her eyes fade. "So you're not coming?"

"No, I'm coming," Jim assured her. "Just, well, I figured it would be better to go visit him first... and then it would be out of the way, and when I got back to Riverside, I wouldn't think about anywhere else I had to go. I could just stay there for a while. And seriously - I saw Bones every day while I was on the Enterprise, it just feels weird not having seen him for this long. He probably feels the same way."

"I haven't seen you face to face since you docked either, though."

"Yeah, I know." Jim decided not to point out that they hadn't been seeing each other every day for five years, either. "Don't worry - I'm not heading out again soon. There's plenty of time for me to stop in and stay for a while."

"I know, Jim, but..." Jim felt like a jerk - she did look unhappy. He knew this was going to happen. "...It's just so quiet here since Sam went offworld. And it seems like I've hardly seen you since you enlisted."

"Trust me, Mom - I'm not going back out into deep space until I've had a few good home-cooked meals." He made himself grin. "And a few from the diner, for that matter, when you get sick of cooking for me. I mean, you know how I can eat, and I've been stuck with mostly replicated food for the last few years. You think I'm ever gonna give you a break?" he teased her. "Once I get there, you're going to be counting the days till you're rid of me."

"That would never happen," she told him, but it was with a smile. Obviously forced, but he'd take it. "You're welcome anytime, whenever you want to come home."

He nodded. "I'm going to take you up on that, you know. I promise. Just it's not going to be today. Sorry, I know that's what you were expecting... But things have been a little weird since I landed, I hadn't gotten around to finalizing anything until last night." Specifically, he'd been so busy trying to figure out what was going on with Spock, he hadn't given much thought to where he might go first of his two most obvious options. But to be honest, he'd known as soon as the offer was made where he really wanted to go. "I know I should've let you know - sorry about that."

"...Just as long as you're coming to see me soon," she told him fondly.

He could hear the loneliness behind it, though, and although it made him feel like even more of a jackass, hearing it made him want to run further away. "I will, Mom. Promise. Captain's honor."

That made her smile a little more honest. "All right... You have fun, and be careful."

"Sure thing." Not like anything was likely to happen to him on just a shuttle flight to Georgia. "I'll keep you posted. Give you some warning."

"Thanks, Jim. Love you."

"Love you too, Mom. See you soon."

He took a deep breath as the transmission halted. It wasn't that their relationship had been a bad one - actually it used to be pretty good - just... trying to talk to her was always tense since he'd enlisted, and way more so since he got his own command. Many times he'd thought that his family life would have been more stable if he'd just stuck to drinking binges and fistfights and breaking things instead of going and doing something meaningful with his life.

He was still sitting there when the bedroom door opened, a few minutes later. Spock just glanced in his direction and gave him a nod in greeting, but it was pretty obvious to Jim that he had to have been awake during that call. He'd just been waiting, so he wouldn't interrupt. Jim thought that was a good thing.

It was definitely a good thing when Spock didn't say a word about it as they had breakfast, got dressed, and finished getting ready to head to the spaceport. This included folding up the travel chess set that was still sitting on the table, fully assembled - and Jim was also pleased when Spock said nothing about it being slid inside his backpack as he was closing it, just raised an eyebrow in that curious way he had. Jim just grinned at him, and that was the end of it.

By the time they were boarding, in fact, Jim was very much his usual self again. What did he have to complain about, after all? He was heading out to see Bones, and Spock was going with him - dressed a lot better than he had been dressed the last time they were at the spaceport, and in better condition in general - and he was still captain of the Enterprise, which was in itself something that made him smile even six years after the fact.

In fact, as he saw the ground drop away beneath him, the horizon curving as they rose higher and higher, his sense of excitement was dulled somewhat when he reminded himself he wasn't going back to his ship this time.

On the other hand, he considered during the ride, the Enterprise was going to be different when he went back. Number One wouldn't be there, since she was getting her own ship, and that was going to take some getting used to. And there were others who might not return, people who were ready to retire from active duty, or who had expressed interest in a more specific assignment that had presented itself elsewhere. Jim wasn't taking any of it personally - even the officers who had requested transfer during the mission weren't doing it because of him in particular. He'd spent enough time in rendezvous with other ships, and talking to other captains, to know that each ship wound up creating its own atmosphere, almost a culture of its own, based on the personalities that governed it. His ship's primary crew was younger than most, unjaded, eager to go out into the universe and make a difference. They were energetic, and he could see where that wouldn't be appealing to officers who had been around the block a few times, or those who were more on the cautious side. Which was almost certainly why they'd assigned Number One, her connections to Pike aside - although she was by no means overly cautious or jaded, she was quite capable of reining in their enthusiasm when they needed it.

Jim glanced at Spock next to him, quietly watching out the windows, his own thoughts a secret. He wondered if Spock would be able to do the same, or if he would be one of those who spent a couple frustrating months on board before requesting transfer. The other Spock had said he'd acclimated well, and learned a great deal about himself, but... this Spock was so much quieter, and Jim wouldn't have been surprised if the whole thing with his planet imploding had left him even more introverted and troubled than the Spock he was familiar with had been.

That got him wondering about why exactly Spock had come back to Earth again, and Jim decided to abandon that line of thinking. It was pointless to wonder what kind of first officer Spock might make anyway, unless he managed to get Spock to re-enlist.

Their shuttle touched down in late afternoon, before the evening rush. Jim had the address, and the automap seemed simple enough even if the taxi shuttle driver hadn't been quite familiar with the region. Fifteen minutes later, they were setting down in a suburb, in front of a house that couldn't have been as old as the architecture implied. The front door opened as they were unloading, and Jim grinned as he saw Bones emerge, giving them a wave and a smile of his own. "I see you found us all right," he called, coming across the yard to meet them.

"No problem," Jim agreed. "It was pretty straightforward, and our driver knew the area - just a second, let me pay the man, then we can catch up."

"Right. So, Spock, been a long time," Bones continued, looking to Spock as Jim started to turn back to the driver. "How've you been?"

Jim had to turn around again immediately. "Vulcans don't shake hands," he reminded Bones, whose offered hand had been met with no more than an awkward look. "Remember, there's that other thing they do instead. Why don't you show him, Spock?"

That left him plenty of time to pay the driver, with a nice tip - and a little more time to watch and snicker - as Bones fumbled with making his fingers part in just the right way, eventually just pushing them into position with those of his other hand. He looked pleased with himself, until Spock informed him, "The thumb should not be folded."

"...Dammit," Bones grumbled, as he completely lost it, and just dropped his hand. "Anyway, is that everything? Need any help?"

"Nope, we're traveling light," Jim said. By necessity, really.

"Well then, come on in - Jo and I were just playing a game, which we'd really better finish, but you two could jump in if you want."

"Sounds good to me," Jim agreed, extending the handle on his luggage. "How about you, Spock?"

"It depends on the game in question, I suspect," Spock replied, swinging the backpack over his shoulder as they started towards the house. "I am not so familiar with Terran games."

"And I'm willing to bet it's not chess," Jim said, glancing at Bones with a grin, "if we were invited to join in."

"Chess? Nah, a little more exciting than that. She is fifteen, Jim."

"Hey, chess can be exciting," Jim retorted. "You should see me and Spock play."

"I would not classify our chess matches as exciting, so much as baffling," Spock suggested.

"Interesting place," Jim remarked, glancing around as Bones unnecessarily held the door for the two of them. The house looked as antique inside as it did outside. "When was it built?"

"Originally? Late twentieth century, I think," Bones told them, pausing there in the hallway. "It hasn't actually been around that long, though - building codes changed, they wound up redoing it pretty much from the ground up in the mid twenty-second to keep it in compliance, and they decided to keep the old look. Was already in the McCoy family then, you know - it's been ours for generations." Jim didn't miss the little sag of disappointment amidst the pride, but then Bones glanced off towards another room. "At least it'll go to Jo eventually."

Jim nodded. That had to be kind of a depressing thing to lose in a divorce settlement. "Anyway, it's nice. More visual interest than the modern stuff."

"I would not say that it necessarily has more elements of visual interest," Spock put in, looking around, "as that the elements of visual interest are not so commonly seen as those in modern architecture, as this particular style has become a thing of the past. Therefore, it gives it a unique appearance."

Bones squinted at him. "Was that a compliment, or an insult?"

"Neither; it was a logical explanation of why this style of architecture and design might be considered more unique, as compared to more modern styles."

"...I think I'll take it as a compliment," Bones said, though he didn't sound entirely sure about that. "So, I'll show you to where you can sleep later - come on in, have a seat. Spock, you haven't met my daughter. And Jim, you haven't seen her for years."

She obviously remembered him, though, and stood from her spot on the sofa when she saw him enter, with a big smile. "Hi, Jim!" she exclaimed, and then thought again. "Is it okay if I still call you Jim, now that you're my dad's boss?"

Jim laughed, and went to give her a little hug. Much taller, getting a few curves, and he'd swear her hair was lighter than he remembered, but still Jo. "Hey, I'm not so big and important that I wouldn't rather have everybody call me Jim. Even your dad still calls me Jim. And you're way too old now to have to call me 'Mr. Kirk' or something like that," he told her.

"Okay, good. I know I'd forget," she said with a sheepish smile.

"And this guy here is Spock," Bones told her, ushering Spock in. "And you can call him Spock. Everyone calls him Spock."

"No one on this planet can pronounce his other name," Jim added, amused.

"Lieutenant Uhura could do a passable job," Spock corrected him.

"Really?" Jim frowned vaguely. At least now he knew it was possible. "Fine - no one on this continent, then."

Joanna wasn't paying any attention to the teasing arguments, however. Instead, she was staring at Spock. "It's a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Spock," she said, growing suddenly more calm and formal.

Jim suspected he knew what that little smile meant. So did Bones, from the way his eyebrows shot up when the two of them exchanged glances.

"Likewise, Miss McCoy," Spock replied politely.

"Oh, you can just call me Joanna," she told him quickly. "Or Jo. Lots of people call me Jo."

"As you wish - I was simply using the level of formality you seemed to prefer," he said with a nod. "By which name do you prefer to be addressed?"

Jim's suspicions were as good as confirmed when he saw the little flush of color in her cheeks. "Uh... Joanna is fine."

"Very well, Joanna. And you need not call me 'Mr.'; Spock is sufficient."

"All right... Spock."

Bones looked positively flummoxed, not that his daughter noticed. Jim just grinned at him. He couldn't really blame the girl.

"So, uh, have a seat, you two," Bones spoke up. "Can I get you anything? Drink, maybe?"

"Now that you mention it, I am pretty thirsty," said Jim.

"I would not be averse to a glass of water," Spock agreed.

"Yeah, water's fine." Jim might have preferred something a little stronger, but Bones might not have appreciated that request in front of his daughter. Then again, under the circumstances, he might have joined in.

Once her father was gone, Joanna spoke up again. "Are you an officer on Jim's ship too?" she asked Spock, who settled his backpack next to an armchair and sat down, rather than joining Jim and Joanna on the sofa.

Spock shook his head. "I am not."

"I'm not really surprised," she said thoughtfully. "You don't really look like an officer - you don't look all uptight."

"Hey, I'm an officer," Jim protested. "Your dad's an officer. Do we look uptight to you?"

"I would have to agree," Spock said. "Kirk is approximately the least uptight person I have ever encountered."

"All right, all right," Joanna conceded cheerfully. "But you still don't look like an officer. You look more like... an artist, or maybe a musician, or something like that."

Jim forced himself not to laugh, and almost choked on it when he heard Spock's reply. "As a matter of fact, I am something of a musician."

"I knew it!" she said, quite pleased with herself. "What kind of music do you play?"

"Mostly classical, though I have familiarized myself with some popular works." Jim was wondering how far Spock was intending to take the act, and was surprised when he added, "Would you like to hear a piece or two?"

"I'd love to!"

Spock was already leaning over to retrieve his backpack - and Jim had had no idea that there was something in there other than his clothes, aside from the travel chess set he'd stuck in there. But in a compartment in the back, he'd stowed away a large case of polished wood. Setting it across his knees, Spock opened the latches to reveal fine fabric loosely packing the interior, and a graceful stringed instrument nestled among it.

...The other Spock had mentioned playing an instrument once, but Jim had never seen it, and he wouldn't have expected this Spock to still have it with him. "...Wow," was all he could say. "I had no idea you were carrying something like this around."

"It has kept me occupied during unpleasant times," Spock told him, setting the case aside as he leaned the instrument against his shoulder, twisting one of the knobs at the top and giving it an experimental strum, sounding an unusual chord. "You might say that it is the one luxury I made an effort to retain."

"Wow..." Joanna echoed Jim, watching in amazement as Spock fiddled with the knobs a little longer, presumably tuning it - and then began to play a song, an intricate melody overlaid with slightly unearthly chords. Jim was fascinated, but not quite so much so as Jo, who was leaning on the armrest watching Spock attentively when her father returned. Bones looked from her, to Spock, and then to Jim with a look that clearly was asking 'is this for real?' Jim just gave him a shrug, grinned helplessly, and turned back to watching himself. He didn't know anything about this instrument, but going by how quickly his fingers were moving, Spock was good.

When he was finished with the song, Spock accepted the glass of water Bones held out to him, while Joanna applauded. "That was really good!" she exclaimed. "What was it?"

"Setok's Fifteenth Movement, evoking an approaching sandstorm. It is a common tune of Vulcan origin."

"Oh..." She nodded appreciatively. "I don't think I've ever heard Vulcan music before."

"I would imagine not," Spock agreed quietly. "Despite the close alliance in the early days of Earth's first contact, in recent years the relationship between Earth and Vulcan has been strained - and now with the planet's destruction, few remain to spread the Vulcan culture."

"I wouldn't mind hearing more Vulcan music," Joanna suggested.

"Neither would I," Jim put in, with a grin at Bones, who had handed him the other glass of water and sat down between the two of them. "What do you say?"

"Uh, sure." He was looking more disgruntled by the second.

Jim, on the other hand, found the whole thing really amusing. And all right - he found Spock's playing really impressive, even if it wasn't the kind of music he would normally listen to. It was just that it was Spock, and Jim knew from experience that music lowered barriers, let you see into someone, a little... Only a little, in Spock's case. The slight changes in his expression as he began another song, slow and solemn, were almost imperceptible. The intensity of his concentration, on the other hand, was unmistakable, and Jim found that looking at him was as interesting as listening to the music.

...And he'd thought Spock looked sexy straight out of the shower. He wasn't dripping wet and half-naked, no, but that look in his dark eyes was smoldering, and Jim could think of any number of things he would have liked to see those half-parted lips doing. He blinked, and made himself look at Spock's hands instead.

Joanna didn't clap this time when Spock was finished, but just nodded appreciatively. "That sounded... sad."

"Not sad, but sober - it is a traditional Vulcan melody," Spock explained. "A hymn of remembrance."

So Jo was right, technically, Jim thought. Not that Vulcans would own up to it.

"What else do you know?" Joanna asked.

"Now, now, Jo," her father spoke up. "These two men have come a long way today - I'm sure Spock would like to take it easy for a while."

"Her requests do not trouble me," Spock told him. "In fact, it is always an honor to have an attentive audience."

"So is that what you've been doing since you took off?" Bones asked, curious. "Going around playing music?"

"In part, yes."

Not a lie, Jim supposed, but a pretty blatant omission. He could just imagine where Spock might have been playing - setting up on a street corner for passers-by that mostly ignored his skill, or maybe just all alone inside whatever shelter he'd found for the night, to pass the time... The mental image was distressing.

"Huh. Never would've guessed you had it in you," Bones muttered.

"I've discovered tons of interesting things about him since we bumped into each other, actually," Jim told him.

"So you two just 'bumped into each other' after all this time?"

"Kind of funny, isn't it?" Jim mused.

"We chanced to encounter one another at the spaceport in San Francisco," Spock explained. "I was not doing anything of particular importance at the time."

That was an understatement, Jim thought.

"Well, that's good," Bones commented, giving Jim a smirk. "This guy has a habit of derailing people's plans when they're not looking."

"I have noticed that," Spock agreed.

"You're not going to complain about that now, are you, Bones?" Jim asked, feigning insult. "I think I've taken you on a pretty good ride so far, haven't I?"

"Something like that."

And that was it, really, Jim thought. Mostly he just wanted to do the same for Spock - and this time he already knew Spock needed it.

"Anyway," Bones spoke up again. "We should either finish up this game or turn it off, so it's not just sitting there while we talk. What do you say, Jo? And do you want to join in, Jim?" he added, holding up a small handheld device.

"Sure, I guess," Jim agreed, taking it. "What exactly are we playing?"

"It's a holo-game called Borealis 5," Joanna explained, picking up another of the little devices as Jim fiddled with his, examining where the buttons and sensors were. "It's a war sim that takes place on a distant planet - you play a special forces team that has to save it from a hostile takeover by invading aliens."

"Oh yeah - I think I played the first one," Jim remembered. "Should be easy to pick up, then." He glanced at Bones, who had settled back on the couch. "Are you gonna keep playing?"

He shook his head. "Maybe Jo can actually beat this scenario if I don't."

"Dad's awful at this," Joanna said cheerfully, pushing a button to make the main menu pop up in midair in front of them. "He couldn't hit the broad side of a barn."

"I'm a doctor, not a marksman," Bones reminded them.

"You're not that bad with a phaser in real life," Jim pointed out, clicking through to the character options.

"That's reality, though," Bones reasoned. "Where you can aim normally - and if you don't get it right, you might wind up dead. Much better incentive."

"You were playing medic class," Jim observed. "They're not so great with firearms anyway."

"Actually, I was the medic," Joanna corrected him, moving the cursor to show him. "I had to be, playing with Dad."

Jim laughed. "What do you usually play?"

"Light gunner, but it depends who I'm playing with. Do you want to play too, Spock?" Joanna asked. "We have more controllers, and it's more fun with more players."

Spock considered, and set his instrument aside. "I suppose I could try," he said, accepting the controller she handed him.

Jim and Jo had to explain the controls to Spock, unsurprisingly, but the character classes were pretty self-explanatory. Jim was a little skeptical when Spock chose the airborne class, though. "Are you sure? That one's a little tricky."

"I am confident that I will be able to negotiate the controls effectively," Spock replied. Jim shrugged, and went for heavy gunner. It balanced the team, and if things got hairy, he could always try to draw the fire.

Fortunately, the scenario started out with a slow advance into enemy territory, a miniature uneven landscape popping up in the empty space in front of them. As Jim had predicted, Spock was having trouble maneuvering at first, having more options and more responsiveness than the ground-based troops, but he got the hang of it before the enemy ambush - and then lost it again briefly when he had to fire weapons at the same time. It was pretty similar to the games Jim had played before, though, so he and Jo were able to hold the enemies off until Spock had figured out how best to hold the controller. After that, Spock wasn't so bad at all. And Jo was pretty good too, Jim observed. Though somewhat grudgingly when he realized that she was spending most of her time and ammo covering Spock. At least Spock seemed to be spending a good portion of his time covering Jim.

Still, Jim had run out of regenerations before they reached the goal, simply because Spock wasn't that good yet. Not that it mattered - now his efforts were spent simply on covering Jo, and that made things simple enough that she was able to concentrate her own fire on the enemy's communications rig. Without the heavy firepower, it took a while, but eventually the whole thing exploded in front of them, and Jo let out a cheerful "Yes!" as a message proclaiming their victory appeared. "Want to go on to the next mission?" she asked Spock. And then remembered to glance back at Jim.

Jim just grinned. "I'm up for it. How about you, Spock?"

"I would not object."

"Well, if all of you are going to be playing, I guess I better join you," Bones muttered, reaching for another controller. Jim snickered as Jo clicked back to medic class - which she was actually very good at, he quickly discovered.

The four of them wound up playing until Bones, whether honestly or just because he was tired of dying repeatedly and getting teased by Jim about it, declared it was past time to put something together for dinner, and bowed out.

"I think I'll join you," Jim said, setting his own controller aside.

"As long as you're not going to lecture me again on how I shouldn't play heavy."

"You shouldn't, but no," Jim assured him. "We just haven't seen each other for a while, that's all." He was having fun, but just as entertaining was watching Jo get all starry-eyed at Spock, and especially Bones's reaction to it.

Sure enough, as soon as they got to the kitchen, Bones started grumbling. "What the hell, Jim? Here I was supposed to be worried about you catching my daughter's eye, and instead it's Spock?"

"You can't blame the girl," Jim told him, leaning back on the counter, watching Bones go through the cupboards. "He is pretty damn attractive, now that he's not quite so stiff as he used to be. I mean, with his hair grown out, all unshaven... That's a classic look, you know?"

"Obviously, I don't have an eye for what makes men attractive," Bones muttered, apparently finding the pan he was looking for and taking it to the stove. "Here I was wondering why he was going around looking like a hobo."

Jim hesitated, suddenly feeling defensive. Bones didn't know, though. "Hey, you had the same kind of thing going on when we met," he pointed out.

"And I had no illusions that it was attractive," Bones retorted.

"Actually..."

Bones rolled his eyes, heading for the refrigerator. "Don't even start. Anyway, Spock's about the last person I would've expected to intentionally go all shaggy. Why do you think it took me so long to figure out it was him last night? I've never seen a Vulcan that wasn't clean-shaven. And by the way, Jim, are you actually going to help me, or did you just come along so you could stand there making fun of me?"

"Okay, okay," Jim agreed, taking the vegetables Bones held out to him. "You know, you're right," he said thoughtfully. "Maybe Vulcans don't even have to shave, I don't know. But Spock's half human, remember?"

"Right," Bones said with a nod. "So he's decided to embrace that human half a little, maybe? Is that it?"

Jim didn't really know how to respond to that. It was more a disguise than an embrace, but that was Spock's own business - and he still didn't actually know why Spock had left New Vulcan, let alone why he'd come back to Earth. Except that he had said once, after Vulcan's destruction, that it was the only home he had left.

Bones glanced up from the drawer of cutlery he was picking through. "What is it?"

Jim shook his head vaguely. "I don't know. I have no idea what Spock thinks he's doing. All I know is, it hasn't been working out so well for him."

"The music thing, you mean? He sounded pretty good back there."

"No - that's not what he's been doing," Jim sighed. He was glad the kitchen was a ways from the room where Jo and Spock were still playing that game, and there was some noise to cover them besides. "Look, I'm not going to talk about Spock's personal business behind his back. All I can say is that he's been having some trouble, and paranoid assholes aren't helping."

"Mm." Bones nodded, glancing back to the counter. "The thing about Romulans turning out to be identical to Vulcans?"

"Yeah."

"That's so stupid," Bones grumbled. "Getting all defensive just because of pointy ears and green blood. Look, listening to Vulcans drone on about logic drives me crazy, but at least they're kind of obvious. Besides, even most other Romulans aren't like Nero."

"We know that, but most people outside of Starfleet haven't had the chance to meet any Romulans," Jim pointed out. "Or Vulcans, for that matter."

"Still not right to make assumptions."

"You know I know that," Jim told him. "But that's the reality we live in."

Bones nodded vaguely. "So what's going on, Jim? Why are you telling me this?"

"...I don't even know," Jim admitted. "Just don't mess with him too much, all right? I brought him along with me for his own good, and I more or less had to trick him into it - I don't even know what he's going to do once we're done here. And it feels like he could take off any second, if I make a single wrong move."

"That bad, is it?" Bones frowned. "Well, I'll do my best. Just as long as whatever's going on with him isn't going to put Jo at risk," he warned Jim. "If having him here is dangerous-"

"No, it's not dangerous, and Spock himself is definitely not dangerous," Jim assured him. "Honestly, Spock's pretty much the opposite of dangerous. I mean, when we were staying together on campus this last week, he'd argue with me when he thought I was going to too much trouble to accommodate him."

"All right," Bones said. "I'll treat him like crap, and then we should be fine."

Jim grinned. "Like I said, just don't mess with him."

"Okay, I'll save all my messing with people for you." Bones gave him a pointed look. "Speaking of, you haven't washed those veggies yet."

"I didn't know I was supposed to."

"Now you do."

"Gee, thanks." Jim turned on the sink. "And speaking of stuff we don't know..."

"Yeah?"

"I can see where you're going with dinner," Jim said, "but I'd leave out the ham. Spock's a vegetarian."

Bones sighed dramatically. "I can't mess with him just a little?" he asked, and then followed up with "Vegan, or lacto-ovo, or what?"

"I'd assume lacto-ovo, I've seen him eat stuff that had milk in it."

"Well, just in case, chop some extra veggies to set aside," Bones instructed him, taking the ham back to the fridge. "I can probably manage something else, if he doesn't want one of my omelettes."

Chapter Text

Jim had never been able to figure out why any sane person would divorce Bones. ...All right, so that wasn't entirely true - he definitely did have his faults, which Jim knew pretty well. And maybe someone more uptight than Jim would actually be bothered by them. But as far as Jim was concerned, they were pretty small in the shadow of his friend's absolutely brilliant mind, his determination, the loyalty that never, ever faltered for a moment. He was one of those people who took forever to fall in love, but took even longer to fall out of it again - he'd come back with hopes of making up with his ex after all these years, hadn't he? Whenever he got the chance to be around Jo, he turned into the most devoted dad you could imagine. And on top of all that, Jim discovered, he was a pretty good cook, too.

And, as was made obvious after they'd finished dinner, Bones had the same stubbornly selfless streak he and Spock shared.

"The place's been renovated a few times now," he was telling Jim and Spock as he led them upstairs with their belongings. "No one's needed quite so many bedrooms as the house was originally built with, so we're down to the master bedroom, Jo's room, and the guest room. Which makes things a little tricky. I mean, I thought until yesterday I was just going to have you here, Jim - I figured we'd just share the bed in the guest room."

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim caught the curious tilt of Spock's head. "Hmm?" he prompted.

Spock didn't seem to have expected Jim to notice the reaction. "I was simply unaware that you and Dr. McCoy shared that sort of relationship."

"We don't," Bones spoke up immediately, with a vague scowl at Jim.

Jim repaid that scowl with a smirk. "Unfortunately."

"It's just that we've spent so much time in close quarters, we're comfortable with each other," Bones explained, ignoring him. "When you've been crammed into a shuttle for days, locked up in a single room together, that kind of thing? Sharing a bed, especially a king-size, isn't a big deal. Even if," he added, giving Jim a look, "Jim never gives up hoping."

"Hey, if you're that comfortable in close quarters with me-"

"Shut it." Bones turned back to Spock, as they stopped in front of one room off the hallway. "Anyway, you two are my guests, so I figured you two could take the guest room - I'll just take the couch downstairs."

Spock continued to look puzzled. "Unless I am mistaken, the configuration you describe leaves the master bedroom unoccupied."

"Yeah, well," Bones muttered, glancing back down the hall, in the direction of a closed door. "That's the ex-wife's room. She wouldn't be too happy if I let anyone sleep in her bed while she's gone."

"What about yourself?"

"I'm especially not sleeping in there," he grumbled. "That used to be my room - our bed, not hers. Pisses me off every time I even pass that room."

"Aw, come on," Jim teased, not even pretending to be serious. He knew better. "You can't say the idea of revenge sex in the ex's bed isn't appealing."

"Actually," Bones informed him, "it is. Just not with you."

Jim groaned. "How about with Spock?" he suggested, and was amused by the way eyebrows shot up from both directions.

"I am beginning to wonder if it is wise for anyone to share a bed with him," Spock told Bones.

"You know, you've got a point there..."

"Okay, okay..." Jim gave in. "I can behave. Honest." And if it was Spock, he really would - he didn't want to have Spock run off on him over a stupid joke.

"However, as you two are comfortable with such arrangements, and I was an unexpected addition," Spock offered, "it would be logical for me to take the couch, while the two of you share the bed."

"Nothing doing," Bones told him firmly. "Jo's still got a week left of school before break - and she gets up early. I get up when she gets up anyway, but you two shouldn't have to."

"I am accustomed to keeping far more unusual hours."

Ugh - Jim had forgotten for the moment, since everything had been so comfortable since they'd arrived, and actually even before they left the Academy. There was no way he was going to let Spock talk his way into taking the couch here. "Spock, it's no big deal," he said, leaving Spock and Bones in the hall as he went to the end of the bed, gesturing towards it. "See? The bed's big. It's not like we're going to have to cuddle up close or anything." Not that he'd mind that...

"I place significantly more value on my personal space than you do on yours," Spock told him, following him just a step inside the door.

"That's fine - I'll just make sure I place more value on your personal space than I do on mine too," Jim told him with a grin, setting his luggage down. "Come on, Spock. One of these days, you're going to have to get used to the idea that there are people around who want to see you get a good night's rest."

"What humans consider to be 'a good night's rest' is not-"

"Spock," Jim interrupted, giving him a firm look. "If you can come up with a logical reason why we shouldn't share a bed, then let me know. And then I'll sleep on the floor."

"You need not sleep on the floor in your friend's home, Kirk."

Jim shot him a cocky smile. "Then you agree there's no logical reason not to share a bed, I assume?"

He could see that look in Spock's eye, the one that told Jim that he was weighing the options of arguing the point further, or just giving in. This time, he gave in. "There is not," he admitted.

"Good." Jim bounced a fist on the mattress idly. "Feels like it'll be pretty comfortable."

"Now that that's straightened out," Bones said from the doorway, "I'll let you two get settled. After dinner's when Jo and I go over her homework - I think she's got it all done already, but just to make sure..."

"All right, have fun," Jim said, watching as Spock placed his backpack on the far side of the bed from Jim. ...Okay, so maybe this was a little weird. He wasn't used to sharing a bed with attractive people he wasn't having sex with, except for Bones. Well... he'd learn.

"So how come you never told me you played an instrument?" Jim asked, more or less to fill the silence. "I didn't know you were carrying that around."

"I cannot recall a time when it would have been relevant to our conversations," Spock replied.

"That's fair," Jim conceded. "But it would've given you something to do."

"You provided me with plenty of activities," Spock reasoned. "And I did not want to disturb you."

"Are you kidding?" Jim asked, incredulous. "That wouldn't have disturbed me. You're good." And the kind of music he'd been playing was about the least potentially offensive music he'd ever heard.

Spock inclined his head briefly in acknowledgment. And after a moment's pause, "...I believe Joanna would like to hear me play again."

Jim chuckled. "Yeah, I think she would." He wondered if Spock realized that Jo had a big crush on him, or if he couldn't parse the... well, the humanness of it.

Later that night, after Joanna's homework was finished, she came to ask Jim and Spock if they wanted to do some more gaming - apparently she and Spock had made a lot of progress while Jim was helping Bones with dinner. Jim would've been glad to go back to it with them, but he could tell Bones was fed up with the game, and he had come to spend time with his friend, not his friend's daughter. Besides, he knew perfectly well that Jo was more interested in spending time with Spock than him, and he wasn't offended, just amused. He bowed out, and he and Bones wound up out on the porch in the dark, sitting and talking about everything and nothing, just like they often had done aboard the Enterprise - except that there was no alcohol involved this time.

The weather was warm, and the windows were open, so they could hear the sounds from inside as Jo and Spock advanced through the levels, the occasional exclamation from Jo as they managed to finish a scenario she hadn't been able to complete before, or warning as they approached a dangerous part. And once, an awkward pause followed by a query, at which point she explained that when she put her hand out like that, he was supposed to slap it. Spock saw little point in this 'high-five', and declined.

Jim tried to keep his chuckling quiet, but at this point, even Bones was more amused than concerned. "I really don't have to worry about leaving him and Jo alone, do I?"

"Not at all," Jim said. "At least, you don't have to worry about Spock doing anything funny. Jo, on the other hand..."

"Jo's a good girl," Bones informed him, and then added in a mutter, "Doesn't take after her mom at all, except for being pretty."

Jim wondered if he should ask. He had some ideas about what had caused the divorce just based on what he knew of the issues his friend had had right after he'd enlisted, and a few things that had been said since then, but Bones never talked about it and therefore Jim had never gotten the whole story. He hadn't decided yet when Jo spoke again, this time quieter. "Spock... can I ask you something?"

"I see no reason why you should not," came the reply.

A pause. "You are a Vulcan, aren't you?"

Jim exchanged glances with Bones in the moment of silence that followed. "Yes, I am."

"I thought so." Jo didn't seem as obviously pleased with her correct guess this time, just thoughtful. "You have a name I've never heard before, and you speak very precisely, and you play Vulcan music, and... and you'd never heard of a high-five. I knew you had to be from somewhere very far away, at least, but the Vulcan music gave me an idea where."

"I had expected that to be the primary factor leading to your conclusion."

"You weren't trying to hide it, were you?"

"Not from you," Spock replied. "Your father is already aware of who and what I am. My assumption was that there would be no need to hide my racial identity within his household."

"Yeah, there isn't. I don't... I mean..." Jo seemed uncertain of what she was trying to say. "...I remember when I was a kid, when we heard that Vulcan - the planet, I mean - had just..."

"Collapsed." Spock supplied the correct word. "There is no need to be concerned about my reaction to basic facts."

"...Yeah." Jo sounded dejected. "I'm sorry."

Another hesitation. "An expression of sympathy?" Spock queried. "If so... thank you."

At least Spock was picking up on some things, Jim thought to himself.

"Yeah," Jo confirmed. "...At the time, I was scared for Dad, because I knew he'd been sent out there, and a lot of people had died. But then we heard a whole planet was gone, and... that's really terrible."

"It was," Spock agreed quietly. It might have been the closest thing Jim had heard to an admission of emotion from Spock since the whole thing had happened. "Your father, however, was of great assistance to those who survived. He aided my own father, in fact."

"That's good." Jo paused. "Dad and I wrote back and forth to each other a lot while he was on the Enterprise, and he always said... well, he was mad about the people who were suspicious of Vulcans just because of the Romulans. He said the fact the Romulans did that to your planet should have made people stop saying things - it was like they forgot how much the Romulans made you suffer."

"I would not say that they forgot," Spock put in. "Some may have conveniently omitted that fact in their paranoia, or even believed it to be no more than a staged hoax."

Jo made a quiet noise of disgust. "Yeah, but those people are idiots. They weren't there. Dad was there, he knows."

Jim shot a grin at Bones, and found him smiling too. "That's my girl," Bones murmured.

"I am aware that such views are held by a minority among humans," said Spock. "The majority are more informed."

"Yeah. I just wanted to say," Jo told him, "that I don't care about that. I think you're a really interesting person, and it doesn't matter to me that you're a Vulcan. I'm really glad you're staying with us."

"Thank you," Spock answered her, after another slightly bemused pause, "for the compliment, as well as your hospitality."

"Why couldn't he be like that to me?" Jim whispered to Bones. "He's been fighting me every time I try to do something nice for him."

"Ordinarily I'd say it's because you're not as cute as Jo," Bones whispered back, "but since he's Vulcan... who knows?"

"You're welcome," she replied. "...Earlier, did you really mean it, about having an attentive audience?"

"I did," he confirmed.

"Because I'd really like to hear you play some more," Jo told him. "If you'd like to, I mean. We've made a lot of progress in this game now, and maybe we should do something else. So I was thinking... maybe I could listen to more of your songs?"

"My instrument is upstairs in the guest room," said Spock, who must have replied with a nod. "One moment, and I will retrieve it."

"I'll come with you!" Jo said brightly. "In fact, it's more comfortable up there - I could show you my room-"

"Dammit!" Bones hissed, jumping to his feet. The expression on his face only made it harder for Jim to stop himself from laughing out loud as he followed his friend back inside.


Once Bones had declared it bedtime, reminding Jo it was a school night (to which Jo protested somewhat, because she only had a few days left - but perhaps fortunately for her father, she seemed reluctant to make too much of a scene in front of Spock), he and Jim settled down inside with Spock. It was still early yet for Jim and Spock, having come from San Francisco that morning, and restlessness led Jim to pick up the controller Joanna had left behind, offering to go a little further with Spock. It didn't stop them from carrying on a conversation with Bones, which led to what they might do for those next few days. With Joanna in school, the three of them had the daytime to themselves.

"When I thought it was just you coming," Bones said, looking to Jim, "I figured I'd just show you around, some of my favorite little spots. You know, the good places to eat, the local watering holes..."

"Curious," Spock spoke up. "Indoor plumbing has been widespread for centuries in this region - are some areas still without, or is the anachronism simply preserved as a tourist attraction?"

"The local bars, Spock," Bones grumbled. "It's a figure of speech. And I'm guessing that's not something that would interest you, but there are some museums, some historical sites... Is that more your kind of thing?"

"You need not change your plans on my behalf," Spock told him. "I am quite accustomed to keeping myself occupied."

"Well, I think visiting historical sites sounds like a good idea," Jim stated. As if he was going to let Spock come all this way with him just to sit around by himself - and he did find that sort of thing interesting, besides. "Gives us something to do before you show us the good places to eat. And drink."

"All right - sounds like a plan, then," Bones agreed. "I Should get on to bed soon myself, but if you two want to have a look at some of what's in the area, let me know in the morning. I've been to everything they list in the tourist info, but some of it I haven't seen since I was a kid, so I wouldn't mind going back."

"Good call," Jim said, not looking away from the game. Some enemies had just converged overhead - or they'd been trying, but his shot scattered them, and Spock took down half of them as easily as if he'd been expecting the maneuver. Jim grinned. Apparently they still made a pretty good team. "We should probably head for bed soon too, actually, or we'll waste half the morning sleeping. But we can have a look first."

Bones nodded and stood. "...Are you two going to be much longer?"

"No, I think we're almost through this mission."

"Good, because I can't exactly go to bed until you two aren't sitting on it," Bones reminded him. "You can always take the game upstairs if you want, as long as you don't keep Jo up with the noise."

"As Kirk suggested, we should sleep soon as well," Spock remarked. "It would be most sensible to stop after the completion of this scenario."

"Okay - I'll go grab some blankets while you finish up."

It wasn't long before they were victorious, and afterwards they headed upstairs. ...Jim had kind of forgot about the part where he was sharing a bed with Spock, until they got up there and both of them were going through their belongings looking for something to sleep in, on opposite sides of said bed. Spock didn't seem to feel awkward about it, however. And why should he? Logically speaking, it wasn't a big deal. When Spock left to shower, Jim changed into his usual nightclothes and settled down on his side of the bed with his PADD, pulling up information on things to do and see in the Atlanta area. He thought briefly of calling up the other Spock and just asking what he might like to do, but he wasn't sure what time it was on the colony - and when he checked, he found that it was an even worse hour at New Vulcan than it was in Georgia. Maybe tomorrow.

He'd already marked up a few possibilities and a few definite nos by the time Spock returned, to leave Jim unsure whether he was disappointed or not to see that Spock had changed in the bathroom, instead of coming out in a towel like he had when they were at the Academy. On the one hand, Jim wouldn't have minded another look at that. On the other, he might have had trouble not staring when Spock dropped the towel to get into his clothes, and unless what he saw was really weird, it might have been more awkward sleeping in the same bed with the guy.

In fact, if he thought too much along those lines, it was going to be awkward anyway, so Jim changed the subject of his internal monologue back to what it had been before it was interrupted by a damp, casually-dressed Vulcan. "So I've got some ideas for tomorrow marked... want to have a look?" he asked, offering the PADD.

Spock accepted, and climbed onto the bed to sit cross-legged beside Jim, scrolling down the list, clicking through and occasionally nodding slightly. His expression gave little insight into what he might have been thinking about any of the options, even if Jim could have seen the screen from his position, all sprawled out. One thing he could see was Spock's feet. Which were bare, and his toes were like his fingers - long and slender. Jim found himself tempted to reach out and... oh, he didn't even know what he was thinking, exactly. It wasn't like he was a foot fetishist, he was just intrigued by all the little things he was learning about Spock, the parts of Spock that probably hardly anyone had ever seen.

It was just starting to dawn on him, lying there watching Spock read with half-lidded eyes, that damn - he really was attracted to Spock. Not just in the 'yeah, I'd hit that' sort of way in which Jim was attracted to a lot of people, including most of his ship's core crew, who he'd told himself were off-limits; this was more the 'even if I don't get to hit that, I'm still going to be thinking about it in the shower, and I'll try my luck again next weekend' level of attraction. Kind of like how he'd thought of Uhura, until he found out she was with Spock. And then he was her captain, which made her off-limits, and from there it had kind of dwindled as they realized they made pretty good friends. Just she was a pretty good friend that he also liked looking at a whole lot.

And in Spock's case, that was really all Jim could do anyway. Not only was he Vulcan, but he was in a bad situation, and Jim would never forgive himself if he threw away the progress they were making and let Spock go back to begging at spaceports just because he'd let his cock do the thinking.

He suspected it would be doing plenty of thinking regardless, especially with them in the same bed at night, but he could deal with that. "Anything catch your eye?" he asked, as if his attention wasn't mostly focused elsewhere. It was a bad way to have that epiphany about someone, lounging half a meter away from them on a bed - but at least he had a good poker face.

"All of the destinations you have marked are acceptable," Spock replied.

"Honestly?" Jim asked. "Or are you just saying that because you don't want to get in anyone's way."

"Honestly," Spock affirmed, and raised an eyebrow slightly. "You have, in fact, picked attractions that are of some intellectual interest, and are therefore potentially useful to me, as I have only the basic knowledge of your planet's history, let alone the history of particular regions. They may be informative to me. Surprisingly, our tastes may not differ so much."

"What, did you think I was all about the dirty little pool halls and cheap beer?" Jim teased him. "I went to the Academy, same as you - you think I would've made it through if I didn't have an active interest in intellectual subjects?"

Spock just looked at him for a moment. As usual, unreadable. "I could say something about the reward you might have achieved for saving the planet from destruction," he said, "but I am wary of my ability to make such a statement humorous as intended. Taken as anything but a joke, it would be rather insulting."

Jim had to puzzle over that before he thought he understood what Spock was saying, and then he had to smile. "Don't worry, I think I can usually tell when someone's joking."

"It would likely be an inappropriate joke regardless," Spock stated. "The implication is a disservice to what I have learned of your character thus far. I am aware that you are more than the face you show to the universe as a whole."

Jim's smile faded. Attempts at jokes aside, he thought that this conversation had suddenly turned more serious than he had intended for it to get. And he could have said something about faces people show to the universe, but after a second thought, he opted for a less specific "Yeah, well - who isn't?"

"Indeed." Jim hadn't quite grasped that Spock was still looking at him until Spock abruptly looked back to the PADD. "Do you have any preferences?"

For places to go tomorrow. Right. "I don't know... something outside might be nice, if the weather's good. I've spent a lot of time, uh, cooped up inside." Halfway through saying it, he remembered that Spock hadn't, but he couldn't exactly stop right there.

Whether or not Spock had noticed Jim's self-consciousness, he wasn't offended. "I, on the other hand, am unused to being indoors for such lengths of time," he noted. "Although I am grateful for the access to shelter, modern technology, and other such luxuries, being out of doors again in a more secure fashion would be agreeable."

Jim could have pointed out that Spock had actually expressed gratitude. But he was starting to figure it out - the more he drew attention to the little things that didn't come naturally for Spock, the more likely Spock would be awkward about it, and it would be longer until he was able to do it again. The best thing to do was just accept it, and that was what he did now. "Great - we can ask Bones in the morning."

Spock handed the PADD back to him. "Then I suppose you would like to sleep now."

"In the absence of anything better to do, sure." Jim was trying not to think of better things to do, which was difficult when Spock was turning back the blankets he was sitting on. Jim flipped the PADD off, set it on the table by the bed, and started to do likewise. Sleep really was a good idea - if he was unconscious, he wouldn't think about things he shouldn't be thinking about.

Spock was helping, in a sense, by settling himself almost on the far edge of the bed, as far away from Jim as he possibly could. It looked precarious, actually. "Hey, you can come a little closer," Jim told him, settling firmly in the middle of his side. "I don't bite. Unless you ask for it," he added with a smirk.

"I would not expect you to bite," Spock said, looking over at him, puzzled. "I simply thought it prudent to give you as much room as you may require."

"Well, I think the same," Jim said, pulling the blankets up over himself. "And I don't really take up that much room. So you don't have to squish yourself into a corner on my account. Unless we're lying with our arms stretched out or something, we're not going to touch accidentally."

Spock gave him a measuring look. "Or on purpose?"

"Or on purpose," Jim sighed. "Don't worry, I kid around with Bones all the time. But you're not Bones - I know better than to treat you like I treat him."

"So you were joking earlier."

"Yeah. Mostly," Jim amended. "I mean, if he was interested... I wouldn't complain or anything. But he's not, and I respect that. Same goes for you."

"Very well."

As Spock began to scoot over a little closer, Jim leaned back against the pillow, staring up at the ceiling. "Ready for lights out?"

"I believe so."

"Computer, lights off." There was a click, and the room went dark, except for the distant glow of streetlights outside.

Jim heard Spock shift, getting comfortable. Then... "When you said that the same goes for me, were you also implying that if I were interested..."

"Uh." Jim wasn't sure there was a good answer to that.

Before he could reply, Spock spoke again. "It would seem, from your lack of response, that I am in fact not adequately experienced in the ways of Terran humor."

"...Oh." Jim wasn't sure if he was relieved, or disappointed. "You were trying to joke too."

"Yes. It seems to be a popular form of interaction, based on your conversations with Dr. McCoy."

Jim chuckled faintly. "Okay, that makes sense. ...It's not really that you're bad at it," he explained. "It's only that I didn't expect it from you."

"That is understandable. Though you had said that you were generally able to tell when one was joking."

"I was confused."

"I see."

Jim wondered if he should say something else. Like asking if Spock was really joking. Or answering anyway. ...No, probably anything else he could say would be a bad idea, except... "Night, Spock."

"Good night."

He hoped he would fall asleep very fast.

Chapter Text

Unsurprisingly, Jim did not sleep well.

He woke up at one point, a few hours after having turned out the light, and wondered who turned the heat up. Still half-asleep, it took him a second to realize that just maybe it was so hot in his bed because it wasn't his bed, and he was sharing it with a Vulcan. Even though they weren't touching, Jim could feel all that body heat trapped under the blankets, and wound up sitting up to push them away, towards the center of the bed. They were in the south, it was almost summer - it wasn't like he needed more than a sheet anyway.

It was a good thing he'd done so, because the next time he woke up, his arms and legs were wrapped around something next to him. He couldn't remember who he might be sleeping with - there hadn't been a lot of opportunities lately - until his mind drifted right on to Spock. Spock? That woke him up in a hurry, enough for him to almost immediately realize that what he was holding onto was way too small to be Spock. In fact, it was just a wad of sheets and blankets he was snuggling up to. Well, no kidding; if he'd been snuggling up to Spock like that, Spock would have woken him up, and probably kicked him out of the bed. ...Or, well, no - Spock probably would have disentangled himself as gently as possible and then taken his pillow to the floor. Stupid selfless tendencies.

And Jim's realization that he wasn't cuddling with anyone really made him want to cuddle. He liked having someone right there while he slept, even if they weren't doing a thing besides cuddling. Bones was usually pretty good for that, and for a second Jim entertained the thought of going down and joining him on the couch. But the couch wasn't that big, and he'd taken advantage of Bones and his willingness to indulge Jim's weird personal whims more than he probably should have, so Jim decided to stay where he was, just listening to Spock's even breathing, looking at the faint dark shape of him outlined by the dim light through the window. He could see the tip of his ear, a pale angle peeking out from within all that dark hair. Kind of like with Spock's toes, he had the urge to reach out and just...

Jim turned onto his back, staring up at the ceiling again. This wasn't going to help him relax and sleep.

He must have fallen asleep again, though, because he woke up some time later on his side, wrapped around those blankets again. This time it wasn't too early to get up, maybe go for a morning run... except he had a little problem. Not an unusual one, though, and it would sort itself out with a little time, so he just lay there and waited, letting himself wake up more fully. Listening to Spock breathe. Looking for that little pointed tip of his ear, but Spock had shifted positions again and was on his back now, so instead Jim wound up looking at his eyelids and his mouth, slightly crooked with sleep. He wondered what Spock dreamed about, if he dreamed at all. Maybe Vulcans didn't dream. He wondered if Vulcans got morning wood.

...All right, that wasn't helping. Jim gave up, and just got up to take a shower. A nice hot one. If he'd been that warm just sharing a blanket with Spock, he could just imagine how hot Spock was if they were right up next to each other, lying against each other with nothing in between. And Spock's mouth - it had to be hotter still.

Jim had to admit, as he was rinsing himself off, that letting himself fantasize like that probably wasn't going to help him put it out of his mind, which was what he really needed to do. But on the other hand, he was way more relaxed now, instead of lying there grinding his teeth. When he went back to the guest room, in fact, he could look at Spock sleeping and just see Spock sleeping, no big deal.

Much better. He picked up his handheld, just to make sure he didn't wind up getting himself lost, and headed downstairs. It was still early, and he might as well get a little run in. Or more likely a jog, since he'd already showered. No sense in really working up a sweat and having to do it again.

And it wouldn't be hard to work up a sweat, considering the time of year and his location. Even with the sun just barely coming up, it was warm. Jim took a little tour of the neighborhood, peering with interest at some of the houses as he passed - there were other old-fashioned houses besides the McCoy place, some looked to be even older than that - and then headed back.

His hosts were already up when he returned, Bones making breakfast while Jo was getting dressed, and Bones poked his head out of the kitchen, raising an eyebrow to see him coming in. "Where'd you run off to?"

"Just around the block in a few different directions," Jim told him. "Thought I'd have a look around... and since I'm somewhere where I've got room to run for the moment, I thought you'd appreciate me sticking to the exercise regimen."

"You don't need room to run," Bones reminded him. "On the ship, there are these things called treadmills..."

"Treadmills are boring." As if they hadn't had this discussion dozens of times already. Jim sat down at the table. "Hey, I've been good - and I'm on vacation besides. You're not going to make me eat salad, are you?"

"Does it look like I'm making a salad?" Bones gestured to the sliced fruit and various toppings sitting out on the counter. "Of course, first round is for Jo, since I didn't know when you'd be up. If you want salad, it could be arranged."

Jim grinned. "Not for breakfast, thanks." It was too easy to just fall back into the usual habits with Bones.

Joanna appeared a few minutes later, and after greeting Jim, was all too happy to take a plate of pancakes from her father, covering them with all kinds of toppings... and asking if Spock was still asleep. Since he hadn't come down, Jim assumed he was. And that reminded him, he had been thinking about making a call. Just a quick one, he didn't want to miss breakfast.

Given the time difference he'd observed before, Jim knew it was definitely an acceptable hour at the Vulcan colony, so he stepped out to the front porch. Apparently Spock was better at keeping track of the time differences than he was. "Good morning, Jim - I see you must have left the Academy."

"Yeah, I'm in Georgia with Bones." Jim grinned at the figure on the small monitor. "And you're with me."

There was that eyebrow raise again. "I must assume, then, that we made peace after that last transmission."

"Er, yeah. Right, I forgot that was the last time I talked to you," Jim admitted. "Yeah, it was sort of a knee-jerk reaction, and he decided it was illogical to run off just because I was talking to you, especially when he'd given his word. I never even told you about the bet we made, did I?"

"Regarding the bed? You did."

"No, the other one. I got you to agree to come with me when I left San Francisco."

"Very impressive," Spock said, nodding slowly and thoughtfully. "I am doing well, then? From the lack of correspondence, I must assume there have been no further emergencies."

"Not at all. Actually, I think I'm starting to get through to him a little," Jim told him. "Last night he actually expressed gratitude without me doing anything. He told me he kept himself from making a joke at my expense, too, because he didn't want me to take it seriously."

"...Hmm. As I have not seen him for years, I could not say whether or not this is progress."

"Trust me, it's progress," said Jim. "The fact he'd thought about making a joke at all is progress, considering how uptight he was when I found him. I like to think I've been good for him."

"I am certain of it, Jim."

He sounded way too serious for Jim's flippant comment, but Jim didn't think he disagreed. "Yeah, well... it's not just me. He had a talk with Admiral Pike too - I wasn't there, I don't know what they talked about, and I'm not sure it did him much good at the time, but at least he knows there's someone else who thinks he's worth keeping around. And even if he didn't say it, I think he had fun shooting pool with a bunch of cadets, and playing holo-games with Jo - that's Bones's daughter, by the way, don't know if you ever met her."

"Joanna McCoy? In passing, yes."

Jim grinned. "Probably didn't have a crush on you in the other universe, then, huh?"

Spock appeared mildly surprised. "If so, I was unaware."

"She's definitely crushing on you in this one," Jim informed him. "Can't take her eyes off you. Ever since we got here, she's been practically ignoring me and Bones."

"Quite puzzling."

"I don't think it's puzzling," Jim told him. "You're hot." He gave Spock a little smirk. "Did I ever tell you you were hot in that other universe?"

"Of course; the relative average temperatures of our species have remained consistent, naturally, and therefore-"

"You're as bad as he is," Jim groaned. And now he was a little curious. "I mean, did I ever tell you that you're attractive?"

"Yes, you did."

Spock had gone oddly blank all of a sudden. It was reminiscent, actually, of the younger Spock. Jim supposed he knew what that meant, then. "I bet it made things weird, didn't it?"

"Not at all," Spock assured him. "I was aware that you found many creatures attractive, regardless of race or gender. I was merely somewhat pleased to be named among them."

Well, at least he hadn't flipped out. But that didn't mean the younger version of him wouldn't, so Jim just put it aside. There was a reason he'd called. "Anyway... Jo's still got school for another few days, so it's just me and you and Bones today. We thought we'd go somewhere in the area, sightseeing and so on. So last night I made a list, and had you look it over..."

He transmitted the list, and Spock confirmed that Jim's choices were good ones, places that would have held some interest for him when he was that age. "To be honest, I might still be interested in visiting some of these attractions with you - I never spent much time on Earth."

"Hey - just let me know," Jim told him. "I'm not going to be here forever, but looks like I've got a couple more months before I'm shipping out again, so if you have the time... We really haven't spent much time together in person, I think it would be nice."

But Spock was already shaking his head. "Although the thought of spending time in the company of my old friend is certainly a tempting one, I would be most pleased if you spent the time you have remaining on Earth with the younger Spock. Jim Kirk has already had a great impact on my life - it is not so with him. And as he holds little respect for me, I would not want to be a factor that might come between you."

Jim supposed he understood. "All right, I get it. But maybe when all of this is straightened out... Actually, it doesn't have to be before I go. Maybe we can swing by New Vulcan sometime - I don't really know anything about what the new colony's growing into, especially compared to the planet. What you like, what you don't like, what's just like home, what's nothing at all like home... I'd like to have you show me around."

"I would be honored, should the opportunity present itself," Spock agreed. "However, ideally, again - I would prefer my younger self to play a part. Things have changed significantly since his departure, in fact; perhaps someday, if he and I come to terms with our differences and similarities, I may show the both of you around."

"...That would be really great," Jim murmured, with a small nod. It was kind of weird, how much he liked the idea. And the thing about differences and similarities reminded him... "Do you know why he's mad at you?"

"I have some idea about what I have done to upset him," Spock admitted. "As I told you previously, I may have interfered too much."

"Yeah, that's more or less what he implied," Jim agreed. "He doesn't want to believe in fate."

"My intentions were unclear," Spock sighed. "I never meant to imply that his life was entirely predestined - I only wished for him to find the peace that I found."

"I kind of thought so. We talked about it, you know," Jim told him. "And I told him as much. It's not like the Enterprise just fell into my lap out of nowhere - I worked for it. I wouldn't have had it if I didn't want it that badly."

"And it would seem that he does not want his."

"I don't think it's that," Jim said, and glanced back over his shoulder, hoping the other Spock hadn't come downstairs yet. "He said he wants whatever happens to happen by his own merit."

Spock looked thoughtful. "Perhaps that is true... but I also believe that he is afraid."

"No, not really... That was what I thought too, but he said that whatever you told him about wasn't necessarily a bad thing."

"Even so, I believe he is afraid." Spock nodded seriously. "In retrospect, I realize that I would have been afraid."

But he wouldn't admit it, of course, because Vulcans didn't feel any of those inconvenient emotions like fear. Right. "What did you tell him about?" Jim asked.

"It is his destiny to claim if he wishes it, Jim," Spock stated. "Not yours."

"...That's fair," Jim admitted.

