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A Child of Two Worlds

Chapter Text

The Lady Amanda Grayson was unaccustomed to receiving private communications from anyone. This, due primarily to being the wife of a prominent Federation ambassador, and due to Vulcan tradition in referring all communications to the head of house rather than directly to family members. All of her correspondence, personal and business, filtered to Sarek, who then of course promptly passed that correspondence on to her; and the only exception to this rule was contact from her son.

Spock, aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise, had discarded Vulcan tradition in this particular area some years after his first assignment to that vessel, and for that disregard she was more grateful than words could express. Her son was her primary reminder that she had helped to produce an, if not balanced, at least culturally content young man who was willing to bend his primary culture's strictures in order to make a human female happy. This spoke well of his future prospects in making human acquaintances, and possibly – she had hoped for well over a decade – even friends, anathema though it might be for a Vulcan to so speak publicly.

Then this enigmatic Jim had begun to creep stealthily into her son's communications with her, and she had known just from those tiny glimpses that this remarkable human had already broken down the barriers which for years had kept her strictly-Vulcan son from forming human friendships. Over the years, she had learned about and finally met this unusual human, Spock's new captain, and a few select others aboard this new Enterprise; and now, four years after Spock's new appointment as Chief Science and First Officer, she had extended that informality of contact to James Kirk.

Captain Kirk had never abused the privilege of bypassing Vulcan culture to contact her directly, though Sarek was decidedly indifferent on the matter and would not have interfered (Amanda privately thought he was pleased to not have to sort through human correspondence), and indeed the man had only twice in the years since she had met him used the method of contacting her via Spock's private communique channel to Vulcan. Both times Kirk had done so, had been in emotional distress, notifying her that Spock was, once, seriously injured on an away mission; and another, deathly ill from the Vulcan-dreaded choriocytosis. Both professional courtesy calls, and deeply appreciated by her; for Kirk was under no obligations to notify her of her son's health or condition (Spock's medical directives were decidedly lacking in human compassion), and Spock himself would likely have died before informing her, simply not seeing the logic in exacerbating human emotion when nothing could be done from such a distance.

To receive, therefore, a notification that a live communique was awaiting her via subspace relay from the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise, was both unusual, and at first alarming, given that she had yet to receive good news by those methods.

But Kirk's first words were "Nothing's wrong with Spock, Lady Amanda," as he well knew her first instinct would be concern, and she smiled in gratitude at the gesture.

"That is reassuring news, Captain Kirk. How have you been?" she asked kindly, seeing immediately the young man's fidgeting. Obviously he did have a purpose in calling, no doubt something to do with her son. "You are looking…more yourself, since the last I saw of you."

Kirk blushed, pinching the bridge of his nose in obvious embarrassment. "I licked the computer screen while Spock was talking to you, didn't I," he said, with an air of amused resignation.

She smiled, refraining with ease from laughing and therefore further mortifying the poor man. "I believe it is a common reaction from young children, Captain. Spock himself was the type to insert his fingers into every crevice and substance he could not readily identify at that age. It is merely a difference of primary sensory perception."

The captain perked up visibly at the tidbit of his friend's childhood, a grin twitching at his lips. "I can just imagine how curious Vulcan children must be, in their desire to know all things," he mused, almost to himself.

"Vulcan childhood is considerably different from human childhood, mainly due to the encouragement of mental development rather than physical affection and social interaction," she readily agreed. "Though even to a Vulcan, a child is precious, and is treated as the most valuable gift ever to be bestowed upon a family unit. That is why child abuse is unheard-of in Vulcan culture, and why such an offense is immediate grounds for the severest punishment possible under Vulcan law."

"Interesting," Kirk murmured. He was leaning with one elbow on the armrest of his chair, a crooked finger unconsciously tapping thoughtfully at his lower lip. "May I…ask a personal question about Vulcan child-rearing, Lady Amanda? Or is that considered offensive, from an outworlder?"

"James," she immediately reproved, and received a somewhat shy smile of boyish charm in return. "You affront my own heritage, and your friendship with my son. You may ask what you like; if I am able to answer, I shall do so."

The captain blew out a slow, thoughtful breath, and then leaned forward, elbows on his knees. His sandy brows knitted together with concentration, and what she perceived as slight concern. "I thank you," he said formally, and she warmed at the thought that Spock's High Vulcan courtesy had unconsciously rubbed off on the man. "Then…may I ask – did Spock have a happy childhood?"

Amanda sighed, and idly rearranged a fold of her lightweight Vulcan robe. "You would, of course, strike straight at the heart of the matter, would you not, Captain," she answered ruefully. "That is not an easy question to answer."

"I meant no offense."

"And I have taken none," she chided gently, and saw the captain relax. "I would like to say, Captain," she continued thoughtfully, "that he had as contented a childhood as any Vulcan could. And yet…"

"And yet his differences would not allow him the traditional happy childhood, just by virtue of his dual heritage?" Kirk finished softly. She nodded, knowing that this human at least, of all her acquaintances, would understand. "Was it really so obvious?" he asked quietly. "I can hardly believe that such a logical species would embrace such an outdated concept as racial purebloodedness."

"It is not simply a matter of race or species, so to speak, Captain," she responded, carefully choosing her words to offend neither of their cultures, both of whom she loved equally. "You must understand, Captain, that Vulcan clans and families are extremely close, far closer than any human families. A controlling of emotion does not negate its existence, that we both know; and the ties that bind families in Vulcan culture transcend all other ties, mentally and physically and otherwise."

Kirk's face betrayed his surprise at this.

"This should not be surprising to you, Captain," she said pointedly. "You of all people are no doubt aware that my son offers his loyalty very sparingly, and his friendship even more so. To accept you as he has…in our culture, that is akin to declaring you a part of the clan of Sarek. You and your Dr. McCoy, to be permitted attendance at his Time a few years ago – that was, at that time, considered to be sacrilege, essentially declaring two human outworlders as members of the family. It is simply not done."

The captain's eyes widened. "I had no idea," he admitted, looking thoroughly shamefaced. "The sacrifice that must have cost him –"

"It was no sacrifice to Spock, Captain," she said sharply. "To a Vulcan, those relationships permitted under the laws of Surak and the Vulcan Way are the most precious bonds in the universe, the preservation of which takes precedent over all other considerations. Such deep bonds are rare indeed, Captain, and it is no sacrifice to ensure their survival against all opposition."

The young man's eyes dropped in acquiescence. "I've offended you, Lady Amanda. I apologize for my ignorance," he said quietly.

She smiled then, a genuine and rare display that felt no less natural than her bland Vulcan expressions. "James, you are as much a diplomat as my husband. I am unoffended, I assure you." Kirk raised his eyes, one eyebrow quirked at the screen. "I merely wish you to understand that, to a Vulcan, such a thing is no sacrifice. Spock would never wish your compassion for what he sees as a perfectly logical action."

"I see," Kirk replied, obviously thinking deeply about this. "Then Vulcan culture cherishes its relationships as much as humans do; they simply have different methods of showing this."

"Indeed. If anything, a Vulcan cherishes his relationships even more so than a human is capable of doing; because such a sharing of emotion is an immense personal gift of lowered barriers and shared boundaries. It is not a gift to be taken lightly, and – to return to your original question – both Sarek and I attempted to emulate that with Spock to our best abilities when he was a youngling."

Kirk obviously recognized the closing of the conversational door, and respectfully moved on. "And yet…?" he questioned.

Amanda sighed once more, a human expression of regret. "And yet, Spock was different, Captain. That much, we both know, as even today he still struggles to be fully Vulcan yet still adapt the benefits of being partly human. Such a struggle can never be won, without either fully accepting both, or choosing one at the expense of the other. Something a mere child had no hope of doing."

"He tried too hard to be Vulcan, and never won that struggle in the eyes of his peers, is that it?" Kirk asked quietly.

"You have a remarkable grasp of his thought processes, Captain," was her diplomatic answer. "I believe you could correctly predict the type of childhood he had. Because familial ties are so very important to Vulcan culture, to make those ties, those bonds, and the possibilities generated by them, less pure due to outworldly influence – that is why Spock's dual heritage is frowned upon in our world, Captain; because his prospects of mating, of taking a place in Vulcan society, and of continuing the purity of thought which characterizes Vulcanity, have been compromised due to his dual nature. It is not a matter of specist prejudice; rather, it is the knowledge that such a union produces a weak link in a highly proud culture."

"I see no difference," Kirk muttered, eyes flashing with controlled anger.

"And yet it exists, Captain," she replied, unruffled. "I am accepted as the bond-mate of Sarek, and possess full rights thereof; my son is the heir of the house of Sarek, with full rights thereof. Politically, there is no difference due to our mixed blood. It is there, in the eye of society, that the differences show in personal opinions. Spock's half-human mind is at severely high risk to never find a compatible bond-mate. His dual nature is considered a weak link in Vulcan culture, a culture of pure emotional control."

"I find such subjective judgments highly illogical," the captain stated with a scowl, and she hid a smile at the unconsciously Vulcan inflection.

"However," she continued, in a tone designed to sooth, "Spock is renowned in the Vulcan Science Academy as a brilliant scientist; they keenly recognize the value of adding human intuition and instinct to scientific processes, and regard him as a miracle of science itself. It is the common people, and their common children, who still hold to the outdated beliefs that his mixed heritage makes him a weak link in our world's society."

"May I ask…" Kirk paused, and after a moment's hesitation plowed onward with a determination that amused her greatly, "may I ask – if you could change something about his childhood, what would that be, Lady Amanda?"

She regarded him shrewdly for a moment. "Are you asking out of personal curiosity, Captain, or because your recent childlike experiences have afforded you too much time for reflection – or for another reason entirely?" she asked, fixing him with a sharp gaze that made him fidget in his chair.

Hazel eyes finally met hers with a determined glint. "We've been assigned a new mission by Starfleet Command. To further negotiate with the Insonti people, and specifically to gain more insight into this Regenratron device. We are to see if we can convince them to join the Federation rather than simply bartering a mining agreement, as no doubt the technology is the more valuable asset," he said bluntly. "Spock has…let's say, become somewhat obsessed with the process and its purpose."

"Ah."

"I can't help but wonder if he's going to come to me in the next few days with a request for another guinea pig for the thing," Kirk continued, a rueful grin quirking at his lips, "and some load of bull about not being willing to have another crewman take the risk, a variable of a different species being the most logical choice, blah blah blah. All in the name of Science, of course."

Amanda hid her smile at the human's quick perception of Vulcan misdirection. "You believe he is going to ask to be the next test subject, Captain?"

"Either that, or he will confer with the Insonti High Council as part of our science team's research and they'll take the initiative to just shove him in the thing for his own good," Kirk admitted, with only a trace of humor. "They do tend to be a bit presumptuous in thinking it's a good thing for everyone. I…wanted to make certain that it would be that, for Spock, rather than being traumatizing to a carefully controlled Vulcan mind. I wanted to know if a second childhood would be at all beneficial to him; if it would not, I will not hesitate to lay down an ultimatum to the Insonti high priest about my First Officer being off-limits to their technology."

Lady Amanda straightened slightly in her chair to meet Kirk's eyes, her heart going out to this remarkable human whose sincere affection for her son fairly shone out of his honest face. "You are a good man, Captain Kirk," she said simply. "And to answer your question: if I could change one thing regarding my son's upbringing, it would have been that Spock could have had one person in the galaxy whom he knew would accept and love him wholeheartedly for being Spock. Not of Vulcan and Terra, not of the clan of Sarek, not a child of two worlds – just Spock."

Relief suddenly flashed across the young man's face, lightening the deep worry lines around his eyes and between his eyebrows.

"I can do that," Kirk said with a charming grin. "You'll want to see pictures, I assume?"

Chapter Text

Captain's Log, Stardate 4317.6

In accordance with Command's latest mission, the Enterprise has been in geosynchronous orbit around the planet Insontis for six-point-five days, conferring with the Insonti High Council as well as the governing body's research and medical teams, in our efforts to further understand the remarkable technology which causes the transformations in the device known as the Regenratron. Having had personal experience with the device in question, I remain much impressed by the sophistication of the technology, particularly the protective failsafes installed in the process which ultimately saved my life during the recent Klingon attacks upon the Enterprise.

Commander Spock has been given free reign by Starfleet Command to perform whatever tests he deems necessary to unravel the mysteriously advanced technology which the Insonti employ, and he and his science departments have been in long conference with the Insonti people. Though still reluctant to join the Federation officially due to their peaceful natures, the Insonti are yet more than willing to cooperate in scientific ventures, and have been both eager to please and highly informative to my Chief Science Officer.

Full report and Second Contact recommendation to Starfleet Command to follow.

"See that that goes out with the next packet from Mr. Spock's departments, Lieutenant," he added, handing off the dictapadd to his Communications Chief.

"Aye, sir. And Dr. McCoy reports crew efficiency nearly back to normal, as per your request earlier, Captain."

"Excellent. Hopefully the rest for the next week or so will do them good; they deserve it, after what we've all been through the last few months." The captain settled back contentedly in his chair, idly flicking through a report from one of Spock's research teams. "Status of final engine repairs?"

"Mr. Scott reports engines fully operational, and in even better condition than before our leetle skirmish, sir," Chekov piped up from the helm, where he was obviously in communication with their Engineering department. They had taken the opportunity to remain in a stable orbit around a peaceful planet as a chance to catch up on many minor repairs which had gone unheeded in the chaos following Kirk's retransformation. "He says we are quite space-worthy, and will be in perfect condition by the end of next week."

"Thank you, Mr. Chekov. And –" He glanced up as the comm whistled. "Bridge, Kirk here."

"Chapel here, Captain." He recognized a slight note of dismay in his Head Nurse's voice, and sat up a bit straighter; Chapel was on the planet as part of one of Spock's away teams. "Sir…we have a bit of a problem."

Kirk stared blankly at the comm, with its red light winking cheerfully back at him, and then slumped back with a groan. "He didn't!"

"I'm afraid so, sir," was the response, though he thought Chapel sounded more amused than anything else.

"He couldn't have waited another twenty-four hours?" he demanded crossly, scowling down at the padd in his hands. "He's just dumped me with six hours' worth of executive paperwork and a conference call with Admiral Cartwright later!"

A muffled giggle filtered through the comm, and the Bridge officers eyed each other with clueless expressions. "I'm certain he didn't plan it that way, Captain," Chapel offered unconvincingly.

"I'm sure," he muttered, slamming the padd down on the chair and launching himself to his feet. "On my way to the Transporter Room. Have Dr. McCoy meet me there. And if he's old enough to understand you, tell him he's a dead Vulcan for not giving me any warning!"

The turbolift doors shut behind the irritated captain, leaving the rest of the alpha shift crew staring at each other in bewilderment.

"Mr. Sulu, you have the conn," the intra-comm crackled suddenly, an obvious afterthought, and the young helmsman shared a glance with his seatmate.

"If that means what I think it means, then you'd probably better be ready to take over the Science station, Pavel," Sulu said dryly. "For two or three months, I'd say."


"You can't be serious."

"I'm afraid so, Bones," he sighed. Leaning against the wall outside the transporter room, he rubbed absently at his temples and inhaled a long, calming breath.

"That cold-blooded excuse for a –"

"Doctor McCoy!" Kirk snapped sharply. "I am already frustrated enough with the situation, and you're not helping either of us calm down enough that we don't scare the poor kid into the next quadrant! You know he'll be able to sense our annoyance!"

"Frustration! Annoyance! Do you have any idea how much I don't want to be a father-figure to anyone again for a long, long time?" McCoy demanded. "Especially a tiny little insufferable Vulcan?"

The captain sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose with one hand. "Bones," he finally said, more calmly, and placed a hand on the physician's shoulder. "If anyone deserves a second chance at having a happy childhood, Spock does. If he chose to drop himself in the middle of it without telling us beforehand…well, it only shows that he trusts us enough to do right by him."

"You don't seem very surprised," McCoy said suspiciously.

"I'm not, only that he did it without any warning to me," was the weary response. "He must have just seized the opportunity before he could lose his nerve, if I had to guess."

The physician deflated visibly, groaning into his hands. "I dunno anything about Vulcan children," he moaned. "I don't even know if they develop at the same rate as human children, or eat the same things, or - or! Augh!"

"I've done a bit of research," Kirk admitted. "We'll muddle through it together, Bones. And anyway, I doubt it'll take near as long as it did for me; Vulcans learn so much more quickly than humans, I suspect he'll age faster than I did. I hope he will. Either way," he added, straightening his tunic in preparation to enter the transporter room, "it's only fair to give him this chance, if you think about the childhood he must have had."

McCoy favored him with a sour glare that clearly said he didn't much care what kind of childhood Spock had had, just that he was not cut out to coddle a baby Vulcan; and yet the physician's compassionate heart won over his irritation, and he carefully hid the frustrated emotions behind a veneer of professionalism, for the sake of the tiny touch-telepath that was about to crash land in their lives.

"We'll talk more about this later, Doctor," Kirk said shortly, giving his tunic a final tug and turning toward the opening doors.

Would they ever have a mission that was normal? 


McCoy had expected to find his Head Nurse holding a pointy-eared infant, as Jim had shown up on the Enterprise in a tiny bassinet courtesy of the High Council. But whereas Jim had introduced himself to his crew as a shrieking twelve-month-old, the tiny child beside Christine Chapel was standing on his own two feet, if a bit precariously balanced, and was not making a peep.

Huge dark eyes and a little head of silky black hair peeked over the stiff collar of a toddler-sized robe no doubt borrowed from one of the Insonti children. Tiny fingers were latched firmly around Chapel's leg, as their toddler-sized First Officer observed the new world around him in wide-eyed and awestruck silence.

"Why in tarnation did he have to be so danged cute," McCoy muttered grumpily, ignoring the cooing of the Security guard detachment stationed just inside the door.

He heard a stifled laugh from Jim, who had immediately and comfortably dropped to an easy crouch on one knee in front of the transporter pad, putting his face on eye level with the child's.

"Hello, Spock," he said softly, and the child's eyes darted shyly to his face as he half-hid behind the nurse's legs.

"He's about a year old, from what we could tell, Captain," Chapel said quietly over their heads. She smiled down at the little one. "Vulcan children are more mature than human children at their various ages; he can walk, or at least toddle, and he can probably speak a few words. That's if he was a typical Vulcan child and his human side not dominant in those formative years."

"Since when did you become the expert on Vulcan child-rearing, Nurse?" McCoy asked incredulously.

"Since I realized what he was planning, Doctor," she retorted, staggering slightly as Spock hid behind her legs, peeking out with one dark eye at the captain's patiently smiling face. "Though I had no idea he planned to make himself a test subject so soon, I admit."

"Spock?" Jim tried again, and this time the child edged slowly out, eyes fastened inquisitively on his face. "That's it," he encouraged gently, and extended a hand slowly. Spock regarded it with utter cluelessness. "How much can he understand me, do you think?"

"I have no way of knowing, Captain; I doubt he comprehends much more than, say, your average toddler – possibly less. We just have no way of telling, not without further data."

"All right. Spock, can you come here?" The captain's voice was still gentle, and the smile had never left his face – and really, no one could blame him, because Spock as a wide-eyed, curious baby Vulcan was nothing less than adorable.

It made McCoy want to throw up.

The little one regarded the crouching human with the same expressionless, silent curiosity he had hitherto employed, but finally took a shuffling step forward, barely escaping tripping on the folds of the oversized robe.

"That's it," Jim whispered encouragingly, smiling. He extended his hand again, this time palm outward. "Come 'ere, you."

Spock's head tilted to one side quizzically, as he examined the hand before him. Then, finally, tiny fingers reached out of the robe's folds and carefully settled into a mirroring position in the center of the much larger palm.

"All right?" the captain asked solemnly.

Spock finally gave him a calculating nod that elicited a small squee from the transporter operator – whom McCoy then favored with his best glare of Slow and Painful Death, before shaking his head at the lunacy of the entire situation.

"May I pick you up now, Spock?" Kirk was asking seriously, though he barely waited for the tiny slanted eyebrow to rise before swinging the startled toddler up into his arms.

Spock gave a breathy gasp of surprise, before staring wide-eyed over the captain's shoulder at what was now a world at an all-new elevated level. Small hands latched tightly onto the captain's gold tunic at the neck.

"Okay?"

Dark hair bobbed in an affirmative, as curiosity won over surprise in the child's expression.

"Right, then – it's Sickbay for you, little mister," the captain said with a grin, bouncing toward the door and into the corridor beyond with all the abandon of childhood himself. "Come on, Bones!" he yelled over one shoulder, oblivious to the small scowl of disgust directed at the side of his head from a toddler with sensitive Vulcan hearing.

"That," Lieutenant Kyle said slowly, as the door shut on the sounds of the captain's humming (or attempt at such, as Kirk couldn't carry a tune to save his life), "was, without a doubt, the most adorable thing I've ever seen in my life."

"Oh, for the love of Pete," McCoy growled, storming out of the room in pursuit of his newest patient. "Christine, get the man a mop, will you."

Chapter Text

By the time he'd caught up with their adult captain (who was about as mature at the moment as his five-year-old self had been, this was going to be a nightmare) and infant First Officer, Jim had already plopped the startled child down on a bio-bed in a secluded corner of Sickbay, whereupon the default-human bed sensors promptly wailed and screeched a warning of heinous volume, thinking that the infant Vulcan readings meant the occupant of the bed was crashing.

Spock's eyes widened to epic proportions of fright, and two tiny hands shot up to cover his little pointed ears even as the startled captain slapped frantically at buttons to shut off the klaxons.

"Get outta my way," McCoy muttered, shooing Kirk away and immediately recalibrating the bed to Spock's typical readings, adjusting slowly until they looked somewhat normal, if a bit low across the board due to his much smaller current physiology. "Sorry about that, kiddo," he murmured absently, frowning at the display.

Spock peered curiously up at him from under a dark fringe, ears still covered by his hands.

The bed finally having been calibrated to his satisfaction, McCoy gave the dark head a gentle pat and moved to a cabinet for a med-scanner.

"He's not as scary as he sounds," he heard a loud whisper from behind him, and rolled his eyes. He retrieved a scanner that could be adjusted to child-sized life forms (not that it was really going to help him any, since he barely knew Spock's adult anatomy and physiological makeup), along with two hyposprays of vitamin boosters, and then returned to the bed.

Spock had removed his hands, but was still eyeing the bed's sensor board warily. The entire lack of sound coming from the toddler was just flat eerie; both his little Joanna and, more recently, Jim Kirk had announced their childish disgust with the world in general in the most vociferous terms possible. But this weird, total silence from a twelve-month-old was just creepy. He suspected Vulcan children were born knowing crying was illogical, poor little things.

"Okay, squirt, here's the deal," he said, not unkindly, though the intensity of Spock's curious stare was beginning to thoroughly creep him out. "You sit still and let me make sure you're in decent shape, all things considered, and then you can go with the captain here and see the ship. That sound all right to you?" He'd no idea if the child was able to comprehend complex sentences, but he also didn't want to start talking baby-talk and have the kid announce suddenly that 'speaking gibberish was illogical' or something.

Spock only blinked at him, one slanted eyebrow slowly rising up his tiny forehead.

"Be good for Doctor Bones, Spock," Jim supplied helpfully.

Spock looked back at his captain for visual confirmation, and then finally gave the doctor a slow nod, eyes fastened curiously on the blinking lights of the med-scanner.

One quick sweep over the tiny body to gather information, and McCoy sent the results to his personal computer before handing the scanner over with a small grin. Spock's dark eyes fairly lit up with interest, and he took the instrument eagerly, immediately beginning to push buttons at random and watch the results. Thus busily engaged, the child was unaware of the approaching vitamin hypospray until it had depressed gently into his neck.

Tiny eyebrows clenched fearsomely as Spock then glared at him, rubbing the side of his neck with one hand. Overhead, Jim stifled a laugh, and McCoy himself found it hard-pressed not to grin at the indignant look; obviously being ticked off wasn't considered illogical at one year old.

He crouched down in front of the bed, at eye level with the affronted child, and took Spock's tiny wrist with one hand, timing the rapid pulse in his preferred old-fashioned way. The contact did not appear to alarm the little one, for which he was grateful, but just the same he kept his grip gentle. "Sorry about that," he said sincerely. "But you're gonna need the vitamins if you're gonna grow up big and strong and smart, okay?"

Spock regarded him coolly for a moment, head tilted slightly to one side, and he watched the small face carefully, trying to gather any information he could about the child's mental state. They were all way out of their depth here, and he'd need any and all data he could get if this wasn't going to crash and burn around them in the next couple of months.

Then he nearly jumped out of his skin as tiny cold fingers suddenly reached out and touched his face in an eerily familiar approximation.

"Whoa, whoa!" he exclaimed, though not out of any real alarm. "No baby mind-melds, kid."

But it had just been the gentle whisper of an inquiry, light and innocent and simply inquisitive, withdrawing from his consciousness the instant it had fluttered against it.

"Well?" he asked softly, unsure if this were normal behavior for a touch-telepathic child; it could be perfectly normal communication in Vulcan culture, for all they knew. And regardless, he wasn't about to start off with the kid telling him he'd innocently violated a cultural taboo that actually hadn't harmed anyone. "Am I…satisfactory?"

"Sha'hassu," Spock spoke suddenly, the childlike timbre startlingly high-pitched after years of hearing their First's distinct low baritone. Once spoken with such declarative finality, the child reverted back to his shy demeanor, carefully hiding his face behind the med-scanner, which he was examining with studious attention.

"Uh…" While delighted to have produced Spock's first word (so to speak), he had no idea what that meant. "I take it that means some kind of yes?"

He glanced up, only to see Jim Kirk looking like he was about to melt into a captain-sized puddle in the middle of the Sickbay floor.

"Nope," the captain said with a sappy smile. "That's Vulcan for my doctor, Bones."

Chapter Text

When he had finally managed to pry his now infant First Officer out of the greedy clutches of a dozen squealing nurses and a much amused CMO, the captain finally made his escape from Sickbay with his precious cargo and managed to get to the Bridge without being waylaid by any other crewmen. Word spreads quickly aboard a starship, and he was relieved to see that his Bridge crew was looking for his reappearance with more resignation than surprise at the news that Commander Spock had been himself subjected to the Regenratron technology.

Even though it was three hours into beta shift, it looked as if the alpha shift crew had remained on duty to see their First Officer, and his heart warmed at the gesture of loyalty as he stepped out of the turbolift with a Vulcan toddler in his arms.

"Oh, Captain! He's so small!" Uhura exclaimed softly as he paused by her station. A pair of curious dark eyes peered at her over the top of a fleece blanket Kirk had appropriated to give the child extra warmth, and she smiled. "Tonk'peh, Spock-kam," she greeted Spock in his own tongue, and a flash of life flickered in the little one's expression. "Does he speak Standard, do you think, sir?" she asked, suddenly worried.

"The Insonti High Council said the language comprehension centers are not changed by the technology involved, merely regressed in vocabulary and communicative ability," Kirk replied, and she hid a smile as he unconsciously cuddled the child closer protectively. "He should develop Vulcan and Standard simultaneously if we continue to use both, from what the High Priest told me. Spock made recommendations to that effect in his own notes, which I've retrieved from his pre-transformation research. I will be relying on you to help develop that Vulcan portion, Lieutenant, as I'm afraid my own Vulcan is extremely basic and we've yet to decide whether or not to recall M'Benga or another doctor well-versed in Vulcan physiology."

"Of course, Captain." She smiled kindly at the inquisitive little one, who then promptly hid his face in a fold of the blanket against the captain's gold tunic. "He's a shy little thing, sir."

"I imagine he was indeed, as a child, Lieutenant," Kirk replied quietly. "Perhaps we will be of assistance in changing that aspect of his childhood."

An incoming transmission light began blinking at her, and she hastily turned her attention to filtering out the static caused by their close orbit around Insontis. The captain smiled reassuringly at his Communications Chief before continuing to the command dais, where he crouched down to deposit his bundle on the floor of the lower Bridge.

Spock sat after wobbling for only a moment, and blinked with an awestruck expression at his surroundings.

Chekov and Sulu grinned as the toddler then eagerly accepted the small medical tricorder which the captain fished out of a pocket. The tiny dark head bent studiously over the scanner, experimentally pushing buttons and watching the blinking lights which the actions produced.

"Sir, Starfleet Command for you on Channel One," Uhura spoke up from behind them.

"An entirely expected pleasure, thanks to you, you little stinker," Kirk muttered with no real rancor. He tucked the blanket around the oblivious toddler and then quickly vaulted to his feet, plopping himself down in his command chair with a defiant thwock. "Let's get it over with, Lieutenant."


"Captain Kirk," Admiral Cartwright reiterated sharply, twenty minutes into the vid-conference. "This was not what we had in mind when we granted Commander Spock permission to further study the Insonti technology!"

"I understand your concerns, Admirals," Kirk replied with a vague wave of the hand, completely unruffled. "However, I remind the council that he was granted scientific carte blanche in his departments' endeavors. That he, a Vulcan and a scientist, took that at its literal face value, should not be an unexpected conclusion. And, may I add, I agree with his preparatory notes and reasoning; we do need to test the effects on a non-human subject before we are capable of even attempting to unravel the technology involved and decide upon its value in the event of induction of the Insonti to the Federation. To refuse such an opportunity would have been contradictory to Commander Spock's very nature as the foremost scientist in his field."

"That's the biggest load of bull I've ever heard him spiel with a straight face to a bunch of Starfleet bigwigs," Sulu murmured under his breath.

Chekov, still staring wide-eyed at their tiny First Officer, who was calmly playing with his small tricorder, nodded emphatically.

"We can hardly keep the Enterprise off active assignment for yet another three months, Captain Kirk," Komack interjected severely. "This is not how we intended the majority of your last mission year to go. You are scheduled to begin the journey back to Terra in only four months, and we cannot spend the interim waiting for this...experiment, to conclude."

"Understood, sir. But neither I nor Dr. McCoy, nor indeed the Insonti High Council, anticipate it being anywhere near as long as the first experiment was," Kirk returned calmly. "All of us agree that the time for a mentally superior species to assimilate the lessons necessary for re-aging will be, in all probability, no longer than the Enterprise was stationed here for research purposes. We will lose no more time than we would be in orbit anyway; I believe Commander Spock would never have agreed to so inconvenience the ship and handicap his departments had that been the case."

The board of admirals looked sourly at him on the Bridge's viewscreen, and he decided a strategic change of tactic was in order.

"Besides, Admirals," he added, suddenly swinging a startled Vulcan toddler up in front of him, "how can you be irritated with something this cute?"

Wide-eyed, Spock blinked at the dozen elderly admirals in shy fascination, apparently not minding the fact that he was being held in mid-air under the arms by a grinning human.

An undignified snort, followed by a barely muffled fit of snickering from the aging Admiral Archer set the relaxed precedent Kirk had been hoping for, and after Cartwright had groaned and signed them off with a resigned sigh and warning that their progress would be strictly monitored, he grinned at his Bridge crew with satisfaction.

"Our little one is going to be spoiled rotten before he's six years old, you are aware, Captain," Uhura inquired with a smile.

"Totally." Kirk chirped, grinning. "What say we go see what Doctor Bones is doing about setting you up for the night, kiddo?" he continued, looking down at his tiny First Officer, who merely raised a small slanted eyebrow in incomprehension.

"Sha'hassu?"

"T'etek'hassu," he corrected, not missing the coo of delight from Uhura at hearing the distinction. "Don't tell me one of the lessons I have to teach you is how to share?"

Chapter Text

"Khi-gad-yem?"

"Lunch."

"L'unsch?"

"Lunch. L-un-chhah."

Seated at a small table in Rec Room Three, Kirk looked down at his small companion and grinned as tiny slanted brows furrowed. Spock glanced down once more at the miniature data-padd before him and the linguistics flashcard which had appeared.

"Lunch," the toddler declared, glancing shyly up through his bangs for approval.

Kirk's smile widened, and he felt himself melt a little unashamedly; it would take a far harder heart than his to successfully resist such a cute and openly curious kid. At barely two years old, Spock's piping half-Vulcan, half-Standard had already succeeded in wrapping every single crewman on board around his tiny little finger over the last few days.

"Indeed," the captain praised warmly. "What do you like to have for lunch, Spock?"

"Bar-kas'mah," the toddler replied promptly. (1)

"Right, and like I said my Vulcan is colloquial at best," Kirk muttered, hastily pulling up the linguistics bank on his own personal padd, where he had been half-attempting to complete the backlog of paperwork which had already started to accumulate in his First Officer's (sort-of) absence. The closest Standard equivalent was…

"You are not having French toast for lunch, Spock," he said, laughing heartily at the affronted expression he received. Obviously, to a two-year-old Vulcan mind, it was logical to eat that which appealed most.

"F'renge toes?"

"French toast," he repeated, leaning with his arms around the little one to type the standard spelling onto the flashcard application. A picture flashed up onto the screen a moment later, and Spock nodded solemnly in approval, patiently tolerating the half-hug with a by-now familiar forbearance. "Maybe for breakfast tomorrow, but not lunch."

"Po?"

"Because I said so," he replied without thinking, only belatedly realizing he was turning into his own mother. Giving Spock a little squeeze, he then sat back and smiled reassuringly at the slightly scowling toddler. "And because it is not healthy for a growing kan-bu."

