Spock is first alerted that the return trip from the surface of Porrima V has not gone as it should by the look of panicked disbelief on the face of the technician working the transporter controls. Spock turns to look at the rest of the landing party - consisting of the Captain, Doctor McCoy, and Lieutenant Calder - bracing to see the result of some catastrophic malfunction.
Instead, he finds that the others are physically uninjured, but also appear significantly younger than they did only seconds ago; they now all look to be older adolescents or young adults. Spock notes the physical changes: Everyone has fewer wrinkles, though the difference is starkest on McCoy’s face. Kirk’s hair is thicker and lighter in color, Calder’s is darker and longer. Only McCoy is any shorter than he was, and only by a few centimeters. Their uniforms no longer fit quite right either; McCoy’s medical tunic, loose to begin with, is now downright baggy, Kirk’s top now looks too big in the shoulders, and Calder’s pants are riding lower on her hips than they should.
Spock hurriedly evaluates his own body but it seems to be unchanged, his uniform fitting exactly as it had earlier. He would, if pressed, admit to relief at the realization.
Kirk, McCoy, and Calder are exchanging shocked looks with each other and hesitantly patting down their new bodies as if uncertain whether to believe their eyes.
Kirk is the first to regain speech. "What the hell happened?" he asks, directed towards no one in particular.
"The three of you seem to have reverted to an earlier age, at least physically. Are there any mental changes?" Spock asks.
"I've got all my memories, and I feel the same, as far as I can tell," Kirk says. "You?" he asks at McCoy and Calder.
"Same here," McCoy says and Calder nods in agreement. "Still, we'd better go down to Sickbay; who knows what else might've been scrambled. And that includes you, Spock," he adds sharply. "We've got no idea why you weren't affected, or even that you weren't affected, all we know is you don't look any different." Deciding that any argument would be futile, Spock acquiesces and follows the others out.
Once in Sickbay, Dr. M'Benga does a thorough evaluation of each of them. McCoy grumbles slightly at this, saying that he's still got all his medical knowledge and judgement, but even he understands the necessity. M'Benga finds no evidence of any harmful side effects of the de-aging process, nor evidence of any change to Spock whatsoever. He also confirms that Kirk, McCoy, and Calder’s brain functions are unaffected, to their distinct relief.
"Damned if I could explain it," McCoy comments at the news. "The brain hasn't even finished developing at this point; it just doesn't make sense for it not to translate into psychological changes. But I suppose there’s a saying about gift horses and mouths."
"How old are we, exactly, Doctor?" Calder asks M'Benga.
“According to the medical tricorder, you're physically seventeen years and five months old, Lieutenant. Dr. McCoy is sixteen and two months, and this Captain is nineteen and ten months.”
"Sixteen," McCoy repeats, shaking his head. "I was perfectly happy to have my teenage years well behind me, you know."
"Could be worse, Bones," Kirk says, sounding amused. "Just a few more years back and your voice would still be breaking.” McCoy responds with a glare.
"Still,” Kirk adds, "glad as I am that there seems to be no adverse health consequences of this, I don't imagine any of us want to stay this way. Anyone got any suggestions for how to change us back?”
No one speaks.
"No, I didn't suppose it would be that easy," Kirk says after waiting a moment. "I'm sure Scotty's already looking over the transporter, but Bones, M'Benga, I want you two to look into medical solutions. Spock, take a look at the Porrimian tech we beamed up, see if there's anything there."
"Captain, if Lieutenant Calder can be spared from her other duties, I'd like for her to work with me and McCoy," M'Benga requests. "It will likely be easier to rule out hypotheses with two subjects to compare, and we could use another set of hands anyway."
"Any objections, Lieutenant?" Kirk asks; Calder shakes her head. "Good. We'll reconvene in four hours; we'll stay in orbit around Porrima V in the meantime. I'll be on the bridge."
Spock follows Kirk out of Sickbay and into a turbolift. “Bridge,” says Kirk, taking the turbolift handle, then turns when Spock doesn’t give a destination of his own. “I thought you’d be going to the labs,” he says, surprised.