"Is it...?"

The murmur was so faint, Jim wasn't sure he'd even heard it. "Huh?"

"Life is a strange organism," Spock said aloud. "No two are alike - and none is ever truly alone. Each is shaped by those surrounding it, pushing and pulling and occasionally intertwining. I have been content with the form my life has taken. Do you feel the same?"

The friendship between them that had meant so much to them both... that had to be what he was referring to. "Mostly," Jim replied. "But there's always room for improvement."

"Indeed there is," Spock agreed quietly. "Take care of him, Jim."

"I'm trying," Jim affirmed, giving him a little nod. "Talk to you later?"

"Yes, and thank you."


Bones approved of spending the day out in the fresh air, and so their first excursion into the city proper was to the zoo. He and Jim had seen all kinds of creatures throughout the galaxy, and Jim remarked how funny it was to think that once he'd thought things like lions were exotic. Now even animals from the furthest regions seemed comfortable and familiar - and although the zoo did house some extra-terrestrial species as well, they were species that were well-known. The two of them joked, more than once, about how it was nice that there was a barrier between them and the wild animals this time.

Spock, on the other hand, was unfamiliar with the majority of Earth creatures, and found the experience quite interesting in a more conventional way. He and Jim stayed while Bones left to pick up Jo; her school wasn't far off, and she'd probably like to join them, he reasoned. While he was gone, they headed for the polar exhibit, and Jim couldn't help but be amused at the utterly fascinated expression on Spock's face as he stood by a large display tank watching the penguins. Spock, and penguins. There were two things he'd never expected to go together. When he said so, Spock gave him some entirely logical answer that involved him having been born on a hot, dry world; he had never before seen aquatic creatures who thrived in the cold, and therefore penguins were particularly interesting. Jim wasn't convinced, and became less so when Jo arrived. Once Jim had started talking to Jo about how cute the penguins were, waddling around and everything, Spock moved on, pretending he wasn't listening. Pity Jim didn't think he'd get away with getting Spock a big stuffed penguin at the gift shop or anything. He'd probably get kicked out of the bed. And the penguin would get his spot.

...Actually, he was even more tempted, just to see if he could get Spock to snuggle a stuffed penguin, but no - that definitely qualified as teasing.

The next day, it rained, and it was off to museums. The museum of natural history was a shoo-in, of course... and Jim had rather a lot of fun teasing Bones when he discovered that they had gigantic fossilized dinosaur skeletons - which 'bones' was he talking to, again? The doctor just rolled his eyes and assumed from there on out he was talking to the dinosaurs. Not far off, there was a museum of broadcasting and communications history, which Spock proclaimed 'fascinating' as he examined early prototypes of everything from radios to televisions to interstellar arrays. It actually kind of made Jim's head hurt trying to figure out how they managed to get some of those things to work.

The third day, the weather had cleared up and they set off to the botanical gardens. It was there that Bones first gave Jim a funny look when they made their donations, but he didn't say anything about it until later, after Jim had paid for Spock's lunch too.

Both of them had noticed that Spock seemed to be intrigued by the water - he had lingered in the desert house, unsurprisingly, but seemed far more interested in actually examining the plants in the tropical garden - and so without any need to explain to each other, after they'd picked up some takeout, they headed for a nearby park that Bones suggested, with a lake. It would be nice to just relax and eat away from most of the noise of the city, even if there were still shuttles whizzing overhead frequently. Finally, when they'd found a good spot under a tree and settled down, Bones spoke up. "So what is it with you two, anyway?"

Spock turned his head to regard the doctor curiously. "What do you mean?" Jim asked.

"Well, it was funny enough that you were hanging out together on campus," Bones reasoned. "Funnier still that he'd come with you to visit me, when he hardly even knows me. And here you are paying his way into everything, buying his lunch - and don't give me that look, Jim, I know you said not to mess with him, and I'm not." He looked to Spock. "I know it's none of my business, and you don't have to answer, but I'm honestly curious about the situation."

"Should've known you couldn't keep your nose out of anything for long," Jim sighed.

"It is no trouble. There is a very simple answer as to why Kirk has been providing for my expenses," Spock said, without a trace of self-consciousness. "I have no credit, and have been without for some time."

Bones frowned, giving him an even more curious look. "Then what are you doing?"

"Currently?" Spock looked down at the wrapped sandwich in his hands. "I am eating lunch."

Jim really shouldn't have wanted to laugh, especially since he could see where this conversation was going, so he refrained. "You know what I mean," Bones growled. "What are you doing for a living? How are you making ends meet?"

"At the moment, I am not," Spock replied. "I have been living as what you would term, historically, a vagrant."

The doctor's eyes widened. "You can't be serious."

"I am quite serious."

"But that's..." Bones seemed lost for words momentarily, and Jim had seen that look on his face often enough to know that this was about to go downhill. He knew Bones wasn't actually mad at Spock himself, he just... didn't do a good job of making it obvious. "Look, Spock - I know we don't know each other very well, but I know you've got a head on your shoulders. You could do anything."

"Having a head on one's shoulders only qualifies one as being a creature of typical anatomical build," Spock remarked. "It does not make one omnipotent."

"You know what I mean," Bones snapped. "I mean you're smart. If you were out of a job, why didn't you come back to Starfleet? You were going to be the first officer of their flagship under Pike - someone sure thought you were capable of great things."

"Being capable is no indication that it is the best pursuit," Spock replied.

"Isn't it better than being homeless, though?" Bones argued. "Even if the only home you've got is a ship flying through light-years of nothing, at least you've got a place to rest your head. And you know - the Enterprise could use a guy like you-"

"Bones," Jim spoke up finally, in warning. "Leave him alone, it's his decision."

"You know I'm right, Jim," Bones insisted. "Number One's got her own ship now, and Sulu would make a good first officer, sure - but he'd still rather be helmsman rather than heading the science division again. We've got gaps, and-"

"I know, Bones," Jim told him steadily. "Those are my problems, not Spock's." If Bones could see how easily Spock filled those gaps, though, without even knowing what Jim had learned from the other Spock - how much more obvious did it have to be? "I'm working on them, so there's no need to drag him into it."

"They're not your problems, they're our problems," Bones told him flatly. "If I'm going to be your CMO, we're in this together. And I'm not dragging him into it, just saying he's got options. Pretty good ones, if you ask me."

If they'd been alone, Jim would have agreed. But since Spock was sitting right there, listening to them discuss his options... "He has the option to do what he wants. That includes not explaining his reasons to you. Since you agree that Spock is an intelligent guy, why not assume that he does have them? Right, Spock?" he finished, not wanting to talk about someone who was right there.

"Indeed," Spock confirmed. "Today is certainly not the first time that the subject of my return to Starfleet has been addressed. I have decided against it," he stated, looking to Bones. "That should be sufficient."

"...I guess so," Bones conceded, grudgingly. "I just don't see how it's logical, given the alternative."

"Maybe we would if we had all the information," Jim pointed out. "But we don't. And Spock's not obligated to give it to us," he added, with a nod to Spock. "His business. That's that."

"All right." Bones looked defeated, and a little annoyed by it. "Sorry, Spock."

"You did not offend me," Spock replied. "Your questions were quite reasonable, given the limited knowledge you have about my current situation. However, as Kirk has said, it is my prerogative whether or not to inform you further, and at this time, I choose not to do so."

Bones nodded. "Fine... So can I ask what you're planning to do after this? Because whatever your situation is," he said, his voice lowering in frustration again as he leaned a little closer, "you shouldn't have to live like that. No one should. Like I said, maybe we don't know each other that well, but if there's something I can do to help, I'd like to know. Not that I have much to offer - I don't have anywhere on this planet to call my own anymore either. But if there's something..."

"I don't believe that there is. And my plans are still as-of-yet unformed."

It was something Jim had been thinking about, and wondering if he shouldn't. He'd gotten Spock this far, sure, but with their arrival in Atlanta, technically the terms of their bet were fulfilled. Spock could leave anytime, there was nothing left to hold them together. Except, possibly, his willingness to find a place for Spock to stay, food for him to eat... The fact he hadn't taken off yet rather than accept Jim's further help might be a sign of something, at least.

So there was no reason not to offer. "You could always come back to Iowa with me," he suggested. "Unless you feel like staying here, or heading back to San Francisco."

"Your offer is appreciated," Spock responded. "I will consider it."

No clue whether or not he really meant it or not - it sounded cold and automated to Jim. He looked to Bones, half expecting he'd have something to add, but the doctor was silent, with an expression that was half frown, half distance. It looked, Jim thought, like he had something to consider himself. If so, he didn't share it for the remainder of their lunch break.

The whole exchange was almost forgotten among everything else, the sightseeing and joking around (mostly Jim and Bones; Spock was, as usual, quiet and serious), and later on in the evening, the holo-gaming. Bones still hadn't said a word about whatever he'd been thinking about. He was still thinking about it, that was obvious from his distraction for much of the evening, but he didn't say a thing. It was Spock who spoke up again, as he and Jim were getting ready for bed. "I appreciate your having defended my right to privacy this afternoon."

It was kind of out of nowhere, so Jim was momentarily confused. "...Oh. Right, no problem." He gave Spock a little smile as he climbed in, turning back the covers. "I guess you didn't expect that, huh, considering how nosy I am."

"On the contrary," said Spock, not looking at Jim at all as he did likewise and lay back. "I will concede that initially I misjudged your motivations on a regular basis; since that time, you have, in fact, offered me assistance in averting attention from the matters I do not care to discuss, thus proving yourself able to respect my boundaries. Although," he added, turning his head briefly to regard Jim, "I suspect that you would still be quite interested in having certain matters brought to light."

"Well, yeah." Jim couldn't deny that.

"Curiosity is not a fault," Spock said, lying back again to look up at the ceiling. "Therefore, as your actions have been respectful, I can offer unconflicted gratitude."

"You're welcome." Jim couldn't say he wasn't surprised, but not a whole lot. He thought he was starting to understand the way Spock worked, at least a little bit. He certainly couldn't figure out whether Spock was likely to take him up on his offer, though. "...You really are welcome, you know. To come with me when I go," he told Spock, propping himself up on his side on one elbow.

"I do," Spock admitted, "have very little reason to stay here, and no means of going elsewhere."

Since Jim had dragged him across the continent on a bet when he was completely broke. He felt slightly guilty. "If you wanted to go back to San Francisco, I'd pay your way. It's my fault you'd need to travel anyway."

"That would make very little sense. You would receive nothing, should I return to San Francisco," Spock reasoned, "although it would be at your expense. Meanwhile, although I still do not understand why, you seem to at least believe that my presence is beneficial."

"You're good company," Jim informed him. "It's not really much fun traveling alone. Especially when you've spent the last five years traveling with a whole ship full of interesting people."

Spock nodded thoughtfully. "I am... not averse to traveling further with you," he said. "And I know little of Iowa."

"It's not exactly a hotbed of innovation, compared to some other areas," Jim observed. "Our greatest natural resource is pretty much wide open space. A lot of it's used for agriculture. Some of it was used to build my ship, though," he added, shooting Spock another little smile. "It's like the Enterprise and I grew up in the same hometown."

Another thoughtful nod from Spock. "So did you just agree to come with me?" Jim asked. He was already pleased, because it sure sounded like that's what Spock was doing, but he wanted to make sure.

"Presently, it seems like an acceptable course of action." Though Spock's expression didn't change, he did glance over to see Jim's smile brighten.

"Good." Jim settled back himself. "...I guess tomorrow I should let my mom know I'm bringing someone."

"A wise idea. She should have time to prepare, and perhaps certain aspects of a visit can be worked out in advance - such as sleeping arrangements."

"...Yeah," Jim said with a thoughtful nod of his own. He didn't expect it to be a problem at his mom's place, since Sam had gotten married and headed offworld. He also wasn't sure whether he actually liked the idea of having a bed to himself anymore; after they'd gotten past the initial awkwardness, it was kind of nice to share. He couldn't even quite figure out why, considering they weren't doing anything, and if he so much as brushed a finger against Spock, it would probably be considered an invasion of privacy.

But whatever it was, he was getting used to it.

Chapter Text

Their plans for the next day were derailed slightly after waking - Joanna informed Jim and Spock over breakfast that her school was having a carnival of sorts in the evening, a celebration after the last day of school - and would they like to come? Of course Bones was planning to show up and spend the evening goofing off with his little girl, and Jim didn't mind the idea of taking it easy, playing some ridiculous games, eating things that would make Bones give him disapproving looks. He wasn't sure what Spock would make of that kind of atmosphere, but they could always head out before Jo and Bones were done.

There was the question of what to do for the rest of the day, once Jo was out the door, but first things first - Spock reminded Jim that they'd discussed calling his mother. Bones said he had a couple of calls to make too, so while he was off doing that, Jim took the handheld and Spock to the living room. As he'd predicted, his mom didn't mind if he brought a friend, and Sam's room was free. She did have a kind of funny expression on her face, though, at the idea of Jim bringing a friend along. Even when he'd lived there, he'd hardly brought anyone home. That was mostly because the kinds of people he hung out with weren't exactly the type to bring home to meet the parents, and Jim supposed she knew that much - she wasn't stupid - so this time he decided to set her mind at ease and tell her exactly where he knew Spock from.

That, going by the expression on her face, was the right decision. She barely ever smiled so brightly, as far as Jim could remember. "So you're the one that went with Jim... You can't imagine," she said earnestly, "how grateful I am. I don't know what I'd have done if the Romulans had taken my son from me..."

"No thanks are required," Spock said simply. "I was performing as was necessary for a Starfleet officer... and I had my own personal reasons to see the Narada destroyed as well." Jim looked at him, surprised he'd admit to that much, but Spock's expression was as stoic as he'd ever seen it.

"Oh... yes." Jim had told his mom back then about Spock, that he was from Vulcan, but it had been a long time. It was no wonder that she might have forgotten, especially without the obvious physical reminders visible. "Even so, thank you. Are you still in Starfleet?"

"I am not," Spock replied. "After the Narada's destruction, I joined with the survivors of Vulcan to begin a new colony."

Her smile had faded completely now, and she nodded sympathetically. "I understand. I'm glad you and Jim managed to keep in touch all this time - it'll be a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise, Mrs. Kirk."

"So when are you two going to be coming?" she asked Jim.

"I gotta ask Bones about the timeline, actually. He's staying with his daughter while his ex-wife's off on a trip, and... actually I'm not sure what he's doing once she gets back," Jim admitted. "I mean, he's already sleeping on the couch, but he deserves to have the guest room back... Of course, we could triple up," Jim added, giving Spock a grin.

"I would rather not," Spock replied flatly.

"So we're having a good time, but probably should be out of here by the time Jocelyn shows up," Jim finished. "I think that's this weekend, but I'd better make sure - I'll let you know what I find out."

"Good, I'm looking forward to it."

Jim nodded. "So... talk to you later."

"Mm-hmm. Love you, Jim."

Okay, in front of other people, it was a little embarrassing. Jim ignored it, and responded as usual. "Love you too."

Aside from that, though, that call home had been way less stressful than most. Maybe it was just because he trusted his mom not to get weird and emotional on him if someone else was around... One more reason it was a good thing Spock was coming with him, he supposed.

The study where Bones had holed up to make his own calls was quiet, but when Jim poked his head in to check, Bones was still there, and waved him away. "On hold - I may be a while."

Which meant he and Spock were left to themselves a little longer before they could discuss where to go or what to do for the rest of the day. The two of them tossed around a couple of ideas, but Jim wasn't particularly in the mood for museums, and Spock acknowledged that he was content to simply spend some time relaxing rather than sightseeing, especially if they were to engage in more social activities later that day.

They were still waiting for Bones, to see if he had any thoughts on where to spend a nice quiet afternoon, when Jim's handheld beeped. He had a message, and he grinned widely when he saw who it was from. "Hey, it's Scotty!"

"Scotty?" Spock inquired.

"Right, you barely even got to meet him," Jim remembered. "He was the guy that came with me from Delta Vega - the one that the other you helped out with the transwarp beaming equation."

"Oh. Yes," Spock recalled, and with no fondness. "As I recall, Mr. Scott's accuracy with the transporter not only sent him into one of the tanks in our engine room, but also placed the two of us in the line of sight of multiple Romulans when we beamed aboard the Narada."

"Hey, give him a break - he was flying blind in both cases," Jim pointed out. "And he got both of us, and Pike, out of there alive, and he's been taking good care of the Enterprise since. You wouldn't believe how many times Scotty's gotten us out of a jam by doing something even he says is impossible."

"Relying upon the impossible does not seem to be a logical way to handle danger."

Jim gave Spock a knowing look. "Wasn't it 'impossible' for a young, largely untested crew aboard a brand new starship they weren't even familiar with yet to take out a gigantic unknown ship with weapons tech from over a century in the future, all by themselves?"

Spock seemed to deflate slightly. "As you will recall, I was against the attempt."

"And you were wrong," Jim pointed out.

"I was," Spock conceded, in almost a mutter.

"So when things get bad," Jim told him, "I don't worry about whether or not what has to be done is impossible. I just make sure it gets done anyway. And you know what? Usually it does. And Scotty's really good at it."

"I see."

"Can drink me under the table, too," Jim added, opening the message. "We found that out during our first shore leave. ...Huh, and he's planetside at the moment too." Jim looked up and grinned at Spock. "Mind if I give him a call? Since I can tell it's a decent hour for him..."

"Go right ahead," Spock replied.

Scotty picked up right away when Jim placed the call. "Well! Dinna expect to get a response so quickly!" he said cheerfully. "Good to see you're up, Jim!"

"Yeah, it's morning here - I'm staying with Bones in Georgia," Jim explained. "Where are you?"

"Where else - Scotland." Scotty shrugged, gesturing to his surroundings - which didn't look especially Scottish as far as Jim could tell, since Scotty was indoors, in what looked like some sort of repair shop. "Good to be home, I'd say, but t'be honest? I'm not so certain."

"Yeah? Something wrong?"

"Not yet," Scotty replied, "but I canna help but worry about the ship. I left documentation regardin' the modifications I made - most of 'em - but I canna say I think whatever by-the-book entry-level technicians they got fixin' 'er up will understand what I was sayin'."

"I think they'll do all right," Jim reasoned. "Those 'by-the-book' types are the ones that built her, remember?"

"But they haven't spent years gettin' intimately acquainted with 'er fits an' moods, like you an' I." Scotty shrugged. "Maybe it's just me bein' without anythin' to tinker with, got me on edge."

"As long as you left documentation, they should respect that."

"Aye, but I dinna document all of the changes," Scotty admitted, glancing off to the side warily. "Some of 'em... were undocumentable. An' if they reverse those modifications..."

"How come you didn't document them?" Jim asked.

Scotty shifted awkwardly. "Because they were... just a wee bit beyond Starfleet's criteria for safe operations."

Jim frowned. "You mean they're illegal?"

"We were in extreme situations!" Scotty explained. "You told me to fix 'em, an' I fixed 'em, and those fixes saved the ship! If that dinna prove they're perfectly acceptable, what does? An' she performs better than ever since I did so, y'know," he added. "It's na' as if I left 'em for no good reason."

"Hey, don't get on my case about it," Jim told him. "If you say they're good to go, then as far as I'm concerned, they're good to go."

"Aye, I'm just hopin' they don't notice," Scotty muttered. "I may be spendin' the first week after departure just un-fixin' what they've done..."

Jim had an idea what he was getting at, but it wasn't going to happen. "Sorry, Scotty - things like this are probably why they have these checks. All I can say is, if they fix anything, it's okay by me if you un-fix it again - I trust you know what you're doing. Just, uh, don't tell me about it."

"Ach, I suppose that'll have t'do." Scotty looked somewhat sullen, but then pulled himself up somewhat. "So... you're home too, are ya? Stayin' with McCoy?"

"Yeah. And Scotty - you'll never guess who else is here with me," he added. "Remember Commander Spock?"

Scotty brightened immediately. "O' course I do - all I can say is, my first impression of the Enterprise was a mite vivid."

Jim nearly laughed. "Yeah, I guess it was. Wanna say hi?"

"Sure, I suppose he's got no reason t'be glarin' at me now, does he?"

"I'm not so sure about that..." Jim suspected Spock wouldn't approve of Scotty's not-quite-legal changes to a Federation starship. "But let's find out," he said brightly, handing the device over to Spock.

"Rest assured," Spock said immediately, "I have no intention of making your unauthorized modifications known to Starfleet personnel; whether I approve or not, I am no longer a part of Starfleet, and have no connections therein."

"Good t' know," Scotty said companionably. "An' good to see you again, Mr. Spock! Me an' the other you only talked for a little while, but he had some interestin' things to say about the laws of physics and the interrelation between time and space. A pity ya dinna join us for the trip - I wouldna have minded havin' someone with a brain like yours t' bounce ideas off of."

"I expect it would not have been quite the same, as my other incarnation has knowledge of future technology and scientific discoveries which I have yet to acquire," Spock observed. "However, I am curious; your discussion with Kirk implied that you have found ways to improve upon current starship configurations. Would you mind if I asked how?"

"Ya know what they say - necessity's the mother of invention." Scotty paused, and his voice grew slightly wary. "...Before I say anythin' further, ya mind handin' me back to the captain?"

Jim chuckled, knowing what he must be thinking. "Don't worry, Scotty - his word is good enough. Plus, I'm curious too."

"Ah, good, good. Well, then..."

Jim may have been curious, but he apparently didn't have the scientific knowledge that Spock and Scotty did. He knew the basics of how his ship's propulsion systems worked, sure - you kind of had to know when you were the captain - but when it got down to the little details... Spock seemed to be following the explanation just fine, even interrupting at one point to ask how Scotty's modifications had affected some circuit or another, but all Jim was getting out of it was that in a pinch, one of those times when he had ordered Scotty to just get them moving no matter what it took, Scotty had replaced some part with another similar part which wasn't calibrated for that particular use, and later done some kind of rerouting to make up the difference once he had the time. Apparently it was fairly ingenious, since Spock raised that eyebrow, nodded thoughtfully, and murmured that it was "Fascinating..."

The two of them were still discussing it, and variations on the idea - whether or not it could be applied to other systems - when Bones came back from the study, having finished his own business. Jim broke into the conversation quickly, announcing Dr. McCoy's arrival, and asking if Scotty wanted to say hi, which he did. Bones was a lot less stressed out by space flight in general than he used to be, Jim thought, but he wasn't sure Bones would be so pleased about knowing that certain important parts of the ship weren't up to safety standards anymore.

After a little less technical conversation, Scotty supposed he'd let them go, and Bones noted that it was just as well, since they hadn't figured out what they were going to be doing for the day. Jim had an idea, though, since it had been nice talking to Scotty, and he and Spock had both agreed it might just be nice to take it easy...

Sulu and Chekov didn't answer their messages right away; for all Jim knew, Chekov might be in Russia, or maybe they were both offworld. Bones had Chapel's number, and although she was pleased to see that Bones had visitors, she'd never even met Spock in the first place. Jim and Spock had just talked to Pike, and Jim at least had talked to Number One, but Bones hadn't seen them for a while - and by the time they were done, Sulu had sent a message back. It turned out he and Chekov had been in Russia recently, as well as Japan and Korea on a trip through several areas of Asia, and now they were both in San Francisco, just not on campus; they were staying with Sulu's family. Jim could hardly believe he'd just missed them, but they were heading out in a few hours anyhow, for a colony where Chekov had relatives.

The morning and into the afternoon was spent messaging and then usually calling many of the core crew of the Enterprise, though there was one important person that Jim had been uncertain about calling. But he had been having fun talking to everyone, and he was curious to see what she'd been up to as well, not to mention he'd been thinking of dropping her a line anyway. No reason why he shouldn't do it with Spock around, unless Spock found it awkward, in which case he didn't have to stay. He might as well at least suggest it, Jim decided. "...So Spock - we haven't talked to Uhura yet."

As far as he could tell, Spock had no reaction whatsoever to the idea. "We have not," he agreed.

"Well?" Jim asked him. "Would you like to? Or would it be weird?"

Spock's expression still didn't change, though it took a moment for him to answer, and now Bones was watching him thoughtfully too. "Do you believe she would find it 'weird'?"

"I really don't know," said Jim. "Maybe it would be a little weird. But I think she'd like to hear from you again anyway."

"Then I see no reason to object to contacting her," Spock replied.

"Great," Jim said, pulling up her contact info to send a message. "Let's see if she's even around..."

Apparently, she was - he got a reply almost immediately, saying she wasn't up to anything too important, and sure he could call. He did, and when her picture popped up, it was with the backdrop of what looked like a shuttlecraft. "Hey," he greeted her, curiously. "Where are you?"

"On my way to Copernicus City," she explained with a smile. "My grandmother's been offworld since she retired, and I thought I'd take the chance to spend some time with her. What are you up to?"

"Visiting Bones," he began.

She smirked. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Well, you might be in a second," Jim told her. "There's someone else here you might want to say hi to..."

He couldn't see her expression when he'd handed the device over to Spock, but he could hear the pause, then a somewhat stunned "...Spock?"

"Indeed," Spock replied. "It is a pleasure to see you again, Uhura."

Another silence, then a soft laugh that still sounded a little disbelieving. "Wow, Spock..."

It sounded like she wasn't sure where to go from there, so Jim reached over to tilt the set back towards himself for a moment. "Hey, how come you recognized him?" he asked, a little incredulous himself. "It took me a while, and Bones was pretty lost too until he started talking about logic."

"Well," she reminded him, "Spock and I did know each other before boarding the Enterprise."

"And I guess you got a pretty good look at him close-up, too," Jim remarked. "Without being distracted by things like, you know, being strangled."

She laughed, and Jim knew he'd succeeded in lightening the mood. "Anyway... Spock - how have you been?"

"I have been well," Spock replied, only to glance up at the snort from Dr. McCoy, who crossed his arms.

"Hello to you too, doctor," Uhura teased, easily discerning where the sound had come from. "Keeping these two wild boys in line?"

"I'm doing okay with Jim," Bones replied, stepping around behind where Spock was sitting to address her onscreen. "Spock, though..."

"Yeah, I know how hard he can be to handle."

Jim couldn't help laughing at Spock's confused frown. "I beg your pardon?" Spock asked.

The four of them joked around some more - well, Spock wasn't so much with the joking - Jim joining Bones behind Spock's chair so they could all see each other, but inevitably the conversation grew serious again. Uhura had never stopped looking slightly distracted, and Spock had been mostly quiet, and finally she asked, once their amusement had died down. "Spock, how's the colony doing?"

"Quite well," he replied.

"And you're all... settled in and everything? You're happy there?"

"'Happiness' is not something Vulcans strive for," he reminded her. "We are satisfied with contentment."

Jim glanced over to Bones, whose mouth tightened for a moment. There were some who claimed Vulcans couldn't lie. The other Spock had already shown Jim otherwise, but Jim was still kind of impressed by how easily Spock could imply things without actually lying.

"Well, as long as you're where you want to be," Uhura told Spock, with a soft smile. "I'm content myself - I'd even go so far as to say I am happy with how my life's been going."

"That is good to hear," Spock affirmed. "Although I do not myself seek happiness, I may wish it for others, and I have wished it for you."

"I know you did," she told him. "Don't worry - I told you I understood, and I do. And I am glad to hear that everything's working out."

"Thank you, Nyota," he replied quietly.

It might have gotten awkward from there, but Uhura's eyes rose to Jim, standing behind Spock, and she flashed him an apologetic smile. "So what about you, captain? Have you been enjoying your time off?" The two of them were masters of changing the subject, and in no time the serious mood was broken.

They wound up sharing stories and teasing each other until Uhura's shuttle was about to land, and she said goodbye with far less awkwardness than she'd said hello. "And Spock?" she added. "Drop me a note sometime, fill me in. We haven't talked in years, and I'd love to hear what you're up to."

"I will see what I can do," he agreed. Despite the perfectly neutral expression, Jim could tell that that was a lie.

Although Jim wasn't going to say anything, Bones was, as usual, more willing to call him out once the connection was closed. "Are you going to tell her how it's really been going for you?"

Spock didn't even glance in the doctor's direction. "I have already disappointed Lieutenant Uhura once, by leaving Starfleet in favor of rejoining the Vulcan colony. I see little reason to cause her to be concerned or upset on my behalf by telling her that my situation has become less than favorable, nor to suggest that I would wish to disrupt her life again, when she has obviously moved past my previous disruption."

It made sense to Jim - if your ex was doing okay without you and you were fine with that, no sense in letting them know you weren't doing so well. Bones nodded vaguely himself, but apparently he had things on his mind other than the social delicacies of former relationships. "All right, but you know... maybe you could have something better to tell her about, if you're interested." He got a questioning look from both Jim and Spock. "Now, I'm not trying to tell you how to live your life here, or butt in where I'm not wanted," Bones told Spock firmly. "And I know we barely even know each other, but I owe you for plenty of things you did on that one mission we had together. You helped Jim out, brought Pike back, shot down that drill... And plus, I know you're a Starfleet graduate, one of their top students, had an instructor post, and apparently had a broad enough range of scientific background to get assigned as chief science officer on a starship slated for a mission of galactic exploration - so I know you've got to be good. And I don't think a good scientific mind should be wasted. So those calls I was making earlier..."

Jim and Spock exchanged curious glances, and Jim really, really hoped Bones hadn't done something Spock would find offensive, whether it was actually offensive or not.

"I used to practice here in Georgia," Bones told them. "Went to college in Mississippi - I've got a lot of connections in the South. This includes some people who went on to work in pharmacology and biotech, for big labs. Real intensive work, right on the front lines of medical innovation. It isn't any trouble to call them up, ask them if they know of anywhere there might be an opening for someone with a good educational background, Starfleet credentials... And I got a few bites."

Jim glanced at Spock again. He didn't think this was offensive at all, and knowing Bones - the guy cared about people in general a lot more than his usual grouchiness showed - he wasn't terribly surprised. But Spock wasn't human, and there were things about his life that made him react differently than either of them would; Jim had already been surprised by some of Spock's reactions to things he thought were perfectly normal. So far, however, Spock hadn't progressed past curiosity.

"So I've got some numbers," Bones finished. "If you're interested."

Still, Spock merely looked mildly curious. "Dr. McCoy, why have you done this?"

"Like I said," Bones said with a shrug. "You did a lot for people I know, and for the whole planet. If I can give you an opportunity for a better life, why wouldn't I?"

Jim had to give Bones a smile. Regardless of what Spock thought of it, he appreciated the gesture.

"I am... indeed, interested," Spock said, after some hesitation. "As well as appreciative."

"You're welcome - it wasn't any trouble," Bones said dismissively. "Just a few calls."

"I am not convinced that this occasion is likely to end more favorably than the last time I sought employment in my field of expertise," said Spock, looking up to him, "but it is illogical to refuse the opportunity."

Jim grinned at him. "Good thing we bought you some clothes you could wear to interviews, huh?"

"I suspect there will be tests for aptitude and base knowledge before any interviews are scheduled," Spock remarked, "but unless the positions offered are highly specialized in the medical field, I am confident that I can pass them."

"Atta boy," Bones told him with a grin.

That pretty much decided what they were doing for the rest of the day; Bones showed Spock to the study, where they went over the information he'd gotten about the employers and positions, and then Bones came back to the living room so Spock could make a few preliminary inquiries on his own. "Have I told you lately that you're the best?" Jim asked him as he settled down and stretched casually on the couch.

Bones just shrugged it off. "To be honest, this isn't my ideal solution. But if he really doesn't want to come back to Starfleet, maybe it's a good second choice."

"It's a huge improvement over what he's got going on now," Jim agreed. "He doesn't talk about it, but it's pretty easy to tell that he hates accepting help. If he can get back to being self-sufficient, maybe everything else'll start to straighten out."

"What 'everything else' are you referring to?" Bones asked, suddenly wary. "I thought the problem here was that he was out of work because of small-minded idiots - and I can tell you from experience, when you're in medical research, the results are what matter, so I don't think that's going to be an issue. Plus, the South's got some nasty stuff in our history regarding racism. Just makes us all the more determined not to let it happen again."

"I hope it doesn't." Jim puzzled for a moment. "I don't even know what 'everything else' is. Why he left New Vulcan, for instance. Or what he's looking for that makes him want to steer clear from Starfleet." He knew that there was something Spock was looking for, and that he wanted to find his own way to it, but he wasn't sure what it had to do with Starfleet in particular. "But if he wants to be on Earth, and he doesn't want to go back to Starfleet, I'm thinking it would help him adjust to the life he's chosen if he could actually... live it."

Bones nodded. "...But you know, Jim," he pointed out, "bringing him back to Starfleet would solve a lot of our problems. Sulu's good, but he can't be helmsman, first officer, and science officer. That's just too much to put on him. And none of the other candidates for science officer are quite right, except maybe Chekov - and you know Sulu wants him as navigator if he's going to be helmsman again..."

"You don't have to tell me, I've been over the roster dozens of times," Jim sighed. "Maybe I'm just being unrealistic, hoping I can get someone with a broad focus who is management material."

"I'm sure there's someone out there who fits the bill."

Jim nodded. There was, he thought - and that someone was currently in the study applying for positions on Earth. But whatever Spock decided, it was his decision.

Chapter Text

Spock was in the study for a long time. Jim decided to stick around and wait for him while Bones headed over to meet Jo at the school, but after a couple more hours of poking through records and transmissions on the PADD, he was starting to wonder if it had been a good idea. It was getting to be dinnertime, and while Bones had told him to help himself to whatever he might find, Jim had been planning on having something nice and unhealthy. He was wondering if he should just go ahead and make something, and maybe knock and ask Spock if he wanted something too, when he finally heard the door open and went to look down the hall. "How's it going?"

"As I had predicted, there were assessment tests to go through, as a part of the application procedure," Spock replied, leaving the study to approach him. "I saw no reason not to simply finish them, so that those reviewing my applications might have the results as well as my academic transcripts."

Jim nodded. "So how do you think you did?"

"I had no difficulty."

Not surprising. Jim grinned. "Good. I hope this works out for you."

"However, it occurred to me," Spock remarked, "that I have no permanent contact information to offer."

"That's right," Jim realized. "You know, it's only about eighteen-hundred - maybe we could go get you something."

Spock looked as if he were about to say something, but then changed his mind, averting his eyes briefly. "I suppose it would be illogical to refuse this offer, when I have accepted others of less consequence."

"Exactly," Jim told him. "Let's go have a look around that shopping center we passed the other day."

As Jim had expected, there was a comm shop in the complex. As Jim had not expected, Spock actually didn't just go straight for the cheapest option among the handhelds; he considered the functionality and the access plans, discarding those which would be of extra cost to properly use and maintain. The model he got was still bare-bones, but it would do what he needed to do at the moment - and then some, once he got back on his feet.

His eyes were still averted as they sat on a bench by the food court to activate and calibrate the device. "Again, I appreciate your assistance. I would tell you that I will repay you, but that depends on whether or not I do manage to acquire and keep one of the jobs I am applying for; I can, unfortunately, make no promises."

"That's fine, I really don't care whether you repay me or not," Jim told him with a shrug.

Again, it looked as if Spock might say something, but he changed his mind. After waiting a second, just in case he changed it back, Jim changed the subject. "So... Bones already headed over to the school to meet Jo. I told him we'd join them when you were done. Want to head over when we're finished with this?"

"That would be acceptable," Spock agreed, and hesitated for a moment. "I will have to apologize for the delay."

"You were doing something important," Jim pointed out.

"Yes, but I expect that Joanna in particular will have been expecting us."

"Probably." Jim wondered... Well, no - if this thing was run by her school, there probably wasn't anything too sketchy for Jo to drag Spock into.

The first test of Spock's new handheld was to find Joanna's school, and that wasn't much of a test at all. Jim was kind of surprised, though, when he saw it on the map, just how big it was. And they definitely had the right place - the overhead imagery showed a crowd of people among the temporary domes and colorful tents set up in a field behind the building. "It's going to be fun to try to find Bones and Jo in all that," he remarked as they headed for the appropriate shuttle stop.

"Humans," Spock observed, turning the device off and putting it away, "often seem to have very unusual ideas about 'fun'."

"Sarcasm aside," Jim told him, "we'll see what you think about the carnival itself. That should be some actual, non-sarcastic fun. At least for humans."

The whole thing looked even bigger once they'd arrived, and got a good look at the event in relation to themselves. Some of those domes, beyond the colorful pennants marking the borders, were huge - and one of them, Jim realized, had a Starfleet logo on it. He grinned at Spock. "All right - into the fray?"

"Indeed," Spock replied, not sounding the slightest bit as if he were joking as he eyed the crowd.

Admission was just a donation, and Jim was generous with his and Spock's - apparently it was a fundraiser for a couple of the school's programs, and it looked like they had some good stuff. Among the more traditional old-fashioned booths with games of skill and displays of artistry, one of the domes was even a zero-G room. Jim found this a little amusing. "You know, I would've loved that when I was a kid," he remarked to Spock. "Now that I've spent enough time in space, I don't even know what I'd want to do in there."

Spock, on the other hand, looked somewhat intrigued. "I have, of course, seen such simulators, but not so small and portable, for purposes of entertainment."

Even if it didn't hold much appeal for Jim, the thought of Spock floating around, looking all serious and thoughtful as he puzzled it out, was amusing. "Want to give it a look?"

Just as he'd expected, it was funny to see Spock slowly rising from the ground, peering around him curiously, once they had entered. "As I thought," Spock stated. "Augmented by strong magnetic fields." He gave an experimental wave of his arms, as if swimming, to veer off to his right. "And unevenly distributed," he observed, "no doubt due to the nature of its construction, being a primitive, small-scale housing."

"Yeah?" Jim pushed off from the ground to float a little ways above him.

"I can sense it," Spock told him. "On a long-term basis, this would be an unhealthy environment for humans."

"It's a carnival attraction," Jim pointed out, as a group of kids entered and took leaps into the air, giggling. "It's not even going to stay in one place for a day, let alone house anyone long-term."

"Fortunately. I wonder..." Another brush of his arms, and Spock started making his way past Jim towards the ceiling, presumably to get a look at the device on the dome's ceiling.

Jim watched him, quietly intrigued by how at home Spock was in this kind of environment, how easily he maneuvered. Not that Jim couldn't do just about as well, but... "It's like you were born in zero gravity or something," he called upwards, and began to follow.

Spock glanced down, shaking his head. Jim was fascinated by the way Spock's hair floated up away from his ears, exposing those pointed tips. "I was born on the surface of Vulcan, in my father's house."

"Not what I meant," Jim chuckled, and watched the kids below them goofing around, turning upside down... Even if Jim had spent a decent amount of time in zero gravity himself, it was always while he had something he was supposed to be doing; he was inspired to push off from the wall of the dome and try a somersault, tuck to flip head over feet, the kinds of things he never got to do when he was actually out in space. It was more fun than he'd expected to have, even if his attempts to get Spock to join him never panned out.

The dome with the Starfleet logo was, as it turned out, some kind of starship simulation sponsored by Starfleet - of course they would benefit from getting high school students interested. Jim told Spock they had to try it, and was a little surprised to find out that it actually was pretty realistic, if a little inaccurate in regards to the controls. Spock recognized it as one of the training sims that had been made obsolete by the revamped controls that had been implemented throughout Federation ships several years back - an actual training sim, which was no longer classified information, but merely an entertaining game of sorts. Neither of them did very well when things got complicated - Jim was so familiar with the current consoles that he kept reaching for the wrong panels out of habit - but they did manage to make it through.

By that time, Jim was definitely beyond hungry, and decided that before they did anything else, he needed to find out where they were selling the old-fashioned corn dogs he kept seeing people walk by with. Before he managed to find that booth, he spotted Bones, sipping a drink by a row of booths and just watching the crowds. "Hey!" He tapped Spock on the shoulder to get his attention, then headed off towards where Bones was standing. "There you are - I wasn't sure we'd ever find you in this mess," he said.

"It's pretty easy to lose track of someone," Bones agreed. "Jo headed off with a couple of her girlfriends to get some dessert about an hour ago, and I haven't seen her since. I'm not sure," he said wryly, "whether I should be concerned, or just offended that she ditched me."

"It's the last day of school," Jim reasoned. "Not a big surprise she'd want to hang out with her friends."

"Yeah, and when your friends are around, you don't want to have your ol' dad tagging along, do you?" Bones added. "Oh well - she knows where and when to meet up, if we don't run into each other before then."

"You're not just standing here until then, are you?"

"No - I've been checking the place out, just taking a break for now," Bones assured Jim. "There's music over that way, food over that way..."

"Then I know where I'm going," Jim told him with a grin. "I'm starved. Should I meet you back here in a second?"

"Nah, I'll come with you - I can drink my lemonade as easily down there as I can over here. How about you, Spock?" Bones asked. "You want anything?"

"If something suitable is available, I am indeed ready to eat dinner."

"Come on then," Jim told him, waving for them to follow.

Unfortunately, if unsurprisingly, there wasn't much vegetarian fare, and what there was was mostly on the highly flavorful side. Not to Spock's taste, but Spock insisted he was fine; he could have something later. Jim wasn't entirely convinced, considering that Spock had gotten way too used to going without food for a while, but he didn't seem to be particularly troubled. He and Bones just stood by and talked about how Spock's job applications had been going while Jim devoured a couple of corn dogs, and then they headed back towards the games.

That was when Bones stopped short, saying he heard Jo's voice - and sure enough, they turned to see Joanna waving to them, followed by a couple of other girls as she hurried to catch up. "Hi, Dad!" she greeted him. "Sorry I didn't come right back - we kind of forgot."

"It's all right, I expected as much. At least I found Jim and Spock while you were gone."

"Oh, right! Guys, this is Jim Kirk," Jo told her friends. "He's the captain of my dad's starship."

"The captain? Cool!" said one of the girls. "My dad's on a starship too, but he's just a lieutenant."

"Yeah?" Jim asked. "What's his name?"

"Robert Masters, he's in engineering - is he one of yours?"

Jim shook his head. "Don't think so."

"And this is his friend Spock," Jo told them. "He's from Vulcan." Jim glanced in Spock's direction, but he simply nodded in acknowledgment. Apparently he didn't care too much about hiding it.

"Wow, I've never met a Vulcan before."

"Oh, I'm sorry about..." The other girl didn't seem to know how to finish, and shrugged helplessly. "How do you like Earth? I heard Vulcan was really different."

"It is," he confirmed. "Vulcan was much warmer and had very little water. The cultural differences, as well, are innumerable. But perhaps not so great as to be insurmountable for a time."

"That's good, at least," said the first girl with a nod. "Jo said you're a musician?"

"At times."

Jim wondered, with amusement, just how much she'd been talking to her friends about Spock. He also wondered if it was just his imagination, or...

No, it wasn't. "If I may ask, Joanna," Spock said, eyeing the small paper bag she was carrying, "is that some variety of popcorn?"

"Kind of - it's caramel corn," she explained, holding it out to him. "Want some?"

With some hesitance, Spock reached out a hand to take a few kernels, and chewed one thoughtfully. "It is... considerably sweeter than popcorn."

The girls grinned at each other, and Jo giggled. "It's supposed to be. What do you think?"

"It is acceptable," Spock said, "though I believe I prefer the ordinary kind of popcorn." He was already popping another of the kernels he'd taken in his mouth regardless, and Jim could tell he was intrigued.

"They have regular popcorn at the booth where I got this," Jo told him. "Want me to show you?"

"That would be appreciated, thank you."

The girls exchanged giggly glances again, and Jo beamed up at him. "All right, this way. We'll be back in a second, Dad," she called over her shoulder as she and her friends started off with Spock.

"Ah... think I should follow them?" Bones asked, looking to Jim.

Jim shook his head, grinning. Spock surrounded by teenage girls... "He's Vulcan, remember? He can take care of himself, and he does deserve to get something he likes to eat." And since Jim had been paying for everything since taking him back to the Academy, Spock still had the creds he'd passed him at the spaceport - he should be able to pay for his food. "And he probably won't have any trouble remembering where we are, or that we're waiting."

Or maybe not, Jim admitted, when twenty minutes had passed before he caught sight of Spock again. "Joanna introduced me to a device known as a ferris wheel," he explained, looking somewhat confused.

Jim laughed as Bones groaned. "I see you did get something to eat in the end, though," he said, nodding to the paper bag in Spock's hand.

"I did," Spock agreed. "I excused myself; it seemed as though Joanna and her friends were interested in conversing, and it would have been impolite for me to simply eat as they did so."

"And so that means they've run off somewhere again," Bones muttered.

"Hey, that just means it's us three guys," Jim told him. "We can go have some fun together too, you know? Once Spock's had dinner." Spock was already digging in, he saw, and pretty enthusiastically - he must have really been hungry.

"I suppose you may have something there," Bones admitted. "What kind of fun are you talking about, though?"

"Well..."

The old-fashioned game booths were right up Jim's alley - games of luck and skill. Bones got a kick out of them too, and Spock stood back and finished his popcorn as he watched the two of them lob a small ball at a holographic display, scattering images of ghosts, monsters, Klingon ships... Bones eventually won a prize, and chose a teddy bear he claimed he'd give to Jo later.

There was a similar target shooting game a little further on, and Jim was sure he could outdo Bones on that one, but then he discovered that Spock was interested in the booth as well, for a different reason. "That is a... one of the aquatic birds from the zoo," Spock said, breaking the silence he'd kept since returning as he indicated the row of prizes hanging from the top of the booth. "A... penguin?"

"Yeah, that's a penguin," Jim told him - and since Spock himself had drawn attention to it, decided he was absolutely within his rights to give it a shot.

Jim's aim was good as always, and when the guy manning the booth handed him his prize, he just passed it on to Spock. "...What do I do with it?" Spock asked, looking thoroughly bewildered.

"You don't really do anything with it," Jim said, grinning. "It's just cute."

"Ah... yes." Spock held the stuffed penguin out, regarding it curiously. "I suppose that it is."

It wasn't too much further on that a more modern attraction caught Jim's eye. Bones wasn't convinced. "Come on, Jim - haven't you seen enough of that when we're out in space? I know I could do without seeing it again."

"Okay, so we do get into phaser fights way more than I'd like," Jim agreed. "But they're never for fun, and you're never shooting at me."

"No matter how much I'd like to."

"Exactly!" Jim rested his hands on his hips cockily, looking up at the dome advertising a virtual gunfight in an obstacle course. "C'mon, Bones - I bet they haven't seen anything like us all day. We could give 'em a battle to remember. And what about you, Spock?" he asked, turning to look at him. "You and I did this once before, and I seem to remember you were a pretty good shot."

"The shootout aboard the Narada was not something I would care to repeat."

"Yeah, but this would just be us. No threat of actual bodily harm, no worrying about where our superior officer was or what was happening to the planet below - just three guys trying to shoot each other in an entirely friendly way," Jim told him cheerfully. "What do you say? I bet the three of us could really put on a show in there."

"I guess I wouldn't mind taking a couple of shots at you," Bones admitted with a smile.

Spock just looked bewildered. The sight of a bewildered Vulcan holding a stuffed penguin was, Jim had to admit, so absurd that it was ridiculously cute. "I... fail to see how shooting each other could be considered a... a friendly activity."

"It's kind of like any other game we might play," Jim suggested. "Like chess. We're just testing our skills against each other, not acting on any sort of personal feelings."

"I suppose," Spock said slowly, "that I understand the analogy."

He still looked uncertain - and for a second, Jim got the feeling something wasn't quite right here. Maybe it was hitting too close to home, a game that was an awful lot like what he'd gone through in the aftermath of Vulcan's destruction? "You don't have to if you don't want to," he assured him.

Spock shook his head, and although Jim still felt something was off, he didn't seem particularly troubled - just confused. Not that Jim knew how to tell if a Vulcan was troubled, since they hid that sort of thing, but he was pretty sure it wouldn't look like confusion. "I will join you," he agreed. "I am curious as to this game."

It was, as Jim had been expecting, pretty straight-forward. Everyone got a sensor to clip on, to monitor their bodies' movements and positions, and a visor to see the virtual environments that were created for them. This version had a retro sci-fi design; everything was outlined in brightly colored lights, the other players were glowing outlines that disappeared when hit. Jim found it hilarious, Bones rolled his eyes, and Spock just continued to look vaguely baffled. "When you're shot," said the guy in charge, "you'll be invisible for ten seconds. You can use that time to move to a different location, so the enemy won't know where to shoot you when you respawn."

"Sounds fair," Jim said, shouldering the gun he'd been given - in keeping with the retro feel, it was unnecessarily large, but he thought he could handle it. "Ready to go, you two?"

Once inside, they had a few seconds to fan out before they began. "Betcha neither of you can hit me," Jim told Bones and Spock.

"Did I hear you say bet?" Bones replied, heading off to Jim's left. "How's this - if I hit you, you're cooking breakfast tomorrow?"

"Deal," Jim agreed. "That's not much of a prize for you, though."

"I require no incentive to simply do my best," Spock said, somewhere behind Jim.

"Good - I'll just look forward to it."

The timer in the corner of the visor's display had almost ticked down to zero, and when it did, everything went dark, only to light up with a maze, randomly generated across the area. It was kind of difficult to parse, which was probably the point, but it was all straight lines and angles. Just to see, Jim reached out to touch the virtual wall closest to him, and felt the sensor on his chest vibrate to signify the impact as his green-outlined hand was halted. Not as sophisticated as Starfleet's technology - they were edging closer to actual virtual reality - but he hadn't really expected it to be. Well, then, time to hunt down a doctor and a Vulcan, he thought cheerfully, and he started off down the corridor.

The walls were not quite as tall as he was, and he had to crouch to stay out of sight as he moved. A few times he glanced up over the edges, trying to spot Bones or Spock moving, and he did occasionally catch a glimpse of blue-edged motion. He wasn't sure which of his friends it was, but it didn't really matter, did it?

He was still making his way over when the sky above him flashed, and he heard Bones shout. "Hah! Missed me, Jim!"

"That wasn't me," Jim called back, amused. And pleased that he had a pretty good idea now where Bones was, thanks to the shout; he'd given away his own position, however, so he moved on quickly.

Only moments later, he heard motion nearby, and dared to look. That blue outline was moving just beyond the wall to his left, and Jim simply stood and fired. "That was me," he said cheerfully as Bones, newly invisible, cursed under his breath and moved on.

As far as Jim could tell, the corridor he was in wouldn't connect to his own from the direction he'd come, so he kept moving forward, listening. He didn't hear Bones any more... Just out of curiosity, he raised the tip of his gun just over the wall. Sure enough, there was a zapping sound and a beam shot overhead. Immediately he popped up a few feet away and fired in the direction it had come from, and the blue figure blinked out again. "Dammit, Jim!"

He and Bones must have headed in different directions this time, because he didn't hear movement at all, and further attempts to bait him into firing weren't working. Fine - he'd do this the old-fashioned way and just find him. And Spock was in here somewhere too, but he hadn't shown himself since that first shot was fired. He hadn't spoken, either, and for a moment Jim was a little concerned. But then again, he was probably just taking this seriously enough to not give his position away.

The walls sloped up in the direction Jim was going, and opened into a wider open area, dotted with small platforms and walls - an ideal spot for an ambush, Jim noted. But that was entirely dependent on luring someone else over this way... He'd keep it in mind, he decided, and moved on through a corridor on the other side, the direction Bones's first shout had come from. Spock was probably over there somewhere.

His heart almost skipped a beat when he did find Spock; he simply rounded a corner, and a yellow, person-shaped light was kneeling halfway behind a corner at an intersection just a little ways on. Jim leaped back as several beams of light came flying at him, only barely missing him, and leaned out with gun aimed and ready as soon as they ceased. Spock had already disappeared, however, and in which direction Jim couldn't be sure. He could have just ducked back, or he could have actually moved further, to the right or the left. Daring to stand up straight for a moment, he did manage to catch sight of a yellow glow off to the right - and a blur of blue movement further on as a figure popped up behind a wall. He only barely ducked Bones's shot, and decided that this didn't change a thing.

He was going after Spock, and he ran in a crouch, trying to catch up. He knew Spock was good, though, and every time he spotted an intersection, he had to slow down, take it cautiously in case Spock was lurking there. Sure enough, soon he found himself skidding to a halt and running for the cover of the last corner he'd turned, because Spock had set up just around the next. Now this was a game, he thought with a grin, popping out to fire a few shots in Spock's direction when they ceased. They hit nothing, and he ducked back just in time as Spock reappeared.

After having kept this up for a little while, Jim held back behind the wall, hoping Spock might come looking for him. It might be, though, that Spock was doing the same thing. It might have been a standoff - if a sudden zap and an unexpected flash of light hadn't startled him. "Gotcha, Spock!" Bones crowed, and Jim tried to keep his laughter to a minimum - now was his chance to move. Spock would be moving away from Bones, Jim supposed, and he'd already gotten Bones twice; he really wanted to get Spock. But while Bones was there, it just wasn't safe - so he leaned around the corner and fired at Bones just to get him out of the way before heading in the opposite direction. He only had a few seconds before Spock would be reactivated...

Jim ducked behind the next corner he came to and waited. He was rewarded by Spock appearing right across from him, and he fired. He let out a whoop and took off - if Spock didn't chase him down, Bones would be back any second now too. In fact, shortly thereafter, he heard more shots fired, and Bones cursing loudly. He stayed where he was - Spock would follow soon enough. When he next heard footsteps, he leaned out and fired without even caring who it was. It turned out to be Spock, but Bones wasn't far behind. As soon as Spock disappeared, a bright light flashed almost in Jim's face, and the sensor on his chest buzzed severely as his vision went red for an instant, and the words "DIRECT HIT" flashed before him. "Breakfast's on you, Jim!" Bones shouted cheerfully.

Jim only barely moved before he was reactivated, just enough to get behind the corner again - and he saw Spock reactivate in exactly the same place he had been. Though noticeably surprised, Bones beat him to it, and then Jim simply shot Bones. "Revenge!" he declared, and moved on.

From then on, it was a war. Chasing, being chased, lying in wait - there wasn't a second that Jim wasn't occupied trying to stay one step ahead. He usually did, managing to dodge Spock's shots and occasionally getting a good shot in in return. Spock and Bones must have been keeping each other occupied, from the sounds Jim was hearing out of Bones, alternate teasing and cursing, but Jim could still hardly believe Spock hadn't gotten him once yet. Maybe he was better than he thought.

Another timer appeared in the corner of the display as their game time started running out, and Jim was determined not to waste the last couple of minutes. He'd lost Spock for the time being, and hadn't heard anything out of Bones for a minute or so either, which meant it was time for a big finish. He had a pretty good idea what to do, too, and he thought he was near that open area he'd found earlier...

A flash of yellow light that he only barely managed to duck showed that Spock had gotten there first. Jim dropped and rolled behind a short barrier, laying down a line of fire in Spock's direction. There was a muffled sound, and when Jim dared to look, he didn't see anyone, but he wasn't entirely sure if he'd hit Spock, or if Spock had taken cover. At least, he wasn't sure until Spock reappeared right where Jim had last seen him. Jim fired again, and the outline winked out as he ducked back. Twice in a row - not bad, he thought, listening for sounds that might tell him where Spock would reappear as he made his way to another obstacle to barricade himself behind.

He was beginning to think something funny was going on when once again, Spock reappeared in the exact same place. Jim fired from his new hiding spot, making it three in a row, and laughed. "What are you doing, Spock?" As far as he could tell when Spock reappeared, he was just... sitting there. Well, Jim was willing to go with that, and fired again. When he reappeared, Spock looked like he was just getting to his feet, and although Jim's amusement had turned into curiosity, well, he wasn't not going to fire again.

This time, however, once Spock's lights had winked out, he did hear the sounds of movement - footsteps rushing straight towards him, though there was nothing for him to aim his gun at.

A heavy weight smashed into him, sending him to the ground. "Hey, Spock, what the-" Jim had to admit it was incredibly creepy to feel something on top of him, to hear the sound of Spock's breathing - oddly ragged, now that he was thinking about it - and to be unable to see anything at all. And the way Spock's breathing sounded reminded him of a time when he'd been in a similar position, being held down by Spock, over the bridge console. Suddenly the situation had gone from creepy to utterly terrifying. "S-Sp-"

Before he'd gotten the word out, the yellow glow rematerialized, showing someone sitting atop him, gun raised. Spock fired.