"Nash-veh ri'kan-bu!" Spock cried indignantly. (2)

Barely restraining his laughter, the captain managed to tone it down to a grin. He cleared his throat, aware that his communications chief was sitting in a nearby chair reading, and currently giggling into her book, having understood every word of their slow conversation. Uhura had been the one to suggest the flashcard method of sharing Vulcan and Terran Standard words to rapidly develop the child's vocabulary, and so far it had been a huge hit with their resident pint-sized First Officer.

"Standard, Spock. Teraya-eingelsu."

"I am not...not...an in-fant!"

"No, you are not a baby, Spock," Kirk declared with appropriate solemnity. "And you are not just a child. You are…"

Large dark eyes blinked quizzically up at him, waiting patiently for his verdict.

He ran a hand through his hair, and drew frantically on every bit of obscure High Vulcan he knew.

"Pi'ne ki'ne?" he hazarded, vaguely registering Uhura's startled glance and then soft smile of approval. (3)

Spock's tiny eyebrow inched upward in obvious skepticism.

"Right, I probably just butchered about five ancient Vulcan doctrines," he muttered, face flushing in embarrassment. "Never mind. What's next on our list there, Spock?"

Spock studied his datapadd for a moment in silence, and then punched in a sequence to draw up another flashcard.

"Ensign. Next is Lieutenant," Kirk read out, seeing the pictures of Starfleet rank insignias. "And that's the braid for a Lieutenant-Commander."

Spock leaned over curiously at that. Tiny fingers reached out hesitantly to trace over the triple braid on the captain's gold sleeve.

"Khart-lan?"

"Captain," he agreed, smiling down at the child who was so intently studying his sleeve with the inborn curiosity of a true scientist.

"Sha'khart-lan," his tiny First Officer declared with finality. (4)

There was probably some regulation about the ship's captain wearing a sappy grin in the middle of a lower decks rec room, but at that moment he really couldn't be bothered to care much. "Am I now."

Dark eyes rolled ceiling-ward in a childish expression of exasperation. "Veling." Spock gave his arm a gentle pat, and promptly returned to clicking through his flashcards. (5)

Still smiling, Kirk glanced up as a figure slid into place beside them at the table, nodding a greeting to Uhura across Spock's bent head.

"Soooo, whatcha got there, kiddo?" McCoy inquired amiably.

"Teraya-eingelsu mesukh," Spock replied without looking up.

"Federation Standard and Vulcan lessons – on both sides," the captain clarified ruefully. "Never thought I'd have to brush up on anything more intricate than No thank you, I would prefer water in Vulcan, I have to say."

Spock paused, tiny fingers poised over the keypad. "Th'ank you?" he inquired, eyebrow raised in puzzlement.

"Ummm…Nemaiyo?" (6)

The toddler hummed in comprehension. "Shaya tonat," he corrected.

Kirk nodded in exasperation toward the little one. "What he said, Bones."

Spock's little head jerked up once more, eyes wide. "Hinek-teraya?" he asked incredulously.

Hazel eyes blinked slowly, and the captain finally shook his head after another moment of wracking his brain. "Yeah, you lost me there, Spock."

McCoy took one look at Uhura's silently quivering shoulders, and sighed with the tolerance of a man who has done his fair share of dealing with insane superiors for several years, thank you, and didn't sign up or get paid for daddy duty with either of them. "I believe he thinks you just called me a skeleton, Jim."

"Oh. Heh." He glanced down, and saw Spock regarding him suspiciously. "How do I explain illogical nicknames to a bilingual toddler?"

"Nash-veh ri'kan-bu!" Spock all but bellowed, drawing the startled, slack-jawed attention of every crewman within fifteen meters as he slammed his data-padd down on the table with Vulcan-strong little hands.

McCoy began employing the better part of valor – retreat in the face of an enraged baby Vulcan with obviously only a precarious sense of emotional control. He silently thanked every deity in the quadrant that there were no flying soup bowls this time around, and made a mental note to have an enormous crate of chocolate sent to the Lady Amanda when they were next in the Vulcan sector.

"Never mind the nicknames, figure out in what universe is a tantrum logical?"

Chapter Text

Like that of any even slightly mysterious species, the lore surrounding Vulcan physiology was both plentiful and highly exaggerated. The rumor that a Vulcan could not become intoxicated by alcohol but by chocolate, for example: while it was true that Vulcan metabolism could quickly metabolize alcohol and could not quickly metabolize most forms of chocolate, it was untrue that a cup of chocolate milk would produce a drunken Vulcan, and even a Vulcan could become intoxicated from a beverage in which the alcohol content was high enough, such as Romulan ale. The intoxicating effects of the much-hyped chocolate had more to do with complex sugars than the cacao itself; Jim Kirk had found this out on complete accident and much to his great interest, during one long shuttle ride in which he had offered his First Officer a peppermint with rather interesting results he had promised never to share with anyone upon pain of death. 

But the rumor that, being descendant from a felinoid species, Vulcans hate water? That one, apparently, was true.

McCoy's drenched sleeves bore silent testimony to it.

"I'm not dealin' with this," he snarled as he stalked past, while the captain tried valiantly to hide his laughter. "You gave him the green light to turn himself into a pint-sized bucket of Trouble, so you can be the one to explain why taking a bath is too, logical. I'm going to dinner."

Had Sickbay's automatic doors been capable of slamming, they no doubt would have behind their cranky Chief Medical Officer. As it stood, the captain blinked in some surprise for a moment, and then turned toward Nurse Chapel, who was recalibrating a sensor-array on a malfunctioning bio-bed.

"Nurse –"

"No," she said dryly, without turning around. "The situation is quite awkward enough, Captain, and will be even more so when he reverts to his proper age. I am not stepping foot in that room, even if he is little more than an infant."

"But –"

"Captain."

Kirk sighed, and ruefully made his way toward the cubicle where McCoy had fifteen minutes before prepared a bath for their now toddler-sized First Officer. Ordinarily, just from their shared bathroom between cabins, he knew Spock preferred sonic cleansing; but the harsh sonics were harmful to a child's more sensitive skin, and so they were not a viable option at this point in time.

Apparently, however, this did not appear to deter the toddler's opinion, for he was quite vociferous in his protests against being submerged even in warm, bubble-laden water – as McCoy's drenched uniform had so told the world.

The door shut behind him silently, and he glanced around with approval at the elevated temperature of the room; it felt boiling hot to him, and so it must be comfortable for a Vulcan child. That meant there was no real reason for Spock's (for lack of a better word) tantrum, and he intended to use that tack when coaxing the little one to submit to this crucial part of every child's development.

Spock was sitting, wrapped in an oversized, fluffy towel, on a small stool to the side of the tiny tub, which McCoy had requisitioned for just this purpose – about the size of a foot-bath, shallow enough to prevent the toddler from drowning even should an adult's watchful eye wander. A froth of foamy bubbles floated on the top of the steaming water, but the child's dark eyes glared at them over the edge of the towel with a ferocious loathing Kirk had never seen on a Vulcan before.

All in all, Spock looked a bit like a fluffy dark-haired burrito, squirreled into the recesses of the towel to hide his indignity. Kirk was quite proud of the fact that he managed to hide his grin.

"Spock," he said with a firmness he had always reserved for his nephews when they were trying to pull a similar stunt. "Your behavior toward Dr. McCoy is not only rude but also illogical. What logic is there in remaining dirty when you have the opportunity to be clean?"

"I am not yet unclean enough to require such drastic measures," was the lofty response, delivered in a tone that clearly said you humans are such idiots, why do I even bother.

"You will show your elders the proper respect they are due, Spock," he replied sternly, and saw the child's gaze flicker downward in mortification. He had done much research, including long talks with the Lady Amanda, about how to rear a Vulcan child; and she had emphasized above all, that a firm societal structure was crucial to building boundaries for such a logical mind, even at a very young age. "That includes all medical prescriptions given by Dr. McCoy, and the orders I give you – do you deny this?"

"No, Captain-Jim," Spock replied softly, and he felt his heart melt on the instant.

Crouching down in front of the child, he smiled reassuringly, knowing that even a Vulcan relied on physical expression – facial expression, especially – as a source of cultural understanding. "Nobody's angry at you, Spock, and I get that you don't like the water – but there is no alternative, since you are too young and your skin too sensitive to be subjected to the type of harsh sonics that the Enterprise uses in its cleansing cubicles. Do you understand the reasoning behind this?"

He received a dismal nod.

"Now, the quicker you hop in there, the quicker you can be done; is that not logical?"

Evidently, however developed a three-year-old Vulcan's vocabulary was, the ability to control facial features was still in progress, for it was the first time he'd ever seen Spock actually scowl at him.

It was so cute he wanted to just squish the little guy.

Fortunately, he also knew that would be unacceptable to a Vulcan in any form, and so he only looked meaningfully at the steaming tub and then stuck his hand in the water to test it while Spock reluctantly scooted off the stool, still glaring murder out of two adorable dark eyes.

"Nice and warm," he said with a grin, which did nothing to alleviate Spock's annoyance. "Now hop in, while I figure out where Bones put your shampoo."

"I am not in need of assistance," Spock said severely, tiny eyebrows drawing down in disapproval.

"Okay," he agreed cheerfully, finally locating the bottle of child-friendly shampoo in the wall cupboard. Seeing an assortment of child's bath toys as well, he grinned – McCoy liked to say he had no desire to be a father figure any more, but these didn't just appear; they had to be specially requisitioned from the quartermaster and SS&R. Snatching up a rubber duck and two toy models of generic constitution-class starships, he continued. "But we humans like to help the people we care for; and to let us have our cultural differences is logical, isn't it?"

There was a small splash behind him, and he turned to see the disgruntled toddler seated amid a truly impressive pile of bubbles, looking slightly mollified, probably more because the water was warmer than expected rather than because of his captain's cultural differences.

He squatted cheerfully beside the small tub and handed the child a washing cloth. "There, now – it's not so bad, is it?"

"It is…tolerable." Spock regarded the enormous amount of bubbles with barely-veiled distaste. "The scent of this…foam, however, is…" Kirk hid a laugh as the child's admittedly impressive vocabulary failed him. Spock waved a tiny hand in disgust.

"Gross?" he supplied, smiling.

Spock's tiny nose wrinkled, more from the slang than from the smell, which to the captain's more undiscerning nose was some bizarre combination of coconut and baby oil.

"Well, the sooner you get it over with, the sooner we can escape, hm? Hair first." He carefully squirted a dollop of shampoo into the tiny waiting hand, refraining from offering assistance as the child had made it quite clear he desired none.

Five minutes later, he wished desperately that it would not be an invasion of privacy (and ethics) to snap a picture; for the sight of a baby Vulcan studiously scrubbing his fine hair into a lather with both little hands was something he could sell for thousands were he so inclined.

Spock's miserable expression when water was poured over his head to rinse reminded him of a wet cat, huddled dejectedly under a bush in the middle of a rainstorm. It was enough to make even the hardest heart melt, and he was far from that, where this particular Vulcan was concerned.

"What is that, Captain-Jim?"

He glanced down to where the toys he'd retrieved from the cupboard rested on a nearby towel; the brightly-colored objects had finally caught the attention of a curious baby Vulcan.

He schooled his face into a quite serious expression, and held up the first. "A crucial element of human culture, Spock," he said with perfect solemnity. "In childhood, it becomes one of the most recognizable elements in a human child's development. This, is called a rubber duck."

"An uninspired name," Spock commented, examining the creature with only cursory interest. The little eyes widened slightly when a squeeze produced a loud squeak. "Is it supposed to make this sound?"

"Indeed," was Kirk's straight-faced reply. "Human children are often gifted them as an object with which to amuse themselves during bathtime. Granted, I am aware that you are, to all appearances, Vulcan, Spock," he continued, and noted the proud gleam that flickered in the child's eyes at his words, "yet I believe it is logical to learn of the more harmless aspects of your half-human heritage, is it not?"

Spock regarded the toy with a critical eye, giving it another experimental squeak. "It is logical," the toddler finally declared with solemnity, and placed the rubber duck carefully on a pile of bubbles, whereupon it sank to the level of the water.

Hiding a smile, Kirk regarded that as a colossal triumph, and decided to forgo the toy starships.

With a Vulcan, it was not wise to press one's luck.


Half an hour later, the Officers' Mess very carefully did not stare as their captain strolled blithely in for dinner, his gold tunic darkened with large drenched spots and with a squeaky-clean Vulcan child in his arms.

And if anyone noticed a small yellow duck clutched protectively under the toddler's left arm, well.

It was only logical to keep a gift, after all.

Chapter Text

If bad things always came in threes, as his Grandma Kirk had always said, then he wryly reflected that he was well into his sixth set of threes by this point in an already bad day.

Spock's sudden departure, however planned for prior to the Insonti incident, had nonetheless thrown the ship into something of a handicap; he had never really realized just how integral his First was to the Enterprise's inner workings until now. Saddled with an unanticipated amount of paperwork which Spock usually directed, redirected, and misdirected to spare him the tedium, he had spent the majority of this single day off signing requisitions, reading reports, correlating data, and various other endless minutiae which usually fell to his ranking XO.

A pounding headache had not done his tolerance levels any favors, as his unfortunate yeoman discovered when she attempted to coax him into eating lunch, and later dinner; and it was only after he realized he'd nearly reduced the poor girl to tears by his brusque dismissal of her entirely appropriate concerns that he decided it wasn't just his command image suffering because of his lack of a brilliant Vulcan First.

In addition to the added strain of running the ship practically single-handedly, he had not been sleeping well for the last four days. This was in part due to simple stress; he had always been a light sleeper, and when his mind was running a thousand parsecs a second he found himself waking every hour or so, still pondering problems and simply unable to fully shut down. His bouts of sleeplessness were also due in part, two of those nights, to the fact that their now three-year-old Spock apparently had learnt quickly how to deactivate the alarms on his child bed in Sickbay and had escaped two nights running, prompting an all-out panic when McCoy popped in before retiring at midnight to check on his tiny charge.

Spock had been found within thirty minutes both times, sitting calmly in a deserted corridor and poring over one of the small instruments he'd been given to play with, but the damage to all their sleep cycles had been done. The toddler's protests that it was illogical to expect him to follow a Terran child's sleep cycles had been met with firm medical overrides and threats of bodily dismemberment from a very scared Chief Medical Officer, which were only countered with a raised eyebrow and the observation that sleep deprivation was directly correlative to Dr. McCoy's decibel level. Jim had tried not to laugh, for sake of a unified front, and also because he was more annoyed than anything else with their curious little resident Vulcan and if he spoke, Spock would certainly pick that up.

All in all, it had been a trying week, though not without its bright spots, and this in particular an extremely trying day.

Desperately rubbing at his temples in an effort to ward off the pain of an approaching migraine, he barely heard the pneumatic hiss of the door opening behind him, and so started violently when something small suddenly scrambled with somehow graceful dignity onto the small sofa beside him.

He had never recalibrated his door's locking sensors, and as they had been programmed to unlock at the First Officer's bio-signature from their first year aboard, Spock could enter his cabin at will even in this regressed state. He'd kept that on purpose, in case the child needed him or a private refuge and was unable to access the computer or his own cabin for some reason.

"Spock, for pity's sake," he murmured, heart rate returning to normal. "Does Dr. McCoy know you're in here?"

"He does," the toddler intoned solemnly. Kirk glanced over, to see something flicker in the dark eyes currently fixated on his face.

"What is it?"

A tiny hand picked aimlessly at a bit of fluff on the sofa cushion. "Are you enduring what is called a 'bad day', Captain-Jim?"

He nearly swallowed his tongue at being so addressed by a Vulcan child so tiny it was slightly disturbing, but managed to do no more than smile at the earnest little one. "It has been a long day, Spock. I am sorry I wasn't able to see you much today."

"A day is neither longer nor shorter than twenty-four cycles," Spock corrected, obviously mystified, and apparently entirely ignoring his apology for neglecting the child in favor of catching up on a paperwork pile-up.

He hid a laugh, relaxing slightly. "So it is, Spock. It's a human expression; it means that the day seemed longer, due to the amount of unpleasantness it entailed."

The toddler nodded seriously, committing this to memory. Then Spock frowned slightly, and edged closer to him.

"Captain-Jim?" Spock had somehow got it into his little head that that was his proper name, hearing one from various members of the crew and the other from McCoy, and no matter how often he was corrected the child stubbornly insisted on addressing him as such. It was a bit adorable, really.

He absently wondered if the child was perceptive enough to realize what he was doing should he get up and take one of McCoy's headache pills. "Yes, Spock."

"Have there been any attempts to remedy this situation?"

"…What situation?"

Dark eyes glinted severely. "This 'bad day', Captain-Jim."

He carefully did not laugh, no matter how tempting it was, and slowly shook his head, smiling slightly. "There have not, Spock. It is...we say, just one of those things. It will pass."

Small slanted eyebrows darted downward in a fearsome scowl. "Unacceptable," the toddler pronounced with finality.

He cocked an inquisitive eyebrow back at the little one, much amused. "Indeed?"

"Indeed," Spock repeated severely. Carefully setting aside his ever-present data-padd, the child then clambered unceremoniously into his startled captain's lap, settling down with folded hands and a resigned air of patient endurance, much like a cat who permits an unruly child to pet it without scratching in self-defense. "I am given to understand from a topical study that physical contact is the preferred method of comfort for humanoid species," the little one continued, quite seriously. "You may engage in one such display if it is of comfort to you, Captain-Jim."

Kirk choked down a laugh sounding suspiciously like a sob, and gave the child an affectionate squeeze, hiding his smile in the mop of dark hair. His headache had receded, somehow, and his affectionate gratitude warmed them both as they sat for a moment. 

"I am honored, Spock," he finally said, knowing the warmth in his tone – and heart – would bleed clearly through the physical contact.

"Indeed," the child agreed with an air of tolerant smugness.

Chapter Text

McCoy would love to be able to say, that he'd seen it coming. That they'd caught the signs early, that his medical expertise had perceived the growing danger before it became too drastic a problem to ignore. He'd like to be able to tell the captain, who was no less freaked out about the incident than his medical staff, that they had been prepared for this eventuality, and had a plan in place accordingly. He'd love to be able to say that it was perfectly normal for a kid, and even to be anticipated given the stressful circumstances.

Unfortunately, he could not, truthfully, say any of these things.

And Captain James T. Kirk was not happy with him. No, actually, that was a colossal understatement.

Jim was furious.

There was very little that could make their captain lose all pretense of command control, only a few things which might trigger a metaphorical explosion in front of his subordinates; but unfortunately for them all one of those few things was their (currently fun-sized) Chief Science Officer and said Science Officer's precious dignity.

The already nearly-empty room had wisely completely emptied within moments after the incident began, and now even McCoy knew to quail before the unleashed fury that was currently raking this very late night Officers' Mess.

And, if he were honest with himself, Jim's anger was more than justified. He or one of his medical staff should have seen it coming, or at the least most certainly should have realized there was a problem long before it came to a head like this.

They had been becalmed in orbit for over a week now, during which their tiny resident Vulcan had carefully wormed his way into the hearts of everyone aboard, almost surpassing the affection the crew had had for a starry-eyed little Captain Sunshine. Spock had acclimated to his new life and new circumstances with the same calm serenity and curiosity which characterized his adult self as a scientist and a Vulcan; and they had come to expect the little guy to accept everything around him with such equanimity as he had shown in the nine days he'd been aboard. By this time, Spock was around four years of age; old enough to converse with relative fluidity in both Terran Standard and in Vulcan, but still very small for his age, and as inquisitive as any fully human preschooler would be.

McCoy had gratefully turned the majority of babysitting duty over to their captain by this point, who for many reasons was the most logical choice for raising a baby Vulcan. For one thing, there was very little for the captain of the ship to do, when they were merely orbiting a peaceful planet on a research mission, and McCoy himself now had a starshipload of research to do into specialized child psychology. For another, it was obvious to even the most clueless crewman that their tiny Vulcan worshipped the ground Kirk walked on, at any age. And thirdly, Kirk did have the most experience, and had done the most research, into Vulcan culture, and he had an innate, almost instinctual understanding of said culture. 

So, if he was pointing fingers, McCoy rather thought it was Kirk who should have seen the indications, though in the captain's defense the sleeping hours were technically designated to him and his medical staff, in order to keep a close eye upon the child's Vulcan physiology in the event of an overnight age-change. Spock would leave his nursery cubicle in Sickbay every morning with Jim or another crewman, and would rarely return before evening mess; after which he would spend a bit of time with someone and then retire to Sickbay once more for his designated sleep schedule.

But regardless, someone – one of them, him or the captain, at least – should have seen it, should have realized Spock wasn't sleeping, at least not very well. Why he hadn't used the bio-monitors to regularly check the child's sleeping habits was an oversight he was not proud of; but in his defense, Spock had never required much sleep, no more than a few hours a night, and it was the last thing on McCoy's mind when trying to care for a baby Vulcan among his other duties. If a Vulcan child wanted to entertain himself at night or early morning and didn't appear to be harming himself doing so, then he would cautiously allow it for now; but this was something else.

Either way, one of them should have raised an alarm about Spock before the poor kid thoroughly embarrassed himself by bursting into real, honest-to-god tears in the middle of evening mess, right in front of a dozen shocked, and more than a little freaked out, senior and upper officers.

Nobody knew what had set it off, and at that point no one bothered to find out, because those few crewmen who had been on their way out (Mess was closing for the evening) now scooted hastily out the door under Scotty's emphatic encouragement. McCoy had been lounging near the door, chatting with one of his gamma-shift nurses that he hadn't seen in a few days, when the abrupt, tearful wail of a miserable child suddenly shattered the pleasant white noise of crewmen finishing their meals and putting away trays before leaving for the evening. In a matter of seconds he had scooted around the perimeter of the room to where the senior command crew were accustomed to eating whenever scheduling permitted, and skidded to a halt in front of the table shared with the alpha shift.

Ensign Chekov, who had been Spock's designated feeder for tonight, was hastily scooting back from the child in question, hands buried helplessly in his hair and looking absolutely shocked speechless – and no wonder, because who in the universe had ever even seen a Vulcan cry before, much less one that they knew so well? Child or not, McCoy doubted Vulcan infants even cried at all, because theirs certainly had not, not even once during his baby days.

But now, Spock was curled up in a miserable little ball on the bench seat, head buried in his arms and sobbing helplessly just like any other kid his age might have been on Earth. All they could see was a silky mop of mussed hair, and two tiny quivering shoulders clad in miniature Science blues.

"Where's the captain?" he asked softly, motioning for Chekov to scoot out of the way.

"He was getting a coffee refill, sir! Doctor, I do not know what happened, he was very quiet during the meal but nothing was wrong that I know! But just suddenly –"

"It's all right, Ensign. You just go 'long with Sulu and let us handle it, okay? I promise I'll take good care of him." He'd also have words with Jim for drinking even more coffee so late in the evening, but that was definitely last on the priority list at the moment.

Scotty was still ushering curious crewmen out of the room, and Sulu and Uhura had immediately taken one look at the situation and known their presence would not be welcomed. They had given him a look of sympathy and retreated to a nearby table, remaining quiet but not abandoning the child in the event their help might be needed.

Either that, McCoy mused ruefully, or they'd seen the look on the captain's face as he forced his way back through the room, coffee long since abandoned on a table by the meal selectors.

"I was gone for fifteen seconds." The sentence was fairly snarled in his ear as the captain flew around an errant chair, knocking it to the side in his haste. "What. Did. They. Do to him? Spock? Hey buddy, can you hear me?" The child flinched under the captain's hand, though the tearful wails quieted slightly into just painful, heart-wrenching sobbing.

"No one did anything, Jim," McCoy muttered, his pocket medical scanner already finishing its scan, whirring eagerly over the huddled figure. "There's nothing wrong with him that I can tell. No virus, pain indicator and or temperature are normal, nothing abnormal for a Vulcan. Granted, this pocket scanner's not a full medical exam but there's nothing medically wrong with him that I can see!"

Kirk ignored him, only crouched and squeezed without hesitation between the bench and the table, half-turning the child's huddled form toward him. "Spock. Talk to me," he said softly, the words more gentle than the firm hands he kept on the child's tiny shoulders to prevent his escaping.

A tear-streaked face made a brief appearance as the child shook his head, tugging relentlessly against the grip.

"Spock?"

"Ti'amah!" (1) The sobbed word was followed by a fresh volley of tears, and McCoy resisted the urge to throw the medical scanner against the wall, helpless even more so than the captain was to respond to whatever was triggering this by all accounts dangerously human reaction to something. A few meters away, he saw Scotty return to their shocked little group, the engineer's honest face drawn with concern.

But Kirk shook his head in response, eyes softening at the plea. "I will not," he said gently. "Talk to me, Spock-kam. Use your words, little one. What is causing this?"

"Nash-veh ri'fai-tor," the child sobbed helplessly, burying his face anew in his hands.

Kirk's sandy brows knitted in increasing concern.

"What's that mean?" McCoy whispered, hoping his voice wouldn't upset the child even more.

"He doesn't know, Bones. He's as shocked as we are, I think. Give me a minute, here." The captain turned back and gently pried the child's tiny hands from his face.

"Ti'amah!"

"I will not," was the reply, gentle but firm. Kirk carefully released one of the child's wrists, whereupon the hand promptly began rubbing at the tear-filled eyes. He reached up with his free hand and carefully tilted the child's head up with one gentle finger, whereupon Spock stared at him in silent misery, tears still running down his face. "Talk to me, Spock. Are you in pain? Is this a reaction to something someone has said or done?"

"I do not know," the child half-sobbed, scrubbing almost angrily at the tears which continued to fall. "I do not know!"

Kirk shot his Chief Medical Officer a quick warning glance, and then turned back to his miserable little Vulcan. Moving the tiny hand he still held up toward his face, he made certain they had eye contact before speaking. "Spock. Nahp, hif-bi tu throks," he enunciated clearly, eyes glinting with determination. (2)

McCoy started, banging his knee loudly on the edge of the bench in his shocked haste. "Hold it, Jim!"

The captain's free hand made a decisive slicing motion, effectively warning him to silence his protests. Hazel eyes never left the child's tear-filled ones, however, and a moment later both tiny hands latched onto Kirk's face with a desperation that was almost pitiful to any onlooker.

McCoy, who knew the dangers of a poorly-performed mind meld (besides the fact that even a well-controlled one was still an event he hoped never to repeat), was fairly terrified out of his mind; who knew what type of control a toddler could have over such a thing, and how much emotional transference was going to happen regardless! He raised his head, pinching the bridge of his nose in helplessness, and met the eyes of their shocked alpha shift crew with a painful shrug.

"Y'all'd better leave us to it," he said, motioning toward the door. "Captain wouldn't want you watching."

"Aye." Scott's face was pinched with worry, as he glanced back and forth between the two now-silent figures huddled together at the table. "Take care of the lads, Doctor."

The other three murmured similar sentiments before following their Chief Engineer out, and McCoy breathed a sigh of relief when the door had slid shut and it was finally the three of them left alone to deal with the fallout, as it usually was. He ran his pocket scanner once more over Spock, saw nothing out of the ordinary, and then moved it over Kirk, pausing over the man's closed eyes and silent, blank face.

Nothing. The captain's blood pressure was elevated, but then whose wouldn't be, with a bawling Vulcan child freaking out a few meters away. Strangely enough now, though, Spock's crying had petered out into an occasional hitching sob, or the odd silent tear which escaped his clenched eyelids.

It felt like hours, but in reality was probably only a minute or two, before a twitch of discomfort alerted him to the fact that Jim was either coming out of the meld or else was in trouble within it. A moment later the captain's features twisted, teeth worrying unconsciously at his lower lip and brows clenched as if in pain. He was just debating whether it would work to sedate the child and hope the backlash didn't destroy both their minds, when Kirk's eyes suddenly flew open and he rocked backwards, banging his head soundly on the durasteel table. A pained groan was followed shortly by a few shuddering breaths, and shaking hands dashed suspiciously over his eyes as he fought to regain his surroundings.

"Jim," he said quietly, crouched in front of them. Kirk nodded, almost absently, hand upraised to indicate he was fine, and took a shuddering breath just as Spock finally cracked open his eyes with a faint sound of misery.

Spock's lip trembled all over again, and McCoy scrambled back with a squawk of surprise as Kirk surged to his feet, taking the child with him. A tiny dark head slumped down to his shoulder, and he shifted to more firmly hold the little one close.

"Jim?"

Kirk's eyes flashed, though his voice remained low-pitched due to the quivering little body in his arms. "Someone should have noticed by now that he hasn't been sleeping, Bones. This is inexcusable neglect."

"What? Not sleeping?" His jaw dropped in total shock, because that was the last thing he'd expected to hear. "He's a Vulcan – they only sleep about three hours a night and still remain functional, and even with Vulcan children, it's not uncommon for them to only get five or six! That much I did verify when he first turned himself into this, thank you very much!"

"He's been having nightmares an hour into his sleep cycle for the past five days, and he's afraid to go back to sleep afterwards," Kirk broke in abruptly, anger still burning in his eyes. "He's been getting nowhere near that, and none of us saw it. Not you, not me, none of us – and someone should have seen the indications of sleep deprivation and stress before his body and his mental controls just shut down on him tonight!"

On his shoulder, the half-conscious child twitched at the rise in tone, and Kirk immediately shushed him, running a hand soothingly over the tensed back. "Sorry, Spock," he murmured, gently swaying back and forth. "It's okay, I promise."

McCoy dragged a shaking hand slowly over his face. "This is my fault, Jim…I didn't check his sleep cycle records after the first three nights. We even sent him back to Sickbay those nights he kept escaping, and he never said anything about nightmares. He seemed fine, and never told me there was a problem…why I expected him to is beyond me."

Kirk sighed, looking inestimably weary, and shook his head. "We can hash this out tomorrow, Doctor. Both of us are to blame. But right now, we have a baby Vulcan who's scared to go to sleep and more scared that we're going to be disappointed in him for it."

Spock murmured something that sounded suspiciously cranky into Kirk's shoulder, and he laughed softly. "My apologies, Spock; you are not a baby. You are a very brave little ne ki'ne who simply needs his sleep." (3)

"You going to take him to your cabin?" McCoy asked sadly, reaching hesitantly up to stroke the child's mussed hair. "Don't think Sickbay is the best place for him, if all this has happened right under my nose. How 'bout it, kiddo?" he asked, when one dark eye finally peeked out at him. "Want to go spend the night with Captain Jim instead of mean old me?"

The one eyebrow he could see seemed to scowl at him. "On'hafau," Spock declared, the words muffled into the captain's shoulder.

"Do what now?"

"On'hafau!"

"Right, headin' off another Vulcan tantrum, that's me – what is he saying?" he hissed, scowling at Kirk's amusement.

"Both stay is the literal interpretation," the captain explained, patting the child on the back. "I don't think he blames either one of us, Bones."

Spock yawned. "Riolozhikaik," he murmured drowsily, unconsciously snuggling closer.

McCoy's eyes fairly bugged out of his head. "The heck kind of word is that for a four-year-old?!"

Kirk hid his smile in the child's hair. "He just called us illogical, Bones."

"Wonderful. And so it begins…"

Chapter Text

Spock was so quiet that, by the time they reached Deck Five and the captain's quarters, McCoy was sure the kid had basically cried himself to sleep like any normal toddler would.

Unfortunately, their tiny First Officer was not any normal toddler, Vulcan or human or otherwise.

When trying to gently pry Spock off of the captain, they heard a barely audible whimper of protest, and Kirk hesitated, before cautiously trying once more to remove the stubborn child. Tiny but Vulcan-strong fingers clenched in the fabric of his uniform tunic – and, true to form, the shirt promptly tore without further protest.

McCoy grinned at the totally flabbergasted look that crossed Spock's little face, as he then stared down in wide-eyed consternation at the damage. The captain only chuckled softly and plopped down on his bunk like a child himself, scooting back against the pillows he hastily tossed against the low headboard. Spock's eyes widened as he was bounced unceremoniously along with, though he still made no move to release his grip, and finally they were settled to Kirk's apparent satisfaction.

"All right then, kiddo," Kirk began firmly, swiftly turning his tiny protégé until Spock was reluctantly facing him, sitting lotus-style on his lap, "you and I? We are going to have a long talk, and you are going to be perfectly truthful with me in what I ask of you. Am I understood, Spock?"

The tiny head drooped as the child fidgeted, fingers clasping and unclasping in his lap. "Must I?" he inquired dismally.

"You must," was the firm, but kind response. "Dr. McCoy and I cannot help you if you give us no facts to work with. Is that not logical?"

"It is logical, if I were in need of assistance," Spock answered, tiny eyebrows scowling defiantly.

McCoy hid a laugh in his sleeve as he stood, intent upon seeing if he could coax something sleep-inducing and not involving complex sugars out of Kirk's beverage replicator. All they needed was a half-emotional little sugar-buzz right now.

The captain, however, was less amused. "There is no shame in admitting inadequacy due to no fault of your own, Spock," he admonished sternly. "There is, however, no honor in refusing help when it is offered without blame. I permitted you to use the kash-kau, due to your distress tonight. You do understand this cannot be a regular occurrence?"

McCoy briefly wondered if the kid was really able to understand such an advanced vocabulary, but as Kirk had seemed to advance it with the child's aging so far he appeared to know precisely how far to push Spock's child boundaries and how far to push the innate Vulcan boundaries. It was just one reason why Jim and Spock had always had some weird, almost creepily special rapport between them, without having to share headspace. He finally found a preset on the replicator for Vulcan spice tea, and remembering that Spock usually drank it before meditating, decided it probably didn't have a high caffeine content, at least not high enough to trouble a Vulcan. He programmed two cups of the stuff and waited.

