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Captain Christopher Pike expects loyalty, yes. But not loyalty the way this Vulcan kid gives it to him, not with such shining eyes. When Chris sighs or slumps in his chair, Number One nods and moves away but Spock comes close, his eyes speaking reassurance.

 

“I could be wrong,” he'd snapped at the kid once, and regretted it later. Chris is calm by nature, and his sudden fit of anger took him by surprise.

 

“Of course, sir,” the kid had replied. “But at this moment, it is a statistical impossibility that you will be so.”

 

Faith and numbers – it's unavoidable.

 

And when he speaks of leaving, of finding himself that little cottage to call home, Spock tells him, “You forget, sir, that you are indispensable.”

 

To whom, Chris Pike wants to ask. To Starfleet, or to you?

 

He doesn't ask.

 

-

 

“It's about Spock,” Dr. Boyce says, and without thinking, Chris sits up on his bunk and barks out, “What?

 

Chris is aware that he's slightly overprotective of his second officer. From the very first he'd sensed the loner in Spock, whose alien features and cool manner had already set him apart from the herd. Chris hadn't felt offended when Spock soberly returned his morning greetings, because he had understood his restraint. It was well known that Christopher Pike preferred his privacy. When his shift ended and his duties were done, he retired to his room and locked the door. Doctor Boyce had the admission codes, as did Number One. As did Spock. In that hesitant first month, he remembered approaching the young Vulcan and saying slowly, “My door is open to you. Anytime. But you don't have to come.”

 

Chris had given Spock privacy and trust and saw it slowly returned in his officer's looser posture and rare beaming smiles. He finds the idea that Spock might be sick or injured almost startlingly worrying.

 

“Nothing serious,” Boyce assures him quickly. “But I felt you should be aware. You do know that among Vulcans, Spock is little more than an adolescent?”

 

“Yes,” Chris says, still tense. “I know he's young. Are you – implying he's too young? Is this a command issue?” He straightens his posture wearily.

 

“No, it's nothing to do with that. Spock's an excellent science officer. But he is young. And well . . . look Chris, Spock is half-human. And his family situation, as far as I can gather, was unusual. A stern Vulcan father, an emotional human mother. He probably felt torn. And I think that he, whether conscious of it or not, has been seeking some balance. A father inclined to love. A mother inclined to reason. And what I’m trying to say is, I think he's found them.” Boyce gives him a meaningful look. Chris sits back, blinking.

 

“Me?” he says slowly. Then, “Number One?”

 

“Y-ep,” Boyce replies. He fishes out his martini kit. “Drink, Chris?”

 

“You think Spock sees us as parental figures, of a sort?” Chris asks in response, waving off the drink.

 

“I've been watching him recently and I'd have to say: yes. He relaxes around you in a way he won't allow himself with anyone else. His manner is always respectful and determined to impress, but when you are impressed he looks like he's won a golden medal.”

 

“That's normal enough, surely?”

 

“That kid's won metals aplenty and I doubt he looked that way. But to go on, he's protective of you two. Beyond what his office states. Those idiots at the bar who whistled at Number One, you saw what Spock did to them, right?”

 

Chris nods, remembering the speed with which Spock's hand flew out. And come to think of, Spock had always favored nerve pinches over “barbaric, human techniques.”

 

“And when you two disagree, and make him the third opinion – he's like a kicked puppy. He doesn't like you fighting.”

 

“Spock always offers logical advice,” Chris says, trying to picture Spock as a kicked puppy and finding it surprisingly easy – that time Chris had said he'd look at Spock's current experiment, and canceled, and been rather ill-tempered about it. Come to think of it, there hadn't been much point in his going since he hadn't trained in that area and wouldn't understand it in the first place. Spock had simply wanted to show him. . . But it had been as science officer to captain. Not – not like a child wanting his father to approve his science fair project!

 

“Doctor,” he begins, trailing off.

 

“He's Vulcan, but still a kid, that's all I'm saying. And he's finally found himself a family.”

 

“You think it might affect his performance?” Chris says. Boyce isn't one to offer idle speculation. His meanderings always have a point. “Is that what you're saying?”

 

“No. Spock's a darn good officer. But I'm thinking of you in this. You and Number One. You're captain, she's first officer, and you don't deserve to have a responsibility like that foisted on you. If I tell Spock – and that's really the reason I'm telling you all this – he'll take steps to correct his behavior, I’m sure. He'll be embarrassed. But no harm done.”

 

“Then you're asking me if you should tell him about this,” Chris states, finally finding the point.