...And that was all. The flash of light, the screen going red and telling him he'd been hit, and Spock sitting on top of him. "This primitive virtual reality environment," Spock stated, sounding out of breath and somewhat tired but still satisfied with himself, "has not yet displaced actual reality."

Incredulous and helpless, all Jim could do was laugh. He was about to rematerialize, but their time was almost up, and he didn't care enough to try to escape. Not when Spock had just done something so ridiculous. "I... I guess I can't get on your case for cheating, huh...?" he said breathlessly between chuckles.

"It would be hypocritical," Spock agreed. It only made Jim laugh harder, even when Spock made a faint sound that sounded like a sigh.

He caught his breath, though, when there was another flash and Spock disappeared again. "Found you!" Bones declared, from somewhere off to the side, and then shot Jim too for good measure.

A few moments later, their time was up, and Jim looked up through the suddenly transparent visor to see that beneath Spock's... Spock was smiling. Almost on the verge of laughter, in fact, it looked like.

Jim had never seen Spock smile. Not this Spock, anyway. It was... He didn't even know what to think of it, but it couldn't be a bad thing.

The smile was hidden from his view as Spock rolled off him, reaching up to push his visor up, rubbing at his head absently as he removed it. Jim sat up and did likewise, and wondered what this meant.

He didn't want to draw attention to it and have Spock get embarrassed, though, so he turned to Bones. "Good thing you got me on your own earlier," he remarked, getting to his feet. "That last one? So didn't count."

"Probably not," Bones agreed, and he was grinning too. "All right, Jim, I'll admit it - that was a lot of fun. Kinda made me feel like a little kid again."

"Shooting at Klingons really isn't as much fun as pretending to shoot your friends," Jim said with a nod, glancing back at Spock, who was still seated on the ground, rubbing at his eyes.

"In fact, now that I've got the hang of it," Bones suggested, "you two want to have another round?"

"I would... prefer to sit still," Spock said, and this time Jim was more sure even before he said it - Spock sounded groggy. "I seem to have... I am... disoriented."

The transition from virtual reality back to reality did do that sometimes, but it seemed odd that Spock would be so affected by it. "You okay, Spock?" Jim asked, starting towards him.

"I am... I am fine," Spock muttered, and although a bit wobbly, waved away Jim's offered hand as he started to get to his feet. He was still smiling faintly.

"Okay," Jim said, dubious. "Let's just sit down outside for a little while, then. Once is probably enough anyway," he added, glancing at Bones, who shrugged, clearly as bewildered as Jim was.

Jim was definitely concerned when on their way out, Spock stumbled and bumped into him sideways. Readjustment from virtual reality didn't do that unless one was prone to motion sensitivity anyway, and Spock was a trained pilot, Jim had seen him maneuver effortlessly in zero gravity - just a little while ago, in fact - there was no way. Spock managed to catch himself, but Jim reached over to take hold of his arm anyway, exchanging a glance with Bones, who moved up to catch the other. "All right, Spock, we're definitely getting you some air right now," Jim told him, steering him towards the door of the dome.

"I am fine," Spock protested, but half-heartedly. "I am just... just..."

"You're sitting down and staying put," Bones informed him, as they found a spot beside the dome, out of the way of the crowds, and settled him down. "Jim, you stay with him - I'm going back to get our things."

"Don't need to tell me," Jim muttered, sitting down next to Spock as Bones headed into the dome again. "So... Spock," he started, conversationally. "What's going on, how are you feeling?"

"I..." Spock was resting his head in one palm dizzily. "I am fine, just... having some... difficulty..."

"Difficulty what?"

Spock raised his head to look at Jim, and he looked puzzled. "...I don't know," he mumbled.

He looked a little green, though Jim remembered after a moment that that probably didn't mean the same thing in Vulcans as it would in humans. And soon enough, Bones was back, plopping the stuffed animals they'd won into Jim's lap and fishing something out of the little pack he'd been carrying. Jim could hardly believe it was what he thought it was. "Do you seriously bring those things everywhere?"

"Yes, as a matter of fact I do, nowadays," Bones retorted, as the medical scanner whirred to life and he knelt beside Spock. "They're small, they're portable, and do you realize how many times these things have come in handy? Far as I'm concerned, there's no reason a doctor shouldn't carry a scanner on them at all times, it makes us a lot more useful when we've got all this information right at... well, when they're working correctly," he muttered, scowling at the little device and giving it a shake. He frowned at it again, and raised an eyebrow. "That can't be right."

But then again, the look of dawning disbelief on his face said that he wasn't as sure of that as he claimed to be. "What's it say?" Jim asked.

"Given these readings..." Bones lowered the scanner and gave Jim a glare. "Says he's drunk."

"What?" Jim exclaimed, squinting at the scanner, and then back at Spock, who looked confused, if less so than either of them. Jim had to admit, it would have explained a lot, but... "...He can't be drunk, I've been with him ever since we left the house," Jim said. "That was hours ago, and he only just started acting funny..." Except he had been acting kind of funny before they went into that dome, now that he thought about it. Spock had been quiet, but he was always quiet, and he'd seemed kind of confused then too...

Bones's eyes widened. "Jo!" he exclaimed, his expression tightening. "He went off with Jo and her friends - that's the only time he's been out of our sight!"

He was right, Jim realized. That was just before he'd noticed Spock was acting a little spacey. But that just didn't sound right. Jo wasn't... All right, so Jim had to admit that he didn't exactly know her very well, and he'd been a bright fifteen-year-old too. It hadn't meant he hadn't spent his Friday nights partaking in less-than-legal amusements behind his mother's back. "Hey, calm down," Jim told him, reassuringly. "Think about this - if she was going to go get trashed, would she have agreed to meet you later? I wouldn't."

"I don't know what she's thinking." Bones glared at the scanner again and shoved it back into the pack. "I'm going to go find her."

"E... excuse me," Spock spoke up, somewhat unevenly. "I am not... I am not drunk. I am..." He had to think about it for a moment. When the word came, it looked as if it astonished him. "...Relaxed." Maybe it did.

Bones rolled his eyes, and Jim sighed heavily. "It's going to take you forever to find her in this crowd," he pointed out. "Should I just take off now, get him back to the house?"

"Yeah, sure," Bones muttered.

"And hey, Bones? Don't be too hard on her," Jim told him. "Not like you haven't been known to have a few drinks yourself."

"That's exactly what I'm afraid of," Bones growled.

"Wait," Spock spoke up again. "You think... I was with Joanna. She was... wasn't... we did not drink anything," he finished.

He didn't sound like a credible source at the moment, but he wasn't likely to lie. Jim and Bones exchanged glances. "You're sure?" Jim asked.

Spock nodded. "We did not drink anything," he repeated.

"So what's going on with you?" Jim asked. "Why are you going all weird and disoriented?"

Spock only looked bewildered. "...I don't know."

Bones's frown only deepened as he regarded Spock suspiciously. "...Well, whatever happened, you two head back," he told them. "I'm going to find Jo. Drinking or not, seems like something happened, and I'd like an explanation."

"Yeah, all right." Jim just hoped Jo knew as well as he did that when her dad looked furious, it was covering up a whole lot of things other than anger. "Good luck."

"You too, Jim."

Once he'd disappeared into the crowd, Jim turned to look at Spock. Who was just sitting there looking at him, slightly dazed. He really did look drunk, honestly. "You really didn't drink anything?" he asked again.

"I did not." Spock looked thoughtful for a moment. "Not even water. I would," he added seriously, "like a drink of water. Very much."

"C'mon," Jim sighed, getting to his feet. "We'll get you some water, and then we're getting out of here."

Chapter Text

Spock took a little longer getting to his feet than Jim had, but he did make it without assistance. Jim suspected that being a Vulcan, Spock would never have been drunk before, so it was a good thing he didn't seem too bad off. He wasn't sick, wasn't miserable, was still moving and talking coherently - he'd even been kind of playful back in the dome, what with tackling Jim and smiling... Jim wanted to think about that for a minute, hold on to that sight, but he knew it probably wasn't a good idea. Now was not the time to be thinking about Spock smiling down from on top of him. Anyway, so far it wasn't a bad first experience for Spock.

There were fountains down by the bandshell where some musicians were performing - no one Jim had ever heard of, probably some local group - and that was where Jim headed, stuffed animals tucked under his arm and keeping a close eye on Spock, in case he lost his balance again. As they walked, Jim did notice him listing to the right a little bit, and reached out to take his shoulder and steady him for a second before he went too far. Spock blinked at the contact briefly, but he'd apparently decided it was all right, and then they were at the fountains. Since he wasn't doing badly, Jim didn't feel too guilty about laughing a little to himself when Spock misjudged and squirted himself in the face. Spock was a really cute drunk.

"Still doing okay?" Jim asked Spock when he straightened again, brushing his sleeve over his face.

Spock nodded. "I am... good," he stated, slightly bemused. "I am good."

"Good." Jim resisted the urge to throw his free arm around Spock's waist and give him a hug - it was the weirdest thing, seeing Spock like this - and instead just grinned. Spock smiled back, slow and cautious, as if he were just learning how. Then Jim really had to resist that urge. "You really, honestly, didn't drink anything?" he asked again. "You're not protecting Jo? Because Bones isn't actually going to do anything terrible to her, no matter what happened," he informed Spock. "He might look mad, but probably all that would happen is some incredibly awkward conversation."

"I did not drink anything," Spock told him. "She showed me the... wheel... ride. I had some of her popcorn. After I had acquired my own, I returned."

"Huh..." This didn't make any sense. Jim wanted to ask Spock if he had a clue what was going on, but either he didn't, or he just wasn't in any condition to figure it out. "...Anyway, let's get out of here," Jim said, motioning for Spock to follow him, back towards the exit and the shuttle stop. "Whatever's going on, you look drunk, and this is a high school thing - they're not going to like that. Plus I want to get you home just in case it gets any worse."

"'Worse' implies that something is wrong," Spock remarked, falling into step unsteadily beside him. "I am fine."

"Yeah..." Jim was starting to wonder, if Spock thought he was fine when he was acting like this, just how messed up he must have been on a few occasions where he'd been absolutely sure he was okay, definitely more sober than anyone else at the bar, nothing to worry about.

They walked in silence for a little ways, passing the booths and vendors and patrons, groups of students and sometimes adults and kids, as the music faded behind them. Jim was still keeping an eye on Spock, even if he did seem to be doing all right for the moment, but despite his awareness of Spock, he still wasn't expecting Spock's fingers to brush against his hand, catching it and slipping down his palm, threading between his own fingers.

Jim glanced over in surprise, and Spock glanced at him in return, smiling slightly. "It is nice," was all he said.

Even though Spock had been masquerading as human, and was therefore willing to shake hands when necessary... taking Jim's hand, for no apparent reason? Holding it? It seemed different to Jim. Special, since Vulcans ordinarily kept their hands to themselves. Maybe he was wrong, and it wasn't anything at all - maybe it was just that it was starting to get dark, and there was music playing behind them, and there were plenty of other people walking past hand in hand, and Spock thought that was normal - but it still left him with a small, wondering smile. "Yeah... it is," he agreed, squeezing Spock's hand lightly. He'd just thought of a way he might figure out what was going on, actually... but this wasn't the place for it, and if Spock was willing to reach out - literally - and show Jim that he was really this comfortable with him, Jim didn't want to discourage it.

They had to let go, however, when they were out by the curb, settling down in the grass to wait for the shuttle. Spock plucked at it distractedly, in the absence of Jim's hand, and Jim pulled out his own handheld. Probably was a lousy hour to call, but he didn't think Spock would mind in a case like this. At least, not that Spock. The one that was sitting beside him on the ground, on the other hand... Jim really hoped this wasn't going to end in Spock throwing a fit. Or that it would prevent any future hand-holding, because that really was nice. And although he could leave to make the call, he might have to go quite a ways in order to keep Spock from overhearing, and he didn't want to leave Spock alone in this condition anyway... Oh, the hell with it. "Don't get mad," he said, by way of warning, "because I only want to make sure you're all right. But I'm going to call the other Spock, see if he knows what might be affecting you. I just want to see if I need to be worried, that's it," he repeated. "All right?"

The lazy, carefree expression on Spock's face tightened at the mention of his other self, his brow furrowing. "I assure you, I am fine."

"Just want to make sure," Jim told him again. "I'm not going to pry into any of your personal business, just ask if there's any reasons you might scan drunk when you're not. Is that okay?"

So much for the cute drunk - Spock looked sullen now as he lowered his head, ripping at the grass with a bit more enthusiasm. Jim supposed that was a yes, and placed the call.

The other Spock didn't really look any different than usual when he answered, but it was obvious to Jim nonetheless that he'd just been woken up, just from the short delay before he spoke and the lack of that almost-smile that usually greeted him. "...Jim, this is... unexpected."

"Yeah, sorry to call at a weird time," Jim apologized. "But something funny's going on, and I didn't know who else to ask, since it has to do with you."

"My younger counterpart?"

Jim nodded. The fact that Spock had to ask really drove home that he had been woken up. "Sorry," he said again. "But if it's something I should be concerned about, I'd like to know now rather than when it gets serious."

Spock looked as if he was waking up more by the moment, leaning in closer with a look of mild concern himself. "No apologies are necessary, Jim. What is it?"

"Well..." Jim wasn't sure where to start, and decided to be blunt. "Basically, he's acting like he's drunk. And Bones scanned him, and the scanner said he's drunk. But he says he hasn't had anything to drink - and I've been with him almost all day, so I can vouch for most of it. The one time he was out of my sight in the last several hours, he was with Joanna and her friends. Since they're fifteen, I'm inclined to believe him when he says they didn't get him drunk."

"Hmm..." The older Spock considered for a moment, as the younger shifted nearby, appearing almost self-conscious. "Has he eaten anything recently? Particularly anything he is unfamiliar with?"

"Not really. Dinner was popcorn - long story, but we're somewhere without a lot of vegetarian options tonight. He just had some water... Before that, he tried Jo's caramel corn, I guess that was something new."

"Caramel corn?" Spock inquired. "What is that, precisely?"

"It's just popcorn," Jim explained, "but covered with caramel. Caramel is, uh..." Jim didn't know exactly what caramel was, except sweet and sticky. "It's a kind of candy."

Spock nodded immediately. "That is almost certainly the cause - processed sugar can have unusual effects on Vulcans, including intoxication. Even a small amount can cause noticeable effects."

Jim stared at him, then over at the other Spock, who stared back. It didn't look like Spock had known about this either, from the dumbfounded look on his face. "...Seriously?" Jim asked.

"Seriously, Jim," the older replied. "I am not surprised that he would not have known; I myself was unaware of this peculiarity of the Vulcan metabolism, until the day I happened to ingest a Terran candy. I will admit, I was rather taken by surprise."

The dry way he had of saying it made him sound an awful lot like the younger Spock all of a sudden, and Jim couldn't help grinning. "Uh huh... So what you're saying is that candy gets Vulcans drunk."

"Approximately, yes."

This was, for some reason, extremely funny to Jim. He swallowed his laughter for now, though - he still didn't have all the answers. "Okay. I think we've solved the mystery, then. Should I be watching out for anything, any adverse reactions...?"

"I have very little knowledge about the subject," replied Spock. "As with the use of any substance which might cause intoxication, it is presumably possible to ingest more than is healthy. It is likely that the symptoms of overindulgence would parallel those of your species' overindulgence in alcohol."

"All right - that's something I've got some experience with." Jim grinned at the younger Spock, who still had a look of disbelief. "Trust me, you're in good hands."

"He is there with you?" the older inquired.

"Of course," Jim replied, turning back to the handheld. "We didn't know what was really wrong with him - I wasn't going to leave him alone when we didn't know what was causing it. Anyway, thanks for the info. I should let you get back to bed, and I should send Bones a message, let him know his daughter's not doing anything illegal..."

"Is he alert enough that I might speak with him briefly?"

Jim cocked his head curiously. "Yeah, he's pretty coherent. If he's willing..."

He held out the device, offering it to the younger. He hesitated for a moment, but accepted, looking down at the image of the elder. He said nothing.

"Spock," began the elder, almost awkwardly, but then he sighed and simply spoke his mind. "I believe we have misunderstood each other. It was never my intention to insist that you follow the same path as I. No one knows better than I how impossible such a task has become. I did not wish to control you, but to advise you."

He paused, as if waiting for a response, but the younger continued to stare down at him, expression unreadable. "It is... good of you to acknowledge this," he said finally.

"If it was my words which drove you from our colony," the elder continued, "then I sincerely apologize."

"I left," said the younger, "because I could not live there."

The elder nodded, somber. "...Whatever you choose, you have our father's blessing," he told the younger. "He has lost his wife; he does not wish to lose his son as well."

The younger Spock just looked down at the device for a long time, and then rather than responding, handed it back to Jim. "I cannot endure this now," he muttered, still entirely blank.

"Hey, it's okay," Jim assured him, placing a hand on his shoulder; Spock had shifted like he was thinking of getting up and leaving, and that was all he needed. "Now's not the best time, I guess," he told the older Spock.

The older Spock nodded. "Understandable. Since I had the opportunity, however, I thought it prudent to say it. I will speak with you later, Jim."

"Yeah, thanks again. And good night." Maybe he'd speak with Spock too, Jim thought as the transmission ended and he looked back to Spock, who was staring off into the distance, at nothing in particular. "Are you okay?"

No, not nothing in particular - he was looking at the darkening sky. It only made it more disturbing to Jim when he finally answered, in a barely audible murmur. "...I want to go home."

He looked so... blank. Empty. And Jim didn't know what to say or do - they both knew he couldn't. Not if Vulcan was what he meant. But he had reached out to Jim earlier, so Jim risked it; he put an arm around Spock's shoulders. "I know it's not home," he told Spock, "but we're going back to Bones's place so you can get some rest. Maybe that counts for something."

Spock shook his head, restlessly, and looked back to Jim. "No, but... do not worry, Jim," he murmured. "You... need not do more. I am content, as I have not been for years."

Jim's lips turned up in a hopeful little smile. He'd gotten a 'Jim' out of him? "...Good."

Jim had to let go and tap out that message to Bones, but by the time the shuttle arrived, Jim's arm was around Spock's back again. He might have been taking advantage, but Spock just looked... well, tired, and not like Spock - and Spock's head had even leaned over onto his shoulder. Jim hated to disturb him. He had no idea what was going on in Spock's head, but at least at the moment he seemed comfortable, and the weather was nice. Still, they couldn't just sit there forever.

Unlike most of the people Jim had helped home after a few too many drinks, Spock was inconspicuous during the ride back, quiet and still and apparently distracted by his own thoughts. Jim couldn't be sure if they were serious thoughts, or if that was just one of Spock's default acceptable expressions, and he wasn't going to ask right there on the shuttle, with other people around. Or maybe at all, he acknowledged as he gave Spock a little help out of the shuttle in front of the McCoy house, turning him towards the front steps. There were certain guidelines in the Federation laws about acquiring less-than-crucial information from people who were in altered states of consciousness, and although this wasn't Federation business, Jim agreed with the basic concept. If Spock was going to give him answers, it was going to be because he wanted to give Jim answers, not because Jim had taken advantage of him.

...It was killing Jim, knowing he wasn't enough of an asshole to really take advantage of Spock. He was more concerned, somehow, about making Spock think of him as trustworthy, rather than finally getting the answers to questions he'd been asking since he found Spock at the spaceport, and he kind of wished he wasn't. The determination not to take advantage of Spock got even more frustrating when he got Spock upstairs to their room - and he had to give him a hand with the stairs, too, slinging an arm around his back again - and Spock pretty much collapsed on the bed, rolling onto his back and sprawling out across most of it like he didn't have a care in the world. Eyes closed, one hand combing absently through his shaggy hair, all splayed out, groaning softly in contentment as he settled - he looked like the kind of guy Jim would've hung out with on weekends, back before Pike talked him into enlisting. Or even more, like the kind of guy Jim would've picked up on some weekend before his enlistment to spend the night with. He wasn't sure how the weird protectiveness he'd been feeling towards Spock earlier lined up with the sudden urge to climb on top of him, smirking, and start undoing his fly.

Okay, that was it - he needed a time out. "Stay put, okay?" Jim told Spock. Not that he expected Spock to go anywhere. "I'm going to get you some more water."

"I can get it," Spock murmured.

"No, just relax," Jim insisted, placing a hand on Spock's chest to prevent him from sitting up. ...Great, and now his shirt was riding up. That was the last thing Jim needed. "I'll be right back."

He took a little longer than he had to in the kitchen, getting a drink for himself too - just water, considering that he didn't need any help thinking unwise thoughts - checking to see if there was anything he could bring Spock for a snack, since popcorn wasn't much of a dinner. He checked his handheld, too, and discovered that Bones had sent him a couple of messages while he was distracted. Bones had been glad to hear Jo hadn't been up to anything, of course, and that he'd found out for sure before he managed to track her down. The second message said he and Jo would be heading home soon too - he'd made the mistake of telling her that Spock hadn't been feeling well. Jim grinned. Never mind his own urges to molest Spock - he might keep himself busy protecting Spock from Jo if she saw him like this.

He felt a lot more normal by the time he headed back upstairs. Spock was still sprawled across the bed, one hand covering his eyes tiredly, but looking relaxed. "Okay, got your water here," Jim said, setting it on the nightstand on Spock's usual side of the bed, even if he was right in the middle at the moment. "Need anything to eat? I was going to bring you something, but I don't know what you might be in the mood for."

Spock shook his head vaguely. "I am fine."

"Really fine?" Jim asked, going back around to his usual side and sitting down on the edge of the bed. "Or is this one of those things where you're just saying that because you don't want me to go to any trouble?"

"Really fine. I am comfortable." Spock removed his hand from his eyes and opened them slightly, peering up at Jim, and a lazy smile spread across his face. "The sens... sensations I am feeling are... most... novel. Should be... worrisome. Unpleasant. Yet I can... cannot bring myself to care. Instead it is... amusing."

Since Spock thought so, and was smiling in the most ridiculous fuzzy fashion, Jim saw no reason not to laugh. "You really are drunk," he observed.

Spock shook his head again. "I have not drunk anything," he pointed out. "The term is... is..."

"Fine," Jim teased him. "You're wasted, then."

Spock considered, and then, slowly, nodded. He seemed to find this funny too, going by the grin, and Jim had to laugh again. Spock had gone right back to cute again.

"I had fun," Spock said suddenly.

It was so out of the blue, Jim gave him a quizzical look. "Huh?"

"Tonight. I had fun. Tonight," he clarified.

"I'm glad," Jim told him. "Me too."

"Never had so much," Spock murmured, his smile fading absently.

The way he was looking up at Jim, eyes half-lidded, suddenly made Jim wonder if Spock was going to try to kiss him. Of course, Jim wasn't sure he could even sit up to do so. Maybe he wanted Jim to lean down and... Jim stopped himself right there. It was Spock, so of course he didn't. It was perfectly natural for him to be thinking things like that, because Spock was absolutely adorable at the moment (and incredibly fuckable too, that was also a perfectly natural thought for him), but Spock? Probably not. And even if so, he'd hate Jim for it in the morning. Or he'd just hate himself, and that might be worse.

Still, the look in Spock's eyes was practically daring him, and Jim had never been so good at resisting a dare.

He had no idea how long the two of them had been looking at each other like that, his thoughts arguing in circles, when he heard sounds downstairs that dragged him out of it. "Uh. Guess Bones and Jo are back," Jim said, straightening up guiltily. He hadn't even realized he'd slouched down closer to Spock until that moment. And Spock was still looking at him like that. "...I should probably go fill Bones in," Jim muttered, and made himself get up. It was a lot safer than staying where he was. "Be back in a little while." Spock made a faint noise that sounded like agreement, or at least complacence.

Jim found Bones and Jo in the kitchen, where Bones was cutting up some fruit, presumably for a late night snack. "How's Spock doing?" he asked.

"All right - he's lying down," Jim replied. And actually, that had been one of the thoughts Jim had had. "Still awake, though. Mind if I take a little of that up to him? It might do him some good."

"What's wrong with him?" Jo asked from the table, before her father could reply.

Jim shrugged, thinking quickly. "It's just this thing, that can happen to Vulcans sometimes." Not a lie at all. "Nothing serious, he'll be fine tomorrow."

"Will he?" Bones asked, knowingly.

"I'd assume so." Except possibly for a hangover, if the other Spock was right about the parallels.

"It's... not something I did, is it?" Jo asked suddenly.

Jim and Bones exchanged glances. Jim suspected he knew why her father hadn't told her what was going on, and he agreed. "Why would you think that?" he asked her.

"He only started not feeling well after I took him on the ferris wheel, didn't he?" she asked, wholly serious. "Do Vulcans get motion sickness or something?"

Jim shook his head. "Not that I know of, and I've seen this one fly evasive maneuvers in a pretty fast little ship. Don't worry, it's nothing you did," he assured the girl, and Bones smiled faintly at him from behind her.

"Okay, I'm glad," she said, noticeably relieved. "Can I take him a snack anyway?"

"Why don't we just let Jim take care of him?" Bones told her, but did grab another plate, loading it with some of the fruit he was slicing. "He knows more about this Vulcan stuff than you do."

Jo made a face at him. "Yeah, but how am I supposed to learn about Vulcan physiology if you won't let me try?"

"That's what med school's for, sweetie," Bones told her, "not company. And hey, Jim, that reminds me - I know you had Spock to keep an eye on, but did you manage to hang onto the other things I entrusted you with?"

"Oh, yeah." It took a second for Jim to remember. "They're on the couch."

"Great, thanks." Bones set one plate of fruit in front of Jo, handed the other to Jim, and gestured. "C'mere for a second."

Jim dutifully followed, fully expecting he knew what was coming. Sure enough, Bones grimaced as soon as they were down the hall, out of earshot. "I feel like such an ass, Jim - I know Jo's a good girl. How could I think-"

"It seemed pretty clear-cut," Jim told him with a shrug. "And she did technically give him something that got him drunk, so we weren't far off."

"Yeah, but I should've given her the benefit of the doubt. And in case it wasn't obvious," he added sternly, "don't tell her about what really happened. She'd just feel bad."

"Or get ideas," Jim said with a smirk.

"She's a good girl," Bones repeated, and reached over the back of the couch for the teddy bear. "And really, how's Spock holding up?"

"Pretty well, I think," Jim replied. "He's not even that wasted, I don't think, just kind of buzzed. And he's been smiling and telling me he had fun - I think it's actually been good for him, in a way."

"You know, I'm not surprised. Every Vulcan I've ever met was uptight and repressed - always kind of thought they could use a good stiff drink to lighten them up."

"You and me both." Except for the older Spock, maybe, but Jim was never sure how much of his personality he was authentically comfortable with sharing, and how much of it was shared only with Jim just because he was Jim Kirk. But now that Jim had been around the younger for awhile, he was starting to get a feel for some of those quirks... He looked down at the other stuffed toy on the couch with amusement. "Anyway, he's in a pretty good mood now, but I figure I'll stick close, just in case it hits him harder later. If it does, maybe I'll give him this to cuddle with," he suggested, picking up the stuffed penguin with his free hand.

Bones snorted. "I almost want to see that. Night, Jim."

"Night," Jim replied, heading back upstairs.

Spock was still sprawled across the bed, eyes half-closed, and Jim couldn't resist. "Think fast!" he told Spock, tossing the penguin at him, and got the pleasure of seeing a Vulcan startled, bringing his hands up well over a second too late to catch it, after the toy had already bounced off his chest to land on the other side of him. Spock glanced over to it, then back at Jim in bewilderment, and Jim just had to grin. "Brought some food," he told Spock, sitting down on the edge of the bed again and setting the plate between them. "I know you said you didn't need anything, but just in case." He grabbed a slice of apple himself. "And I'll eat it if you don't."

"In that case," Spock said, "since it is here..." He still looked puzzled as he sat up, though, and looked back at the penguin. "But what does throwing toys at me have to do with eating?"

Jim laughed. "Nothing at all."

"I see," Spock said slowly, then reconsidered. "Actually, I do not."

"Don't worry about it, just relax, enjoy the buzz," Jim advised him, taking a bite. Seeing Spock like this made him wish he could have a few beers himself and join in the merriment, maybe get Bones to join them. Unfortunately, he knew he couldn't exactly trust himself to remember things like, say, why it would be a really terrible idea to have a drunken makeout session with Spock, after a couple of drinks.

But he was having fun anyhow; Spock said he felt tired, but it was still early and he couldn't sleep yet, and for some reason Spock thought chess would be a good way to pass the time. Jim supposed just playing for fun wasn't really taking advantage of Spock's condition, so they pulled out the travel set. It was a good thing it was magnetic, considering how frequently Spock forgot that moving would jostle the entire bed. He might have done better to topple the boards after all, however - Jim beat him easily, with Spock's concentration scattered.

"How did you do that?" Spock inquired, squinting at the board just after Jim declared checkmate.

"Seriously, Spock, I'd have been surprised if I hadn't done that," Jim said, grinning. "At least we didn't have anything riding on this one." When Spock peered at the board even more curiously, Jim clarified. "I mean, we didn't make any bets. Which reminds me," he remembered abruptly. "I made that bet with Bones - I'm supposed to make breakfast tomorrow."

"I will make breakfast tomorrow," Spock told him. "Dr. McCoy has been hos... hospital..."

"Hospitable?" Jim suggested, amused.

"He has allowed us to stay in his home," Spock stated.

"Yeah, but the bet was between the two of us," Jim told Spock. "I lost, so I make breakfast. You don't have anything to do with it." Plus, he had no idea what state Spock would be in first thing tomorrow morning. He might not even want breakfast.

"He has also helped me find work. In science," Spock added, almost wondering. "I have not... I stopped looking for work in my field, a long time ago. The repeated failures..."

That made sense - the stuff Spock had gone through was enough to break anyone's morale, even a Vulcan. Jim just nodded. "So tell him thanks, when you're up to it. Or we can come up with something better to do for him, once you're thinking straight again."

"But I owe you as well."

"Not really..."

"I do," Spock insisted. "You have clothed and fed me. You have housed me. I have not thanked you enough."

"You don't have to," Jim said dismissively. "I know you're grateful." And how hard it was for Spock to say so.

Except, apparently, when intoxicated. "No, I do," Spock informed him, abruptly dead serious, if somewhat unsteady, leaning heavily on one hand. "Jim, I had given up on... on... I cannot find the word," he conceded, ducking his head in embarrassment for a moment, then raising it to look Jim in the eye. "I had given up. Now you have shown me... things. I have had fun. I have been happy. I could not say so because I was ashamed of my feelings. Now, I am not ashamed."

"That's because you're high on sugar," Jim murmured. He was glad to hear Spock say all of this, but at the same time, he knew Spock wouldn't say them under normal circumstances. Tomorrow, when Spock sobered up, he would probably regret it. "You really don't have to say anything, Spock."

"I do," Spock insisted. "You are human. You have different emotional needs than I do."

"Spock, it's-"

"Thank you, Jim," Spock said emphatically. "For the assistance. For food and shelter. For relief... diversion..." Something flashed in his eye, a moment of inspiration, and he turned to grab the stuffed penguin. "You have even given me this."

Jim tried not to laugh. The fact that Spock was so serious about all of this made his inclusion of the penguin even funnier than it would have been normally, but Spock was dead serious. "It was no big deal," he said.

Spock shook his head, dropping the penguin into his lap and reaching over to take Jim's hand, holding it between both of his. "It is," he said earnestly.

Jim reminded himself firmly that making out with Spock was a very, very bad idea, but he wasn't as concerned about himself forgetting that as he was about Spock forgetting that, the way Spock was staring at him. "You're welcome," he said honestly, lifting his other hand to rest on Spock's. "I accept your gratitude. Now don't worry about it again. It's settled."

Spock nodded slowly, and broke eye contact to look down at their hands, clasped between them. His fingers tightened for a moment. Jim had the feeling this was significant somehow, but he... Honestly, he had to admit that he was afraid to ask what this meant. He was also a little surprised to realize that this was enough. Spock was still incredibly hot, and with his emotional barriers down, making him more accessible, Jim found him even more tempting - but this really was enough. Just watching over him while he was vulnerable, hearing him voice the admissions he couldn't normally make, touching hands.

For the first time - and it came as a surprise that this was the first time - he really, truly believed that in that other universe, he and Spock had been friends. Actually friends, the way the other Spock had told him. The conversations with the other Spock had been great, but when it came down to it, even though he wanted it, he'd never felt the same level of closeness as he'd felt from Spock during the mind-meld on Delta Vega. He'd never felt that with anyone at all, until now. Maybe it wouldn't hold in the morning, but...

...Maybe that would be for the best. Jim didn't know much about those positions Spock had been applying for, but chances were, he could get one of them. He'd be on Earth, working his job, while Jim went back out into space. Maybe they'd call each other sometimes, but he couldn't be there when Spock needed a hand, they couldn't just casually pull out the chess set or talk over breakfast. This one glimpse of the friendship they could have had was probably all they were going to get in this reality.

But they did have it, for now, and Jim looked up to Spock to smile again. Spock didn't return the smile, but his face showed a peace beyond his usual neutrality, his eyes remained serious and earnest.

After a little while, Jim glanced down at their hands again. "You know, it's getting late enough I could probably sleep," he admitted. "How about you?"

"I agree," Spock said, and there was no mistaking the hesitation before he relinquished Jim's hand. Jim didn't particularly want to let go either, but he knew it couldn't last forever. He reached for the empty plate - they'd finished off the fruit long ago between the two of them - and the chess set, setting them aside as he got up.

Jim didn't feel like going to too much trouble to get ready for bed, just slipped off his pants to exchange them for something looser, since he was already wearing a tee. Spock needed a little assistance, and although Jim could have wished that he was stripping Spock to his underwear for some more interesting reason, mostly all he wanted to do was make Spock comfortable. He supposed he was all right with that.

He was also all right when, after brief trips to the bathroom, he and Spock settled down side by side under the sheets, only to have Spock roll over closer and rest an arm over his chest. It was surprising, but not as distracting as he might have thought. Mostly he just felt lucky, and he lifted a hand to rest on Spock's side, thinking of making some stupid joke about how he wasn't going anywhere...

Instead, he just said good night.

Chapter Text

Overly warm or not, it was nice to wake up with a Vulcan snuggled against your side, Jim thought sleepily. As he woke up a little more, he was startled fully awake by the realization that Spock still had an arm over him. He would have expected Spock to wake up at some point during the night, realize he was doing something very un-Vulcan, and probably crawl off to the other side of the bed, as far away as he could get. But Spock's breaths were deep and even on Jim's shoulder, so he must have just been sleeping that deeply. Jim couldn't complain, but he'd hoped to avoid having to actually see Spock reverting to his usual distance.

Unfortunately, not only would he have to witness it, because he was wide awake now, he would probably have to prompt it himself. From the light coming through the window, Jim suspected they'd slept later than he'd meant to, and he was the one who was supposed to make breakfast today. The McCoys were probably up already, maybe waiting, or maybe they'd given up waiting for him.

With a faint sigh, Jim very carefully took hold of Spock's arm, lifting it and attempting to scoot out from underneath without disturbing him too much. It came as no surprise at all when Spock's arm moved of its own accord, pulling back and away, and he glanced over to see dark eyes open and staring at him. There was none of the fuzzy warmth or openness from the night before, Spock's eyes were clear and neutral.

Well, at least they weren't angry or ashamed. "Sorry," Jim muttered. "I was trying not to disturb you. You can go back to sleep if you want."

"I suspect it is past the hour for sleep," Spock observed, and Jim did notice that his voice was a little groggy, even if he wasn't showing it. "There is no reason I should not rise."

Except that there was, maybe. "How's your head?" Jim asked. Spock just gave him a blank look. Jim already missed the cute befuddlement of the night before. "How's it feeling?" he clarified.

Spock paused to consider. "It is functioning adequately."

Which didn't answer Jim's question at all, which probably meant it didn't feel so good. "Well, either way, no one's going to mind if you sleep in," he told Spock, chuckling as he pushed back the blankets to sit up. "You had an interesting night last night, after all."

"A new and unique experience, certainly," Spock agreed, and he definitely sounded unenthusiastic as he did likewise. "Unique, I say - because it is unlikely to be repeated now that I know the cause."

Too bad - it had been adorable. Jim knew that to say so, however, would probably result in Spock being even more dead set against the idea. He glanced at his handheld, and confirmed his suspicions, cursing faintly under his breath. "If Bones actually waited for me to make breakfast, he's probably pretty hungry by now."

"Perhaps you should go and find out."

Jim stretched, and glanced back at Spock, hunched over somewhat on the far side of the bed, his back to Jim. "Yeah, that's what I was thinking. Are you sure you're all right?"

"Quite. However, I should shower before joining everyone downstairs."

"Okay." Jim wasn't exactly convinced, but Spock didn't seem too bad off, definitely not bad enough he needed Jim to look after him. And a shower would at least wake him up a little, give him some time.

Downstairs, Bones and Jo seemed to be in the process of finishing up their own breakfasts. At Jim's appearance, Bones just gestured towards a couple of stacked plates on the counter, and a small pile of waffles on a platter nearby. "Morning - still warm, if you want some."

Jim grinned sheepishly as he nodded. "Sorry, Bones. I figured Spock might sleep late, but I didn't think I'd be joining him."

"Don't worry about it, I figured you might have better things to do this morning than cook," Bones assured him. "You can always have tomorrow. So how is he, anyway?"

"Seems all right," Jim remarked. "He was going to take a shower before he came down. And hey, speaking of tomorrow, when's Jocelyn supposed to be getting back?"

They discussed their plans while Jim ate; Jocelyn was supposed to be getting home the next evening, and although Bones had technically been invited to stay until the Enterprise crew got called back, he wasn't so sure that was a good idea. Jim felt bad for Jo - the expression on her face showed just what Jim suspected, that she knew all too well why her dad didn't want to stick around. At least she knew it had nothing to do with her, he supposed. And Bones wasn't planning to go too far - there was a Starfleet base outside of town, he'd already made arrangements to make use of their temporary housing for a couple months.

Now that Jim had a better idea how things were going to be going, he'd have to call his mom and let her know, but he supposed he'd wait till after breakfast, and maybe after talking to Spock - if his job prospects were that good, he might want to stay in the area while it was finalized. Without even being asked, Bones said he wouldn't mind giving him some crash space on the base. But they had to ask Spock first.

Jim had finished eating, they'd discussed possible ways to spend the day - Bones had promised to take Jo to a show that afternoon, since it was the first day of summer break, but Jim and Spock were welcome to come along - and Spock still hadn't come down. Jim headed back up for a second, and the water wasn't running anymore, so he'd probably be out soon. While he was waiting, he made that call to his mom, letting her know they'd probably be in tomorrow, but it might just be him after all.

Still Spock hadn't come down. A little concerned, Jim went up and knocked on the bathroom door to ask. "Everything all right in there?"

"Everything is fine," came the reply. His voice was clear and nonchalant, which Jim considered a good sign. "I am almost finished."

Jim thought he heard some kind of clicking sound. Weird. "Okay, just checking," he said, and went to their room to get dressed.

He was back downstairs, reading through a couple messages from members of his crew he hadn't managed to get a direct link to the day before, half-listening to some news program Bones had turned on, when Spock finally appeared. Bones was the one who spotted him first, seated facing the hallway, and his eyebrows shot up in impressed surprise. "Well, well... look who's lookin' sharp today."

Jim's eyes widened a little too when he turned to see. No wonder Spock had taken forever up there. Not only had he showered, but he'd shaved, and... Yes, he'd definitely trimmed his hair. It was still longer and less formal than that short bowl cut most Vulcans seemed to favor, but it was more even now, and the pointed tips of his ears showed. Remembering why he'd implied he'd let his hair grow out, Jim was strangely touched. He must be feeling safer now, and that was exactly the effect Jim had hoped he'd have on Spock.

Spock nodded in acknowledgment to Bones. "I intend to continue following the leads you provided. It had occurred to me yesterday, shortly before we left the house, that I should make myself look more professional before placing any calls, and certainly before I was likely to be called back."

"You definitely do look professional," Jo told him, beaming. Apparently she liked this look just as much as the last. Jim mostly agreed, but kind of missed the unshaven part - that had been hot. "So you're feeling better?"

"My health has vastly improved since last night," he confirmed. "I believe, unless anyone has anything about which to inform me, that I will return to the study and resume my applications."

"Not much," Jim said. "We're going to be leaving for Iowa tomorrow afternoon, unless you want to stick close to these job apps."

"If you do, I can give you some space in my on-base housing for a little while," Bones added. "Once you've got verifiable employment, it won't take long to get approved for a place to stay."

"...Thank you." Spock appeared slightly surprised by the offer. "I believe that would be the most logical course of action."

Which meant this was the last time he and Spock were going to be able to spend the day together... and Spock was planning on spending it job hunting. Jim knew it was the sensible thing to do, but he couldn't help feeling a little dejected about it.

"Well, since that's settled," Bones said, "want some breakfast before you get back into all those forms? Wouldn't take long to heat up some of what's left."

"No thank you," Spock replied. "I am more thirsty this morning than hungry; a cup of water should be sufficient for the time being."

Yes, definitely hungover, even if he wasn't showing it in the least. Bones tried to exchange amused glances with Jim, but Jim was feeling too glum all of a sudden to join in.

...And that was that, basically. Spock was holed up in the study making plans for his future, and that was exactly what he needed to do. When Jim had made plans to visit Bones, he'd only been intending to spend time with him and maybe his daughter anyway, so it wasn't like his plans had been ruined or anything. They talked, played some games, went out to a movie in the early afternoon, and the movie was pretty funny. It kept Jim from being too unhappy, at least for the duration, and that was a good thing. He shouldn't have been unhappy anyway, and was trying not to be.

He must not have been good at concealing it, either. When they stopped for drinks on the way home, and Jo went off to the bathroom, Bones turned to Jim. "So what's eating you?"

That wasn't just his 'I'm your friend' voice, Jim observed - that was his 'I'm the ship's doctor and I prescribe some Saurian brandy and a chat' voice. That usually meant that Bones already knew what was on his mind, but wanted to hear what Jim would say to it. There was no getting around it, in that case, and he shrugged. "Don't get me wrong, I'm glad Spock's getting back on his feet. The whole reason I brought him along was because I didn't want to leave him stuck in a bad place. And trust me, I'm glad you're willing to take him in for a little while."

"But you were looking forward to taking him with you to Iowa."

Jim nodded, then reconsidered. "I think it's more than that."

"Well, of course it is," Bones reasoned. "Just a change of plans isn't enough to get you all mopey."

"Nah." Jim thought for a second. "I guess I'd gotten more used to him than I expected. And with him spending today on those apps, it's like we already ran out of time, we don't even get a last day together."

"Wasn't last night enough?" Bones chuckled. "I bet he'd say it was."

Bones was probably right. Jim probably would have said it was a good sendoff too, except for the part where he'd only just realized how much he liked Spock. And that was stupid - Spock had been intoxicated, he hadn't been acting like himself, so the Spock he liked wasn't really Spock. Except that it did seem like it was just the parts of Spock that Spock was afraid to show anyone - Spock himself had said something like that. And he'd been touched, honestly touched, to know what Spock had been hiding.

"Despite what you told me," Bones continued, more seriously, "you were hoping he'd come back to Starfleet after all, weren't you?"

Jim tried to think about the future, in Iowa and after, where he might go, eventually winding up back on the Enterprise. He wondered if there would ever have come a point where he'd have decided it was time for Spock to stay behind. "I guess I was."

Which was selfish. Just like he'd said, if Spock didn't want to go back to Starfleet, that was his decision. He didn't have to explain, either. It was none of Jim's business. It was still frustrating that they'd managed to get this far, and maybe find a solution to the problems Spock was facing, and still not know a thing about what had caused them. He even found himself a little jealous of Bones for having the solution, and not him. Or maybe it was because Spock would be staying with Bones for a little longer, while he went back to Iowa, where it would be just him and his mom.

There were a lot of things that Jim wasn't happy about at the moment, and he was quiet on the way home, quiet enough that even Jo asked him if he was all right. He made an effort to at least smile a little after that, even if he still didn't talk much. He wondered if he'd feel better after he talked to the other Spock for a while, or if it would just frustrate him, knowing the kind of friendship he'd missed out on. He could still have it with the older Spock, who obviously felt the same way, but it wouldn't be the same - Jim hadn't cultivated it himself, the way he had with the younger. It had just been there, already formed, offered openly.

He didn't really know what to say, so it wasn't much of a comfort when Spock agreed to join them when they went out for dinner. It was a nice restaurant, nicer than Jim or Bones would probably have chosen left to their own devices, but like Bones said, it would be nice to go all out for the last night of their visit, and Jo got a kick out of dressing up - especially with Spock seated next to her in the nice suit they'd picked out in San Francisco. Jim was seated on the other side of him, and his mood was somewhat lifted as he watched Spock look over the menu, mildly wary, and inquire about what specifically was in various dishes, only to decide on a salad. He didn't have to be so careful, Jim thought. Spock should know now that if it happened again, he'd be taken care of. Of course, it would be like him to avoid all sugar now for that reason precisely.

As they ate, Spock informed them of his progress in the job hunt, noting particular places that seemed especially promising, a couple who had wanted to schedule an interview. Bones knew a lot about the companies, and could even fill Spock in on a few details, which left Jim without much to say once again. At least, up until Bones made some comment about how Spock shouldn't be sleeping on his floor for long.

"Actually, doctor," Spock told him, "although I appreciate the offer, I am hoping that I will not require the use of your floor." He turned to Jim. "I requested that the interviews be conducted via video transmission, so that I might accompany you to Iowa as we had originally planned."

"...What?"

"It seemed inconsiderate of me to back out on an arrangement that had already been made," Spock replied. "Furthermore, your mother expressed interest in meeting me."

"Well... yes." Apparently Jim still didn't have a whole lot to say, especially since he didn't want to argue the point. It was just - Spock had said that staying in Georgia with Bones was logical. Didn't Spock always do the logical thing? "If it's going to impact your job options, though..."

"I don't believe it will. Those I spoke to were perfectly willing to accommodate my request. So long as return transportation may be arranged upon such a time as I accept a position, there is no reason why I should not go with you."

"Yeah, that's not a problem." Jim couldn't even articulate how much that wasn't a problem. To think he'd had to practically steal Spock's stuff to get him to accept some help at first, had to win a bet to keep him from going back to begging at the spaceport, and now he was actually choosing to come home with Jim instead of taking what he'd proclaimed to be the most logical option? Jim gave Spock one of his usual grins, the kind he hadn't been able to muster up all day, and found that his meal tasted much better than it had moments ago. Even if Spock didn't smile back.

Jim did want to make absolutely sure this was the best thing for Spock, however, so when they got home that evening and were getting ready for bed, he made himself ask. "You really want to go to Iowa with me instead of staying here?"

"Although your emotions are highly illogical, you have seemed pleased by my agreeing to travel with you," Spock pointed out. "Since it pleases you - for some strange reason - and you have enabled me to perhaps find suitable employment which would make use of my natural talents, it seemed that I might offer some recompense in the form of further company."

"I appreciate it," Jim said, ignoring the repeated observation that wanting Spock around was illogical - he wasn't a Vulcan. "But you're not obligated. Remember that bet we made? It ended once we got here. You don't have to do anything more."

"Just as you did not have to offer me assistance," Spock stated. "I am offering you company - though unlike you, I am not of a mind to force it upon you unwilling."

"That's fine - unlike you, I don't have any issues about accepting that offer, as long as it's not going to mess anything up," Jim told him with a grin. Maybe it would only be for a few days, but it was something. "I'll just say thanks."

"And I will tell you that your... gratitude has been accepted," Spock told him, strangely hesitant for a moment before continuing. "There is no debt between us; it is settled."

So Spock did remember at least some of the night before. Jim's grin softened as he nodded. They hadn't talked about it at all, though, and from the way Spock settled himself way over on the edge of the bed again, the way he had the first night, it was obvious that it had left him uncomfortable.

"...You don't have to go all the way over there," Jim said, lying back and turning to look at the back of Spock's head. "I know last night wasn't your usual behavior, and I'm not expecting you to get all cuddly again. Unless you want to," he added with a smirk.

Spock did roll over to his back, giving Jim a passing glance as he placed himself more firmly on the bed. "I do not."

"Didn't think so." More's the pity, Jim thought. "But seriously - you weren't out of line, and it wasn't your fault anyway. Trust me, you've got nothing to be ashamed about."

"Shame is an emotion," Spock replied, staring up at the ceiling. "Vulcans are beyond such things."

Jim wanted to say it was a load of BS, considering what Spock had said last night, but that wasn't likely to help. "Okay," he conceded. "Just wanted to make sure."

They settled into comfortable silence once Jim had turned out the light. Jim's mind wandered; he wondered if another few days would even make that much difference. Spock probably wasn't going to open up to him again the way he had the night before, and it might just be that he'd get to spend another day thinking about what could have been, and what would never be.

Jim was jostled out of his thoughts by the mattress moving, and he saw Spock lifting the blankets to reach down, seemingly looking for something. When his hand emerged, he held it up to regard it with curiosity, and Jim saw it too, in the dim light from the window - a white pawn, one of those Spock had managed to capture during the previous night's game.

As Spock set it aside on the nightstand, Jim laughed softly. "It's a good thing you're coming with me tomorrow," he remarked. "Would be a shame if for the rest of your life, you had to live with knowing you'd never managed to beat me at chess."

"Indeed," Spock agreed, settling back down. "I would very much like a rematch - last night's game did not count."

"Definitely not."

And that, Jim thought, was probably as close as Spock was going to come to saying that he was going to miss him too. Though Spock wasn't smiling at him, the way he had the night before, there was still a feeling of relaxation in the way he looked at Jim, and Jim was all too willing to smile back.


This time, Jim remembered the bet he'd made with Bones when he woke early. Rather than going for a run - and to think, in about twenty-four hours, he could go for a morning run around Riverside - Jim just got up and quietly arranged their travel plans as Spock slept on the other side of the bed. Station shuttles were arranged for, afternoon flights were available, and that was good. They'd have some time to have breakfast and say goodbye, and arrive in time for his mom to make dinner like she apparently was looking forward to. Jim didn't really get how people liked cooking, but maybe that was because he'd never thought much about it. He didn't have to, the way his mom cooked.

Which was why he didn't have a whole lot of bright ideas for what exactly he was going to make for breakfast. No one was going to get a real treat, he noted as he looked over what was available in the kitchen, quietly so as not to disturb Bones out in the living room. They might get something more interesting if he didn't cook. At least Bones got to eat something he hadn't made himself, Jim supposed, and started getting things out.

He wasn't particularly surprised when Spock was the first to show up, before he'd finished cooking. Spock eyed the pan on the stove, the other things out on the counter, and looked to Jim. "Is this your favored breakfast?"

It was pretty much the same kind of thing he'd been getting from the replicators back at the Academy - eggs, sausage, toast. Jim shrugged. "I like it well enough that I know how to make it." Spock just nodded vaguely, and Jim wondered. "I know you won't want the sausage, but are the eggs and toast all right?"

"It is acceptable."

Jim really did have to wonder. "What sorts of things do Vulcans usually eat for breakfast anyway?"

Spock considered. "Light things. Carbohydrates, for the most part, perhaps a mild broth."

Sounded incredibly boring to Jim. "Well, at least the toast isn't too far off." And boring or not, maybe once they were in Iowa, he could take Spock out shopping, see what they could get for breakfast that he would really like.

Spock nodded, and sat at the table, folding his hands in front of him. When he said nothing more, Jim glanced back. "Did you need something? Or just waiting?"

"...It had occurred to me," Spock said, "that I believe I offered to cook. Yet I know very little about preparing the food which you are preparing."

Jim chuckled. "Don't worry about it, Spock. I'm not going to hold you to anything you said the other night. But if you do want to lend a hand," he added, "nothing I'm doing is really complicated - I don't even know how to make anything complicated. I could show you, if you want."

Spock's response was to stand, going to the counter to look over the ingredients. The sausage was almost done frying, so Jim supposed it probably was about time to put the eggs on, and maybe he could do that while Spock made the toast...

"It had also occurred to me," Spock said, almost abruptly and quieter than before, since he was standing right next to Jim, "that although you seemed unhappy yesterday at the thought of the two of us parting ways, you do not seem particularly unhappy to be leaving Dr. McCoy, whom you have named a friend, later today."

"Well, yeah." Jim hadn't realized he'd been so obvious that even Spock had noticed, when they hadn't even spent much time around each other the day before, except at dinner. But his reasoning should have been even more obvious. "Bones is my ship's CMO - I'm going to see him again when the Enterprise heads out. In fact, we won't be able to get away from each other," he added with amusement. "We'll be stuck with each other, so a couple months apart is no big deal. But since you're planning to stay here on Earth, that means once you take that job, I'm probably not going to see you for at least another five years." If ever. Thinking about it was kind of depressing him all over again, and he forced a smile. "That's a long time to go without beating you at chess."

Spock didn't smile in return. "So you do not intend, in all seriousness, to pursue the idea of persuading me to reenlist?"

"No, I don't," Jim sighed, poking at the frying eggs with a spatula. "I know I'm pretty pissed off when people try to make me do things I don't want to do. So I'm not going to do it to anyone else."

"Then the sole reason behind your desire for me to come to Iowa with you, rather than staying with Dr. McCoy," Spock reasoned, "is that you consider me a friend, and wish to spend time with me."

"Yeah, that sums it up." It seemed like Spock couldn't comprehend the idea. The other Spock, Jim reminded himself, had had a century longer to think things over. "I get the impression Vulcans don't make friends," Jim remarked, even though he knew better. At least in the case of one Vulcan. "Is that it?"

He wasn't expecting the answer he received. "...I do not know."

Jim glanced over at Spock, who was staring straight ahead at the cupboards above the counter, at nothing at all. "As with all civilized social orders," Spock continued, "in Vulcan society, there are always those with whom one associates more frequently. For professional business, for the cultivation of intellectual or creative pursuits. Such associations, with those who can offer advantage to one another, are perfectly logical, rather than the fulfillment of some nonexistent emotional need. I never considered it otherwise."

He was lost in his thoughts, his voice lowered to little more than a murmur. Jim didn't speak when he paused, just waited - and sure enough, Spock continued. "Yet since the decimation of my people... the death of my mother... I have come to realize that many of the things I had assumed about my own kind, what made one a proper Vulcan, may be in part a facade." He hesitated again. "Or perhaps my own father was, as I had been told as a child, not a proper Vulcan either. But I do not believe him to be an aberration," Spock added, before Jim could say anything. "While I was still on the colony, I observed many other Vulcans, and their reactions to the calamity, the loss of those whom they associated with. Furthermore, there are words in our language, which have fallen out of favor - yet they do still exist despite their disuse. I am inclined to think that portions of what I was taught, what I blindly believed as a child, may not be entirely true."

Jim thought about asking Spock if he wanted to talk about it. But then, hadn't he made that offer a long time ago, and been turned down? And this was more personal than anything Spock had said to him so far, probably his idea of taking him up on that offer after all. Jim also suspected that if he said something wrong, this newfound trust that Spock had in him was going to go up in smoke. Like the eggs, if he didn't get them off the stove; he turned to do that quickly. "...Seems like a pretty big epiphany," he said finally.

Spock nodded. "Indeed, it was."

He didn't elaborate, and Jim wondered if he should say something else. Before he'd thought of a non-intrusive way to say any of the things he was thinking about saying, Bones showed up, stretching and commenting that something smelled pretty good. Maybe that was why Spock had stopped there, Jim thought. Must be handy to hear that well.

They all lingered at the table a little while after they'd finished eating; Jo had come down shortly after her father's appearance, and Jim recognized she was a little subdued. Probably for the same reasons he'd been yesterday, but he was pretty sure she'd get over it next time someone appealing who was more her own age showed up. Then again, he realized when Bones finally stood, muttering that he supposed he'd better go make sure all his things were together, her dad was moving out again today too. Not that Jim had much experience with that sort of thing - closest he'd had to a dad was Uncle Frank, and he'd been glad when that asshole wasn't around - but that had to suck, even if he wasn't going far.