Behind him, Jim was giving the poor kid a rough way to go, but apparently that was what the child needed; Lord knew they'd never get anything out of him by playing the nice, emotional heart-to-heart card.

"Ni'droi'ik nar-tor," Spock whispered, scrubbing a clenched fist over his eyes.

"You have done nothing which requires forgiveness," was the kind reply. Kirk's eyes softened as the child still refused to look up at him. "I only ask that you trust me enough to use your words, pi'ne ki'ne. I am not Vulcan; I will not condemn you for a portion of your heritage over which you have not yet mastered control."

Spock glanced up, eyes half-hidden behind his ruffled bangs. "You are not Vulcan," he repeated slowly, suddenly puzzled. "How then, do you know of the kash-kau? And to permit such a liberty, you an outworlder –"

"Whoa there, slow down, Spock." Kirk sighed, pinched the bridge of his nose. "Bones, scan him, I think we probably just skipped a year at least, because Vulcan children aren't taught the ramifications of a mind-meld until age five or so, if what I've read is correct." He turned back to the puzzled child before him, and consciously relaxed his features, knowing Spock would pick up on his tension. "Spock, we will discuss this matter later," he said firmly. "Right now, I would discuss the events of tonight with you."

"Here, kid." McCoy handed the steaming mug to the child, pleased to see the look of contentment on Spock's face after he at first dubiously looked down into the beverage. "You too, Captain sir," he warned, after Kirk had waved away his own drink. "You just got slammed with the emotional mind and tentative control of a half-human four-year-old, so don't tell me you don't have a grandmother of all headaches."

Kirk glared at him but accepted the drink, well accustomed to the soothing effects of the piquant blend of spices. The whirr of the medical scanner was the only sound for the next few moments, followed by McCoy's sigh. "You're right, he's five years, two months now. A six-month jump."

"I do not understand," Spock piped up, looking slightly less miserable after having nearly drained his thermal mug.

"That is a subject for another day, kiddo. You don't want me to bore you with the medical details, trust me."

Spock scrutinized him for a moment with total seriousness, and then gave him a curt nod, apparently accepting his explanation with less than his usual skepticism. McCoy breathed a silent sigh of relief, and put the scanner away.

"Now, about these nightmares," he began cautiously. "Spock, I wish you had come and gotten me or Christine – we have stuff that we could have given you to help you sleep. Non-addictive and perfectly safe for children," he added, for Kirk's benefit. "Not recommended for long-term use, but at least you would've been able to sleep through a night, not go five nights with basically nothing at all, kid."

"Vulcans are able to remain functional without the necessity of a sleep cycle or artificial assistance," was the quiet response.

"Adult Vulcans, yes," Kirk interjected calmly. "Youngling Vulcans? That's a negative, Spock. And you must remember, however much it may cause you frustration – you are not pure Vulcan. You are half human, and that half-human part of your physiology may manifest itself in certain non-Vulcan events – such as having nightmares."

Spock's eyes widened slightly.

"Yes, I am aware that Vulcans do not dream," the captain said with a smile, as he reached behind him to place their empty mugs on the shelf behind his bed. "Is that why you refused to seek help – because you are aware that Vulcans do not have dreams, either pleasant or unpleasant?"

He received an ashamed nod.

"You do understand there's nothing to be ashamed of in being half-human, don't you?" McCoy interjected, patting the child's quivering shoulder briefly. "Just because it's a pain in the neck to you most of the time, doesn't mean you can just ignore it when it manifests itself, y'know."

"I am aware," the child returned, still staring at his hands. "As my outburst in the Mess tonight demonstrated…"

"Your outburst, as you call it, was a textbook medical response to long-term sleep deprivation, kid," McCoy retorted. "Any human child would've been bawling his eyes out ten minutes after waking up the first night, and I've seen full-grown adult men in the middle of a space battle do the same thing if they go without sleep for more than forty-eight hours. It happens, kid. Doesn't mean you're a second-class Vulcan – heck, you lasted longer than any human adult I know, except maybe Captain Invincible himself here." He ignored Kirk's eyeroll in favor of meeting Spock's surprised look square-on. "That was just the body's response to sleep deprivation, kid, not a breakthrough of your human side. Totally natural, and totally to be expected."

"In other words, quite logical, and not likely to be repeated if the conditions are not repeated as well." Kirk smiled, as the magic word brightened the child's eyes. "Does this relieve your mind regarding the incident?"

"It does," the child replied solemnly.

"And need I remind you that it is illogical for you to suffer alone, when there are those willing to offer you help getting back to sleep after a nightmare?"

"I do not require assistance," Spock muttered, with the first sign of rebelliousness they'd seen from him all night.

Kirk carefully hid a grin. "Perhaps not – but it hurts me, and Dr. McCoy, to see you in pain or discomfort, Spock-kam. Is it logical, to cause us such pain?"

"It is not," Spock replied instantly, eyes worried.

"Then therefore, by your own logic, you will come to one of us should you have another such bad dream." The statement was more a command than a request, and the Starfleet officer hidden deep inside obviously responded to it, for the child straightened up out of pure reflex. "Is that understood?"

Spock's dark eyes looked huge in his small face, as he bobbed his head once earnestly. "Indeed."

So dang cute, it's disgusting, McCoy thought ruefully, as Kirk fairly melted into a captain-sized puddle.

"Well, now that that's settled!" Kirk hefted his tiny subordinate off to the side (ignoring the squeak of surprise from a shocked baby Vulcan), swept back the blanket and sheet with one arm and promptly buried the child with them once he was placed on his back in the bed.

"Bones! Bones, I can't find Spock! Where did he go?!"

McCoy rolled his eyes, but stared at the moving bundle under the covers when a muffled giggle interrupted the captain's exaggeratedly dramatic search for Spock.

"Did he just –"

"Don't you dare," Kirk warned, eyes blazing.

"I wasn't going to!"

"See that you don't. Aha!" Fingers pounced on the squirming lump under the blankets. "Gotcha!"

Spock's head popped out of the blankets, hair flying in all directions from static electricity and a tiny almost-smile curving his lips. "You are a most illogical human," he declared, with all the decisiveness of childhood.

Kirk grinned as an enormous yawn followed the words. "And you, Science Officer mine, are about to be a very sleepy little Vulcan."

He tugged the tangled blanket and sheet, smoothing them out with one hand while gently placing the other on the child's head. "Now, Spock. I want you to close your eyes, and think of something. An object, or a place – even a person, if you choose. Something which makes you feel safe, or content."

One dark eye squinted open at him, and he tapped the child's nose reprovingly. Spock hastily closed it again. "Think of that, Spock," he continued, voice softening, deepening hypnotically, "and picture that within your mind as the foundation of a wall you intend to build, to keep away the things which might disturb your rest tonight. It must be a strong wall, so make it something which to you, is the strongest influence you know."

The child's furrowed brow relaxed slightly. Kirk smiled, and continued. "Once you have laid that foundation, you must build upon it. When you breathe in, count slowly to five, and with each number, feel the peace you find within that foundation spread throughout your body. As you breathe out, also count to five – and as you do, strengthen that portion of the wall you intend to build."

McCoy stared, speechless, as within sixty seconds the child's breathing had slowed and deepened, following the captain's directions precisely. Another minute of Kirk's voice calmly washing over the drowsing child, directing his thoughts through a process of peaceful drifting, and then Spock was obviously fast asleep.

Finally the captain stood with a wince, stretching his lower back from its cramped position.

"Guess I'm sleeping in Spock's cabin tonight," he muttered ruefully. "Didn't think this through, did I."

"Huh." He watched as Spock rolled over to his side, still fast asleep, and curled a small hand under his head. Tucking a corner of the blanket back in, he made sure the child was still drowsing, and then turned toward his captain, who was yawning and trying his dead level best to not show that he still had a monstrous headache.

"That sounded suspiciously like Vulcan meditation techniques, Jim," he remarked casually. "A little simplified, of course, but perfect for a child." Hazel eyes blinked innocently at him, and he grinned. "Somebody teachin' you how to meditate before this whole Insonti mess came up, were they?"

Kirk blushed slightly. "Long ago, Bones, back in the early days of our mission…right after the shakedown cruise, actually. I believe the words used after the tenth lesson were 'you are, I believe the human term is, a hopeless case, Captain'," he said ruefully.

McCoy's laughter was quiet enough to not wake their sleeping Vulcan, and he dimmed the lights before they headed through the adjoining bathroom to Spock's quarters, leaving the doors open so that Kirk would be able to hear the child if need be.

"Dunno how you're gonna explain to the kid when he's old enough, how a human outworlder who can't shut his brain off long enough to meditate is gonna be his pihlora until he grows up." (1)

Kirk froze in the act of setting the bathroom door sensors. "And just how, exactly, do you know that word, Doctor?"

"Uh. Hrm. Well, y'see Jim, after the whole mess with Spock and me having to save your ship from the Klingons, and him finding out about what happened in that mirror universe –"

"Oh come on, how is that fair! I'm apparently a hopeless case but he's teaching you? You who are so freaked out by all things telepathic that you won't even talk to the fortune-tellers on Risa?"

"Now look, I am not dealin' with two tantrumy children in one night, Jim!"

"Nam'uh hizhuk!" a cranky, high-pitched voice fairly bellowed from across the small bathroom and room beyond. (2)

They blinked at each other in silence for a moment.

Then McCoy smirked. "So much for your meditation teaching, Captain."

"Oh, shut up, Bones."

For once, he obeyed, and exited Spock's cabin with a private cackle of glee.

This bizarre Insonti ritual had possibly been the best thing for their unusual tri-une relationship; it had bonded the three of them far closer than they ever would have become, alone and unaided by outside influence. He no longer felt like a third wheel with Spock and Jim anymore, Spock and Jim were closer than they ever had been (if that was possible), and Spock even regarded him with a weird sort of logical affection and an almost scary protectiveness that no doubt stemmed from finally learning what had happened in their mirror universe years before.

And, best of all, he had mastered with little difficulty the rudiments of a Vulcan art which Jim apparently had failed miserably at, despite having the same Vulcan teacher.

Life was good.

Chapter Text

Ordinarily, the sense of wrongness would mean that he sleeps even more lightly than usual; as a starship captain, one gets used to being awakened at all hours and it is a self-preservational instinct more than anything else. He is a very light sleeper, one reason why he despises being forced to remain in Sickbay when injured; the slightest noise is enough to wake him up, and in a ward full of monitors and machines, that gets very old very quickly. And so, spending the night anywhere but his own cabin, usually is sufficient to make him sleep even lighter than is typical.

However, he has always been oddly at peace in Spock's cabin, despite its normally being set at a higher gravity and temperature than a human is accustomed to. This most likely has more to do with the fact that Spock in general seems to be a calming influence upon him; and despite Kirk's inability to master the basic concepts of Vulcan meditation, the time spent futilely trying to learn them was in fact the key to unlocking his own methods of mental relaxation.

Spock had said after those futile attempts that his mind was too bright, too chaotic, to fully grasp the concepts successfully, and that it was not an insult, merely an indication of his skill as an innovative starship commander. (Jim privately thinks Spock made that up just to make him feel better, but he'll never let on to his gentle First Officer).

That being said, he finds himself sleeping just as peacefully in Spock's cabin as he would in his own, despite the slight awkwardness of doing so without really getting his First's permission. However, their personal boundaries have eroded so far in the past few months due to the drama with the Insonti planet, that the idea of sleeping there does not phase him in the least (the fact that he is exhausted after a very long day no doubt has something to do with it). He is asleep in moments, after one final check to see that their little Vulcan has at last fallen into the peaceful sleep of a contented child.

Sometime during the night, a sound awakens him, but not fully; he half-listens for a moment, praying it was just the ship making noise and not something which will summon him from Spock's admittedly superior sheets – but after a few moments he hears nothing more, and so slips back into dreamland.

He awakens abruptly before any alarm or summons in the morning, because he had been unaware that Spock evidently has his cabin set to mimic natural Vulcan lighting, and that evidently the Vulcan sun rises at a perfectly ungodly hour of ship's morning. He blinks ruefully up at the reddish glow filtering down from the sensors on the ceiling, and throws one arm over his face with a theatrical groan while stretching the other lazily out to his side.

And he instantly freezes when a small muffled yelp sounds from beside him, as his hand smacks something warm and wiggling with enough force to make him scramble up in the bed, terrified he's just unwittingly killed some pet Spock had in his cabin, unbeknownst to his captain.

Two dark eyes stare warily at him from under a truly impressive pile of blankets, the depth of which explains why his left side is considerably warmer than his right, and why he did not immediately notice that there is a Vulcan child apparently cuddling up to him in the middle of the night.

"Spock, you scared me to death," he breathes, slumping back to the pillows. He pinches the bridge of his nose wearily, wondering how to go about this particular situation (he is grateful he slept in full sleep-clothes last night, as that would just be a whole new level of awkwardness).

"That is illogical, as you are neither dead nor capable of being frightened to that state by a being one-third your size," Spock declares solemnly, the words drifting up out of the blanket-burrito, from which he can only barely see a dark mop of silky bedhead.

"It is too early for this without the help of coffee," he groans, rubbing both hands over his face and then propping himself up on one elbow with a sigh. "Spock. I would like to talk to you, not that blanket," he says, eyebrow raised, and a moment later Spock's head wriggles into view, little nose crinkled up as he huffs hair out of his eyes. "What, exactly, are you doing in here?"

"This is my cabin," Spock says reasonably.

"Well, yes, but…if you wanted to sleep in here, I would have moved back to mine, not made you uncomfortable having to share like this."

Spock's ears turn slightly green. "It was not uncomfortable." Kirk tilts his head questioningly, warily, and sees his tiny companion fiddle uneasily with the edge of a fleece blanket. "I…was unable to change the climate controls when I awoke last night," is the unexpected confession, and he immediately is horrified by what he has unwittingly done.

"Oh, Spock – I'm so sorry! I totally forgot to change the climate controls to a Vulcan tolerance," he breathes, rubbing a hand over his face. "You had to have been freezing!"

"Not precisely so, though the temperature was rather uncomfortable even after changing into these sleeping clothes Doctor McCoy left for my use," Spock replies matter-of-factly. "But apparently the computer does not recognize my voice commands."

"No, of course not, it didn't recognize mine until after I hit puberty," Kirk muses, still aghast at how he had overlooked something so important last night. "Spock, I really am sorry for forgetting that. You should have woken me!"

Dark eyes blink up at him, puzzled. "Why should I have done such a thing? You needed your rest, Captain-Jim, and I was able to find a satisfactory compromise by locating the extra coverings in a storage compartment and then utilizing your residual body heat for my own comfort."

"Right, I'm not even going to touch that sentence," he mutters, trying not to laugh at the innocent reply. "Spock, if you're ever even uncomfortable, or in pain or something, I want you to feel free to wake me up, or wake up Bones if you're in Sickbay. Did you have any more bad dreams last night?"

Spock squirms within the blanket-folds. "Not after becoming warm enough," he hedges, with all the evasiveness of an adult Vulcan.

"Spock…"

The dark head promptly disappears down into the blanket-cave again, and he cannot help but laugh at the childish gesture; to see his stern and collected First Officer behaving so is a memory he will cherish fondly for the rest of his life.

"You really think you can hide from me, do you?" he challenges, grinning, and begins to dramatically pat down the bed, drawing closer to the obvious lump of hiding baby Vulcan. He sees the outline of a tiny foot and suddenly snatches it. "Gotcha!"

This elicits a colossal shriek of surprise, the effect of which is only partially muffled by the blankets, which he then sweeps away in one grand gesture. Spock freezes in a hilariously sprawled position, staring wide-eyed up at him as if hoping if he does not move he will not be seen.

Laughing too hard to keep himself fully upright, Kirk drops the blankets on the floor and scrubs the sleeve of his sleep-shirt across his eyes in preparation for what promises to be another long day. He is therefore entirely taken by surprise when Spock's eyes suddenly gleam with an entirely human mischief, and before he can even make a sound the child has squirreled off the bed and out the door and –

Is running down the corridor of Deck Five.

At the peak of delta shift change.

In rubber-duck-printed footie pajamas.

Holy mother of Surak, adult-Spock is going to murder him if someone gets a picture of that.

"Spock! You get back here now, Mister!"

Six doors down, a sleepy Lieutenant Sulu pokes his head out of his cabin, coming wide awake and staring curiously as a tiny blue-and-yellow blur darts past him and on down the corridor.

"Not a word, or I'll have you transferred to Waste Recycling," Kirk mutters through clenched teeth, as he jogs down the corridor in his slippers and grey Starfleet-issue pajamas.

"Didn't see anything, sir!" A perfectly snapped salute, and the door closes, but not before he can hear the young pilot cackling his head off inside the cabin.

Spock is tiny, and ridiculously fast – and so it's not until the child comes up short at the dead-end of a turbolift that he pauses, temporarily stymied, and glances hastily around for another form of exit (Kirk is just thankful that Spock hasn't realized yet that the doorway across the hall is an unlocked storage closet with access to fairly toxic chemical substances).

But it is, of course, only Kirk's luck that he reaches the little brat just as the lift arrives. He scoops the wriggling, protesting child up in his arms just in time for the door to open.

"Aye, I heard about that."

"And so I said, how do you expect me to repair a circuit board with only one good –"

"Captain Kirk, sir!"

The half-dozen weary delta shift crewmen immediately snap to attention, wide-eyed and obviously trying not to notice the captain's lack of uniform or the rather intimidating scowl their de-aged First Officer is giving the world in general.

Kirk draws himself up to a mirroring stance of attention, pajamas and all, and gives them a curt nod of approval. "As you were, gentlemen," he says with perfect equanimity, entirely ignoring the pouting Vulcan child currently tucked under one arm like an oversized football.

"Uh."

An awkward cough.

"Aye, sir!"

The lift empties around them in a matter of five awkward seconds, and in less time than that the corridor is again empty.

"If this ends up all over the galactic holo-nets I am going to have very little sympathy, kiddo," Kirk mutters, as he hauls his protesting burden back down the corridor to their cabins.

Spock gives one last limb-flailing squirm and then goes limp with a huff, staring blankly at the floor passing dizzyingly underneath him. "I do not understand your constant desire to…pick me up," the child declares grumpily after a moment of silence.

This time, he does roll his eyes, adorable little Vulcan or no. "It is the most expedient action to ensure you do not run away again, thereby embarrassing yourself by acting in a human manner before several human crewmen, Spock-kam."

The child mutters something that he cannot hear and probably doesn't want to, and he grins. "Besides," he continues as they reach their cabins. One dramatic swing and a yelp of surprise, and Spock is now upright in his arms, head bobbing as he tries to orient himself. "It is a natural human instinct to cuddle cute things."

A tiny lip curls in disgust. "I am not cute!"

He schools his features into seriousness, nodding solemnly. The door to his cabin opens to his voice command, and as they enter he is already raising the climate controls to a Vulcan comfort level. "Of course you aren't. I apologize for my…incorrect observation."

Spock squints at him, as if trying to determine the sincerity of his apology, and apparently Jim is as good an actor as he thinks, for the child finally gives him a regal nod. "You are not a scientist, Captain-Jim; such error is understandable."

He manages to turn his laughter into a snort, pursing his lips to keep a straight face. "You are very kind."

"Indeed." And yes, evidently smugness is either not an emotion, or one that is permissible in Vulcan children.

"So perhaps my observation about you wanting strawberry French toast for breakfast is also in error, if my judgment is so scientifically unreliable…"

"Captainnnnn!"

Chapter Text

The upside to having a tiny Vulcan shadowing you everywhere, was that no one could really do anything but smile at you, because who can stay angry in the face of pointy-eared cuteness? The downside to this, however, was that anyone and everyone who was not hurrying to a destination simply had to stop and talk to them, which meant the trek from his quarters to Mess to Engineering (Spock had been promised a tour of the engine rooms by an enthusiastic Montgomery Scott) took four times as long as it should have.

"I do not comprehend the human female's fascination with me," was Spock's dismal comment after a yeoman walked away from them, cooing to a friend about how adorable their de-aged First Officer was.

Kirk made a mental note to make sure the crew understood that once the process was reversed, Spock was to be treated with all the respect his rank and status deserved. They'd managed to stop treating him like a toddler once he was no longer one, but there was something about seeing their stoic First in this condition that he suspected might have lasting consequences if he didn't nip that in the bud once Spock returned to his true age.

Now, however, he grinned down at the disconsolate little face upturned toward his own, and firmly resisted the parental urge to take the tiny hand that occasionally grasped at his pant leg for stabilization as crewmen rushed past.

"It's a human thing, Spock, just trust me on that," he replied, nodding in response to a crewman who did a double-take and then hastily saluted them as he scooted past in the corridor. "There is something within human nature that reacts in this manner to small things; whether they be animal or human or otherwise. You know how much you like tribbles; extrapolate that reaction exponentially into an adult human's view of anything smaller or younger than we are accustomed to seeing."

Spock's blinked as the scientific process filtered through, and then gave a small but lofty sniff of disdain. "I do not like tribbles."

The captain carefully hid another smile. "Sure you don't."

"Vulcans do not like anything, Captain-Jim," the child said solemnly, eyes wide with earnestness.

"I know for a fact, Spock-kam, that you like my mom's butternut squash soup, because that was the first time I've ever seen you eat seconds, much less thirds," Kirk replied, this time not bothering to hide his grin at the memory of a shore leave some time ago. "Surely it is logical to have preferences? To not have them would detract from the principles which are the foundational concepts of IDIC, wouldn't it?"

Spock's dark eyes narrowed sharply. "Your logic is…skewed, sir."

The statement coming from a very tiny, very serious six-year-old nearly made him laugh, which would have totally obliterated his credibility to raise this unusual little being. He made certain to look properly offended rather than amused. "Specify."

The child eyebrow-frowned, looking slightly miffed. "I cannot," he declared reluctantly. "But I do not like things, Captain-Jim." The petulance and lack of vocabulary only made the vehement denial more adorable, and Kirk looked down and gave a solemn nod.

"My apologies, of course, Spock."

"Apology accepted," the child replied immediately, the frown disappearing and melting into a look of such contentment that it made Kirk's heart clench.

How many times had this little Vulcan been accused of humanity, and never had an effort been made to assure him it was both acceptable and indeed natural to be so if he chose? The captain had seen more than once, how in the company of Vulcans Spock was even more Vulcan than full-blooded of that species; even full Vulcans permitted themselves certain indulgences which Spock shunned, no doubt out of desire to prove his own Vulcanity. How many times had Spock been made fun of for a humanistic character trait, only to then lock that portion of himself away as unacceptable? In his efforts to be pure Vulcan, he had alienated humans; and that alienation did nothing to increase his acceptance among his own people. It was the ultimate no-win situation, and the captain of the Enterprise thanked every deity in the quadrant once again, that he had been so fortunate as to be gifted this remarkable being as his second-in-command, and that Kirk had somehow, by some kindness of Fate or Destiny, known how to break through that impenetrable wall around Spock's heart and soul.

He wondered with sad fondness, how much easier Spock's childhood might have been, had he been given one person who was willing to look past the protests and the cold vocabulary, to really see the struggling meld of humanity and Vulcanity crying out underneath.

"Captain-Jim?" A small tug at his pants-leg brought him back to himself, and he saw that they had entered the turbo-lift, and that the doors had shut behind them.

Spock was too short to reach the command-handle, and was looking up at him with barely-concealed impatience.

He probably should have thought before acting, but then again he was used to having nephews; it was an instinct ingrained by this point.

"All right, up we go," he said cheerfully, and hefted the surprised child up under the arms so Spock could reach the handle.

Spock's eyes were wide with shock, but after an initial squirm of discontent he relaxed, grasped the control handle with both little hands and enunciated clearly, "Engineering Deck."

The lift started with a lurch, and the captain saw the tiny eyebrows lift in what he knew was an expression of satisfaction, the closest to a smile he was likely to get from this little Vulcan. However, once the lift began to slow, pinging in warning as they approached the Engineering deck, he set Spock back on the floor and then crouched in front of his former First Officer.

"I should have asked before picking you up, Spock. I apologize for invading your privacy," he said seriously. "I should know better than to do that to a touch-telepath, and I'm sorry."

Hands clasped behind his back, Spock looked down at his boots, and scuffed one absently on the polished durasteel. Then, "I have no objections to your physical contact, Captain-Jim," the child said softly, chancing a shy glance up through his thick bangs.

Sheesh, the kid could literally blow up the ship and be forgiven for it, with those eyes.

"Well, then. You won't mind if I do…this?" he asked with a grin, eyes gleaming in mischief as his fingers crept stealthily up in a quick tickle attack.

Spock nearly doubled over, hands immediately clutching at his fingers in surprise – and to Kirk's utter shock the child giggled. Just briefly, just for one second, but the sound was unmistakable. As was the sudden horror which crossed the tiny face at Spock's realization of what he'd done.

The lift doors pinged behind them.

Spock looked highly distraught. "Captain, I –"

Kirk smiled, laying a finger gently against the quivering lips. Spock stilled immediately, eyes wide.

"I think we're entitled to break the rules once in a while, don't you?" the captain said in a loud whisper, with a meaningful look over his shoulder.

Spock's eyes went from huge to enormous. "Sir?"

"Wellllll," Kirk said in a dramatically pondering tone, "I won't tell anyone you let your half-human side out for a little bit…and you don't tell Bones I ate that piece of cake with my lunch. How does that strike you as a…diplomatic negotiation, Spock?"

The child drew himself up as tall as he could, which was hilariously not very much. "I believe such an agreement is most logical for both parties involved," he replied solemnly.

Kirk gravely nodded and then exited the turbolift, followed closely by a serene Vulcan six-year-old.

That's my little ambassador, he thought, with a wicked grin at how horrified Sarek would be to learn of his method of teaching diplomacy.

Chapter Text

Only on this ship, McCoy reflected viciously, could a man come so close to death while they were doing nothing more than circling a proven-friendly planet for scientific research. And only on this ship, could that man be the apparently danger-prone captain of the Enterprise. Sometimes he thought they'd ticked off the wrong godling somewhere in the multiverse, to bring such a string of almost ridiculously severe catastrophes down on their heads as they seemed to encounter on a regular basis.

But that was pointless woolgathering, because right now he had far more important things to do. A not-freaking-out-because-that-is-illogical child Vulcan to locate after he'd disappeared hours ago, an unconscious Jim Kirk to care for yet again after a crisis, half a dozen injured crewmen to care for in Sickbay, and a commendation to write up for Matthew Turner, who had been repairing a console on the Bridge during the incident and had been the only crewman not busy at a station – thereby making him the only one who could scramble over and begin CPR on their unbreathing captain.

McCoy shivered reflexively, remembering the panicked call that had been shot over the communications channels by Lieutenant Uhura earlier in the day. Almost frenetic with haste, and accompanied by Scotty's chime-in from Engineering, a profuse apology about the overloading circuits, the summons had been duly horrifying, and he'd expected the worst when he arrived five minutes ahead of his trauma team to find the Bridge in chaos, hazy with the tang of electrical smoke and littered with sparking debris.

Scotty said something about relays fusing together, producing an overload build-up in critical motherboards on the Bridge, something that their safety protocols should have detected and alerted the crew to but somehow didn't. McCoy had the feeling that heads were still rolling in Engineering, six hours later, and well-deservedly too. Without Spock's intense scrutiny of all shipboard systems, efficiency had noticeably decreased; still well above 'Fleet expectations, but none realized just how much work the First really did until he was no longer his proper age.

Whatever the reason, apparently the control panel in the Bridge's command chair had overloaded at the same time three of the consoles did; and in the chaos following the explosion of the Environmental Control station and the helm in their respective crewmen's faces, no one had noticed right away that the captain was actually being silently electrocuted in his own precious chair, voltage freezing his hand to the overloading controls.

Uhura told McCoy later, teary-eyed, that it was a very frightened but stoic Vulcan child who had had the presence of mind to unbolt a piece of the plasticene dividing rail, using the non-conductive material to knock Kirk from the central seat and thereby breaking the current in time to save his life. The damage had unfortunately been done, however, and by the time McCoy arrived on the Bridge, Turner had already broken two of Kirk's ribs performing CPR on his captain. The young ensign immediately relinquished his burden to McCoy, who had a portable ventilation unit in place with practiced ease, and within moments Kirk was, thankfully, breathing again, and judging from the cursory medical scan had not suffered any severe heart damage.

The medical team arrived moments later to perform triage on the other injured crewmen, though none were in as immediately critical condition as their captain, and it wasn't until hours later, after the proverbial dust had settled, that it occurred to McCoy that no one had really seen Spock for that amount of time.

Surprisingly enough, the kid wasn't in Jim's room, as he assumed would be the case, and he slumped into his desk chair with a groan, partly from frustration and partly from exhaustion. He didn't have time for this.

"Computer, location of Commander Spock, First Officer, currently on temporary medical relief from duty."

"Working."

"You better be," he muttered, already typing up the reports for this incident, the severity of which meant extra headaches all 'round when Command heard about the safety protocol failure. He made a mental note to steer clear of Engineering for a very long time after this.

"Commander Spock is currently in Sickbay."

He paused in the report, glaring incredulously at the screen. "Sickbay?"

"Correct. Commander Spock is currently in Sickbay."

"Well specify, you bucket of bolts!"

"Unable to pinpoint location due to interference from medical scanners."

"Oh, for pity's sake!"

Durasteel screeched as his chair flew backward. "Spock, where are you?" he hollered, striding through the ward with little regard for the odd looks and one brave shhhhh he received from his gamma shift nursing staff. Jim was on the good drugs now and there was only one other, also heavily-drugged, patient who'd remained overnight, so if he wanted to yell in his own Sickbay he was darn well gonna yell, thanks very much. "SPOCK!"

"Doctor," Christine chided him gently, as she passed with an intravenous unit of nutrients for the captain. "If he is here, do you think he's going to come running with you hollering like that?"

"Have you seen the kid?" he asked, ignoring the gentle reproach.

"Not since he followed the medical team back from the Bridge, Doctor." She glanced around the ward, lips twisting into a worried frown. "He looked rather shaken up…maybe he hid in one of the empty cubicles and fell asleep or something?"

McCoy ran a hand over weary features. "Hid somewhere? A Vulcan kid?"

"Doctor McCoy," his Head Nurse admonished severely, "Vulcan or human or otherwise, when you strip away the conditioning that child right now is nothing more than a very scared little boy. And given the events of the afternoon, he might have even had an age jump we aren't aware of."

She was right; Spock was all but attached at the hip to Jim on a good day, and in this condition –

He waved Chapel onward and began methodically searching the recovery cubicles for any sign of a hiding Vulcan. And, sure enough, in the nursery cubicle that still hadn't been fully reverted after Jim's little stunt as baby-of-the-month, he found the missing seven-year-old sitting on the floor, wedged tightly into the alcove made by two walls and a supply cabinet.

Moving softly as a Vulcan himself, he crouched down, and saw the dark eyes slowly rise from drawn-up knees to meet his expression.

And at the sight of the barely-shielded anguish in them, his heart broke just a little more, and all irritation melted on the instant.

"Hey, kiddo, we've been lookin' all over for you," he said gently.

"I have been here," Spock responded, barely a thin whisper.

"So I see." McCoy glanced over his shoulder, and then looked back at the hiding child. "You wanna come out now, then?"

"No." One word, so soft he barely heard the response, and then the dark head drooped again as Spock buried his face in his arms, draped over his knees.

"Figures," he muttered, sliding with a rather graceless thunk to a sitting position beside the child. Not quite blocking his avenue of escape, but enough that Spock would have to scramble over his legs to get away.

But judging from the way the kid was shaking, that wasn't likely to happen anytime soon. Young Jim would have been a fight-or-flight risk, no question; this kid, though…this pretty much baby half-Vulcan was a puzzle, one he'd no idea how to solve. That was Jim's area of expertise, but Jim was still unconscious and under observation for the next twelve hours.

"You know Captain Kirk is gonna be just fine, don't you?" he asked first off, and saw a faint nod. "And you know, you probably saved his life up there, kid." Just thinking of the ramifications of continued electrocution, his medical mind bringing them up with cheerful ruthlessness, turned his stomach, and he rubbed a hand over his eyes and mouth. "Thanks for that, by the way."

"It was the logical action to take," Spock murmured, though one dark eye did peek out at him.

Progress, at least. "Yeah, but there wasn't anybody else to take it – and even then, it's possible some of them wouldn't have thought about conductivity. That's pretty brilliant, even for a young Vulcan. Turner may have restarted his lungs, but if you'd waited any longer to break that current we could've been looking at a very different outcome." The words were sincere, and so was his smile, because honestly the kid looked like he'd just failed a mission, not saved Jim's life.

Spock's ear-tips flushed a light green. "I am…pleased, sha'hassu."

Now it was his turn to blush, and he hoped Spock was too young to really understand why.

Or how weird it was.

"Right." He cleared his throat. "So why're you hidin' in here then, hm? You can go see the captain if you want, I'm not stopping you."

"I…" the child ground to a halt, almost painfully, and McCoy saw with some concern that the small hands were clenched and trembling. "I…am not in control," was the ashamed admission, and his heart broke just a little more for the poor kid, caught between two natures – and therefore two perfectly natural reactions.

"What, because you…were afraid?" he asked slowly, gently, and hoping his tone didn't convey any sort of judgment. God knew that's all the kid needed now, somebody crushing that spark of humanity that Jim somehow knew instinctively how to nourish but still keep the kid on the Vulcan straight-and-narrow.