 

“Yes. And I'm not telling you as captain, I'm telling you this as Christopher Pike, who always says that it doesn't do to get too close with your officers. I'm also telling this to Christopher Pike, whose glare nearly phasered those xenophobic ensigns into a remorseful puddle.”

 

“What are you implying?” Chris asks sharply.

 

“Implying nothing. But you can't deny that you're slightly . . . defensive, when it comes to Science Officer Spock.”

 

“He's young,” Chris says, looking away.

 

“You care about him.”

 

“Of course I care about him! He's brilliant; this Fleet doesn't understand how lucky it is to have him. Kid turned down the Vulcan Science Academy to come here. And look what he's been given in return.”

 

“A captain who appreciates and utilizes his abilities to their utmost?”

 

“I won't be his captain forever! He's sharp, he deserves a ship of his own. I can't keep him serving under me.”

 

“He wants to stay serving under you.”

 

“And that's a problem! That's why you don't – you don't . . .”

 

“Get close,” Boyce finishes softly.

 

“Yes,” Chris admits, even softer. “Phillip, he is like a son to me.” Troubled, Chris stretches out on his bed and shuts his eyes. He'd never had a son, and what's more, would never have one. Starfleet's claim wouldn’t release him until he was old and tired, or still young but very dead. “Don't tell him,” he says suddenly, surprising even himself. “He'd, shut himself away again. If this is some sort of second childhood, he deserves to have it. And I –” Chris abruptly switches tracks. “Are you going to talk to Number One?”

 

“Yes. She should be aware. If this makes her in anyway uncomfortable . . .”

 

“It won't,” Chris says, very sure. He is remembering the warmth in Number One's face as she watched Spock earnestly expound on his latest scientific theory and the fierce edge her voice takes on when she seconds his logic. Spock would, perhaps, always be a misfit, but for the moment he is their misfit.

 

“Very well,” Boyce says and Chris makes an effort not to startle as the voice jerks him from his thoughts. “I'll leave it to you.”

 

“Yes, do that.” And in a rare moment of levity, Christopher adds, “You can be the favorite uncle!”

 

“Well now,” says Boyce with good-humor, “I just might.”

 

-

 

Six days have passed since Talos V, before a quiet knock tells Chris that Spock is outside his door. Chris has already talked with Doctor Boyce, with Number One, with yeoman Colt, but Spock had stayed aloof, though Chris had felt the half-Vulcan's scrutiny.

 

“Come in,” Chris says, and sits up. It's one thing to lie down when he speaks with Doctor Boyce. Spock shouldn't see his captain looking weak.

 

Spock enters the room smoothly, and only needs a moment's pause before he begins to speak, words he must have been planning ever since Talos V. “When the Talosians proved their superior capabilities by removing Number One and yeoman Colt, I ordered the ship to flee, abandoning both my captain and my first officer. I submit that I erred. I defer myself to your judgment.”

 

So that's what's been haunting the kid. Chris doesn't ask Spock to sit down. He knows the Vulcan prefers the illusion of distance his position gives. “I'm only going to say this once, Spock,” Chris says, his eyes fixed on Spock's face. “You acted correctly. You acted as I would have done in your place. The ship always comes before any of her passengers, even her captain.”

 

Chris watches Spock consider his next words. “I would have left you, Captain. And her. I do not think I could bear it, to be alive and you both dead.” Spock's hands are clasped behind his back. His shoulders, his arms, the muscles of his face – all tensed, awaiting a reprimand. Chris remembers the way Spock had smiled at the sound of a musical plant on Talos. The bright expression had been almost alien on Spock's familiar face, but remembering the openness of that look still makes Chris' chest clench with pride.

 

“You would bear it.” Chris pitches his voice low and sure, wishing the barrier of command didn't stand between them. “This won't be the last time you'll be forced to choose between me and the ship; me and your duty; me and what's right. But Spock, I believe that you'll always choose right.”

 

“My thanks, Captain,” Spock says. His voice is also low, and rougher than it should be. Spock looks like he is struggling with himself. “It means – ”

 

Chris cuts him off. “I know.” He doesn't need Spock to shame himself in the eyes of Vulcan culture, not for him. He knows exactly what his words mean to Spock.

 

The silence that follows isn't uncomfortable. But Spock doesn't take his leave. He must have something more to say. Chris feels a suspicion solidify in his mind: Spock's spoken to Number One.

 

“Captain, if I might ask.”

 

Chris considers shutting this conversation down, but Spock deserves an answer, if anyone does. “Ask.”