Jim and Spock didn't have a whole lot to get together, since they were traveling so light, and in fact Spock was organized enough that he already didn't have anything left to pack. Except for one thing...

"Did you leave room for that?" Bones teased, as Spock picked up the stuffed penguin, regarding it curiously.

"I dunno, seems like more of a carry-on kind of thing to me," Jim remarked with a grin. "Even though Spock's a lot better with shuttles than you are - I don't think he'll need someone to hold onto."

"Shut up," Bones muttered good-naturedly. "I got better, didn't I?"

"A plush recreation of a Terran animal... of questionable workmanship," Spock observed, turning it over in his hands, "serves very little purpose."

"Fair enough," Jim admitted.

He had mostly won it for Spock as a joke anyway, and was going to suggest Jo might like a parting gift from him, when Spock unzipped his backpack. "However, since it is made of compactible materials, I believe there is room." Jim and Bones glanced at each other - Bones incredulous, Jim amused.

They'd gone over the guest room to make sure they hadn't left anything, and were checking the upstairs bathroom, when Spock glanced towards the door. Shortly afterwards, very faintly, they heard Jo's voice from downstairs. Bones grimaced faintly. "Great, she's back early."

"Your ex-wife?" Spock inquired, and Bones nodded, starting for the stairs. They'd just verified nothing of theirs was left in the bathroom, so Jim and Spock followed.

"Morning, welcome back," Bones was saying as they reached the foot of the stairs, making a valiant attempt to appear friendly. "Which reminds me, sorry the place is still kind of a mess - I thought you were coming back this evening."

"It is evening in Berlin," she noted with a smile that wasn't much more honestly friendly. Jocelyn was an attractive enough woman, Jim supposed, but just enough older than he was - probably about Bones's age - that her business-like demeanor and the tight way her hair was done up put him in mind of certain admirals and commodores that had given him a hard time towards the start of his captaincy, though none of them he could think of had Jocelyn's easy southern drawl, a lot like Bones when he let his guard down. "Don't worry about it, Len - if anything, it's less of a mess than I might have expected. Except for the kitchen, but that should be simple enough."

Jim saw her eyes turn to him and Spock, and decided to handle this pretty much the same way he'd handled those higher-ranking officers. "That would be my fault, ma'am," he said politely, stepping forward. "I took care of breakfast this morning, and it's been a while since I was responsible for meals that didn't come out of a replicator. Jim Kirk," he introduced himself, offering a hand, "captain of the USS Enterprise. Leonard's been invaluable as my chief medical officer. I assume you must be Jocelyn McCoy."

"Yes - it's a pleasure, captain." Her handshake was strong and firm, at least for someone who wasn't military. "He did say you might be dropping in for a little while - and don't worry about the kitchen. As you're a guest, it's certainly not your responsibility." She gave Bones a glance, and he was obviously trying not to look sour. "I'm surprised you were asked to cook at all. There wasn't any trouble, was there? You're all right, Len?"

"Actually, it was due to a bet we made," Jim told her with a playful smile which he didn't feel at all, especially when Jo wandered off towards the living room, looking glum. Poor kid. "Though I'm not nearly as good at cooking as he is - I think we all got the raw end of that deal. By the way, how rude of me not to introduce my friend here, Mr. Spock; he served aboard the Enterprise as well, as first officer during its first voyage, and I talked Leonard into putting up with him too."

"Oh, it was no trouble," Bones said calmly, as Spock and Jocelyn gave each other an appraising nod. "And don't worry about those dishes. She's right, you're a guest, and you'll have a flight to catch-"

"No, I insist." Jim didn't like seeing Bones take more responsibility on himself. Especially since he knew he was only being polite for Jo's sake. "We've got a couple hours before that flight, and it won't take long."

"Fine," Bones grumbled. "But it'll be faster if I help."

Jim wondered if Spock was going to offer to help too, but he seemingly had something else on his mind. "Mrs. McCoy - I am something of a musician, and Joanna enjoyed my music when I played for her a few days past. I had thought to play again for her before we left - a farewell of sorts, if this is acceptable to you. You would be, of course, welcome to listen as well."

Jim suppressed a grin, fairly sure he knew exactly what Spock was doing, as Jocelyn gave him a charming smile. "A musician, are you? I'd be delighted."

"That sounds like a plan," Jim said brightly. "Meanwhile, excuse us, Mrs. McCoy - Leonard and I will take care of that kitchen."

"Thank you - and call me Jocelyn, please."

"Jocelyn," Jim agreed with a nod, and followed Bones to the kitchen. There - passive-aggressive southern hospitality met with flawless politeness, and any blowups were averted for the time being.

He'd expected that once they were alone, covered by the sound of clanking plates and silverware as they scraped and loaded, Bones would have plenty of complaints to growl under his breath. Instead, he was quiet and sober, working methodically. It was kind of creepy, actually. Finally Jim spoke. "Seems to me like she's still hung up on the past, like maybe she doesn't get how much you've changed." Not that Jim knew that much either, since Bones had thrown himself into the Starfleet life and hardly bothered to look back, except for his daughter's sake.

Bones nodded vaguely. "Yeah, and I can't really blame her. Glass houses, Jim - I can't be throwing any stones myself."

He didn't look irritable so much as depressed, and even if Jim didn't completely understand, he knew Bones well enough to know how to handle it. "Hey," he suggested. "You could come out to the station with me and Spock when we leave, and you and I could have a beer or something before takeoff. What do you say?"

Sure enough, Bones smiled wistfully. "Sounds good, thanks."

They kept on working in silence, listening to the distant sound of Spock's lyre. Mostly he was playing classical, a lot of things Jim didn't know - which may or may not have been due to what planet they were written on, but once he heard a melody he swore he knew, some popular old Earth song he couldn't place. At last they were done, and Bones tossed his towel down on the counter with a sigh. "It's nice to come back," he admitted, "but who would've thought the day would come when Leonard McCoy couldn't wait to get on a starship and head out into the middle of nowhere?"

Jim clapped him on the back. "I'm just glad to hear it." Incredibly glad. When Bones had first called him up after arrival, and talked about how Jocelyn seemed to appreciate his efforts to make up, how big Jo had gotten, how proud he was that Jo wanted to be a nurse... Jim had wondered a little if he might wind up opting out of the next mission. Not that he was glad his family life hadn't turned out so well as he'd hoped, but it would have been as hard to leave Bones behind as it was going to be to leave Spock.

Possibly it should have been harder, Jim thought to himself, considering that he and Bones definitely were friends, and had been for years. But at least if Bones stayed behind, Jim would have known he had a good reason. Maybe that was the difference.

They still had a little time before they had to be at the station, even taking into account the time it would take to have a beer, so once the dishes were done, the two of them joined everyone else in the living room, listening to Spock play. Jo did seem to have cheered up, and Jocelyn seemed relaxed, definitely unconcerned with her ex-husband's behavior, which was exactly what Jim suspected Spock had been trying to accomplish.

They sat in for a couple more songs before Jim announced their intentions, and then it was time for goodbyes. Spock and Jim politely thanked Jocelyn for the use of the guest room while Jo gave her dad a big hug, though he wasn't leaving for good just yet - and then, not entirely to Jim's surprise, he got a big hug too. "When you leave next time," Jo told him, "I'll be certified. You and Dad might have to take me along."

Jim laughed and hugged her back. "Would be my pleasure."

Not at all to Jim's surprise, Spock got a big hug as well. More to his surprise, Spock reciprocated a little. "When you come back to Georgia," Jo asked, "will you come and visit me sometime?"

Spock raised his eyebrow slightly, giving Jocelyn a curious look. "I might," he said, "if your mother deems it appropriate. But I suspect my career will keep me rather busy."

"We might be able to find a little time for visiting, yes," Jocelyn agreed, though she too looked a bit curious. "We did only barely get the chance to meet."

Bones breathed an audible sigh of relief once they'd picked up their bags and said their last goodbyes, the door closing behind them. "All right, now I really need that beer," he muttered, as their shuttle pulled up.

Jim had expected that maybe Bones would want to complain a little once they were out of there and had a drink in hand. Gripe about the ex, how he'd changed and she hadn't, having to leave Joanna, things like that. Instead, Bones turned to talk about the Enterprise - people he looked forward to seeing again, things he wanted to try when they set out if he got the chance, colonies where exciting medical research was starting to pay off. Jim supposed it just proved Bones had moved on, which he considered a good thing, and nodded and added his suggestions. Spock didn't have much to say, though he did listen as he sipped at his own glass of water at the bar with them, occasionally looking more intrigued at the mention of specific experiments Bones was looking forward to seeing completed.

But once they were done, they had to go their separate ways. Bones gave Jim a quick squeeze, told him with a grin they'd be seeing each other soon, again let Spock know he'd be in the area for awhile if he needed any advice on the job front or on housing. Spock thanked him, and then it was time to board.

Jim was mostly lost in his own thoughts - which were largely about getting his crew together again, and wondering if they'd actually get a chance to check out some of those things Bones wanted to check out, considering HQ had a tendency to call them off their marked course on a regular basis to run errands - and didn't think much of Spock's being quiet during takeoff, since Spock was usually pretty quiet. But then Spock spoke up, asking a strange question. "Have I heard incorrectly, regarding humans' habit of choosing a spouse based on positive emotions towards one another?"

"...No, that's generally the way we do it." Jim figured out pretty quickly why he was asking. "You mean, Bones and Jocelyn?"

"It did not appear to me that there was much positive emotion between the two of them," Spock observed. "Only tension and barely-restrained animosity. I am certain that this is not what humans refer to as love."

"Yeah, it isn't." Jim tried to figure out how to explain, when he didn't even know all the details himself - and they weren't Spock's business even if he did. "Relationships... can get messy sometimes. A lot of the time, really. I mean, even a single person is complex - trying to fit two complex people into something permanent is even more complicated. As far as I know, Bones was crazy about Jocelyn years ago, and she must have felt the same way if she married him, and had a kid and everything. But emotions can change - and in the case of the McCoys, apparently they did."

"I find it interesting," Spock remarked, "that you use a term which equates to insanity to denote emotional attraction."

"Well, I guess that's because people who like each other a whole lot sometimes do absolutely insane things over it," Jim said with a grin. "Come on, you're familiar with at least Shakespeare, so you had to know that much."

"Works of fiction," Spock pointed out.

"Truth is stranger than fiction a lot of the time." Jim considered it. "I think the thing is... if you really care about someone, it hurts all that much more when they hurt you, whether it's intentional or not. And most of the time, it is unintentional, but it still hurts. So strong love can turn into strong anger, or strong sadness."

"So love can turn into different emotions?" Spock thought for a moment. "One of your planet's most popular religious texts declares that love never fails."

"...To be honest, there's a lot of stuff in there I don't agree with," Jim remarked. "But now that you mention it, maybe in a way that's true. It changes, but it never goes away."

Jim glanced over to see Spock regarding him seriously. "Do you speak from experience?" Spock asked.

Smiling, Jim shook his head. "I've been around a lot," he admitted, "but I'm not the kind of guy who gets attached. Maybe that's why I'm still okay with a lot of the people I've slept with. Then again," he added, "it might work the other way too, with negative emotions turning into positive ones. I mean, regardless of what you think of it, I still consider you a friend, and didn't we pretty much hate each other's guts when we met?"

"Although the arrangement of your internal organs does indeed differ from that of mine, it was not that which I objected to."

Jim snorted at the perfectly straight-faced declaration. He thought that was a joke, but with Spock it was hard to tell. "Anyway... you get what I'm saying. It seems like humans mostly choose people that make them feel something really intense. Sometimes it's the wrong feeling, though." He glanced over at Spock again. "What with all the logic and no emotions, I bet you'd say the Vulcans do it better, right?"

"...I'm not sure."

Jim appraised him curiously. He sounded kind of like he had earlier, when Jim asked him about Vulcans and friendship, and Jim wondered what he had to say about Vulcans and relationships.

But Spock turned his head to face forward again, and said nothing.

Chapter Text

As expected, his mom was there when the shuttle landed. Jim could see her smiling from behind the gate as they disembarked, fortunately not waving. Jim nudged Spock lightly, gestured in her direction, and they made their way over.

Of course Jim got a big hug as a greeting. "Welcome home," his mom murmured, holding him tight for a moment, not quite long enough to be truly embarrassing, before letting go. Jim thought about saying something when she turned to Spock, but before he could, she stepped back, holding up a hand in greeting, fingers parted in the Vulcan way. "Dif-tor heh smusma, Spock."

Spock looked as surprised as Jim, raising an eyebrow before responding in kind. "Dif-tor heh smusma, Mrs. Kirk. I was not expecting one familiar with Vulcan customs, much less the language."

"Uh, yeah," Jim agreed, puzzled. "How did you know that?" He wasn't sure what they'd been saying, but from Spock's response, it seemed to be correct.

She smiled wider. "I was a Starfleet officer, Jim, and much of my career," she pointed out, looking to Spock, "was before Nero's arrival soured the peaceful relationship between our two races."

That was right, Jim recalled. There had been past skirmishes between the Federation and the Romulan Empire, but the Neutral Zone had been established before ship-to-ship visuals existed - no one had actually seen a Romulan until Nero showed up. History said that Vulcan/Terran diplomacy had been touchy for awhile... but that had started more or less the day he was born. His whole life, he'd known tensions were a little strained - but his mom's Starfleet career had started before that.

"I was a science officer, working in anthropology," his mother explained. "After Jim was born, one of my assignments was to compile evidence for a report to prove to certain factions that the Romulans were not Vulcans, despite the visual similarities. As if anyone who'd ever met a Vulcan couldn't see that we had nothing to fear from Vulcans," she added, sounding slightly exasperated, "but most humans outside of Starfleet hadn't."

"I can verify that this has not changed," Spock said. Except maybe for the worse, Jim thought. Weird, he'd never really thought much about what his mom had been doing when he was really little.

She nodded. "I'm not surprised... Anyway, is that it? Do you both have everything?" she asked.

"Yeah, we're both traveling light," Jim told her. "This is it... Did the stuff I sent on ahead arrive okay?"

"Yeah... yeah, it made it." Jim thought his mother looked strangely anxious all of a sudden, but she just nodded and looked off towards the lot. "Come on, let's get you two back to the house - I'm sure you'd rather not stand here all day, and it's getting to be dinnertime..."

The vehicle she showed them to, while making the requisite conversation about how the trip and his visit with Bones had been, was not what Jim had been expecting. "Well, this is new," he remarked, looking over the larger, brighter-colored car, practically the size of a shuttlecraft.

"Oh, this is Sam's," she explained, heading around to the far side and clicking the locks. "Or it was. With the three boys, he needed it, but it wouldn't have made any sense for him to take it with him."

"True." Jim looked to Spock. "You want the front seat?"

"I will be fine in the rear," Spock replied. Jim watched him climb in as the doors slid open, shrugged, and followed him in. The back seat in this thing was pretty roomy. "Sam is your brother?" Spock inquired.

"Yeah, my older brother. He's married now, with three kids, and just got assigned to Deneva." Jim shook his head - Sam had been just as bad as he was, worse when they were younger. Who would've thought he'd settle down so soon? "Do you..." he began, and then thought better of it. "I guess you probably don't have any brothers or sisters, do you?"

"I do not," Spock confirmed. "Even my own existence is something of an anomaly."

"Oh?" Jim's mom glanced over her shoulder as she started the engine.

"My mother was human," Spock explained.

She gave him a somewhat surprised look. "I didn't know that our species were genetically compatible. The composition of our blood..."

"Apparently, it is possible," Spock replied, "although it seems to be difficult without assistance. I know of one instance prior to my own birth. It did not go well, and the child did not survive infancy."

"I hadn't heard..." She looked forward again, pulling up and away from the lot. "Well, you and your parents were very fortunate, then."

"Perhaps."

Even if Spock's tone was entirely neutral, Jim suspected it was an uncomfortable subject, and therefore changed it. "So Mom... driving this thing must be a big change from the Flurry, huh?" He'd been expecting the little two-seater she'd been driving since he was a teenager.

"It did take some getting used to," she agreed, steering them back towards the house. "I was going to sell this, since it's just me now - I don't need all the back seat space Sam did. But then I got to thinking, there are things I've wanted to do around the house, things that should have been taken care of a long time ago. And with the seats down, it carries a lot more than the Flurry."

"I bet. Just as well, I guess. If you'd picked us up in that, we would've had to strap Spock to the top." He gave Spock a grin, just in case Spock didn't realize that was a joke.

His mom, at least, laughed a little. "That wouldn't have been very welcoming. By the way," she added, "you two are welcome to borrow the Flurry if you need to get around while you're here."

"...We are?" That was also a surprise, considering she'd never let him borrow it before.

She nodded, not looking back at him, and the tone of her voice didn't make it sound like she was completely joking. "I think by now I can be fairly sure you know how to drive."

Yeah, he deserved that. And even if she wasn't really joking, he could pretend that she was. "Hey, I wouldn't be so sure. I had a couple dedicated helmsmen on the Enterprise. ...But thanks," he finished, more seriously. "I appreciate it."

"It's no problem." She smiled at him in the mirror. Jim looked away, glancing over at Spock, who didn't seem to notice anything funny about the conversation. Or if he had, he was ignoring it, paying attention to the landscape whipping past outside the windows.

They might have lived in the middle of nowhere, a good distance from the station, but that just meant there wasn't much traffic to get in the way; they made good time back to the old house, pulling up in front only minutes later, setting down next to the smaller car. Spock looked around with mild interest, surveying the surrounding fields and old wooden fence posts, the flat land that stretched on into the distance. "It must be quiet here," he observed, as Jim opened the door for them. "Conducive to a peaceful life. It is not at all like other human settlements I have visited."

"I'm sure it isn't," Jim's mom agreed as she climbed out. "Most humans want to live in big cities, so they'll be close to everything - it's convenient. But in Starfleet, we spend so much time in close quarters with other people... Jim's father and I wanted a place where we could retreat between missions. Somewhere where it was just our family, nothing else to distract us most of the time."

Jim had hated that, growing up, but now he nodded, a little. He kind of understood what she meant. "Besides, as long as you've got a decent ride, it doesn't take too long to get somewhere a little more interesting. I'll take you into town sometime," he told Spock, "show you where I used to spend my time before I enlisted. Oh - and I can show you where I met Pike," he added. "Uhura, too."

Spock gave him a look that was somewhere between surprised and wary. "Lieutenant Uhura never told me she encountered you in Iowa."

"I'm not really surprised," Jim chuckled. "I don't think I made a very good first impression."

Spock regarded him curiously for a moment, then turned his attention back to the landscape with a soft, thoughtful sound. Jim had seen these surroundings a million times, but took a second to look them over as well. After five years spent mostly on a starship, and then being shuttled around between starbases and spaceports, it was kind of nice to just look off into the distance, past the property lines and on into farmland, to be able to see solid ground stretching out for that long.

...He was starting to sound like Bones. Jim stretched and ducked back into the car to get his luggage. "You mentioned dinner, Mom?"

"I wondered how long it would take you to get around to asking," she teased, and started inside. "It's almost taken care of already, just need to heat up a few things..."

Spock still hadn't picked up his backpack; he was still having a look around. "I take it you like Iowa?" Jim asked.

"I find this portion of it quite fascinating," Spock replied.

"Funny, most people think this part of it is pretty boring," Jim remarked, and just grabbed Spock's backpack himself. "But then again, that's because they're driving through it on their way somewhere else, and since it's huge and empty, it seems to go on forever."

"On the contrary, it is not empty," Spock observed. "There are hills, and a wide variety of plants - some clearly cultivated, others growing wild. I can hear birdsong, and would expect that there are other animals making their homes here as well."

"Yeah, nothing really impressive. Rabbits, gophers, deer, that sort of thing... every now and then a coyote."

"There were far emptier places on Vulcan," said Spock. "Arid deserts, consisting of nothing but sand and stone, for as far as the eye could see."

"...Point taken." Next to that, Iowa probably did look pretty interesting.

"Even then, there was life," Spock continued. "It was simply hidden, below the surface... After a rare, brief rain, plants would flower. Creatures would creep from the holes where they hid themselves from the sun. There was always life, even when we could not see it." He hesitated, as if he was going to say something more, but instead fell silent.

Jim could imagine what he might say anyway, and decided to stand there with him a little longer, looking out over the fields as the grass and the corn waved in the breeze, until his mom came out looking for them. It could come to pass someday, he acknowledged, that he'd wish he had paid more attention.


When home cooking had been mentioned, Jim had assumed they'd probably be having something like dinner used to be when he was a kid, when his mom got home and was excited to have fresh ingredients and a real oven, something to show her kids how much she'd missed them while she was offworld. He supposed this was the same kind of thing, mostly, just... different kids, sort of. As she'd proven earlier, she knew Vulcans, so there was no meat in evidence, just cornbread and salad and a thick bean soup. She even provided small skewers, which Jim didn't understand at all, until Spock raised an eyebrow, thanking her, and used one to transfer the small, bite-sized pieces of cornbread to his plate, then to his mouth as they ate.

Jim's curiosity must have shown, because his mom turned to him with a little smile. "You didn't know? Vulcans don't touch their food with their hands."

The curious look went to Spock - Jim had seen him touch food with his hands before. Before he could say anything, though, Spock responded to his unspoken question. "Since my arrival on Earth, I have accustomed myself to certain human mannerisms. It is pleasant, however, to be offered the option of dining in the manner with which I am most comfortable."

"Huh. I'll have to remember that." Between conversation, Jim wound up spending a good portion of the rest of the meal trying to figure out how someone could manage to eat popcorn in any way other than with their bare hands. A spoon would work, but that would look ridiculous, and Jim had to admit that Spock made eating with the skewers look pretty dignified, in an exotic sort of way. But spearing popcorn would just make it break. Chopsticks, maybe...

"So you won't be accompanying Jim on another mission," his mother deduced over dessert, after Spock had spoken of his job prospects in the south.

Dessert was fruit and a number of dipping sauces, some of which Spock avoided after inquiring as to their nature. Jim couldn't blame Spock for sticking to the plain cream when the alternatives were chocolate and his newfound nemesis - caramel. "It does not seem likely," Spock agreed, sticking a strawberry and swirling it in the cream before bringing it to his mouth. "Although I have not accepted a position as of yet, the odds are excellent that I will be offered one or more of them, and I will remain on Earth."

"That's good," Jim's mother said with a nod, "but also too bad, in a way. It would be sort of comforting to know that my son had a Vulcan at his back out there."

Jim might have sighed, if he didn't have a mouthful of caramel apple at the moment - he was all too happy to take advantage of the bowls Spock was avoiding, and had decided to try using the skewers like Spock instead of just dunking the fruit with his bare hands. It wasn't too hard to pick up. Even if his mouth wasn't full, he supposed he wouldn't have said anything. His mom had about a dozen obvious reasons to worry about him.

Spock, on the other hand, surprised him by speaking up. "I would note, Mrs. Kirk, that your son commands the Enterprise, the flagship of the fleet. Starfleet's most qualified officers are assigned to such a ship - and because of my brief time aboard, as well as my encounters with some of these officers since, I can verify that his crew is indeed the finest Starfleet has to offer. Furthermore, he was assigned to command the Enterprise due to his own exemplary abilities. You need not be concerned about his safety."

"Logically, no," she replied ruefully, resting her head in one hand with a soft smile. "But I'm his mother, and you can't stop a mother from worrying. A human mother, anyway - you said you have a human mother too," she recalled. "I'm sure she worries about you, even while you're safe on a stable, class M planet like Earth."

"I expect that she did, when first I arrived," said Spock, reaching out for another strawberry. "She was, by our standards, quite emotional. She is now deceased, however."

"Oh... I see." Jim thought for a second that his mom was going to apologize, but right - she knew Vulcans, and knew it was unnecessary to offer condolences. Or at least, that Vulcans would claim it was. It was kind of satisfying for Jim to realize that even though his mom knew a bunch of cultural things about Vulcans he didn't know, he knew a couple things she probably didn't too. "And your father?"

"My father survived the destruction of our planet, though my mother did not," Spock replied. "As one of our esteemed elders, he is now one of those responsible for guiding our people through the acclimation to our new home." He paused briefly, not bringing the berry to his mouth just yet. "In a sense, Mrs. Kirk, your son and I have something in common: the Romulan known as Nero caused both of us to lose a parent."

She looked to him, then to Jim. "It's perfectly fitting, then, that the two of you were responsible for his defeat."

"Not precisely - we were not the only ones to lose a relative by far," Spock observed. "Furthermore, there were many others who assisted us aboard the ship. However," he added, "I will concede that I found the resolution quite satisfactory."

That was understating it, Jim thought. He remembered Spock's questioning when he offered Nero and his crew a way out - which he'd had no qualms with offering, because he was pretty sure Nero wouldn't take him up on it. Vulcans were pacifists, though, so he hadn't expected Spock to object. It just showed how upset he had been about the whole thing, and Jim was surprised he was talking about it so willingly. But then, he'd had about six years to work through it all.

And as for Jim, the satisfaction had been completely different. He'd never known his father, except through the paragraph the history lessons allotted and that case full of medals and memorabilia in the master bedroom... and the way his mother looked at him, the way she got on his birthday, the way she'd acted towards him ever since he enlisted. It had felt pretty good to give the source of all of that a kick in the teeth. These were kind of heavy thoughts for dessert, though, so he tried to put it out of his mind.

"There were a lot of us back here that were pretty satisfied with it too," his mom told Spock. "Eight hundred of us survived Nero's first attack, thanks to George, and I think every one of us had been... holding our breath, sort of. Wondering for twenty-five years why it happened, what it meant, whether we'd ever get an explanation... if it would happen again, and if we'd be able to do anything about it if it did."

Definitely too heavy for dessert. "Well," Jim said brightly, dipping a berry of his own in the chocolate, "we can be pretty sure it's not going to happen again now. I mean, we took care of it, and time-traveling Romulans don't come along every day." He popped the treat into his mouth with a smile.

"Although the universe is full of potential dangers," Spock agreed, "that particular threat does seem rather unlikely. And if Jim is able to triumph in a situation wherein his ship is outclassed by such a great degree, with very little information, I would surmise that he is competent to withstand many of those other dangers."

Jim's mom returned his fond smile. "I know, I know. To tell the truth, I always knew you had it in you."

"Yeah - here in Iowa," Jim remarked lazily, "I was always doing things that would inspire confidence, huh?"

His mom just nodded, acknowledging and dismissing the sarcasm. "I always knew," she repeated.

After dinner, the two of them took a little time to get settled in; Spock had been shown around, they'd set their bags down, but hadn't done much aside from that. As expected, Spock was in Sam's old room, and that wasn't all that strange to Jim - Sam's room had been empty since he got married and moved out, years ago. Not a lot had changed since then, except that hole that had been punched in the wall had been fixed. Jim glanced over it, the edges of the plaster barely visible, and decided not to point that out.

His own illogical behavior, though, he'd own up to. "We never really crossed paths at the Academy," he remarked, sitting down on his own old bed to open his suitcase. It was a little stranger seeing his own room empty aside from the pile of boxes Starfleet had sent ahead, even if he'd been the one to pack it up himself before the mission. "So I guess you probably never heard much about my reputation."

"I did not," Spock confirmed.

"Well, it was well-deserved," Jim told him. "Even if I was passing the courses with flying colors, I was pretty infuriating."

"Based on our limited interactions at that point in time, I believe I would have agreed."

Jim smirked. "And that was me toning it down. I was even worse before I enlisted - if you'd known me before I met Pike, you'd know it's not really illogical for Mom to worry about me."

"By my estimation," Spock observed, "you must have met Pike nearly a decade ago. For a human, that is a long time - and one of the most intriguing qualities of humans is their mutability, their tendency to adapt quickly to new situations. I would assume, therefore, that you have changed a great deal since that time, and having been away from your mother for most of the interim, she may not know how much."

"The fact Starfleet trusts me with a shuttle, let alone the Enterprise, would be a pretty good indication of how much I've changed," Jim chuckled. "Actually, you don't even know exactly how I met Pike, do you?"

"I do not."

Jim grinned and stood up. Emotional baggage or not, it was kind of cool to come back to Riverside after everything. "How about I show you?"


His mom, amusingly, advised him that Vulcans didn't drink when he asked to take her up on the offer of the car. Jim retorted by asking if she'd ever seen a Vulcan play pool. Since she hadn't, he knew what they had to do sometime before Spock left...

But for now, it was the Shipyard Bar. He'd been in there all of once since, but everything had started there, in a way. In a bar he'd gotten tossed out of on his ass several times. Who would've thought? Just thinking about those days made him floor it on the way there, breaking the speed limit most of the way. It had been awhile since he'd really let himself cut loose, or even had the honest urge to do so, but it was as if the guy he used to be was awakening, now that he was far away from the Academy and anyone he'd met there.

Except Spock, who was sitting in the passenger seat with a wary eye on the speedometer. "In case you had not noticed, you appear to be going twenty-five kilometers over the speed limit."

Jim was tempted to go even faster just to mess with him, but - proving that he wasn't completely reverting to Jim Kirk, village asshole - he restrained himself. "Yeah, but it's the middle of nowhere, no one's around. And trust me, if anyone's coming? You can see them from a long way off, and that includes the cops." He gave Spock a smirk. "I know this from experience."

To his surprise, Spock paused to consider, and then simply nodded. Jim gave him a slightly incredulous look. "What, no lecture about breaking the rules?"

"I acknowledge that you are more familiar with this environment than I," Spock said, "and I do not believe you have any desire to put us in danger, or to be fined. Therefore, I will assume that you do understand the risks involved, and consider them minimal."

Jim was a little surprised, but smiled wider as he turned his full attention back to driving. "You know, I'm kind of glad you didn't know me back in the day. If you did, you wouldn't have that much faith in me."

"Perhaps not."

Jim decided to go a little faster after all - he did know what he was doing, and it just felt good.

The car did slow as they got closer, and there was more traffic to look out for. These little hubs of city in the middle of open farmland were pretty strong attractions, but it was a Sunday night, not too busy. Jim had no problem finding a place in the lot. "It's kind of weird to drive here," he admitted as they got out. "I used to get around by bike, when I was coming here on a regular basis. ...I kind of miss that thing," he added thoughtfully. "Wonder if it's still running. I handed it off to a guy working in the shipyard when I got on the shuttle. Never got his name or anything."

"You gave away your method of transport?" Spock inquired, as they started towards the building.

"Yeah."

"I assume, then, that you were quite certain you would not be returning."

"Oh yeah," Jim agreed emphatically. "It was an 'all-or-nothing' kind of situation. That's pretty much how I got by back then."

"It does not seem to be far removed from your current method of operation," Spock observed.

Jim paused outside the door. The music and noise from inside was already audible, leaking through into the outside air, and it made him feel even more nostalgic. "I guess not," he said with a shrug. "It's mostly just that I found better things to use that method on."

Pushing the door open, Jim couldn't suppress a wide grin as he looked over the interior. There were little changes here and there - different signs up, they'd rearranged the tables, and the music that was being pumped through the speakers was unfamiliar in everything but style - but it felt just like it had when he was ten years younger. He didn't linger long, but fell immediately back into old habits, heading straight for the bar.

As he'd expected, no one he knew was seated there as far as he could tell, and he didn't know the girl working it either - she wouldn't have been old enough to work there before his enlistment. "Hey," he greeted her casually, sliding onto an empty stool, gesturing to the one next to him as Spock followed. A little glance over the signs behind the bar told him some things hadn't changed. "I'll have a Bud Classic, and, uh..." He felt kind of ridiculous asking, when back in the day he would never have hung out with someone who wouldn't be drinking along with him, but Spock was a Vulcan. "Glass of ice water for my buddy, if you can do that."

"Actually, I will have the same as him," Spock told the girl, to Jim's amazement, and she nodded, turning to grab two bottles.

"Seriously?" Jim asked Spock, as the bottles were set before them.

Spock nodded. "Ice water does not appear to be a regular item on their menu, and although the taste of alcohol holds no appeal to me, at such a mild concentration, it would have no effect on my metabolism. I would sooner not put her to any trouble."

The girl was staring at them when Jim glanced back for a second, and Jim was kind of annoyed - he'd figured he'd pay when they were on the way out. But he clicked the credstick anyway, and when she looked surprised at the beep, Jim suddenly realized she'd actually been looking at Spock, whose head was turned in such a way that one pointed ear was clearly visible to her. "He's Vulcan," Jim explained, and she nodded, looking a little sheepish as she turned away to wait on other customers. It was kind of funny that she would find Spock's ears so surprising, when the shipyard meant plenty of aliens that were a lot more conspicuous than Spock passed through... But then again, Jim realized, maybe it wasn't the ear so much as the fact that Spock was pretty attractive.

As for himself, he was trying to blend in, having tossed on an old jacket on his way out the door to make himself look like just some average Iowan out to have a beer. More or less the way he'd looked before he'd been a captain, or even an ensign. Like he'd looked that night. "So, about meeting Pike - and Uhura," he added, swiveling on the stool to face Spock, cracking the bottle open. "This is where I met Uhura, right here at this bar."

Spock looked somewhat intrigued. "I was aware that she was a more social being than I, but I had expected her tastes to be somewhat more refined."

"Maybe they were, but you don't get a lot more refined around here. I mean, at least this place is clean. So anyway, she came up here to order," he said, gesturing over his shoulder. "And she was ordering a lot - in retrospect, maybe ordering for some friends or something, though I have since verified that she can hold her liquor," he remarked with a smirk. "But I'd had a few drinks already, I was pretty buzzed, so I was impressed. I think you'd agree, she's a good-looking lady."

"Yes, she is."

Something occurred to Jim suddenly. "That was the summer of fifty-five... You two weren't already dating, were you?"

"I did not even meet Uhura until over a year later."

"Good," Jim said. "That would've been really weird, if I'd been drunkenly hitting on your girlfriend before we ever met."

"I still find it somewhat unusual," said Spock, "that we both encountered her independently, and found her noteworthy."

"Heh, noteworthy's an understatement," Jim chuckled. "I thought she was amazing. And I mean, she is, it wasn't just that I was buzzed. Anyway, I tried to chat her up, and she wasn't having any of it. Wouldn't even tell me her first name. And speaking of weird coincidences, that's when Cupcake showed up."

"Cupcake?" Spock inquired.

"I mean, Lieutenant Baker, I dunno if you'd remember him," Jim amended. "He was on the Enterprise with us when we went after Nero. I probably wouldn't have even remembered him, except when he brought me and Scotty to the bridge after we beamed aboard? He called me 'cupcake', and I was like... oh shit, it's that guy."

The look Spock was giving him was growing more and more baffled. "Uh, sorry, I just..." Jim shrugged apologetically; he wasn't even remotely buzzed yet, he hadn't even finished his first beer, but being back in these familiar surroundings had lightened him up all on its own. "Basically, I don't remember what we said to each other when he came in here - I think he thought I wasn't giving Uhura the respect she deserved. Which is probably true," he admitted. "All I really remember is that at some point I called him 'cupcake', and then he punched me. I hit him back, and suddenly I was in a brawl with... I don't even know how many cadets. Three or four, I think. Which was when Pike showed up. I only found out years later, he'd been chaperoning a group of the top first-year students, who got to come have a look at the Enterprise as she was being built. Potentially, they might be on board when she was finished."

"Under his captaincy," Spock finished. "I do remember a few excursions of that sort taking place."

"Did you ever come?"

"I required no encouragement to perform to the best of my abilities," he replied. "And should I have been placed elsewhere, on another ship, I would have continued to carry out my duties in the same manner."

"...Right." Jim didn't doubt it for a second - Vulcans and their pragmatism - but Spock had probably had a lock on the Enterprise from the start. "So Pike came in, broke up the fight, and... honestly, I don't know why I didn't get tossed out with everyone else, because it wouldn't even have been the first time I got tossed out of here for fighting, but it probably had something to do with Pike." Jim paused to take a long drink. "Once I'd wiped some of the blood off my face, he sat me down at a table over there," he said with a gesture, "and told me he'd run my profile, and thought I should enlist." Jim chuckled. "I'd just gotten in a fight with a bunch of his cadets, and he was telling me I should be one of them. I thought he was nuts."

"And yet you did enlist," Spock observed.

"...Yeah." That part was a little more personal. Even as Jim wondered why he'd brought up the subject when it would inevitably lead here, he had to admit... He didn't have to tell Spock anything about his past, and most of his life up until that point was stuff that would make a logical Vulcan look down on someone. But still, for some reason, he wanted to explain. Maybe it was just that it was only fair, when he knew things about Spock that Spock probably wouldn't ever tell anyone, and only some of those things had been learned from the other Spock. Or maybe it was because he'd never talked about it, and Spock seemed willing to accept the person he was now, instead of dwelling on the person he'd been. Or... something. Jim had no idea.

He finished off his beer and raised the empty bottle to get the girl's attention; he could probably trust Spock to drive if he had more than one. "Pike wasn't nuts - he was perceptive," he said, opening his second. "I don't know how, as far as I know he's not any kind of prodigy in the field of psychology, or maybe it was just a lucky guess. But he said I was looking for something more than tearing around Riverside, and even though I hadn't really thought about it, he was right. ...I still don't know if I would have done it if he hadn't dared me." Jim grinned half-heartedly. "Back then, I would've done anything on a dare."

"I have never understood," Spock said, "how a simple change in phrasing can inspire one to do something they would not otherwise have done."

"Well, with a dare," Jim explained, "there's always this undertone like... if you don't do it, it's because you're scared. Here in Riverside, I wasn't afraid of anything, I'd do any crazy thing someone suggested. That's just how I was." And he could have explained why, that it was a great big cover-up... but in a way, that was one of the things he was most afraid of.

And that wasn't why he'd enlisted at all, at least not the largest part, but Jim had gone thirty years without talking about that stuff to anyone, except possibly he might have let some of it slip to Bones a long time ago; there were nights he'd been so wasted he couldn't remember what he might have said. Suddenly that sounded like a good idea, but no - Jim just tilted the bottle back for another quick drink before finishing. "I definitely wasn't scared of enlisting. And I was pretty much wasting my life out here. I needed a challenge, and he gave me one. I'm grateful for that."

Spock nodded slowly, taking a brief drink from his own bottle. He had looked thoughtful all of the way through Jim's retelling, but whatever he was thinking, he didn't seem to be inclined to share it. "...So yeah. I enlisted in Starfleet because I got drunk, hit on the wrong girl, pissed off a security-guard-in-training - and a good one, too, Cupcake's my go-to guy every time I need backup these days - and had nothing better to do than accept a dare," Jim summarized, grinning. "You get what I mean? It's no wonder my mom worries."

"I suppose that I do," Spock acknowledged. "Or I would, were I to limit my perception of your character to the information which you have recounted. However, taking into account what I know of your character at present, I believe that the story you have told me is incomplete. Specifically, I believe you are intentionally ignoring or glossing over some elements."

"...Well, yeah." He was, but how Spock had figured that out, he didn't know. "I was wasted, I don't even remember half of it."

"Whatever character traits may have fallen by the wayside in the intervening years," Spock replied, "your base intelligence would not have increased significantly; you are no fool now, and therefore you were no fool then either, though you may have pretended otherwise."

Despite the weird melancholy that was encroaching on his enjoyment of the familiar atmosphere, Jim had to smile a little at Spock's simple, logical reassurance. "...Thanks."

"Furthermore, Pike would not have permitted the cadets under his watch to drink alcohol before it was late in the evening, and certainly not just before departing the area. This leads me to conclude that even if you were in fact inebriated when the two of you spoke, your mental and emotional state had almost certainly returned to normal by the time the shuttle would have departed to take you to the Academy, and you would have had time to reverse your decision had it been made in error."

"Hey," Jim told him, pointing a finger in mock offense. "I'll have you know I did plenty of ridiculous things while sober in those days."

"And since you are an intelligent being," Spock continued, "I can assume that you had reasoned through the possibilities and concluded that you were making the correct decisions."

"No, actually the exact opposite," Jim sighed. "And that was the whole point." But that was leading back to the things he hadn't quite been willing to talk about, which Spock somehow had figured out. "...Okay, yeah, there were other factors. But I'd need a few more drinks before I could get into that, and it's not like you don't have things you don't want to talk about too."

"You do have a point," Spock conceded.

Somehow an evening of amusing reminiscence had turned dark and weird on him, and Jim didn't like it. "You know," he mused, "I'm tempted to say we should stop somewhere... get some Jack for me, a... I dunno, a Hershey bar or something for you, and drive out into the middle of nowhere. See what shakes loose."

Spock hesitated, and sure enough, Jim was right about what he was actually mulling over. "...I am unfamiliar with the objects which you suggest obtaining, but given the context, I can make an educated guess. And I assure you," he added, "that would be an ill-advised idea."

"Yeah, it sure would." That had been the whole point.

"I believe your mother would also be quite displeased."

"Yeah," Jim sighed. "But you know, I really think she worries more about me now that I'm out there being a responsible starship captain. More than she worried about me when I was running around like an idiot, getting drunk, getting in fights, smashing shit up for no good reason... At least back then she knew I was going to come home at some point, whatever condition I was in."

"Standards of behavior for starship captains are comparatively severe," Spock pointed out. "She has no reason to believe you would be engaging in illogical pursuits while on active duty; you would have been stripped of command if it were so."

"I know," Jim said. "But out there, even acting all logical and noble doesn't mean you're safe. I mean, you know what happened to my father."

There, the subject was breached. But Jim chose not to elaborate, and Spock only nodded before falling into thoughtful silence. It was weird, Jim thought, taking another drink. He really wasn't impressed with the kind of life he'd been living back then, he knew it had been stupid, and he was way better off. He liked being a captain, having responsibilities, being taken seriously... having people who expected good things from him because of him, and not his father. But at the moment? He really wanted to just cut loose and do something incredibly dumb, just like he used to. Spock being there sort of prevented it, though. Not that he didn't want Spock there, because he did - even if somehow talking to him about all this was more depressing than he'd intended - but he couldn't even go off and start chatting up other Shipyard patrons, see if anyone was interested in an entirely meaningless but fun night together.

And since his thoughts had turned in that direction, and Spock was there, Jim gave him a smirk. "So how far did you and Uhura go, anyway?" When Spock gave him a questioning look, he added, "Did you two have sex?"

The twitch of Spock's eyebrow and the sudden darting of his eyes for a moment definitely looked flustered to Jim, though Spock's voice was even as he responded. "...I do not believe that is any of your business."

"Not really, I'm just curious," Jim said casually. "Did you at least get to see her in her underwear? I did, you know - kind of a happy accident, it was only because I had a little thing going with her roommate back at the Academy, but even so..."

Spock's eyebrows had furrowed now, still flustered, but also annoyed; this time, his voice was terse. "Again, I feel compelled to point out that it is none of your business."

"I bet you didn't, did you?" Jim teased. There, that was something incredibly dumb he could do - tease a Vulcan about sex.

"In addition," Spock said, ignoring him, "I do not believe she would be pleased by the attitude you are currently displaying towards her. It is rather disrespectful to inquire after a woman's sexual history for one's own curiosity."

"Who said I was asking because of her?" Jim pointed out. "I could be asking about your sexual history. I mean, the two of you? Hottest couple ever - and you know, I've seen you in your underwear too, come to think of it."

Spock seemed to have gone past flustered and annoyed into pure bewilderment. "...This is a most illogical turn for our conversation to take."

"Yeah, isn't it?" Jim agreed, picking up his bottle again. As he tipped it back, he spotted Spock giving him another funny look behind it. This time, it was more contemplative than offended. "...What?"

Spock shook his head. "I do not believe you have ingested enough alcohol to impair your judgment significantly."

"Not even close," Jim confirmed. "Unfortunately."

"Which means that you are acting in this manner intentionally," Spock concluded. "Given that you have, rather illogically, been attempting to convince me all evening that you were a common degenerate before beginning your service with Starfleet, I must assume this is an illustration of such - and I will tell you plainly that if so, the change in your attitude over the past ten years is both quantifiable and a significant improvement, in my opinion. You have no need to explain yourself to me, nor apologize for having once been someone quite different."

Jim was momentarily stunned. That wasn't what he was trying to do at all. Or at least he didn't think that was what he was trying to do. "Uh, actually I was just trying to lighten the mood. But... thanks. I think."

"As I am Vulcan, my mood requires no 'lightening'," said Spock. "Yours, on the other hand, seems to have been somewhat erratic, but overall subdued by our present environment. Perhaps we would do better to return to your home, and engage in activities more suited to the individual you are now, as opposed to the individual you were many years past."

Slowly, the smile crept back across Jim's face. "You know, you're right," he said. "Let's do that, then. Soon as I've finished my drink," he added, "and yours, if you want it." Spock had only had about half of his.

Spock shook his head. "I am sufficiently hydrated."

How in the world, Jim wondered, did the guy he used to be wind up being a guy who could make friends with someone who talked like that? About beer, no less. Not that he had any complaints about it, honestly, and he finished his own off in one last gulp, clicking the payment through with a generous tip for the girl who'd been serving. "You think you can drive?" he asked, getting up from his stool. "I know I haven't drunk enough I'm incapable, but just to be safe..."

"If I can pilot a spacecraft from the future whose controls are in a configuration entirely unfamiliar to me," Spock pointed out, doing likewise, "I believe I can manage to drive a common Terran vehicle."

"Yeah, it's not exactly hard to begin with," Jim agreed.

"However," Spock informed him, "as I am only learning, I would prefer to obey the speed limit."

"That's okay," Jim told him, smacking him lightly on the back of the shoulder on the way to the parking lot. "I think I can live with that."


They didn't make it all the way back to the house, however; they were well away from the Riverside hub, whizzing past a bunch of cornfields, when Jim told Spock to pull over. When Spock asked if something was the matter, Jim just laughed a little. "Nope - the opposite, actually." He'd just thought of something he could show Spock.

"You said you'd only really spent time around big cities on Earth so far, right?" he said as Spock set the car down at the roadside. There was nothing for quite a ways in either direction except farmland, a couple houses... Not likely to be any other traffic, either. "So you haven't been out in the country like this before?"

"I have not," Spock affirmed, as the two of them opened the doors to get out.

"Well, this probably isn't as impressive as it used to seem before I went off into space for the first time," Jim admitted, stepping around towards the front of the car, gesturing for Spock to do likewise as the headlights automatically turned off. "But I dunno, it's still nice, and you might be a little surprised." He pointed up.

Spock glanced upwards, then tilted his head back further for a better view. "I assume you are referring to the sight of the night sky?"

He didn't sound particularly impressed, but Jim hadn't really expected him to be. "Yeah. You can see a lot more stars out here than you can in cities, even with the restrictions on light pollution."

"That would have been a logical assumption, yes."

All right, so Jim should have expected no reaction whatsoever. Spock had flown through light-years of space to even get here, with nothing between him and distant space objects except a vacuum and the ship's hull - and it wasn't like Spock was predisposed to being moved by sights of beauty, being a Vulcan. It was still a little disappointing. "Well, I like it," said Jim, shoving his hands into the pockets of his jacket, looking up. "I always did. Even if I like a little more action in my life than you'd usually get living out here, at least the sky's more interesting."

"Indeed." Jim was about to suggest they get back in the car, since Spock didn't think much of it, but then Spock spoke again. "In fact, since I had lived exclusively in larger cities, I was unaware that one could see so much with the naked eye through your planet's atmosphere."

Jim glanced back at Spock, whose head was still tilted back, and smiled a little to himself. That sounded a little better. "I know it's not as good a view as when you're out in space, but still - not too bad, is it?"

"It is... I suppose, somewhat enlightening," Spock replied. "I was aware that your species has a long history of romanticizing the stars, and found it quite curious. Even prior to the discovery that stars were nothing more than distant spheres of fiery gases, it seemed strange that a few dim points in the night should attract so much attention."

Yeah, that was more like it. Jim leaned back against the front of the car, just gazing upwards again himself. "But now you get it?"

"Humans tend to be attracted to objects with variety," Spock observed. "Objects which shimmer or shine in a way that catches one's attention are highly prized among your people, in particular, regardless of their usefulness. I presume that across your world, before the invention of artificial light and the interference of industrial pollution, the sky looked very much like this - a natural, varied landscape of lights, the atmospheric conditions causing them to undulate slightly. The effect is not unlike the sparkle of one of your favored cut gemstones."

Jim grinned, glancing over at him. "Like a diamond in the sky?"

Spock glanced back. "I am familiar with the lyric," he replied. "I had assumed it to be a gross exaggeration, as is the case with many Terran sentiments that have been set to music."

"But you were wrong?" Jim pressed.

"In this case, perhaps."

He was staring upwards again, hands clasped behind his back like he was standing at attention, and Jim couldn't help teasing him a little. "But since you're Vulcan, it's not like it makes you feel anything."

Spock shook his head slightly, but kept his eyes fixed above. "I merely find this discovery intriguing. I also find myself somewhat disoriented," he admitted, "for although I have enough knowledge of this quadrant's star charts to identify many of the most prominent stars and constellations from your planet's surface, the appearance of so many less prominent stars makes it moderately more difficult." He paused. "I believe, however, that I have managed to identify the star which was previously Vulcan's sun."

It must be more difficult, considering Spock had managed to be in the right vicinity the other night when it was barely dusk and he was drunk. Which made Jim wonder just how often Spock looked for that star, and that made him much less inclined to tease Spock all of a sudden. He knew where it would be too, of course, and decided to seek it out as well. And since Spock had brought it up, and he seemed to be all right with talking about things like this now... "What about Vulcan's night sky? Did it look like this, or was it completely different, or what?"

"We were looking from a different perspective, of course, so the stars were arranged differently," Spock said, "and our ancestors had named different constellations. Our sun was not quite so bright as yours, being considerably older, and our atmosphere thinner; at times we could see a few select stars in the daylight hours. However, our atmosphere was naturally so dusty that we rarely saw more than the brightest, even at night. It was often comparable to the view from within one of your large cities, aside from particularly calm nights. If one was to spend the night in the midst of one of our deserts, and the wind calmed, one might have seen such a view as this."

"Mmm." Jim fell silent again for a while, until he suddenly chuckled. "You know, this is just making me want to get back to the Enterprise."

"Hmm?" Spock glanced over towards him.

"Seeing how many stars there are - and these aren't even all of them," Jim explained. "I haven't even come close to checking them all out, up close and personal. Every time we go somewhere that no one's gone before, the crew finds something new. Maybe it's nothing important, just a weird fluctuation in e-m waves due to gravitational fields, or some plant that looks just like our grass but has a different molecular structure, but it's still new. It's a big universe, and everywhere we go, we discover something else about it. ...And on the other hand, I figured out pretty much everything there is to know about Riverside a long time ago." Jim leaned back, resting his hands on the car's hood. "I think I always knew, deep down, I wanted more than this."

"And Admiral Pike discerned this when he encountered you in the bar," Spock queried.

"Yeah." Maybe it had been obvious, and Jim just hadn't realized how obvious it was.

He didn't know where Spock was going with that, if he was going anywhere at all, until somehow the silence grew a little awkward, like there was something that should be said. It was Spock who said it, and what he said left Jim slightly wary. "I did say previously that I believe you to be keeping back something of the story."

"Yeah, and I said you were right," Jim acknowledged.

"What I did not say, in part because I was uncertain of how to phrase it, and in fact I still am..." Spock began, and Jim turned to look at him. He had a feeling Spock would have sounded a lot more awkward if he didn't have that meticulous, almost monotone way of saying everything. "...You once made me an offer - that if there was something troubling of which I wished to speak, you would be willing to listen." He turned to meet Jim's eyes, and nodded briefly. "Although it is not the Vulcan way, it seems to be the human way; I would make the same offer to you. Assuming, of course, that you are more likely than I to accept it."

Incredulous, Jim found himself starting to smile. Granted, Spock would probably say it was 'fair', or that he was just curious, or something like that, but even if that were true - and he was sure it wasn't - Spock was at least acting like a friend. He considered that good news. "Thanks," was all he said, trying not to analyze it too much. Or why he sort of did want to take Spock up on it. "But you know," he added, "it's like I said earlier - there's some things I don't think I could talk about without a few drinks in me. Maybe more than a few."

"If that is how you wish it."

Was he serious? Jim chuckled. "Nah, I wouldn't stick you with that."

"You took care of me when I was in a similar state," Spock pointed out. "If it so happened that our positions were reversed, it would be rather unfair of me to do otherwise."

He really was serious, wasn't he? Jim shook his head. Actually, no, it wouldn't be unfair, because Spock was a really cute drunk. And he... basically, he wasn't. But Spock wouldn't let him do anything too dumb, because he was Spock, and... Well, it was really tempting, and he didn't think he wanted to think too much about why. "Thanks," he said again. "I don't know, maybe I'll take you up on that sometime. But not tonight."

Spock nodded, and they lapsed into silence again, looking up at the sky until Jim felt a chill. If he was getting cold, that meant Spock had probably been cold for a while, and he suggested getting back into the car and heading home.

"By the way," Spock said as he was starting the engine. "Having been given an overview of your former immature, crude persona? I greatly prefer the man you have grown to be."

Jim grinned at him from the passenger seat. "Good - so do I."

Chapter Text

It was weird, waking up in his old bedroom. But possibly even weirder than that was how he knew, even half asleep, that he was waking up alone. He hadn't thought he'd gotten that used to sharing a bed. Jim lay there for a minute once his eyes were open and he had figured out when and where he was, staring up at the ceiling and wondering what he'd have done if the last several years, meeting Pike and saving the planet and being given his own ship and everything else, had just been a dream.

Sam's room was just down the hall, and the door was closed as Jim passed it, heading out to see if his mom was up yet. Didn't look like it, which meant that he might as well go for a run, just like he'd intended.

Everything was still when he stepped outside and locked the door behind him. There was a bird somewhere - Jim didn't know enough about birds to know what kind just from the sound of it - and there was occasionally a breeze, but other than that, silence. Jim couldn't remember when the last time was that he'd experienced silence. At the Academy, something had always been going on, same on the Enterprise. Even when he'd stopped back in Iowa before the mission, he hardly had a minute alone, given his recent accomplishments. He wondered vaguely if he'd have this peace and quiet if anyone actually knew he was in town.

He also wondered when he'd started to think that peace and quiet were good things, and with a wry shake of his head, set off at a jog down the road.

They were far enough out that the peace and quiet continued throughout his run, aside from the pounding of his chest, the sound of his footsteps and the heavy breathing. He hardly passed anything that would have interested him several years ago, but being away - and Spock's observations about missing the familiar - had given him a new appreciation for things like green grass, and soft dirt, and that bird he'd been hearing. He followed its chirping just because he didn't have anywhere more important to go, and though it flew away when he got too close, he thought it was some kind of a chickadee. Again, nothing unusual or special.

He had to wonder, too, if Spock would want to join him sometime. Spock seemed interested in just about everything, and that interest was in itself kind of interesting.

By the time he got back, his mom and Spock were both up, and apparently talking over coffee, something about why the Vulcans had started a new colony rather than just sorting all the survivors from their planet into their many existing colonies. They looked up, though, when he entered, and his mom instead turned to offering him coffee. He declined for the moment, already overheated; he'd just have a glass of cold water, then head to the shower. Thank goodness, he thought, that his mom had some idea of how to talk to Vulcans. Even he didn't, really.

Or maybe it wasn't that complicated, he told himself - maybe it was just that his interactions with them so far had been under extremely weird and awkward circumstances. First it was someone calling him out for cheating on a test that was in itself a cheat, then he got a chance to talk to Vulcans right after their planet was destroyed and most of their race wiped out. And he'd discussed it with the other Spock - he'd felt the deaths of all those billions of Vulcans, all the way on Delta Vega, so the Spock on the Enterprise must have felt it too. And speaking of that, the other Spock had introduced himself by claiming he was someone Jim knew and hated, and that they were actually friends. Then the next time he ran into Spock, it was while he was begging at the spaceport under dubious circumstances.

When he thought about it that way, it was no wonder there'd always been a feeling of tension between them. Until recently. Thinking back on it, the tension seemed to have mostly disappeared sometime while they were in Atlanta, and he wondered if that was something Spock did, or just a change in his own perception of their interactions. He was pretty sure he hadn't done anything differently than usual.

