Now that he carried the much more important title of Admiral, of course, which came with a desk and an optional bundle of classes to teach at Starfleet Academy, there was neither Spock nor a yeoman dedicated to carrying his papers around for him and remembering which ones were the proper ones. He'd never been bothered to do that before.
He probably hadn't left his office, his apartment, or his lecture room with everything he needed to have in two weeks. He wondered if the cadets were spreading it by word of mouth: "Don't get in the turbolift with Admiral Kirk if you're in a hurry--ten to one he'll turn it around halfway there." And that was only the times he really couldn't do without the file or the jacket or the computer tape, and wasn't nearly late somewhere else.
Goddammit, he was not getting old.
But he could have used a yeoman anyway.
He was trying to remember the name of a very particular vegetarian restaurant. The last time he'd taken Spock anywhere--over the vehement protest of an elegantly arched eyebrow--the selection on the menu had been what Spock called "perfectly adequate," which nearly made him squirm with guilt. He was not going to subject his friend to any more perfectly adequate meals than he had to in the mere pursuit of satisfaction for his own taste buds.
Jim could remember any strategic fact in a pinch, the interlocking political histories of societies no longer in existence, and the security codes for all the ship assignments he'd ever held, to say nothing of the sunsets on worlds he would never again visit and the faces of crewmen who had long ago died. If he left it until the moment Spock would remind him somehow, or he'd remember--between the two of them they'd never failed at anything, though the stakes were usually a bit higher. But he couldn't leave it that late. He needed to make reservations.
"Tathkess," he said on a stroke of inspiration to a Silissan he'd taught a few semesters back. The child would be in the Academy's current graduating class by now. She flushed pale blue in startlement.
"Yes, Admiral, sir?"
The people of Silissa were one of the Federation's less humanoid races, only recently admitted, and with very specific dietary requirements that went far beyond mere vegetarianism. A case of nutrient shots was clipped to Tathkess' belt, a mute testament. "I've got a very fine vegetarian restaurant in mind, but I can't quite recall the name. I wonder if you could help me."
Any Silissan would be more than happy to do so, and to expound at length on the merits of competing watering-troughs. Tathkess boggled a bit, though, and said "Are you a vegetarian, sir?", to her credit without a single glance at his waistline.
"Captain Spock," he said, smiling reminiscently (the name carried nearly as much recognition as his own on Earth, and possibly more in the Science specialization of Starfleet Academy), "has been trying to convert me to it for years, Tathkess, but I don't think he's quite managed yet. We'll say I'm an open-minded omnivore."
Tathkess smiled with the tolerance reserved by the very young for the venerable middle-aged and assured him that she perfectly understood. Her first three suggestions she phrased in terms of the Vulcan palate without any further suggestion, and Jim wondered at her quick (and correct) assumption.
Then again, he certainly didn't look like he was in the habit of eating vegetarian meals, as he was well aware.
"--The natural glycerin deposits, I am told, are responsible for a texture which many vegetarian races find distasteful, and since the plant is the staple of Rhyttish cuisine," the girl was saying, her antennae fairly quivering with enthusiasm. They were only visible because her fine black hair had been cut close to the swell of her skull in a sleek, striking and very unusual cap; on a typical civilian (or rather, politically important) Silissan, they would have been camouflaged in an elaborate and rather unstable coiffure.
"Perhaps nothing quite so exotic," Jim suggested, "yet," and her antennae returned to their ordinary position. "Not Terran food, of course, but..."
She looked curiously abashed, the antennae stiffening and her face draining rapidly to a pale ivory color, with a hint of pink--like, he thought fancifully, the inside of a seashell. He'd kept a large Terran specimen on his bookshelf all the years on the Enterprise, between a volume of Milton and a small holocube of his father in dress uniform, on the wall he'd looked at from his side of the chess table nearly every night for years.
It took an effort of will to call his mind back to the present. Tathkess was hesitant, now. Perhaps nervous? Jim quashed a frown and held back the door for her to step out into the early spring sunshine. "Admiral, sir," she said, "we are discussing food for a--for Captain Spock?"
"It'll be my birthday," Jim agreed cheerfully, and it didn't occur to him until after he said it that it might sound a little strange. Thankfully Tathkess was well on the way to being a perfect ensign, and betrayed her curiosity only by a few twitches of the antennae which were probably, he thought, not at all voluntary.
She had to begin her sentence three times, and was only satisfied that she did not presume too much superior knowledge when she had said that it had been her understanding that Vulcans in the majority of cases preferred exotic and spicy dishes, and that, indeed, her limited experience of their cuisine had led her to suppose--
Jim laughed. "No, it's not Spock I'm worried about, cadet, but myself."