“I will,” Spock replies, “but I thought my presence may prove useful in convincing the bridge crew that you are, indeed, still capable of command.”
“That’s… a good point, actually. I suppose my new appearance will be quite disconcerting to everyone.”
“But less than it is to yourself, surely?” Spock inquires.
Kirk looks thoughtful at this. “You know, I’m not sure. Maybe if I was sixteen, like Bones, but at almost twenty the physical differences aren’t really that significant, especially since I can’t see my own face. I’ve got a bit less weight in places now,” he admits, his hand running absently over his stomach, “and my joints are a little more flexible, but compared to some of our other misadventures - mirror universes, body swapping, being shrunk to less than an inch tall - it barely even registers.”
Spock takes a moment, not for the first time, to reflect on how frequently this ship manages to encounter previously-unimagined phenomena.
The bridge crew is, as Spock expected, quite taken aback when he and Kirk arrive. But once given an explanation, incomplete though it is, and assured that Kirk is still fit for command, they take the change in stride. As Kirk had pointed out, they have all seen stranger.
That sorted, Spock makes his way to the lab where the Porrimian hardware has been deposited. He goes through its technical specifications twice, as well as the results of the diagnostic that Engineering ran on the Enterprise's transporters, but finds nothing to explain the de-aging phenomenon, or even anything that could potentially affect Vulcans differently than humans. Broadening his search, Spock pulls up more general information on Porrimian’s technological systems.
This, too, yields little in the way of reasonable hypotheses. There are repeated mentions of their software being especially intuitive and adaptive, which could perhaps explain why it interacted so easily with the thoroughly different technology of the Enterprise , but no clear explanation for why it would have this result in particular.
More from a lack of other plausible avenues than any particular expectation that it will contain answers, Spock turns to the cultural information retrieved from the surface. Despite the rather pressing circumstances, the content is fascinating, to the point that when a clue finally does appear, it takes Spock a few moments to realize.
Spock, like the others, had been working off the initial assumption that he, alone out of the landing party, had been spared the de-aging effect thanks to his Vulcan physiology. It had been the obvious place to start - and, Spock reluctantly admits to himself, he may have been primed to reach for it as an explanation due to how often his heritage marks him as different from the rest of the crew. But now, he is forced to consider that something else entirely may be responsible for his unaltered state.
The cultural information repeatedly mentions that Porrimian society placed a high value on the concept of innocence. And there is another thing that makes Spock different from most others, something that many cultures view as a type of innocence: Spock has never had sex.
This is this first even semi-solid lead they’ve found so far, and Spock considers sharing his suspicion with the others. But it is just a suspicion at this point, barely a hypothesis, and for all Spock knows any of the others may have found their own promising leads to follow. Better, Spock decides, to spend some more time searching for evidence before involving anyone else. If it means he can also put off, if not avoid entirely, having to tell anyone else about this most private part of himself, that’s a wholly incidental advantage.
(It’s not that Spock is ashamed of this. That would be illogical; he might as well be ashamed of his pointed ears. Yes, sex plays an important role in many cultures, including human, and a procreative drive is often viewed, not inaccurately, as fundamental, but his lack of interest does not make him deficient or broken, regardless of what some might believe. He simply does not see a benefit to sharing this information.)
Unfortunately, Spock has made little additional progress by the time he leaves the lab to meet with the others. He had found nothing that would either prove or disprove his hypothesis, leaving him with no option but to share his suspicion, and his line of reasoning, with the others.
There is no reason to be apprehensive about the prospect. He has, until this point, chosen not to disclose this aspect of himself because it has never been relevant, but now it inarguably is. Not even Vulcans, tight-lipped as they are about all things sexual, could find logic in refusing to discuss the absence of sexual behavior when the wellbeing of others is involved.
Still, his stomach twists as he joins Kirk, McCoy, Scott, and Calder in the briefing room.