Spock's little head jerked up, dislodging a bit of his bangs, and his eyes widened. "Is it that obvious, Doctor McCoy?" he asked, in evident distress.

McCoy smiled, and reached over to give the tiny hands a gentle pat. "No, it's not," he said, truthfully. "But it's the natural reaction to a situation like the one you were put in, and Jim always did say I was a darn good shrink, so it's a decent guess."

"I do not comprehend the shrinking reference."

"Kid, look." He sighed, and settled himself in a mirroring position to the disconsolate child. "Okay, so you're ashamed of the fact that you were scared, because to feel fear is to have an emotion; something which is forbidden for a Vulcan. Have I got that right?"

"…In essence, Doctor." Spock's head bowed in shame, hands still clenched tightly before him.

"Well, then, let me introduce you to this thing in science we call faulty data points, Spock." A skeptical eyebrow turned his direction, and he held up a remonstrating hand. "Let me finish before you write me off as an illogical human, okay?"

Spock cocked his head, looking interested for the first time. McCoy fumbled in the pocket of his scrubs for a moment, finally emerging with the only tool he had on him – a pocket laser scalpel.

He held up the shining instrument. "Okay, you know what this is?"

"A laser scalpel, I presume."

"Seriously, kids using words like presume…" he muttered, and ran a hand over his hair. "Yes, it is," he continued, in a natural tone of voice. "Used for minor surgery and a host of other things requiring a steady hand and a very thin cutting beam. Now, if I were to slash this across my arm, say, what would be the result?"

"You would feel pain," was the dry reply. "I believe you would also speak in what the captain calls 'colorful metaphors'."

He stifled a snort of laughter. "Medical terms, Spock. Specify scientifically what occurs when someone feels pain."

Spock's legs lowered slowly, until he was sitting in a normal position in the corner, and he began to tick off points on thin fingers. "Nerve receptors fire, indicating to the brain that trauma has occurred in that area of the body."

"And it hurts, because of that?"

"That is correct," Spock replied warily, expecting a trap.

"Is there a way to prevent pain from happening when you get hurt?"

"Not to my admittedly limited medical knowledge," was the slow reply. "There are meditation methods for a Vulcan which permit one to manage pain, but not to prevent its occurrence in the first place."

McCoy made sure the safety was on and tossed the scalpel onto the floor nearby. "So the actual concept of pain is, what – an involuntary response?"

"It would seem so."

"Good." He scooted forward just a fraction, and was pleased when the child did not back away. "Now I want you to extrapolate from that conclusion, Spock. You are under the impression that fear is an emotion, aren't you?"

"Fear is an emotion, for it is rooted in feeling," Spock recited almost mechanically, dully.

"That's a load of…baloney, Spock," he amended sheepishly, in favor of the more 'colorful metaphor' he had originally intended. Spock's eyes widened in utter surprise. "Fear is not an emotion, kid," he added softly. "Fear is a response to a stimulus – just like pain is a response to a stimulus. You can't control being scared any more than you can control breathing in when you need oxygen, or jerking your hand back when you touch something that can burn you. It's an autonomic response in the brain; and something you can't prevent yourself from doing – or feeling – is a reflexive action, not an emotion."

Spock was openly staring at him now, lips parted slightly in shock.

"Spock…look, kiddo, you're not any less of a Vulcan because you were scared up there on the Bridge, or scared sitting here in my Sickbay listening to us try to correct Jim's arrhythmia," McCoy said quietly. "That makes you a sentient being, Spock; not an emotional human. It's an ingrained instinct in all intelligent life forms to feel fear. That's a scientific fact they teach in every psych class."

"But I am not in control," Spock protested, though much more weakly than before.

"And that's where you're in danger of slipping into the realm of those emotions you're trying so hard not to have, kid. If you let fear control you, then you've succumbed to human emotion. Not that that's a bad thing, y'know," he added, with a slight scowl, "but for you…yeah, I get it, Spock. But the longer you hide in here, avoiding dealing with that initial reflex of being scared…that's the real danger for you, not being afraid in the first place."

Dark eyes regarded him solemnly, as if searching his face for Truth. He could only hope he was not found wanting, and heaven help him if it ever got out that he was giving a Vulcan child advice on how to not be human. But his sincerity must have shone through, because Spock slowly uncurled from his position of safety and rose to his feet, self-consciously tugging at his tunic in an ingrained instinct for neatness.

McCoy regained his feet with much more effort, and a lot more self-consciousness. "You okay?" he asked, once they were both vertical again.

"I am…" Spock paused, blinking in thought, and McCoy braced himself for the aloof 'functional' that inevitably followed in the adult version of this conversation. "I am, Doctor. O-kay," the child specified, as if McCoy was too stupid to figure that out for himself.

He gave the kid a tired grin, because this conversation was getting progressively weirder and at this point who cared anymore, and followed as they walked toward the cubicle doorway. But before they exited into the world beyond, he stopped, and paused the child with a strong hand.

"Doctor?"

"Spock, I just want you to remember something, all right?" he crouched down, hands on the small shoulders, and looked directly into the child's dark eyes. "I know you're a Vulcan, and I know you're growing up way too fast and trying your hardest to be the best Vulcan anyone's ever seen. But just remember," he said, and gave the thin shoulders a squeeze, "that there are some things that are worth being afraid to lose. Emotion or not, they're worth it. Do you understand that?"

Spock regarded him solemnly, eyes wide. "Indeed, Doctor," he agreed, with a slow nod. "I do…understand."

"Well thank heaven for that," he muttered with a sarcastic hands-up of mock triumph. As they passed, he unceremoniously shoved the kid into Jim's recovery cubicle, hearing a sleepy greeting from their doped-up captain before beelining for his office. "Glad that bucket of awkward is over. I'm a doctor, not a crisis counselor."

He flipped on the vid-monitor of Jim's cubicle, just to make sure their pint-sized First Officer wasn't having a breakdown or something after their lengthy, awkward, and painful heart-to-heart, and nearly choked on his brandy when he saw that apparently, it only took a drugged Jim Kirk about fifteen seconds to convince the little brat that hugging was not an emotional action at all, no sir, not by any means, totally logical under the circumstances, etc., etc.

He would've been a lot more irritated about it, if he hadn't been able to freeze-frame the video and download it to a very safe place on his private hard drive.

Chapter Text

For all his protests against the abrupt alien de-agement process, Doctor Leonard H. McCoy was in fact getting pretty darn good at this whole parenting a super-smart, pseudo-neurodivergent child thing, thank you very much. He'd like to see any other ship's surgeon in the 'Fleet still keep a constitution-class death trap up and running and still be able to babysit a Vulcan eight-year-old who was smart enough to probably blow them into the next quadrant if left to his own devices in the Experimental Chemistry labs.

Yes, that was a "lesson learned," not just by Spock: it was one which Lieutenant Marstead would not be soon forgetting either. The captain himself had threatened to jettison both Marstead and his entire laboratory staff at the next starbase if they allowed the child anywhere near the Biomedical lab again, as he did not appreciate the paperwork involved in the creation of a sentient life-form, however rudimentary.

This involved a lengthy explanation to a clueless eight(ish)-year-old Vulcan about the sanctity of all life-forms, and McCoy had actually been pretty impressed with the amount of Vulcan principle Kirk managed to work into basic human common sense to teach the child.

He then watched in dumbfounded amusement as said child proceeded to employ the biggest set of dark brown puppy-eyes this side of Beta Canaris and solemnly apologize for endangering the ship, before asking with incredible politeness for Kirk to chaperone him on a trip to the Insontis planet's primary continent to visit the largest of their scientific museums the following morning – to which the man of course agreed without a moment's hesitation.

The door had barely closed on Spock's tiny boot-heels when McCoy couldn't resist it anymore. He finally reached over and smacked the idiot in question upside the head.

Kirk started in surprise, then sent him a glare which could melt duranium over top his data-padd, upon which he was scrawling signatures on reports he likely was not even reading. "What."

"I cannot believe you just fell for that."

"For what?"

"Good grief." He rubbed his eyes with one hand. "And here I thought Spock was never gonna learn how to out-bluff you."

The captain raised an eyebrow in a totally clueless gesture that was oddly familiar and yet weirdly alien.

He finally just laughed, because he wasn't the sucker who was going to be dragged through dusty museum halls tomorrow by a hyperactive adolescent know-it-all. "I gotta hand it to the kid, he's a smart little squirt."

"Speaking of, where was he going, exactly?"

McCoy scrambled out of his chair with an alacrity born by now from months of practice. "I thought you knew!"

"How would I know?!"

"It was your turn to watch him!"

"My turn, Doctor, culminated in having to explain why you cannot just create a stage one life-form on the fly in a starship science lab and leave it for the next person to find just because you're done studying it!"

Ignoring the irritated diatribe, he growled something probably better left unintelligible as he left the captain's cabin and glanced down the corridor in the vain hope that Spock might have lingered near the room. No such luck.

Kirk was close on his heels, already comm-ing the Bridge to ask Uhura (in a very quiet, very embarrassed undertone) if she could run a scan on the ship to locate a renegade Vulcan life-sign. They heard a knowing giggle, before their comms chief kindly reverted back to business.

"One life-sign, Captain, in Secondary Engineering. Shall I have Mr. Scott investigate?"

"Please," the captain sighed. "Tell Scotty I owe him one, and for pity's sake don't let him touch anything. The last thing I need is to explain to Starfleet Command why I let a Vulcan child experiment with our warp core intermix."

Obviously holding back laughter, Uhura replied in the affirmative, and the channel went dark a moment later.

"You know that kid is going to raise seven kinds of hell when he becomes a teenager, and you're not going to have a single clue what to do with him."

"Shut up, Bones."

"Provin' my point, Jim." McCoy's grin was pure evil. "Have fun on your little field trip tomorrow. Word of advice, from experience? Get the kid a leash."

Hands raking through his hair, leaving it oddly on end until he caught a glimpse of it in the reflection of a polished duochrome wall-panel, the fearless captain of the Enterprise wondered for just a fractional second if it would be taking the coward's way out to break down and ask for more qualified help from other-planetary quarters.

As in, why in the universe had Spock done this while aboard the Enterprise, without making provision for someone from Vulcan – even if that someone were a human, but one more versed in Vulcan childhood development, his own mother – why had he not made provisions for the process? They were so highly unqualified for this mission, it was almost laughable; would be, were it not for the seriousness with which he was viewing the matter, based upon his own experience.

Spock had always had far more faith in him – in them, than he had in himself. That might just come back to bite him, now. If they botched this…

"Jim, for pity's sake!" He blinked to see McCoy's face far too close to his own, a hand shaking his shoulder firmly.

"What?" he asked, frowning. He shrugged off the tugging grip, only to find himself once again on the receiving end of a scrutinizing look which saw far too much.

"I've seen you be a lot of things, Jim, but I've never seen you that close to a panic attack before."

"I am not…okay, maybe I am, a little," he admitted, exhaling slowly. "Bones, if we screw this up…"

"Psh, how exactly do you think you're going to screw it up?" The doctor's gesticulating arms drew the attention of an amused engineer who then darted by in the small time lapse between gestures, nodding to his superiors before disappearing around the corner. "Spock already thought you could do no wrong, and that was before he got himself magicked into a child who worships the ground you walk on. You could probably upend everything he knows and he'd still feel the same."

"That's the problem, Bones." The captain's eyes were pinched with worry. "If I violate some vital Vulcan doctrine through ignorance, or push him to be too human, or –"

"Jim." Blue eyes rolled toward the ceiling. "The very fact that you're that worried about it, makes you the right person for the job. Why do you think he didn't tell you beforehand?"

"He knew I'd lock him in his cabin until we left orbit," the man replied grumpily.

"I'm serious, Jim. If he wasn't worried about it, then you shouldn't be. Because you know Spock – he plans for every contingency. If he didn't plan for this, then he didn't consider it necessary. Now did he?"

The captain blew out a slow, undecided breath, and shook his head. "I'm still not sure I shouldn't be calling Vulcan for help."

"You and me both. Don't you think I've already had nightmares about him getting sick with some Vulcan childhood superbug, and we don't have M'Benga aboard anymore?"

"You really think we need to recall him?"

"No, I don't. And you know why? Because Spock apparently didn't think it was necessary." They paused briefly before the doors to Secondary Engineering, and McCoy shrugged. "Much as it goes against my better judgment, Jim, we have to trust him in this. We don't really have another choice."

"How in the galaxy did you two not pull your hair out or kill each other when dealing with me?" Kirk mused mournfully, as a sudden crash from inside the room fairly shook the walls. The doors opened abruptly a moment later, allowing a puff of steam to escape, and a red-faced engineering team then stumbled out, coughing violently.

"We were too tired," McCoy said dryly, and collared the child who was currently trying to sneak past unnoticed in the commotion.

Chapter Text

While wandering about a museum full of artifacts relating to a history not his own, and one with which he had already been far too inundated due to a prolonged diplomatic discussion months before, was not his idea of an interesting morning, James T. Kirk nonetheless found himself rather enjoying the morning spent being pulled this way and that by a curious Vulcan child fairly bursting with eager energy, only barely repressed behind a façade of calm indifference that fooled no one.

Kirk had managed to convince the quartermaster to replicate a passable version of a Vulcan child's school uniform-robes, very similar in fashion and cut to an Insonti child's of the same, so that Spock would not draw undue attention blithely wandering about in a pint-sized Starfleet costume, and the morning had passed fairly uneventfully. For all their well-intentioned meddling, the Insonti people were a good-natured bunch, and seemed to possess an innate knowledge of when privacy was warranted; no one accosted either him or his young companion during the six hours they spent in the Museum of Natural Sciences, and only once did an adult Insonti apparently recognize him from the not-inconsiderable publicity their last negotiations had produced. The council elder merely gave him a knowing smile as they passed in the corridor outside the Hall of Religious Artifacts, and then continued on his way, much to Kirk's relief.

Spock, completely oblivious to this exchange, was still busily engaged in reading the notes he had taken on his miniature data-padd when they began to emerge from the building into the bright Insonti sunlight, and he was forced to gently nudge his tiny First Officer aside to prevent his getting run over by a hurrying trio of much older adolescents rushing down the museum steps.

Spock sent the disappearing teenagers a cross scowl which made the captain hide a laugh, before he straightened back into a semblance of controlled indifference and looked up.

"That was most informative, Captain-Jim," the child said solemnly.

"Good, I'm glad you liked it, Spock." He grinned down at the indignant look he received. "Mm. I mean, I am pleased the venture was successful in meeting your expectations for mental stimulus."

He had the feeling Spock would be rolling his eyes were he fully human, but rather than protesting his rewording of an emotional statement, the child only inched closer to him in the sudden throng of people which swelled around them as they reached a street-crossing, waiting for the intersection holo-lights to change.

"You need a break from this?" he asked kindly, seeing the dark eyes darting around with what looked to be controlled unease.

"It…is slightly overstimulating."

"I didn't think about the fact that the Insonti work-week ends in the middle of the Federation standard week. This is their equivalent of a Saturday, that's why it's so crowded. I'm sorry, Spock." He shot a clumsy Terr'staron an icy glare as the heavyset species pushed past them at the light change, narrowly avoiding knocking both of them down with his trailing tail-spikes. "We can beam straight back to the ship if you'd rather."

"I have no objections to remaining for a further time, to learn more of the planet's culture."

He felt the tiniest of tugs on the sleeve of his tunic as they moved into the crosswalk, and glanced down to see that small fingers had latched onto the gold fabric in the chaos. The hesitant gesture pulled at his heart even more than physically at his arm – for how many times in childhood did this youngling wish for reassurance and never receive it, due to never having someone who could freely give it without condemnation?

They reached the other side of the street just as the holograph changed to the warning signal, and the pace of the throng around them picked up as pedestrians hurried to avoid being in the crosswalk when the lights changed. He hastily pushed the child in front of him, knowing Spock would forgive the liberty in favor of not being overwhelmed, and fended off a jostling Insonti couple with his left arm (and a well-placed elbow) before they broke through the mess and were finally able to breathe, soon finding themselves in the less-congested area of a side street away from the heart of the downtown.

He blew out a relieved breath. "And Bones wonders why I avoid taking shore leave on starbases, only when we're orbiting a planet with sufficient untouched nature," he muttered.

Spock tilted his head in curiosity. "Humans are by nature a gregarious species, are they not?"

Good grief, the kid's vocabulary was doubling with every year he gained. "They are," he agreed with a shrug. "But I've never been one for blending into the average, now have I?"

A tiny eyebrow rose in agreement.

He grinned, and then spotted a sign up ahead. "I'm starving, mind if we stop for lunch? Vegan tacos okay with you?"

"I am unaware of this tak-koh's nutritional content, but I have no objections to stopping if you require it."

"You are very kind."

"Indeed."

He obediently followed, smiling, as Spock wandered with curious solemnity up the pathway in search of this new food item. It was not until they were nearly to the multi-cultural restaurant chain he'd seen down the street, that he noticed the shop next door – the one which now had a small Vulcan child fairly plastered to its front window, watching wide-eyed as a half-dozen furry animals of different species fell over themselves, all trying to get his already rapt attention.

Bones was going to kill him.


"That is it – I want a transfer."

"Denied." The captain didn't even look up from scrawling his signature across the padd, much to his yeoman's amusement.

"I mean it!"

"So do I, Doctor! That'll be all, yeoman." He flashed a quick smile of reassurance at the woman, who returned it and darted into the turbolift behind a grinning Engineer who was wisely retreating from the Bridge while he could. "You don't get to bail and just leave me with this, Bones."

"Leave you with - no, you're right, you'd probably get the both of you killed in the first two days, I can't leave. But mark my words, when he turns into emo teenage Vulcan? You are the one dealin' with it, not me!"

Sulu choked on his coffee, barely covering up the noise with a hacking cough in time to avoid being impaled by twin glares from the command seat.

"What happened?" Chekov, late to the Bridge this morning due to inspections below decks, whispered as the argument escalated behind them.

"Captain bought the kid an Arcturian bat-kit."

Chekov winced.

"Did you even think to check if anyone on board was allergic!"

"Really, Doctor, whatever your opinions of my parenting skills, I am still the captain of this ship – of course I checked! They're the most hypoallergenic animals in the galaxy and no, according to the ship's medical records, no one aboard is allergic." The captain drained his coffee cup with a grumpy mutter that sounded suspiciously like something not appropriate for public Bridge conversation, or children's hearing. "You'd think I sanctioned a crateful of tribbles or something, Bones, geez."

"Animals have no place on one of these blasted tin cans, Jim! You could have just, oh, I dunno – told the kid no?"

Chekov snorted. Then ducked his head, blushing, as the captain turned his chair incredulously toward the helm.

"Doctor, thirty-four of our over four hundred crewmen own small pets, well under the permitted ten percent minority of Starfleet regulations. You want me to deny my Vulcan First Officer the same privilege? That would look great on my next diversity and xeno-inclusivity report to the Admiralty."

Sulu whistled under his breath. "Dragging out the big guns, huh."

"Chyort."

"Where is the kid anyway?"

Chekov glanced down at the control panel, pressed a button and checked a sensor light. "Uh. In the turbolift, almost to Bridge."

"Oh boy."

"I swear, Jim, if you give me any more of these gray hairs then I will –"

The doctor's rant was interrupted by the lift doors opening, depositing the child in question onto the Bridge. Spock had changed back into his miniature Science blues – it still amused the crew how, unlike the child-Jim, he refused to wear any color but that – and was carefully cradling a tiny purring fluffball, which had apparently already deposited a coating of white hair all over his small shoulders, judging from the state of the blue tunic.

Uhura cooed over the bat-kit for a moment, stroking its tiny, fuzzy wings, an act which Spock tolerated with patient fondness, and then as soon as he politely could scrambled away from the communications station and toward the command chair, where McCoy was still spluttering, trying to finish his angry venting before the child got close enough to verbally disarm him.

Weirdly enough, or perhaps not weirdly enough, Sulu thought, Spock seemed to pick up immediately on the fact that Dad and Dad had been fighting while he was gone, because dark eyes flitted uneasily from one to the other for a moment before he spoke.

"Doctor McCoy, I am given to understand that small animals can be instrumental to your species in alleviating your more extreme negative human emotions," the child declared, and without preamble fairly shoved the surprised animal into the equally surprised physician's hands. McCoy squawked and frantically scrambled to keep from dropping the bat-kit, who did not appreciate the less gentle treatment and let him know with a well-placed set of tiny vampiric fangs to the meat of his thumb.

"Yeow! What the – Spock, for the love of – Ow! Jim, stop laughing!"

Spock's eyebrows drew together in a frown, and he reached up to take back the kitten, which fairly leapt back into his arms. Tiny wings at their full span, it arched its back and hissed at the physician, fur standing on end along its white neck.

The captain of the Enterprise was turning a particularly dark shade of Engineering red from his attempts to not laugh loudly enough to be heard by Vulcan hearing, and it was only through Chekov's distractions in asking to see the little animal that he managed to get himself under control before Spock's attention was drawn back that direction.

McCoy's irritation had vanished in the wake of amusement at the whole situation, though a well-placed swat reminded Kirk he had not been forgiven for beginning the whole mess, and that any discipline relating to the little brat would belong solely to him.

"What did you name him, Spock?" Sulu asked, cheerfully skritching the top of the kitten's head, whereupon it began to purr like a starship engine.

"Izh-rin'k'n," Spock replied promptly.

"Uh." Sulu cast a glance back toward the command chair, only to see that Captain Kirk had his face hidden in his coffee cup again, though the cup had been empty a moment ago. McCoy looked as clueless as the rest of them. "That's…nice?"

"It is logical."

"Of course it is." Kirk coughed one more time and stood, swiping subtly at his eyes with a smile. "Shall we go see if Mr. Scott can program something Arcturian kit-friendly into the replicator for your new friend, Spock?"

"That would be agreeable."

"Bones, take the conn."

"WHAT?"

"Well, someone take it," Kirk said dryly, waving a careless hand their direction as the turbolift doors shut on him and his young charge.

"Lieutenant, what does whatever-he-said mean?"

Uhura's eyes danced with amusement. "Izh-rin'k'n, Doctor?"

"Yeah, that."

"Well, in its most literal translation, gentlemen, it means snow-ball."

Chekov looked as if he was going to melt into a navigator-sized puddle on the Bridge floor, and they heard a muffled coo from the Science ensign working Environmental Controls.

McCoy rolled his eyes and turned to make the three steps back up to the upper Bridge, then paused, grinning down at the command chair.

"What, Doctor?" Sulu inquired warily, on his way to assume that seat.

"We'll see how long Jim thinks that thing's a good idea when he sees how fast it shed all over his precious chair," the physician said with a cackle of glee, pointing at the layer of white fur that had settled in the wake of their commanding officers' disappearance.

"Doctor, you are an evil man."

"And don't none of you forget it, either," he retorted, snapping smartly on one heel into the turbolift and grasping the directional handle. "Let me know if anybody starts sneezing up here, Lieutenant. Sickbay."

"Wow," Sulu muttered, as a cloud of white suddenly puffed up from the chair as he blew cautiously on the seat prior to sitting down. "Hope one of the lessons the captain is supposed to be teaching the kid is how to dust."

Chapter Text

"Did Uhura forward you her proposed charts for the final three days of shore leave rotation?"

"Good mornin' to you too, Jim," the doctor drawled, leaning back in his office chair as his superior strode into the room, nose buried in a data-padd. They all were still scrambling a bit to try and make up for the work which no one really realized their First Officer took care of behind the scenes until he suddenly wasn't around to do it anymore. "And yes, she did. Chapel's running a quick match-up scan between the rotations and their last psyche evals to make sure the ones in worst need of leave get to go first, and then you can start sending them down."

"Good. We need to get them started, because Starfleet wants us on our way as soon as possible. There's apparently some peace negotiation in the Alban system which they want a Federation presence at, and we have to pick up an ambassadorial party and be there by the end of next week."

"They're allowing that, with the whole itsy-bitsy-Vulcan thing going on?" McCoy asked incredulously.

Kirk's eyes twinkled briefly. "It's a very specific ambassadorial party, Bones."

The doctor's face twitched, not having to ask further questions to make the connection. "Isn't that a little risky, Jim? You got no idea how he's gonna react to having family members on board!"

The captain raised a hand, shaking his head quickly. "It's not Sarek, Bones, calm down. But it is a Vulcan ambassador, someone I've never heard of. Look, at least they're never any trouble – if we have to become a diplomatic taxi I'd much rather have them than any other species, wouldn't you? And more importantly, I don't think it will do any harm for the Lady Amanda to come aboard for a few hours when we dock over Vulcan."

"That's all well and good, Jim, but did you think about the fact that you're gonna have seven straight days of trying to raise a Vulcan child with full-blooded Vulcans around watching your every move like a bunch of pointy-eared hawks?"

Kirk faltered slightly. "…Not really," he admitted sheepishly.

"Well think about it!"

"Bones, it's a Starfleet-assigned mission and we're the only ship of any size in this sector; even if I wanted to, I couldn't refuse it."

"You're just asking for problems." The doctor's eyes were troubled. "You have to command respect while ferrying civilians, and you're not gonna do that by babying one of their own."

"I can handle myself," the captain replied calmly. "I'm more concerned with Spock handling himself. I admit I didn't consider the ramifications of his encountering possibly prejudiced members of his species."

"Well, he probably had already encountered it by that age the first time," McCoy said reasonably, though it hurt his heart to think of the child calmly enduring such hatred. "He has to learn to fight his own battles sometime, Jim."

"He's a child," Kirk snapped, eyes flashing.

"Is he really, though?" the doctor mused, glancing back toward the computer screen he'd been watching when the captain walked in.

"Care to share with the class, Doctor?"

"Testy when you haven't had your coffee, aren't you? Take a look." He swiveled the monitor around so that Kirk could see the rapidly scrolling code that was rocketing across the screen in sequences so fast it was almost unreadable.

"What is that?"

"That, Captain, is your eight-year-old First Officer hacking into the Enterprise's mission logs from the past four years."

"What?!"

"He's not quite good enough to erase his electronic trail yet," the doctor chuckled, minimizing the window and returning to his medical reports. "But he's already through every firewall and in ten minutes he'll have access to everything his adult security clearance had."

"I disabled that!"

"And he re-enabled it right before you walked in that door." McCoy grinned as the captain spluttered indignantly over the top of his padd before throwing it on the desk in a gesture of resignation. "Shouldn't have surprised you, you'd've done the same thing at that age except Spock was too quick for you."

"The Admiralty would have my head if they knew he could access the ship's databanks…"

"What exactly d'you think he's gonna do with the information, sell it to the Romulans? C'mon, Jim. Get outta my office, I have work to do. He's in one of the Science Labs somewhere on Deck Eight, I can't pinpoint the origin closer than that with this reverse tracking program."

The captain wheeled about and stormed out of the office, muttering in angry Klingon under his breath, and a moment later the noise outside the office resumed the normal chatter of a busy examination morning.

He grinned and pulled up an instant messaging window.

I'm giving you five minutes' head start, kid. Captain's not happy.

Understood.

Also, keep that furball out of my office, I do not appreciate having to brush white hair off my counseling couch.

Also, understood.

Chapter Text

The Lady Amanda Grayson is not, under normal circumstances, an excitable woman. Such emotionality would never be tolerated upon the planet she lives, under the lifestyle she has adopted, and it is therefore fortunate she is by natural temperament, fairly easy-going.

However, the cause for excitement is sufficient in this case, and she rather thinks she might be pardoned the offense, for it is not every day in this life that one is permitted the opportunity to see one's own offspring in a second chance at childhood. Every parent of every species has his own regrets, of that she has no doubt, and so this second opportunity is a rare gift, however brief, to make any amends she feels she might need to with Spock, for the difficulties which accompanied his very diverse childhood.

Sarek is, thankfully, off-world, in a neighboring star system. While he might have also welcomed this opportunity, she is rather grateful she did not have the chance to explain the matter to him; he is under a no-contact ban from the reigning powers of the planetary dictators between whom he is negotiating an alliance, and therefore could not have been contacted even had she the time between the news reaching her and the Enterprise dropping out of warp over Vulcan's capital city.

Within an hour of the ship's entrance, she is waiting in the courtyard of their family estate home, for the arrival of her son – in the body and mind of an approximate eight-year-old, according to Doctor McCoy's last message. She well remembers Spock at that school-age, inquisitive beyond his years and just beginning to realize the prejudices which occurred in the world around him, illogical but nonetheless existing. She can only hope that this second chance at childhood, in a more tolerant environment which she knows his shipmates have provided, will ameliorate any unpleasant memories he may have of those formative years.

These less happy thoughts are dissipated with the arrival of a transport beam, which dissolves into the familiar figure of Captain Kirk. It is the first time she has seen the man in person since their voyage aboard ship last year during the Babel voyage, though they have exchanged a communique or two during the time since, as well as one memorable such transmission during the man's own second childhood. He greets her with a warm smile, though she files away with a tinge of concern for later, the wrinkle of tension between his eyes, betraying himself to only the closest observer, one well-accustomed to reading minute indications of Vulcan expression.

"Live long and prosper, Lady Amanda. It's good to see you again," he says, foregoing the traditional ta'al in favor of taking the hand she extends in the human fashion, bowing slightly over it in that quaint, slightly old-fashioned formality which she has no doubt has instantly charmed many a younger woman across the galaxy.

"You as well, Captain." She smiles, and gestures behind her to the house. "Would you like to come in for a moment, out of the heat?"

"I appreciate the kind offer, but I have to get back to the ship. The diplomatic delegation will be beaming aboard in an hour and I have to brief them on the mission before we leave in case they need to retrieve anything from the surface before we break orbit." She briefly wonders who the delegation is, and if that is the reason for the man's tension. "I've told them we will be breaking orbit at 1900 hours, so you should have about six hours with Spock, if you like."

"I appreciate that, Captain," she replies quietly. "I am aware you need not remain in orbit so long and you are likely stalling on my account."

The man grins, for the first time looking less like the starship captain and more like the child he had been not too long ago himself. "Whether he says it or not, he's very quietly and logically exploding with excitement himself, Lady Amanda, so it's no trouble at all."

She laughs quietly, realizing anew just how much Spock would have benefited as a child by having this man as a friend during those years. "Then we make a matched pair, Captain. And I –" She is interrupted by the man's communicator, and he shoots her an apologetic glance as he whips it out and turns away slightly.

"Kirk here."

"Jim, are you gonna beam this kid down there before he and this furball completely destroy my Sickbay or not? I'm runnin' out of machinery for him to take apart!"

She raises an eyebrow as Kirk glances her direction, mouthing the words nervous habit over top of the communicator.

"Take him to the transporter room and he can come down when he's ready, Bones. But leave the cat up there, I don't want his mother having to keep track of it on top of him."

"Tell that to those Vulcan puppy eyes, I'm not gonna."

"Bones!"

"Not my problem, Captain. One Vulcan mini-me, comin' up. McCoy out."

She cannot help but giggle as the man swears under his breath at the communicator, slamming the lid down with a force that is vaguely reminiscent of exasperated fathers everywhere.

"Sorry," he apologizes sheepishly.

"Welcome to the world of being a parent, Captain. It can warm your heart beyond all other emotions in the galaxy, and at the same time make you want to pull your hair out from the roots."

He laughs at that, relaxing from his obviously unconscious pose of military attention. "So that's situation normal then?"

"It is, Captain. I daresay you and your doctor are both doing far better than most in your situations would. I certainly would stake my own reputation as a mother that Spock has no complaints."

"Hmm, let's hope so," is the dubious reply, affecting an air of humorous self-deprecation. "Ah, here he is. I'm sorry about the kitten, he refuses to be parted with it…"

"And that would be because someone finds it hard to tell him no?"

The captain's ears turn bright red, and she makes certain her amusement is tucked carefully away by the time Spock's little figure materializes completely.

He is…adorable, is the only word that springs to mind, though she of course would never tell him so. How he convinced the ship's quartermaster to replicate him a tiny Starfleet uniform is beyond her, but it is hilarious – and the fact that her staid, solemn scientist is now an undersized eight-year-old carefully clutching what looks like a purring white fluffball of some kind only adds to the adorableness.

"Captain." Spock's intonation is calm as his eyes flick from the man's figure to her, eyebrows rising as they take her in, no doubt looking much older than his eight-year-old memory recalls. "Mother."

"Na'shaya, Spock-kam." His eyes widen slightly at hearing the familiar words, but then they soften, in a surprisingly human gesture of happiness – one which she is shocked but pleased to see. Already, these humans have been good for him.

"Spock knows the basics of the Insonti de-aging process, Lady Amanda, so you don't have to explain anything; he may be a little confused regarding certain duplicating memories but he understands why he's currently a child and has a different set of memories where you're concerned." Kirk shoots her son what looks like a fond glare. "Granted, he got this information by hacking the Enterprise's data-banks, so his information is but textbook-only."

Spock gives him a tiny, tolerant eyebrow. "It can hardly be considered hacking if my previous passcodes and ten minutes of re-scripting were able to penetrate laughably fragile firewalls, Captain-Jim."

The title nearly puts her over the edge of wanting to just hug him out of sheer adorable, but she refrains of course; never would she so embarrass her son, even in this state.

"Explain that to the Admiralty when they ask me why I let an eight-year-old access classified mission records," Kirk mutters, though without any real irritation. "If I hear of you doing anything of the kind while we're docked here on Vulcan, Spock?"

"You will not."