The antennae stilled, and then twitched twice. "Ah. Excuse me, sir." Was that an extremely non-Silissan note of exasperation he read into her tone?
He smiled as charmingly as he knew how and thanked her prettily for her help. "They tell you it's to 'boldly go where no man'--excuse me, cadet, no one--'has gone before,' but we're not so gung-ho about that in the mess hall as on the bridge. My favorite meals are the ones I grew up with in Iowa."
The Silissan's eyes were very wide. Wider, even, than usual, which gave her a rather eerie appearance, since the sunlight tended to give a film of iridescence to all the prominent whites. "Iowa, sir," she murmured faintly, and he saw her fingers twitch, antenna-like, in the ages-old movement of a passionate scholar in need of a stylus.
"That was quite a while ago, of course." And further still by one exact year in a week's time. (Spock would have pointed out that in a week from now he would be only one week older than he was today, and that today he was not, in fact, forty-four years old, but forty-five sans a paltry five days.)
"Yes, sir. A more traditional restaurant, sir?"
"That would be fine, thank you, Tathkess." They were halfway across the front yard and it occurred to Jim simultaneously that (1) he had no idea where the cadet had intended to go, but it might well have been in the opposite direction, and (2) he hadn't brought any of his data-discs with him from his office.
"Damn," he muttered, stopping both of them in their tracks. Belatedly he glanced up at her: "Am I keeping you, cadet?"
Apparently it took less than a second's hesitation for her brilliant young mind to discard any previous engagements in favor of the great many things which could no doubt be learned in his illustrious presence. "Oh, no, sir. I was just thinking, if we could go to a terminal, I could assemble a map."
What was there to do but bow and gesture her ahead? It would be a shame to squash the seeds of what was, no doubt, marvelous genius at this early stage. (You knew after five chess games with Spock, or a single briefing, that someone had indeed tried, though not entirely successfully, to squash his. Spock had no doubt emerged the better from the encounter, as was his habit, but Jim found no pity in himself for the instructors in question regardless.) "Cadet," he said, when she was busily compiling a key for the colored points on the map she'd summoned for him ("Terran type spices=green; volatile spices=red; Vulcan type spices=blue; Altair type spices=magenta").
"Have you ever happened to meet Captain Spock?"
Of course, he could hardly claim all Spock's free time between now and his birthday, although unless absorbed by some particularly urgent project Spock would just as likely let him. Jim figured that with five dinners to go before the Birthday Dinner, tonight was perfectly timed to drop in on Spock (if he was available), and then he wouldn't bother him again until the birthday, or certainly not more than once before then (unless something came up).
Besides which, he'd left his disks in his office, but he was nearer Spock's, which wouldn't be very far out of his way, and Spock could easily get him the information he needed.
(Ah, sighed Jim mentally--the Golden Days, when Spock, presumably bored to tears by the regimen of inspecting a flawlessly-run ship, had gone looking for other people's paperwork to complete, just in case he happened to run out of his own.) (Not that Spock should ever have had trouble, Jim thought, finding something to research or something to do; he had effortlessly managed the science department and gathered several honors for papers on his independent scientific research in addition to all his work as executive officer. He wondered, suddenly, about Spock's habit of doing his paperwork. It wasn't as if Jim had hated it, no more than any 'Fleet Captain, and he was perfectly competent, though of course nowhere near as efficient nor as error-proof as Spock. …Perhaps that was it.)
He touched the door chime and it made a muted ring, like a low sonorous gong, which Spock had programmed himself with "very little effort." He liked to give the impression of being severe and spare, sort of a Super Vulcan, but in Spock lurked a fine sense of aesthetics, of old-fashioned honor. He was even occasionally victim to an unsuppressed whimsy Jim could not but call human, though only to Spock's face, since it might be sacrilege in most other quarters.
"Come!" Spock's even voice was just slightly hoarse--age had done that to him, though he was not even quite middle-aged for a Vulcan yet. Jim understood that it was rather a sign of full maturity, the continued deepening of the well-modulated tones so that now they seemed to come not from his friend's fine throat but deep in his chest.
Jim walked into the office, nearly like his, though arranged in a sort of mirror-orientation with the desk on the far side of the room from the door, and all the file-folders neatly tucked away in sheaves, the shelves occupied only by books and other antiquities. Spock stood to one side of his desk, bending over a small stack of flimsies with one hand tucked decorously behind his back and one pinning the flimsies in place. In profile, the organic curve and delicate point of one ear emerged from the crisp strands of black hair, just cut, Jim saw, touched with a growing quantity of silver. "You've had a haircut, Spock. I hope I'm not disturbing you?"