McCoy speaks first. “The good news is that there’s still no indication that this change is hazardous, medically, even if we can’t reverse it. The bad news is that we also haven’t found any biological mechanism to explain the change - and without that, any treatment to reverse the effect would just be a shot in the dark.”
“Scotty?” Kirk asks.
“I might have part of an explanation, Captain. It seems that when we beamed up the Porrimian hardware, some of their coding integrated into our system, and my guess is that’s what’s caused this. If we could rewrite the relevant sections I think we could undo the effect, but unfortunately, this code is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I’m going to need a lot more information before I can even make an attempt, sir.”
“I may be able to help there,” Spock says. "According to the documents I retrieved from their database, the Porrimians highly prized innocence, in all its forms. Furthermore, they were advanced computer engineers. I believe that they instilled their technology with that value, and the hardware that we transported up earlier somehow passed that value on to our own transporter system, which tried to carry out the new instructions by returning the landing party, apart from myself, to a younger age."
Doctor McCoy raises an eyebrow. "Innocence?" he asks, with more than a touch of incredulity. "Have they ever met a teenager?"
"In this case, I believe a very specific interpretation of innocence is relevant. However, testing this hypothesis requires me to ask the three of you,” Spock says, gesturing to Kirk, McCoy, and Calder, “a question of a… personal nature.”
He shifts his gaze to Kirk, waiting for the man to nod at him, indicating for him to go ahead, and then asks, with all the dignity and professionalism he can muster, “At what age did you have your first sexual encounter?”
Kirk, to his credit, does a mostly successful job of muting his surprise; only a slight widening of his eyes betrays him. McCoy is less restrained and makes a choked, spluttering noise, but Spock keeps his gaze fixed firmly on Kirk.
“Well, I guess it would depend on how exactly we’re defining ‘sexual encounter,’ but I would say nineteen - nineteen and… ten months, the same age I am now,” Kirk answers. “Bones?”
“It was when I was my current physical age, just like you,” McCoy says.
Kirk turns to Calder. “I’m sorry, Lieutenant,” he begins, “but under the circumstances I’m afraid I have to ask you that question as well.”
“It’s all right, sir,” she says, looking less discomforted by the inquiry than the Captain does. “I was seventeen, like I am now.”
“That’s certainly suggestive,” McCoy grants. “But Spock, it still doesn’t explain why you were unaffected,” he says, killing the last, stubborn hope Spock had that he could somehow avoid sharing this information.
“It does, Doctor,” Spock disagrees calmly, newly appreciative for a lifetime of practice in keeping his voice steady. “I believe I was not de-aged because I,” and he hesitates, almost imperceptibly, “have never had sex.”
In the moment that follows, Spock finally understands what humans mean when they describe a silence as uncomfortable.
The first to recover is McCoy, who mutters, not quietly enough for Spock not to hear, “Don’t know why I’m surprised,” and a hot, prickly sensation ripples over Spock’s skin. He attempts to further straighten his already impeccable posture.
Kirk shoots a look at McCoy that Spock can’t interpret, then speaks. "I know it's still a theory at this point, but since it's the only theory we've got, let's run with it for now. Scotty,” he says, turning towards the engineer, “now that we have a cause in mind, do you think you can find a way to reverse the effects?”
“I’ll need to take another look at the equipment we beamed up with us, see if I can isolate the responsible code. But it ought to be a sight easier now that I know what to look for.”
“Excellent. Keep me apprised of your progress,” Kirk responds. Scott nods at him and stands to leave the room. “Doctor, Lieutenant,” Kirk continues, “keep looking for a medical solution, in case Scotty strikes out with the transporter.”
McCoy and Calder stand as well, the former giving Spock one last, scrutinizing, look, then leave.
The door slides shut behind him, leaving Kirk and Spock alone, and the silence between them immediately feels thick and fraught. “If you’ll excuse me, Captain,” Spock starts before Kirk can say anything, “I’d like to return to the lab and further examine the Porrimian technology; I may be able to help Mr. Scott reverse the effect.”
“Of course, Mr. Spock,” Kirk says, and Spock flees the room.