 

Again, Spock's words come quickly. “Given the choice, would you have stayed there?”

 

He can answer that one without a thought. “No.”

 

And only a few years ago, Spock might have left it at that. Instead Spock quirks an eyebrow and asks, cautiously, “Given the choice, and given freedom from your duties, would you have wished to?”

 

Spock's never once lied to him. Chris can't lie to Spock. The others, maybe. But not to Spock.

 

“Perhaps,” he says.

 

-

 

It has been a good – eleven years, four months, four days, Spock had said, stone faced. Everything ends.

 

Chris spends his last day aboard the Enterprise doing the paperwork, wandering the halls, and avoiding his shipmates. Fleet Captain, he couldn't turn that down. But he could have, Spock's stiffness accuses him, it could go on as it always has these past eleven years, four months, four days and fourteen hours. Spock could give it to him down to the seconds, and still say approximately.

 

Number One will have her own ship, but not the Enterprise. Some fresh-faced captain gets that. James T. Kirk looks good on paper but Chris has his doubts. This Kirk kid is just that, a kid. And the problem with kids . . .

 

I will go with you.”

 

Spock, if you stay with me you'll never go anywhere. I won't be heading an exploration ship like the Enterprise. I might be heading no ship at all. You joined Starfleet for the opportunity to discover hitherto unknown phenomena. With me you'll be doing nothing like that at all!”

 

Nevertheless.”

“That, officer, is illogical.”

 

It's betrayal, coming from him. He'd always approved of Spock's logic but never turned that weapon on its bearer. Spock's face had tightened like a stone gate slamming shut.

 

. . . Captain, you are correct.”

 

You could go with Number One. She'd be happy to have you as her first officer.”

 

Negative, Captain. Her ship will not be entering uncharted space. As you have pointed out, my interest lies in exploration.”

 

We can't both abandon you like that!”

 

Abandon is hardly an applicable word, since I stay of my own choosing.”

 

At least Doctor Boyce –”

 

He too will be transferring.”

 

Spock, I – ”

 

Your advice has been noted, Captain. I am not unappreciative. If you will permit, a project requires my attention.”

 

Of course.”

 

Chris feels he should have held his ground, insisted. Should have told Spock that he cared about him, wanted nothing more than to keep the young half-Vulcan close, and that it was in Spock's own interests he was thinking. But that's not who he is. He's never been able to discuss emotion easily; perhaps that was the reason Spock had found him approachable in the first place.

 

Chris knows that, however painful, his decision is right. Spock can't stay chained to a fleet captain who hardly ever will leave one galaxy. He can't do that to Spock.

 

Number One nods to him, as she passes in the hall. Behind her blank expression, he can see her sympathy.

 

-

 

The changeover ceremony goes smoothly and really, Chris can't resent this new captain, even though Spock is standing too straight, his gaze fixed and blank.

 

Later, Chris draws Kirk into a corner. Before he can speak, Kirk gives him a wide grin. "No, I get it. This is the moment when you tell me I better take care of her. This ship." The grin fades, and Kirk's eyes meet him – bright and focused, like compressed stars. "I will, sir."

 

Good on that kid.

 

"Damn right you will, Captain," he says. At 'captain', Kirk shifts into a stiff military stance. For an unbearable moment, Spock flashes through Chris' mind. "But let me ask you this. Can you take care of a Vulcan? Spock's number three in the chain of command, if you aren't planning to oust him. You'll have to be prepared to accept his opinions, or you might as well let him go now."

 

"I'm no xenophobe, sir," Kirk says. His tone is firm, but not defensive. "I'll listen to Mr. Spock's opinion just as I would any human's."

 

Chris considers Kirk for a long moment. "Good.”

 

He wonders if there's more he should say. Like, I know he's acting more Vulcan than T-Pau herself, but the kid's half-human and he's all alone. Like, nobody but Number One, the Doc, and I ever dared to get close to him last time, back when he was scruffy and fresh. Who'll knock on his door now?

 

This Kirk kid might, Chris feels it.

 

Spock had made a clear choice in the way he'd dressed and stood, in the way he'd given Chris the ta'al and hadn't smiled, even with his eyes. Chris believes in respecting his crew's choice's. But Spock is family.

 

"He likes chess," Chris says.

 

Abruptly, he wants no more of this. Kirk can take his words as he will. Spock can do as he wishes. Chris has another job to do, lonely and ship-less. He shakes Kirk's hand. Finds a smile.

 

Leaves.

 

-

 

The worst part – Chris has little else to think about and he still can't find the worst part. It's easy to start with his legs. He will never ride a horse again, never rush down a corridor, never stand.