"I'd better not." She is rather surprised, to see her son respond promptly to the actual command in the tone, with a solemn nod. "Good. I've got to get back to the ship to welcome and debrief the ambassadorial delegation, so you two have fun." Spock's tolerant sigh is answer enough, and the man grins unrepentantly. "Lady Amanda. I hope I'll have time to beam back down before we break orbit, but in case I don't – it was lovely seeing you again. Please let us know if there's anything we can do for you while we're in orbit."

"Thank you, Captain." Her eyes meet his over Spock's little head as he calls for beam-out, and she can tell he knows she is not just thanking him for his last offer, but for the next few hours as well. "I am certain we shall find a way to satisfactorily spend our time in an educational and productive manner for the next few hours, shall we not, Spock? Perhaps an expedition out to the caverns?"

"That would be agreeable, Mother." Spock's eyes sparkle with curiosity, and some wonder, for he had never been permitted to wander those caves alone at that age in his original childhood – nor did she have any plans to allow it now, but together they might at least form a happy memory that she should have made years before.

"I am sadly jealous," Kirk says mournfully, as he disappears into the transport beam, back to the ship and his no doubt much less interesting duties.

"An inconvenient human emotion," Spock remarks complacently.

"By that extrapolation, meaning that there are convenient ones, Spock?"

She receives a small scowl, which is oddly endearing and strangely, wistfully reminiscent – this is her child of years gone by, and yet already is not. "Your logic is skewed, Mother," he informs her earnestly, and she is hard-pressed not to laugh.

"No doubt it is, my son. But then again, I am your mother, and therefore am permitted a higher margin of error in that department due to familial bias, am I not?"

Spock considers this for a moment, quite seriously.

"While your supposition is rooted in emotion, your analysis is essentially correct."

She raises an eyebrow, surprised at the lack of argument. "Indeed?"

"Of course. I have noted that within human interaction, a greater tolerance of such emotional weaknesses is permissible when a strong bond exists. As I am half-human, such a reaction is logical, under certain circumstances."

At this, she only just prevents herself from blatantly staring at her son, because such a statement, from this, her more-Vulcan-than-his-full-Vulcan-peers child? This is akin to outright heresy, and never would anything in the same star system have been said from him in his first childhood.

James Kirk and his crew are nothing short of miracle workers, and she cannot help but silently thank whatever deities exist in this portion of the galaxy, that after all this time, Spock finally has found someone – perhaps many someones – who are slowly convincing him that there is no shame in being precisely who he is: no more, and no less.

Spock favors her with a look of patient resignation as she puts an arm around him, an unheard-of gesture of human affection she never would have been able to get away with in the presence of many Vulcans, and then lets her guide him toward the house.

In his careful grasp, the snowy bundle of fluff uncurls sleepily and yawns, vocalizing a questioning mrowww? before cracking two blue eyes up at her. Its tiny wings rise slightly at the sight of a stranger, though it makes no move to leave its sanctuary.

"Who is your little friend, Spock?" she asks, cautiously petting the animal on the head.

"It is a bat-kit, from the mountains of Arcturia. The captain permitted me to purchase her on Insontis."

"Did he now." Somehow, she does not think that McCoy is the only one who cannot withstand those eyes; she well remembers even Sarek going through a period of time where he could not tell his own son No. "Pets are permitted aboard the Enterprise, I presume?"

"Of course, provided they do not disrupt the internal workings of the ship. Captain Jim said he thought the experience might also be of educational value both scientifically and in the teaching of responsibility."

"And of course, the fact that she is auditorally and aesthetically pleasing has very little bearing upon the matter?"

Spock's eyes look quite human in that evasive glance downward, and she hides a smile as she opens the door of their estate home for him. "I am teasing you, Spock, I'm sorry. I am simply pleased that you seem to be quite content aboard the Enterprise, even in this state."

Spock looks completely surprised that she would think otherwise. "Should I not be?" he inquires, with complete seriousness.

"That is for you to decide, Spock. You have a unique opportunity now to discover what it is that constitutes that state of being for yourself, among humans instead of Vulcans. Perhaps that freedom will make balancing your dual heritage easier for you, as you decide what path your life will take."

Dark eyes look suddenly far older than the child standing before her. "That has not proven to be the case thus far, Mother," is the quiet answer, and at the words her heart sinks. Obviously, while this incident has been beneficial, there is still a war being fought deep within, one which perhaps may never be won. Neither she nor Captain Kirk nor anyone else can fight that battle for Spock; he must do so alone, for himself.

But something in his eyes bothers her, and she motions him to a shaded alcove in their sitting room, sitting beside him and angling herself so as to see his expression clearly – for never has he been able to look her in the eye and tell a falsehood.

"Spock, are you uncomfortable living among only humans?" she asks calmly.

The child inside obviously panics, as little hands squeeze a strangled squeak out of the poor kitten, who immediately growls and stabs a warning claw into the nearest appendage, drawing a tiny bead of green blood which goes totally unnoticed.

"Spock, stop," she scolds him gently, taking his fingers and loosening their grip. "It is not a question which should generate such a reaction. I am not your captain, and I have no intention of telling him our conversation, should you request I keep it secret."

Spock slowly relaxes just a fraction, which she counts a win, and he finally appears to have put his thoughts in order sufficiently, for he straightens and exhales, loosening his grip completely. "Your statement is not entirely an accurate description of the state of affairs, Mother," he begins, somewhat slowly.

"So no one has made you uncomfortable, then? Treated you poorly due to your non-human heritage?"

The complete outrage on his little face is nothing less than adorable, so obviously and humanly incensed is he on behalf of his shipmates.

"Spock, it is a simple question, and not an unreasonable one." She smiles, and runs a soothing finger over the head of the still irritated kitten. Spock has always responded better to direct questioning in matters of emotion, so she continues without asking him to elaborate. "Then are you uncomfortable due to the environment, or due to certain individuals?"

Spock cocks his head thoughtfully. "I suppose a combination of both, Mother. But it is not due to any oversight or neglect on the part of the crew," he hastens to add, as if worried she is going to call up the ship and have every man aboard on the carpet for offenses untold.

"Is it because it is a primarily human environment, then?" she asks, suddenly understanding what might be the problem. "Do you feel you are being encouraged to be human, and dissuaded from being Vulcan?"

Spock looks uncomfortably down at his hands, and she knows she likely has hit close to home, close enough at least. She is not in the least upset with the crew or the captain of the Enterprise, because she knows full well that James Kirk has done everything in his power to ensure Spock has had everything he could possibly need during this transformation – she has rarely seen two people share such a close bond as these two, even in this state – but at the same time, the man is only human. And despite a very thorough working knowledge of Vulcan custom and culture, he no doubt is still unconsciously influencing his young First Officer accordingly.

And that, is likely the cause of Spock's internal conflict. He wishes to learn – for at that age he was so very, very curious! – everything about both of his natures, but he also wishes to please his captain, and the crew of the Enterprise. In an attempt to free him of the strictures of Vulcan society, they have actually accomplished the opposite, through a lack of knowledge.

"It is not that you are being discouraged from being Vulcan, merely that there is a lack of that presence aboard and you feel that void, is that it?" she inquires, and sees from the sudden flash of surprise in his eyes that that is exactly what has happened.

"How did you know?"

"My son, it is only the logical conclusion," she answers with a small smile. "You must remember that the crew, however much they care for you, are but human, and capable of human error. And no human can rectify error unless they are made aware of that error."

Spock shifts uncomfortably on the settee. "I…am not yet skilled in diplomatic discussion."

She wants to laugh at the earnestness in his little face, but of course does not. "Spock, you need not concern yourself with diplomacy; I assure you that you need only discuss your concerns with Captain Kirk and I'm sure together you will come up with a satisfactory solution."

Spock blinks solemnly at her. "I do not wish to be offensive, Mother."

"My son, I promise you he will not be offended – in fact, he will likely be mortified if you don't go to him and he finds out about it later. Trust me in matters of the human mind and heart, Spock, until you are more versed in those areas."

Her son looks doubtful, but finally nods, apparently accepting both her advice and her affection. She is grateful for the gesture, but at the same time files away this conversation to discuss with Captain Kirk at a later time, after Spock has had a chance to do so. She can only hope that perhaps this short voyage with a Vulcan delegation aboard might give her son the stability of Vulcan influence he is unconsciously seeking, an anchor of sorts to cling to while he sorts out the chaos in his own mind.

Of course – his own mind. Captain Kirk would have absolutely no way of knowing, for there is no written information regarding such subjects due to the privacy concerns, and she would be willing to wager Spock had not been forthcoming those years ago – the man likely has no idea the importance of, and the tradition of, mentally linking children in a mating bond at a very young age. As in this alternative childhood there is no link with T'Pring in his mind, Spock is likely feeling the loss of that bond, however casual it had been in his previous childhood, and his child-mind is not processing it in a manner he can understand. The void is wreaking havoc with his Vulcan side, and without an anchor to balance that, he will drift dangerously through adolescence.

"Spock, would you like to re-familiarize yourself with the house? I need to speak with your Doctor McCoy for a few minutes, and then I will be entirely at your disposal."

Spock's eyebrow inclines with curiosity, but he is polite enough to begin exiting the room, though he pauses in the doorway for one final volley over his shoulder. "A word of caution, Mother. In my experience, it is nearly impossible to converse with Doctor McCoy in only 'a few minutes.'"

Already keying in the sequence to comm the Enterprise on a secure channel, she is able to hide her smile in the view-screen until the door slides shut behind him.

Somehow, she does not think it will be too difficult for Spock to find a temporary mental anchor.

Or two.

Chapter Text

"And these will be your quarters for the next six days, gentlemen." The door opened at their approach, whereupon the captain de-activated the mechanism keeping it unlocked for general access. "Computer, restrict access to Vulcan Ambassadorial Delegation Delta Four, Security Level One override only."

"Access restricted."

"Such measures are unnecessary, I am sure," Solvak, the primary spokesman for the group and the only one of the somber delegation Kirk hadn't instantly taken a mild disliking to, protested with quiet gentility as they entered the first cabin. The ambassador's aides had detoured to tour the science laboratories with a lieutenant from hydroponics at the last turbolift, leaving the two to continue on to the guest quarters deck alone.

Upon stepping into the room, Solvak stopped on the instant with a (for a Vulcan, shockingly) open gesture of surprise, and half-turned. "You have adjusted the gravity and climate controls of these cabins, Captain?"

"We have." Kirk gestured to the control unit on the wall. "Feel free to make any additional adjustments as you see fit; they are standard Federation manufacture and should respond to voice commands."

"But how…"

Kirk smiled briefly. "It is no great feat of divination, Ambassador. My First Officer is Vulcan. And while I am aware that it is no doubt considered illogical to have personal preferences, I believe the argument could be made that there is also no logic in remaining in discomfort aboard a ship whose amenities are imbalanced in favor of one species, when balancing the scales is possible."

Solvak's eyes glinted momentarily in what looked like interest. "Not many in Starfleet share your opinion, Captain."

"An unfortunate result, perhaps, of cultural difference being perceived as a disadvantage, and in compromise being mistaken for negotiation. One of our species is renowned for disarming conflict; one of us has always become better men because of it. Neither, perhaps, is more effective than the other."

"Indeed. We have a saying, Captain. Ma etek natyan teretuhr lau, etek – "

"Shetau weh-lo'uk do tum t'on? I couldn't agree more, Ambassador." (1)

Solvak's eyebrows crawled up his head. "You speak Vulcan."

"I make a valiant attempt to speak Vulcan," Kirk replied ruefully, eyes dancing. "I have been told my accent is deplorable."

"Indeed it is. But, as you said, it is a valiant attempt." Kirk grinned, obviously unoffended, and Solvak stepped forward, genuinely curious. "Are all of your crew so accepting of outworlders, Captain?"

"I would like to think so, Ambassador. If they are not, they are not welcome aboard my ship." The captain's eyes sparked dangerously. "And if you are treated in any way which makes you believe otherwise, I expect to hear it from you, and not my Security staff."

"As you wish." The eyebrows inclined even further. "Though I suspect such measures will not be needed."

"They'd better not be. I will not have bigotry, unacceptance, or discourtesy in any form aboard my ship – and that goes both ways between our species, Ambassador. Have I your accordance on the matter?"

"Indeed. You are refreshingly direct, for a human, Captain Kirk."

"I have been called worse, by much less intelligent beings, Ambassador." Kirk's slight smile betrayed his reserved amusement. "I trust our voyage will be mutually beneficial to us both."

"May it be so. I look forward to further discussions with you on the subject."

"I as well, sir. I must leave you now, as I have duties on the Bridge while we break orbit, but you may feel free to explore the ship as you wish. My Acting Science Officer, Mr. Chekov, is your assigned tour guide and will be available to you for any questions regarding ship's functions. I would only request that you remain out of the Engineering section until we are safely at warp."

"Of course." Solvak deposited his small carrying-case on the bedside table, and turned back to face the human. "I should be much interested to make the acquaintance of your First Officer, Captain. To be able to serve amongst a ship of humans, and be so successful a scientist in his field despite that environment? A truly remarkable feat."

Kirk flushed slightly, but only smiled at the unintentionally brutal assessment. "That might prove rather difficult at the moment, Ambassador, for reasons I have not the time to explain at present. However, I would be happy to introduce you at the evening meal the officers have prepared in your honor, to welcome your delegation aboard the Enterprise."

"An unnecessarily dramatic gesture."

"Ah, but allow us humans our little idiosyncrasies, Ambassador." Kirk silently chuckled at the mystified expression on the Vulcan's face. "I shall rejoin you at 1800 hours, then."

"Until then, Captain."

The door slid shut behind him, and he finally exhaled in a slow, heavy huff of air, shaking his head as he headed down the corridor toward the turbolift.

It was going to be a long, long six days. At least Solvak didn't appear to be as snobby as some of Spock's people he'd encountered in the past; hopefully that attitude would continue when the ambassador encountered the child himself this evening.

He did not look forward to his parenting skills coming into question by the galaxy's most logical species; he was already far out of his depth, and barely holding it together as it was. Between his usual duties as starship captain, assuming half of Spock's duties which no one even realized the First Officer even had until he suddenly wasn't around anymore, and managing the upbringing of a Vulcan child on top of that because he was the closest thing to an expert aboard at the moment…yeah, Spock had no idea just how precariously balanced Kirk was right now, teetering dangerously on that precipice of sheer panic.

But their resident Vulcan wasn't the only excellent actor aboard, after all, and Kirk hadn't been given the flagship solely for his diplomatic ability; he could bluff and charm his way past anyone aboard if he chose, with one notable exception.

And given that that notable exception was currently in the mind and body of an eight-year-old child, well. The show must go on, right?


"Huh. I think you're crazy, Jim, but what do I know."

The captain rolled his eyes in the mirror, tugging in vain at the collar of his dress jacket.

"Seriously, Bones. Solvak appears to be quite open-minded. I don't foresee any problems, really; and that's a pleasant surprise, all things considered."

"Yeah, we'll see." The physician grumbled, tossing the padd back onto the desk with a huff. "I still can't believe we got to spend six days cartin' the whole kit and caboodle halfway across the quadrant."

"It will be fine, Bones."

"You got no idea about that." McCoy scowled into the mirror over the captain's shoulder, arms folded. "And I have absolutely no idea what to do with this information the Lady Amanda just blasted into my inbox right before we left orbit. I'm a doctor, not a Vulcan pediatric counselor!"

Kirk sighed, and wished not for the first time he'd taken the man up on his offer of a headache pill. Or three.

"We can worry about that after tonight, Bones. One thing at a time, please?" he begged, backing out of the door with his hands outstretched.

McCoy followed him out, shaking his head. "And since when has this ship ever done anything 'one thing at a time'? We're a flyin' embodiment of Murphy's Law!"

"You know what I meant!" The yell came from around the corner, in the direction of the Engineering Jeffries ladders, and McCoy rolled his eyes. Of course, Jim got the dubious honor of corralling their miniature Vulcan First Officer and escorting him to the evening meal, because he had to be on hand to make sure the dietary protocols were being followed in the rare non-replicated food preparation.

Probably – hopefully – his bad feeling about this was just from the six cups of coffee on an empty stomach. He needed to tell the galley to only serve decaf tonight, because he should be done for the day and judging from the jittery way Jim was behaving, a fast-acting stimulant was the last thing the man needed, much less their energetic little bundle of curiosity (who could weasel anything out of the man he wanted, the brat).

Who knew, maybe these Vulcans would be a calming influence on both of them?

Or maybe he just cursed the whole trip by thinking that…

Chapter Text

"I fail to see why I must be present at this social gathering."

The words were delivered without visible emotion but nonetheless gave the impression of intense disgruntlement, a quite impressive feat in one so young.

He stifled a laugh out of respect for the upcoming event, and reminded himself again that such expressions would likely embarrass the child in front of his Vulcan elders tonight – he must remember to reel it in a little.

"Despite your current status, you are still a member of this crew, and therefore should be present, Spock; also, as the only Vulcan aboard, I may require your interspecial diplomatic skills." The child's eyes brightened imperceptibly at this. "Is that satisfactory reason?"

"As you wish, Captain-Jim."

"If the event proves to be unpleasant, then you may be excused after the conclusion of the meal."

"That would be acceptable."

"I have hopes, however, that perhaps you may find the change of conversational scenery to be refreshing." Kirk gave his small companion a sidelong glance as they passed through Deck Seven's streamlined corridors toward the Guest Reception rooms. "Would I be incorrect in presuming that you are…conflicted, about the expectations being placed upon you by both myself and Doctor McCoy?"

Spock's eyes widened. "Is it so obvious?" he asked, in evident dismay.

Kirk shook his head, smiling briefly. "It is not, Spock. But it is a logical conclusion, and one I wish you'd told me instead of leaving me to figure it out for myself. I am but human, Spock; I am certainly not infallible."

A small boot scuffed along the polished flooring in a hilariously child-like gesture. "I have underestimated your observational skills."

"As you have overestimated our expectations of you, Spock." A hand stopped his progress into the recreation room, and the child glanced up, eyes dark with unease. "I require nothing more than for you to be whom and what you wish to be, pi'nerien. Be that Vulcan or human or both or neither, it is for you to decide and no one else – including anyone aboard this ship, or off of it. Do you understand?" (1)

"I understand," the child replied softly.

"And understand, too, Spock – we are just as uncertain as you are, in this matter." Kirk sighed, briefly rubbing his forehead. "I will admit to being entirely out of my depth with how best to assist you in this process."

Spock's little eyebrows drew together in a frown. "Have you a headache, Captain-Jim?"

"Mmm? A little, Spock. But that's to be expected, you know. I had to spend the last hour listening to Doctor McCoy's weekly Medical report." The child's lips twitched in mirroring amusement at the familiar jest, though the eyebrow-frown remained. "Come, I believe your fellow Vulcans are eager to make your acquaintance, though I have the feeling they are not quite prepared for your current condition."

"That, I suspect, is a vast understatement."


It was.

For a species known for avoiding any and all shows of emotion, the surprise had seemed clear enough on the faces of at least two of the ambassadorial delegation when the captain of the Enterprise strolled blithely into the Guest Reception room, followed dutifully by a solemn Vulcan child.

The resulting explanations had taken up the entirety of the pre-meal conversation and a good portion of the meal itself, and by the end of what felt like a worse interrogation than his years-distant court martial, said captain of the Enterprise was silently vowing to make sure Spock made this up to him upon regaining his full status and age.

"I completely understand your concerns, Doctor T'lar," he found himself saying for what seemed like the dozenth time in as many minutes, and only Spock's wide eyes across the table prevented his voice from losing the pleasantly diplomatic it had continued to hold thus far. "But you will, I am certain, see the illogicality of attempting to rectify the situation in discordance with the instructions Commander Spock set for us himself prior to beginning the experiment."

Two seats down, McCoy inhaled a lungful of fruit juice and proceeded to distract the entire delegation for a moment with his coughing. Spock's eyes narrowed slightly.

The Vulcan physicist with whom he had been conversing did not look amused. "As those instructions were obviously lacking in both preparation and in execution, your proceeding upon their recommendation in this matter brings your own judgment into question, Captain."

Mentally counting to ten, Kirk merely inclined his head in acknowledgment. "You will no doubt find many beings across the galaxy who share that opinion on not just this one instance, Doctor. Nonetheless, in this particular matter there is only one opinion which affects my decisions, and I will respect that one until given reason to do otherwise."

A slanted eyebrow rose in delicate derision. "Reason, greater than your complete incompetence in rearing a Vulcan youngling?"

"T'lar, enough," Solvak interrupted for the first time from McCoy's other side, delivering what looked to be a warning over top of his drinking glass. "These matters are none of our concern, nor are they the reason for which we have availed ourselves of the Enterprise's hospitality."

"The welfare of nu'ri-veh is of concern to all." (2)

"And you will find that such a sentiment is not solely relegated to the Vulcan species, T'lar."

The stately woman looked back across the table, scorn clear in her tone. "Nor, it would appear, is the casual indifference to the Vulcan Way when it pleases one to disregard it."

"Now, look here –" McCoy broke off abruptly at a sharp look from down the table, and amid much muttering buried his protests in the last of his drink. The exchange did not go unnoticed by Solvak, apparently, because it was with some amusement that the calm ambassador turned his attention from one to the other.

"You are most unfathomably ill-equipped to raise a Vulcan child, Captain." T'lar looked pointedly across the table. "Such an endeavor would prove difficult enough for those of his own kin, given his unusual handicaps."

Kirk's bland mask slipped just a fraction. "I would suggest, Doctor, that you phrase your opinions with more care while aboard this ship."

A haughty look, delivered after a sideways glance at the wide-eyed child sitting silently beside her. "I beg your pardon?"

"I did not stutter, Doctor." That smile hadn't slipped even an inch, but it had grown infinitely more dangerous. Spock's eyes were the size of dinner-plates at this point. "But I am more than willing to repeat myself if my meaning was less than clear. You will offer my crew – of any age, any race, and any combination thereof – the same courtesy you would one of your own party while on this ship."

"Or what, Captain?"

"Or you will be off my ship, Doctor. And I will not be particularly concerned as to the mechanics of the process."

The dumbfounded indignation would have been comical had it not been for the signs of controlled Vulcan anger visible to everyone in eyes and facial expression.

From down the table, he could see Scott's jaw dropping at the clear threat, followed by a significant look between the engineer and McCoy. Let them, he was done at this point in tolerating such bigotry – and if this is how an adult Vulcan would treat a child? With this much prejudice, this much absolute disregard? He could not imagine how horrible Spock's childhood must have been, bullied by these people's children, miniature cloned extensions of their own xenophobia.

"T'lar, you will recuse yourself to meditation," Solvak's calm voice washed over the table, dispelling the tension with obvious practiced ease.

For a moment the stately Vulcan looked as if she would protest, but after only a moment she nodded fiercely and swept from the room like a miniature ice storm. One of the aides followed, for reasons unknown, and Solvak waited until the door closed behind them to turn his glance down the table.

"Please accept my apologies for my colleague's words, Captain. T'lar is a most brilliant researcher, and one of the foremost professors in the Vulcan Science Academy. She can be, however, highly loyal to the traditionalist ways of our people."

"It was not I she was offending, Ambassador," Kirk answered calmly, but inclined his head in acknowledgment of the rare apology. "I trust that you will ensure no further such incidents occur?"

Solvak's lips curved slightly. "You have my word, Captain. Though T'lar is not accustomed to being…how do you humans say it – crossed?"

"And that, Ambassador, is another trait not solely relegated to Vulcans." Kirk's eyes flicked briefly across the table, to where Spock was currently fidgeting with a napkin-ring. "You may find that despite our shortcomings in child-rearing, humans can be as protective of our young as any other species."

"So I see, Captain. I believe I shall retire and allow you and your crew some peace; we have no doubt upset your routine enough for one day. Storen, Solka, you will remain in the guest chambers or the Science laboratories, provided you do not hinder the work of Captain Kirk's crew."

The other two Vulcan aides, who had been looking a bit like kittens watching a table-tennis match, staring at first one side and then the other during the minor word-battle, scrambled up and left the room with almost hilarious alacrity, no doubt to rid themselves of the human emoting being broadcast everywhere in their vicinity.

Solvak rose from his chair and nodded to McCoy, Scott, and then turned back toward the captain. "I wonder, Captain, if I might request the escort of your First Officer back to my quarters?"

Somewhat startled at the inquiry, Kirk glanced across the table. "Spock?"

The child's wide eyes glanced from one to the other, gleaming with obvious interest. Well, never let it be said he wasn't going to try his best to let the child have as much of his heritage as possible, provided the Vulcans sharing it weren't total bigoted jackasses, which Solvak was not. So far, at least.

He smiled in encouragement, despite his misgivings, and knew he'd made the right choice when Spock slid out of his chair with an expression of almost excited curiosity.

"You report back to Sickbay for your vitamin shot at 2100, mind," McCoy called after them, and received a tolerant eyebrow in response as the door shut.

A heavy expulsion of breath, and Kirk slid down in his seat a fraction, head resting on the back of the uncomfortable dining chair. Something poked him in the arm, and he opened his eyes, peering down to see a hypospray nudging him none too gently.

"Not tonight, Bones," he sighed, straightening back up. "I have too much work to do."

"And with a headache like that – and I'm not talkin' about the Ice Princess that just left – you're not gonna be of any use to anybody in the morning if you don't take something and get some rest. Doctor's orders."

"Orders which I have the liberty of disregarding. I'm fine, Bones."

"You're a bad liar, Jim. Scotty, help me out here?"

"Ahhh…well, sir. Y'see, 'tis never a good idea to take sides between ye."

Kirk laughed, and gestured their Chief Engineer out of the room, following at a more sedate pace with McCoy bringing up the rear. They split from Scott at the lifts, their loyal Chief Engineer promising with a sly grin to try and coax some more speed out of the engines so this mission could be completed ahead of schedule.

"Sure you're all right, Jim?"

"Yes, Bones. Go torture some other poor fool in Sickbay or something."

McCoy scowled, jabbing a finger in his sternum as they enter the turbolift. "Fine, but you tell me if you start feeling worse, y'hear me?"

"Deck Five. Wait, what?" He squinted at the man in consternation as the doors began to close.

"Yeah, you're not that good of an actor, Jim. I'm not so sure this is just a migraine. Even the Lady Amanda mentioned you were looking puny, and you're going to need to be on top of this thing with Spock while we have this delegation aboard."

"Oh, for pity's sake, Bones." He scrubbed a hand over his face in annoyance, wincing as the rapidly-flashing lights exacerbated the headache. "Save your mother-henning for Spock, will you?"

"Nope. Now take this, and I'm having Scotty kill the power to your computer at 2300 hours so like it or not, you're getting some rest."

"Bones!"

"Uh-uh, I'm not a Vulcan, Jim. That look doesn't work on me. Nice try."

Chapter Text

Three days of this.

And there are four more to come, unless he can find something extravagant to bribe Scotty into endangering his precious engines enough to cut down that travel time. The captain is not likely to come up with such an underhanded tactic, so it falls to the Chief Medical Officer to make the noble sacrifices necessary to save all their sanity. If that means threatening Lieutenant Kalov in SS&R until the man caves and discloses the location of their latest stash of contraband smuggled aboard from Starbase Thirteen, well. It is in a very good cause.

Strange, how they all only notice just how finely balanced the chain of command is on this ship, when one link in that chain is broken. Jim is and has always been the fulcrum upon which balances McCoy and Spock's relationships – he is the compass which guides them both, the tie that binds all three of them together in something so frighteningly inexplicable even the Insonti people could not fully explain it to them.

And that compass is swinging wildly now, lost as it is without its own tether to the realities of command and personal life. Jim was the perfect parent those first few weeks, the epitome of what Spock needed – stern as a Vulcan when necessary, and loving as a human in his own undemonstrative way – and the child had responded beautifully to it. But something has changed, these last days, and the man has been by his own admission metaphorically drowning, lost in a sea of uncertainty. The change has been a little alarming, though not entirely unexpected; the burden of command is one he has always been able to share with the Vulcan in question, and Spock's absence has left multiple voids across the ship, the magnitude of which none of them truly realized until the event happened.

Thankfully, Spock seems entirely unaware of these facts, blithely going about his life with the childlike enthusiasm and curiosity that had endeared the little monster to everyone aboard within minutes; and both he and Jim would have it no other way. Gods forbid their now fun-sized First Officer ever feels anything but welcomed aboard this ship, in any form.

But this has to stop, because he's not sure any of them, Jim especially, are going to survive another four days spent in passive-aggressive custody battles with their resident Vulcan visitors.

From that first evening, Spock had all but attached himself like a Euridian leech-worm to the ambassadorial delegation – even, for insane reasons known only to Spock, the stern Dr. T'lar – and to Solvak in particular, following the ambassador around the ship with wide-eyed fascination, asking questions about anything and everything both Vulcan and political and everything in-between.

He doesn't bother pointing out, because they both know it, and both know how foolish it really is, that it's just plain old-fashioned jealousy that has him and the captain morosely eating a very late meal in Officers' Mess that evening, three days into their journey.

"He better be gaining some years, is all I got to say," he mutters, poking at his replicated chicken. "If we get to Alba II and he hasn't gained a day I will be havin' words with Solvak."

Eyes darting over a data-padd, the captain snorts. A brief smile flickers across his face before it vanishes just as rapidly as the report he just signed.

"Little brat didn't even have the decency to say how d'you do this morning when I saw 'em during the Biology lab inspection."

"Well, Bones, even a child knows better than to address you before you've had your second cup of coffee." A weary smile, and the padd is clicked off. "That reminds me, I have to get those inspection reports off to Command by 0800 tomorrow, think you can get them written up by then?"

"Already in your inbox." He finishes off his green beans, grimacing at their soggy texture; the replication script needs work. "I will be all too glad to hand that duty back over to Spock, let me tell you."

His eyes narrow, as Kirk absently nods and then moves to take his tray to the recycling chute. Within a moment he returns, sans dinner but bearing another cup of coffee, what has to be his sixth of the day. The slight wince as the man sits is not lost on him, either, and he folds his arms, leaning back in his chair with a pointed look across the table.

"Are you sleeping, Jim?"

"Oh, come on, Bones. Can you not –"

"I mean it, Jim. If this 'headache' of yours is still going on, you need to let me check you out, maybe you picked something up on Vulcan."

An eyeroll, genuinely annoyed. "It started before that, Bones. And frankly, this discussion and others in the same vein are quite likely part of it."

"Don't sass me, I'm on your side here."

Kirk sighs, and pushes his chair back from the table. "I'm going back to the Bridge, Bones. Comm me if…well, if I'm needed."

"Jim, your shift ended two hours ago."

"As did yours, so you don't get to lecture me, Doctor."

He stares at the closing door in irritated consternation, and only then realizes the man left not just his data-padd but also his coffee on the table.

Call it an overreaction, but something…just isn't right.


One of these days, he's going to actually get someone on this flying tin can to listen to him, and maybe that minor miracle will prevent some of this idiocy from happening; but until then? Until then, it's just going to be heart attack after heart attack when these imbeciles scare him half to death.

Nothing throws Medical into a panic worse than receiving a Code Gold – the Starfleet alert for direct danger to the captain of the ship – and on this particular ship, that happens with more regularity than it should. In this case, however, they are on a peaceful cruise through the stars ferrying civilians, for pity's sake; there should be literally no reason for one to be issued, and for one to come straight from the Bridge? It scares the devil out of him, and the three nurses on-call this evening as well.

He makes it to the Bridge in record time, followed closely by one of the nurses, the other two already preparing a triage room just in case. Barreling out of the turbolift, he nearly knocks over Scotty, who had been watch officer for delta shift tonight and who likely had been fighting to boot said stubborn captain off the Bridge after a fourteen-hour shift.

"Easy, Doctor," their Chief Engineer murmurs with a laugh, steadying him with one hand. "'Tis a bit of an overreaction on the part of Mr. DeSalle." Nevertheless, Scott shoots him a knowing look over the stammering Engineer's head. "But 'twas justified at the time."

"What was justified?" he demands, pushing DeSalle aside none too gently, and then sees the object of his frantic attentions halfway across the Bridge. The captain is sitting on the chilled durasteel floor, half-leaning against the library station. He looks slightly dazed and more than slightly embarrassed, pale as death itself and breathing shallowly.

"He bent over Mr. Spock's scanner t'look at our new fuel output reports, Doctor, and when he straightened up, well…" Scott clears his throat awkwardly at the glare shot his way across the bridge, although there is little bite to it, "…his eyes just rolled up and he dropped like a rock, right there on the deck. Scared the holy hells out of poor Mr. DeSalle, who was working the communications board at the time."

Ah, that explains the panicked call to Medical. He waves off Scott and DeSalle, knowing Jim is going to be furious that this happened even in front of a skeleton delta shift crew, and crouches down in front of the man himself.

"You want to explain this to me, Jim?" he asks quietly.

Kirk's eyes are not quite focused, dark in a too-pale face, and he shakes his head slightly, obviously attempting to look annoyed but failing miserably. "Haven't eaten much today, Bones, between that and the headache, that's all – just a dizzy spell."

"Uh-huh." He takes the man's fingers briefly – cold as ice, and Jim always runs hotter than a star – and then slides to check his pulse the old-fashioned way. Erratic, far too fast. "Try that again, the truth this time."

The captain's eyes dart around the Bridge uneasily, and McCoy sighs; that ridiculous command image will get them all killed one of these days, when his superiors decide they need to hide a serious injury for sake of appearances.

"Sickbay, and you're not leaving until I say so. Don't make me sedate you to get you down there."