He goes back to the lab, and applies himself to studying the Porrimian code. The language is unlike any he’s encountered before, but as he begins to decipher it he discovers that it’s remarkably elegant and intuitive. Working out how to rewrite it is an engaging intellectual problem in its own right, quite apart from the practical consequences, which has the side benefit of thoroughly distracting Spock from the preceding events in the briefing room.
The better part of two hours later and Spock has a reasonable grasp on how the Porrimian programming language works; enough, he thinks, to help Scott reprogram the transporter.
Spock heads to the transporter room, where he finds that Scott has already found and isolated all the Porrimian code that integrated with their transporter system.
“I haven’t made any attempts at rewriting it,” Scott says. “My engineering knowledge is in mechanics, not software.”
Spock settles in to work on the problem. It takes time, frequent consultation with the notes he previously made, and assistance from Scott on the finer points of transporter mechanics, but finally he is confident enough that he has arrived at a solution to run a test.
He crosses the room to the intercom and presses it on. “Spock to Sickbay.”
“McCoy here,” is the immediate answer.
“Doctor, I believe that Mr. Scott and myself have altered the Porrimian code in our transporter system so that it will now return the members of the landing party to their correct physiological ages. However, given our limited understanding of Porrimian technology, a trial run would be prudent.”
“I assume you have something in mind?” McCoy says.
“Indeed. Several of our laboratory animals ought to make suitable test subjects. Preferably mammalian, and obviously composed of individuals who have engaged in coitus in the past, as well as a control group that has not. The exact selection I shall leave up to you.”
“All right, I’ll be up with some critters,” McCoy answers, and Spock raises an eyebrow at the decidedly unscientific terminology, “for you to run through that blasted machine in a few minutes. McCoy out.”
Spock presses the intercom again. “Spock to Captain.”
“Captain, we are about to test a solution to the transporter malfunction. Would you like to observe?”
“Of course. I’ll be there shortly.”
A short time later, Kirk enters the transporter room, and Spock quickly explains the work they’ve done so far, as well as the plan for testing it. Barely after he’s finished, McCoy arrives, carrying two cages and followed closely by M’Benga and Calder.
“Here you go,” McCoy says without preamble. “The red cage has mice that’ve copulated, the blue cage has ones that haven’t. You want both on the transporter pad?” he asks in Spock’s direction.
“Quite, Doctor. Please take a reading of their physical ages as well.”
McCoy does so, kneeling down with his medical tricorder. It whirs quietly for a minute before McCoy stands. “Finished,” he says.
“First, we’ll send the mice through the transporter with the Porrimian code unchanged,” Spock explains. “Presumably the mice in the red cage will revert to a younger age, while those in the blue cage will be unaffected. Then we’ll apply the changes to the code, and send both groups of mice though again. If it works, the mice will be returned to their true age.”
Scott slides the transporter controls up and down, and both cages disappear into a field of twinkling light before reappearing again. Nothing looks different to the naked eye, at least from a distance, but when McCoy scans the cages, he announces that all the mice in the red cage are now physically younger than they were previously, while the mice in the other cage were unaffected.
Spock applies the changes to the code, and indicates for Scott to transport the mice once more. They vanish and reappear again, at which point McCoy runs his tricorder over them.
“The affected mice have all been returned to their proper age,” he reports. “And none of them are showing any side effects.”
“Does that mean it’s safe to use on us?” Kirk asks.
“Don’t see why not,” McCoy says. “Unless anyone else has concerns?”
No one does, but Kirk insists on going through the transporter first. “Not that I don’t trust your work,” he directs towards Spock and Scott. “But this is still largely unknown technology, and testing it on a mouse isn’t the same as testing it on a person. I’m Captain, I should try it first.”
McCoy doesn’t look pleased by this, but he doesn’t put up an argument. Kirk removes the mice from the transporter pad and takes their place. “Whenever you’re ready, Scotty,” he says.
“Aye, sir,” Scott says, and activates the transporter. When Kirk rematerializes, it is as his old self.