And when he got back from the shower, he had to stare for a second. Spock was at the stove, stirring something in a pot - he seemed to be helping his mom make breakfast. If Jim had been able to do that eyebrow-raise thing as convincingly as Spock did, he would've.

The general sentiment seemed to have gotten across regardless. "Your mother admitted she had little experience with what a proper Vulcan breakfast would involve," Spock told him. "Although Earth does not have the same vegetation, we had thought to experiment."

"I'm going to take him to the store later," his mom put in from beside him. "Right now, we're just seeing what we can do with what I already had in the cupboards."

"Makes sense," Jim said. Carbs and broth, Spock had said...

"And don't worry," she added with a grin. "You don't have to eat what he eats."

Although Jim was a little relieved, he shook his head. "No, that's okay. He's pretty much been eating what I eat, so it's only fair I give his food a shot." Just as long as he still had the option of frying up some bacon afterwards if he didn't like it.

But it wasn't too bad, he decided, when the two of them were done. Better than he would have thought, anyway, once he'd added a little extra spice. Carrots were not plomeeks, Spock had said while they were sampling their handiwork and trying to fine-tune it a little, but they were not so far removed as to be unpleasant. It was no wonder Spock was a spice wimp, if he was used to eating things like this unseasoned, but with the biscuits they'd managed to put together, it was all right. Just unlike anything Jim would have considered for a breakfast food.

"So I figured," he said over their breakfast, "we could go check out the shipyard today. Looked like they've been making some progress on the new ship, and I bet they'd let us have a closer look - I'm pretty sure being a captain myself means I've got clearance."

"That would be an interesting activity," Spock agreed, unsurprisingly. "However, it may need to wait. I had already scheduled the video interviews for today."

Jim gave him a look. "Your first day here?"

"At the time I scheduled them, I was not sure whether I would be here or in Atlanta with the doctor," Spock pointed out. "I thought it best to take care of such pressing matters as employment as quickly as possible, so as not to impose upon either of you any longer than necessary."

"Oh, you're not imposing on us," Jim's mom assured him. "I find talking to you very interesting - it's been a long time since I've spoken at length to anyone besides humans."

She really meant it, Jim thought. She hadn't been fawning over him so much, with Spock around, and she just seemed... happy. Jim figured he really owed Spock for that.

"Likewise, I have found it quite comfortable to converse with one who already knows many of my people's ways," Spock agreed. "However, your son has already given me many varied experiences; it is perhaps time that I return to a more structured manner of living."

"Hey - are you implying that I'm 'unstructured'?" Jim teased him.

"Of course not," his mom put in knowingly. "Not you, Jim."

Spock didn't seem to catch the sarcasm. "No offense intended. My way of life was even more erratic before we encountered each other, and it is well past time that I do something to stabilize it."

"I guess it is," Jim said. And at least they had had a little more time with each other, thanks to Spock coming along after all. They could visit the shipyard tomorrow, maybe. And as for that offer Spock had made... well, Jim would think about it. But in the daylight, with his mother in high spirits and no mention at all of his life before Starfleet, none of the things he'd been troubled by the night before seemed so pressing.

Of course, after breakfast, Spock had to go get a little dressed up, make himself look as professional as possible for the first of the interviews. Which left Jim and his mom alone, and Spock suggested on his way back to the bedroom that if they had not spoken at length during the last five years, she would likely appreciate some stories about the mission. Perhaps the two of them could catch up while he was otherwise occupied. Jim was a little hesitant about this. He didn't want to make his mom worry about him more, but he also didn't want to make her think he was too good at his job, even if he probably was.

He got a momentary distraction when she showed Spock to the study, where there was a terminal he could patch into rather than using the handheld. "...Looks a little different," Jim remarked, observing fresh paint and carpet so new he could smell it.

"Right - I hadn't gotten around to mentioning it last night," she said with a nod. "Did you know we hadn't really made any changes to this house since before you were born?"

"I had some idea," Jim replied. It had shown as he got older.

"I decided it was about time the place got a facelift," she explained. "Since last year, I've been doing what I can around here... but we'll get out of your way, Spock," she added as he settled in the chair in front of the terminal. "Good luck."

"Yeah, break a leg," Jim added.

He wasn't surprised when Spock looked puzzled. "I suspect that injuring them would harm my chances of getting a position."

Pretty much what Jim had expected, and he grinned. "Actually, I think it's supposed to imply that your leg gets broken, but never mind. Good luck."

Spock still looked puzzled, but nodded. "Thank you both."

"So, you've been keeping busy, huh?" Jim asked his mom as they left the study. She'd had an administrative job in town for years, but he'd gotten plenty of messages from her while he was out on that mission, and one of them had informed him that she'd decided to retire.

"I guess after all those years of chasing you boys around," she joked, beckoning for him to follow her towards the back of the house, "I just don't know how to sit still."

"Or maybe it's genetic, and that's where we got it," Jim noted. "So you fixed up the study, and..."

"The downstairs bathroom's completely refinished," she said, showing him to the door, and he had a look inside. He hadn't used it last night, and he nodded appreciatively at the new fixtures and another fresh paint job. "I dealt with the worst problems in Sam's room already too."

"I'd noticed."

"I was going to get started on the wallcoverings this week," she added, pausing at the door to the master bedroom. "But then you told me you were bringing a friend, and I thought I'd put it off until afterwards. Especially with it being Spock you were bringing - the fumes can bother even humans, and I'm not sure how it might affect Vulcans."

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Jim remarked. "I've actually learned a lot about Vulcans lately. By the way," he added, because even if Spock wouldn't appreciate him telling the whole story, it was probably best for him to drop a hint. "They have some problems with processed sugars. As much as I hate to say it, we should probably skip dessert while he's here."

"I didn't know that," his mom said, thoughtfully. "It never came up when I was working with them..."

"Because they don't use it in their food, probably." Jim was just a little satisfied at being able to be the expert this time. "It wouldn't have ever been a problem in their colonies."

"I guess the pie will have to wait until it's just the two of us, then," his mom stated with a little smile.

Jim gave her a mock groan. "Maybe I shouldn't have said anything."

"Seriously, Jim," she said, offhand, as she turned to push the door to the master bedroom open further. "I wouldn't have expected you to be able to spend much time with a Vulcan. Or vice versa. But you two are really friends, aren't you?"

"I like to think so," he replied, and that was the honest truth.

He was distracted from the conversation, though, when he got a look at the master bedroom. Same old carpet, which clashed with the new wallpaper. Furnishings were the same too, with one exception.

He wasn't sure he should mention it. "Looks nice so far," he said. "You're going to lay new carpet eventually?"

"Of course - I'm just procrastinating," she admitted. "I've got it already, in fact. It's just that the thought of moving everything out and ripping all the old flooring up..."

"You're not doing this all by yourself, are you?" Jim asked.

"Not all of it," she told him. "I did get some help with the plumbing."

Why wasn't he surprised? "Well, I don't know anything about plumbing, but I'm pretty good at ripping things apart," he pointed out with a grin. "Want me to give you a hand with the carpet?"

"This is your vacation," she reminded him. "You're not supposed to be spending it working."

"You think I spend my time on the Enterprise laying carpet?" he teased. "It's nothing like my job, and besides, I don't like sitting still any more than you do."

"Fair enough." But she looked a little subdued as she hesitated. "Jim? To be honest... I was thinking about putting the house on the market soon."

That was a surprise, Jim had to admit. His mom had never shown any indication of wanting to live anywhere else.

"I know, it's where you and Sam grew up - your father and I bought it together, started fixing it up... never quite finished," she began. "But I don't need a three-bedroom house when it's just me, and I don't think either of you boys are going to need to move back in again, are you? Sam's happy on Deneva with Aurelan, and you have your ship..."

Jim couldn't quite decide how he felt about the idea, but what she'd said was true. "Where were you thinking of moving?"

"I hadn't quite decided yet. Somewhere closer to everything, maybe somewhere warmer..." She nodded thoughtfully and looked up to him. "I wanted to ask you first, though. I wouldn't want you to feel like you don't have anyplace of your own on Earth - and I don't need the credit, the Federation takes good care of me. ...Do you want the house, Jim?"

There were a lot of mixed feelings about this place, and Riverside in general. The simple answer was, Jim didn't know. His gut instinct was a pretty emphatic hell no, but at the same time, he wasn't so sure. And either way, it wasn't really his decision to make. "Mom, it's your house - yours and Dad's," he reminded her. "You deserve to get something out of it, and I'm hardly ever going to be spending much time on Earth anyway."

"I know," she agreed, looking away, seeming to be a little self-conscious. "I just thought you might like somewhere to come home to, when you do. Something familiar, instead of fleet housing."

That was the thing - coming back there was pretty much the one constant he'd ever had in his life. Even when he'd hated it, it had been a constant. And he had a feeling he could think this over pretty well, figure out why exactly he was considering it and why he should or shouldn't, but something told him that this too was something he shouldn't think too much about in the daylight, while he didn't have a beer in hand. And preferably Bones there prodding at him. "I... I don't know, I'll think about it, I guess," he told his mom finally. "Either way, I should still help you with moving stuff around, getting the carpet ripped up..."

Actually, he was pretty sure it was good for him. Exerting some effort, the lifting and pulling, kept him from thinking too much about anything but the task at hand, and the stories he wound up telling his mother after all, about some of the things that had happened while he was out in space. None of the really awful things... things that had left crew members dead, things that had made Bones shove a glass into his hand and tell him to drink up, until either he could sleep or he just passed out. There were times like that, sure, but they were far between - and in between, there were things like the poker games, and the pranking, and the occasional crazy idea that saved everyone's ass. He wasn't shy about those, in this case; he was sure his mom wanted him to brag a little, so he did. Sure enough, soon he had her laughing, if a little wistfully.

Not for the first time, Jim wondered if she would rather have stayed in active service longer than she had. This time, between her eagerness to talk to Spock and her reaction to his stories - not to mention the occasional interjections of her own stories, things that had happened on the Kelvin, and she'd never talked about that before - he was pretty sure he had an answer. Great, he thought. One more thing to feel guilty about.

But he couldn't change the past, just do what he could in the present, so he kept on working, taking out the undercurrent of his frustration on the old flooring as they talked. He wasn't doing too badly when Spock appeared in the doorway, inquiring as to what they were doing. Jim supposed it must seem a little illogical to Spock, coming in to find them tearing up the floor.

"Mom's got new carpet for this room," Jim explained, brushing some of the dust and debris from his hands as he straightened up. They could take a little break, he thought. "The old needs to come up first, though. So how'd the interview go?"

"Approximately as expected," Spock replied. "The questions they asked were simple and predictable, for the most part, and they did not seem offended by my Vulcan heritage. Rather, they considered it an asset."

"Good - I'd hope so. Did they offer you the job?"

"Not as of yet. They have other interviews scheduled, and supervisors to discuss the matter with, though they did express the belief that they could make use of my talents and experience."

"It would be a pretty sorry research facility that couldn't," said Jim. "I bet you've got it."

"That would also depend on whether or not I accept any offer they might make," Spock pointed out. "I have two more interviews scheduled for this afternoon. In the meantime, would the two of you like further assistance?"

Naturally, the insistence that Spock was a guest did about as much good as the insistence that Jim was on vacation. And Jim, for one, was glad to have Spock's help. His mom didn't have the physical strength he did, and the best the two of them had been able to manage was to move the furniture around the room, to whichever areas they weren't working on at the moment. With Spock's help, Jim could get even the bed out the door for the moment, giving them all the space they needed. And they didn't need it free for long, now that Spock was helping; he'd taken off the jacket he had worn for the interview, rolled up his sleeves, and started pulling up the old flooring without much effort at all. When they were done, Jim's mom went to make a quick lunch while the two of them hauled the old carpet outside, piling it in a heap by the door for the time being.

After lunch, Spock still had a little time left before the next interview, and offered to at the very least help to get the new carpet into the bedroom for Jim and his mother to lay out. It was in the closet near the front door, she told them, and Jim and Spock went to have a look.

Sure enough, there was a gigantic padded roll stuffed inside. "Now I know why Mom kept Sam's car," Jim muttered, looking it over.

"If your mother managed to put this carpeting into this closet by herself," Spock observed, "she is stronger than she appears."

"Or just really determined," Jim suggested. It shouldn't be too tough to get out, he thought - gravity would do most of the work for them, as long as it didn't fall on either of them. And there was a box in the way, which he could move out. A box with Starfleet's insignia, he noticed as he set it aside. Must have been one of his, though he didn't know why it would be down there instead of up in his room where the rest of his things had been taken. Out of curiosity, he popped the top off and had a look inside. "...Ah." No, that one wasn't his. No wonder his mom had looked a little funny when he'd mentioned the belongings he'd shipped back, if Starfleet had used these same boxes then too...

"Something unexpected?" Spock asked.

"Not exactly." He'd just expected them somewhere else. Jim set the box top aside, and picked up the framed photo that rested atop the box's other contents, tilting it towards Spock. "My father."

"I see." Spock nodded slowly. "There is a strong family resemblance."

"Yeah, isn't there?" Jim took another look at it. He'd never known his dad, so it didn't really affect him any more than a picture in the history pages - just a guy with eyes a lot like his standing in dress uniform in front of some Federation banners, a little crook at the corner of his mouth the only thing keeping him from looking dead serious. "Actually, I think it's even stronger now than it was when I left."

He left the photo out for a second, putting it with the box top, and checked to see what else there was. Just like he'd thought - there was the certificate, the case of medals and a class ring that looked a lot like the one he wore now, a badge, the flag that had been flown at the memorial ceremony... Beneath that, a retractable reader; if he pulled the screen out and turned it on, he knew the news articles it would display.

By now, he knew the fabric beneath had to be the uniform, and the boots were somewhere beneath that. Jim started putting it back the way he'd found it. "Mementos?" Spock asked.

Jim nodded. He was going to elaborate, but he saw movement in the hallway just as he tucked the photograph back inside, and he looked up to see his mom watching them. "...Wondered where these went," he remarked.

"I had to take them down to do the walls," she replied.

The question, then, was obvious, even if he didn't want to. "Need some help putting them back up?"

She shook her head. "If I'm going to move out, then I would just have to take them down again." She hesitated, and gave Spock a brief glance before looking back to Jim. "Once was hard enough."

Jim nodded. He supposed he understood. He also suspected that Spock did, but even so, he would pretend he didn't. Jim doubted Vulcans were big on sentimentality. "Anyway, carpet," he said, putting the top back on the box and standing up again. "Spock, I'm going to bend this thing down to get it through the door - ready to catch it if I don't?"

"That should not prove difficult."

Once they'd gotten the roll of carpet into the bedroom, Spock excused himself to prepare for the next interview, and though she thanked Spock for his help, Jim thought his mom still seemed kind of quiet as they taped and trimmed and settled everything. He had plenty of other ridiculous stories from the Enterprise to tell her, but she'd stopped jumping in, didn't laugh out loud so much. Of course, Jim's storytelling had gotten a little half-hearted anyway. He wasn't sure if it was of much use.

Laying the new carpeting was a much faster task than taking out the old, and the two of them had it done by the time Spock was finished with his remaining interviews, which he reported had gone as well as the first. He might be able to simply take his pick - but in the meantime, he helped Jim get the furniture back into the bedroom.

Jim wasn't expecting the quiet observation Spock made, while the two of them were getting the bed back into place, and his mother had left the room briefly. "You seem troubled in much the same manner as last night," Spock murmured under his breath, both of them having bent down to push.

"I'm not really troubled," Jim told him, after one more shove put the bed where it was supposed to be. He could guess what Spock thought might be going on. "And no, seeing my father's stuff doesn't bother me. I never even knew him, so it's not like I miss him or anything."

"Again," Spock offered. "If you wish to discuss it, I am available."

Still tempting, but Jim shook his head. "Maybe some other time." His mom was the one who was bothered, and even though he knew from experience that by now these moods would pass before long, and she probably wasn't even dwelling on it any more, he still kind of felt bad about it. But he also knew some things that would distract her...

One of which was the cooking. She was still insisting she should take Spock shopping and see what he might have to say about the menus, and Jim decided to go along just because he had nothing better to do. He hadn't thought about the part where everyone in Riverside knew his mom, and therefore even after almost ten years, it was pretty obvious who he was, if he was out with her. At least he didn't run into anyone he knew well, and only had to endure the 'you sure have grown into a nice young man' and 'how's Starfleet treating you?' kind of comments. Though there was a woman about his age shopping with a couple of young kids, and he caught her giving him a sidelong glance over the produce a few times as Spock and his mom were discussing the flavor and texture of different kinds of vegetables. Though he tried to avoid doing the same, he was pretty sure he'd slept with her. Good thing the kids were really young.

Jim was willing to eat like a Vulcan again for the night, but tomorrow, he said with a grin, he was just going to get his own breakfast. He was human, after all. And that caused a few complications in his other distraction for the evening.

Just as he'd expected, his mom hadn't had occasion for any of the old board games since Sam and his family left, and was grateful for the suggestion. The game they chose was way more fun with more than two, besides, especially when everyone playing had a large vocabulary. What he hadn't expected was Spock cheating and trying to use Vulcan words - or his mother siding with Spock, because she could verify that they were real words. When Jim pointed out good-naturedly that the rulebook prohibited foreign words, Spock pointed out that some of the supposed English words they had played already were technically French and Spanish. They didn't care when Jim noted that the Vulcan language had an entirely different alphabet and couldn't possibly be spelled with the tiles in a Scrabble set, so he decided to annoy them by laying out phonetic spellings for words as well. Not that it actually annoyed either of them. Spock was as implacable as any Vulcan could be - naturally, since he was winning - and Jim was relieved that he could still make his mom laugh by acting like an idiot.

By the time they finally got to bed, Jim was in a pretty good mood too. He lay back, listening to the familiar creaks of the house settling in the cool of the summer night, and...

Well, he'd told his mom he'd think about it, so it was no wonder that he did.

Chapter Text

Jim wound up thinking about the idea some more in the morning, when he went for another run. True, the old house was the only place he'd ever lived on Earth, until enlisting. There had been plenty of times he'd left, but he just kept coming back - sometimes by his own decision, sometimes not, sometimes just because that was where his feet (or wheels) brought him when he was too drunk to think about where he was going. It was the place he defaulted to, whether he liked it or not.

It wasn't really so bad now, he had to admit. Some of the reasons he'd disliked it weren't exactly valid any more, and hadn't been for a long time. He hadn't seen Uncle Frank for going on twenty years, for instance. That thought cheered him considerably, and his steps grew a little lighter. It helped, too, that he knew he wouldn't be staying long this time, that he had plenty of other places to go, and one place that was his, as long as he took care of it.

But his mom was still there, and he'd had a lot of bad experiences coming home to her too. Not as bad as coming home to Uncle Frank by far, but with her it was a less instantaneous sort of thing, a slow gradual feeling of shame mostly brought on by her acceptance and understanding, rather than a flash of anger and humiliation. If she moved out, of course, he wouldn't get that routine. But if the association with Uncle Frank still lingered, how long would it take to rid himself of the other feeling of dread that crept up when he saw that old house in the distance?

And it did. When Jim turned to head back, the sight of his parents' house still kind of made him want to run in the opposite direction, just like he used to do when he was younger. But even in his worst moments, he'd been too responsible to leave for good. He'd think of his mom sitting there crying - just like when she'd cried over him when the police got in touch with her on the starbase, except she'd be alone. He couldn't do that to her. Sam could, but he couldn't; he'd always turned around and come back. She needed him, no matter how uncomfortable it was for him.

Though the run hadn't cleared his mind at all this time, some of his confusion and frustration fell away when he got closer and spotted someone else up early. Spock was sitting on the ground by the front door. ...Just sitting there. Jim smiled a little. Having Spock there, someone less familiar than his mother, someone else both of them could focus on - that took away an awful lot of his own misgivings about being there.

"Hey," he addressed Spock, slowing to a jog and then a walk as he approached, just slightly out of breath. "What are you doing out here?"

"At the moment?" Spock replied. "I am doing nothing at all."

Jim squinted at him curiously, bending over to rest his hands on his knees. "...So why are you out here?"

"I was meditating," Spock said simply. "The rustic environment is calming. However, I sensed that you were returning, and suspected that if you witnessed me meditating, you would disturb me by asking what I was doing. Thus, I have ceased."

...That was fair. Jim scratched his head sheepishly. "Point taken. But I guess if I see you out here again, I'll know not to ask next time."

"Precisely."

Spock didn't seem to be bothered by his meditation being cut short, though, so Jim came to sit down next to him, reaching forward to stretch a little. "Glad you're enjoying Iowa. I wasn't sure what you'd make of it."

"It is quite different than other areas I have visited on your planet," said Spock, "therefore interesting. And your mother's familiarity with Vulcan customs was a welcome surprise."

"News to me too," Jim remarked. "I'm really glad you two get along, though - the more time she spends fussing over you, the less time she spends fussing over me."

"Fussing?" Spock inquired. "I am unsure of your meaning."

"Well, focusing. Or something like that." Now that he was all loosened up, Jim sat back, leaning on his hands. "So what do you think of her? It seems like you two really hit it off."

Spock considered. "She reminds me a great deal of you."

"Hmm?"

"She has gone beyond the point of hospitality to make me comfortable, and has hidden depths to her strength and character," Spock replied. "And similarly, I do not believe she belongs in Riverside."

Jim frowned slightly. He hadn't told Spock that his mom was thinking of moving. "Why do you say that?"

"Like you, she seems to dislike inactivity, is motivated rather than discouraged by difficult tasks, and prefers variety in her experiences. She might benefit from living closer to a larger, more challenging community, just as you benefited when you came to the Academy."

"I think you're right," Jim agreed. "I don't know why she didn't move us somewhere more exciting when Sam and I were kids." ...Well, no, he had some pretty good ideas.

"Perhaps she thought that her children would benefit more from stability than excitement."

"That comment was kind of rhetorical," Jim pointed out, though he wasn't actually bothered by Spock trying to answer rhetorical questions. More like amused.

Spock raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me, then."

"No, it's okay," Jim assured him.

He thought, then, that when they fell into silence, Spock might go back to meditating. Jim was kind of doing the same thing, just watching the breeze sweep over the grass and relaxing, when Spock spoke again. "She also seems to have an underlying sadness beneath the upbeat, helpful demeanor."

"Yeah," Jim acknowledged. "The way her life has gone, it's not that surprising."

"I would not know," Spock said. "We have not discussed personal matters."

It didn't occur to Jim until later, while he was showering, that given the threads of their conversation until that point, Spock might not have been making the last observation about only his mother. Which led him to conclude... Spock really did want to hear what he had to say, didn't he?

Jim still was fond of that idea he'd come up with at the bar, but not today. Everything was going pretty well at the moment, so there was no point thinking about anything that would ruin it. Instead, he took Spock over to the shipyard proper, and although he could go in without much trouble, Spock didn't have the same luxury. Not until after Jim had told security who Spock was, and they'd verified it with a retinal scan, since Spock no longer had an active Starfleet service ID.

Most of the day was spent poking around the new ship that was being built, with the same new technologies that were currently being installed on the Enterprise. Jim couldn't help but think of Scotty, and what he might have to say about some of these systems - Jim didn't understand them well enough, but he bet Scotty could improve on just about anything, cutting-edge technology or not. Spock apparently found the whole thing fascinating, judging from the number of questions he asked, and maybe Jim didn't need Scotty there so badly after all; Spock made a few suggestions and corrections of his own throughout the process. As far as Jim was concerned, it just drove home that Spock should really have been in Starfleet.

Spurred on by the thought, he asked on the way home. "So how long do you think it'll be before you've got a job with one of those groups down south?"

"Two of them said that they would be making a decision within a week," Spock replied. "The other, within three days."

"And if all three of them make an offer, do you know which one you want?"

"I have ranked them in order of preference, based on certain criteria."

Jim grinned. That was like Spock. "Pretty logical."

Jim was determined not to let himself get all depressed about him and Spock going their separate ways this time. He had a little more time to prepare himself for it, and he'd make the most of it. Or so he thought - the next afternoon, they got back to the house after he showed Spock around downtown, and Spock had two messages waiting, each with a job offer.

"That," Spock told Jim, after watching the second message, "was the job I most preferred to take. It is somewhat more general in scope, and the firm has employed Vulcans in the past, though they returned to the new Vulcan colony after the disaster. As they already have many long-term employees who are accustomed to working with Vulcans, it should be a welcoming environment. According to the representative who interviewed me, the on-site replicators are even programmed with a wide selection of vegetarian items, some of which are in fact Vulcan in origin."

"That does sound like a good fit," Jim agreed, ignoring the fact that he could feel his heart sinking. It shouldn't be - this was good news. Great, even. "So you're going to accept, I take it?"

"I am."

So this time, it was really it. Jim grinned regardless. "Well, then, congratulations. Guess you need to start making arrangements, right?"

"Correct. Etiquette suggests that I should contact the other two companies after accepting this offer, and thank them for their consideration," Spock noted. "And then I must arrange transport and housing."

"Bones can help with the housing," Jim suggested. "Want me to drop him a note while you're calling back the companies?"

"That would be appreciated, thank you." Spock had already turned back to the terminal, calling up the contact information. "However, Jim, first I have a question."

"What is it?"

"When should I make myself available for orientation?"

Jim paused, trying to make sense of that question. "...I'm not following."

"That is why I ask."

Now Jim was even more confused. "Huh?"

Spock turned to look at him. "Though my inclination is to make the arrangements tonight, and travel to Atlanta tomorrow morning, it seems that the human way is to spend some time in celebration and farewell before a departure. Would you prefer that I remained in Iowa an extra day, so that we might do so? It seems to me that if I arrived on Friday, I could begin the employment process that day, and then spend the weekend acquiring housing, once I had proof of employment."

It was bad enough to think of Spock leaving the day after tomorrow. Though Jim knew he should really just tell him to do whatever seemed right to him, the idea of him leaving tomorrow? He tried not to think about it, he'd been given a way out without even asking. "Sure... that sounds great. So we can have one last day together."

Spock turned back to the terminal. "I thought you might appreciate it."

He did, but it didn't exactly quash that sinking feeling beneath it all. Sure, he could put on a bright smile for his mom when he went to tell her Spock had the job he wanted, and that he needed to drop Bones a line - but as hard as he tried not to notice, there was still a sense of loss.

He managed to camouflage it pretty well in the message he left, he thought. He didn't even know what it was about in the first place. Bones had asked him before if it was just that he wanted to bring Spock back to Iowa, and apparently it wasn't. But Jim knew Spock wasn't going to come back to the Enterprise with him, he hadn't even tried to push him in that direction, so it couldn't be disappointment over that.

His mom pulled out all the stops that night, trying to make as close to proper Vulcan cuisine as she could manage with Terran ingredients, and Spock seemed as pleased as a Vulcan was likely to get. Jim wondered how much she knew about Spock's situation... if he'd told her anything he hadn't told him, just because she knew a lot about Vulcan culture already. As for himself, he added pepper to pretty much everything, and ate, and tried to make himself enjoy it. He smiled a lot, and talked a lot. It was keeping him from getting truly frustrated with himself, but rather than getting anywhere, he felt like he was just treading water.

Jim knew what he really wanted, what would work. He hadn't stopped wanting it after dinner, when he got back in touch with Bones and let him know what time Spock would be arriving on Friday, where they could meet. Once everything was finalized, he thought maybe he would just go ahead. His mom wasn't going to stay up much longer, and Spock had other things he could occupy himself with before he left. It wasn't like he'd be missed. He could just go out, get completely wasted, get a shuttle home once he couldn't think straight enough to feel bad about it anymore. Just like he used to.

But then Spock offered a game of chess, and Jim couldn't refuse.

He was still thinking about it, when Spock finally asked. "Your mind is not on the game tonight."

"...No, not really," Jim admitted.

"I am aware that this may be the last time we play chess together," Spock observed, "since your mother suggested that we go somewhere together tomorrow."

Jim nodded. Didn't have to go and remind him. And he could just guess what Spock was going to ask next, because it was pretty obvious...

"Are you attempting to let me win on purpose?" Spock continued.

That hadn't been what Jim was expecting at all, and it actually made him laugh for a moment. "No, I'm not. Just distracted."

"I suspected that might be a part of it."

Jim nodded. "Just thinking," he murmured.

"And I have noticed that you have been frequently looking to the door."

Had he? Jim frowned.

"Is there someplace you would like to go?" Spock inquired.

It wasn't so much a place as a state of mind... but Jim gave in and nodded. "I guess there is." They had already decided tomorrow would be for celebration, spending a last day together - so if he totally wrecked tonight, it was no big deal, was it? "Do you want to finish this game?" Jim asked. "I mean, I think you could win this time, so I wouldn't blame you."

"You do not seem to be playing with your usual capability," Spock told him. "Winning against you when your mind is otherwise occupied would hardly be a victory."

Jim had to smile at least a little as he stood up. "Come on... I'll show you someplace interesting."

"I thought you had already shown me most of what you considered interesting about Riverside," Spock observed, though he stood as well.

"Interesting for a different reason." Jim could hardly believe he was actually considering it - he still didn't know why. "...I'd grab a jacket, it gets windy."


Jim was still pondering the wisdom of his decision as he drove - but he'd pretty much made up his mind, hadn't he? So his first stop was somewhere besides his actual destination.

Spock eyed the bright sign in front of the liquor store. "I must assume this is not the interesting place which you intended to show me."

Jim smiled a little. "Nope."

He was feeling better already, and more so when he came back to the car with a bottle, but he had to make sure Spock was all right with this. "If I drive out there, are you okay with driving home?"

"The on-board navigation system should be sufficient for me to retrace our path," Spock replied. He looked, for a moment, like he might say something more, but he didn't.

Jim could guess. "Good," he said, just to make sure Spock knew what he meant. "Because I'm not intending to be in any condition for it." Still Spock said nothing, and Jim turned the car back on. He supposed that if Spock objected, he'd have said something. Maybe he was already doing exactly what he'd offered to do - just listen.

This, Jim thought as he took off and headed out into the middle of nowhere, was the kind of thing he should have been doing with Bones. Bones was used to dealing with him when he was drunk, and was always saying he should talk about this stuff anyway - he was the ship's doctor, he knew Jim had issues. But Jim never did talk. When they were on the ship, everything was fine. He didn't need to think about things that had happened years ago, much less pick apart how he felt about them.

How he felt... He didn't understand why he'd want to talk to Spock about any of it, when Vulcans apparently thought feeling anything at all was a crime. He could come up with theories, both about why he wanted to talk and why Spock had expressed an interest in hearing about it, but it probably didn't matter. What mattered was that it was what they both apparently wanted, and they didn't have a whole lot of time left.

He thought it was just... they might not get another chance, and even if their friendship wasn't going to come to pass in this version of the universe, he wanted Spock to know him. The good and the bad.

Jim set the car down just outside the gate - long since repaired - and got out, motioning for Spock to follow. Though it was dark, Spock could see what they were headed for as they climbed the fence. "A deep ravine," he observed.

"Old rock quarry," Jim told him, opening the bottle. "It might be man-made, but it's gotten weathered down over the years to look more natural."

Spock nodded. "I suppose that it has a remarkable view, during the daylight hours."

Jim took a big gulp from the bottle, and almost choked - he wasn't used to hard liquor anymore - before he laughed slightly. "Yeah, and here I am bringing you in the middle of the night. I've hardly ever been here when it's light out. Except sometimes if I was out really late, I'd come here, sit by the edge and watch the sun come up."

"It sounds quite tranquil," Spock remarked.

"Yeah. It was."

What had remained of the dirt road was now grown over with grass and weeds; no one was allowed to drive out here without authorization from the county, after his little stunt. It was almost like walking through a big dusty field, and they did so in silence, until they'd come to the edge. Spock stepped forward, having a look down, while Jim held back, taking another drink. Now that he was here, he didn't know how to start. After a while, he decided to just sit down. It would come to him, or maybe it wouldn't and they'd just go home. But in the meantime, it was okay to just be there with Spock, who came back to sit down beside him, crosslegged, looking out at the ravine and saying nothing as well.

After a long time, and several more drinks from the bottle, Jim shrugged to himself and just said what seemed like the best explanation for why he came here. "When I was a kid, I drove my dad's antique Corvette off the edge here."

Spock turned his head to regard Jim curiously. "The drop is significantly more than enough to cause death upon impact."

"...I jumped out first," Jim explained, and the idea that Spock had actually thought he'd gone over that cliff and was somehow still alive was for some reason funny enough to make him laugh. Or giggle, more accurately. "I wasn't actually in the car when it went over," he chuckled. "Cause yeah, I wouldn't have survived that. Geez, Spock..."

It shouldn't have been that funny, and gradually Jim sobered. "...I almost didn't, though."

"Didn't what?"

"Jump out." Yeah, come to think of it, it wasn't funny. "I still don't know why I did." Spock was still looking at him, calm and slightly curious, and for some reason Jim felt a little guilty. "I mean, don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did. But I don't know why."

He'd never told anyone about that part. Bones knew about the incident, and Pike and Number One - it was the first thing on the criminal record of James Tiberius Kirk, and criminal records got brought up when you were being considered for captain of the fleet's flagship. It wasn't classified knowledge. Jim had laughed it off as just being a dumb kid who had a really stupid idea, and that was pretty much where they left it. He'd never talked about why, or what he'd been thinking, because it was easier to let them think he wasn't thinking. Pretty much everything else on his record was the same way - he'd done a lot of stupid things, many of which he really hadn't been thinking about, because they had involved alcohol to some extent.

He wasn't sure this wasn't one of them. Spock nodded and turned his eyes forward again, looking out at the ravine. "It is good to hear that you do not regret the decision."

Jim was... Actually, he wasn't sure if it was awkward that Spock wasn't saying anything about it, or if he was relieved that he'd just accepted it. No further concerns, no further questions - it was just something that had happened, and now Spock knew.

It gave him courage, too, to say more, but... "...I don't know where to start talking," he muttered, glancing down at the bottle in his hand as if it could tell him. "Everything's all tied up in everything else."

"You may begin anywhere you wish to begin," Spock said.

"Yeah, I just..." Jim shrugged. "Don't know." Maybe it didn't matter. "...I had a cop on my tail when I headed for the cliff," he added. "They hauled me into the station... Mom was still in Starfleet at the time, and she was at one of the starbases, so they called Uncle Frank - he was responsible for me and Sam when Mom was offworld. And boy, was he pissed," Jim recalled with a chuckle. "He was gonna sell that car, and he probably would've made a lot of money. But they called Mom too, and told her what happened..."

It had probably been his first major error in judgment. "I thought she was going to start screaming at me even more than Uncle Frank did - forget the money, it was my dad's car. She couldn't stand to get rid of any of his stuff, and here I'd gone and destroyed it. But instead, they called me in to let her talk to me on the viewscreen, and she just started crying. Hysterically. Said she loved me, and she was coming home." Jim paused there, thinking back. "When she got there the next day, she came to my room, and she just grabbed me and hugged me tight... no yelling or anything, she just hugged me and cried. And it was like... I dunno," he admitted. "Up until that point, I was trying to be a good kid. But it never seemed like I was good enough for Uncle Frank. Sam got fed up with the guy - he'd run away just before I took the car. He was always doing stuff like that, and I tried to make up for it. Until then. And then, first time I do something really terrible? Mom comes home and just..."

Jim didn't know how to explain it. "It was the first time I felt like... like maybe she cared about me more than my dad's memory. Like she loved me for more than just being his son. It was... nice. And it was even better," he added with a chuckle, "when Frank came in and started trying to explain, and she started screaming at him. Told him to get the hell out of her house, and never come back."

And now that he was older, now that he'd thought it through, that must have been when she'd left Starfleet. Because of him. The alcohol might have helped him to start talking, but it was sinking him deeper into guilt as he actually thought about what he was talking about.

And it wasn't the end. It wasn't even the beginning. Just like Jim had said, everything was all tied up in everything else. That one incident had been driven by everything that came before, and changed pretty much everything that happened afterwards, and now that he'd started talking about things he never talked about, he didn't know how to stop, where the end was. Jim wasn't even sure when he'd gotten to his feet, pacing restlessly between swigs from the bottle as he told Spock about the bad ideas he'd gotten, how he did stupid shit just because it seemed to be the best way to get Sam to approve of him and it made his mom pay attention to him, and because no one ever talked about how awesome his father had been when he was acting like an asshole.

He was talking more to himself than Spock after a while, voicing all the things he'd thought about for his whole life but never actually let himself admit, and had almost forgot Spock was someone who was actually listening to him, not just a part of the landscape, until Spock stood up abruptly when he stumbled, catching his arm and suggesting that he sit down. Maybe that was a good idea; he was starting to feel a little unsteady.

"Fucking Pike," Jim muttered, as Spock helped him sit down. "He did it too. That was why I enlisted. Bastard pulled up my records and saw whose kid I was, started telling me I was better than this. Just because I got some genes from a big hero, I'm supposed to be something special. Well, I wasn't."

"Yet you clearly had the potential," Spock pointed out, sitting down crosslegged again, this time facing Jim. "You would not have become the captain of the Enterprise, had you not been capable of great things."

"Yeah, me," Jim stated. "Not because of my dad. Because of me. I did it. Pike dared me to do better than my dad." He paused, suddenly realizing something. "...Think that was the first time anyone ever acted like it was possible to be as good as my dad. Saint George."

"It would be illogical for anyone to believe that your father was unsurpassable," Spock pointed out. "He was, after all, only human."

"I know, but if he had any flaws, nobody ever talked about them," Jim said, idly grinding the bottom of the bottle into the dirt beside him. "Because he's a hero, and he's dead. If you say anything bad about a guy who died saving people's lives, they'll crucify you."

"I still find such a one-dimensional rule illogical," said Spock. "Everyone has both positive and negative qualities."

"Maybe it is. But it's true."

They lapsed into silence for a little while, Spock sitting quiet and still, Jim restlessly toying with the bottle. Finally Spock spoke. "As the things you have spoken of have already taken place, and are emotional matters besides, I unfortunately have very little advice to offer."

"That's okay," Jim told him. "If I wanted advice, I would've talked to the psychologists. I've got Bones, even. And you know, that's why I don't need advice - everything's okay now. I've got the best ship an' the best crew in the universe, everything else's in the past. ...Just wanted to say it. Just once. ...Thanks," he added, as an afterthought.

"And I as well," Spock responded, "appreciate your willingness to speak freely with me."

"No problem." Jim had drunk too much to not say what was on his mind. That continued to be true when Spock's words reminded him of something. "Hey," he said, looking up to Spock, who was extremely hard to focus on. "Not fair I told you my secrets, an' you still haven't told me any of yours."

Spock's head turned away slightly. "...You already know certain things about me which no one else knows."

"C'mon," Jim persisted. "You never actually told me hardly anything, I just kinda figured it out."

Spock hesitated. Jim couldn't read his expression at all, between the darkness and the alcohol, but he thought maybe Spock was considering it. "I trusted you," Jim told him. "Can't you trust me a little too?"

He still really wanted to know why Spock had left the Vulcan colony and cut off all contact, and why he wouldn't come back to Starfleet, and all kinds of things about how Spock had wound up where he was. Instead, after the hesitation, Spock said something else entirely. "Despite my earlier... declarations," Spock said, haltingly, "I do consider you a friend, Jim."

The warmth slowly spreading through Jim this time had nothing to do with what he'd been drinking. It wasn't much of a secret, maybe, but it made him feel good to hear it. "Thanks," he murmured, and without thinking about it, reached out his hand to rest it on top of Spock's.

"...Furthermore," Spock continued after a moment, and he removed his hand only to turn it and clasp Jim's, wrapping his fingers slowly around Jim's palm. "I will confess that I did not offer to accompany you to Iowa, nor to remain an extra day, solely as deference to your human emotional needs. Our time together has been interesting... and I also regret that it must come to an end."

His voice was lowered, as if it shamed him to say so, though Jim couldn't see anything shameful about it. Of course, he couldn't see much at all, except his hand in Spock's between them. It was fascinating somehow, and he couldn't look away.

And with his inhibitions out of the way, he could just say it. "Come back to the Enterprise with me." When Spock didn't reply, he said it again. "Come back to the Enterprise. You don't have to leave now, and when I leave, you can come with me again. And we'll just keep going."

Jim knew, in his head, that Spock was going to say no. He could already feel himself getting angry, just waiting for Spock to say it. But Spock didn't say it, so he tried again. "C'mon, Spock," he said, earnest, raising his head to look him in the eye. "I think the whole universe knows you're supposed to be my science officer. Nothing else works."

And he'd probably gone too far this time, and maybe he'd really had too much to drink, because it looked to him like Spock was looking at him the same way he was looking at Spock, except steadier. And he was pretty sure he was looking at Spock like he wanted to kiss him, because with Spock looking like that, who wouldn't? Which meant...

Spock's thumb caressed Jim's wrist lightly, his fingers pressed into Jim's palm. "I believe," he said quietly, "that it is time to take you back to your mother's house, so that you might sleep."

"Fuck that," Jim said dismissively. "I don't want to go back there."

"You have consumed excessive amounts of alcohol," Spock observed, "and are not thinking clearly."

"So what?" Jim muttered. "Didn't want to come back here in the first place - in Riverside, I'm just a fuckup. Fuckup turned hero, though, and everyone here knows about my dad, it's like I can't do this for myself. Just came back cause Mom would guilt-trip me if I didn't, she doesn't have anything left now that Sam's gone, and I already screwed up her life enough, you know, I owe her..."

Spock squeezed his hand a little harder. "Jim... I am willing to listen, if you want to continue to think aloud. But in my opinion, it would be more beneficial to you to rest."

Spock was probably right. Jim was really, really tired. But tired and desperate and unhappy as he was, there was still something... right. It felt right to be here with Spock, and he didn't want that to end. And he still wanted to kiss Spock. Or maybe punch him. When he got like this, fighting or sex were both pretty good ways to get through it, and Spock was the only other person there. But he liked Spock, Spock had just said they were friends, he didn't really want to hit Spock. Of course, rough sex was the best of both worlds, and even if Spock looked like he was all together, Jim had seen him go off before. If he could get him to go off again...

Spock shifted, leaning back somewhat and loosening his grip on Jim's hand. "Your mother's house would also be a safer environment at present."

"Safer?" Jim was confused. "There's nothing out here..."

"Exactly. I am moderately concerned," Spock said, "that in your current state, with very few deterrents, you might do something impulsive."

"Dammit," Jim growled, pulling his hand back away from Spock and starting to get up. "That's why I don't tell anyone. I was a kid then - life's great now, I'm not gonna throw myself off a fuckin' cliff, Spock."

Spock stayed seated, resting his hands in his lap. Maybe because Jim wasn't having much luck at not staying seated himself - he'd tried getting up a few times now and couldn't quite figure it out. "That was not what I was referring to," Spock told him.

Jim gave up and just sprawled out on his back. "Yeah, well... good." After a moment, he added, "I know you wouldn't let me do anything too stupid anyway."

"Jim," Spock said again. "Will you permit me to take you home?"

...It was awfully nice to be horizontal. Jim closed his eyes. "It's not home, you know."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Mom's house. Riverside. Iowa." Jim squinted with one eye open; Spock was above him now, holding out a hand, and Jim pushed himself up to take it. "Home's supposed to be someplace good, where you belong. The Enterprise..." he thought aloud as Spock helped him to his feet. "Enterprise's the only home I ever had."

Spock steadied him, taking hold of his shoulders as he lurched forward, losing his balance. "I find myself intrigued by this human concept," he said, pointing Jim in what must have been the right direction, "of the word 'home' indicating something more than simply a place where one resides, and one's residence not being considered one's home."

"Cause it's adding feeling to something cut and dry?" Jim supposed, letting Spock march him off towards the fence and the car beyond.

"Because it is a concept I can relate to," Spock replied as they walked. "I grew up on Vulcan, but my childhood was unpleasant, to the point that I had no desire to return once I had gone."

Jim had to stop and stare for a second. "...Forgot, the other you said the other kids were assholes. Was it really that bad?"

"And yet," Spock said, ignoring the question and prodding Jim onward, "I found that its destruction carried more emotional resonance than I might have expected."

Jim could relate. "...Mom told me the other day, she wants to sell the house," he mumbled. "Or else let me have it."

"Do you want it?" Spock asked.

"Dunno." Jim tossed the nearly empty bottle off to their left, and Spock put an arm around his waist when the action nearly made him fall. It was nice, so Jim put an arm over Spock's shoulders too. "...I kind of want to burn it."

Spock's shoulders bobbed a little under his arm as he nodded. "I understand."

Amazingly, Jim believed that maybe he really did. "...I've got the Enterprise anyway, that's home. But it's not right yet." He couldn't help saying it again. "It'd be better if you came with me. Even going back to Mom's house is better when you're there."

But again, Spock didn't say anything at all.

The alcohol must have hit him while he was sitting, because he hadn't been this out of it before Spock made him sit. Now Spock had to guide him through the fence, open the car door for him. He must have passed out for a little while, because he didn't know they'd gotten back to the house until Spock was pulling his legs out the open door, and he insisted he was okay, he could walk. And he could, except that opening the back door threw him off balance and he pretty much crashed into it, banging it hard against the wall inside. And then Spock was talking to him, or about him maybe, because his mom was there too. He might have been embarrassed, except she'd seen him come home like this plenty of times before, so it was kind of pointless to get embarrassed now. He gave up; he was kind of falling asleep right there anyway.

But then he was moving again. It left him disoriented, and he wasn't sure where he was until he was being set down on his bed - and Spock had just picked him up, hadn't he? He'd forgotten how strong Vulcans were... That was pretty cool.

His mom was still there too, thanking Spock for his help. "It can't be easy for a Vulcan," Jim heard her saying, dimly, "spending time with Jim. He's one of the most unpredictable, illogical people you'll ever meet."

"Unpredictable, yes," Spock agreed. "But he is nowhere near as illogical as he may seem. I do not find our time together difficult."

They were still talking, but not to him, so he slept.

Chapter Text

Now this was how he was supposed to wake up in Riverside.

The only reason Jim didn't groan aloud when the light hit his eyelids was because it seemed like too much effort when no one was there to hear him anyway. Except himself, and he preferred silence. He just exhaled, painfully, and pulled the pillow from under his head, pressing it against his face instead. That helped, a little, and he sighed. Home sweet home.

Because this wasn't exactly unfamiliar, he knew how to deal with it. He should get up, take a nice warm shower, and wash down a few painkillers with a few glasses of water, and some coffee, and a few more glasses of water. But he didn't quite feel up to it - he still felt a little bit drunk, in fact - so he just lay there a little longer in his enforced darkness, thinking.

He didn't remember a lot of what had happened the night before, at least not the details. He was pretty sure, though, that he'd made an idiot of himself in front of Spock. Maybe that should have bothered him more than it did, because it didn't actually bother him much at all. Spock had wanted to hear what he wasn't saying... and he'd needed some help to say it, but he'd said it. And maybe it had just been the alcohol, but it sure seemed like Spock didn't think he was an idiot. In fact, he was positive he remembered Spock calling him a friend.

That made him feel pretty good despite the grogginess and pain in his head, and Jim relaxed. Spock wouldn't say things like that just to make him feel better, so he had to really mean it. They really had connected, and not just when Spock was under the influence. Okay, so this time he had been under the influence, but Jim already knew how he felt. It was Spock he hadn't been sure about, and now he knew. As long as he hadn't done anything really dumb to mess it up, like try to make out with him, because he remembered that being really tempting. And it would be really unfair if he'd made out with Spock and couldn't remember it, so he was going to assume that everything was still cool between the two of them.

Thinking about it didn't improve his mood for long, though, because examining the admission of real friendship between them just made him remember that it couldn't last. Spock was leaving the next day, and he was going back into space in a couple months, and if he even did come back to Earth after the next mission, their lives would probably be completely different.

...He'd practically begged Spock to come with him, hadn't he?

This time Jim did groan audibly, and rolled over to face the wall, still clutching the pillow to his face. He'd been doing so good at not trying to push Spock, but yeah - he definitely remembered telling Spock to come back to Starfleet.

Since he was already running through all the possible consequences, most of them negative, it completely shocked him when a very real voice asked "Is there anything which you require?"

Jim froze, and carefully tipped the pillow away from one eye as he looked over his shoulder. "...Spock?"

"Yes."

He was just sitting there, against the wall by the door, and now getting to his feet. "What are you doing in my room?" Jim asked. It was better, though, than waking up to find Spock in his bed. ...Well, not really, but in the long term it was.

"When I was suffering the effects of intoxication, you stayed close to me," Spock replied. "It seemed appropriate for me to do the same while you were intoxicated."

His head was killing him - even Spock's quiet, even voice seemed grating - but Jim squinted and sat up halfway, almost smiling in spite of it all. "I stayed with you because you'd never been drunk before, and I wanted to make sure you got through it okay. Me, I'm used to it." Apparently he hadn't messed things up between them too much, though, if Spock was still right there and offering him help. Jim smiled after all. "Did you stay here all night?"

"I did," Spock confirmed.

"Right there?"

"Yes."

Jim shook his head, incredulous, even as he shaded his eyes. "Well... thanks. But you know, you really should have gotten some sleep."

"I spent a portion of the time in meditation," Spock explained. "I have rested sufficiently. And you are welcome."

Still grinning to himself, Jim only just noticed there was a glass of water on the nightstand. He gave Spock a questioning glance, pointing it out, and Spock nodded. "You're the best ever," Jim told him, reaching for it. It wasn't like Bones wouldn't have done the same, and probably left a hypo of something too, but this was Spock, so it seemed like even a bigger deal.

Especially after the way he'd acted last night. "Hey, uh, Spock," Jim began, after swallowing half the glass. He didn't quite know how to begin. "I'm sorry I... I got kind of pushy, didn't I? About your plans for the future." He figured he didn't need to clarify. "Well, forget about it. You don't have any obligation to me. I know this is what you want, and I'm happy things have worked out for you." He was, honestly, because it would have been much worse to go back to the Enterprise without the assurance Spock had somewhere to stay, credit to buy food, something interesting to use that genius of his on. At least now he knew Spock was going to be all right.

"The alcohol had lowered your inhibitions," Spock observed. "I was aware that you would not, under ordinary circumstances, have been so insistent."

"Exactly." Jim set the now-empty glass down and rubbed at his eyes. He had to say it. "...Even if it really is what I wanted. I respect your decision, though."

"Indeed," said Spock. "Thank you."

He hadn't changed his mind, and Jim did respect that, so there wasn't much else to say on that subject. Jim glanced at the clock readout on the nightstand, and shrugged. "...I should get in the shower. I bet Mom's wondering..." He vaguely remembered something, though, and stopped there. "She was up when we came home last night, wasn't she?"

"No, but your clumsiness while opening the door awakened her."

Jim cringed a little. Well, it wouldn't be the first time. "At any rate, I guess she's not wondering why I haven't come down for breakfast yet."

"I doubt it," Spock agreed. "Does breakfast appeal to you currently?"

"Currently? No," Jim admitted, stretching and getting out of bed. He was still wearing what he'd worn last night, he noticed, though at least someone had taken off his jacket and shoes. "But I'll feel up to it after I've woken up some."

"I will inform your mother, then, while you shower," Spock suggested.

Jim nodded. "Good deal."

She must have been waiting for him. By the time Jim had showered and found what he needed in the medicine cabinet, he could smell food. Real food, human food. He wasn't sure who he loved more at the moment - Spock, or his mom. Between the painkillers, the smell of eggs, and the shower, he was feeling pretty good by the time he got dressed to head downstairs.

It lasted only until he got downstairs, though; the kitchen table was right next to a big window, and it was a sunny day. He sat down anyway, across from Spock, who was already half finished with a muffin. ...Which he was eating with silverware. Jim wasn't going to go that far to emulate Vulcan customs. "Morning," his mom greeted him, mercifully keeping her voice low. "How are you doing?"

"All right," Jim said, shading his eyes and reaching for a muffin of his own from the platter between them. Banana nut, looked like, and he picked at it a little to confirm. "Sorry I woke you up last night."

"It's all right," she told him, turning back to the stovetop, where she was scrambling the eggs with cheese. "It's kind of nice, actually, to know you're still my Jim."

Spock's eyes narrowed slightly as he glanced across the table, and Jim just shrugged. Yeah, it kind of implied that 'Jim' was a drunk who couldn't take care of himself, but he knew better, and Spock knew better - and really, so did his mom, but he'd known for years she liked having someone to take care of. He was pretty good at giving her that much. "So that's why you're cooking normal food, as a reward for doing something dumb? No offense, Spock," he added.

"None taken; the word 'normal' is applicable to values which are common and predictable," Spock pointed out. Jim wondered if that was a subtle insult... Probably not.

"It was Spock's idea," his mom explained. "I was just going to heat up some leftovers, since it's a little late, and it's Spock's last day with us. You can both eat whatever you like after tomorrow, after all. But Spock said he didn't mind."

Jim didn't appreciate the reminder too much, but at least the eggs did smell good, and the muffins were pretty good too. He gave Spock a little smile. "Thanks, Spock." Spock simply nodded in acknowledgment, his eyes on the last few morsels on his plate. Jim had the feeling he didn't appreciate the reminder either.

Spock shook his head when Jim asked him how much of the eggs he wanted. "Thank you, but I have eaten enough for now. You may have as much as you like."

Didn't seem like much, but Vulcans were a little odd, so Jim didn't think much of it. "Okay..."

"In that case..." His mom dished out most of the eggs onto Jim's plate, then went back to the cupboard. "It's been a while since I got up."

"If I may be excused," Spock said. "I would like another chance to examine the landscape before I am to leave."

"Wait a second," Jim told him, quickly swallowing a mouthful of eggs. "I'll come with you when I'm done."

"It is not necessary," Spock told him. "You have already expressed familiarity with the surrounding area, and that it holds very little interest for you. I intend to examine it at my leisure; furthermore, you are still feeling unwell, and should take the opportunity to rest."

That was all true, but Jim didn't like the idea of Spock wandering off by himself on their last day together, for who knew how long. It was his mom who stopped him from saying anything else, nudging his foot with her own to catch his attention as she sat down with her own food. "He's right. Why not stay put a little while, just relax and eat your breakfast?"

"Right, okay." Jim was reluctant, but he supposed those painkillers hadn't completely kicked in yet.

Despite that and the sunlight conspiring to split his skull, Jim watched out the window. Spock didn't seem to have a clear idea where he was going; he left the house, walked down the path that passed as a driveway, stopped and looked off into the distance... looked down at the ground, glanced over his shoulder back towards the house and started heading around back, until he'd disappeared from Jim's sight.

Jim wasn't the only one watching, it seemed. "I don't know how you did it, but he's really fond of you."

Jim glanced back at his mom. This wasn't news to him, of course, but the fact she could tell was surprising. "Why do you say that?"

"Spock and I talked a little last night, after he brought you home," she explained. "He didn't say it outright - Vulcans never do - but it was obvious. I would have thought you'd drive a Vulcan crazy, but instead he says he finds your unconventional ways 'interesting'."

It was nice to know that someone who knew more about Vulcans as a whole than he did thought so too, even if Spock had said it outright, to him. Which Vulcans apparently never did. "Sounds like high praise."

"It is. I spent a lot of time talking to Vulcans," his mom reminded him. "The most complimentary things I ever heard them say about each other were that they were 'interesting', or 'useful'. They claim to have purged their emotions, but I'm not so sure - I'm an outside observer, of course," she admitted, "but looking at their interactions, there seemed to be some emotional reactions. It seemed to me as if they had ignored them for so long, they simply didn't recognize them anymore."

Jim nodded. "I wouldn't be surprised." Especially since he'd already proven that at least Spock had emotions, and that they were pretty volatile.

The next thing his mom said caught him by surprise, though, even if he already knew it to be true. "I think he doesn't want to say goodbye to you."

Jim gave her a sharp look. "You think?"

She nodded. "He barely ate, and I'm not sure if he slept at all last night, since he insisted on staying with you."

"He claims he meditated instead," Jim put in.

"When they're under stress, Vulcans can go without food or sleep."

"Yeah, I know." Jim hadn't applied it to the current situation, though. Was Spock really that stressed about having to leave...?