A spark of defiance lights briefly in the man's eyes, before it seems to go out under the weight of exhaustion. "Fine." Kirk starts to struggle to his feet, only taking Scott's hand after a moment of hesitation. McCoy shoots DeSalle a warning look, which makes the man scramble back to his chair with a murmur and the rest of the delta crew look back to their consoles.

"Scotty, take the conn and rearrange the roster for tomorrow to take Captain Invincible here off of alpha shift duty?" he says dryly, and their Engineer chuckles, turning back to the comms station before the lift doors hide them from view.

"I am fine, Bones," is the surly rejoinder snapped across the lift a moment later.

"Right. Because you pass out on your own Bridge every day, Jim."

"I told you, I –"

"Are going to let me run some tests on you and see if you picked up something, at least! Come on, Jim – you remember what happened when you contracted Vegan choriomeningitis! If it's something like that I would never forgive myself, and Spock would kill me, nine-year-old or not."

Kirk's weak laugh sounds more pathetic than anything else. "Bones, I know when I'm sick. I'm not."

"Then what is this?" He is genuinely curious, and alarmed – because the man appears to be quite serious.

An exhausted sigh. "I…don't know, Bones. I really don't."

The lift doors open to deposit them on Deck Six, and he follows Kirk out, frowning. "You don't know?"

"If I did, I would have come to you. I'm not stupid enough to risk my command ability over something so ridiculous as a headache."

"It's not just that, and we both know it." He gestures for the man to precede him into Sickbay. "You haven't been eating, you haven't been sleeping, you don't go anywhere but the Bridge and your cabin – and it's been getting worse."

"None of which are sufficient reason for you to be keeping me prisoner here, Doctor."

He snorts, and follows the man inside. They are met with controlled chaos, the Gold Alert obviously having been canceled from the Bridge, and he is surprised but not shocked to see a couple of familiar figures waiting just outside his office door.

"Great," Kirk mutters under his breath. "Just what I need right now."

McCoy elbows him as he passes to set up an examination bio-bed. "Hey there, kiddo. You heard the alarms goin' off, I'm guessing?"

Spock's eyes are wide with what is obviously relief at seeing them walking and apparently undamaged.

T'lar eyes them both with what looks like controlled boredom. "We were passing the Engineering Section when the alert was sounded, Doctor." To her credit, she appears to have patched up her relationship with Spock, and he's pretty surprised to see that she's the one waiting with him and not Solvak. "I take it that your crew is prone to overreaction as are most humans, Captain."

Kirk merely raises an eyebrow, unprovoked. "I believe we would both agree, Doctor, that overreaction in saving a life is preferable to carelessness, causing the cessation of it."

T'lar inclines her head. "Indeed." She glances downward at the child beside her, and then back up again. A hint of disapproval tinges her voice when she continues. "Spock expressed concern for your well-being when the alarm was sounded."

Spock's ear-tips turn a light green, and he seems to shrink in his chair. McCoy sends the woman his best glare, which goes completely ignored, and moves a medical scanner into place over the captain's heart area.

"The cause was sufficient," Spock ventures almost timidly, but with enough conviction that it produces a raised eyebrow from the elder Vulcan.

"A convenient excuse for your lack of discipline, Spock." A stern look downward. "The Vulcan Way uses no such justifications."

Spock fidgets in his chair. McCoy pauses, scowling, but is forced to turn his attention back to his patient as the captain suddenly pales and sways on the bed, eyelids fluttering unsteadily. "Whoa, there. Easy, Jim. Here, lie down for a while."

Spock's little head appears over the edge of the bio-bed, brow wrinkled with concern.

"I'm good," Kirk rasps, pinching the bridge of his nose. He blinks for a moment before turning his head, and smiles at the child standing there. "Hey, you."

Spock blinks solemnly at him, before reaching up and hesitantly touching his hand for a brief instant, gone the next.

The panel over the bed bleeps at them, and McCoy scowls, standing up to adjust the neural readings.

"You okay, Spock?"

"I am well, Captain-Jim."

"That's good." A soft sigh. "Sorry I haven't checked on you like I should have."

"Spock is quite intelligent, advanced for his age. He has no need of your human oversight," T'lar interjects severely.

Back to the stately Vulcan, Spock actually, honest-to-God rolls his eyes, to which Kirk obviously tries desperately not to laugh.

"Doctor McCoy, what are the captain's symptoms?" the child inquires, with adorable solemnity.

"Well, since the man's an idiot and won't tell his friendly family doctor, I can only guess based on these readings," he drawls, arms folded, and shoots a scowl at the captain's head. "But I'm guessing nausea and lack of appetite, crippling headaches, general malaise and extreme exhaustion, insomnia... Am I missing anything, Jim?"

A glare is his only answer.

"And when did these symptoms begin?"

"About two weeks ago," Kirk sighs. "Completely out of the blue."

McCoy glances up in time to see T'lar's eyes sharpen in what looks like mild interest. He cocks his head. "Something you want to say, Doctor?" he asks.

T'lar glances between the prone human and their small First Officer, slender brows drawn in thought. "Captain," she inquires, and the animosity has vanished from her voice, "you say these symptoms began completely unexpectedly?"

"Correct."

"How old were you at the time, Spock? In this…unique process?"

"Two weeks prior to this day I turned eight years old, T'lar. I am now but nine and three months."

"Well, thank God for gaining a few months at least," McCoy mutters to himself.

T'lar looks slightly surprised at this point, and she moves closer to the bed, almost cautiously. "And at any point in this time period, Spock, have you found yourself adrift in your mind, seeking to bond with another Vulcan?"

Spock blinks, puzzled. "Negative, T'lar. I have felt no such need."

"Wait just a darn minute," McCoy interjects, with growing dread. "Are you saying –"

"These symptoms are textbook symptoms of a closed or unreciprocated mental bond, Doctor." The woman's eyes are glinting with interest, and what looks like grudging respect. "Such a thing is nearly unheard-of in Vulcan culture, as to refuse to reciprocate such a gift is the utmost in rejection. But if the bond was inadvertently created by a child, who was unconsciously seeking to form the usual mental anchor all Vulcan children create at eight years of age…"

Spock's eyes widen. "T'lar, I did not. I have not the ability."

The Vulcan female glances down at him with what – shockingly – looks to be mild amusement. "Spock, I assure you, you are far too balanced a hybrid child to not be tethered by a most powerful mental anchor. I could not determine to whom, and this is why I accompanied you here today – I intended to discuss the matter with your Doctor McCoy, against my much better judgment in these matters."

"Hey!" His splutter is interrupted by a very confused Jim Kirk.

"There has to be some mistake, Doctor. Spock couldn't possibly have bonded us without my knowledge," he says feebly. "Could he?"

T'lar gives the eyebrow-equivalent of a shrug. "A brief kash-nov, a mind-touch, will avow the truth in a moment, Captain – if you will permit me?"

Kirk's unease is palpable, and she shakes her head with a slight twitch of the lips. "Your distrust is natural, Captain, but I assure you, my skill in this matter is not inconsiderable; that is why I was chosen for this mission to the telepathic Alban peoples. And a brief glimpse only is required."

"I suppose we need to know," he sighs, glancing up at McCoy.

"I don't like it."

"None of us do," Kirk snaps, for a moment sounding more like himself. "But it is necessary. Very well, Doctor, I consent."

T'lar nods gracefully, acquiescing, and after a moment of silent preparation she gently places one hand in the mind-joining position, speaking a quiet phrase in Vulcan. After only a few seconds she straightens back up, looking down at both Spock and his human captain.

"Well?" Kirk demands.

"You are telsu," she says simply.

Dead silence.

"Huh. Guess I can delete all that information the Lady Amanda sent me before we broke orbit."

Spock's wide-eyed expression may as well have shouted well, crap to the entire ship.

Chapter Text

"Well this is just dandy. You certainly don't do things by halves, do you kid?"

Spock's wide eyes over the edge of the bio-bed disappear for a moment from view behind his hands in an almost hilariously childish gesture of despair.

A low laugh, and the captain of the Enterprise cautiously regains a sitting position, glaring a silent warning at both his fuming CMO and the medical alarms bleeping annoyingly overhead.

McCoy smacks the klaxon with well-practiced aim, never even looking up at the sensor board. "And you, Captain, I told you a mind-meld with a hysterical Vulcan four-year-old was an idiotic idea!"

"If I recall correctly, I believe you told the entirety of C Deck at the time, Doctor." Kirk's eyes start to regain focus as the tri-ox hypospray seems to bring some relief. "And this started well after that, so I doubt it had anything to do with it. What the – for pity's sake, Bones!" An irritated swat, as if warding off a very angry blue-coated medical insect. "I do not need a brain scan!"

"I'll be the judge of that, thank you. You got twelve hours before you're back on duty and you are not goin' anywhere until I know more about what I'm looking at!"

"Bones, if I have to –"

"Gentlemen," the severe tone interrupts with diplomatic ease, and both glance up warily. T'lar surveys them with what appears to be more curiosity than animosity, attention focused for the moment on the captain. "Captain Kirk, you say you engaged in a mekh'kash-naf with Spock some time ago?" (1)

Kirk tilts his head slightly as he slowly parses the Vulcan words together to grasp their meaning. Finally he nods, looking slightly puzzled. "Several weeks back, yes. I was unaware that this was…I'm assuming a normal occurrence between parents and offspring, based upon the fact that you have an actual term for it?"

T'lar looks surprised, and not a little disapproving. "You were unaware of this. An integral part of a Vulcan child's upbringing."

"With respect, Doctor, your people are hardly forthcoming with either medical or cultural knowledge," Kirk replies, unruffled. "It is only logical, therefore, that we were, as we humans put it, doing the best we could with the knowledge available to us."

"Unacceptable."

"I quite agree." A sharp look silences what looks like it's going to be an indignant outburst from McCoy, and Kirk's eyes return to the stately Vulcan's features. "But that lack of knowledge is not, I suspect, what you truly find unacceptable in the situation, now is it?"

Something like alarm flickers through the woman's dark eyes before it vanishes just as quickly.

"Do not take me for a fool, Doctor." Kirk slides off the bio-bed to stand in front of her, entirely oblivious to the fact that the stately scientist towers over him by at least five inches. "I am well aware of your people's illogically prejudiced views of outworlders where these matters are concerned. However," he adds calmly, "I am also aware that those views stem from the quite valid fact that such interspecial telepathic contact is usually extremely dangerous, to both parties involved."

T'lar raises an eyebrow. "You are aware of this, yet you allowed a completely untrained child to initiate such contact with you? You, a human?"

"I, a human, knowing only that I was confronting a telepathic child who could not formulate words to explain his pain, yes."

"You are either an exceedingly brave man, or an exceedingly foolish one, Captain."

Kirk smiles faintly. "You will find that most humans on this ship are a bit of both, I fear, Doctor. Myself included."

"Look, not that I'm not tickled to see you two actually having a civil conversation, but this is old news, and we have a lot bigger problems right now," McCoy interjects from behind them, where he has been turning off medical instruments and muttering under his breath about idiotic commanding officers.

"Dr. McCoy is correct," T'lar agrees with surprising alacrity. McCoy peers at her suspiciously over his med-scanner, and she blinks back with faint amusement. "This matter is a serious one. Besides the interpersonal ramifications and the unknown factors which will result as Spock ages, there is also the very real danger to you, Captain."

"Meaning, what?"

"Captain, as of right now, this mind-link is only half-finished; no permanent bonding can be completed without both parties' consent. This is why, for example, such physical signs of illness have resulted in your human physiology; such a state is a common symptom of an unfinished or rejected bond-link. Spock is drawing his strength from you, as a mental anchor – and as a child, who is untrained and yet uncontrolled in these matters, he will continue to do so."

"Given that we still have weeks, at least, before he re-ages, that's not going to work," McCoy interjects worriedly.

"Indeed. This link was formed, I suspect, instinctually, rather than intentionally, and as such was not performed in a controlled environment, under controlled and monitored conditions as it would have been on Vulcan during a child-bonding ceremony. You are, therefore, a radical factor in an extremely unbalanced equation, Captain."

Kirk's lips twitch despite the situation. "I do tend to have that effect on Mr. Spock even as an adult, Doctor."

Both eyebrows incline in the Vulcan equivalent of an eye-roll. "Unsurprising, then, that this should be the end result of his imbalanced hybrid physiology combined with your dangerous naivete regarding the Vulcan mental disciplines."

A faint blush creeps up from under the gold uniform, but Kirk inclines his head in acquiescence. "Fair enough. We were, to put it mildly, inadequately prepared for this and many other eventualities."

T'lar's severe features soften slightly. "You are a remarkable human, Captain, that is not in question. Few of your species would even dare to permit a telepath's intrusion under the most dire of circumstances, and fewer still would risk such a thing for so trivial a matter as calming a youngling who is not of one's own blood."

"I believe family need not encompass only blood, Doctor. Spock is…I believe your closest approximation is k'war'ma'khon." (2)

T'lar's eyebrow rises further. "Your accent is atrocious, Captain. But the sentiment is…appropriately human. The results speak for themselves, and such a mind-link is to be respected."

"I thank you."

"This changes nothing, however, regarding your ill-preparedness for such a joining. We must decide a course of action, Captain. If you continue to ignore this half-finished mental bond, your symptoms will only continue to worsen."

"I can hold out until he reverts in age, I think…"

"You can not," McCoy interjects firmly, one hand on the man's shoulder. "You'll be unable to function on another week of basically no sleep schedule. That's not going to fly with me or with Starfleet Command, not to mention you have to put in an appearance when we get to Alba II. Besides, we have no idea if the link will disappear when Spock reverts, do we?"

"It should, shouldn't it? If it doesn't, that is going to be a whole different level of problems when he gets back to his normal age."

"Mental bonds are powerful things, gentlemen. I would hesitate to dismiss the possibility."

"Great." Kirk rubs his temples wearily. "I guarantee this was not in his plans anywhere and I am not going to enjoy explaining it when he gets old enough to really understand what he's done."

"Oh, calm down, Jim. We only have, what, less than six months left in the mission, anyway? Worst case scenario, the last few will be a little awkward, what of it? We'll be decommissioned once we hit Earth, have a break before a second mission to figure things out, and everything will be back to normal. Stop borrowin' trouble."

"I'm not borrowing it, it's basically plowing me over right now. Either give me that hypospray or I will forcibly take it from you, Doctor, because I doubt I am going to survive this report to the Admiralty without artificial inspiration."

"Speaking of, where is your little Wonder Vulcan?"

Dismayed, they look around to see that sometime during the heated discussion going on overhead, Spock had obviously made his escape unseen and undetected. The room is completely empty, and knowing the speed the child can employ when he wishes, he could be halfway across the ship by now.

"Really helping my headache here, kid," Kirk mutters, heading for McCoy's inner office to field what promises to be an extremely interesting field update to Starfleet Command.

Chapter Text

Starfleet does not pay him enough for this.

How the devil this child managed to squirrel himself away in this tiniest of out-of-the way Jefferies tubes which intersect the Science laboratories is a minor temporal miracle, one which is only superseded by the incredible feat of the captain himself managing somehow to accomplish the same end (much to the wide-eyed incredulity of the child in question).

"If I am unable to get out of here again, you will be the one to explain to Doctor McCoy the reason for my state of impairment tomorrow, Spock," he mutters, wedging himself into yet another awkward contortion in order to face his currently diminutive First Officer.

"I clearly underestimated your abilities, both physical and mental, Captain-Jim." Dark eyes blink solemnly at him out of the half-darkness, clearly equal parts amused and annoyed.

He snorts a muffled laugh. "I was able to track you down anywhere on this ship long before this handy mental bond-thing, pi'nerian. You are not as adept in hiding from me as you believe, at this or any other age."

A scowl of half-shame, half-resignation flickers across those expressive little features before it is carefully schooled away into false calm.

"You forget, you are also unable to hide mentally in such a telan, Spock. Why do you make such an illogical attempt to conceal your thoughts from me?"

Spock fidgets with a corner of his tunic for a moment, in an almost adorably childish gesture of uncertainty.

He frowns, wishing not for the first time that there was more information out there about such things; he is woefully out of his depth and not likely to change that state without some cultural violations their visiting ambassadors will not be too thrilled with. "Are you unhappy with this, Spock? I am certain one of your Vulcan elders would be capable of dissolving the bond and reinstating it with a more suitable Vulcan candidate."

The idea sends a strange pang of nausea through him, but it is anyone's guess at this point if that is instinctive Vulcan bond reaction or simple human jealousy. Granted, it doesn't much matter at this point, all things considered.

"I am not unhappy." The words are quiet but genuine. Kirk relaxes slightly, because that at least lifts a little of the unease on his end at least.

"Then what is causing you such distress, Spock? Because until you discovered this a few hours ago, I would have said you were more…content, for lack of a better term, than you have been in a long time." A small mewing sound draws his attention to the other side of the child, and he sees a white head poking up over the updrawn knees. Smiling, he reaches out and pets the kit's head briefly, eliciting a rumbling purr of approval.

Spock watches in silence for a moment, before glancing up at him with an almost wary expression.

"What is it?"

"I am…unaccustomed, to reading human emotions, Captain-Jim," the child says finally, shifting uneasily in the cramped space. "And to have done such a thing, without a non-telepathic species' permission or consent and full knowledge of its consequences, however unintentional…"

He stares across the intervening space in consternation, because obviously Spock has grown in recent days – enough to realize the ramifications of such a thing, at least. This is news to both him and obviously to T'lar, as neither of them had thought twice about discussing the matter in Sickbay without including the child in the discussion.

Yet another lesson he has been far too slow to learn. Honestly, he marvels more every day how Bones and his First Officer ended up so successfully navigating this same situation only a few scant weeks ago, in his own abruptly gifted second childhood.

"Spock –"

"A lack of intent does not negate the act, and –"

"Spock, stop." He sighs, draws a hand slowly over his face and settles into a more comfortable position against the opposite wall. "One, however mature you may be, Spock, you are yet a child. And no adult, of any species, would think of condemning a child for an innocent act of self-preservational instinct. Would such an action be in any way logical?"

Spock's eyebrows furrow. "It…would not. But –"

"I am not finished. Two, have I ever denied you something you needed, Vulcan or human, at this or any other age?"

"Negative."

"Then this would have been no different had you discussed the matter and the knowledge been shared. Therefore, your concerns are ill-founded."

Spock shifts uneasily.

"You still appear troubled, Spock. Use your words, pi'nerien. I am not Vulcan; I will not react as a Vulcan would to things which fall under the human half of your heritage."

"I…" The child glances away for a moment, and then looks back, as if gathering the courage to speak. "I am able to sense your emotional reaction to this development," is the quiet response, and for a moment Kirk can only blink, totally confused.

"Okay? I don't understand why that should…" He grinds to a halt of realization, suddenly understanding what has likely been picked up on. "Oh, Spock – that has nothing to do with you!"

"I daresay that is not entirely accurate," is the dry reply, sounding so much like his older self that it makes the captain want to laugh.

"Well, of course it does, but not in the way you assume. Spock, I have misgivings rooted in similar concerns to your own; I am uneasy because I feel as if I somehow have taken advantage of you. There are different boundaries between children and adults in human culture, and this just…feels wrong to me, despite the fact that such a connection is quite common in your own. That is a xenosociological difference that is entirely my issue to deal with, and not yours. I'm sorry I've given you cause to believe otherwise."

Spock frowns.

"I am also concerned that this may seriously change things between us when you regain your proper age, Spock. I know my First Officer to be a most private individual. I am…concerned, that this could become an issue, when the facts are fully known."

Spock blinks at him, obviously mystified. "Captain-Jim, such a bond can only be unintentionally formed when a previous connection of some kind already exists. Only the physical state of one recipient and the intensity of that connection has changed in this instance."

It's now his turn to stare. "What."

"I do not see that you have cause for concern, as this connection already existed at least in the most basic of forms between us prior to this ship's even encountering the Insontis planet."

"What?"

"Is your hearing suddenly impaired, Captain Jim?"

"Seriously, what?"

"You were unaware of this?"

His head hits the back of the shaft with a dull thud, only increasing the pounding that has become constant there. "I was very definitely unaware of this, yes, Spock. What the…I don't even know the first thing about what this, even is!"

Spock looks down at the bat-kit, which is now clinging to his knees, ears and tiny wings drooping as if picking up its owner's dismal mood. "I have not the knowledge myself, to relieve your concerns, Captain." The words are quiet, almost too quiet, and something breaks a little inside him at the use of the now-abbreviated title. "I do not even know how to alleviate your physical discomfort, which is currently manifesting itself as a result of my unconscious actions."

A dismal meow punctuates the sentence, and Kirk raises an eyebrow, wondering absently if the creature has empathic tendencies; he really didn't research the species other than to ascertain if one of his crewmen might go into anaphylactic shock should he allow a pleading Vulcan child to bring the furball aboard.

"Well." He pinches the bridge of his nose for a moment, and then exhales slowly. "I suppose we must do what we've always done in these situations then, hm?"

Spock eyes him warily over top of a white furry ear. "What precisely is that, Captain-Jim?"

He grins across the intervening inches. "Let's make it Bones's problem, and go hide in the Observation Lounge until he calms down. What do you say?"

Chapter Text

While it is not uncommon for messages to arrive at all hours of the day and night to the household of a prominent Starfleet ambassador, live personal communiques are a somewhat rare occurrence, and therefore are slightly more of note. They are heavily monitored among starships due to their size over subspace, and therefore are only used in emergencies, Federation business matters, or the allotted personal exchanges every Starfleet official is given each month for personal affairs.

And because it has been less than one Standard week since the Enterprise left Vulcan airspace for the next leg of her mission, to then receive one such live communique one peaceful evening is nothing short of alarming. There are very few reasons Amanda Grayson can imagine why the ship would be contacting her in such a manner, so urgently, so soon after leaving Vulcan space – and none of them are good reasons.

Sarek is still out of reach in a far star system, deep in a very volatile political negotiation, and so she is quite alone when she takes the call, amid the quietude of her private library.

Thankfully, as soon as the connection flickers into life, Captain Kirk holds up a hand before she can even speak. "Spock is fine, Lady Amanda," he says immediately, and she can feel the relief spread over her immediately; obviously, the man had divined her unease over the irregularity of the call in his usually perceptive fashion. "I apologize for alarming you with such a communication, at this hour."

"The hour is no inconvenience, Captain; but I admit to being relieved, that nothing has befallen my son. Or the ship," she adds, a half-question.

"The ship is still on-course for Alba II, and the Vulcan delegation have been…enlightening."

"A truly diplomatic answer, Captain." She smiles, and sees the young man's eyes glint with amusement. "Dare I venture to guess that they have been somewhat possessive over the upbringing of a Vulcan child in such an environment?"

"You may so venture."  The man shakes his head ruefully. "And they are quite correct, we were completely ill-prepared for this. I'm not sure even Spock realized the true ramifications of his extended experiment, prior to the transformation."

"Captain. I assure you, that my son does nothing without thorough consideration. If he entrusted this…second childhood, to you, then he did so after fully considering every detail, that one included."

"Well, I'm fairly certain he didn't consider the fact that his eight-year-old self might accidentally bond the two of us," Kirk replies dryly, and not without amusement.

She stares at him, completely in shock, and more than a little horrified at what had to have been an unheard-of liberty taken of an unsuspecting human by her half-human son, unconsciously or not. "Captain…are you quite certain?"

"Very. One of the Vulcan delegation has confirmed it."

"Are you…aware of the ramifications of this?"

"I have been made aware of some of them. But…I admit to being at a loss, Amanda. This is completely unexpected, and I'm not going to deny, extremely uncomfortable for me."

"No doubt, Captain." She nods, and sees his hesitation vanish in the face of relief at the human understanding. "There exist different boundaries, parental and otherwise, in the Vulcan culture, and this is a specist difference which is not inconsiderable."

"Put like that, I seem to be xenophobic, which is the furthest thing from my mind," Kirk answers, looking quite ill at the thought.

"Not at all, Captain. Were my son an adult, would you be reacting this way?"

"…No, I don't believe so. I still would not necessarily be thrilled about the idea, but at least I would not feel so…uncomfortable, with it."

"That is understandable, Captain. However, mental bonds are such a common occurrence in the Vulcan Way, and so varied in their types and sorts, that this does not hold the same kind of hesitation to a Vulcan that it would to you or to me."

"I understand that. One reason why I'm not completely having a meltdown right now." A brief smile, though she can see clearly the weariness in it.

"I must admit, Captain, when I suspected Spock had found a mental anchor to substitute the void left by his vanished bond with T'Pring, it never occurred to me that something this drastic would have happened. If so, I would certainly have warned you." She frowns slightly. "It is a most unusual occurrence. To do such a thing usually requires a formidable telepath, and Spock's abilities in that area have been categorized as average at best, brilliant in other ways though he is."

"Yes, that's part of why I'm calling," Kirk says, shifting uneasily.

"Go on, Captain."

"Spock himself said, that the…connection, so to speak, was already in existence. That he wouldn't have been capable of solidifying it as he did if it had not been. I don't understand what that means, and he nearly panicked when I started questioning him."

This is interesting news, indeed.

"You do not appear overly surprised, Lady Amanda."

"I am not, Captain. It was obvious to me upon our first meeting, during the Babel voyage, that there did exist some type of connection between you, and I had suspected as much for some time. Now, the implications of such a thing can vary vastly, depending on the type of connection that may be."

The man looks even more overwhelmed. "Vary vastly, meaning…?"

"Anything from casual and distant familial relationships to fully consummated marriage bonds. I did not receive that impression, Captain," she adds with a laugh, when the man's flabbergasted expression manifests. "Spock has said he has no interest in such a thing, at least until his next Time approaches. But it is obvious that there is a connection between you which is a rarity in the Vulcan culture, even between full Vulcans – much less between a Vulcan and another species."

"So…what exactly, does this mean?"

"It likely means that for now, you have the equivalent of a familial mental bond partially formed; if formed by accident, it likely is fully functioning on Spock's side but not on yours, as you would have no indication of how to utilize or nurture it. When my son regains his adult age, should that bond remain, you will need to discuss the level of privacy you require of it and of each other. I would presume it would not do to have two Starfleet officers able to discern each other's every thought during a mission where full attention is needed, for example. Or perhaps that would be of benefit; the choice would be yours."

Kirk pinches the bridge of his nose with what sounds like a muttered Klingon expletive, and she tries not to laugh.

"But it need not be the end of the world, James. There are such things as mental shields, and a Vulcan's privacy is as precious to him as a human's, I assure you." She smiles as the man exhales slowly, still looking a little lost. "It can be an overwhelming idea, being so tethered to another, but I can promise you there are benefits to such a connection."

"Such as?" is the dry reply.

"For one thing, a constant knowledge of the other's condition, physical and mental," she answers, calmly. "How many times would that knowledge have been useful to you?"

Kirk blinks, obviously processing this.

"The realization of danger and ability to work synchronously without speech being necessary."

"But we don't need a mental bond to do that," Kirk protests. She raises an eyebrow, and he snorts a half-strangled laugh, looking very much younger for a moment. "Point taken, I would have no idea, would I. We could have been doing it for years. Very possibly may have been, now that I think of it."

"What a telepathic species calls a mental bond, another might simply call instinct, and another might call a kindred spirit, Captain. Whatever the word: the sentiment, and the base connection, is the same across the universes – a fundamental calling of soul to soul. There is nothing romantic about such a thing; it is far deeper than that, far more uncontrollable. And it is nothing to be feared, although I will not deny it can be an inconvenience at times. It is slightly impossible to remain angry with someone who is able to anticipate your every move and word, and is able react accordingly to disarm those human emotions with a control one does not possess one's self."

The captain laughs, finally, and appears to relax just a bit. "Well, that's one thing that won't change. I can't deny I am still apprehensive, Amanda."

"Of course you are, Captain. That is only natural. However, I do not believe you have reason to be as frightened of this as you appear to be. Oh, come now – you cannot lie to a mother of the most repressive species in the galaxy, young man. It is perfectly natural, but it is also unnecessary. Do try to give him a chance, before passing judgment on this new state of affairs."

"You are an incredibly patient and wise woman, Lady Amanda."

"I am," she agrees, eyes twinkling. "You are not the only human who can tolerate such a mental bond without going mad, you know."

This time, the laugh is genuine, and the sound is quite pleasing. While this news has been startling, it is also not entirely unexpected, and the outcome could certainly have been worse.

"Where is Spock, Captain?" she asks after a moment, curious to see her son if possible.

"He should be back any minute, he's been with Bones for his weekly examination the last hour. This time Bones is doing an in-depth brain scan, we haven't been doing those so far and we'd better start, given these new developments." Kirk sighs, scrubs a hand down his face. "I'll be headed down there tomorrow for another myself. The Vulcan mental expert, Doctor T'Lar, believes that my health is bound to suffer due to this…incident."

"T'Lar is one of the foremost in her field." She keeps her tone neutral.

Kirk looks at her for a moment, and then grins. "You have that same look Spock gets when he wants to say something scathing about a poorly done experiment in his Science labs."

"She is also one of the most vocal politicians among our people for the traditionalist ways, Captain."

"Mm, yes, I did figure that out."

"I can only imagine."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I did threaten to have her removed from the ship in an escape pod bound for I didn't really care where, if she spoke to Spock again in a less than respectful manner."

A startled laugh. "Do not ignite a diplomatic incident over my son, Captain."

"I will do what is right, Lady Amanda. That it's Spock I am defending is the merest coincidence."

"Of course it is." She shakes her head, smiling. "T'Lar is quite correct, however, in her assessment of your condition, Captain. If you are to continue functioning at full capacity, you will need to fully accept that which is, or find a way to cope with the consequences."

"Get over myself, is what you're saying?"

"Now, Captain, really."

Kirk's rueful expression changes suddenly into something more gentle, and she does not need the sound of the door opening behind the man to know her son has just entered the room. The captain half-turns, and motions toward the screen.

"Come say hello to your mom, Spock."

"Must I?"

She carefully refrains from laughing aloud, because the tone is so petulant it is quite obvious that the last hour's events have not been among her son's favorite activities. A small figure slowly edges into view, half-hidden behind the captain's chair.

Kirk raises his eyebrows. "Is it logical to refuse a simple gesture which will impart happiness to a family member, when it takes no more effort to grant it than to refuse?"

A tolerant look is sent her direction, and she returns it with a slight smile. "Good evening, Spock."

"Mother." Spock looks just a little abashed. "I trust you are well."

"I am, my son. Your captain informs me that you have made a most interesting discovery."

Spock's eyes widen, and he glances over at Kirk in what looks like childish embarrassment. From his left shoulder, a white fuzzball suddenly uncurls and hisses at the computer screen, sensing his discomfort.

"Spock, your actions were instinctual and the results only to be expected. There is no reason for unease, and regrets are illogical when events cannot be changed."

"There, see? I told you."

She can hardly contain her delight when her stoic half-Vulcan son actually rolls his eyes, unseen by the human standing to his left.

"However," she continues, and Spock's dark eyes flick up to hers in apprehension. "That does not mean, my son, that the primary responsibility for this event does not rest upon you." Beside the child, she sees Kirk's mounting protest at her admonishment, and she aborts it with a look that even a Vulcan would dare not contradict.

Wide-eyed and serious, Spock nods at her words.

"Humans are not educated in such matters, Spock, nor are they able to fully understand that which the Vulcan culture refuses to explain to outworlders. That responsibility falls to you, and your fellow Vulcans currently aboard the Enterprise. Do not permit them to disregard this bond as anything less than the significant event it is. To permit such disrespect is the greatest of betrayals of such a bond, do you understand this?"

"I understand," the child intones solemnly, and she thinks she can almost see him growing up before her eyes.

"And be sure that you keep your Doctor McCoy within that circle of knowledge as well, Spock. I am aware it is not logical to so add a third party to a private matter, but you must trust your instincts in this rather than your logic."

Spock looks slightly doubtful, and she smiles. "You may not recall this now, my son, but he has proven himself to be quite instrumental, I suspect, in unknowingly facilitating these events, by thwarting that crisis which happened the last time the three of you were on Vulcan."

Kirk's eyes widen suddenly in realization, and she knows the man is no fool; he can draw his own conclusions about what happened that day, conclusions which likely will not be corroborated until Spock has regained his proper age.

"I do not understand this."

"It's okay, Spock," the captain says quietly. "It was long ago, and probably best you not try to remember right now."

"As you wish."

"Captain Kirk, I regret I do not have more helpful advice for you."

"On the contrary, Lady Amanda, I believe you've done more to put my mind at ease than anyone else would have been capable of," the man replies easily. "I appreciate your candor, and your discussion of things which would have been…awkward, to say the least, with less familiar beings."

She does smile, at that. "I am here if I can assist you in any way, Captain. You have my best wishes."

"We may need them," the young man says ruefully, smiling down at the small figure of her son, who is thankfully oblivious to the tone of the conversation, occupied in trying to extricate ten small claws from his blue tunic without snagging it unduly. Shaking his head in amusement, he looks back up, and then something seems to occur to him.

"What is it, Captain?"

"Wait, does this mean I'm…" He makes an adorably odd sort of gesture between himself and the screen, and she tries not to laugh. "…related?" he finishes, somewhat awkwardly.

"Well, in a legal sense, no, Captain. Not yet, at any rate; such a thing would of course necessitate two consenting adult minds, especially with the complication of existing parents but no parental claim. But in a colloquial sense, and in the eye of Vulcan society, yes. You are."

Kirk clears his throat. "…right."

"Sarek does not know of this, naturally," she offers helpfully.