“I take it it worked?” Kirk asks as he steps off the pad, looking himself over. McCoy is already running the tricorder over him.
“You’re back to normal,” McCoy confirms, “all thirty-seven years and four months.”
“Guess that means it’s your and Calder’s turn,” Kirk says, grinning.
Scott repeats the process with them, and it works just as it had with Kirk. They’re both checked over with a tricorder to be safe, but they too have been returned to the correct age, with no complications.
Everything is back to normal. It’s even anticlimactic, all of them standing around the transporter, suddenly without purpose.
Except they still know, and Spock can’t shake the sense of being uncomfortably visible, irrational though it is.
Nor can he entirely suppress his relief when they break up to return to their duties. McCoy and M’Benga head to Sickbay, taking the mice with them, Calder to her post in the anthropological lab, and Kirk to the Bridge. Scott stays in the transporter room, to finish purging the Porrimian code from their systems, and Spock volunteers to assist him. After all, much of the foreign code has now been rewritten by him, he holds an A7 computer expert classification, and he’s not currently needed on the Bridge.
Despite Spock’s lingering discomfort, he and Scott work companionably on the project. His computer knowledge and Scott’s understanding of all things mechanical complement each other well, and he has always respected the man’s dedication to the Enterprise, even if that dedication is more emotionally-driven than makes sense for an inanimate object. This has the added benefit of meaning that Scott does not attempt to engage him in so-called “small talk,” as the ship’s systems more than occupy his interest.
Once all the Porrimian code has been removed, Spock goes to the Bridge. He takes his station and continues the task of taking sensor readings of Porrima V and its moons, as part of their mission to learn as much as possible about the planet. While the information being collected is interesting, the work itself is fairly rote, and does not require the entirety of Spock’s attention, allowing him to contemplate the preceding events.
Because Spock had never seriously considered voluntarily telling anyone about his lack of interest in sex, he had never considered what the aftermath of such a disclosure might be. But as Spock sits there, with the familiar sounds of activity around him, he realizes that whatever he would’ve expected, it wouldn’t have been this.
Kirk occasionally asks about the sensor readings, smiling with easy delight when Spock can tell him something interesting. Lieutenant Calder brings a report for him to sign, and pauses to fill him in on the progress being made in the anthropology lab. McCoy shows up (as usual, without any clear reason for doing so) and talks with Kirk, as well as reflexively disagreeing with anything Spock says, generally in unnecessarily colorful language.
In short, the rest of the shift is entirely ordinary, as if Spock’s reluctant admission hadn’t taken place. The normalcy is, paradoxically, strange. But not unpleasant.
When the shift ends, Kirk and Spock exit the bridge together. “Chess tonight, Mr. Spock?” Kirk asks as they step into the turbolift. “My quarters, twenty hundred hours?”
“I am amenable, Captain,” Spock responds.
“Great,” Kirk says. “See you then,” he adds, flashing a grin at Spock and giving him a quick pat on the arm before leaving the turbolift.
Twenty hundred hours finds Spock requesting entry to Kirk’s quarters. Kirk lets him in and together they quickly set up the chessboard; it’s Kirk’s turn to play white.
After only a few moves it becomes clear that Kirk’s mind isn’t fully on the chess game; his strategy is adequate but noticeably below his usual standard, and his eyes keep flicking up to Spock’s face as if looking for some answer, then returning to the board as soon as Spock looks at him.
“Is there something you wish to ask me, Jim?” Spock finally asks.
“That obvious, huh,” Kirk remarks ruefully, running a hand over his face. “Sorry, Spock. I won’t pry, just can’t help being curious.”
“There is no offense in curiosity,” Spock says. “You may ask whatever is on your mind.”
Kirk shakes his head. “It’s a very personal question. It would be unprofessional, at the very least, for me to ask.”
“If I deem the question to be invasive, I will decline to answer. But I would not begrudge you for having asked.”
Kirk looks at him for a long moment, and evidently reads truthfulness in Spock’s expression. “Why haven’t you had sex?”
“I have never wanted to,” Spock answers simply. His voice is even, but he moves his rook as he answers, rather than look at Kirk.