His mom gave him a funny look. "How did you know that?"

Jim wasn't sure he should say. "How much has he told you about how he wound up coming to Iowa with me?" he asked.

"Not much... He said you happened to run into each other in San Francisco."

"Okay then - basically, it's his business, and I'm not going to talk about it," Jim said. "Especially since his circumstances have changed in the last couple weeks."

His mom nodded thoughtfully. "That's fair. ...Anyway, Jim. I know I said we should all go somewhere special today, but if the two of you just want to do something yourselves, I'd understand. Besides," she added, more brightly, "I'll have you all to myself soon enough - I can inflict all kinds of wholesome, fun family activities on you."

"Gee, that's great to know," he groaned, teasing her. "But seriously... thanks."

Her observations weren't anything he didn't already know, but the fact that she'd come to the same conclusions on her own as Jim had, without hearing Spock say the words... That gave it even more weight. Since Spock still hadn't come back by the time Jim was done with breakfast, Jim went up to his room again. Maybe it wasn't the same, but it was something, he thought as he opened a connection. Plus, he was pretty sure there was one more person who would agree with him.

"It is good to hear from you," the older Spock greeted him, with that same almost-smile he frequently wore when speaking to Jim. "I'd heard nothing since that last call you made, regarding the accidental ingestion of... caramel corn, was it?"

Spock's careful pronunciation of the words was enough to make Jim grin in spite of himself. "Yeah, it was. Sorry, I should have let you know it turned out all right. The other you's fine."

"That is good."

"Yeah. So much has happened, though, it seems like a long time ago already," Jim told him. "Speaking of that, I've got good news. Mostly good."

It had completely slipped his mind to let this Spock know his younger counterpart had some job leads, let alone that he'd accepted one by now and would soon have a stable place to stay. Spock nodded his approval, but as far as Jim was concerned, that wasn't the best news. That part would have been a more awkward subject once he got there, if this Spock hadn't told him at their very first meeting, almost from the first breath, that it was true.

"I don't quite know what I was thinking," Jim admitted. "Especially since I already knew he was going to be leaving. I guess I couldn't just leave it with his drunken confessions - there should be reciprocation, or something..."

"Drunken confessions?"

"After the caramel corn," Jim explained. "I brought him back to the house and just holed up with him until he was ready to sleep it off. And he was in a good mood, smiling and everything." Probably it wasn't a great idea to mention that Jim had wanted to kiss him, but... "By the way, you're a really cute drunk, you know that?"

There went that eyebrow. "I would have no way of knowing."

"Well, now you do," Jim said, grinning. "Anyway, I wouldn't have expected it. He smiled, and talked, and... held my hand, and thanked me for helping him out with everything. He treated me... well, like a friend. And I know you said we were supposed to be close friends, and I know you and I get along fine, but that was the first time I could really see it happening with me and him, if that makes sense."

"It does," Spock assured him. Jim thought he looked a little distant, nostalgic... If so, it was no wonder. "I am glad to hear you have made progress."

"Except that it wasn't really progress," Jim pointed out. "He was drunk. Maybe you don't have a lot of experience with that sort of thing, but I do - when you're drunk, you might say or do things you don't really mean. You can't really take anyone's behavior when they're drunk too seriously."

"I have some experience with intoxicated humans," Spock noted. "And although I agree, I still consider it progress."

"Then you're going to like the next part," Jim told him. "The jobs he applied for were in the south, but he decided to ask for video interviews instead of in person - so he could come with me to Iowa before taking those jobs. And he told me last night that it wasn't just for my benefit. He wanted to come - and now that he's here, he doesn't want to say goodbye. He says we are friends, and that he said while he was sober."

"I do, as you predicted, approve," said Spock. "However, you do not seem to be so pleased."

Jim nodded; he'd stopped grinning a ways back. "Because he's still leaving tomorrow morning. I don't want him to, he said himself he doesn't want to, but he's still leaving."

"To leave when he does not wish to leave would be illogical," Spock reasoned. "Unless he believes that he must."

"I'd been trying not to push," said Jim. "But last night I asked him to come back to Starfleet with me, and he won't. Which is his right, but... it's just not fair," he complained, deciding to be blunt. Spock could take it. "Now that I've actually seen a little of what that big epic friendship you were talking about was supposed to be like, I'm supposed to just let it slip away? That's all I'm going to get?"

"Jim," Spock began. "If you and my alternate counterpart have indeed made a connection similar to the bond between myself and your alternate counterpart, then believe me - I understand. To be separated was difficult for both of us; my feelings of loss persist to this day. Though speaking to you eases that loss, somewhat."

"Yeah, likewise. I'm probably going to wind up calling you a lot at first." Jim sighed. "But, no offense? It's not quite the same thing."

"No offense to you either, but I agree. However, your situation is more mutable than mine - neither of your lives are over," Spock told him, quietly. "Though he remains on Earth, and you leave with the Enterprise, someday you will return."

"Unless I don't," Jim pointed out. "And even then... five years is a long time."

"For humans, perhaps, but not for Vulcans. He will not have forgotten you when you return - and I trust that you will not have forgotten him."

"Of course not, but it's still a long time."

"Which means he will have plenty of time to change his mind about returning to Starfleet." Spock paused, and considered. "It may not even take that long - it could be that in even less time, he might change his mind and ask for a post."

"Or, since I don't even know why he's refusing Starfleet, he might never change his mind." Something about Spock's pause seemed a little odd to Jim, but he couldn't put his finger on why. "Do you know why? Or why he would change his mind?"

"If it were me," Spock replied, "I would change my mind because I wished to accompany my friend."

"Of course." Jim couldn't help getting a little wistful now himself. He had the feeling that every day away from Spock, he would be missing out on something special, going by how this Spock seemed to feel about their friendship. "Hey, I don't suppose you want to think about taking the science officer post. I'm guessing you're qualified, and Sulu would be glad to get back to the helm full-time if we had another option."

That got something that looked a lot like a smile. "I would gladly take the post, if I were perhaps fifty years younger. At my age, I am simply not ready to take on the unknown, as I once was."

"Even with me there to protect you?" Jim teased.

"I apologize, Jim - if my awareness of my present limitations did not prohibit me, I might very well accept. Besides, I would prefer that you keep the position open."

"But I can't go warping off into the farthest corners of the galaxy without a chief science officer." Jim scratched his head thoughtfully. "You think there's still a chance?"

"There is always a chance."

"A good one?" Jim knew better than to ask him the odds; he would calculate them.

"Yes, Jim, a good one. And if you are indeed to part ways tomorrow, I must suggest - as pleasant as it is to speak with you - that you should be spending this time with my counterpart."

"Yeah, but he took off for a walk, said I didn't have to come with him, because I'd find it boring..." Out of curiosity, Jim glanced out the window, and had a look around, still holding his handheld. As it happened, the younger Spock was sitting out by the road on the border of their property, looking off into the distance. "Didn't go far, though. I think he just wanted to be alone."

"Perhaps I am projecting," Spock remarked, "but I must wonder, even if there was a genuine desire for solitude, if he would not appreciate that you followed him."

"You think so?"

"Once again, the chances are good. I would even estimate them as 'excellent'."

It didn't seem that unlikely to Jim either. Spock had been kind of uncomfortable at the table, and even if he'd turned down Jim's offer to go with him, Spock wasn't the type who would admit to wanting company. "...All right, I'll give it a shot, thanks."

Spock nodded. "Very good. You can, after all, call me whenever you wish."

"Yeah, and like I said, I probably will." Unless Spock was right about his odds, and he might not need the reassurance so much. Plus, until the two Spocks made some peace, it would probably piss off the younger. "Talk to you later, old friend."

"Indeed." Spock lifted his hand in the Vulcan salute, and Jim did likewise before ending the connection. Sometime he'd have to ask his mom what exactly she'd said with that gesture when she was picking them up. Preferably before Spock left tomorrow.

But Spock wasn't leaving yet, so Jim set aside the handheld unit - and on a second glance outside, grabbed a pair of sunglasses, because he wasn't sure his head was really up to being hit by that just yet.

Spock glanced up as Jim approached along the side of the road, but said nothing. Neither did Jim; he just sat down nearby, looking off into the distance himself. ...He didn't know what he was supposed to say, if anything. He could have thanked Spock, for taking care of him last night and indulging that weird urge to talk. Or he could have asked if there was something Spock wanted to talk about, or assured him it was okay, this wasn't the end. But if Spock was observing, or just thinking, or whatever else he'd wanted to do outside by himself, Jim didn't want to disturb him. So when Spock turned his head again, looking off into the distance, Jim still said nothing. Instead, he just wondered if the other Spock was right, if this didn't have to be the end.

Finally it was Spock who broke the silence. "Why did you follow me out here?"

"It seemed like you wouldn't object to the company," Jim reasoned. He suspected that telling Spock it had been his older self's idea would not go over well, of course. "And if this is our last day together before I leave for five years, I might as well make the most of it."

He didn't mention that it didn't look like Spock was really examining the environment. This was perhaps balanced by the fact that Spock didn't mention that sitting around on the ground doing nothing together seemed like a poor way to spend the time - at least, overtly. He did, after a moment, ask. "Is your head still bothering you?"

"A little, but it's not so bad," Jim replied.

"And sitting in the direct sunlight does not cause pain?"

"Not much." Jim smiled and tapped his sunglasses. "These help." Still, since Spock was hinting... "If you want to be alone, I'll leave you alone."

"No, I do not mind," said Spock. "I simply wondered if it might be more pleasant for you if we found something to do indoors."

"Doesn't matter, I'm all right. Although..." Something had occurred to Jim, back when his mom had suggested they spend the day together. "We never finished that chess game last night. It's only fair you should get one more shot at a proper victory before you go."

"That is an excellent idea," Spock agreed. "I accept your challenge, assuming that you are no longer impaired."

"Nah, I think I can keep my mind on the game this time." He'd gotten a lot of it out of his system the night before, after all, and talking to Spock and his mom had given him a little more peace.

Not unexpectedly, Jim won the rematch, though it was a more difficult battle this time. Either Spock was getting smarter about his strategies, or maybe his mind wasn't on the game, because some of his moves were not only unpredictable, but occasionally completely random. It wasn't enough to get past Jim's technique, though, and Jim gave him a grin as he set his bishop in place for a checkmate. "You know what this means, don't you?" he asked, as Spock examined the board, double-checking his checkmate.

"That you remain undefeated?"

Jim shook his head. "Well, it does, but what I was getting at was - you'd better spend the next five years working on your game, so you can surprise me when I get back."

"Very well," Spock agreed with a nod. "I shall."

Their eyes met across the board, and Jim thought he saw the same little hint of a smile that he'd seen so often in the other Spock. He let himself enjoy it for a moment, before turning his thoughts to something else. Better to keep busy.

Chapter Text

It wasn't hard to fill the time. Jim had wasted a lot of it in bed that morning, and then after the chess game, Spock was interested in seeing the rock quarry in the daylight, if it didn't bother Jim to go there. It didn't, and he agreed it was a great sight even if he did have some personal emotional issues with the spot. Afterwards, when they were driving back to the house - again at speeds that were just a little excessive - Spock suggested they just keep going. So they did. Maybe he was learning to like the speed, like Jim did... or maybe there was something else going on.

They drove out into nowhere, until they were surrounded by half-grown fields of corn and soybeans, and Spock said very little as he gazed out at the landscape. Jim didn't want to push him any more than he already had, so he just put on the stereo. The sudden noise seemed to startle Spock, and there was some discussion before they decided on a mutually acceptable genre - classic electronica without vocals wasn't the kind of thing Jim would have expected Spock to like, but thinking about it, it made sense - and then they fell back into a companionable quiet, whizzing past the clusters of old wind turbines and even older farmland. Even though they weren't doing much of anything at all, it was still kind of a letdown when they finally got back, set the car down, and the stereo turned off.

Jim did appreciate that his mom had suggested he and Spock just spend the day doing whatever, even though he was sure she'd been looking forward to going somewhere instead of hanging around the house all day. After a little talk with Spock, to make sure it was all right with him too, they headed inside so Jim could suggest they go into Des Moines for the evening. As expected, she was more than happy to join them.

Des Moines wasn't far at all, and had a little more in the way of nightlife than Riverside or Sioux City. Though Spock said it didn't matter one way or the other, since their last dinner in Atlanta had been a fancy one, Jim was of the opinion that they could go with something a little less flowery this time, somewhere they wouldn't look out of place in jeans. His mom said she knew just the place; it seemed she went into the city pretty often, and there was a deli that had outdoor dining, perfect for evenings like this.

Since breakfast had been late, an early dinner was fine for all of them, though despite the range of vegetarian options, Spock still didn't eat much. Jim tried to tell himself it was because he'd offered to pay - since Spock was his guest, and his mom had been feeding both of them, it was only fair - and kept his minor concerns to himself. He was otherwise not showing any signs that anything was the matter, and it wasn't weird that he might be under some stress. Jim was kind of stressed about the whole thing too, but neither one of them seemed willing to let it disrupt a nice dinner and evening out. Both conversed readily with each other, and with Jim's mom, who was obviously happy to spend an evening in the city with the two of them.

The sun was still up by the time they'd finished, and it seemed a shame to go home so early, so after dinner they just started walking, exploring the sights and the shops in the surrounding areas. There were a lot of bars and restaurants, music drifting through the doors as they opened and closed, and weird little shops filled with curiosities, trinkets and clothes that Jim was sure hadn't been in style for at least a century. He kept making a point of telling Spock so, and his mom just laughed, talking about trends changing constantly in the big cities. Spock was right, Jim thought - she really didn't belong in Riverside. Somewhere more interesting would suit her a lot better.

As for himself, he found himself much more in his element when they passed a bar that had something very interesting visible through the front window, and suddenly recalled an offhanded comment from some time ago. "Hey, Mom," he said, nudging her. "Remember when I asked if you'd ever seen a Vulcan play pool?"

"Oh - yes, I do."

Jim grinned past her at Spock, who raised an eyebrow, intrigued. "Would you like to?" he asked her.

Possibly it was a little early for the usual clientele; the place was still pretty quiet, and they had their pick of a couple different tables, which all looked level enough. Jim got a couple of beers, handing one to his mom before helping Spock set up the table. "Should I even get a cue?" he asked.

"Of course," Spock replied, appearing almost puzzled that he would ask. "You may have the first shot."

"Because otherwise, I'd never get a shot at all," Jim told his mom on his way to the rack. "Hey - you don't play, do you?"

"I've played once or twice," she said. "...I get the impression I should just watch, though."

"That's about all I'm going to do," Jim agreed, with a wry smile. "I swear this is his revenge for the chess matches."

It turned out to not be an entirely accurate prediction. The cue Spock was using was balanced just a little differently than the one he'd used back in San Francisco, and he hadn't played for a while, so he actually did miss a couple of shots, giving Jim the opportunity to make a few of his own. Spock adjusted quickly, though, and Jim hardly touched the table during the second game. He offered the cue to his mom, who did look pretty impressed, but she shook her head emphatically. A couple other people came over to watch, but no one dared challenge him, and pretty soon Jim started setting up trick shots - Spock did seem to be having fun showing off.

More customers were filtering in now, some of them pausing to watch, and a couple of them even challenging. One guy was even pretty good, but still no match for Spock. Jim offered to play with a couple others on another table, and managed to do pretty well himself, but Spock was getting most of the glory - which was exactly how it should be, as far as Jim was concerned. It was a night to appreciate how awesome Spock was, because he wasn't going to get to do it again for a long, long time. Jim would've bought himself another couple of beers and kicked back to enjoy it, but he'd already gotten another for his mom, and it wouldn't be fair to ask Spock to drive home. He made do with just watching Spock kick everyone's ass, which also improved his mood as long as Spock wasn't kicking his.

They were going to have to get up pretty early the next morning to get Spock off to his shuttle, however, so they left around sunset. Even if they were leaving before the nightlife really began, Jim noted that his mom was still in a really good mood. "It's too bad we can't do this more often," she said, as they were walking back to where they'd parked hours ago.

"Well, I wouldn't mind coming back here from time to time," Jim offered. "It's nice to come somewhere with a little more action."

"And I wouldn't mind taking you up on that," she agreed, and then looked up to Spock. "But I'm sure I was the envy of every woman we saw tonight - someone my age, accompanied by two good-looking young men..."

Jim just smiled. "You don't look that old, Mom. They probably thought you were my big sister or something." There were some crinkles at the corners of her eyes, sure, and a little grey in her hair - but the grey hardly showed among the blonde. "But yeah, it wouldn't be the same - Spock's the real catch here." Spock gave him an odd look, and Jim couldn't resist teasing him. "Come on, didn't you see how many people were checking you out?"

"I had noticed some attention directed towards me," Spock said. "I believe it was less a matter of my attractiveness as the matter of my playing an excellent game of pool, and perhaps my pointed ears. By human standards, I believe you are more physically desirable than I."

Jim's eyebrows shot up; he knew he was at least passable, or he wouldn't have had as much luck with hookups when he was younger, but hearing it from Spock was something else. "Oh, really?"

"Don't sell yourself short, Jim," his mother admonished him, and her smile grew gentler. "You know, nowadays, you really do look just like your father." Her arm slipped around his back, squeezing him lightly. "I wish he were here to see you - he'd be so proud."

Jim didn't have anything to say to that. He'd heard it a million times now, and wasn't sure what he was supposed to think about it anyway, so he just rested his own arm across his mom's shoulders and squeezed her back, a brief acknowledgment of what he knew was intended as praise. Beyond her, he caught a glimpse of Spock, and found that his head was lowered, as if in grave thought.

Spock was almost silent on the drive home as well, saying nothing during the drive unless spoken to. Maybe it had something to do with the fact he was sitting in the back, while Jim and his mom were in the front, but every time Jim caught a glimpse of him in the mirrors, Spock just seemed... Well, he was always serious, but he seemed more so. At least Jim did have an active conversational partner in his mom.

His preoccupation with Spock's silence continued even after they'd gotten back to the house, and his mom was talking cheerfully about how they shouldn't stay up much later, thanks to the early shuttle tomorrow. Spock had nothing much to say about that, except to excuse himself almost immediately to take a shower. There was just something off about Spock, Jim was sure of it. It wasn't like Spock didn't have a good reason to be kind of down, except for the part where it was Spock. A Vulcan. And yeah, so Jim knew they had emotions, but that didn't mean they would usually let them show.

They also didn't appreciate being called on them, of course. Jim entertained the possibility that it might be better to do so, just because then Spock would either talk about it, or he'd be annoyed. And if he was annoyed, maybe he'd be glad to be leaving, and that would solve the problem. If that was the problem, which Jim wasn't one hundred percent sure about. But that was his guess. He didn't actually want Spock to be pissed off at him, though, so he decided to take a more diplomatic approach.

An even "Come in" was the response when Jim knocked on Sam's old bedroom door, shortly after he'd heard Spock leave the bathroom. He opened it to find Spock already dressed for bed, folding the clothes he'd been wearing. His backpack was open beside the bed; Jim caught a glimpse of the wooden case inside, and also that ridiculous stuffed penguin. He couldn't help but smile a little.

The smile faded when Spock looked up at him, seriously. He wanted Spock to know he was serious too. "...I wanted to say thanks," Jim told him. "For coming to Iowa with me. I'm really glad we had this extra time together. You know," he added, with the smile creeping back, "this is the best time I've had in Riverside since... uh, since I stopped thinking that drinking too much, picking up strangers, and getting in brawls was a good time, I guess."

"That is good," Spock replied, putting the folded clothes into his backpack. "And you are welcome."

"In fact, this whole time, ever since I ran into you at the spaceport," Jim continued. "It's been more fun than I would have expected. I know how you feel about destiny, and honestly? I used to think that you and I being friends was just one of those things that couldn't possibly still happen, not in this universe. But now that I know you better... well..." He shrugged. Even as a comparatively emotional human, he wasn't very good at talking about feelings. "We had a chance to see it, and I'm glad for that."

"As am I," Spock said simply.

It was almost frustrating, the way Jim was putting himself out there, and Spock was just... Spock was Vulcan. That was probably the best he could do, Jim realized, and he relaxed a little immediately. "Just wanted you to know... If you have any problems, or any questions about life on Earth, or just want to talk, give me a call. Running the Enterprise keeps me busy, but I still have downtime, and I'd like to hear from you. And you'd better let me know if anything goes wrong," he told Spock with a grin. "After all this time making sure you had somewhere to be and something to do, I'd get pretty pissed off if someone went and messed that up. So if you get any more racist assholes, or whatever, call me. I will take care of it."

"I would not wish to distract you from your duties as captain," Spock said, finally looking up to him. "Yet it seems to me that if you were to find out in some other way, it would be even more distracting, and would put you to even greater trouble."

Jim's grin grew wider. "See, now you're talking."

Spock didn't look any more relaxed, though, and when he said nothing more, Jim gave in to his instincts. "Spock, if there's something you want to say... I promise, you can trust me. I'm not going to laugh, or look down on you, or... if it's something emotional, I'm not going to-"

Spock was shaking his head, though, and Jim let his voice trail off, confused. Before he could ask what it was, he heard what Spock must have already heard - footsteps coming up the stairs. He turned back towards the door, and saw his mom approaching. "It's been a while since dinner," she noted. "Do either of you want a little something before bed?"

"I could go for that," Jim agreed, and looked back to find Spock shaking his head again. "Guess it's just you and me," he told his mom.

"All right - well, I'm going to bed soon," she said. "So goodnight, Spock. I'll be up to see you off in the morning."

"It is appreciated," Spock replied. "Goodnight, Mrs. Kirk."

Jim still wondered what Spock might have said, if anything, if his mom hadn't been coming up the stairs, but he supposed he could ask again after he'd had a snack. Except that when he went upstairs again, the door was shut, and he didn't see any light shining under it. It sure looked like Spock had gone to bed. Not too surprising, since he'd been up most of the night before - and since Jim had been responsible for that, he wasn't going to wake Spock up again. Oh well. Maybe he'd get the chance in the morning, he thought as he set his alarm.


Jim had been lying in the dark, just starting to drift off to sleep, when he heard a quiet knock on his door. He frowned curiously, and a little groggily, as he sat up. He didn't know why anyone would knock on his door when everyone else had already gone to bed too... But on the other hand, he wasn't all that surprised when he opened it and found Spock standing there. "...Uh, hey. What's up?"

"May I come in?" Spock asked, in almost a murmur.

"Sure..." Jim stepped back, letting him in. It was dark, but not so dark that he couldn't make out the expression on Spock's face - or the lack thereof, almost. At first glance, he looked perfectly blank, perfectly emotionless, but there was something about him... The eyes, Jim thought, as Spock stepped past him, then turned back to face him. It was Spock's eyes - they were avoiding him.

Jim hesitated only a second before closing the door. Whatever was going on, Spock was nervous, and that probably meant it was something private. "Something wrong?" he asked. When Spock just stood there, he tilted his head curiously. "Spock...?"

"Forgive me," Spock said quietly. "I am... inexperienced with the discussion of certain topics."

Jim could make a guess. "Emotional ones?" Spock nodded slowly. "It's okay, I get it," Jim told him. "But like I said before, you can tell me anything. I won't think less of you."

"Logically, I know this to be true. However, I have conditioned myself to... It is the Vulcan way," Spock tried to explain. "Going against the way of my people is difficult."

As curious as Jim was, seeing Spock like this was almost painful. "You don't have to," he assured Spock. "If it's uncomfortable..."

"No, Jim. I do."

"I already know you're grateful," Jim said, more or less thinking out loud. "And I already know you think of me as a friend. So if it's about that..."

"In part only." Spock paused. "...So you do remember."

"Not too clearly," Jim admitted, "but yeah. And I think you said you didn't want to leave."

Spock nodded again. And didn't say anything else, so Jim added, "Is there something more?"

"Yes."

Jim waited. Whatever was going on, Spock was already trying hard to say it, and Jim didn't want to be pushy. "...Want to have a seat?" he offered, gesturing towards the bed.

"I would rather stand," Spock replied, "but thank you."

"Okay..." But if Jim wasn't going to ask, there wasn't much else to say - he just had to wait.

"...I do not wish to leave you," Spock said finally, "because you have taught me a great deal about many things. Things which I had very little understanding of - which I still have only minimal understanding of."

Jim nodded. He was starting to get the picture - at least, he thought he was. "Emotions?"

"Yes." Spock seemed to inhale deeply. "I wanted to... discuss them with you further, after last night, and was aware that our last opportunity for such a discussion would be today. Yet it was difficult... exceedingly difficult... to approach the subject."

So that was why Spock had been so quiet all day. "It's okay, Spock. I mean, do I look like I think less of you?" If anything, Jim was concerned - Spock was standing straight, at attention, so stiff he could have seized up. "Sure you don't want to have a seat?" he asked again. "You can relax, you know. No one's here but me."

"Indeed." Spock still didn't sit, though, or noticeably relax, and it took some time before he could continue. "Jim, my mother was human. She told me that emotions were not something to be ashamed of - and yet among Vulcans, they are. I have never explored such things - though after her death..."

He trailed off there, turning his head slightly away. Jim felt a little out of his element; when it came to emotional trauma and repression, he knew he was a better patient than a doctor. And he knew that because he had a really amazing doctor as his best friend. But Bones wasn't here, and Spock probably wouldn't have been willing to open up to him this way anyhow. Jim was his only option, even if he was a pretty terrible option. "It's okay," was all he could think of to say. "I'm listening."

"My father... accepted my humanity," Spock said finally, "as well as my emotions. And he confessed to me that he had experienced them too. For instance, he told me that he loved my mother."

Jim gave him a little smile. He hoped it was taken as approval, rather than amusement. "I'd hope so," he said. "I'm assuming here that that's not how it works with Vulcans normally, but I bet your mother wouldn't have been too happy with a man who didn't love her."

"That would have been irrelevant in a typical Vulcan marriage," Spock pointed out, "because happiness is not the goal. A stable environment for purposes of financial security, reproduction, and child-rearing is the intent of marriage among Vulcans."

"Then it's a really good thing your mother found a Vulcan who could love her," Jim reasoned. He remembered, awhile back, Spock saying something about his father possibly not being a perfect example of a Vulcan, and wondered if this was what he'd meant... if he was trying to justify his father's emotional admission. "I don't think that means something's wrong with your father... I think, if anything, it means that he's a more open-minded man than most Vulcans. And really generous. Since when are open-mindedness and generosity considered bad qualities?"

"They are not. But among the things I do not understand about emotions," Spock stated - and Jim observed that his voice was just a hair tighter than it should have been - "is why this manner of matrimonial bonding is sought after, rather than choosing a mate through more logical means. It seems to me that such relationships will always end poorly."

"Not always," Jim said. "Sometimes, sure, but sometimes it doesn't. Your parents' relationship didn't end poorly."

"My father lost his spouse to chance, and though he does not show it overtly, his love for her has caused him to retain a deep emotional wound, which may never fully heal. Your mother lost her spouse in battle, and the fact that he chose that fate for her sake and yours did not mitigate her sense of loss, which remains to this day. Dr. McCoy's marriage was dissolved when their emotional connection changed drastically in tone, forcing one parent to leave their young daughter behind." Spock's voice lowered further, his head turned just a bit more, as if ashamed. "I do not understand, Jim. Why do so many sentient beings make their choice of partners based on emotions, rather than partnering out of expedience? It seems... unwise, to expose oneself to so many negative emotional consequences, when one could simply do one's duty to perpetuate the species with anyone of the appropriate gender."

Jim didn't say anything for a long time. This was a heavy topic, made more so by the fact that it was Spock asking, and... he didn't know. He honestly didn't know. "...Spock," he began, licking his lips nervously. "I'm not the best person to ask about that sort of thing. Just because I'm a human doesn't mean I understand... every feeling there is. Love isn't something I've really tried for - most of my relationships weren't really even relationships. I wasn't trying to get love out of it. But... I guess, the way I see it..."

He was making assumptions, based on what he knew of other people - friends of his, flings who, to his shame, thought they were more. "...I think that the basic idea is that the good outweighs the bad. That even if it will end someday - and it has to, none of us is going to live forever, let alone two people - it'll be so good that it's worth it. Like, the happiness is something that they don't want to miss out on, even if it's going to end. It's like..." He couldn't think of an analogy that Spock might actually relate to; Spock definitely wouldn't relate to the 'drink yourself stupid and have a great time even when you know you're going to spend the next day with your head under the pillow moaning' that first came to mind. "...I don't know. Maybe it is illogical," Jim admitted. "I really don't know. I mean, it's never happened to me. Maybe if it ever does, then I'll get it."

Spock nodded, faintly, as if his mind were elsewhere - but it wasn't, as Jim saw plainly when Spock turned his head, slowly, deliberately, to meet his eyes. "I believe," he said, the words clear and firm, though his breaths were short and shallow, almost pained, "that it has happened to me."

Despite the obvious tension, and the look in Spock's eyes - wide, as if frightened, but determined nonetheless - Jim was still absolutely stunned when he felt Spock's hand grasp his, and Spock leaned in to kiss him.

Hard. Though everything about his words suggested self-consciousness and anxiety, it was the determination that came through in his actions. Spock was kissing him hard, and if he lacked finesse - when would he ever have gotten much experience kissing like that, anyway? - it was still more than enough to turn Jim on. Although Jim wasn't quite sure what had just happened, this was territory he was familiar with, and if Spock wasn't, he was glad to lead the way; his lips parted under Spock's, exhaling against Spock's mouth briefly before tilting his head and going deeper, encouraging. Spock caught on at once, taking in Jim's tongue and meeting it with his own - and damn, his mouth was even hotter than Jim had imagined. Jim slid his free hand up to cup Spock's chin, his fingers curling around Spock's jaw beneath his ear, as if he could pull them closer than they already were.

Spock's free hand was on his shoulder, sliding down to his elbow, and the hands that were clasped together were held against the wall - he hadn't even realized he was up against the wall - beside the other shoulder, Spock's thumb stroking the back of his hand and his wrist, long fingers exploring the crevices between his own. Spock could have pinned him, if he'd wanted to, but somehow Jim knew that if he struggled, Spock would let him go. Not that he wanted him to. Maybe it was because Spock was a touch-telepath, maybe that's how he was picking this up so quickly, doing just what Jim wanted him to do...

Which included, after what was either mere seconds or an eternity, taking hold of Jim's shoulder and turning him towards the bed.

Jim didn't want to protest. He'd been thinking about this since that first night, when Spock got out of the shower - he'd been wanting it more since he saw Spock all sprawled out across their shared bed in Atlanta. But he and Spock were completely different people, he didn't want to... well... Spock wasn't like anyone he'd slept with, that was the thing, and Jim knew better than to think it would be so simple.

It must have been the telepathy; before he could catch his breath to say anything, Spock stopped short, breathing heavily himself as he stared down at Jim sitting on the edge of the bed. "You are uncertain."

"Uh, kind of." Jim didn't know what to say. A minute or so ago, he'd thought they were talking about Spock's parents. Plus, he couldn't remember having been in a position before where there was someone potentially offering to have sex with him, someone who he did want to have sex with, and he was thinking about declining. "Spock..." he began, looking up - and the uncharacteristic shine in Spock's eyes almost made him lose his nerve. But it was Spock. "Is this, uh... logical, somehow?"

"It is wholly illogical," Spock admitted, taking a deep breath. Then he knelt, right between Jim's knees, which gave Jim even worse ideas. "It makes no sense at all; that is why I desire it."

He sounded unlike himself. He sounded... broken, somehow. Jim tried to pull himself together, tried to rid himself of the visions of what could happen if he just kept his mouth shut - Spock was confused and hurt, and he didn't understand why, but he wasn't going to take advantage of it. "Listen," Jim told him, placing both hands on Spock's shoulders firmly. "I know if you do this, you're going to hate yourself tomorrow. Hell - if I know you, you'll hate yourself for letting things go this far."

"I have loathed myself for the whole of my life," Spock murmured, his expression dark as he reached up to take hold of Jim's wrists. "As a Vulcan, I am a failure, and have always been." Jim wanted to protest, but then Spock took his hands, removed them slowly from his shoulders, and pressed his lips against each in turn. "I would like to try the way of my mother... and of my father. To feel. To act upon feelings."

Jim was fascinated. But even so... "You'll hate yourself," he repeated.

"I am using poor judgment," Spock replied, meeting his gaze evenly. "But it is not without thought - I choose to act impulsively. And I sense our desire is mutual... Will you deny me this? Would you deny both of us?"

"Well... of course not..." Jim couldn't think why he would.

He also couldn't think of a reason why, if Spock was so insistent, he should resist, and so he took Spock's head between his hands, Spock's hands still at his wrists as he pulled him in for another kiss. Likewise, he didn't resist when Spock rose, laying him back on the bed and crawling up over him.

He'd been a little crazy as a teenager, yes, but he was smart; he'd never been in a situation like this before, in his own home, conscious of his mother in her bed just downstairs. He had to stay quiet, when he would rather have let out what he was feeling in a shout or a laugh. Every creak and thump of the old bedframe was potentially trouble, but it was hard to remember with Spock moving against him, all warm hands and hot mouth and lean muscle, letting himself go. Spock wasn't the most expressive partner even now, but just the way he closed his eyes, the way his jaw went slack, seemed like some kind of breakthrough, letting his guard down just that much, letting someone else see him overcome, feeling. Jim felt the same sort of wonder he'd experienced at the birth of a star, the discovery of a new species; it was that sense of newness, but a hundredfold, because it was not for the universe, but for him alone.

Later, when they both were spent, lying still intertwined, the tension never left Spock's body; Jim realized that he'd gone from simply taut to trembling. So it was going to start this soon, was it...?

Jim already felt guilty. He slept around, sure, but not without thinking about the consequences - he picked partners who were just looking for a good time, same as him. He didn't go looking for people who were desperate or vulnerable... he'd never had to comfort anyone afterwards. Jim caressed Spock's bare shoulder, the other arm squeezing him tighter. "Hey... shh. It's all right," he whispered. "You don't have to be..." Vulcan, he'd been about to say, but that wasn't it. "You don't have to be anything around me, except Spock. Just be Spock. That's all I want from you."

A fleeting thought crossed his mind - the other Spock, wondering if he'd gone through this. If he'd had someone to hold him while he puzzled through the things he'd never been taught about on Vulcan. They were two separate beings to Jim, and he'd never even thought about having sex with the older one, that would just have been weird, but it occurred to him that thinking about the other Spock in this sort of crisis made him want to hold him too. He squeezed the Spock in his arms tighter still for a moment.

Spock drew in a deep breath, and Jim thought he might apologize, or thank him, or maybe deny it again. Instead, it was a quiet, helpless murmur that came out. "...I would like to return to Starfleet."

Jim nodded slowly against his shoulder. It seemed like a non-sequitur, but... "You could."

"I never wanted to leave," Spock whispered.

It had the feel of a confession, the unburdening of a deeply hidden, shameful secret. Jim couldn't grasp why, at the moment, so all he could do was... well, what he could do. "...I can call HQ in the morning," he whispered back. "If you're still serious about it when we wake up." Because there was a definite possibility that in the morning light, Spock would regret everything he'd said and done tonight. Jim wished he didn't know that - it was keeping him from just relaxing and enjoying the feeling of having gotten something he'd wanted badly. Instead, he felt vaguely like he'd stolen it. "Just let me know," he whispered. "I'll see what needs to be done."

"Never wanted to leave," Spock repeated wearily, but he nuzzled into Jim's shoulder with a sigh.

He was still shaking, but Jim just held him until the tremors began to cease. Just for a few seconds at first, then gradually for longer, until Spock's body went slack in sleep. Jim pressed his lips against the dark hair at the top of his head, and rested his cheek against it.

Now that he didn't have to worry about Spock's agitated state of mind, he could be scared to death on his own behalf.

Chapter Text

It had been a long time since he'd woken up all tangled up in someone else. Too bad he didn't have the luxury of enjoying it this time.

The alarm made him physically start, he was so unused to it nowadays, but he hardly moved at all, thanks to Spock's arms wrapped around him, legs hooked through each other. Spock shifted, taking a deep breath as he woke too, and Jim expected that he'd untangle himself. Instead, he only resettled, his palm flat and warm as it caressed Jim's shoulder. That was nice... but the alarm was still going off. Jim stifled a reluctant sigh and rubbed Spock's shoulder a little in return before reaching back behind him to turn the thing off.

When he was done, he resettled as well, and found himself face to face, almost nose to nose, with Spock. He had no idea what to say. 'I'm sorry I made you feel something'? 'What the hell happened'? 'Please don't freak out'? "...Morning," seemed safe enough.

"Good morning," Spock replied.

His voice was a little quieter than usual, but otherwise sounded pretty steady. His expression, or the lack of it, was standard Spock too, except for a little tension around the eyes. Jim decided to start small. "How are you doing?"

"Satisfactorily. I was not impaired last night," Spock added.

"I didn't think so." His hair was mussed, though, and Jim couldn't resist reaching up to smooth it back into place. He hadn't gotten a chance to really look at Spock last night, in the dark, but now the sun was rising through the window. Although he couldn't see much of anything below the shoulders when they were so close together, even just seeing the bare shoulders, and those dark eyes fixed on him... Spock looked so much more human like this, Jim thought, hardly Vulcan at all. Except the ears. His hand wandered down from Spock's hair to stroke along the outer edge, from the pointed tip down to the lobe. He had to smile a little as Spock closed his eyes, seemingly blissful. Spock was just - to borrow a word - fascinating.

But Jim still didn't know what was going on, so he had to ask. "...Where do we go from here?"

Spock opened his eyes again. "I am not sure how to proceed. Furthermore, the decision is not mine alone, but yours as well."

Jim wasn't sure either, and probably wouldn't be until he knew what was going on. But he was fiddling with the point of Spock's ear, and Spock was right there, and he knew how he wanted to proceed - by kissing him again. Several times. Thing was, even if Spock didn't seem too upset by what they'd done, he wouldn't - he was a Vulcan. Jim still didn't know what to do, so he just stayed as he was, holding and touching lightly.

His attention was focused so completely on Spock, he noticed immediately when Spock tensed. "What is it?" he asked.

"Your mother is upstairs, and seems to have noticed that I am not in your brother's room."

Jim's eyes widened, and he let go of Spock in a hurry as Spock straightened up. "Shit..." he muttered, sitting up himself and looking around. They were both kind of a mess, and both naked, though Spock was already gathering up his own clothes. Jim was momentarily distracted by the view of Spock bending over, but shook his head and reached for his underwear in a rush.

Only a few seconds later, there was a light knock on the door. "Jim, are you awake?"

"Yeah, just a second, let me put on some pants." That should keep her out a little longer, and Jim grabbed for the first pair he saw, exchanging glances with Spock. Both of them scanned the room, and Spock made his move, ducking behind the pile of boxes of Jim's belongings that had been sent on ahead from Starfleet. ...That worked, as long as she didn't come in, and Jim closed his eyes in relief as he started tugging on the nearest pants and shirt.

He did have some experience with getting dressed in a big hurry, so it wasn't an abnormally long pause before he opened the door, acting perfectly casual. "Okay, what's up?"

"Well, I heard somebody's alarm go off from downstairs," his mom told him, looking puzzled. "Usually I can't, and it just kept going off... so I came upstairs to have a look, and Spock's door was open, he's not in his room."

"Hmm..." Jim furrowed his brows thoughtfully. "Not in the bathroom?"

"No."

"Maybe he went outside," Jim suggested. "I caught him meditating out there once, really early in the morning. Yeah," he said with a decisive nod. "That's probably it. He got up early, and forgot to turn off the alarm before he went outside. I don't think he usually uses one."

"You're probably right," his mom decided. "In that case, I suppose I don't need to make sure he's going to be ready on time to catch that shuttle."

"Nah, probably not."

"Well, I'm going to heat up some breakfast," she finished. "Come on down whenever you're ready, and I'll keep an eye out for Spock too."

"Great," Jim said. "I'll be down after I take a shower."

She peered at him curiously. "You're already dressed."

"Well, yeah." Jim shrugged. "Just grabbed what I already had out when you knocked - guess I'm not quite awake yet."

She nodded. "Sorry. I'll see you in a few."

"Yeah."

Once she'd gone, and the door was closed, Spock stood up, still naked and holding the bundle of his clothes. "...It occurs to me that you are a grown adult," he observed, keeping his voice low. "It seems unusual that you would still feel the need to hide a sexual partner from your mother."

Jim had actually just been thinking the same thing. "Hey, it's not all my fault I panicked. You panicked first - I felt you tense up when you heard her coming."

"I have never found myself in such a situation before," Spock responded, starting to get dressed.

"And, uh, I have." Jim was torn between amusement, and interest in checking Spock out. This was the first time he'd gotten to see Spock naked, really, since it had been dark last night. Granted, he'd seen him practically naked before, wearing nothing but a towel, and his imagination had filled in the blanks pretty accurately. Except he hadn't thought about the green blood and how that affected things. ...That was kind of interesting, but he barely got a look in before Spock pulled his underwear up. "Come to think of it, it's no wonder I panicked," he chuckled softly. "Last time I was living here, I was young enough that I should be hiding that kind of thing. Young when it comes to maturity, at least, if not so much age."

"That is a fair excuse."

Jim chuckled a little more under his breath, pausing when Spock pulled the shirt over his head and went to the window, looking out. "...What are you doing?"

"You suggested that I was outside, meditating," Spock reminded him, and pressed the button that took the window all the way up. "Although the necessity of this charade is in question, it has begun, and it is only logical that I make it plausible. The drop to the ground is nothing overly problematic." And with that, Spock climbed out the window.

Jim stared after him for a few seconds before he had to stifle his laughter. Here they were, stoic Vulcan and captain of a starship, and they were sneaking out and lying to his mom, like teenagers afraid of getting grounded... And damn - he felt great this morning.

It lasted only until he realized Spock still had a shuttle to catch, and Jim hadn't thought to ask if Spock wanted him to call Starfleet instead. And worse, Spock hadn't reminded him.


By the time Jim got out of the shower and went downstairs, Spock was sitting at the table with his mother, eating some of the leftovers from breakfast a couple of days before. If Jim hadn't been so aware of how many different ways everything could be messed up before they finished the meal, he would have laughed again at the mental image he had, of Spock jumping out his window and then just walking in the door as if nothing at all unusual had happened.

While Jim and his mother conversed, at least a little bit, Spock seemed to have gone back into silent mode. Jim knew now what that meant - Spock was thinking. And it was no wonder, because Jim was thinking of the same things every time his mother said something about the trip, or the new job, or how the weather was in Atlanta. Spock just nodded, noncommital, and continued his meal. At least he was eating today, Jim thought.

But he also wasn't speaking up to contradict any of the plans that had been made two days ago, despite what had happened the night before. Jim could have told himself that maybe a one-night stand was all Spock wanted, just a night of freedom and exploration - that was something Jim could relate to. But there had to be something more - something tied in with Starfleet, apparently - and he didn't know what it was. There was a lot he didn't know about what was going on with Spock, in fact, about how they'd gotten to this place. And Spock, last night, had been talking about...

Jim had been serious, he didn't know anything about how real relationships worked, if that was what Spock wanted. And he liked Spock, he didn't want to mess everything up between them just when they'd gotten to be friends. Maybe it was just that they were friends, and Spock didn't know the difference between friendship and love... and that Jim himself wasn't picky. Sex was nice - sex with Spock was really great, in fact - but it wasn't like he didn't know where he could get that kind of fun, as opposed to once-in-a-lifetime epic friendships. Sitting there wondering what Spock's intentions were was almost enough to put his stomach in knots. At least being that worried kept him from dwelling on thoughts of how those long fingers felt against his thighs, the texture of the hair, just how hot that mouth was... Well, it kept him from dwelling too much.

Finally, his mom hit on the million dollar question when she turned to Spock. "I'm guessing you're all ready, aren't you? It's Friday morning, we might as well get you there early, just in case traffic picks up."

Spock had already finished eating, and was staring down at his hands folded thoughtfully before him. "That would be the logical course of action," he agreed, then hesitated. "...If I were going to take the shuttle to Atlanta as originally planned. I believe that I should not."

Jim's own minute reaction, letting out a breath he must have been subconsciously holding through the whole meal, probably went unnoticed, thanks to his mom's obvious surprise. "You're not going?"

"I apologize for the inconvenience of changing my plans at this late hour," Spock told her. "It seems to me that Jim and I have something further to discuss, if you are willing to extend your hospitality just a bit longer."

"Of course, it's my pleasure..." Mystified, she looked to Jim, who was carefully keeping his eyes on the view through the window. "Is something wrong?"

"That is something I am uncertain about," Spock replied. "We will not know until we have discussed the matter."

But Spock was staying, they were going to discuss it. "I think it'll be okay," Jim said, and gave Spock an honest, grateful smile.

His mom looked at the two of them curiously. "Whatever it is you two have to discuss, if it's changing your plans, Spock, you should probably notify your new employers. They'll be expecting you."

"Yes, and I should relinquish my reservation for the shuttle," Spock agreed, and stood up to take his dishes to the dishwasher. "I will do so now."

"While you're doing that," Jim added, doing likewise, "I'll call Bones and let him know the plan's changed."

"Agreed." With their backs turned to Jim's mom, their eyes met, and there was wordless agreement. After they took care of this...

Jim's mom caught his arm on the way out of the kitchen, though. "Jim," she asked, "what's going on?"

He just shook his head. "It's not for me to say." Even if half of it was up to him.

Bones, of course, took a different angle. "All right, Jim," he sighed through the connection on the handheld, up in Jim's bedroom. "What did you do?"

"What makes you think I did anything?"

"You're always doing something. Crashing into people's lives, dragging them around with you - it's like you're some kind of giant magnet for trouble. The good kind of trouble, usually," he acknowledged. "But damn it, Spock's finally getting his life together, and then he decides to put it off to 'explore his options'? That sounds like exactly the kind of thing that happens with you around."

Jim grinned sheepishly. "Point taken."

Bones shook his head in exasperation. "At least you probably didn't sleep with this one."

"Heh." Jim should have expected something like that from Bones.

Bones, on the other hand, seemed to have expected something else. "...Jim, I can't help but notice you're not denying it."

...He couldn't deny it now, could he? Jim couldn't think of a particularly good answer that would discourage the line of questioning without being a lie - and Bones was his friend besides - so he opted to keep his mouth shut and just watch, with mild amusement, as the doctor's eyes widened further and further.

"For the love of God, Jim!" Bones exclaimed, horrified. "You seduced a Vulcan?"

"Uh, other way around, actually."

"Are you serious?!"

For Spock's sake, though, Jim didn't want to say too much about it. "Listen, Bones - I don't know if what happened between us messed things up, or... I don't know," he admitted. "But if I did mess things up for him, I'm going to fix them. Whatever's going on, I'm not going to walk away from it - and I'm definitely not going to leave him alone until he knows he's got a place to stay. That was my intention all along, you know."

"Yeah, Jim, I know." Bones calmed down some, resigning himself to the apparently disturbing thought. "You never mean to mess things up, and even when you do, you usually manage to leave them better than you found them in the end."

"I'm glad you think so," said Jim. "So, if he takes a later flight, or maybe tomorrow, are you still going to be around to give him a hand?"

"My plans for the weekend involved finding him a place to live and getting him acquainted with the area," Bones said with a shrug. "Guess you could say I'm open."

"Good. Thanks."

"Just let me know." Bones shook his head again. "Really, how do you get yourself into all of this?"

"I don't know myself - I just hope I don't wind up wishing I could have avoided it. Would be nice if I wound up actually enjoying it, though." Jim hesitated for a second, wondering if he should ask Bones about... well... he was his CMO - they'd trained him to be psychologist as well as surgeon, and meanwhile Jim was approximately as qualified to be one as the other. But it was Spock's business, and maybe he could figure it out on his own. Or with Jim's help, untrained as he was to deal with emotional matters. Maybe Spock just needed someone to talk to. Yeah... he'd wait.

He had to wait, too, for Spock to finish making his arrangements. Fortunately, his mother seemed to have figured out that maybe it was a good idea to just leave them alone, and went to watch something upstairs while Jim just sat at the kitchen table, trying not to think too much. It was pointless to think about the possibilities before he got Spock's thoughts on everything. None of them might really be possibilities at all.

Finally, Spock appeared in the doorway. He approached the table, and after a moment, sat down across from Jim. He looked at Jim, Jim looked back, but apparently neither of them knew what to say until Jim gave up and looked to the window again, pushing his chair back. "Want to take a walk?"

"That would be acceptable," Spock agreed.

Silence reigned as they walked along the road, too, each of them trying to sort through their own thoughts. It didn't seem that they'd managed to have much luck, even after they'd been walking for a good ten minutes, and were well away from anyone who might overhear. Eventually it was Jim who spoke first; there was nothing he could say until he had one particular answer. "What's behind this, Spock? What do you want?"

"I believe that I explained my motivations last night." His voice was even, his eyes were fixed on the road ahead.

"You might want to clarify," Jim suggested. "Don't get me wrong, I was listening. But everything happened so fast, and now I'm confused." Spock didn't answer right away, and Jim reached out to take his hand. Spock glanced down in surprise, but didn't resist. "Just in case you hadn't figured it out, I don't want to screw anything up between us," Jim added, "so I'm just as scared as you are."

"Vulcans do not-" Spock began.

Jim shook his head, giving him a firm look. "Let's stop with the bullshit, okay?"

Spock hesitated, then nodded, lowering his eyes. "It is as I said; I do not understand human ways. They seem illogical and impractical. Yet after my father's admission of feelings towards my mother, I feel that I should not dismiss them so easily."

Jim wasn't sure he was ready to explore that - it made him uneasy. The alternative, though, was to run away, and he definitely wasn't going to do that. "Didn't you try relationships the human way before? With Uhura?"

"In a sense; I thought I had." Spock straightened again, looking straight ahead. "Nyota Uhura is, physically and intellectually, well above the average for humans. She is attractive, intelligent, and possesses a great capacity for understanding those different from herself. She has many talents and gifts. She was willing to accept, as part of our relationship, the fact that I did not have the ability to show the sort of emotional attachment that she did - that in itself made my choice of her, as my partner, quite logical."

Jim wasn't quite sure he understood. "...So you're saying that in trying to do things the human way, you went with logic over emotion?"

"Emotion was not disregarded entirely - I was... fond of Nyota," Spock admitted. "This fondness was justified by a rational analysis of her qualities. I believed that that fondness was enough, and never allowed myself to feel more - though I concede that I regretted ending our relationship, when I left the service. It was a first attempt, based on limited knowledge; at the time I believed it to be the way that my father chose my mother, and although they had their differences, their marriage seemed to satisfy them both."

"Isn't that still more the Vulcan way than the human way, though?" Jim asked. "Going with the most logical choice?"

"The Vulcan way is more complicated than simple logic," said Spock, and he abruptly withdrew his hand, clasping it in the other behind his back. "It complicated things greatly after I left Starfleet. And it is well that I did leave Starfleet, for there was a secret I kept from Nyota. If I had remained, and continued our relationship, it would have hurt her more deeply than my departure did when it caught up with me."

Jim still didn't get it. He thought he was starting to put two and two together, though. "Something about... choosing a partner, right?"

"Vulcans are promised to one another while still children," Spock explained. "The bond between the two is supposed to be completed when they have reached the age of sexual maturity. Perhaps because I am only half Vulcan, it did not work as it should in me."

So Jim had been right. "But you were still promised to someone."

Spock nodded, just barely. "T'Pring. She was, in a manner of speaking, already my wife when I came to the Academy."

That was... kind of a shock. Jim could definitely see why Uhura would have been pissed. But Spock had broken it off with Uhura, he'd gone to the colony... "And now?" Jim asked.

"She is not."

Jim had a feeling he was getting more and more pieces of a larger puzzle - why Spock had chosen to approach him last night was only a part of it. Behind that there were the questions Spock had refused to answer from the start, about why he'd left New Vulcan, why he refused to go back to Starfleet. They just didn't quite connect. Jim could think of only one way to connect them, though. "If I ask you what happened," he began, "would you tell me?"

Spock inhaled deeply before answering. "The telling is difficult, Jim; it is a matter of which even Vulcans do not speak. I am not certain I can bring myself to discuss it before an outworlder. And yet... I believe that you deserve to know. You have revealed yourself to me, and as you have observed, I have revealed very little to you despite all that you have done for me."

"Spock, I didn't talk to you about my secrets so you'd tell me yours," Jim told him, almost a little annoyed. "I'm not trying to blackmail you for info any more than I ever have. If you can't tell me, or don't feel comfortable with it, I understand."

"On the contrary," Spock said. "I wish for you to understand. The only way you may understand is if I tell you. However, as I find the telling difficult..." Finally, he stopped staring straight ahead and turned his head to look at Jim. "Perhaps you would permit me to do as my counterpart, and simply show you."

At first, Jim wasn't sure what he meant. When he remembered, it was kind of funny how the idea thrilled him, but he managed to keep that to himself. "Sure... I'd like to know."

Spock nodded slightly, but glanced away. "...It is a personal matter," he murmured, "and the mind-meld itself rather intimate. Perhaps we should return to your mother's house, and the privacy of your room."

True, they were out in the open, walking along the side of the road, surrounded by fields green with half-grown corn. Of course, they could have seen anyone coming from a long way off, but Jim thought he agreed; it didn't seem like the right place for something so personal. But then, Jim had grown up in Riverside. He nudged Spock lightly, gesturing to their right. "Follow me."

Spock's tension seemed to fall away somewhat as he watched, puzzled, as Jim headed into the field, pushing aside the young cornstalks. "Where are you going?"

"It's a time-honored Iowa tradition, hiding in the cornfields," Jim told Spock as he followed hesitantly. The stalks weren't even as high as his chest - not as good as fall, but still okay if they sat down. "Once we're a few rows in, no one can see us from the road. Trust me," he said with a grin which he almost meant, "a lot of things have happened out in these fields that no one knows about."

"I have the impression," said Spock, "that I should not ask."

Jim smirked at him. "And you thought I told you all my secrets."

"That is one impression I never had."

Everything seemed so much lighter suddenly, with the two of them just joking, saying inconsequential things. At least, Jim thought, sleeping together and talking about feelings hadn't immediately ruined their camaraderie.

The mood grew more serious, however, when they'd picked their way through the rows, going deeper than they probably needed to go, just to be safe. Jim sat down; never mind that the dirt was loose and a little damp. It wasn't like they'd be rolling around in it. Probably. ...Unfortunately. It wouldn't have been the first time, and the thought of Spock like that was interesting.

Jim cleared his throat and tried to concentrate on other thoughts as Spock carefully sat down facing him. "I have never performed a mind-meld on a human," Spock told him. "Yet it would seem that I am capable."

"Yeah, looks that way. It was like second nature, in fact," Jim remarked. "Just a touch, and I didn't even know what he was doing at the time, so I wasn't even trying to hold still."

"He has had much longer than I to become accustomed to it." But after regarding Jim thoughtfully for a moment, Spock reached forward, placing his fingers carefully at Jim's temple and the corner of his mouth. Jim found himself tempted to move just enough to kiss that thumb, but was quickly distracted.

The meld wasn't immediate, as it had been with the older Spock. The older Spock must have just dove right in, where the younger was more hesitant. The placement of his fingers shifted just slightly, though Jim could already sense a blurring between them, the curiosity sharpening through a fog of apprehension. He closed his eyes to consider what he was sensing. Spock was uncertain - and scared, he realized, but that was somewhere in the background, pushed aside in favor of... No, logic had been forcibly set aside too. What was motivating Spock now was no more than...

You will see what I remember.

Jim was pulled away from the edge of recognition by the emergence of another time and place, as if he'd opened his eyes again to find himself somewhere else. He was in a greenhouse; the hot air seemed stifling, he felt as if all the blood in his body was flowing at double time, and his right hand stung for some reason. He looked down in surprise, and found green blood welling up from the cuts crisscrossing his shaking hand, no doubt due to the glass pot which lay in pieces on the table before him. Disregarding the pain, he clenched the hand in a fist and slammed it down on the table in frustration. If it was to happen, it should have happened years ago, and it had not. There had to be some other explanation...