Spock didn't look up at all, his assumption that Jim would not feel the slight a mark of the understanding between them. "Not at all, Jim, I was merely reviewing a budgetary proposal by a several members of the Cultural Studies club--you are most welcome. I will only be a moment. My hair grows at a rate that requires it be trimmed every three to four weeks to maintain the proper appearance of neatness." All this without apparently losing any of the concentration on the report. Jim wondered when Spock had become the faculty sponsor of the Cultural Studies club or whether he was involved with them in some other capacity. Certainly it was an area of some interest to him, but hardly one of Spock's areas of greatest expertise. Jim leaned on the edge of the desk and glanced curiously at the flimsies.
"I am nearly finished, Admiral."
"Don't mind me." He read from the flimsy, Estimated Cost of Interpretation teams consisting of a minimum of two native speakers, one representing each language in use (source: Federation Bureau of the Civil Services' Public Information) indicates the cost of improving the accuracy of the standard model Universal Translator to reduce below acceptable levels (footnote)-- Spock shuffled the flimsies into a small envelope and dropped them into his desk. "The cadets have asked that I review their proposal prior to its presentation to the Grant Oversight Committee." Ah. Spock-the-proof-reader, an incomparable ace up the sleeve in that he was apt to offer enough practical and logical advice to amount to a total rewrite of a mediocre paper, or an actual rewrite of a poor one.
He looked up just as Jim did, one eyebrow slightly raised at the corner in inquiry, and said, "I am free now, and preparing to leave the campus, unless you required my assistance?" before Jim could ask him whether he was.
"Not anymore, you aren't," Jim said easily, "your evening is mine." Spock almost smiled. "You shouldn't let yourself be taken such shameless advantage of, Spock." He grinned. "Would you mind looking up the new Tactics guidelines and the last dump of official messages for me?"
The terminal cast a bluish light up over the planes of Spock's face when he seated himself in the chair, highlighting a few fine wrinkles. It was otherwise the same sensuously sculpted face Jim had known for nearly fifteen years. Spock was amused. "Taken advantage of, Captain? When I am at liberty from my duties, I simply seek out the most gratifying--or interesting--pastime available." An eyebrow quirked in a definite challenge.
"Well! I certainly want spending time in my company to be gratifying to you, Mr. Spock. I'll buy you dinner," Jim bargained, settling himself more comfortably on the edge of the desk.
"I believe you would find me already in your debt, Jim, if I were to take full advantage of the resources known to be 'available to the observant in your presence,'" Spock said drily, quoting a speech that would probably live forever in Jim's nightmares. Council Member Bliss Taylor, speaking in support of the noble cause of reducing the teaching load of veterans at the Academy, had certainly meant well by it. She had probably had no idea that her choice of example would render Jim unable to so much as look at her without gritting his teeth.
"Spock, you don't want to bask in the reflected glow of my genius, after all this time!"
"Precisely, Admiral." A pause. "Your offer of dinner is appreciated." Jim gave a shout of laughter, and Spock, expressionless once more, handed him a single high-density disk, which he tucked into his pocket.
"You keep me in my place, Spock," he said. "Computer, lights out," and left. After nearly two decades Spock still would not precede him from a room.
Their sleeves brushed companionably in the corridor. Spock looked down at him, his lips twitching perceptibly. "I repay you in any way that I can, of course."
Jim's chest was curiously tight, and he had to clear his throat. "May I ask our destination, Mr. Spock?" They were approaching the door. Spock didn't even pause.
"I believed you to have chosen it, Admiral."
"Not at all! I thought it would be a good time to begin the education of my palate." Spock gave him a curious glance. "Spock, my friend, let's put an end to the ancient days when any shared meal was likely to be unpleasant for one or the other of us. You'll just have to teach me about vegetarian food, and we're sure to find some I like." Spock could have told you the precise number of times he had said as much. Jim would have staked money it was over ten thousand.
Instead, he confined his commentary to "An admirable strategy, sir." Jim didn't miss the bite behind the entirely innocent words and he smiled up at Spock with a twinkle.
"I'll pay, for your trouble."
"As well as for the pleasure of my company," Spock noted. "Perhaps you should draw up a budget."
Jim paused, caught for a moment, and then made a grandiose gesture. "Your professional expertise and your company are priceless, " he declared gracefully, "so logically payment would be inadequate."
Spock inclined his head.
A jaunty bit of a song--a John Philip Sousa march, Jim rather thought--was perfectly suited to the victory. "A hit, a very palpable hit," he murmured smugly, skipping a step or two.
No comment or question on the reference was forthcoming from his companion.