“Okay,” Kirk says. “Is there a specific reason you haven’t wanted to? You haven’t met the right person or…” he trails off.
“No,” Spock answers, still looking at the chessboard. “I have never had any desire to have sex, either in the abstract or with any specific person. It seems to be a drive that I wholly lack.”
“Oh,” Kirk says, expression clearing. “You’re asexual.”
“That term is predicated on a human conception of sexual orientation, and as such has connotations that may or may not apply to me. But in essence it is correct.”
Kirk nods, then something seems to occur to him. “What about pon farr?”
Even now, it’s uncomfortable for Spock to have pon farr referenced so openly, especially by a non-Vulcan. But Kirk has more than proven his discretion and trustworthiness on this topic, so Spock puts aside his discomfort and answers.
“It is true that pon farr creates an overwhelming biological imperative to mate, but it would be inaccurate to say that I wanted to mate with T’Pring, or anyone else. It is…” Spock pauses, considering how best to convey the unsettling, contradictory sensation, “not unlike the difference between knowing you require food, and actually being hungry.”
This evidently doesn’t sit well with Kirk, as his mouth twists into a slight frown. “That sounds like a thoroughly unpleasant experience, Spock. I’m sorry you had to go through it.”
“It is over, and as I did not have to mate with T’Pring in the end - due in no small part to your own actions,” he adds, “it is of little consequence now.”
Kirk nods at this, but his expression doesn’t relax. “If T’Pring hadn’t made the challenge, then you would’ve mated with her? Even though you didn’t want to?”
“And she would’ve become your wife.”
“Did… did T’Pring know you weren’t interested in sex?”
Spock shakes his head.
“You weren’t going to tell her until after the wedding?” Kirk asks, and Spock can tell he’s trying, albeit not wholly successfully, to keep surprise and judgement out of his voice.
“I had no intention of ever telling T’Pring,” Spock corrects.
Kirk sags in his seat. “You were just going to have a lifetime of sex you didn’t want?”
“It would not have been a significant hardship,” Spock tries to assure. “As I would have continued my career in Starfleet, we would have spent most of our time apart. Furthermore, physical attraction is less important in Vulcan relationships than in human ones,” he continues. “Mental compatibility is far more critical.”
“That doesn’t answer my question,” Kirk says tightly.
Spock is silent. There is no answer he can give that Kirk would want to hear.
When Kirk speaks again, it is with less frustration but more sadness. “Have you ever told anyone about this?”
“No. It is a private manner.”
“Well, yes, I suppose it is,” Kirk grants. But it’s also a part of you, Spock, and you deserve to have people know you.”
It's a very human conception of relationships, Spock thinks. And yet, he finds the idea is not without its appeal.
"Now you know," Spock points out, and a smile expands across Kirk's face. "And Dr. McCoy and Mr. Scott may well suspect."
"Does it bother you that they might make that assumption?" Kirk asks.
Spock decides to forgo the usual objection that, as a Vulcan, he is not "bothered" by anything. "They may have made that assumption anyway. Many people imagine Vulcans to be an asexual race."
Spock cocks his head. "You are surprised by this?"
"I'm surprised that people would assume any species is asexual - as in the sexual orientation, not method of reproduction," Kirk clarifies. "After all, how could a species without a reproductive drive evolve in the first place?"
"I doubt most people apply that level of scientific rigor to their stereotypes of other species," Spock says.
Kirk huffs, like he is personally offended by the sloppy thinking of others. "I'm sorry people make that assumption," Kirk says.
There is no logic in apologizing for the actions of others, and yet there is something endearing about Kirk doing so. "Given that they are right in my case, it hardly seems worth objecting to," Spock says mildly.
"But they're not right," Kirk insists, with more vehemence than Spock was expecting. "I mean yes, you're asexual and you're Vulcan, but you're not asexual because you're Vulcan.
"Is that part of why you haven't told anyone?" Kirk asks, his tone gentler. "Because you don't want to contribute to that misconception?"