"…Naturally."

"He will not be best pleased," Spock interjects calmly, and with what sounds to be just a hint of evil satisfaction.

Kirk runs a hand over his face. "Does this connection work both ways, in that if I ingest an intoxicant, he's going to feel the effects? Because I very much need one. Or three."

She hides a smile in a cough. "You are quite safe in doing so, Captain."

"Good, good. You want to talk to your mom a while, Spock?" Kirk disappears from view, promptly depositing the child into the chair instead before he can react.

"If I must." Kirk looks a little horrified at his brutal honesty, but she is totally unoffended; he means no harm, it is but typical of a young boy growing up far too quickly. "Doctor McCoy is no longer in Sickbay, however, Captain-Jim. You will be required to visit his quarters if you intend to ingest his illegally obtained alcoholic substances."

Off-screen, she hears something that sounds suspiciously like a strangled laugh. "In that case, I will be back in fifteen minutes with the spoils. Do not leave this cabin except to return to yours without comm-ing me, Mister."

"Yes, Captain."

"And I suppose it's too much to ask for that thing not to leave a cloud of white fur everywhere it goes?"

"It is." Spock blinks innocently at the door as it closes on a distant mutter, and then looks back at her. "He is most illogical, Mother. I do not know why I would, consciously or unconsciously, choose to form such a connection with so untenable a being."

She suspects he has gained some time, a jump in age since last she saw him; the maturity level is indeed different, and this new knowledge likely a catalyst for that jump. Along with that, might come more emotional control – or might come less. She would not know, and she likely never will; she can only be thankful for the opportunity to see him one more time, in an environment less hostile than his original native one.

"Spock, rooted in the Vulcan Way though these things may be, they yet have very little basis in logic. There is no logic in the connection of two beings at the katric level, which is why such a connection is very rare, nearly unheard of even between two full Vulcan beings. It is impossible to predict, and even more impossible to artificially create."

"I do not fully understand this."

"I did not expect you to. But you will, Spock. In time, you will. Call it Fate, call it Destiny, call it something else entirely – but logic has nothing to do with it."

"I shall bow to your admittedly superior experience in these matters."

Well, well. Miracles indeed, and the child is not even ten years of age yet.

Now, all that remains is to decide how precisely to break the news to Sarek that they have inadvertently acquired a thanai'sa-fu.

She rather thinks those aboard the Enterprise, trying to restore her son to his full age in a matter of days, might have the easier task.

Chapter Text

Breakfast, as any physician remains well aware, is the most important meal of the day, for 90% of the species in the galaxy. Save for those precious few who actually require a hearty meal prior to a sleep cycle in order to maintain their body's peculiar functions during sleep, most species require a balanced meal and the proper nutrition to begin the day, not to mention the psychological effect it has upon crew morale to come together before the hustle and bustle of a busy starship day begins. There is a medical reason the lights in Officers' Mess simulate solar light, and a reason why it's the meal he as CMO monitors the most in regards to both crew consumption and nutritional content.

So, yes. As all physicians do, the Chief Medical Officer of the starship Enterprise knows it is the most important meal of the day.

It is also the most doggone frustrating meal of the day, because half of the time if it's not one of his officers overdosing on coffee it's another one refusing to eat at all or another reading reports instead of eating something more healthy than those donuts he can't get Scotty to take out of the replicating scripts no matter how much he bribes the man, or it's the captain himself doing all three and still managing to greet half the crew that walks by the table at the same time, a small feat of human resources genius that seems to mystify even Spock.

Both he and their CSO had both found out, somewhat to their mystification on the first shore leave which the three of them took together (read: he lost a bet, and Spock's a sucker for those eyes even as an adult), that Jim Kirk apparently is not a morning person as they had previously surmised based upon his behavior, and has zero problems voicing that opinion in the most colorful of terms when none of his junior officers are around to hear the sentiment.

However, you'd never know that to see the man any given morning in Officers' Mess, participating in the hubbub around him with all the charm and enthusiasm that had obviously won over even the coldest species aboard in a ridiculously short time.

It's a good ten minutes from the time McCoy enters the Mess each morning before he can make his way to a table, because he has to pull up the meal selector's listing of choices for the day and double check to make sure protocol's been followed for any new dishes, make sure any possible allergens are clearly marked as they should be, that dietary regimens are being followed, and scan through the meal choices of the senior officers for the previous day. He could pull this all up beforehand in his office, but it makes the young fools from Spock's programming department nervous when he lingers at the selector computer, frowning at the screen, so. Keeps them on their toes.

This morning, however, when he does finally make it to the corner where by tacit assent the senior command crew has always drifted to ever since the first few months aboard, there is already what looks like a storm brewing, clouds hovering instead of the sunshine that usually characterizes the captain's countenance in the mornings. Granted, the whole kit and caboodle is one giant mess, and if McCoy had his way the man would be pulled from duty without further ado, but that's not going to fly with Jim right now, nor is it technically necessary, as he's still functioning under Starfleet regulational requirement.

He has the feeling, too, that the haughty Vulcan female sitting across the table from the captain likely has more to do with the impending implosion than does the uneasy child at Kirk's left.

This will be fun.

"Mornin'," he says brightly, plopping down beside T'lar with way too much enthusiasm.

Spock's eyebrow shoots into his hairline, lips twitching, as she eyes him like a particularly repulsive species of insect, but refrains somehow from moving further away. Out of purely diplomatic courtesy, no doubt.

Kirk glances up from a data-padd, what looks like slight relief in his eyes. "Morning, Bones."

"How you feeling, Jim?"

"I'm fine."

"Mmhm."

"Do not start with me this morning, Doctor. I am giving you fair warning."

"Little testy, are we?" he asks, waving a spoonful of what's supposed to be grits – and obviously aren't, since he literally has to eat them with a spoon – at the two across the table. "Has he had his coffee yet, kid?"

"Not in sufficient quantity," Spock says, quite seriously.

He manages to extricate the spoonful of food from his windpipe without damage from either inhalation or T'lar's obvious disapproval of half-human humor.

"Were you able to get a hold of the Lady Amanda last night?"

"Yes, I'll tell you about it later." Diplomatic as always, the captain never once even glances in T'lar's direction, though McCoy's well aware that's likely the reason why he has no desire to recap the conversation here.

"Did it help, at least?"

"Yes, Bones. Let it go, for now. I have to finish these reports before alpha shift starts."

T'lar places her cup down with precision, in alignment with the plate and flatware. "You went to a human, for advice on this matter."

"That would certainly be a logical assumption from the verbal evidence at hand," Kirk says dryly, without looking up, and without any of his usual tact – clear indication his patience is rapidly drawing to an end. Any crewman on the ship would have heeded the signals and tucked tail by now, but unfortunately this is no ordinary crewman.

T'lar's face darkens slightly, and Kirk finally glances up, sighing. "As I am human, the action was a logical one as well, as personal experience is always preferable to hearsay and conjecture. Do you not agree with that scientific principle, Doctor T'lar?"

She regards him for a moment with very thinly veiled contempt. "Compounding one foolish mistake with another hardly makes the decision the correct one, situational logic or not, Captain."

McCoy is about to raise a protest, because that's just rude, but one look from Jim silences him; this isn't up to him right now. Besides, he can get with Scotty later to see that the environmental controls in the woman's cabin mysteriously malfunction the entire rest of the trip to Alba II.

But he sees Jim take a deep breath, obviously counting to ten in his head. "I am surprised to hear so logical a being use so unscientific a term as 'foolish,' Doctor," he says at last, with a pleasantly diplomatic tone that McCoy knows is far more dangerous than his boiling mad temper tantrums. "Perhaps what one species may subjectively term so, another may define as a well-considered course of action."

"Nothing about this situation can possibly be defined as well-considered, Captain. From this incident's inception to the present, each of you is inexcusably culpable in the careless development of the most sacred of Vulcan rites."

"And there we have it. That's your real problem, isn't it?"

And there went the diplomacy out the airlock, with a particularly caffeine deprivation-induced lack of tact.

"Jim…"

"Stay out of this, Bones." Kirk's eyes are flashing a warning sign to anyone on this ship with half a human brain. "We appear to keep having the same discussions which I had understood to be closed, Doctor T'lar. If you have unresolved issues with me or my ship or any crewman thereon, then I suggest you state them, now, and to my face. Or is that also something you take issue with?"

Dear Lord. He has not had enough caffeine yet himself to deal with this mess today. And neither, by the look of it, has their pint-sized First Officer, who is rapidly shrinking down in his chair like a kitten hiding under an awning at the unmistakable signs of an impending hurricane.

"I am well within my rights to take issue with your disregard for Vulcan culture, Captain. You would feel the same were you in my position, would you not? You are well-known in our society for your unusually vocal defense of any and all species' rights, more so than any human in your Starfleet."

Kirk nods in acknowledgment of the sincere compliment it actually is, though buried under an avalanche of ironic prejudice. "I would, were the disregard you speak of done deliberately, knowingly, or with a lack of consent from the Vulcan member of the bond in question. As none of these three have occurred, then I find your actions rooted in emotional prejudice, not logic. Actions taken in ignorance are not disregard. They are simply that, ignorance, something which members of all species can possess and even rectify given the chance, at certain times."

The Vulcan regards him in silence for a moment, before inclining her head slightly. "Perhaps," she concedes, calmly enough. "However, the fact remains that you are, however well-intentioned, doing more harm in this joining than contributing any real benefit. To both of you, not simply to Spock. As I stated earlier, it is in your best interests to dissolve this bond before it becomes too strong to be broken without harm to one or both of you."

"Now wait a second, nobody said anything to me about this!"

"And this is part of the reason why," Kirk mutters, dropping the stylus with a gesture of resignation.

"You have no voice in this matter, Doctor McCoy. It is a Vulcan affair."

"He has as much voice as anyone, because I said so," Kirk snaps, obviously at the end of his patience.

"Your emotional reaction is disproportionate to the situation, Captain. Yet another reason why such a joining is a most serious error in judgment."

"Are you quite finished?" Kirk asks wearily, retrieving the stylus to replace it in the padd's holding slot, and pushing away his half-eaten breakfast tray.

"Negative. You have yet to even acknowledge the possibility that –"

"Kroykah."

The word is snapped across the table like a phaser blast, sharp enough that McCoy drops his spoon, fumbling to catch it in his startled state. Spock is standing, both hands on the table, eyes flashing a dark fury that he's yet to see from this unusually good-natured child.

It scares him half to death.

"T'lar, enough. You disgrace our culture and my family by so invalidating the skann-telan."

"I disgrace nothing. This human does not meet the criteria to so enter such a bonding, Spock."

"This human, was bonded against his will, T'lar, a crime still punishable by death if the aggressor is aware of their actions at the time and the council so decrees the punishment is deserved. That any human would permit such an alien action in any circumstance, much less these circumstances, is above remarkable. Such a situation is unheard-of in Vulcan history, as you well know, being one of the most specialized in this field. And as the foremost specialist in the field, you are well aware that such a bond cannot exist unless it is Fated to exist. The mind will reject such a thing, if the katras are incompatible."

The woman has the grace to incline her head in acknowledgment of that truth.

"You will therefore extend the same respect to Captain Kirk that you would to a full Vulcan telan-tersu, or I will go before the Vulcan Scientific Academy's High Council with a formal complaint to have you dismissed from your post on grounds of incompetence and lack of qualification, for refusing to accept scientific evidence in the very field in which you profess to specialize."

Jim chokes on his coffee, and dissolves into a rough cough that does very little to distract from the very non-childlike look being directed across the table. The kid's definitely not ten years old anymore, McCoy would bet his next month's pay. That's a heck of a diplomatic threat even Jim would never have dreamed of making, power of bluff or not.

"I can assure you, T'Pau will not be pleased, either with the complaint or with your behavior toward my family." Spock's chin lowers meaningfully.

T'lar's face pales slightly at the mention of the clan matriarch. Who'd've ever thought Spock being related to the equivalent of Vulcan royalty would come in handy for anything other than some mighty fine teasing opportunities?

"Do not test my resolve or underestimate my capabilities, Doctor. I am no ordinary child, and you should be well aware of the consequences for threatening one's telan-tersu."

The Vulcan woman looks at him for a moment in silence, and finally gives him a nod, glancing to the side at the captain of the Enterprise, who still looks a little like someone has just hit him with a shuttlecraft and then backed the vehicle up to bulldoze him again with it.

"I daresay you never were, an ordinary child, Spock," she finally says, looking back at him. "And you are quite right. I have permitted outside factors to color my scientific judgment in this matter. I ask forgiveness."

"The wrong was not done to me, T'lar."

"Captain Kirk, you were correct in your statements, however emotionally expressed they might have been. You have behaved more Vulcan in this affair than most species would, and even if that were not the case, my…assumptions, were drawn too hastily, and my statements made from outside factors, rather than scientific evidence."

"Jim, either answer her or close your mouth."

"Doctor McCoy, one of these days, I swear." Kirk clears his throat, pulling his surprise back under the mask of professionalism that is actually pretty Vulcan, now that McCoy thinks about it – and now that he thinks about it, that's improved a lot over the last four years, probably courtesy of one particular calming influence. Interesting. "Doctor, I believe your people say that apologies are illogical."

"So they do." T'lar glances back across the table, with the first hint of something like amusement in her eyes. "However, the cause is sufficient. And I believe your telan-tersu is master of this particular playing field, Captain. For now."

"God help us when he gets old enough to really be a joy to everyone on board." McCoy points his empty spoon at the child across the table. Spock merely raises a bored eyebrow at him, clearly ignoring his jab. "You don't scare me, kid."

"Bones," Kirk says, warningly. "Doctor, I accept your apology. And I am aware your opinions on this matter are not entirely ill-founded; I have read your work, and understand the risks better now that I have been so informed. However, I will make no such drastic decision as the one you mention until Spock is back in his normal state and able to consent to that decision as an adult."

"Understood. You have read my work, Captain?" T'lar's eyebrows incline a fraction in obvious surprise, and probably skepticism.

The captain smiles slightly. "There is a reason I'm the only human aboard who's been able to beat my First Officer in chess, Doctor. Whatever your opinion of me personally, I did not score top of my academics in strategy for nothing. Yes, I read them. There is very little published work in this field, and I will need all the help I can get."

"You are a remarkable human indeed, if you were able to understand the sub-par Standard translation of them. They were never intended for such lesser intelligent consumption and there is much lost in the translation."

Kirk smiles, unoffended at the blunt assessment. "Fortunately, I can read more Vulcan than I speak, and between the two I believe I muddled through well enough. Granted, I will not be making a habit of absorbing that much heavy literature in one night, I can tell you that." He stands, tucking the padd under his arm and totally missing the completely unrepressed shock on the stately Vulcan's face as she stares at him. "Spock, what are your plans for the day?"

"I would prefer to be on the Bridge, if that is acceptable."

"It is, unless we run into some kind of unforeseen trouble, in which you know the drill."

"Report to Sickbay immediately unless it in lockdown, in which case report to the Vulcan delegation's guest quarters and notify Security of my location."

"Good. I will not have this crew distracted in an emergency."

"Understood."

"Then take as long as you like and I'll see you there." A brief, somewhat tired smile, and gentle hand on the child's shoulder seems to put Spock at ease, finally, and he returns to his fruit bowl looking totally content with the world in general.

"Bones, can you…" Kirk makes a vague gesture over the child's head.

"Got it. And you, lay off that coffee, you know it can trigger a migraine just as much as help one. Come see me, don't try to be a hero. I got the tray, just go."

"Thanks." Kirk takes a step away from the table, then turns back when T'lar speaks up suddenly, also rising from the table.

"Captain." 

"Yes?" A wary look, and with good reason.

"Would you object to my presence during your walk to the Bridge? I would be interested in your human perspective on my work."

McCoy about loses it completely at poor Jim's totally terrified look of red alert, help me that goes completely ignored by both him and the child who is studiously picking the blueberries out of his fruit bowl, one by one, after making a noise that sounds suspiciously like a snort.

"Ehm. Not at all, Doctor. Though you may find my opinion somewhat colored by lack of sleep, I'm afraid…"

McCoy cranes his neck to watch them leave, and then returns his gaze to the table, shaking his head. Spock glances up under the scrutiny and raises a questioning eyebrow.

"So, what was that about?"

"I will require more vocal precision, Doctor."

"That," he retorts, gesturing toward the doors. "What in the name of all that's logical was all of that."

Spock looks only more amused at his reaction, and stabs another berry with what looks like victorious glee.

"And don't get me wrong, kid, that's one tantrum I'll be putting on replay for the rest of our mission, but what was that?"

"You are aware, Doctor, that you have yet to be more specific in your predicatives?"

"Yeah, I'm bettin' you're more like thirteen now or something," he mutters. "Did you know Jim was up all night reading that load of telepathic mumbo-jumbo?"

Annoyance flits across the child's expressive face for the fraction of an instant, gone the next as he discards the emotion. "That 'telepathic mumbo-jumbo', Doctor, is of vital importance to both our continued health at the moment, and therefore should be regarded as a high priority. But to answer your question – negative, I was unaware. He must have begun the process after I had retired to my cabin following our call with my mother."

"He has to sleep, or he's going to crash worse than he did yesterday," he sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose.

"I quite agree, Doctor. It will not happen again. However, the action was likely of benefit to him."

"Yes, well. We still got four more days trapped on board with this delegation of yours, and all I'm sayin' is, if she goes back to the way things were –"

"I doubt Doctor T'lar will risk angering one of the reigning clans of Vulcan over so simple a matter, Doctor; and besides this, there are…other factors, which likely will prevent that from happening. You need not concern yourself with anything other than the captain's health."

"One, you don't tell me how to do my job," he retorts, arms folded, "and two, what other factors, exactly, are we talkin' about?"

Spock raises an eyebrow. "Nothing which falls under your purview, Doctor, medically or otherwise."

"Mmhm. I recall havin' this same conversation more than once with the adult version of you, and it was just as annoying. And usually ended up with someone in my Sickbay, dying. You better spill it right now, or I march you up to the Bridge and make you do it to Jim in front of everybody."

The child glares at him over the rim of the fruit bowl with a totally human rebelliousness.

"Bridge it is."

"Doctorrrr." The sigh is almost - not quite - a whine, so much that it brings a little relief; the abrupt sound switch from child to adult earlier had been so jarring. This? This is 100% spoiled Vulcan brat here.

"Go on."

"There is nothing especially important about the matter, Doctor. I had done research on Doctor T'lar's background and history on Vulcan, but it was thanks to a written communique with my mother last evening after our vid-comm ended that I received one recent piece of information which would not have made it into any report."

"And?"

"While a renowned scientist and psychologist and possessing three doctorates, one of which is purely in that of xenotelepathic medicine, she was one of the rare females in our society who…" Here the child hesitates, and McCoy notes the slightly embarrassed shifting that indicates this is a taboo topic. "She…apparently challenged, at her mate's koon-ut-kalifee. Based upon an accusation of unfaithfulness."

Well that's…different.

"Okay, so…I wouldn't wish cheating on anybody, assuming it was a true accusation, but…why's that important, Spock?"

Spock squirms a little, obviously uncomfortable. "She challenged, but her mate won the following conflict, meaning her challenge was denied. And after the…events, were past, the Vulcan High Council approved her mate's request for immediate dissolution of their marriage bond."

"Meaning…"

"She was left with nothing, Doctor. It is an unfortunate loophole which was exploited quite legally, but which might explain her vehemence against any such bonds, familial or otherwise, being formed without full understanding of the consequences."

"Huh." Okay, that might explain some of it, yes. Doesn't excuse it, because the situations aren't anywhere near similar, but it might explain it, with logic even.

"But practically speaking. Put simply, Doctor T'lar is aware I have not made an idle threat. Were I to file a formal complaint and the Vulcan Science Academy to denounce her studies based upon evidence of compromise due to emotion over logic, she would be completely without recourse to fall back upon, professionally and financially. She simply cannot afford to, as you humans say, get on my bad side."

"Well. You're an evil little diplomat when you want to be, kid." He toasts the child with his coffee cup, finishing off the drink with a salute and flair.

"I believe she may also harbor some type of attraction to Captain Kirk."

Coffee fills his sinuses as he spit-takes the rest of his drink. "She what?"

"I do not believe my statement warrants such a reaction." Spock eyes the table and its coffee splatter with catlike disdain.

"Your statement warrants a straightjacket, Spock. Do you have any basis for that bizarre accusation?"

Dark eyes regard him with amusement. "Doctor, again you presume that every species acts as a human does in these matters. A Vulcan is attracted to the mind first, and statistically at least seventy percent of the time only that. All else is secondary, an incidental benefit. Are you aware there are two other strong telepaths in the Vulcan delegation, one of whom also has a doctorate in xenotelepathic medicine?"

"…Come to think of it, I did read that in the file."

"Precisely. Yet neither of them have felt any need whatsoever to engage with the captain in any way even though our bond has become common knowledge among the delegation. They are perfectly willing to speak with me if sought out, and are courteous to the crew, but there is no logical reason for Doctor T'lar to spend as much time around Captain Kirk as she does, and has since the first night of the voyage."

"Jim threatened to boot her off the ship the first night," he says dryly.

"And I would doubt anyone, much less a human male, has dared to defy her so in quite a long time," Spock replies pointedly. "The novelty of the situation is likely highly intriguing. And to a student of the sciences, anomalies are...fascinating."

"I think you're nuts, kid."

Spock gives an eyebrow-shrug. "Perhaps. But you perceived her reaction to discovering the captain is capable of understanding her work, when many Vulcan scientists have been known to have difficulty doing so. I see no reason why the captain's opinion could not have been asked for in writing at his convenience. It would have been the logical way to receive a more thorough and well thought-out assessment. If that truly were her motive."

Well…the kid's right.

"That complicates things."

"Really, Doctor. You insult both my species and yours by intimating they are incapable of professionalism in a work environment."

"Okay, look, how old are you now, anyway?! Sickbay, with me. Now."

"Doctor, I assure you I have now eaten a nutritiously balanced meal in addition to engaging in a full sleep cycle last night; I am not in need of your medical examination."

"Well, I can only deal with one mess at a time, and you're the closest one, so you don't get a choice."

"I must return to my cabin and retrieve Izh-rin'k'n."

"Your emotional support snowball can come too, but you're still getting a brain scan and full physical. And you know that look doesn't work on me, I'm not your precious Captain-Jim. Now get moving."

Chapter Text

"Well, thank goodness puberty's a human thing, and you've skipped over the first time-which-shouldn't-be-named if your mother's memory is accurate." He refrains from further embarrassing the child over the latter, merely finishes going over the readings with a sigh, and then raises an eyebrow as the silent figure sitting on the edge of his bio-bed holds out a hand for the medical scanner. "Sure, fine. I suppose technically you're almost the equivalent of an emancipated teenager now. That doesn't mean you get to make decisions around here."

Spock's eyeroll is clearly visible even behind the scanner. "Obviously, Doctor. It would be most illogical to permit an adolescent civilian complete control over every aspect of his life aboard a Federation-operated starship." A ball of white fluff uncurls from his shoulder long enough to meow an assent, before crawling over to the other shoulder and leaning down to claw half-heartedly at the blinking lights of the scanner.

"Well, I'll be. I'll remind you of this reasonable discussion when you turn sixteen and the captain still won't let you off the ship without a Security detail." He hides a smirk behind the computer monitor, where he's feeding in the data from the medical scan. "Hold, it, I haven't finished your immunity boosters yet. You want to walk out that door and catch a human cold because you were too impatient to wait five minutes?"

A faint sigh. "Doctor, alacrity would be much appreciated."

"Yeah, you're going to be a real treat the next few years." He shakes his head and dons a pair of gloves, moving to the sanitization unit for a clean hypospray.

The comm-unit by his head whistles with the red light that indicates a private, non-emergency transmission from the Bridge as he reaches it, and he nudges it with an elbow. "Sickbay, McCoy here."

"Sulu, Doctor. Heads up, Captain Kirk is on his way down to you. And he's…ehm. Not happy."

"What." He pauses, holding the hypospray in one hand. "And why, exactly, are you comm-ing me and not him?"

"He had another dizzy spell on the Bridge, Doctor. And you know how it is, it took four of us and that Vulcan doctor to basically drag him off the Bridge to go down there and see you."

Bet Jim loved that. Also, how in the world had she talked her way onto the Bridge, anyway? Precious few civilians have ever been able to do that without resorting to enchantments or hypnosis or some other tomfoolery.

"Doctor? Is the captain all right? Somebody said this happened yesterday too."

"He'll be fine, Mr. Sulu, it's nothing to worry about. Just needs to work less, sleep more. Like I keep telling all of you people up there. Mind that, in your command training."

Amusement colors the young pilot's tone when he replies. "Yes, sir, Doctor."

He closes the sanitization unit door. "Call Scotty up there if you need to shift the duty roster, though; he's going to be off duty the rest of the day until I get him sorted out."

"Aye, sir. Let him know not to worry, we'll hold down the fort. It's going to be a pretty boring ride until we pass the proximity beacon to the Alban system, anyway."

And that would be the man in question, he can hear already pitching a fit worthy of the child he no longer is, all the way down the hall.

"Sickbay out. Oh, no you don't." He pounces on a stealthily moving Vulcan youngster, who had been trying to utilize his distraction and the approaching metaphorical thunderstorm to sneak out undetected. Administering the hypo of vitamins and immunity boosters in one well-practiced move, he tosses the empty cartridge into the recycling chute and ignores the look of death (and angry hiss) he receives from both small species. "Sit your twelve-year-old backside back on that bed until I figure out what's going on with this mess you started."

Duly abashed, the child slinks back to his examination cubicle, scrutinizing the proceedings in an unnerving kit-petting silence that is just this side of maniacally disturbing.

McCoy notes with some amusement that every nurse on duty except Christine Chapel suddenly finds something to do inside one of the operating rooms or recovery cubicles, as the outer ward doors open. Chapel, on the other hand, keeps feeding paperwork into the main computer without batting an eye.

"…and furthermore, Lieutenant, I'll thank you to not draw attention to the fact in such a manner again!"

"Sir, you did that well enough yourself by nearly falling in my lap, but duly noted," Lieutenant Uhura answers dryly, shifting a pointed look across the room. Poor woman, she must have drawn the short straw on the Bridge. "Doctor, your patient. My job here is done."

He snorts. "Thank you, Lieutenant."

Uhura offers their small First Officer a smile of acknowledgment across the ward and then turns to leave, eyes narrowing briefly as she says something in what has to be Vulcan to T'lar, who has been silently observing in the background.

"What was that?" The captain almost snaps crossly when the doors shut behind her, as he strides across the room toward the bio-bed McCoy points at.

T'lar's eyes glint with something akin to amusement. "Your Communications Officer speaks flawless Vulcan, Captain. It was both grammatically and colloquially correct, loosely translated as 'sit on him if you must, but do not permit him to return to the Bridge.'"

The captain's face turns the color of the bio-bed's thermal mattress as McCoy's cackling echoes inside the med-electronics cabinet.

"I doubt that'll be necessary, Doctor, but I'll sure keep it on reserve if he doesn't cooperate," he says, grinning, as he returns to the bio-bed with a med-scanner in hand, calibrated for adult human life-signs instead of adolescent Vulcan.

"Bones, I feel fine now, I promise!" Ignoring Kirk's protests, he expertly dodges a shooing hand, continuing the cranial scan as if it had never happened. "I don't even have a headache!"

"Mmhm." This is going to be a nightmare, and frankly he doesn't want witnesses and Jim's not likely to cooperate with them present anyway. "Look, just…go wait in my office, let's not do this here."

"Fine." The lack of protest is more telling than anything else, hidden under a mask of exasperation as it may be. He shakes his head as his office door closes, then turns back to his two Vulcan problems. "You, I need out of my Sickbay, you're not helping right now," he says shortly, and gets a little mean satisfaction from seeing the flabbergasted expression on T'lar's face. However, when she speaks, it's with a more reasonable tone than she's had before in this room, and that's a first.

"I am far more qualified than you to assist in such a matter, Doctor McCoy. That is no denigration of your abilities, merely a statement of fact."

"And it's a fact I acknowledge. But I'm pretty sure I have two different issues here, and until I know this most recent incident isn't just a by-product of lack of sleep or something of the kind, you're not helping. Humans aren't wired the way Vulcans are, and that particular one," he stabs a finger at his office, "likes to pretend he isn't one whenever it suits him!"

"He does have an unfortunate habit of pushing himself to the physical and mental limit due to the requirements of command," Spock interjects quietly. "This situation cannot have helped that habit."

"Exactly. And he's going to raise Cain when I tell him I'm relieving him of duty until you two get this thing under control. I don't need you in the fallout zone when it happens," he adds, gesturing their young charge toward the door.

Spock balks at the movement, whereupon it jostles the fluffball off his shoulder momentarily. The animal growls at being so dislodged, and spreads its tiny wings in warning at McCoy (who is unimpressed at the gesture) before re-landing in its previous position, tiny claws firmly hooked in the blue tunic. "Is that truly necessary, Doctor? He will not be pleased."

"Spock, how do you think it's going to look if that were to happen on Alba II in the middle of the ceremonial welcome dinner or something? We only have four days until we reach the planet, and if we don't figure something out before then, he's going to have to sit it out, and he'll be even more ready to have my head over it. I'll take the lesser of the two now if it means focusing on fixing the problem."

"That is certainly logical."

"Indeed. Now vamoose."

T'lar stares blankly at him, until Spock rolls his eyes and moves past her toward the door. Obviously drawing the suitable linguistic conclusion, she finally follows, and McCoy heads for his office, triggering the door mechanism and opening onto a very dimly-lit room.

"Don't have a headache, my eye," he mutters, moving toward the desk with the ease of familiarity. "I really need to be able to at least see you, Jim."

"And do what, exactly?" is the weary reply from the direction of his consulting couch.

"…I dunno, but we can't even begin while you're acting more like the ten-year-old brat who used to nap on that same couch less than a month ago."

A slightly bitter laugh. "What a mess."

"We specialize in those."

"So we do. But this one…" A sigh, and he hears movement, no doubt finally moving upright to have an actual conversation. "This can't continue, Bones."

"I don't intend to let it. You're relieved of duty, starting now, until you figure out a way to manage it, you and Spock. And your Vulcan girlfriend if you have to, I don't really care one way or the other."

A fit of spluttering comes out of the darkness, heading off the building anger in its tracks exactly as he'd intended. "My what?"

"I'm not havin' this conversation if I can't even see you, Jim. Lights, fifty percent." Mmhm, there it is, that expression is clear indication the man was lying in the outer ward. Clear light sensitivity. "Lights thirty-five percent. Now. This is obviously a common thing on Vulcan, between Vulcans. And while you're a human, everybody knows you like a challenge, Jim. So get your head back on straight and figure this out, or you're not going to even last the three days until we reach the Alban system!"

"You think I don't know that, Doctor!"

"I think you're still so disturbed by the whole thing that you're letting it distort your judgment. Much as I'm for you doin' your research, you know better than to lose another night's sleep when you're already having problems. I told you to come to me."

"Bones, all you'd have done is give me something for it."

"And you'd probably not have keeled over on your own Bridge again this morning!"

"That's…okay, that's probably right."

Surprised at the easy victory, and a little alarmed at the uncharacteristic surrender to it, he moves across the room and sits on the edge of the small table in front of the couch. "Jim, you can't keep going like this. And I'm not about to let you within a hundred parsecs of a stimulant, you know that."

"I'm well aware, Doctor. And besides, I haven't the faintest concept of what it means to mentally shield; I've no idea what that heightened mental state might do in a psychic backlash."

"Pretty sure we could deal with a hyper Vulcan teenager, but that's beside the point."

Kirk chuckles briefly. "I've no doubt you could, Bones. You're dealing with all of this far better than I am, no question about that."

"Yes, well, I don't have a piece of the hobgoblin permanently stuck in my head for all of eternity and never plan to, thank you very much. Nobody's faulting you for how you're dealing, Jim. But you're running out of time here. And running out of fuel, so to speak. You've got to figure out how this is affecting you and how to shut it off, or at least manage it, until he switches back."

"Speaking of, how old is he now?"

"Trailed off at twelve years, ten months. Jumped quite a bit in what I assume is about an hour's time, though I dunno why it didn't seem to affect him quite as much. And he still hasn't gained but maybe an inch in height. He was a little shaky by the time we got to Sickbay, but he didn't go passing out on me like you did at that age, and the whole transition appeared to be way less draining overall, even with the almost three-year jump."

"Interesting. But then again, Vulcans live twice as long as humans, so perhaps that has something to do with it?"

"I dunno. And I can't ask the Insonti council really until we're back in orbit, it's not something I want to broadcast over a 'Fleet channel. They're already breathing down my neck as it is, and if any breath of something out of the ordinary about the situation gets back to them, we could be looking at jeopardizing both your commands. This wasn't in their game plan, remember. We need to stay under the radar if possible."

"Understood." Kirk winces, drops his head into both hands. "I didn't have a headache when I got here, Bones, really. But now?"

"What all did that stuff you read last night say about this kind of thing?"

"Nothing really useful, I'm afraid. Some specific warnings about the risks involved in any mind-joining, but most of it was more for marriage bonds and that ritual they do when their kids are what, eight? Seven? I can't remember off-hand, but anyway, that's the most important bond outside of a familial one, so most of it was about that. Certainly, I have a better understanding of the boundaries and how important they are, but there's nothing in there that was practically helpful for…this." A vague, helpless gesture in the air with one hand. "Like Doctor T'lar said, it was written for a telepath from the perspective of a telepath. I don't even understand the mechanics of most of it, much less the practicality of implementation."