Upon reaching sexual maturity, Vulcans begin to suffer the ordeal known as pon farr. Every seven years, we face a biological imperative; we must mate. More specifically, we must mate with the one to whom we are bonded. If we cannot, the physiological symptoms worsen, and eventually we will succumb. We mate, or we die.

Though the explanation Jim was receiving seemed calm and clinical, he could sense Spock's shame as he turned to leave the greenhouse, making his way through the generic blocks of temporary housing and early support structure of the buildings being erected for the colony - shame, and guilt. For something that happened because he was Vulcan, Jim thought? For something that happened to every Vulcan?

I tried to tell myself it was nothing. My human blood, perhaps. The blood didn't look human to Jim, as he wrapped the hand in a washroom. In his restless frustration, Spock yanked the bandage so tightly that it hurt. Humans may fantasize and become aroused in the absence of obvious stimuli, but Vulcans do not. I never had. Yet I found myself thinking of her... Jim could see her too, as a memory within a memory. A picture of a dark, sober little girl, imagination causing her to grow taller, fuller - gorgeous instead of just cute, Jim thought. The non-injured hand began to wander, resting upon Spock's chest, creeping upward towards his mouth. ...Indeed, I could not stop.

Spock turned in alarm at the sound of the door chime, and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself before leaving the washroom. When he stepped into the common room, his visitor had already entered; he was looking at himself, as he would appear many years in the future. "You may hide your condition from others," the other Spock told him gravely, "but you cannot hide it from yourself. It is time."

Logically, Spock knew he should not be humiliated by his other self knowing what troubled him, but logic had been growing more difficult by the hour since the creeping uneasiness had begun, turning gradually into desperation. Though he had at first had reservations, the statement of his condition as a fact made him give in. "Is she here?"

"Not yet," his older self told him. "She will arrive tomorrow; I took the liberty of contacting T'Pau myself. I am willing to inform our father of the impending ceremony as well."

Spock wasn't sure if he was offended by the other acting for him, or grateful for the favor, and so said nothing, just nodded helplessly. The older Spock nodded too, thoughtful, and then turned to the door. "Rest yourself in preparation, and take heart - I am still here, am I not?"

And thus Spock had known, before the curtain across the door swished back into place, that she would claim the kal-if-fee.

Our wedding ceremony, the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, is a ritual dating back to the Time of Awakening, when my people chose the way of logic over emotion. Though at this time we lose our logic... we revert to the savage creatures we once were. 'Koon-ut-kal-if-fee' means 'marriage-or-challenge' - and that is precisely what it is.

By the time the older Spock had come to him the next day, accompanied by their father, Spock's need had intensified, and his temperature was rising. Jim thought, vaguely disturbed, that he'd known what it was like to need to get laid. His worst moment had never come close to the kind of desperation Spock had felt, and the surge of anticipation when the older Spock nodded to him - that nearly bowled him over. Jim didn't know how Spock could even stand up when he felt like this, but he did stand, and walked, reasonably steadily, to the appointed place.

The planet they were colonizing did not look quite like Vulcan; the sand was brought from other regions to the central hub of the colonies, the stone was lighter in color, and the light was not quite right. The gong that hung in the center of the arena was not the sacred relic that had endured centuries, but a mere imitation, still shiny and without flaw. Spock thought little upon it, and simply sounded it, announcing his arrival.

Others entered, as his older self and his father stood back to observe, but Spock spared only the briefest attention and ceremony for any but one - T'Pring was there, and that was all that mattered. His bride, his mate, looking exactly as he had seen her in his mind's eye. Soon they would be wed; soon he would have her, as he needed. He needed to touch her, to feel her, mind and body as one...

His attention almost entirely on her, and her proximity as she approached the dais upon which he stood, Spock heard her clearly when she renounced their bond.

"This cannot be done," T'Pau chastened her. "In such times as these more than any other - it is thy duty, as a Vulcan woman, to wed and to bear Vulcan children."

"As a Vulcan woman, it is my right to choose," T'Pring stated, her head held high. She turned to look at Spock. "As a matter of logic, Spock is not a valid mate. He is a half-breed. His blood is diluted with that of humans, and he may be sterile besides, as half-breeds often are. In such times as these, indeed, a dutiful Vulcan woman would not permit herself to be bound to one who might not produce Vulcan children. I wish to be released from my bonds to Spock, and to wed Stonn."

Jim was disgusted by her words, but he didn't have time to do more than acknowledge that disgust. Spock's eyes were already focused sharply on another, one of the men who had accompanied the bridal party, as he stepped forward. There was as little expression on his face as that of any proper Vulcan, but something about the way he stood implied disdain - and that was the least of what Spock felt for Stonn. Something was tied around his waist, a weapon was placed in his hand, but Spock paid little mind. His only concern was for the battle ahead; his opponent stood between him and T'Pring, and therefore must die.

At the word of command, Spock attacked at once, lunging at Stonn, lashing out with the weighted end of his weapon when Stonn leapt aside. Stonn blocked, only to find the edged end swinging upwards towards him, and countered, only to find another attack waiting. Jim was stunned by Spock's ferocity, even having once been on the receiving end of Spock's rage. There was no coherent thought that was not of the logistics of combat - only hatred, and a savage, wild desire to destroy. And, distantly, shame, but he could tell somehow that the shame belonged to Spock in the present, not the past.

There was no way to tell how long the fight lasted, with Spock's mental and physical condition as it was. Everything was confusing, one action flowing into another seamlessly, the slight or even more serious injuries getting no more than a passing acknowledgment. Spock's mind and body were screaming in agony for different reasons - but then everything was suddenly, mercifully silent but the thump of Stonn falling to the ground, his head nearly separated from his body.

Spock stared down at the corpse, still seeping green blood into the sand. He looked at his hands and arms, covered with the same. He took a step back, almost a stagger, and dropped the weapon at his feet; he feared for a moment that he might fall unconscious.

He had killed.

This was an acceptable violence among Vulcans, however, and T'Pau said nothing more beyond announcing Spock as the victor. "You have won the right," she told him as the men at her side came forward to remove the body, "to claim your bride."

His fever and desperation had vanished at the completion of the kal-if-fee. Between his preoccupation with Stonn, and his subsequent horror at having taken a life, Spock had forgotten what he was fighting for, and he looked up from the green-soaked sand to see T'Pring, properly emotionless as she looked upon him.

Likewise, as Spock looked upon her, he felt nothing.

I had not killed out of necessity, in defense of my life or others... I had killed a man over a woman for whom I felt nothing. A woman who cared so little as to question my validity as a Vulcan... who had forced me to take a life. She had done nothing wrong, of course - and neither had I. Slowly, Spock turned to face her and took a step forward in approach. For the first time in my life, I was not merely 'Vulcan enough', but I had excelled as a Vulcan.

Spock looked at T'Pring, cold and emotionless. He thought of Nyota's bright laughter, and his mother's kind smile. The reminder caused him to look over his shoulder, to where his father and his older counterpart waited. Both appeared, on the surface, just as impassive; but in the older Spock's eyes, Spock saw pain, and he remembered his father's words.

...And I despised myself more than ever.

"T'Pring," Spock addressed her, facing her again. "Despite my victory, I find that your objections to our marriage are logically sound. I release you from our bond." He lifted his hand, and she followed suit. "May you live long and prosper," Spock told her, "with a mate of your own choosing." She inclined her head in acknowledgment, but did not reply, and Spock turned to thank T'Pau for overseeing the process.

Once I might have thought my father to be proud of such a victory. The memory began to blur as the formalities ended the ceremony. Yet now, I thought of my mother, and what she would have thought, had she been here to witness - and I began to wonder if my father was indeed pleased, or perhaps the opposite. He told me this, after my mother's death: 'I married your mother because I loved her.' ...I did not want to marry a woman whom I did not love.

In the blink of an eye, he was in the common room Jim had seen earlier, where his older self had first come to him. The older Spock was there again, standing by as Spock sat, head in his hands, immobilized by his guilt. "My circumstances were similar," the elder was saying, "though also rather different. I know, as well, that all the logic of our people will not reason away what you are feeling."

It might have been true, but Spock didn't care to ask, and he found little comfort in the idea that someone else might understand what he was going through. He didn't know what to do - all he knew was that the Vulcan traditions were as illogical and nonsensical as the ways of humans, and though he had spent his entire life wishing that he were more Vulcan, he found that being properly Vulcan was not to his liking either.

"...I cannot live here," he stated. There was only one point in his life when he had been exactly as Vulcan as he wished to be, and not been ridiculed for it - and he knew that it could have gone on for much longer, shaping and encouraging him. There was one who would say it should have.

And yet, this other Spock - this older, more experienced version of himself - made him uneasy. He knew too much, and things unfolded just as he said they would. As a logical being with knowledge of the future, it was only sensible that they should, but it left Spock feeling trapped. Always he had thought he had some control over his destiny, that he could change paths as often as was required to find his way.

His point was driven home when a rougher, wrinkled hand set itself down beside his elbow on the table, and he looked up into his own eyes. "...Go back to Starfleet," his counterpart said softly. "You will find happiness there, with people who care for you exactly as you are. You will even find one who loves you... whom you can love in return."

Spock thought again of her laughter and her smile, the comfort she had offered after the destruction of his planet... and he put away the memory. He would not simply walk in footprints that had been marked out before him.

And so I booked passage to Earth... to my mother's planet. I had been content there for a time, and believed I could become so again, even without the benefit of Starfleet. There were possibilities aside from Starfleet - numerous opportunities for a satisfactory life... "...and, should I seek it out, to find someone to love."

The last was spoken aloud, and Jim's eyes opened as the mind-meld ended. After the touch of Spock's hands, his head felt suddenly cold, and his solitary thoughts were strangely lonely. And undeniably human - after seeing what Spock had been through, and feeling his reaction to it, his inclination was to reach out and grab Spock, pull him close, and hug him. Which was weird, because he'd never really known how to comfort anyone, and tried to leave it to people who were more used to it. But this was Spock, and probably hardly anyone would even know if he needed comforting; he didn't even look like it now, he was just looking back at Jim as if everything were perfectly normal.

But since it was Spock, Jim didn't know what he wanted. He definitely didn't know what was appropriate for Vulcans, or if Spock would even care if it wasn't, under the circumstances. And making things even more complicated were these feelings that Spock apparently felt for him. Jim didn't want to suggest something he might not be able to follow through with. "...It's okay," Jim told him, remembering the depth of the shame he'd felt. "It's okay. I don't think any less of you."

When he stretched out his hand, Spock hesitated, then accepted, taking Jim's hand in his. "Thank you, Jim."

His thumb stroked at Jim's wrist - and suddenly Jim remembered what he'd seen in the mind-meld. "Hands are an erogenous zone for you, aren't they?"

"Not precisely," Spock replied, his voice still low. "Touching hands is intimate, but not necessarily erotic. It is akin to a touching of the lips among humans; it can hold many meanings, all of which are affectionate."

"Huh..." Jim had held his hand before, though. Thinking back, it occurred to him - Spock had taken his hand while he was drunk on caramel corn, hadn't he? Which meant... while Jim had been trying not to give in to the temptation of drunken making out, Spock had apparently gone right ahead with it. That was pretty amusing, but also a little disturbing, given their current circumstances.

And given their current circumstances, all he could do was try to clarify. "So that's why you left New Vulcan... the wedding ceremony."

"It is."

Jim shook his head, almost incredulous. "And you didn't want to go back to Starfleet because of what the other you said."

"Despite it being the only period of my life during which I felt that I belonged," Spock replied, "I had determined that I would find the feelings of which he spoke in my own way, without 'fate' intervening."

"And you think it's happened now?" Jim added. "You've found..." He wasn't comfortable with the word at all. "...what you were looking for?"

Spock seemed to know what he was referring to. "I cannot be sure. Your culture presents it as a positive emotion," Spock muttered, "something which feels good. I, on the other hand, find it disconcerting. I would liken the sensation," he considered, "to... falling, from a great height, completely blind - not knowing how far is left, aware that the impact could come at any moment... if I do not simply freefall for the rest of eternity."

He could have chosen a metaphor that Jim was a little less personally acquainted with; Jim still had dreams occasionally about that leap off the drill. Sometimes he woke with the rushing sensation still thick in his head, other times it was the landing that shocked him awake.

...Which was why he didn't want to answer. He wasn't any good at this kind of thing - he never had been, and he didn't expect he ever would be. He just wasn't that kind of guy. But saying so meant he was responsible for the rough landing that would end it, and he didn't want to have to do it. Not to Spock, who was supposed to be his friend. Who he'd finally gotten through to, just... not in the way he was expecting. He should have stopped Spock last night.

At the same time, however, he knew that the dreams when he just kept falling and falling forever were even worse.

"Spock," he began, reluctantly removing his hand from Spock's and settling back. "I'm... really not the best person in the world to have those kinds of feelings for. If there's anyone who knows less about how love works than a Vulcan, it's me. I know... I know with humans, love and sex usually go together - but sex is fun. And love is complicated." He paused, realizing that for once in his life, he wasn't bragging, or even remotely proud about what he was trying to say. "...I've had a lot of sexual partners, I guess... but not because I've been in love that many times. I was just having a good time. I mean, I've actually ended relationships when it started looking too much like love."

Spock nodded slightly. "Then I assume you would prefer to put an end to any relationship between us at once."

"No!" Jim said immediately, looking at Spock in disbelief. Then he hesitated. First he'd been shocked by Spock's casual, straight-faced dismissal of whatever-it-was between the two of them. Now he was shocked by his own vehemence against the idea of dismissing it. It was how he usually handled these things, right? "...No, Spock - I'm confused. That's all I'm saying, I'm confused." Spock was still just looking at him, completely neutral, and Jim sighed, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. "I'm even more confused now."

"Then we have that in common," Spock murmured.

"Guess we do." Jim shrugged slightly. "Maybe we can work through it together."

"Perhaps," Spock agreed. "Jim... what, specifically, do you want?"

"I don't, ah..." Jim wasn't prepared for the question - he hadn't thought about it at all - but it was a fair one, and he could at least try to answer it. "Mostly, I want to not mess things up between us. Because I think you're awesome, and I think we've got some kind of connection, and we had it before last night. You know, I already hated the idea that I wouldn't be seeing you for years." He shook his head, incredulous. "It's kind of ridiculous, how much I want you to know me. And how much I want to know you. ...Thanks for telling me all of that, by the way," he added. "I know it couldn't have been easy for you to talk about. Or think about," he amended.

"No, but I found that I did want you to know the truth. I understand that this discussion is difficult for you as well, but you are making the effort." Spock stopped, and considered. "You said that we have some kind of connection. What do you believe the nature of this connection to be?"

"I thought it was friendship," Jim answered. "...I don't know anymore. It could be more." That wasn't entirely truthful - he was pretty sure already that it was more, but he couldn't bring himself to pin down just how much more. Part of him already kind of wanted to run away, but he was stepping on it for now. In fact, he hadn't even gotten the whole story. "What about you - what do you want?"

"Conveniently enough, I want essentially the same things you want. I want us to be close, as we have been close. However," he added, "ideally, in addition to retaining our interpersonal connection at the level we had previously achieved, I would like to pursue further physical intimacy, as it would seem to be enjoyable for both of us."

Jim laughed softly, delighted. "Really?"

"Yes."

Jim grinned. "Then we agree on that too."

"It is unsurprising," Spock added, "because when we have touched hands before, and when we joined our minds moments ago, I sensed feelings towards me that are nearly identical to those I have felt towards you."

Jim's grin softened into a wondering smile. That was more of a relief than it ought to have been, and again he offered his hand, this time mindful of what it meant.

When Spock accepted, Jim let himself explore the idea of touching hands as a kiss; his fingers stroked over the heel of Spock's hand, trailing up the crease in Spock's palm to his fingers. Spock breathed in, deeply, and Jim watched, fascinated. "I'd been wondering, ever since that first night you came out of the bathroom in a towel," he murmured, looking up and into Spock's eyes, "if you had any idea how hot you are."

Spock's dark eyes were already fixed firmly on his, unwavering. "My judgment on such matters, should I have an opinion, is probably not unbiased, for good or for ill."

Damn - even when he was giving stupidly literal responses to rhetorical questions, he was still hot. Jim hooked his thumb through Spock's, turning his hand to brush along the back of Spock's wrist, and Spock's eyes half-closed. "...About that further physical intimacy," Jim began, and scooted closer. "I'd been thinking we should hold off, until we sorted out exactly what all of it was about. But if it's what we both want... and we agree that we won't let it get in the way of us being... us, whatever that is..."

Spock's eyes opened again, and though he looked thoroughly distracted, he asked. "Outdoors, on the ground among crops?"

"Didn't I tell you before?" Jim reminded him. "Time-honored Iowa tradition."

"Yes, and although I did not ask," Spock remarked, "it would seem that I was correct."

If they were bantering like this, Jim thought, even at moments like this, it seemed like a good sign. Still groping Spock's fingers with one hand, he reached up with the other to guide Spock's face towards his, kissing him in the human way as well.

Chapter Text

The walk back home was a little more comfortable than the walk out, though Jim found himself having to consider less than comfortable topics. For instance, Spock might be incredibly attractive, and the sight of him rumpled and smudged with dirt instead of all buttoned-up was unbelievably hot... but that meant that Jim was walking back to his mother's house all dirty and sweaty, accompanied by a similarly filthy individual. Who was a Vulcan. ...He was trying, but he just couldn't figure out what explanation he could possibly give his mother for the condition in which he and Spock were coming home. Especially since they'd supposedly just gone to have a talk about something.

Furthermore, Jim was sure they hadn't actually finished the discussion. Both of them were so damn stupid about relationships that neither of them had a clue what exactly they were trying to do. Or maybe they did, and they were both too scared to own up to it. Either way, they were in agreement about the most important parts.

Some of the less frightening specifics still needed nailing down too. "Maybe it's just a formality to ask at this point," Jim began. "But you said last night you wanted to go back to Starfleet. Is that still what you want?"

"It is," Spock agreed, "though there is still some instinctive... revulsion, at the idea of permitting the universe to simply dictate my affairs."

"You're not 'permitting' it," Jim told him. "You've already proven you could go your own way if you wanted to. You made your own choice."

"Yet I return to the same choice I was given before," Spock pointed out. "And if I refuse this time, who is to say I will not once again be put in the position to choose between service in Starfleet or a merely tolerable life?"

"I don't know," Jim said. "But to me, seems like if you want to be my awesome first officer, and it's your destiny to be my awesome first officer, that just means it's definitely going to work out as well as you hope. On the other hand, if you keep getting the chance to do something you want to do, and you turn it down just out of spite, that's pretty illogical."

Spock nodded slowly. "I suppose that I agree. But Jim - there is another variable regarding 'destiny' that must be considered."

"Yeah?"

"Lieutenant Uhura."

True - that did seem to have been implied, from what Jim had seen in Spock's memory of his talk with the older Spock. "...It's been a while, though. She's been pretty satisfied with her life, as far as I can tell, and when you talked to her, she seemed happy that you'd moved on too."

"Yet she did suggest that we should keep in contact."

"Because she's friendly like that," Jim told him with a grin. "I seriously think she's friends with everybody on the whole ship. Possibly everyone in Starfleet."

"Had I remained aboard the Enterprise, I would not have seen any reason to end our relationship," Spock continued. "It was pleasant, and quite logical in its workings. And I was already fond of her - perhaps now, as I am willing to admit stronger emotions-"

"Hey, Spock," Jim interrupted, seeing exactly where he was going. "Did you forget? I don't believe in destiny. I do believe in free will," he continued. "And that means if once you're back on the Enterprise, you and Uhura decide to give it another try, I'll deal with it."

"I do not wish to cause you emotional distress."

"I know that, and I trust you," Jim said, giving him a confident smile. He had to admit, he didn't want this thing he had going with Spock to end, whatever it was, because it probably would tear him up. "But that kind of thing happens all the time - I'm sure it wouldn't break me. Plus," he added more cockily, "I'm sure I can hold your attention. Uhura's great, yeah... but I'm James Tiberius Kirk."

"You do," Spock acknowledged, "have a talent for attracting attention to yourself."

"Lifelong hobby of mine. On the other hand..." The house was within sight now, and Jim still didn't know how to explain his and Spock's condition. "...Think my mom would believe we both just happened to trip over something while you were examining the local agriculture?"

"No."

"Me either." Jim sighed, trying to think of something better. "Every other time I've done this kind of thing, I was going home alone - I could just tell Mom I got in a little fight or something, if she was even up when I came home. I got in fights all the time, so it was plausible."

"It would not be plausible to say that the two of us were fighting," Spock observed.

"Not really. And you know what the worst part is?" Jim added, glum. "Since we won't be home alone, we can't save time by taking a shower together."

"I might remind you, as I stated earlier," said Spock, "that you are no longer your mother's dependent. There is no reason for secrecy regarding sexual encounters."

"I know," Jim agreed. "But listen - do you want to confirm to my mom what we've been doing?"

Spock raised an eyebrow, nodding thoughtfully. "I see your point."

"But you are right, there's no need to sneak around about it." Jim considered. "...Let's just not say anything unless she asks. Maybe if I get her attention when we go in, you can just head upstairs and get cleaned up before she notices. You're more of a mess than I am anyway." He really should have gotten that shirt off Spock before Spock wound up on his back in the dirt, Jim thought belatedly.

"That sounds acceptable." Spock did, however, reach up and pluck a dead leaf out of Jim's hair.

"...And after I've cleaned up too," Jim said, slightly sheepish, "we'll give Starfleet a call. If that's all right with you."

Spock nodded. "I suppose that it is."

They were close enough to the house that Jim didn't think kissing Spock would be a good idea, if they were hoping to avoid provoking awkward discussions. Fortunately, there was another way; Spock extended his hand, offering two fingers, and Jim did likewise, brushing his fingers against Spock's with a little smile. "This is kind of cool," he noted. "We could do this anytime, and no one would know what we were doing."

"Perhaps not specifically, but I believe your mother knows enough about Vulcan customs to observe that it is unusual."

"True," Jim sighed.

Jim knew it had been too much to hope that his mom was still upstairs when they got back. She was right there in the kitchen when they came in, but Jim took the initiative, being the first one through the door. "Hey... It sure is nice to be able to just take a long walk again," he remarked casually, going to the refrigerator to dispense a nice cold glass of water. "In the sunlight, too. Not that I'm not looking forward to getting back to the Enterprise, but there are some things you just can't get aboard a starship. You know?"

"I agree." Despite Jim's efforts, his mother was giving Spock a funny look as he entered just behind. "Welcome back. Did you two sort some things out?"

"Thank you, Mrs. Kirk - I believe we did," replied Spock smoothly, as he disappeared into the next room.

"Yeah, we discussed everything, figured out we were mostly in agreement already." Jim took a drink, already plotting his course of action mentally. "And then we just kind of wandered around a little while. Nice weather."

"Jim?" she inquired. "What happened to you and Spock out there?"

"Why are we a mess, you mean? Embarrassing, really." He took another drink. Nice casual pause. "I was showing him the cornfields. They didn't have corn on - well, obviously you know that. And Spock being a scientist, naturally he wanted a closer look, and well... there was a little mishap." Another sip. "Totally my fault."

"Somehow I don't doubt that," she said with a wry smile, and Jim had to grin a little too as he heard the bathroom door close upstairs.

Spock was quick, and so was Jim when it was his turn. Once they were cleaned up, it was time to get down to business - except that Jim wasn't quite sure how to proceed. "First thing to do is make sure you can get right back into Starfleet," he supposed, when the two of them were alone in the study. "I don't really know if you can just pick up where you left off, or what..."

"Due to the circumstances under which I left Starfleet, I was granted discharge with honor," said Spock. "There is no particular obstacle to my reenlistment - though since it was discharge, rather than a long-term leave of absence, I must follow certain procedures. I will need to have another background check, as new recruits are required, and to regain my former rank and certifications, I must undergo a series of evaluations to ensure that I still have the appropriate knowledge and skill."

"Sounds like you've got a pretty good idea what to do, then," Jim acknowledged. "Do you even need me here? If you have to be evaluated, it might not be a good idea to have a current starship captain standing over your shoulder. Could imply I was trying to put pressure on them."

"Indeed, but the first step to setting the process in motion is simply to notify Starfleet personnel that I would like to begin - and I should provide character references as well," Spock told him. "I had thought that you might be one."

"Well, of course." That went without saying.

"Admiral Pike might be willing to act as another," Spock remarked. "He will also have the authority to send me the necessary information, and thus I believe he should be our first point of contact."

Jim nodded, and tried not to grin too obviously, remembering how concerned Pike had been about Spock's situation when they'd run into each other at that bar near the Academy. "I'm sure he'll be glad to hear from you."

"I would assume so," Spock agreed. "He was aware of my employment issues, being a past reference with whom prospective employers had spoken. Often he suggested that I should return to Starfleet, with more urgency as the verification requests became more frequent."

"So he did already know you were in a bad position."

"While I was actively looking for work, yes," Spock said with a nod. "Believing that my situation must be causing him emotional discomfort, I found it... rather simple to evade contact with him once I no longer possessed a permanent address. An apology would seem to be appropriate."

"I think reenlisting is the best apology you could give him," Jim told him, and Spock nodded thoughtfully.

Just as expected, Pike didn't even try to hide his pleasure at the news. He assured Spock he had his full support, and would be glad to transfer him to the proper channels to begin the process. It was with the utmost sincerity, and a brief, proud glance at Jim, that he told Spock, "Welcome back, Commander."

"Thank you, sir," Spock replied, and Jim returned that glance. Though he couldn't help but wonder if Pike would be so pleased with him if he knew the catalyst for all this. "Addressing me by my former rank is premature, however. There are examinations which I must complete, if I am not mistaken."

"Spock, I know you," Pike told him firmly. "You'll pass them."

"I have been away from the service for over five years," Spock pointed out. "I must assume that in addition to advances in technology, there have been at least minute shifts and alterations to Starfleet regulations and protocol."

"So for the first time in your life, you won't get a perfect score," Pike said dismissively. "Don't sweat it. But Jim, having you with him would give him an unfair advantage," he added.

"Oh, don't worry," Jim told him. "I'll stay out of his way. I think he'll do just fine playing by the rules."

The transfer was completed, and Spock put in his intention to reenlist. As character references, he named Admiral Christopher Pike and Captain James Kirk, one of whom had attached a file with the transmission, the other of whom was standing right behind him as he submitted his application. The background check was quick and turned up nothing noteworthy, though there were some questions asked regarding his departure from New Vulcan and subsequent work history, which Spock explained as simply unfortunate personal circumstances. In no time he was cleared to come in for the evaluation exams - which had to be scheduled at an official Starfleet installation, but that wasn't much of an obstacle.

Having thanked the clerk who had been overseeing the process, Spock ended the transmission, and Jim gave Spock a smile when he turned to look up. "So there you go," he said with a shrug. "That was easy."

Spock didn't reciprocate that smile, or even the little almost-smile that Jim had come to recognize. "Yes, it was."

He didn't seem particularly pleased, though, and Jim figured he had some ideas why. It was just difficult to say anything about them in a way that wouldn't draw attention to the fact that Spock was doing something on an emotional basis rather than logical, and that he knew it. So instead of saying anything, he just held out his hand. Spock nodded slightly, and touched his fingers lightly to Jim's.

"...It'll be great," Jim murmured, after a moment.

"There is some evidence to support such a prediction," Spock quietly acknowledged. "Yet at present, I am not without misgivings. And neither, obviously, are you."

Right, touch-telepathy. "Yeah... but we'll work through them. As long as it's really what you want." Which was what about half of Jim's misgivings were about. And Spock's, actually, if in a different way.

It was too bad the touch-telepathy didn't work both ways, because Spock slipped his fingers through Jim's, clasping hands just for a moment. "It is."

Now, back to business, Jim thought as their hands parted. "So, as far as those tests go. Riverside's got the shipyard, but they had to take us to the Academy to enlist - no recruitment facilities here. We could go there, or there's other places-"

"Familiar surroundings would be preferable, I believe. But if I am reenlisting," Spock observed, "I must notify the company which offered me a job. Although I informed them that I was not arriving today, they are expecting me to contact them to finalize further arrangements."

"Yeah, good idea. What are you going to tell them?"

"That I greatly appreciate their generosity, and apologize for the short notice, but an unforeseen opportunity presented itself."

Spock raised an eyebrow at Jim's incredulous snort. "'Unforeseen', Spock?"

"I would not be referring solely to resuming my career with Starfleet."

Jim almost asked... but he thought he understood. "Heh. Okay, I'll leave you to that... Guess I should give Bones a call, let him know you're not coming today. Can I tell him the good news?"

"The good news of my reenlistment would be acceptable," Spock said mildly. He had no idea, Jim thought, that Bones had guessed the other good news already.

Jim made the call from up in his room, and was not surprised at all that Bones didn't initially seem too pleased. "And I assume you want him for the Enterprise?"

"Why would you think that?" Jim asked with a grin.

"Can't imagine we won't get him, too," Bones muttered. "And that's just wonderful, because I'll be his doctor then, and I'd like to have that Vulcan's head examined."

"What? Even you yourself said it was logical for him to come back to Starfleet," Jim reminded him.

"It's not that, it's the other part. The part you told me about this morning. Seriously, Jim - this wasn't some kind of ploy, was it?"

Jim was actually kind of offended by the suggestion. "Bones... Come on, you know me better than that."

"Yeah, I do," Bones admitted. "I just don't get it. A week ago, he was dead set against coming back to Starfleet, he said he had reasons and everything."

"We spent a while this morning talking about those reasons," Jim explained. "Turns out he wanted to come back all along... I think he decided he's got a choice after all."

Bones looked thoughtful, like he was trying to figure out a riddle, but then he shrugged. "Regardless of how it happened, if he really wants to come back to the Enterprise, then I say welcome aboard," he said finally, one corner of his mouth turning up in a hesitant smile. "And about the rest, about you and him... I just hope both of you get what you're looking for, whatever it is."

Jim smiled back. "Thanks - so do I. And thanks for all your help, too. Even if he didn't take the job in the end, I think going through the whole process helped him sort some stuff out."

"As long as it did somebody some good, I'm glad. Now keep me posted, all right?"

"Couldn't stop me if you wanted to," Jim told him with a smirk.

"...Come to think of it," Bones remarked dryly, "depending on what you wind up telling me, I just might want to."

Once that transmission had ended, Jim considered what to do next. He could think of someone else who would be glad to hear the news that Spock was reenlisting, someone Spock probably wouldn't be interested in breaking the news to himself... but Jim had a feeling that if the other Spock asked too many questions, that could get pretty awkward. And that was if he kept himself from asking really awkward questions, which he wasn't sure he could do.

There were a few obvious things to be done, however. Spock had to schedule those exams - and then they decided it was probably about time that they let Jim's mom know why Spock hadn't taken that morning shuttle.

She'd decided the same, judging from the curious look on her face when they entered the family room together. "Got everything taken care of?" she asked.

"The most imperative tasks have been completed, yes."

His mom's question had been surprisingly neutral, Jim thought, and Spock's response was equally meaningless. He wondered if it was more Vulcan cultural stuff. Of course, he wasn't a Vulcan, and he knew his mom wasn't either. "Spock, she might be interested in knowing what's going on. Just maybe."

Just after he said it, it occurred to him that his suggestion had been dangerously open-ended, but Spock stuck to what Jim actually had been referring to. "I have decided," Spock said, "to return to Starfleet, and apply to serve aboard the Enterprise."

"And he's accepted," Jim added, seeing the beginnings of a smile already on his mom's face. "Soon as that app comes in."

"It will likely be at least a week," Spock noted, looking to Jim. "Although I will be taking the assessment examinations beginning tomorrow, there is considerably more bureaucracy involved in resuming a career in Starfleet than simply beginning one."

"Doesn't matter," Jim said. "I'll be waiting for that message to come across."

"I'm glad to hear it," his mom spoke up cheerfully. "I'm sure you'll be a great help to Starfleet, and to Jim."

"I will perform to the best of my abilities," Spock stated.

"And you're taking the exams tomorrow?"

"At the Academy," Jim replied. "Looks like that trip to the spaceport was just pushed back a day - we'll have to leave early tomorrow."

"You're going too, Jim?"

"With all due respect," Spock put in, before Jim could reply, "I believe I should go alone. You will not be able to assist me with the examinations, so there is no reason for you to come along."

Jim paused. There were reasons he wanted to go along, just none he wanted to discuss in front of his mother. "Yeah, but-"

"Furthermore, I'm sure your mother would appreciate having your undivided attention," Spock added.

Well, he had Jim there. He'd spent so much time with Spock since coming back to Riverside that he hadn't spent all that much time with her.

His mother gave him a smile. "It might be good for you to actually spend some time relaxing instead of running all over the planet. You'll be running all over the galaxy again soon enough. With Spock."

They both had good points. Jim wasn't even bothered too much by the thought of Spock leaving this time, now that he could be fairly sure that they'd be seeing each other again soon. So Bones had been right - when it came down to it, it really was about wanting Spock to come with him, wasn't it?


Jim felt pretty good about how things were going. It was impossible to tell with Spock, though - he was as polite and emotionless as he'd ever been in his life all evening, right up until he politely excused himself, citing the early departure time the next morning, after losing at a game of Scrabble. He hadn't been using Vulcan words this time, which might have indicated... something.

Actually, Jim thought he'd been a little subdued. Which might not mean anything, because Spock was a Vulcan and Vulcans didn't show emotion and so on and so on. And definitely he wasn't going to say or do anything really obvious while Jim's mom was sitting right there. Jim wasn't a telepath, either, but he still got the sense that Spock wasn't feeling as optimistic about everything as he was. It left him kind of distracted.

After watching a vid with just his mom - and he only remembered what it was about because it was one of his favorites from when he was younger, and he'd seen it a dozen times - Jim decided to turn in himself. All he was really doing was sitting there and thinking about Spock, wondering if there was something he could do to prove to Spock he'd made the better choice.

His mother made him pause, though, as he was starting upstairs. "Jim?" she inquired, looking up at him over the back of the couch. "Are you happy with Spock's decision?"

...He supposed he had been kind of subdued himself, but just having the question asked of him was enough to set him straight; he immediately shot her an incredulous look. Incredulous, but also a little amazed, because despite all the uncertainties, he could still hardly believe it. "Are you kidding?" he asked with a grin that wasn't even remotely forced. "I've wanted him back on the Enterprise since day one."

"Good." She smiled back. "Just making sure."

"I'm sure." And he was grateful for the reminder of just how sure he was, so he leaned down and gave her a brief hug. "Thanks, Mom."

The light in Sam's room was off when Jim got upstairs, not that that was surprising, and Jim considered the problem as he got undressed for bed. He supposed the only thing that would keep a Vulcan from worrying about his choice - or whether it had been a choice at all - would be to prove, logically, that he had done the right thing. There was no way to do that; he couldn't even point to the fact that the other Spock had found happiness on the Enterprise without implying that everything they did from here on out was preordained.

Possibly including Spock getting back with Uhura. The other Spock hadn't mentioned it, but considering how private Vulcans were about emotions, it wasn't any surprise that he wouldn't talk about having a girlfriend. Maybe even a wife. What Jim had seen in Spock's memory sure did indicate that it had worked out, though. And it wasn't like he was going to hold it over Spock's head - like as long as he was with Jim, not Uhura, he was still acting for himself. Nope. No matter what happened, Jim was positive that Spock was making his own choices, and he was going to support that.

Either way, Jim still didn't have anything logical to throw at Spock. He didn't know how to comfort a Vulcan, and he only sort of knew how to comfort a human. But Spock was half-human... and him? He was all human. Jim thought about it for a second, then flipped the light off.

He could still just barely hear something playing downstairs, so he headed for Sam's room. If Spock was asleep, Jim didn't want to wake him, so no knocking... "Spock?" he whispered, and counted on Vulcan hearing to be as impressive as had been suggested.

He didn't need superhuman senses to hear the swish of bedsheets and soft footsteps approaching the door. It opened partway, and Spock was staring out at him, slightly bewildered, hair just a little messy. "Yes...?"

"You weren't sleeping, were you?" For all Jim knew, maybe Vulcan hearing was that good.

"I had not yet fallen asleep," Spock replied.

"Good." Jim rethought that. "Well, not really. Can I come in? Or better yet... come back to my room?"

Spock hesitated for a moment, but nodded. "I should point out," he said, turning back for a moment to shut off the alarm clock - good call, Jim thought - "that your mother is still awake. Any... unexpected sounds might cause her to become suspicious."

Jim smiled a little. "Not why I'm here."

Spock quietly closed the bedroom door behind himself, and followed Jim to the other room. "I do not believe you have attempted sleep yet."

"No," Jim acknowledged, closing his own door. "First I wanted to..." He didn't know how to phrase it, now that they were both there. He'd never suggested this to anyone before. It was awkward, kind of childish... but it was better that he make himself feel childish if it would spare Spock from the same. At least he had the excuse of being human. "...Look, I know you don't need any kind of reassurance, being Vulcan," he lied, and sat down on his bed. "But I'm not Vulcan. And what's going on with us... it's all new and kind of weird to me. But whatever's going on..."

Now that he thought about it, Jim wasn't lying about this part at all. No wonder he felt awkward. "I'd just like to have you here tonight."

Spock nodded slowly, and sat down beside him. "I suppose... that among humans, physical proximity with one's partner would provide a feeling of security," he said quietly. "It is logical."

Spock was seeing right through it, wasn't he? Well, if so, he obviously intended to play along, so Jim just nodded back. "I think so."

Once Jim had laid back, Spock settled carefully next to him. This seemed more complicated than sex - since their bodies weren't moving on instinct, there were all these shoulders and elbows and knees that kept bumping into each other, and hair that tickled Jim's nose, and positions that weren't as comfortable when someone else's partial weight was on top. But with some shifting around, a few muttered suggestions, and a little experimentation, they managed to get mostly comfortable next to each other.

Jim nuzzled at Spock a little. Even though this hadn't been about his own insecurity, he really did feel better with Spock there. He hoped the same was true for Spock - and he let himself think it, strongly. Their skin was touching in multiple places, so Spock had to have a sense of him, and he wanted that sense to be reassuring.

Spock's hand came up, to caress the arm that Jim had stretched over him. And then, it moved further up, to his shoulder, then his cheek. The way his fingers moved, Jim knew what Spock was doing before he asked. "May I?"

"Sure," Jim whispered back.

This time there were no memories to watch, and Jim paid attention. There was apprehension, sure, but it was like dark clouds in the distance. Warmth and wonder were closer at hand, and gratitude... There were many thoughts and feelings, too complex to give each a name, but almost all familiar. Spock was right, Jim realized - they really did feel almost the same way about each other.

He wasn't sure - possibly neither of them were - whose head lifted first to kiss the other, and Jim drifted off to sleep still not knowing, or caring, whose hand was in whose.


They were awake before the alarm went off in the morning. Although they could have used the time for some fooling around, Jim was pretty much content just lying there, warm and sleepy and satisfied. It was the last time they had together for a little while... but only a little while. They talked briefly about plans - they were both in agreement: no getting ahead of themselves, no telling anyone until Spock had officially gotten his status as a Starfleet officer back - but it was hard to say for sure what was going to happen after Spock took the exams, or if Jim was just going to stay in Iowa until the Enterprise took off again. But Jim was just fine with not knowing, and although it wasn't the way Spock preferred to live, he conceded that in this case it might be a point in favor of his choice.

Not only were they not tangled up in each other, but dressed and downstairs by the time Jim's mom woke up, and Jim told her it was okay, she could go back to sleep. He could get Spock to his flight, and they were already heating up some breakfast. Even getting up early, though, everything seemed to go too fast; all too soon, they were heading outside to the Flurry, stowing Spock's backpack in the back.

The ride was quiet, because it just seemed appropriate that way. Speeding past the fields, the sun not quite up... And although there was still a lot to figure out between them, it seemed better to Jim to just enjoy what they had figured out so far, and the knowledge they'd have time to figure out the rest.

Spock, of course, did not act the slightest bit affectionate at their departure. After pulling up next to the terminal, Jim reached over, resting his hand on Spock's, and Spock turned his, pressing palm against palm. But that was the last point of contact, the last intimate gesture, because then Spock was getting out, pulling his backpack from the back and tugging it over one shoulder.

For a brief moment, Jim was afraid. This was almost how everything had started - both of them outside a spaceport terminal, Spock carrying nothing but a backpack, Jim with a car ready to take him anywhere he wanted. Being there again gave him a certain degree of deja vu; Spock could leave, and Jim would never know what became of him.

It didn't help when Spock started to raise his hand in that gesture. Jim had forgotten to ask his mom about the response in Vulcan, and at the moment he didn't care. He aimed a grimace at Spock as he snapped himself out of it and opened the passenger side window. "Spock, don't give me that 'live long and prosper' stuff. We're going to see each other again before we have a chance to live much longer."

"This is true," Spock acknowledged, lowering his hand and leaning down slightly to address Jim through the window. "What would you suggest?"

That was a good question. Jim considered. "How about 'see you soon'?"

"Although the grammar is lacking, the statement is factual." Spock raised his hand again. "I will see you soon, Jim."

"Good." Already Jim had relaxed - he was amused, even. Spock was such a gigantic geek, and he loved it. "See you soon, Spock."

Spock nodded briefly, and turned to enter the terminal. Though Jim watched after him, Spock didn't look back, and honestly Jim hadn't expected him to, because there wasn't much logic in looking over your shoulder when you knew what you'd see. And despite the fact that they'd just said goodbye, Jim found that he felt awesome.

Chapter Text

The car's windows were down and the music was turned up as Jim drove home. The sun was up, the roads were pretty much empty, and he'd done it. He'd gotten Spock to come back to Starfleet, Spock was going to be his first officer. He was getting a chance at that really epic friendship he'd been told about, and not only were they friends, they were... Well, no, Jim wasn't going to think about what exactly they were besides friends. That was a good way to make him tense up. Though he had to admit... for the last few years, casual hook-ups hadn't been much fun even on the rare occasions when he had the chance, and they held absolutely no interest for him at the moment. But he didn't think it was a good idea to think too hard about why that was.

His mom was up again when he came in, sitting with a cup of coffee and her own reheated breakfast. "Everything went as planned?"

"Yep - he's probably already in San Francisco again by now." At that same spaceport. Jim wondered if Spock would think about that, or if nostalgia would be too illogical. Jim couldn't suppress a grin. "Maybe I should've told him to drop me a line when he landed."

"Or me. I think he might be more willing to endure mothering if it was done by an actual mother." His mom grinned back. "Which reminds me - now that we don't have company, you're in for it."

"Great, just what I needed," Jim groaned. "Bones is bad enough." But to his surprise, despite his misgivings about coming back to Iowa, he really was only teasing. His mom had been really great about Spock, and there had hardly been any of those awkward moments he'd been tensing himself against. "But Mom, seriously," he told her, sitting down across from her at the table. "Thanks for taking care of Spock. The cooking and... well, just knowing about Vulcans and how to act with them. I think it did him a lot of good, being somewhere he was understood."

"It was no trouble - it was a pleasure to spend time with someone from another culture again," his mom said dismissively. "And he seems to have done you a lot of good too - I don't know if I've seen you this happy since the promotion ceremony. You're still practically glowing."

Was it that obvious? "Uh..." Jim chuckled, uncertain of how to respond to that. "I dunno... I'm just glad he decided to come back to Starfleet. We could use a guy like him." Not to mention the assurance that Spock wasn't going to wind up back on the streets, among other things he wasn't going to say.

His mom sipped at her coffee, looking thoughtful. "A Vulcan is always an asset to a ship's crew, as far as I'm concerned - they'll stay level-headed in the worst of circumstances. And you've got a double advantage in Spock," she added. "I don't know if you realize how highly he thinks of you, and how unusual that is for Vulcans."

"I've got some idea." In fact, she didn't even know the half of how weird it was, Jim thought.

And by contrast, this was... normal. Sitting at the table with her, having a perfectly normal conversation. Jim didn't think they'd had a normal conversation since before he'd come home after a sleepless, restless night and told her he was going to take a shot at Starfleet. Not when it was just the two of them, not without comparisons and guilt and assurances that really - both of them were fine, except that they weren't. There was a time before that when he'd been straight with her - maybe not about everything, but at least about the stupid shit he got caught at, and the fact he knew it was stupid - and she'd always been willing to take care of whatever had to be taken care of.

Thinking back to that... he'd already kind of wished he had someone to confide in about this stuff. Someone who didn't know quite as much about his usual habits as Bones - it was no wonder Bones was suspicious. "Actually, Mom..." Not that he knew how to start, and he shrugged, looking down at the fingers he was tapping restlessly on the table. "Spock and I are..." That was a dead end; he didn't know what they were. "Basically," he said at last, looking up again, "I think pretty highly of him too. I mean, of course I do," he added immediately, exasperated by his own idiocy. "I wouldn't want him for the Enterprise if I didn't. But it's... there's more than just the professional respect. ...If you know what I mean," he finished. From the look on her face, the tiny smile as she watched him flailing around for an explanation that was both true and sounded like something he'd say, if she didn't already know what he meant, she was close to figuring it out. He felt stupid and, well, teenaged, which was especially stupid because he'd never confessed to anything like this when he was a teenager.

Once he'd given up trying to find a better way to say it, she nodded thoughtfully. "And it's mutual, isn't it?"

"Yeah." Now that he'd said it, he wasn't sure why, or what was left to say. He'd just wanted to say it.

He could have guessed any number of responses, based on movies and shows he'd seen, but he hadn't predicted what his mother actually said. "I thought so."

Jim gave her a look of surprise. "You did?"

"Vulcans don't have much patience for illogical behavior," she pointed out. "And when they're forced to deal with it, like your drinking too much the other night, they don't generally excuse it with reasons like 'I find his inherently human weaknesses quite fascinating' and 'he has provided me with an excellent opportunity to examine subconscious motivations and suppressed emotions'."

"...Guess not."

"And you were even more obvious," she informed him. "You barely took your eyes off him anytime he was in the room. You ate vegetarian meals without complaining, and even told me not to make dessert."

"That could have just been me being considerate," Jim argued, though she did have a point.

"And then yesterday, the two of you go for a walk, all tensed up, and come back looking thoroughly relaxed," she continued. "After a little accident while exploring the cornfields."

Her smile was entirely too knowing. Jim frowned. "...What?"

"Jim, I've known what you meant by 'exploring the cornfields' since you were fifteen. Corn isn't that interesting," she observed as he sank his head into his hands in embarrassment.

"Okay, okay," he groaned. "So you'd already figured it out. Anyway, that's not why I want him on the Enterprise - I really do think he's the best suited for the position. He was Pike's choice for first officer before we even met, and I saw what he could do on the Narada. I could hate his guts, and I'd still want him on board."

"But since you two get along so well," his mother said, "it'll be a much better work environment."

"You could say that."

Both of them fell quiet, for a moment. "I'm glad you could tell me," his mother said after a moment. "But I don't know what to tell you. If you were looking for advice... in all my study of Vulcan culture, no one seemed willing to talk about how Vulcan courtship works. I'd assume they usually choose mates just like they make every other choice, using logic..."

"I've gotten the feeling it's more complicated than that." It was no surprise no one had explained it to her, considering what he'd seen in Spock's memory.

"If his mother was still alive, she'd probably be able to give you some insight," she said. "I'll just say... Vulcans might act detached, but when it comes to something like a relationship with a human, I don't think a Vulcan would make the decision lightly. You, on the other hand..."

"Yeah, I know. So does he," he admitted. "We've talked about it. It's all really... not what I'm used to. Or him. But at least we both know it."

"So you are taking this seriously."

"...Yeah." Now that he'd been talked through it, Jim couldn't deny it - and instead of giving him the creeps, it actually made him feel kind of good. "I guess I am."

His mother's smile was kind of wistful, but this time Jim didn't see any regret in her eyes. "I hope it works out for the two of you."

Definitely new territory - he'd never even had a relationship that was something he'd wanted to have 'work out'. He gave her a little smile in return. "Thanks, Mom."


Jim expected to get a call that night. He knew Spock would breeze through the exams. Maybe if he got a couple things wrong, he would take some time to read up on them, even though he didn't have to; that was the kind of thing he'd expect from Spock. Similar exams were graded point by point as they went, except maybe for essays and situational simulations. That kind of analysis might take a little longer to get back, but Jim had confidence that Spock would do well enough that there would be no question. Maybe it would take a couple days to get the official answer, but even so...

Jim and his mom stayed in for most of the evening, but there were no calls, no messages. Well, Spock must just be waiting until he got a definitive answer, Jim told himself. He still couldn't help getting a little worried - after having gotten through to Spock, with Spock having conceded to so many things he had tried hard to deny, it didn't seem likely that Spock would have changed his mind and disappeared. But it was possible.

...He didn't want to come off as clingy or anything, though. He called Pike the next afternoon instead. Sure enough, Spock had already taken the majority of his exams - and done as well as expected, Pike said - then gone out to dinner with Pike and Number One. He just had a few more sims to finish on Monday, and the official results would be back by Wednesday. Spock would probably be a commander again by the end of the week. Number One had gotten her orders too, Pike informed him, and the brand new Farragut-B would be launching from Starbase 7 in a little under a month. Jim told Pike to tell her he'd be there.

That still didn't explain why Spock hadn't dropped a line, though, and by Monday morning, Jim's mom was asking if there had been any word. Jim assured her Spock would be done today, maybe he'd call then, maybe he'd call once the results were in, or it might take until the weekend... Jim really didn't like waiting that long, but on the other hand, he couldn't call - not while Spock might be busy studying for exams or something. Not that he probably needed to.

He was incredibly relieved when he finally got a message Monday evening, and called back so quickly that upon connection, Spock cocked his head at him curiously. "Your response was rather quick."

"Yeah, I'd been wondering when you were going to get around to calling," Jim said with a shrug. Behind Spock, Jim could see the nondescript walls of the Academy's housing, more or less identical to the place they'd stayed just after they ran into each other at the spaceport. "You're finished with the exams now?"

"Yes, I just finished the last." Spock paused, and regarded Jim thoughtfully. "I had expected you to call before today as well."

"Uh... well, I didn't call because I figured you were busy doing important things," Jim explained. "And we just spent a lot of time together... If you wanted some time to yourself, I'd understand."

"I had not called because I had assumed that you and your mother would have things to do together, now that you no longer had company. As you had confidence in my ability to pass the examinations, I thought I would not disturb you to inform you of things which you already had guessed." Spock paused. "Furthermore, I did not wish to suggest that I require your constant attention."

"...So both of us have been sitting around waiting for the other to call, and wondering why they hadn't?"

"It would appear so."

Jim shook his head, amused. "Damn, Spock - you really are turning me into a dumb teenager. Figuratively," he added, seeing Spock adopt a puzzled look. "Anyway, just so you'll know? I'm never doing anything so important you can't contact me. In fact, unless I tell you otherwise, that'll probably still be true when we're on the Enterprise - I always want your input."

"I appreciate your offer of availability," said Spock. "This is true for me as well - on the rare occasion when I am doing something which requires my absolute attention, I will inform you respectfully that I am otherwise occupied."

"Sounds like a plan." Jim nodded. "So everything's fine at the Academy?"

"Yes. I easily passed the standardized examinations," Spock replied. "I harbor no insecurities regarding the quality of the essay which I submitted, and although the results of the simulations have not yet been finalized, the instructors believed that I performed adequately to return to my former rank and position."

"Adequately?" Jim repeated. "Is that all?"

"I did not wish to seem immodest," said Spock.

Jim grinned. "I don't care if you're modest - I think you're awesome, and I'm not going to disagree if you or anyone else says so."

"Your support is..." Spock stopped to consider. "...puzzling, but appreciated."

"Not that puzzling, is it? Considering our circumstances," Jim remarked.

"Currently, no. But you have shown me consistent support since our initial encounter, despite my discouraging attitude," Spock said, and Jim wasn't even sure how he could tell, but Spock's straight-faced expression became even more serious. "Although I have already thanked you, Jim, and although you have assured me that my gratitude was sufficient, I wish to thank you again. Returning to Starfleet Academy and undergoing the equivalency examinations has underscored my belief that returning to the service and serving aboard the Enterprise was the correct decision, and that I am where I wish to be, regardless of whether I am supposed to be here or not."

"Good." Jim's smile turned more sincere. "I like you where you are too - that other reality can go fuck itself."

"...I beg your pardon?"

At the look on Spock's face, Jim just had to chuckle. "Figure of speech."

"Logically speaking, it would have to be."

"So, since destiny has got nothing to do with us right now," Jim continued, "what do you want to do after the results come in? Mom wouldn't mind you coming back out here, or we could travel some more - there's a lot of places I haven't seen, even here on Earth. And then there's a ton of other planets out there, all kinds of cultures and landscapes to explore..."

Spock seemed to hesitate. "Although I do look forward to exploring the planet and the universe with you, I believe there is another possibility I should examine first, as the opportunity will likely not come again for another five years."

"Yeah?"

"When we have ended our transmission," Spock said, "I had thought that I would contact my father."

That hadn't been what Jim was expecting, but now that he thought about it, it made a lot of sense. "Sounds like a good idea," he agreed. Hadn't the other Spock pretty much said Sarek hadn't heard from Spock since he left? And considering Jim had been with Spock consistently until the last weekend, it didn't seem likely that Spock would have called home since then. Yeah, it was about time. "You're thinking of heading back?"

"If he would find it agreeable, I might visit temporarily."

Jim nodded thoughtfully, but he couldn't help being a little worried. "Are you sure you'd be all right, going back there?"

"I do not wish to return permanently to a wholly Vulcan society," Spock replied, "but a temporary visit should not be troublesome. I am currently suffering no unusual conditions which would cause me to have an unexpected emotional response."

"No unusual conditions?" Jim gave him a skeptical look. "Seems to me we had some unexpected emotional responses recently..."

Spock averted his eyes for a moment; Jim thought he looked just slightly flustered. "None that relate to the New Vulcan colony."

Jim smirked. "But seriously, you don't want me to come along or anything?"

"Although I appreciate the offer, it is not necessary. I am quite capable of tolerating far more disagreeable environments than the culture in which I was raised. Furthermore," Spock added, "I would not wish to separate you from your mother while you have the chance to be together."

Jim might have said it was no big deal, but for Spock he supposed it was a lot bigger. Plus, they'd been doing better than Jim had expected. "You know, it's funny," Jim said. "I think I wanted to come back here to Iowa about as much as you want to go back to New Vulcan. And part of that was the way Mom started treating me after I went to Starfleet, and especially after I got command. But... I don't know if it's just that she's in a good mood from having interesting company, or if she finally got used to the idea that I can take care of myself, or what... We've been getting along kind of like we used to. Not so much of the weird awkwardness." Jim considered for a second. "I think you helped with that. Not anything you did, specifically, just... seeing the two of us together, I think it helped her realize that I can still be an ass like she was used to, and I can straighten up when the situation calls for it. If that makes any sense."

"It does," Spock replied. "It is a basic fact of human psychology that parents often have difficulty admitting that their offspring are fully grown and independent. Particularly the youngest, and when one takes into account-"

"Spock, I know what's taken into account in Mom's case," Jim interrupted. "Now that she seems to be over it, let's not get into it, okay?"

"Yes. I apologize."

"Don't worry about it." Jim wasn't upset or anything - just didn't want to hash it all out again. "...By the way, she kind of figured it out."

"Figured what out?"

"Us," said Jim. "And she's fine with it."

"That is good. I suspected that she would be."

Jim wondered if he had something to contrast that with. "...Planning on telling your father about us?"

"I am of a mixed mind on the subject," Spock admitted. "In a sense, he has a right to know such things about his son. He might also appreciate that I have taken him into my confidence regarding such a personal matter. It might foster a closer bond between the two of us, after our years of separation."

"Well, then, sounds logical," Jim reasoned.

"However," Spock continued, "I will admit, at least to you, that my inclination to inform my father of our relationship may be affected by spite; I had had the impression, through the majority of my life, that he would have preferred me to be more thoroughly Vulcan than I was capable of being. Although he has stated his love for my mother, acknowledging that I too have entered into a relationship with a human, based on emotional rapport, might be another disappointment - and although it is petty, and he has since voiced acceptance of my human heritage, I find the thought of seeing his reaction... intriguing."