Spock considers this. What other people may believe about Vulcans at large had not been a conscious concern on his part, but there is something to Kirk's suggestion.
"It never seemed worth the effort to explain the distinction," he says. "Until now."
"It means a lot, you know, that you made the effort for me," Kirk says. "But don't think that's enough of a distraction to stop me from realizing you didn't actually answer my question, about whether you mind having others know," he adds, the words softened by an upward curve of his lips.
"I had no intention of ever telling Doctor McCoy or Mr. Scott - or anyone else - of my own volition," Spock admits. "But perhaps it is good that they know."
Kirk's eyebrows go up at that, just a little. "Not that I'm not pleased to hear it, but I'm a bit surprised."
"It is a novel realization to myself," Spock says. "I told myself that I did not speak about this solely because it is a personal matter, unsuited to public discussion. And that is - not untrue. But in retrospect, I may have underestimated how difficult it is to keep something a secret without eventually believing it is something to be… ashamed of, for lack of a better word."
Kirk reaches across the table, taking Spock’s wrist in his hand. "You can always talk to me, you know," he offers, his grip tightening briefly. "About this, or about anything else you like. I - I know you value your privacy so if you don't want to I won't push - but if you do, I'm here."
The invitation is more meaningful to Spock than he is inclined to admit, and he's grateful when Kirk doesn't seem to expect a response, merely gives Spock’s wrist a second, more deliberate squeeze before withdrawing his hand.
“And while I’m glad you’re okay with them knowing,” Kirk continues, “if Bones or Scotty - or anyone else, you know what gossip is like on this ship - says anything about this -”
Spock cuts him off with a pointed raise of his eyebrow.
“Sorry, sorry,” Kirk backtracks, and has the grace to flush slightly. “I know you can look after yourself, I promise. It’s just important to me that you feel welcome on this ship.”
“I know,” Spock says, “and I do.”
They lapse into a comfortable silence, periodically moving chess pieces across the board.
They’ve entered the endgame before either speaks again. “Have you ever been curious about what sex is like?” Kirk asks abruptly. "Sorry, another question you don't have to answer."
"I do not mind," Spock says honestly. “Occasionally,” he answers, “but never enough to initiate a sexual encounter. I think ultimately my curiosity is more about what it is like to experience sexual attraction than sex per se; having sex would not help answer that question.”
“Does it… bother you, that you don’t experience that?” Kirk asks, somewhat tentatively.
Spock tilts his head in consideration. “Not in and of itself. It is all I have ever known; as you might put it, I cannot miss what I never had. However, it is one more way in which I am… different from those around me.”
“I hope you know that all the things that make you different, also make you a great first officer,” Kirk says. “And friend,” he adds.
Spock stays silent, at a complete loss for how to convey his gratitude at the sentiment.
“Anyway,” Kirk says, his tone lighter, “it’s a shame the Porrimians aren’t around anymore, you’d’ve been a hit with them, at least.”
Spock hums noncommittally, moving his bishop. His ambivalence does not go unnoticed. "Spock?" Kirk asks.
"I find the idea of being praised for this highly illogical, even… disconcerting. A lack of sexual experience, or a lack of sexual attraction, is no more laudable than it is shameful. It simply is."
"True," Kirk agrees. "I don't know about Vulcan culture, but among humans the concept of virginity - for women especially, but not exclusively - was long tied up with some pretty toxic ideas about purity and gender roles. Your way of looking at it seems much more sensible. Not that I would expect anything less from you, of course," he adds, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“I endeavor to be sensible in all things, Captain,” Spock says dryly. “Incidentally, checkmate,” he adds.
Kirk tips his king over in defeat. “I would say ‘well played,’ but I don’t think I was much of a challenge for you tonight,” he says ruefully.
Spock cannot disagree truthfully. “I would not have traded the conversation for a more challenging game,” he offers instead. “Though I will expect more inspired strategy during our next game,” he adds, raising a deliberate eyebrow.
Kirk laughs, the sound bright and clear. “I’ll do my best, Mr. Spock.”