 

When the orderlies come in, it's easy to start with his vocal cords. Yes and no – surely the federation could give him more, after all he's given it. When the nurses visit to check his vitals, he can only wonder about the faces he doesn't see. Number One has her ship, he tells himself.

 

Spock is in deep-space, he tells himself.

 

Chris is kidding nobody. The loneliness is the worst part.

 

-

 

When Chris sees Spock, he thinks: so this is it – I've cracked. He'd been waiting to go insane for long enough, trapped inside the chair and his own mind.

 

“Captain,” hallucination-Spock says. Chris drinks in the sight of him. This Spock is obviously more mature than the one that served as his science officer. His hair is sleek and his eyebrows are trimmed. Standing in front of Chris, with his arms clasps behind his back, this Spock looks elegant and dignified. Chris' Spock could only manage gawky and somber.

 

Chris wonders how he should answer Spock's greeting. He isn't a captain – his rank is either lower or higher, depending on how much meaningless honor Starfleet has decided to award him. But he understands why the Spock of his mind might call him captain. Captain was their connection, the only thing still tying Spock to him.

 

Yes, he signals.

 

Spock stands still as a docked ship, but like a starship, even when still, he seems to be thrumming with tension. “I must speak with you – beyond yes or no,” Spock says. “Captain, I ask permission to institute a mind-meld with you.”

 

Yes, Chris signals.

 

Spock's hand rests against Chris' temple as he begins to murmur, my mind to your mind . . .

 

With all the abruptness of a shuttle-crash, Chris realizes this is not a hallucination.

 

In his mind, there's nothing to conceal. Spock is almost forced out by the tide of Chris' emotions – the loneliness, the anger. why him, after everything he'd done. He didn't deserve it

 

you didn't

 

and yet it had happened to him – he's still been so young – and now he was so old – that farm, the horse – he sits here day by day unheard and unseen

 

i hear you

 

Spock?

 

i am here captain

 

Why after all this time – why come back – you and number one – both left me – why

 

i am here to help you

 

what – how – ?

 

talos iv

 

? . . . YES

 

-

 

It's only as Spock wheels him out that Chris begins to notice incongruities through the haze of his sudden hope. They meet nobody along the way, sign no papers, and Fleet hospitals love procedure more than horses love sugar lumps. This isn't authorized, he realizes with a sinking heart.

 

Then it comes back to him. After he'd filed his report, Starfleet had banned Starships from going near Talos IV on pain of death. Command certainly wouldn't approve Spock's taking him, and if they didn't, how could Spock possibly take him all that way?

 

His musings are answered by the sight of a very familiar transport room. He only has to see the corridors to be sure – this is the Enterprise.

 

It is the sickest sort of homecoming – the one place he'd never be again, as he was before. Then the full immensity of Spock's actions barrels into him. Whether Spock's still science officer, or has worked his way up to something more, helping Chris is going to mean his death – maybe only his court martial, if there's any mercy still left in the world. Either way, Spock's throwing his life away, for him.

 

The corridors take on a sharper focus before Chris' eyes. His blood is running hot, and for the first time since the crash, he feels adrenaline pumping through his burnt-up body. Damned if he's going to let Spock die for him.

 

To his old science officer – his protégé – his almost-son – he has a duty.

 

-

 

Captain Kirk paces the room like a caged lion. He keeps turning to look at Spock, his expression mixed hurt and confusion. And Spock. Oh, and Spock. Chris can feel the pain pouring off him – maybe it's residue from their mindmeld or maybe he still knowsSpock better than anyone else.

 

Chris isn't sure what he would be doing, were he captain and Spock his disobedient officer. He can only hope Kirk is worthy of Spock's faith. That was another thing Chris had felt when their minds touched – Kirk had glowed there like all the stars in the sky.

 

Chris tried to stop the trial. He failed.

 

All he can do now is throw in with Spock's plan and trust that this Kirk is everything Spock believes him to be.

 

 

On Talos IV, the wind is cool against his cheeks. Chris can feel it now, his cheeks and his hands. Each sensation is a marvel to him, both familiar and new.

 

He looks at Vina. They don't know each other. There is nothing to bind them. But – they both have suffered, lost their worlds, had their bodies wrecked.

 

He doesn't love her. But he understands her, and she him. After years of silence, it is understanding more than anything that he seeks.

 

For a moment, as she takes his hand, he remembers the last he saw of the Enterprise – Spock and Kirk, standing side by side, bound by loyalty.

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