Jim remembered meeting Sarek. And of course he knew Spock. The idea of Spock using him to get to straight-faced, stern Sarek... Jim had to suppress a chuckle. "Wouldn't be the first time someone's used me to get back at their parents. But hey, you've got good reasons to tell him, and one bad reason to tell him."

Spock nodded. "Perhaps I will simply watch the course of our conversations, and consider whether there is an appropriate time, as well as my primary motivations at that time."

"Good call."

"Having said so," Spock concluded, "if I am to contact New Vulcan tonight, I should do so before the hour is overly late."

"Oh yeah, right." It was already a little late there, Jim thought, but Spock probably knew his father's habits. "So I'll talk to you later? Whenever you want to call, just assume I'll be glad to hear from you."

"Thank you. I look forward to our further correspondence." He hesitated again. "Jim... I have found already that after having traversed the continent with you, from west to east and back west again, I had apparently become... abnormally acclimated to your constant presence."

Jim grinned. "I miss you too, Spock. But we're going to go a lot further than back and forth across the continent before we're through - I promise."

"Indeed we shall," Spock agreed. "And I look forward to that even more."

Jim could see Spock relax, the corners of his mouth not quite straight. "Me too." And then, he thought, if they managed to make it through five years of deep space without getting sick of each other... Well, he'd take it as it came - there was no point to thinking that far ahead when they'd spent all of a day together as a couple.

But they'd spent a few weeks together before that, if not as a couple. Even those first days, although full of awkward tension, had been enjoyable as far as Jim was concerned. Thinking back to that made him a little less worried about what they were going to do when they weren't off on a mission. They'd done all right just watching vids, sitting together and reading their own materials, snacking on popcorn... and of course there was chess. If Spock ever managed to beat him, Jim would probably enjoy it even more.

Jim wasn't expecting to hear from Spock again that night, so when his handheld beeped again a couple of hours later, it took him by surprise. "Probably Spock again," he told his mom as he pulled it from his pocket. He wondered if Sarek hadn't taken it well...

It took him even more by surprise when he accepted the transmission without really looking at the origin, and his caller appeared on the screen. "...Oh, hey."

"You appear surprised. If I am calling too late, I apologize."

"No, not at all. Later for you than for me. Just a sec." Jim got up off the couch where they were sitting, heading for the stairs. "Better take this in my room, Mom."

"It's not Spock?" she inquired.

Well, it was, but not the one she knew. "It's business. Classified." That was also true; he wasn't supposed to tell anyone who didn't already know what was really going on with "Ambassador Selek".

Once he was most of the way up the stairs, he could speak freely. "So what's up?" he asked, though he suspected he knew exactly why this Spock might call so late. He just hoped it wasn't with bad news.

It sure didn't look like it, though, going by the not-quite-neutral expression on Spock's face. "It would appear that you have made significant progress on a project in which I am highly interested."

"Assuming we're talking about the other Spock returning to Starfleet?"

"Indeed, I am."

Figured. "How'd you find out?"

"He called to inform our father, who in turn informed me."

Spock looked not only relaxed, but was very nearly smiling, and Jim grinned too. "Guess I don't need to ask if you approve."

"I approve most highly," Spock assured him. "Jim, my service in Starfleet was perhaps the single most influential period in my life - it gave me unparalleled opportunities to learn, and to grow. It also gave me lifelong friends and companions, an experience which I would likely never have had if I had remained in Vulcan society."

"You know, he said something like that too," Jim recalled. "About how his time at the Academy was the best time of his life."

"Then I am all the more certain that it was the right decision, despite the possibility for differences between us," Spock stated.

"How about Sarek?" Jim asked. "How'd he take it?"

Spock paused, and his mood seemed to dim just slightly. "...It was intriguing, for many reasons, to see my father's understated, yet quite obvious relief upon confirming my safety, and being informed of my plans for the future."

"I bet."

"I was not so certain that he would be relieved," Spock acknowledged. "At this stage of my life, my father and I were estranged... He had not forgiven me for turning my back on the Vulcan Science Academy in favor of Starfleet. Although our relationship improved somewhat over the years, I was never entirely certain if he had."

Oh. That made the whole tone of this a little different, then, Jim thought. "This time?"

"I quote: 'If my son has considered his options, which I am sure that he has, and come to the conclusion that serving aboard a Federation starship would be the best use of his natural talents, I must concede to his logic.'"

"Well, that sounds good." Especially when repeated with the knowing look Spock had said it with. Spock would know far more about the nuances of Vulcan formality than Jim did.

"It is more understanding than he ever offered in my own past," Spock said, bowing his head slightly. "You have my gratitude for enabling me to hear such words from my father's lips."

"That wasn't really me," Jim had to admit. "From the sound of things, everything that went down a few years back got him to open up a little. But I am glad you got to hear it from him."

"If not for you, the question would not have been raised," Spock observed. "The last time we spoke, I was to remain on Earth, working in a laboratory, and I had steadfastly refused your suggestion to return to Starfleet. Might I ask, Jim - although you were under no obligation to inform me, you must have known I would take an interest. Why did you not tell me of such a drastic change in plans?"

"Well, the two of us talked about it before he left for San Francisco - not specifically about telling you," Jim clarified, "but about telling anyone. We agreed we weren't going to say anything about him coming back to Starfleet or serving on the Enterprise until it was official." Which was an excellent excuse that trumped the other reason.

Spock nodded. "One further question, if I may. How did you manage to convince him?"

That was an answer Jim was more reluctant to give, but he wasn't so egotistical as to think it was all because of him anyway. He thought back, remembered Spock's murmured confession and the talk they'd had the next morning in the cornfield. "I don't think it was me that convinced him at all," said Jim. "He always wanted to go back, he just didn't want it to be because 'fate' or whatever was dictating it. He wanted to do things because he chose to do them, not because it was inevitable. The closest I can come to explaining it is that his circumstances were different enough from your timeline that he could convince himself he was making his own choices."

"And yet," Spock put in, "the destruction of our homeworld, and having spent the past five years on Earth, largely homeless, clearly were not convincing enough differences."

"Guess not."

Spock peered at him curiously. "Logically speaking, a more significant change must have taken place since last we spoke."

This was exactly why Jim hadn't called him.

"Your reluctance to tell me of this seemingly important development," Spock noted after a moment of Jim's silence, "makes me all the more curious."

"Somehow I'm not surprised." And Jim probably wasn't going to be able to slip out of it. "...Yeah, well. This might weird you out."

"Jim, as a Vulcan and a scientist who has spent a certain amount of my life exploring the universe, it is not likely that I can be 'weirded out'."

"Okay. Right. For starters..." Oh, hell - there wasn't any way to ease into it. They sure hadn't. Jim decided to just come out and say it. "We had sex."

Spock's eyebrow shot up. Jim made himself not look away from the screen as he waited. And waited. Finally, Spock spoke. "Was the experience to your liking?"

Jim tried not to boggle openly. "Well, uh..." That was all Spock had to ask about? Now Jim was weirded out. But he didn't know of a better way to respond than to answer the question. "Yeah. It was."

"Very good," Spock said, nodding slightly. "I am glad to hear it."

Jim narrowed his eyes thoughtfully as he started to realize something. The quirk at the corner of Spock's mouth, the look in his eye... "Wait a sec. You find this funny," he accused Spock.

"I do not find such an occurrence amusing in itself," Spock replied. "Yet I am indeed amused."

"Why? Wait." Jim answered his own question almost immediately, and his eyebrows shot up in surprise. "In your timeline, you and I...?"

"Not yet," Spock replied. "We were a year and a half into our own five year mission before you openly voiced your desire, and I dared to acknowledge my own."

Jim just looked at him for a moment, there on the little screen. It was a huge revelation... but it made sense. The way this Spock had always looked at him, the trust, the willingness to reveal himself... "Really?"

"Yes, Jim - really."

This was incredible, Jim thought. This explained everything. Almost. "What about Uhura?"

"Nyota Uhura was a lovely woman," Spock stated, "and there was a time when, in retrospect, she may have been showing interest in a romantic relationship with me. However, as I was still quite willfully blind to emotions, both hers and my own, I did not respond before such a time as she had given up. We never considered each other to be more than friends - which, I will point out, in the context of my life as a Vulcan, is still a considerable achievement for her."

"But Spock said that you told him that if he went back to the Enterprise, he'd have someone to love him," Jim argued, all but forgetting for the moment that that part was personal. "So you even told... Wait." Jim tried to remember, but remembering someone else's memories was a little tricky.

"If he assumed I that was referring to Lieutenant Uhura," Spock confirmed, "it was merely his assumption, based on his own past experience in Starfleet. I have never stated the name of the person of whom I was thinking - I did not wish to suggest that his own choice of partners was 'wrong', or that he should change his circumstances to reflect mine. It is, after all, entirely possible that Lieutenant Uhura and I might have been compatible, had she not considered me a hopeless cause, and my captain not involved himself."

Jim still wasn't sure he was hearing this right. "So you were never involved with Uhura."

"I was not."

"You were involved with me instead."

"After I conquered certain of my insecurities," Spock replied, "I was. Although there were times when my ability to accept my emotions wavered, my respect and affection for you never has - even to this day."

"So now things are more like they were in your timeline," Jim concluded. "Not less."

"Yes."

This changed everything. Not the least of which was his Spock, and the reasons behind his decision to go back to Starfleet. Jim had a sinking feeling. "...You think I should tell him?" he asked.

"Honestly...?" Spock considered for only a moment. "No."

That was Jim's gut reaction as well, but he couldn't help but think that it felt like deception. "I don't know..."

"May I remind you," Spock pointed out, "that the two of you became involved with one another independently, without any knowledge of your experiences in the alternate history from which I came."

"Yeah, and it means we're lining up with that alternate history even more than he thought." Jim paused, considering his options. "I really think it's only fair that I tell him. Just... maybe not now."

"Perhaps that is the best option," Spock agreed. "None of us can know for certain which aspects of our lives may be fated, if such truths exist. Even so, the similarities between your life and the life of the Jim Kirk I knew - do you find them to be burdensome?"

"Not at all," Jim said firmly. "I don't want to be anywhere else besides Starfleet, on the Enterprise. If I could change anything at all from what happened in your history... I'd have brought you with me sooner. Right after the Narada, instead of waiting until about the time you two set out on your five-year mission."

"And yet he did make his own choice, which in fact led to a more significant difference in our personal pasts previous to this point, if a greater similarity in our lives from this point onwards," Spock mused. "I believe that he will decide, as you have, that these particular similarities are something to be celebrated, however they may have come to pass."

"I hope so." But if Spock was willing to give up the experience of Starfleet to live on the streets, just to spite fate...

"I would like to be able to offer you absolute certainty," said Spock. "However, that would be possible only if the two of you were not permitted to choose your own destinies."

"It's okay," Jim told him. "It's not like anyone else ever had any guarantees about how their relationships were going to work out. If they did, most of them would never have happened." He couldn't help but think of Bones... which made him think of Spock's examples that night - Jim's parents, his parents... "Can I ask just one thing though?"

"That depends upon the one thing."

"Right." Jim tried to figure out how to phrase it. "It sounds like everything worked out pretty well for you and I? We were together right up until... well, I assume I died?"

"Yes," Spock answered. "Yet circumstances may change from what they were previously, and outcomes with them."

"That's not the question, though," Jim explained. "The real question is, when you look back, was it worth it?"

"Absolutely." There was no hesitation at all in Spock's reply.

"Good." And maybe he shouldn't tell his Spock why he asked, but this one might appreciate it. "...I just wanted to make sure that it's possible for him to look back later and not regret it."

"Although there were moments of... less than harmonious coexistence," Spock acknowledged, "when all was said and done, I would never have chosen differently."

It made so much more sense now, the warmth in Spock's eyes when he looked at Jim. Jim couldn't help feeling a little of the same, looking at the proof that he could do it - he could be worth it. "Well then," he said. "I guess my job is to make sure that's another similarity to celebrate."

"You have done more improbable things," Spock reminded him.

"Heh, guess I have." Jim had to grin again. "Thanks for the vote of confidence."

"As a practitioner of logic, I express confidence only when it is deserved," Spock noted.

Yeah, sure he did. Because it had been completely logical when Spock had convinced Jim that he could get back on the starship he'd just been thrown off of, take command of it, and then take out a giant Romulan ship from the future, too. Not like there had been any way that could fail. Jim's grin grew a little wider, and he decided not to mention it. "Thanks," he said again.

Later that night, staring up at his ceiling in the dark, he couldn't help but think about it. The older Spock had always had confidence in him - more than he deserved, in his opinion. But so far, he'd always been right about what Jim was capable of. And it was true, being a Vulcan, that Spock wasn't likely to just pretend he believed something was possible when he didn't. It was just that up until now, Jim had always been pretty sure there was a way to succeed in anything life threw at him, and that he'd find it. He'd never had life throw a relationship at him, though, especially with the expectation it would last. For all his natural ingenuity and Starfleet training, he'd finally found a situation where he was not only unprepared, but completely lost.

He wondered if Spock had confidence in him in this... because it had been just as unbelievable that the other James T. Kirk might actually settle down.

Chapter Text

The timing was perfect. Just after Jim got the message relaying Spock's application for service aboard the Enterprise, and had sent it back for approval, he got further word from headquarters: the Enterprise was ready, and a departure date was set. That gave him plenty of tasks to occupy his time - notifying his crew, setting up transport... and assuring Scotty that really - the ship would be fine, and even if the mechanics had fouled something up, he'd be able to fix it. He always could. The official word on Spock's acceptance and science officer appointment came back quickly, and so it was Jim's pleasure to let Sulu know he was chief helmsman this time, just like he'd always wanted. There were a few things that still needed to be straightened out regarding the chain of command, but Jim was sure he and Starfleet could come to an agreement.

Between Starfleet business and helping his mom out around the house, Jim was amazed at how quickly the time passed. Almost before he knew it, he was on his way to Starbase 7 for the Farragut-B launch, to give his former first officer a farewell and the best of luck. Number One wasn't the only person he was expecting to see there, of course...

Spock had had his travel info - after the initial awkwardness, they'd been sending messages back and forth on a pretty regular basis - so it was unsurprising that Jim stepped off the shuttle and immediately caught sight of him waiting at the hangar door, a more respectable carry-on slung over his shoulder rather than the old backpack Jim had seen him off with. He had new clothes as well, Vulcan in style, no doubt because he'd just come from New Vulcan - and his hair was shorter, back to the usual Vulcan style. Jim knew about that, since they'd been in contact, but it was still kind of disappointing; he'd liked the longer, shaggier look. ...Maybe once they were out in deep space, he could convince Spock to grow it out again.

Spock wasn't alone, either. At his side was a figure in a chair, and Jim grinned, jogging over to meet them at once. Pike smiled broadly at Jim's approach, and Jim clasped his hand tightly. "Hey... it's great to see you, sir."

Pike's grip was just as tight. "Good to see you too. Number One would've been here to meet you as well," he told Jim, "but she's got a lot of things to take care of before tomorrow."

"I bet - after five years in space together, I know how she is about the details," Jim agreed. "Since you're here, though, I guess that means we'll be seeing each other later?"

"I insisted. She's got everything scheduled down to the second, and that includes dinner. Not just us - there are a lot of people lined up to sing her praises - but I think you'll get a chance."

"I better. Just like I know her and her micromanagement, she knows I don't operate like that." Jim grinned, and then raised his eyes to Spock, standing formal and solemn at Pike's side. He hadn't said a word yet. Jim knew him too well to think he'd say anything too familiar in front of Pike, of course, and their correspondence had given him no reason to think Spock had changed his mind about anything. But still, it was the first time they'd seen each other in almost a month, and they'd left off at an odd point. If Pike hadn't been there, they'd probably have been all over each other... Well, maybe not so much while they were still out in the open. "Good to see my brand new science officer, too," Jim said, giving him a smile. "How was New Vulcan?"

"It was quite tranquil," Spock replied. "I made certain to take advantage of that aspect of Vulcan culture - because I suspect, given my appointment to the Enterprise under your command, that it will be the last tranquility I experience for five years."

"You could be right," Jim admitted, smirking. He was getting pretty good at telling when Spock was teasing - and the fact that Spock was teasing at all still made him awfully happy. "But don't worry, I'll make sure it's interesting, if not tranquil."

"Of that I have no doubt."

Pike uttered a quiet, amused murmur, and made a gesture towards the concourse that led to the colony proper. "Life on a starship is always interesting, whether you're there or not, Kirk. And thanks, but there's no need for that," he added, looking up as Spock reached for the back of his chair. "If I was incapable of getting myself around, I'd have accepted the motorized chair they offered. I didn't."

"As you wish, Admiral," Spock murmured, falling in at his side again.

"Anyway," Pike continued, looking back up to Jim as they headed towards the colony. "Speaking of interesting and unexpected events, Spock hasn't told me what exactly you did to change his mind about coming back to the service. Would I have better luck asking you?"

Jim exchanged a glance with Spock over the admiral's head. "What makes you think I had something to do with it?" Jim asked innocently.

"Just call it a hunch," Pike said, deadpan. "Seriously, he and I discussed it a few years back, and he was adamant. Then you waltz back in and change his mind in a matter of weeks. I'm used to you doing the impossible, but I still don't understand how."

"Let's just chalk it up to fundamental differences in our approaches to diplomacy," Jim suggested with a grin; Spock was going to kill him. "When you meet an impasse, you keep talking. When I meet an impasse, I sleep with it."

Pike certainly knew enough of Jim's reputation to take that as the self-deprecating joke it seemed to be. "Very funny, Kirk."

Fortunately, Pike's amusement had caused him to miss the brief incredulous expression that had crossed Spock's face, and the raised eyebrow he aimed at Jim. "Don't knock it till you've tried it," Jim told Pike cheerfully.

"All right, I get the picture," Pike acknowledged. "None of my business. That's fine - it doesn't matter a bit to me. I'm just glad to have you both back."

"Thank you, sir. I am glad to be back," Spock said. "Despite the captain's inappropriate sense of humor."

"Better get used to it," Jim told him, as Pike laughed quietly under his breath. "You're going to be stuck with it for the next five years."

Pike had to leave almost as soon as they got back to the primary dome of the colony - a messenger met them on the way out of the spaceport to inform him of some last-minute adjustments to the Farragut's personnel, which he had to go sign off on. Which, aside from the engineers and anxious crew rushing to and from the spaceport, left Jim and Spock alone together in the open walkways that passed for streets. No one was paying them any attention, but Spock still kept his eyes mostly averted, his hands behind his back as they walked along, talking about safe, predictable things. Pike's steadfast refusal of assistance - which Jim understood, he'd have felt the same way - the vast difference in tone between this ship's launch and the first launch of the Enterprise, the impact that Number One would have on Starfleet as their first female captain.

Finally Spock touched on the subject, if subtly, halting at an intersection between several of the Starfleet-owned complexes at the northern edge of the dome. "Have you arranged for a place to stay the night?"

"Yeah, I reserved a room in B awhile back," Jim replied, gesturing towards one of the buildings. "How about you?"

"Although I prefer not to make assumptions as a general rule," said Spock, "I had assumed, based on our recent interactions, that you would allow me to share your arrangements."

Jim smiled. "That's what I was hoping for."

Neither of them had brought much with them, as it was only a brief stay, so once they'd checked in, there wasn't much to do in their room except set their things down. And continue talking about things, just as they had outside. Sure, Spock was Vulcan, but Jim had expected that once they were alone, maybe he'd at least get a meaningful look, or a brush of the hands... something more personal than that even expression and formal posture. Jim, for his part, was anything but formal and even as he flopped down on his back across the bed, groaning faintly. "Can't wait to get back to the Enterprise - there's no room to move around on the civilian transports, nothing to do but sit in your seat."

Spock didn't even move from his spot across the room. "Did you neglect to bring personal entertainment?"

"Well, no," Jim admitted. "It's just I'm not used to..." ...He didn't really want to talk about obvious, inconsequential things like the difference between a Constitution-class starship and regular transports, honestly, so he switched directions. "Come over here, will you?" he suggested, sitting up again on the edge of the bed.

Spock did as requested, and even though he maintained a complete lack of expression as he stepped forward, he did accept Jim's offered hand, touching their fingertips together. "That's more like it," Jim said, clasping their hands and reaching out to take Spock's other wrist. "I was starting to wonder if you'd lost interest."

"Have I given you cause to think so?" Spock inquired, taking a step closer, right up to the edge of the bed. Though his expression remained even, something in his eyes had grown just slightly more intense.

"I figured you wouldn't let it show in front of Pike," said Jim, looking up and smiling, bringing Spock's right hand to his mouth for a moment before tugging at both. Spock knelt, following his direction. "Probably not until we were alone. But we got in here, and you still hadn't made a move."

"Though I may reciprocate," Spock began, and paused to do so as Jim leaned forward to kiss him, "I am presently emotionally incapable of initiating affectionate behavior."

Jim almost called bullshit, but quickly realized the operative word was 'presently'. Having been raised Vulcan, and having gone back to spend time among his people so recently, it wasn't unreasonable that Spock would be a little reserved at the moment. At least he could admit to his limitations. "Good thing I don't have a problem with it," Jim murmured, kissing him again. And just to be sure... "Everything go okay at the colony?"

Spock removed his hands from Jim's, but only to take Jim's head between them. "Aside, perhaps, from some regression into old habits, it went well," he said, and then, a moment later, "Although our communications during the last three weeks have been satisfactory, I am... pleased... to be in your physical presence once again."

"Damn..." Why was Spock's formal way of speaking turning Jim on so much? He scooted forward on the bed, so he could get his legs around Spock's torso. "Missed you too."

It was just as well they got all of that out of the way, Jim supposed. There was plenty of time before they had to be anywhere, and by the time Pike called to tell them he was ready to meet up downstairs, they were all dressed and ready. Plus, with the tensions between them relieved, it was much easier to focus on other things during the banquet - like the guest of honor. It was Number One's night, after all, and the two of them joined the other present officers in offering praise and advice - some of it dubious in quality - to Starfleet's newest captain. Jim was definitely starting to realize that stuffy formal Starfleet banquets usually weren't nearly so stuffy and formal as they might have sounded. Of course, it might just have been that he was in with a particular portion of Starfleet that didn't take itself so seriously.

Between the laid-back atmosphere and a couple glasses of wine with dinner, Jim was pretty relaxed by the time he and Spock were headed back to their room for the night. So relaxed that when he heard a familiar voice call his name on the way into the building, he was just surprised and pleased as he turned around to look. He didn't think much of it at all - until he saw the look on her face when she saw who was with him.

"...Spock?!" Uhura exclaimed, hurrying over from the other side of the entryway. "I didn't know you'd be here!" For a second, Jim thought she was going to throw her arms around Spock - he'd seen that look on her face before, but she seemed to think better of it, stopping short just shy of them. She was still beaming, though. "I heard you were coming back, but - how are you? It's so good to see you!"

"I am quite well, thank you," Spock replied. "And you?"

"Oh, I'm great. And you," Uhura said in a mock-accusatory tone, poking Jim in the chest. "Why didn't you tell me Spock was coming?"

"Hey, you didn't even tell me you were coming," Jim retorted, still a little wary but mostly amused. "Not that I'm actually surprised to see you made it."

"Are you kidding? Even if Number One and I hadn't served together, this is historic," she reminded him. "The first female starship captain..."

"Just the first," Jim told her. "I wouldn't be surprised to be coming to one of these sendoffs for you after a couple more missions."

She smirked a little at that. "Ever the flatterer. Hey, I'm glad I ran into you two. Want to go somewhere, have a drink, catch up a little?"

"What do you say, Spock?" Jim asked, turning to him, and touching his arm. Subtly, just enough for Spock to feel - because he wanted Spock to know that it really was up to him, whether he wanted to spend some time with her, or if it was too awkward. "Any extroversion left, or have you used it up for the night?"

He wasn't sure what he was expecting from Spock, but he probably should have expected the same neutral expression as usual. "I find her suggestion acceptable."

"Great, so where are we going? And are you actually going to let me buy you a drink?" Jim teased Uhura.

"Only if I get to buy you a drink," she teased right back.

"Oh, fine." Jim grinned at Spock. "Running gag."

"I see," said Spock, though Jim would have been surprised if he actually did.

Left to themselves, Jim and Uhura probably would have headed for a bar for a couple of beers. Both were aware, however, that Spock wouldn't find much appeal in that kind of setting, so after checking out the area - neither of them had been to Starbase 7 before, and Uhura had just gotten in, in fact - they settled on something that was more like an all-night diner. Which meant the drink he wound up buying Uhura was a soda, and she was buying him coffee.

Spock was less concerned about ordering a drink than about the seating arrangements. Without thinking much about it, Jim and Uhura had both slid into opposite sides of one of the booths, facing each other. Jim didn't realize the predicament this left Spock in until Spock hesitated, standing at the end of the booth and looking down at the two of them. Before it could get too obviously awkward, though, he made his decision and slid in next to Uhura. She gave him a bright smile, and Jim couldn't help feeling just a little weird about this.

Jim was good at not showing that he felt weird about things, though. When their drinks arrived, he and Uhura wound up chatting away effortlessly about what they'd been up to during their downtime, both of them natural conversationalists. Spock mostly just listened, sipping at the fruit juice he'd decided on and presumably thinking.

Of course Uhura wasn't going to leave it like that, and eventually turned to Spock. "Don't think I've forgotten about you just because the captain can't keep his mouth shut."

"Hey!" Jim protested with a laugh. "It takes two, you know."

"And we've been talking so much, Spock hasn't gotten a word in edgewise. So," she asked Spock, "I haven't heard a thing about what brought you back to Starfleet. You didn't even mention it when we talked a couple months ago."

"I had not yet decided," Spock replied.

"But you were already back on Earth," she pointed out. "You must have been thinking about it."

"...I was not." Spock, with what seemed like obvious effort, at least to Jim, looked up from his drink to face her. "Nyota... I was untruthful with you."

Her eyes narrowed curiously, and she glanced at Jim, who returned the curious look. He thought he probably knew what Spock was talking about in general, but had no idea where he was going with this. Spock was usually blunt, yes - but he had his secrets, and most of the time he guarded them well. "About what?" she asked, looking back to Spock.

"I had left the New Vulcan colony long before," he replied. "I did not, as I stated, settle easily into a life there. Instead, I chose to return to Earth."

She looked confused. "...Spock, it's not like I'd judge you for it. Why didn't you just tell me?"

Jim was already starting to wonder if maybe he should leave Spock and Uhura to talk in private - and telling himself that it really wasn't a big deal if they did, even if Spock was looking that intently at her - and then Spock moved his hand to take hers. "I had already caused a disruption in your life," he told her. "My life since leaving Starfleet has been, for the most part, unpleasant. I did not wish to upset you by saying so, or give you reason to believe that I was changing my mind. Not if you were truly happy with your life as it had been lived since my departure."

She shook her head, slowly. "I was... But Spock, you were important to me," she told him earnestly, squeezing his hand in return. "You always will be an important person to me, you played an important part in my life. Even if we're not involved anymore, you don't have to hide anything from me. Okay?"

Jim had been really close to asking if he should just take off, but from the sound of things, maybe he didn't have to - and Spock seemed to agree. "You are similarly significant in my life," he said with a slight nod. "That is why I did not want to cause you further unhappiness than I have already caused."

She smiled a little. "Spock, we broke up. It happens. Usually for worse reasons than someone wanting to help preserve their cultural heritage. I got over it a long time ago, so just think of me like you would any other friend, all right?" She aimed her smile briefly across the table. "Like Jim, maybe."

On the one hand, Jim was glad to hear that was how she felt about it. On the other hand, she had no idea what she'd just said, and from the quirk of Spock's eyebrow, the irony wasn't lost on him either.

"Very well," Spock said simply, and released her hand. "You now know the truth - I left New Vulcan long ago, as I found my life there to be unsatisfactory. I have chosen to return to Starfleet, and serve aboard the Enterprise, because I believe it offers me the best opportunity for personal growth, and because I have found that I value my friendships with those such as you and the captain."

Uhura's smile grew broader. "I'm glad we can still be friends," she said. "Thanks for telling me."

"You are welcome," Spock replied.

He said nothing more. "...And that's it?" she prompted.

"That is the relevant information."

"All right..."

When Uhura turned her eyes to Jim, he just shrugged. "Yeah, I think that's about it. We've got Spock back," he pointed out. "Far as I'm concerned, that's what really matters."

"Absolutely," she said, and lifted her glass, nearly empty as it was. "Here's to friendship, hmm?"

"To friendship," Jim agreed, clinking his coffee cup against her glass as Spock did likewise with a small, silent nod.

Spock seemed to have relaxed, having gotten his confession off his chest, and the conversation grew more casual as they finished their drinks, and lingered just a little longer, talking about the Farragut's launch the next day - and about their own in a few more weeks. When they finally said goodnight, in the entryway to the building where they were staying, Uhura gave both of them a quick, casual hug. Spock didn't seem to mind, and Jim had already decided he minded less than he thought.

Spock hadn't realized it, however. "In case my behavior towards Lieutenant Uhura has made you uncomfortable," he began as they took the lift up to their floor, "please allow me to explain."

"No, it's okay - I think I got it." It had worried Jim a little, enough to make him think about it, but that just meant he'd thought about it until he'd come up with an explanation. "You told me before that touching hands is like a kiss - it doesn't have to be the romantic kind. And if I've got this right, the reason it's so intimate for Vulcans is because your hands are the most psychically sensitive area, right?"

"That is correct. Any physical contact facilitates telepathic contact, but it is simplest when touching with the hands."

The lift came to a halt, and Jim looked at Spock as the doors slid open. "You wanted to know how she really felt, didn't you?"

"Humans will often claim contentment for the sake of those they care for," Spock said, starting down the hallway, "even when they would have things differently."

Well... Jim couldn't not ask. "And Uhura?"

"She spoke honestly," Spock replied. "Although she remains fond of me, she does not seem to have any interest in resuming our former relationship." Spock paused in front of their door as Jim unlocked it. "In fact, a hint of uneasiness upon the suggestion led me to believe that she may be involved, or at the least interested, in a romantic relationship with another."

"Really?" That was the first Jim had heard of it, and he gave Spock a curious look as they entered. "Anyone we know?"

"Even were I certain, I could not have discerned the identity of this person without more immersive contact," Spock replied. "And if I could have, it would have been her right to tell you if and when she thought it appropriate."

"Okay, point."

Spock stepped around to the far side of the bed, glancing towards the closed window blinds absently, before turning back to Jim. "Even had I returned to Starfleet without your guidance, I would not have had the option of courting Lieutenant Uhura," he remarked. "Therefore it would seem that the impact of destiny on my life has been rendered irrelevant. I may simply live as I wish to live, without questioning whether my choices are truly my own."

Jim knew he should just keep his mouth shut. He didn't believe in destiny anyway - he knew Spock's choices were his own - and Spock looked satisfied with his assumption that things could continue on as they were. Whether this thing they had worked in the long run or not, it was up to the two of them alone, and as far as he was concerned, he didn't want to jeopardize that. So there was no reason to say anything. In fact, there was a pretty good reason not to say anything, because even if it seemed like deception, all Jim was really doing was trying to keep this relationship working.

...Dammit.

"Uh, Spock..." he began hesitantly. "About that. Destiny and fate and all..."

"Yes?"

"Say I found out something that might shed a different light on that..." He really didn't want to tell Spock. Maybe he didn't have to. "You're happy now, right?"

Spock's eyes narrowed, almost imperceptibly. "As of the moment you raised this topic, I am not happy, but curious."

"Okay, fair," Jim conceded. He'd already had his jacket halfway off; he finally remembered to take it off the rest of the way, tossing it over the back of a chair as he faced Spock. "What I mean to say is, would you rather not know?"

"Jim, you have observed my habits," Spock replied. "If there is a choice between knowing something and not knowing something - particularly something which might change my perspective on an important issue - I am sure you have guessed that I will always choose knowledge over ignorance."

But already he looked tense, for a Vulcan, his jaw set as if he were bracing himself. It was a... all right, not a stark difference - his expression had hardly changed at all - but a noticeable difference from the satisfaction of a few moments ago. Jim hated himself for doing that to Spock. "You know what?" he said. "Never mind. I really don't think it makes any difference, so long as we're both happy."

"Jim," Spock said. Even though it was a single word, with even tones and nothing more than a lowering of the chin behind it, it still sounded like an admonishment.

Jim gave up - he really didn't think it made that much difference, and surely he could convince Spock of that if he disagreed. "Uh, after you called your father to let him know you were coming back to Starfleet," he began, "he let the, uh, other you know. And he called me, to say he approved."

"I would have assumed so," remarked Spock, looking a little less wary. "Although I do not require his approval, neither does it negate my decision."

"Good. Because..." Jim wished he could have just left it at that. "He also told me, once we got to talking, that he and his Jim Kirk were involved. Physically, and... you know." Funny how most people probably would have shied away from the sexual part, rather than the emotional part. "Lifelong, apparently."

Spock seemed to have frozen on the spot, he went so stiff. "...He did not specifically mention Lieutenant Uhura when he spoke to me."

He sure caught on fast. "They were never more than friends. But hey," Jim pointed out. "Doesn't that mean that none of this was preordained? You've done plenty of things he hasn't done. And there are things he's done you never will. ...That just doesn't include me," he couldn't resist adding.

Spock said nothing, just standing there, eyes focused not on Jim, or anything else in particular as far as Jim could tell. His eyes darted sideways briefly, an eyebrow lifted for a moment, his lips pursed. Clearly he was thinking hard. Rather than interrupt, Jim just waited.

Finally Spock replied. "According to scientific principles," he stated, "an experiment's outcome can only be conclusive if it is repeated, with the same end result." He nodded decisively. "Given the result of the first iteration, I am interested in finding out if the experiment can be replicated in slightly different circumstances."

Jim stared at him in disbelief. Not because he couldn't believe Spock was agreeing to go ahead with their relationship - but... "You're making excuses."

"I am making a perfectly logical observation about the validity of an outcome in a previous scenario," Spock said, with another lift of his eyebrow, "and a statement regarding proper methodology."

"You are totally making excuses," Jim accused him, with a grin. Maybe he shouldn't have been calling Spock on it, but he was too shocked that after all this time fighting so hard to prove his free will, he hadn't backed away from his relationship with Jim for an instant.

Spock lowered his head slightly. "I have been denying the more human of my desires for my entire life. Yet five years past, I had made the decision to explore the ways of my parents, in an attempt to honor the heritage of my mother. As for the matter of destiny, my attempts to disprove it have been inconclusive and... tiresome," he admitted. "Perhaps I need not rebel against every similarity between my life and that of my counterpart, and may embrace aspects of it which align with my personal goals - illogical as it may have seemed to pursue a relationship with you."

Hearing that made Jim feel really good, and his grin grew wider. "What do you mean, 'illogical'? What's so weird about the two of us?"

"I mean that I would not have expected a relationship between us to be lasting and beneficial to us both," Spock replied.

"Actually, yeah - you've got a point."

"Based upon my Vulcan upbringing, your desire for experiences new and interesting - not uncommon to humans - and our mutual discomfort with the concept of emotional intimacy, I had estimated our chances of longterm success as mediocre at best," Spock told him. Jim kind of wanted to be offended, but he couldn't disagree. "Yet I considered it worth exploration," Spock continued. "I believe, however, that this new information reveals that our odds are much better than I had calculated."

"Yeah..." Jim had been so baffled by the revelation and what it might mean to Spock that he hadn't thought much about that angle.

"Does it bother you?" Spock inquired.

Jim shook his head. "The opposite, in fact." It was like when he first met the other Spock, and he'd said that Jim should be the captain of the Enterprise - just knowing it was possible had made Jim realize how much he really did want it. "But remember, no such thing as destiny. Just because it's possible doesn't mean it's a sure thing, like we can just sit back and it'll happen automatically," he told Spock, settling down in the chair he'd tossed his jacket over. "I don't expect it to be easy all the time."

"If it were," said Spock, "I would find it unsettling."

"No kidding." For many reasons. But when things got rough, he thought, they at least had the assurance that they weren't completely doomed. That somewhere, somehow, they'd found a way to work through whatever problem they were having.

Both of them were silent, lost in their own thoughts for the moment, until Spock stepped closer to stand before Jim, and Jim looked up at him. "You did not have to inform me of this," Spock observed.

"Yeah..." Jim said dismissively. Then he thought again and shook his head. "Well, no - I did have to tell you."

"You did not," Spock repeated.

"I really did," Jim insisted, sitting up straighter. "Look, Spock... Most of my life, I wasn't exactly a shining example of a responsible partner. But even when I was just hooking up for the night, I never pretended otherwise. We were always on the same page - I made sure of that. If I was upfront with people I was just screwing around with," he concluded, "I'm not going to stop being upfront with you."

"Even when it makes our relationship more complicated."

"Even then. Besides, didn't you just say if it was too easy, it would be weird?" Jim reminded him.

Spock nodded slightly, and offered his hand. "It is appreciated," he murmured, his fingertips caressing the back of Jim's knuckles as Jim reciprocated.

"Not a problem." Jim laced his fingers through Spock's; he was somehow starting to like this almost as much as normal kissing. Maybe because it was something new and different and exotic, or because it was something they could do without being obvious... maybe just because it was Spock. Everything else about the two of them was already different than anything else Jim had ever had. And even if all of that was something Jim had never given much thought to, just like the Vulcan way of kissing, he thought maybe he liked that too.

They stayed that way a little longer, hands intertwined, until Jim yawned and pulled away to stretch. "Bed," he said, starting to unbutton his shirt. "Big day tomorrow - we'd better get some rest."

"And you are ready for sleep?" Spock inquired, getting to work on the long Vulcan coat he wore.

"Yeah, I was already tired, and the coffee was decaf." Jim got up, tossing the shirt over the previously discarded jacket, and opened his carry-on. "Why, did you have something else in mind?"

"I had come prepared, in case you might wish to take advantage of the opportunity for a game of chess."

Jim looked up at Spock's unfailingly serious expression, and grinned. "Too tired tonight - it wouldn't be a fair game. But we'll have plenty of opportunities," he told Spock.

Spock nodded. "I suppose that we will, with a five-year mission ahead of us."

"And more than that, maybe," Jim added. There was something else he'd been meaning to tell Spock, but it was much less significant than the weight of destiny and choice on their lives; it hadn't really come up. "I decided to accept Mom's offer... keep the old house in the family."

Spock glanced back to regard him curiously, from where he'd been hanging his coat in the wardrobe. "The emotional associations have ceased to bother you?"

"Not entirely, but when I started thinking about it, I realized that even if it's got some bad memories attached to it... it's still nice to have some kind of connection to the past, even if it's just to remind you of how far you've come from where you started." It was Spock who'd helped him realize that, knowing how Spock had felt about Vulcan, and how hard it had hit him anyway. "And plus," he added, tugging on a pair of sweats to sleep in, "you seemed to like Iowa - and I liked it more than I thought I did, once you were there with me."

"I did not find Iowa on its own to be particularly more interesting than other areas in which I have spent time on Earth," Spock noted as he also dressed for bed. "However, it was a calming environment, and our time there gave me insight regarding your choices and motivations." He paused, appearing somewhat self-conscious. "I suppose that, much like the sentiment you seem to be describing, I largely found Riverside favorable because of your presence."

Jim nodded, settling down on the bed. "So you'd be willing to come back with me after the mission?"

"Much can change in five years," Spock observed. "Assuming that at that time our relationship has managed to endure, and our bond remains as strong as it is currently..."

Jim had expected analysis, unemotional provisions, before Spock agreed. He did not, however, expect the conclusion that Spock gave him, meeting his eyes evenly. "...I believe I would follow you anywhere that you proposed to go."

Slowly, Jim smiled in wonder. He knew better than to call attention to it by now, of course, but he couldn't say nothing. "Well, that's good, because I wouldn't want to stay in Iowa the whole time - there's a lot of the Earth I haven't seen yet," he told Spock, as Spock sat down on the far side of the bed, turning back the covers. And because he was Jim Kirk, he couldn't help teasing a little. "Like Antarctica."

Spock raised an eyebrow, cocking his head thoughtfully. ...Maybe Jim shouldn't have said that. "No, Spock," he said. "We're not going to Antarctica."

"The suggestion was an intriguing one," said Spock. "The polar environment offers opportunities to observe an ecological system which does not occur elsewhere on your planet."

"We're not going to Antarctica," Jim repeated, with a chuckle which may have been just a little nervous. He hoped Spock was just teasing him back.

Then again, he thought as he and Spock got under the covers... Antarctica might not be so bad if he had Spock along to keep him warm. He had five years to figure it out. And, if he was lucky, then some.

Chapter Text

Despite Jim's certainty that there would be time for chess in the near future, there turned out to be very little. With the Enterprise's departure close at hand, Jim had his hands full with sending notifications, making appointments... and thanks to Scotty's obsession with the ship - at some point he'd really have to remind the guy that the Enterprise was his ship, not Scotty's - running performance tests just to make sure the other Starfleet mechanics, who didn't know "the ol' girl" so well, hadn't botched anything. As far as Jim could tell, everything seemed to be more or less normal, but Scotty still found things to mutter about. Jim didn't understand most of what he was muttering, but if Scotty wanted to stay holed up in the engine room for his last week of leave, that was his prerogative.

Not that Jim was relaxing on his last week of leave either. There were new crew coming aboard, and he made a point of meeting each of them, at least trying to remember as many names as possible as he appointed guides and orientation schedules. A couple people had wound up with the wrong transcriptions in their personnel files, and Jim had to contact the Academy to confirm the corrections. There was paperwork to sign off on, complaints about interactions among the crew or dissatisfaction with assigned quarters that he had to address... Aside from the fact that the Enterprise was still docked and the corridors were still empty most of the time, it was like being back out in deep space already - he was completely swamped.

Jim was loving every second of it.

The evening before launch, things were more relaxed; the significant outstanding issues had been resolved, everyone knew where they were supposed to be, and they were mostly content with it. Even Scotty had taken off, saying he had a date with a bottle of good Scotch whiskey. He was willing to share, but as much as Jim might have liked to take him up on it, he had to decline; there had already been special guests and dignitaries arriving for the occasion, which meant his presence was required. After takeoff, however, he was fully intending to celebrate by getting totally smashed with Bones in sickbay - as long as they sobered up by the time they were out of secure Federation space, it'd be okay. Especially since Spock was around. He sure wasn't going to join them.

In the meantime, Jim was occupied with showing people around the ship, with Spock's assistance. That had included a few admirals, Pike among them, a couple Federation governors, and some of his crew's relatives - as well as his own mother. He couldn't decide whether it was funny or amazing to see her reaction to being back on board a starship after so long. Everything seemed so exciting, everything had changed so much. Maybe there was something to be said for Spock's suggestion that she might like to return to Starfleet... but Jim wasn't going to say a thing until they were ready to go. Even if everything was mostly okay between the two of them these days, the last thing he needed was his mom on board during a mission.

They'd just finished showing her the bridge when his communicator chirped at him. "Captain?" It was one of the ensigns who'd volunteered for the pre-launch shifts - new guy in engineering, seemed to know what he was doing according to Scotty. "A Vulcan ship has arrived, with two ambassadors who would like to come aboard."

He'd seen the ship's arrival from the bridge, and figured that's who it was. "Great - get ready to bring 'em over," Jim told him. "I'll be there in just a second. Kirk out." He grinned at his mom, and then at Spock. "So I guess it's about time our parents are introduced, huh?"

Spock was abruptly paying a great deal of attention to one of the access panels. "...I have not yet informed my father as to the nature of our relationship."

"Ahhhh." Jim nodded thoughtfully. "Okay, then - once Mom charms him with her amazing knowledge of Vulcan etiquette, we can be sure he'll take the news well. Right, Mom?"

"I'll do my best," his mother agreed, playing along.

"Although you are indeed familiar with Vulcan customs," Spock told her, "I do not believe that my father requires... 'charming'."

"He's teasing you," she informed him. "I won't say a word unless you say it's all right."

Spock nodded, though he still looked wary. No wonder, perhaps, when it was the two of them. "...Very well."

The new ensign already had the transporter set when they arrived. "Ready to beam two aboard, captain. On your word."

"Energize," Jim told him.

The transporters began to hum, and two glowing figures appeared on the platform, gradually resolving into someone familiar and someone slightly less familiar, at least to Jim. "Welcome aboard, gentlemen," he greeted them, approaching as they stepped off the platform. "It's an honor to have you visiting with us."

"Likewise, it is an honor to be aboard the Enterprise once more," said Sarek, "under far less dire circumstances than the last."

"That's for certain. Allow me to make introductions," Jim suggested, stepping between the two arriving Vulcans and his own company. "Of course you know Commander Spock. This is my mother, Winona Kirk, formerly of Starfleet. Mom, this is Ambassador Sarek - Spock's father, and one of the elders we brought from Vulcan after the planet's destruction. And this is Ambassador Selek, who we also met during the incident." By now, Jim had concocted a little story to explain how they'd met, because he couldn't exactly tell the real story about how he got to be close with a random elderly Vulcan to most people. "He provided me with valuable intelligence regarding the Narada, and was instrumental to our victory."

"It's a pleasure to meet both of you," said his mom, raising her hand in the Vulcan salute. "So you had a hand in the Narada's downfall as well? I have to thank you, then - my husband and I served aboard the Kelvin."

"You honor us, madam," said the elder Spock, with a respectful nod.

"We have heard the tale of the Kelvin," Sarek replied. "Your husband's actions saved many lives. Your son's saved many more."

"With your son's help," she pointed out with a smile. "I think it's safe to say the two of them are going to accomplish more great things, now that they're working together again."

As for 'Ambassador Selek', he appeared to be paying attention to the conversation, but Jim could see his eyes wandering now and then, taking in the transporter platform, the console, the door that led out to the corridor... Jim knew where his mind was, and it wasn't on pleasantries.

"Spock," Jim suggested. "Why don't you show our parents around, give them the grand tour? Maybe start with the bridge - we only just finished up in there. Ambassador Selek and I have something we need to discuss, just the two of us."

Spock's eyebrow twitched, betraying his unease. "Do you?"

Of course Spock still wasn't too comfortable with his older counterpart. Actually, Jim supposed he had a whole other set of reasons to be suspicious nowadays, given certain similarities... but Jim didn't actually expect the older Spock to suggest a roll in the sack for nostalgia's sake or anything. "Nothing too important," Jim said, nonchalant. "Just want to go over a few of the changes we've made around here. I don't think he'll disapprove."

"I very much doubt it," said the older Spock, nodding to his younger self.

The younger Spock gave him a terse nod as well. "Very well, captain - it would be my privilege to escort our guests."

"We'll meet up in a little while," Jim assured him, and refrained from touching his elbow or anything in front of his dad. While it might not mean anything to humans, Sarek would probably notice something odd.

The older Spock, however, lingered after the others had gone, looking over the equipment curiously. Jim grinned - he was still such a giant geek. "Take a break, Ensign," Jim told the guy. "Get a bite to eat, whatever you feel like. Just make sure you take the communicator with you so we can get in touch. And make sure the console's locked down, too," Jim added. There had been a couple of mishaps during his first mission that had been manageable in the end, but which he really didn't want to see repeated.

"Yes, sir," the ensign said, already beginning the process.

Spock watched with interest, first the young man's hands on the controls, then glancing up to his face. "Your skillful work is appreciated, Ensign Lemli," he remarked.

"Thank you, sir," replied the ensign, though it was clear from his slightly puzzled expression that he had no idea how a Vulcan ambassador would have known his name. Jim made a mental note - this probably meant that this particular ensign was worth keeping around.

Once Spock had finished examining the transporter room, he seemed to find the corridors outside just as interesting. "Bring back memories?" Jim asked, watching him take it all in as they walked.

"This Enterprise is quite different from the Enterprise upon which I first served," Spock murmured. "It was remodeled and rebuilt multiple times throughout my time in Starfleet, however, and regardless of the appearance and functionality, it has always retained a certain..." He hesitated as they came to the turbolift, shaking his head in wonder. "It feels like the Enterprise I knew."

Jim could have watched Spock explore the Enterprise all day - if he'd known Spock would react like this, he'd have offered five years ago. He'd always thought of this incarnation as old, but his fascination with the ship made him seem twenty years younger, or whatever the Vulcan equivalent would have been. Engineering was apparently completely different, a strange blend of the old starship technology that Spock had been familiar with in this era, and technology that had only recently been developed in his own timeline. In the sickbay, Spock seemed especially taken with a skull - Jim didn't know what the creature had been, it was just this thing Bones had picked up - and his lips twitched upon finding one particular cabinet completely devoid of medical equipment, which seemed to suggest that Bones had used it for the same thing on his Enterprise as he did on Jim's Enterprise. Bones was planning to smuggle its usual contents on board later that night, once he knew any inspectors were long gone.

The bridge seemed to hold a special appeal to Spock, unsurprisingly, and Jim had no problem at all with it when Spock asked if he might be permitted to turn on the console at the science station, as they were currently alone. He assumed Spock knew what he was doing for the most part, they were docked above a Federation world, and there wasn't too much damage even a little kid could have done from the science station. Jim just stood back by his chair in the center, giving Spock some distance as he experimented with the controls and brought up the displays, with the occasional murmur of "Fascinating" under his breath.

Finally, Spock turned back to Jim. "I cannot thank you enough," he began, his voice almost trembling in his sincerity, "for this opportunity."

"Hey," Jim told him, coming closer to rest a hand on his shoulder. Vulcan or not, he didn't think Spock would mind. "It's an honor having you aboard."

Spock nodded his acknowledgment, not flinching in the slightest from the contact, and just looked at Jim. Jim could only imagine what he was thinking. Spock was older than he'd ever live to be, he must have seen every stupid, crazy thing he had done in that other life, and he still looked at him like that.

"Although I still maintain that you are possessed of your own free will," Spock said finally, "I confess that I cannot imagine you standing anywhere else at this point in your life, besides the bridge of this ship."

"At this point, neither can I." Jim shrugged slightly and dropped his hand. The mood was getting just a little serious for his liking - he wanted to see Spock happy, and that meant any Spock. "So... anywhere else you want to see?" he offered.

"There is no particular place I wish to see that I have not," Spock replied. "But if you would indulge me, I would like to simply spend some more time aboard."

"Sure, not a problem. Want to just walk around for awhile?"

"That would be quite acceptable."

So they wandered the decks, Spock occasionally remarking upon the differences, and Jim explaining them when he could. "Yeah, I guess the layout's different," he noted, after Spock had observed that the crew's quarters were in a different area than they used to be. "I don't really know why it would be... different engineers with different tastes, maybe. So over here we've got ops' housing, next section up is tactical, and science is over on the other side. Except commanding officers - we're on the next deck."

"And do we still have adjacent rooms?" Spock inquired.

Jim scratched his head. "...Funny story about that. First officer's quarters are still next to the captain's, yeah... but HQ didn't want the other you as my first officer. He's been out of the service for five years, after all. Of course no one's more qualified for science officer, no one would argue that, but they'd rather have someone as second-in-command who's been in active service consistently."

"So I am not your first officer in this universe," Spock concluded.

"Nope. Which kind of threw a wrench in things." Jim turned down the next corridor, where there was a turbolift. "Scotty's the highest in rank, but he doesn't want command - he just wants to work on his engines and transporters and whatever the hell else he's got going on in his free time."

"That sounds like Mr. Scott," Spock agreed.

"He was always like that during the first mission too. So usually if there was something going down, and both Number One and I had to leave the bridge, I'd give the conn to Sulu." Jim pressed the button for the next deck up. "He's got a cool head under pressure, at least a passing familiarity with pretty much every department's protocol, can take over most bridge positions if necessary. So Sulu's my chief helmsman and first officer now, like Number One was."

Spock nodded thoughtfully as the turbolift rose. "Mr. Sulu should function well in the position."

"But he was my chief science officer," Jim explained as the door slid open. "So his quarters were in that area, and... well, he's got some stuff in there that's a pain to move around. I dunno if your Sulu had this thing for creepy alien plants..."

"Alien plants, yes," Spock confirmed, following Jim down the corridor. "I cannot accurately judge whether or not they were 'creepy', however some were rather large, as I recall."

"He didn't take them all back to Earth when we docked - just set the environmental controls and gave strict orders for no one to mess with anything in there," said Jim. "So when I called him up to ask if he wanted the first officer position, one of the first things he asked was, 'Can I keep my old room?' He's got it all set up like he wants it already."

"Which leaves the quarters next to yours available."

Jim grinned, and gestured down the hall. "I just had to move my things back to the ship, but we've been picking him up some things here and there, getting him set up. He's got creds again, now that he's on Starfleet's payroll."

"It must be a great relief for both of you."

"Honestly, he wasn't any sort of a burden. But he's glad to be independent again, and despite starting more or less from scratch, his room's looking pretty good. Like someone's actual living space instead-"

Jim stopped short all of a sudden, as the door they were passing slid open. "So this must be your..." Spock began, then trailed off as he read the digital nameplate on the wall beside the door. "...Ah."

"Yeah. Mine's that one there," Jim said, gesturing to the door just a little further on. "Biometrics are already calibrated. I guess I should have expected you'd be able to open that one."

"Very interesting," Spock mused, peering at the open door. "And I must admit to some curiosity."

Jim thought about it for a second. "You know what? As long as you don't mess with anything, or tell the other you what you'd do differently, I don't think he'd care if you just had a look."

"I will most certainly not 'mess with' anything," Spock said, so seriously that Jim had to stifle a snicker as Spock stepped cautiously through the door. "Nor will I make suggestions. In this timeline, I am aboard the Enterprise as no more than an observer."

Jim was an observer for the moment too, following Spock inside to just take in his reaction. He'd already been in Spock's quarters, helping him bring things in, hang up the red draperies that Spock was now examining. Spock moved on to the incense burner, then turned to leave the bedroom portion of the quarters again. His eyes passed over the desk, to the objects on the shelf behind, and he raised an eyebrow. "...Fascinating," he murmured.

"Really close?" Jim asked. "Don't worry - I won't tell."

"In some ways, as near to identical as is possible, accounting for the differing size and shape of the room," Spock replied, his expression bemused as he surveyed the area. "And then, too, there are differences both minor and more significant. Some which seem, to me, rather bizarre."

"Like what?"

Spock looked to Jim, shaking his head. "This is his room, Jim - not my own. I am certain that he has his reasons."

"Yeah, you're both pretty big on having reasons." Jim was a little surprised when Spock started for the door without prompting. "Seen enough?"

"I am satisfied," Spock agreed quietly. "Quite satisfied."


The whims of cultural and design trends had prompted a change from the more definitive buttons and switches to touchscreens. Technology derived from Nero's incursion had led to more complex programs and mechanisms throughout the ship. The differing political environment had caused the ship's design to become larger, heavier. Other factors had changed the locations of the crew's quarters, the font used to inscribe the ship's designation upon the hull, the layout of the transporter room. Though in some cases the changes were quite small and inconsequential, they were, by and large, logical.

It was logical, too, that Jim would enjoy time spent sparring in the physical training center, that Mr. Scott preferred the engine room over the captain's chair, that Dr. McCoy had been keeping his most potent alcoholic beverages locked in a cabinet that was meant for prescription medication. There was no reason for these things to change. Likewise, it was logical that this Spock would, as the other had, furnish his room with Vulcan drapery and burn incense designed to aid in meditation; it was not quite the same incense, but it was as close as one could achieve when the unique ecology of their homeworld had been destroyed. It would have been quite surprising indeed if he had not retained the very same lyre - and there it was, on a shelf behind his desk, just as it had been in another lifetime. Though the newer version lacked the majority of the artifacts that had been acquired over years of interstellar travel, the two rooms were nearly identical in content.

However, this simply made the few changes stand out more, most obviously in the two items on the shelf beside the lyre. Both of them had kept a chess set - but rather than fine metal and glass, this board was small, made of plastic, and the posts that held the levels aloft were not quite straight; it appeared that they were jointed to fold in upon themselves.

Most peculiar of all - next to the chess set, rather than a complex molecular model given as a gift by an associate at the Academy, there sat a large cloth toy in the shape of a penguin.