"Great."

"I don't think this particular situation's ever come up before, Bones, it's not exactly their fault," is the somewhat muffled reply.

"I know that, but we have to figure this out, or you're going to…are you going to crash on me now?" he demands, because the man's suddenly gone white as a sheet, one hand out to brace himself on the seat of the couch. "All right, take a deep breath…head between your knees, Jim. Christine! Get in here!"

The door opens on the instant, and she's already taken in the scene and is moving for the wall-comm before he can even give the orders. "Get Spock and Doctor T'lar back in here, and then prep me a full neural workup cubicle with two bio-beds, one adjusted to the last readings we took for Spock's diagnostics."

"Yes, Doctor."

"I want answers about what we're looking at, and I want them now."

"Understood, sir."

A hand swats at him, uncoordinated, as its owner lifts his head, still pale as a ghost but shaking his head in protest. "I'm fine, Bones."

"That might be more convincing if you didn't look like you were about to demonstrate why I have a washable slipcover on that couch. C'mon, up you get. Any idea why it's this bad today?"

"Not really." A weary sigh, and he can feel the faint tremoring of what is likely either exhaustion or something going awry in the nervous system in the arm slung over his shoulders. "It comes and goes. Fluctuates."

"What comes and goes. I need specifics for the symptom log if I'm going to feed it into the Medical mainframe."

The arm tightens around his shoulder briefly as they enter the bright lights of the outer ward. "It's hard to describe, all right? The same as I told you yesterday. Almost like having the Andorian 'flu, but twenty-four hours a day, and without a fever. And on top of all that, some strange little…sensation, in the back of my head, that something's just not right. Like I'm…I don't know, losing time almost. Or something."

Wait a minute.

"Jim, are you having any kind of auditory hallucinations, tinnitus, loss of memory?"

"Loss of memory? What are you saying, Bones?"

"Answer the question."

"Not that I know of!"

"Think carefully. I'm not talking about something major like long or even short-term amnesia, it can be simple as forgetting where you put a coffee cup down, or forgetting a scheduled call with Command."

Kirk's feet stop moving for a second, bringing them to a halt outside the cubicle that Chapel is just exiting. She nods with a quick smile in response to his non-verbal look of gratitude, and hurries over to the primary data computer, no doubt to update that symptom log.

"Come to think of it, I have been. I left my quarters twice this week, in the morning, without the previous nights' reports I was supposed to return to Engineering. Left them sitting on my desk and had to send a yeoman back for them at the start of alpha shift. But I put that down to lack of sleep, Bones. Why are you asking?"

"What about the ringing in the ears. Hearing any weird noises, voices, anything?"

"Bones, I have someone else's brain in my head, of course I'm hearing strange things!"

"All the time?" he continues calmly, as they round the corner into the cubicle.

"No, of course not, I would have come to you if I was full-out hallucinating on the Bridge."

"Well you do have some sense left, at least."

"Anyway, everything gets a little better sometimes, sometimes it's basically gone. This morning, at breakfast? I was feeling just fine. Good, even. I thought it was due to having a good talk with Amanda last night, Spock seems to be doing okay, I thought things were looking better." The captain sighs, leans wearily against the side of the bio-bed for a moment before hauling himself up onto it. "Then I hit the Bridge, spent two hours going over reports and debriefing for the Alba mission, and the next thing I know I'm apparently taking a dive for the Communications console."

"You remember any other time it was better?" McCoy asks, cautiously. "Lie down, Jim. There we go." He adjusts a knob on the bed's sensor board, and looks back for the answer.

Kirk's eyes are closed, but he makes a vague noise of dissent. "Mmm…not really?"

"Think, it's important."

"Why?"

"Humor me."

"Fine. It wasn't quite as bad…yesterday afternoon, I guess? After I went to find Spock when he hid out in the Jefferies tube. We spent a couple of hours in the Observation Lounge discussing quantum physics in relation to warp technology. The peace and quiet seemed to help."

"Only you would call that peace and quiet." He shakes his head, adjusting another monitor. These are a little alarming. Kirk's blood pressure and heart rate are usually slightly above normal, only to be expected from someone of that personality and intense nervous energy. But these show dangerously low numbers, and that's not something that he detected yesterday.

"Well, that would explain some of it, not all of it," he murmurs absently, squinting at the dials.

"Explain what?"

"In a minute. So, it was better when you were on the O-Deck?"

"I wasn't really paying that much attention. I didn't notice any symptoms during the evening hours, either."

"Right. And when you came down from the Bridge just now, did your headache get better as you got closer to Sickbay?"

Kirk squints up at him against the glare of the light. "I suppose? What's that got to do with anything?"

"I'm shooting in the dark here, this isn't my dog and pony show. But we'll find out if I'm right in just a minute. Your head getting better?"

"Now that you mention it, yes. I just needed to lie down, I think."

"I do think," he replies dryly, as the outer doors open to admit the two Vulcans he'd just booted out less than ten minutes previously. "I think we've got a whole different set of problems than we thought. And unless you can figure out a way to magic yourself up an adult First Officer in the next few days, it's not going to be fixed by the time we get to Alba II."

Chapter Text

"So, is it possible, or am I just bein' an illogical, lesser intelligent species, etc., etc.?"

"That state of being is most definitely the case, Doctor."

"Now look here!"

"But not for reason of your medical conjecture," T'lar continues, totally ignoring the spluttering coming from the other side of the desk. "That, contrarily, is quite sound, and is certainly a facet of this particular scenario which I for one never considered."

Considering that he's more than halfway drugged off his head with a very heavy-duty painkiller and neural inhibitor, the only stop-gap measure McCoy has in his arsenal right now, the captain of the Enterprise is lucky he can even understand the Basic Standard currently being spoken halfway across the room from his assigned medical cubicle. This is mitigated no doubt by the fact that partway through the flurry of discussions Spock had somehow disabled the bio-bed sensors and then squirreled his way onto the bed, wedging himself against the wall unseen by the two physicians in deep discussion across the ward. Kirk has no idea where that blasted flying kitten went, and doesn't really want to know; but Spock doesn't appear concerned at its absence so it must be stashed somewhere safe at least and not crawling around dangerous Sickbay machinery.

"This is a complication," his pint-sized First Officer finally says, with a solemnity that is oddly hilarious to his drugged mind.

"You're telling me. The things I do for you, Spock."

That only seems to deflate the child further. "Indeed."

"Okay, stop looking at me like that, it was a joke. You should be able to tell that much with this thing, right?"

Spock's small nose wrinkles slightly. "Doctor McCoy's neural inhibitor appears to be working, to some extent; your mind is…muddled."

"…Right. Don't take anything in there at face value, then, please."

"Understood." A faint flicker of amusement. "It is quite remarkable how lucid you remain, under such a heavy dosage."

"Yes, well, I never have been one to play the average." He rubs his forehead wearily. "What the devil are they talking about, my head is spinning just trying to listen."

"Perhaps now is not the time."

"Perhaps you'd better not test my patience much further. It is extensive where you're concerned, but it is not infinite."

"…Indeed."

"I get the fact that this…bond, weakens somewhat, the further away we are, for longer periods of time. And strengthens when we're together; that makes sense. Even if I don't know I'm doing it, I am putting a strain on it by shutting it down out of ignorance, and you are straining it by drawing on it from your end unintentionally, like any child would."

"I am mildly impressed you were able to understand that much from Doctor McCoy's somewhat rambling conjectures."

"Practice makes perfect, you know."

"True."

"But the rest of it? They lost me there."

"The rest of it, as you say, Captain, appears to be the true source of your increasing discomfort, and the truly dangerous problem, a completely separate issue which I will admit never occurred to me, and apparently neither to Doctor T'lar or McCoy." Spock's eyes are shadowed with either guilt or worry, he can't really tell which. "It is an oversight which should not be excused, given that we are responsible for any and all possibilities and consequences which might arise from the situation."

"That's a ridiculous assignation of blame for a situation no one could have foreseen, and it's also beside the point." He rolls his eyes, leans back on the monstrous pile of pillows Spock had stolen on his trek across the ward. "Besides, don't you have some Vulcan proverb about what's being done is done?"

"…Your verb tenses are atrocious."

"I have an excuse, I am under par-tial se-da-tion."

Spock looks very much like he is considering the human act of facepalming.

"You going to tell me what this Very Bad oversight is, or am I supposed to start guessing?" he asks, one eye on the two physicians still bent over something at the medical computer across the room.

"I…it is an unintentional consequence of the Insonti aging process rather than the bond itself, one which was entirely unforeseen and would not have been of any note were it not for this particular…condition."

"You're still talking in circles. Report, Spock."

A what has to be totally unconscious snap to attention. "Apparently, Captain, to put the problem in its simplest terms: I am currently in the process of rapid aging. Due to the fact that I share a mental bond with you, yet you are still grounded in this present timestream, aging at a normal human rate, your mind is trying to reconcile two completely different timestreams, being pulled along by mine as the aging process progresses."

He stares at the child in consternation, processing this fact.

Well that would explain a lot, yes.

"So…ah, that's why Bones was asking me about the memory loss, hallucinations, and so on. Those are all symptoms of time-travel sickness."

"Precisely. While separately, the rapid aging process has no discernable effect on the subject that we have not yet discovered, the fact that in this case the subject is tethered to a stationary outside force, so to speak, is highly dangerous for that force - and not something we would have had cause to consider, as is not an effect the Insonti would have experienced. Doctor McCoy conjectures that I am unaffected; if anything, the bond grows stronger exponentially every time another aging stage is reached."

"Wait, wait – so you're saying…" He shakes his head, wishing his mind were actually clear for this. "Not only is this literally driving me crazy because my mind is trying to live in and reconcile two different timestreams simultaneously, but in addition to that - by the time you're, well, you again...it's going to be like you've had this thing for decades and it'll still just be days old for me?"

Spock shifts uncomfortably in place. "Assuming it does not vanish upon the final aging stage…that would appear to be the case. Captain."

He slumps back on the pillow, hand pinching wearily at his forehead. "I can't even, with this."

"I told the doctor the news would not be welcome." Poor kid sounds so sad about the fact, that Kirk opens his eyes again in a hurry, and exhales a silent prayer for patience.

"Okay, I'll admit it's not exactly welcome, Spock. But only because it's just…not really fair, you know? I'm not exactly upset with you, it isn't like you intended for this to happen. And from what I've read, it's actually a pretty amazing thing. When done while one party is not stuck in a slipstream," he adds dryly, and sees a flicker of amusement in Spock's eyes.

"But the implications of what it's doing to my mind are…disturbing, I am not going to pretend otherwise. If this is capable of affecting my command? I will not allow that, not even for you. I cannot leave this ship without her two senior officers. The ship comes first, in any and all circumstances. Do you understand this?"

"I understand," the child says quietly. "And I support your decision."

"Thank you. I hope it will not come to drastic measures." He sighs, rubbing his eyes. "What exactly is the projected treatment?"

Spock looks unimpressed. "Restore me to my proper age."

"That's it?"

"There is no other way to prevent your mental state from being brought along with mine, so to speak, short of breaking the bond entirely."

"And that means…"

Spock looks more than a little scared to death, but answers steadily enough. "A complete severing of a mental bond should only be done by a qualified mental healer. We would need to return to Vulcan for the procedure to be done safely, though in an emergency I believe Doctor T'lar might agree to make the attempt. She is technically qualified, though has never actually performed the procedure."

"I didn't mean technically. What are the consequences. For you."

The child looks away briefly. "I do not precisely know."

"And even under the influence of Doctor McCoy's best, I can tell when you're lying, Spock. Tell me what the consequences are."

"I do not know from personal experience. But…it is said to be extremely painful, both physically and mentally, and ten times that when such a bond is formed organically, of its own accord. Such a bond is much deeper, much harder to root out. The recovery time could be weeks, and there have been cases where such a procedure took months for its participants to fully recover to their previous states. That is, of course, upon a Vulcan participant; I doubt the ramifications would be as severe on a non-telepath."

"Good god. That's out of the question then, at least until you're old enough to fully consent to the ramifications on your adult career."

"If it becomes necessary, we will take that option."

"We will do nothing of the kind. I am still the captain of this ship, medical leave or not, and I will not put one of my officers at that kind of risk."

"Even at the expense of your command."

"It hopefully won't come to that." It had better not come to that. Surely the universe would not be so cruel as to force him into an impossible choice of that nature, not while one of the parties in question can't fully consent to its drastic ramifications. "If it does, then we'll take the problem on as it comes, but I'm confident we can find a way to deal with it temporarily."

"Your overconfidence has always been a source of concern for both Starfleet Command and your senior officers," Spock comments sagely, drawing his knees up and wrapping his arms around them in a childlike gesture hilariously at odds with his words.

"Why is it you're never this direct in officers' briefings, young man?"

"I believe you will agree the circumstances do not allow time for indirectness. Sir."

"Dear Lord, how did you get through my teenaged years without wanting to strangle me. How about you turn that brain of yours to finding a solution for this problem instead of smarting off to your elders?"

Looking cooperative but not in the least chastened, the child nods and slides off the bio-bed to land gracefully as a cat on the floor, then turns to re-activate the bed's sensors, recalibrating to a single occupant. Gentle beeps and whistles fill the silence of the cubicle a moment later, and Kirk settles back to hopefully sleep off the effects of McCoy's emergency ministrations.

"I shall see what progress Doctor T'lar and Doctor McCoy have made in the matter," Spock says, pausing by the head of the bed.

"Mmhm." He's likely going to be asleep before the kid's halfway across the room, and nothing short of a Red Alert will wake him up, so he's not quite sure why Spock's bothering to tell him this.

Tiny eyebrows draw together in a frown as the child glances up at the diagnostic panel. "Your readings are still far too low, Captain."

"Well, keep standing there staring at me, and my blood pressure will no doubt start climbing," he says dryly, but with amusement.

The look he receives is Not Amused. "With the Doctor preoccupied and our connection muted through the application of a neural inhibitor, leaving you unattended in such a condition is unwise."

"Um. It's seriously fine, Spock. This is a 'Fleet Sickbay, and these alarms will scream a Blue Alert if anything drops into a red zone, trust me. You may not remember it but we've both been in here enough times to have well tested that function."

Spock does not look convinced, and it's a little hilarious and a little adorable. What's not quite as adorable, is the fact that he disappears from view for a few seconds, apparently to retrieve the white fuzzball, Iz-whatever-it-is, Kirk's shaky colloquial Vulcan doesn't extend to remembering the names for extra-planetary weather phenomena even when not drugged, thank you very much, and promptly plops the animal unceremoniously down on his torso, whereupon it gives a startled meep and digs tiny claws in to stabilize its landing on a reflective thermal blanket.

"What the –" He stops the expletive just in time to save inquisitive childish ears, and clears his throat instead. "Spock, what are you doing?"

"Arcturian creatures are capable of a rudimentary empathic connection with the individuals upon which they imprint shortly after birth, Captain. She will alert me if your condition worsens."

"She will…wait, it's a she? And what – you are not leaving this thing here!" Spock has already started walking away, leaving the bat-kit staring after its owner, wings flattened in wary aggression. "Spock, do not act like you can't hear me when we both know you have Vulcan ears!"

He'd bet his entire next month of hazard pay the little brat is a teenager now.

With a sigh, his head falls back to the pillow in weariness. He glares at the kitten as its tiny wings finally relax, deciding its new environment is not hostile. It stares at him with beady eyes, and finally deigns to meow an aloof greeting, giving itself a shake and then hunkering down with its paws tucked in like a Sphynx. A cloud of loose white fur flies everywhere in a truly impressive defiance of artificial gravity.

He sighs, and closes his eyes again.

And then sneezes violently. Twice.

"You cannot be serious."

Chapter Text

"Wait, wait. Run that by me again, you lost me." He drops the fork and scrubs both hands down his face, trying to focus. "Why did I let you give me that heavy of a sedative."

Looking pointedly over top of his fork, McCoy nods toward the youngster sitting a meter or so to Kirk's left, calmly poking through a replicated vegetable medley with all the picky disdain of any human teenager. "Because I didn't exactly have a lot of options when your blood pressure was fallin' through the warp core, thanks to junior genius there."

"I can't even focus on what you're saying, there's no way I'm going to be able to get through an entire day's worth of backlogged paperwork tonight. So you can't just keep doing that; we have to find a better solution, and fast."

"You think, Jim?"

The captain huffs out a frustrated breath, and picks his coffee cup back up, visibly restraining his frustration. "Never mind. Tell me again, what viable options are we looking at. Other than the obviously impractical solution of keeping me in a medical coma for the duration."

"That actually would be the most logical and indeed the simplest solution, were it not for the fact that you must at least put in an appearance once we reach Alba II, Captain," Spock interjects, with a pointed look his direction.

"That's a no, mister, and I don't think I asked your opinion on this particular proposal."

McCoy whistles under his breath, and at least is relieved to see Spock look more amused than offended by the words. Obviously, this bond is good for something, and the kid must be able to tell Jim's about to have a meltdown if he doesn't get answers and a solution. Captain James T. Kirk is unaccustomed to not being in control, and while he's handled this whole mess better than many would have, the lack of control and lack of sleep is obviously pushing him to the end of his endurance.

Spock's not quite good enough yet to, or maybe isn't really trying to, hide his near-teenage rebellion, however; and it isn't exactly his best tactical strategy. McCoy's no chessmaster, but even he knows that much.

"Did you seriously just roll your eyes at me?"

"The gesture was quite serious, if that is your inquiry."

He can't help it, he laughs. This kid's going to be a holy terror, and Jim looks equal parts flabbergasted and terrified at the clear indications.

"You did not just say that to me."

"I believe I did."

"All right, that's enough," he interjects calmly, before they can draw the attention of way too curious crewmen starting to fill up the nearby tables for early Evening Mess. "Both of y'all need to calm down. I wasn't asking," he adds sharply, when it looks like Spock's about to vocalize heaven-only-knows-what.

After eyeing him speculatively for a moment, the child seems to decide he means business, or more likely is simply not worth the trouble of argument, because he subsides into a petulant silence.

"Jim, you know sleep deprivation can wreck your emotional control, so take a breath, go spar with somebody in the gym, whatever you have to do, but you can't kill the kid before we turn him back or lose your precious command image in the middle of Officers' Mess. And you," he points his fork across the table, "should be able to pick up on the fact that he's exhausted almost to the limit of human endurance, so shame on you. You want to stop being treated like a child, then stop acting like one and take some responsibility for this thing."

Spock's pale face turns a light olive color.

"Bones, that's not really fair."

"It is fair," he says reasonably. "You've been having to hold up your end of the deal under physical ramifications that are now actually threatening your command. Fun-sized or not, it's his job as First Officer to make sure that doesn't happen."

Spock looks slightly annoyed at the diminutive, but nods readily enough. "The doctor is quite correct, Captain. I have been remiss in this duty until now, an error which I intend to rectify once I have determined the best methods by which to do so."

"…Thanks?"

McCoy snorts, and stabs back into his string beans. "But that doesn't really help with a long-term solution, to answer your question, Jim. I toyed with the idea of trying to narrow down the aging window somehow, pinpointing when it's likely to happen and then isolating you in a neural-dampening field while Spock goes through the process, but that's a hazy science at best."

"Not to mention highly impractical, as there is no way to predict such an occurrence," Spock points out.

"Since sometimes the aging spurts come out of nowhere, kid's right, Jim. It's not a very good solution. Might work as a triage method in an emergency, but it's not good preventative medicine."

Kirk pushes away his half-eaten meal tray, eyeing with trepidation the impressively large stack of datapadds which has somehow been growing at the end of the table during dinner, wary yeomen having dropped them off at intervals when their superiors were not looking.

"Did Doctor T'lar have any ideas?"

"Not regarding any professional topic," Spock mutters into his bowl of vegetables.

McCoy tries to extricate a bean from his windpipe as the captain pulls the stack of padds over toward him with a rattle of plasticine, totally oblivious.

"What'd you say, Spock?"

"He said you need to ask her yourself, Jim," he interjects, grinning, as he sees the woman in question entering the now busy Officers' Mess. She looks more like a being on a mission than like she's there for an evening meal, however, and loses no time in bypassing the replicating units entirely, making a beeline for their table.

"Doctor McCoy, your staff said you would be dining here," she states, without preamble.

"Considering it's dinnertime and this is Officers' Mess, that's no indication of their competence," he drawls, indicating the empty space beside him on the long bench. "Care to join us?"

"I am not in need of sustenance at this time."

"You can still sit down."

"I require your medical opinion on the results of the simulations we ran this afternoon."

"Then you'd better sit down, because I'm not gettin' up yet."

He hears a slight huff of what is decidedly unVulcan impatience, but she does at least sit, handing him a medical padd with the results of the dual brain-scan workups they'd done.

"Doctor T'lar, the Captain was only just speaking of you," Spock says in greeting from across the table, in the most innocent of tones.

The ornery little brat's too far away for him to kick, but Kirk is totally oblivious, already engrossed in trying to decipher Scotty's dubious-at-best calculations on the weekly Engineering energy output report, squinting at the padd under obvious post-sedation exasperation.

T'lar's eyebrow inclines. "Indeed?"

Even functioning considerably sub-par, it's obvious that the captain of the Enterprise's instincts are still fully functioning, because after only a moment he glances up warily, sensing a trap.

"Why do I have the feeling I'm being talked about, not even behind my back?"

Spock loudly crunches a carrot cube, all wide-eyed innocence.

Seriously, the little brat is lucky he's not within swatting distance.

"You appear in better condition than this morning, Captain," T'lar ventures, clinically enough. "I presume this is due to Doctor McCoy's eliminating some of the human factors from the equation."

"If you mean I forced him to sleep for six hours, you've got it in one." McCoy finishes the last bite of beans, pointing the fork across the table good-naturedly. "Nothing I can do about that brain scramble you've got goin' on."

He's favored with three equally annoyed looks, and so raises his hands in a very out-numbered surrender.

"Yes, well. We're just going to have to deal with it. We have the pre-arrival briefing on the Alba mission first thing tomorrow and a preliminary report to the Admiralty that I can't miss without throwing up red flags about this mess to people we very much do not want looking too closely at our mission logs for the last month."

The declaration is not unexpected, nor is the almost visible re-donning of that ridiculous command façade that has propelled the man to fame far before his peers. That ability to smile and reassure in the face of the world burning is what keeps this ship alive, and while it never ceases to amaze it also never ceases to scare him, just a little. Because it also means if something ever happened, to either the ship or her captain, he has the feeling both might crash and burn together.

T'lar's expression is hilariously unimpressed.

"Your coping strategy of situational denial and human willpower, while not unimpressive for your species, will certainly not be sufficient to sustain your physical health through the next seven days, Captain," she states matter-of-factly. "In fact, it likely will serve only to hasten the complete collapse of the fragile balance achieved by the temporary acceptance of this rudimentary bond."

"Well aren't you just a happy little ball of sunshine," McCoy mutters, clicking the data-padd off and pushing it back toward her. The scans haven't given them any information they didn't already know, unfortunately.

"Your metaphor quite literally has no possible logical extrapolation, Doctor."

"That would be why it's called a metaphor, isn't it?"

"Technically, it would be a loose interpretation of metaphoric anthropomorphism, Bones," Kirk says absently, scribbling a signature on a report and clicking to the next without even looking up.

Three pairs of eyes blink at him for a few startled seconds, the silence broken only by the loud crrrrunch of another of Spock's carrot cubes.

McCoy glares at the child in consternation, trying not to laugh.

"Fascinating," T'lar murmurs.

"The Captain is quite well-versed in both Terran and Vulcan neo-classical literary themes," Spock interjects sagaciously. "A particular hobby of yours, I believe, Doctor T'lar?"

Seriously, he thought Jim was a pain in the neck as a sulky adolescent. What is he going to do with a bratty half-Vulcan teenager while this delegation is stuck planetside ironing out peace negotiations for two days?

Chapter Text

Thankfully (or not thankfully, because they really do need to get this whole ridiculous process over with), their holy terror of a teenaged First Officer only has one more growth spurt in the intervening four days prior to their reaching the Alba star system, meaning the immediate danger that comes along with two simultaneous timestreams hijacking the mind of the Captain of the Enterprise, is minimal. One thing Leonard McCoy is very much not qualified to advise upon, is how to keep any and all players in this drama from metaphorically (or even literally) murdering each other before they make planetfall.

What's not as minimal, is the very obvious fact that Jim has long since lost the ability to actually function at full capacity. While no ordinary crewman would be able to tell the difference under a typical day's interaction thanks to the man's almost dangerous ability to bluff otherwise, the indications are as glaring as a Red Alert to any trained medical officer, much less one as trained in the science of James Kirk as he is – and he well knows if Spock had been aware of this outcome when he planned this whole insane shebang it would never have happened in the first place. The Vulcan may have an illogically large blind spot when it comes to this particular human, but he would never jeopardize the man's command, in the name of scientific experimentation or otherwise.

But what's done is done, and it now falls on him to keep things from spiraling out of control until they can be brought back into a synchronous orbit again. That's easier said than done, when one of your commanding officers is a moody fifteen-year-old half-Vulcan, and the other an equally moody but entirely in-denial human who might as well be both fifteen and Vulcan himself for all the good it's doing any of them.

These three days have been an almost wholescale waste of time and resources, as he's no closer to finding a way to block the effects of the slipstream from Kirk's mind; nor, for some reason, is the connection getting any less…disruptive, is the only word the captain can come up with, to explain his inability to focus or even sleep for more than a couple of hours at a stretch.

T'lar explains this to be a common symptom of an unfinished or unreciprocated mental bond, but that's not really something that can be fixed until Spock's returned to his adult age and can understand the ramifications of it. There is no real way for them to finalize such a thing, not with one mind caught in a changing timestream – and that's even if they were to decide to keep the bond despite Spock not being fully in his adult mind and Jim not being able to discuss the matter with him. There just are no options at this time which work.

And that's assuming Jim even wants to consider keeping the thing, and after all this McCoy honestly wouldn't blame the man for instinctively wanting to boot their blasted First Officer out of his head for good, simply out of sheer human self-preservation. This thing's been a giant whopping mess, start to finish, even if it was done entirely accidentally.

Spock, you stupid fool.

Undoubtedly the lack of human mental shielding has to be trickling through despite the captain's best efforts to the contrary, and that probably has something to do with why Spock's been so quiet the last couple of days, steering well clear of both Sickbay and the human crew in general. He has the feeling it's not just half-human teenage moodiness, but in true human – and Vulcan – fashion, he's getting no answers out of the kid and he knows better than to push the issue with a teenager, of any species.

It's probably just as well, although Jim does seem to physically improve in the kid's presence; the tension in the room whenever the two are in proximity just isn't worth it for everyone else involved. An unfortunate and highly unusual situation, one that is so out of sync from their usual state of being that it has the entire crew slightly on edge, even though most of them have no real idea why.

And as for him? Well, he has no idea how to fix this rift between them, and it's not like a Vulcan is going to be of any help in straightening out their emotional baggage. Saints preserve them.

The news just before they hit the Alban system that there's been a small political uprising on the planet is not a welcome one, and they're halted before entering orbit over Alba Prime to await further instructions from Starfleet Command. Their negotiating team was being brought in to prevent just such an occurrence, and if it's escalated to physical violence, they may need further assistance.

"Alba II is not a large colony, Captain," Solvak says calmly during their briefing on the matter, the upper command crew assembled to go over the situation as they know it. "Most likely this is a final attempt only, by one of the dissenting factions who are aware that an amnesty agreement is forthcoming. I doubt, given the state of the planet as we have been told, that they are foolish enough to go to war at this juncture, with peace on their doorstep and Federation assistance for their dying ecosystem contingent upon said agreement."

"Let us hope so, Ambassador," Kirk replies, rubbing his forehead briefly. "Just the same, I will be sending down a Security contingent with the ambassadorial delegation."

"A show of weapons will not assist the ambassadorial cause, Captain," Solvak points out mildly.

"Understood," the man replies wryly. "However, I would prefer that cause not be catalyzed by martyrdom, so the weapons will remain. In moderation, of course."

"As you wish, Captain." Solvak acquiesces gracefully. "Though I would prefer once the negotiations begin, that your men show a little faith in the Alban people and depart with you back to your ship."

"And I would prefer to judge the atmosphere of the planet myself before leaving a party defenseless for whom I am responsible, Ambassador. Shall we agree to revisit on Alba II itself?"

McCoy cringes inwardly, but Solvak nods readily enough despite the curt reply; what is an obvious lack of the captain's usual diplomatic finesse likely does not even register to a no-nonsense race as the Vulcans. "That would be acceptable. T'lar, you would do well to engage in advanced meditation this afternoon. Should the situation prove unstable, your abilities will likely require additional shielding against the volatile emotions of the dissenting population."

The woman inclines her head in brief agreement. "And what of this…situation?" she inquires, gesturing briefly between Kirk and the silent Vulcan adolescent sitting to McCoy's left, boredly scratching away at something on a data-padd. "The Alban people are highly telepathic, Captain, and while reports state they do have strict laws in place against telepathic invasion, the fact remains that you are in no fit state to risk encountering a native who would disregard the interplanetary cultural differences in communication. Added to this, that it is highly irregular to bring a child to such a conference; the fact that you must now remain in fairly close physical proximity is already a hindrance to the negotiations."

"That's what I've been saying for the last twenty-four hours, Jim. Now will you believe me?"

The captain shoots him a look. "It is not a matter of belief. It is a matter of duty. Starfleet Command requires a representative of the Federation to oversee the negotiations, and a representative they will have." He raises a warning hand to cut off the rising protest. "This is not open to discussion, Doctor. Doctors."

"Well that's just fine, Captain. When you keel over down there and embarrass yourself in front of the entire planet? Don't expect any sympathy from me."

"Believe me, I won't."

"Your unusual level of human emotionality is clear proof that this process has reached a level detrimental to logical decision-making," Spock says absently from behind his padd.

"I really don't think anyone asked you to comment on my decision-making, mister."

"This is quite true, though your illogically rampant acts of denial are rather difficult to ignore."

"Did you really just say that to me?"

"Impaired hearing is a distinctly possible side effect of the process as well. Sir."

McCoy sends a boot-toe that direction under the table in warning, and receives a fearsome glare in return. "You got twenty years before that look has any effect on me, kid."

"I am not –"

"Don't interrupt me. Now you quit playin' with fire here and act your age or you can spend the rest of this waiting period restricted to your cabin like the brat you're being right now."

He sees one of the Vulcan aides goggle at him, likely never having seen an emotional human parent in action before.

Solvak clears his throat. "If there is nothing further you need from us, Captain."

Kirk's cheeks flush in brief mortification as his brain catches up with his reactions. "Negative, Ambassador. This briefing is over." The Thank Surak goes unspoken by multiple parties, but is clearly audible all the same.


The Alban people do appear to have effectively quelled their own small uprising in prompt fashion, aghast that a tiny rebellious fraction of their youngest and most radical populace, as they explain to the visitors eight hours later, would risk their entire star system's future over their own extreme political views.

The Federation, and shortly thereafter the Enterprise, are much relieved to hear that apparently what constitutes a violent uprising on the planet of Alba II in reality equates to nothing more than a march on the city capital and a protest outside a few odd government buildings, apparently broken up by law enforcement without so much as a blow being struck on either side.

"May I ask, if you too found their explanation just a little too glib, Ambassador?" Kirk inquires, sotto voce, as they enter the transporter room to make their way down to the beaming reception point.

Solvak looks unperturbed. "It is not our task to pass judgment on the truth of their report, Captain; suspicions automatically color one's perceptions in a diplomatic situation. I am but a neutral party in this matter. I will draw my conclusions in person, and not before."

Spock's eyebrow-slant at the older Vulcan's back could not possibly be more skeptical.

The Captain hides a smile under cover of turning back to the redshirt at the transporter controls. "Mr. Turner, if all goes well I should be signaling you within two hours to beam myself and Mr. Spock back to the ship."

"Right you are, Captain. And shore leave, sir?" the young man asks hopefully.

Kirk chuckles. "We'll see, Ensign. To use the Ambassador's words, I will draw my conclusions on that in person, and not before." The young man returns his grin briefly, bobbing his head as his hands fly over the controls. "Bones, we'll see you in two hours."

"Two hours, Jim, no more. You know I can see you rolling your eyes, both of you, this door's polished duranium."

"For the love of my sanity, energize, Mr. Turner."


It's not quite two hours later when his monitor pings with a routine Bio-Medical Alert, indicating a successful transport aboard.

There's nothing out of the ordinary about that; it's standard procedure, an automated alert sent to Sickbay every time the transporter is engaged and a life-form detected. Most of the time nothing more needs to be done; the alerts simply go on record in Medical with the name of the crewman transported, along with their bio-signature in case the transport record needs retrieved later. On rare occasions, something will flag the Medical computer, a contaminant or parasite or something unidentified, in which case it will trigger a Bio-contaminant alert and lock down the transporter deck. But most of the time, they're fairly routine.

The sudden switch of every wall-light in the ward from blue to the all-important, dangerous red, however, is not routine.

Behind him, he hears that dreaded siren that every Medical officer hates, accompanied by an order to raise the ship's shields and stand by on Red Alert, and that causes his steps to swerve from the aft turbolift to the forward one.

Because that isn't Jim's voice snapping orders into the ship's intra-comm.

And there's an extremely short list of reasons why he'd have reinstated command clearance for a Vulcan teenager, experienced or not.