Spock's choice of restaurant was as quiet as Jim's were usually crowded. It lacked something in presentation--Jim had to wrinkle his nose at the smell of stale tobacco smoke--but he had to admit that its free-love atmosphere seemed inclined to accompany very good food. The papers stapled to the walls said something about communism, or perhaps it was a smaller, private collective to which they referred (Spock's hand on his arm hurried him past before he could read the entire thing). The menu was written free-hand on the wall in broad-tipped paint marker. The décor was uneven at best, and the floor was clean, but bare cement. Exposed rafters in the ceiling seemed likely to fall on their heads at any moment. Jim ducked unnecessarily as he moved to stand in line with Spock. At this range his eye picked out splinters of dark wood on the rough-hewn beams, probably not a whole meter over the shining cap of Spock's sleek hair. "Are you very familiar with the historic district?"
"Not very, no," said Spock. "I was introduced to this establishment by a friend." The friend could have been one of a number of Andorians, or--was that a Vulcan?--yes, but an elderly one in threadbare robes, not that that made an acquaintance a great deal less likely. Jim didn't think it likely that Spock knew the shadier sorts, like a Deltan in a totally transparent dress, or a man equipped with enough cosmetic surgery that he could pass for a reptile at a fair distance. Still, with Spock, one never positively knew. A friend Jim didn't know about? --He didn't like to think it, and he smoothed the frown from his face. He knew it to be possible.
The young woman behind the counter was dressed in a bored expression, blue hair, and a pair of elastic straps criss-crossing her chest over a thin linen shirt to outline small limp breasts. When she asked to take Spock's order, he stepped up close to him at the counter, allowing his hand to rest just next to Spock's and their shoulders to brush, and straightened his back. Far from out of place, the Starfleet uniforms merely added to the eclectic assortment of the restaurant's patrons. It was a real hole in the wall.
"Do you come here often?" He asked, seated at their table, not yet quite ready to tackle his tofu and goat cheese sandwich. A tendril of resentment sprouted in his breast and he squashed it mercilessly, using a plastic fork to disentangle alfalfa sprouts from a wedge of pickled Andorian beet. Any time, he reminded himself severely, he could have asked Spock where he was going or where he had been, and Spock would answer. Spock had never lied to him.
"This will make my third visit," said Spock calmly, and bent for a bite of his own sandwich--formed in a curious pocket of blue-green bread which looked rather like a Terran pita pocket covered in algae, but which Spock assured him was authentically Rigelian.
He was not getting jealous. It was ridiculous. All right, perhaps he was. Jim checked his wrist chrono with the intent of monitoring how long it took him to ask Spock how he'd learned of the place. On his birthday for hours and hours he'd have Spock all to himself, though (he wouldn't have needed a carrot dangled in front of him simply to maintain socially acceptable behavior a few years ago, he knew. Jim feared he was getting a little old). The chair creaked in response to an uneasy shift, plastic-padded metal feet scraping at the poured cement floor. He would have to learn to control himself. Right after his birthday he'd go back to being strict. He'd been all over this a thousand times.
Spock wasn't his, only his best friend, not his First Officer anymore; they weren't a team, partnered in the face of danger and the unknown. Just friends, and he could say he was Spock's only true friend (while he himself attracted friends like flies to honey, in fact, none of them could be the same kind of friend as Spock).
But either of them could have been posted anywhere. Spock's free time was his only as he put it at Jim's disposal. Jim didn't have any rights to him. After years aboard the Enterprise he was rather used to his tall lithe shadow, calm and unflappable, quietly intelligent, supremely dangerous, deadly when provoked, all unconscious of the mesmerizing attraction he exerted over so many. And he was used to having Spock all to himself, too, and to being the only one who really understood.
He looked covertly at Spock and forced himself not to fidget. A first bite of his sandwich proved perfectly satisfactory.
He was still the only one who understood Spock. Of this Jim was positive. He understood Spock quite well enough to know this was true. For Spock, or for him, to speak of other friends was, in a certain sense, ludicrous. At the same time, he had no claim on Spock's time. His acknowledged habit of feeling otherwise was equally ludicrous.
The goat cheese was surprisingly sharp, but really very good, crushed with the watery sweetness of tomato, although Jim was developing an aversion to alfalfa sprouts. He choked on the first bite of something that bit at his tongue like fire, and realized belatedly that it must be the Klingon peppers Spock had mentioned.
Spock stopped. "Jim, are you all right?"
Jim managed to swallow, and washed the pepper down with a gulp of juice. "Chess after dinner, Spock?"
An inclination of the elegant head, presenting the top curves of the perfect ears for Jim's inspection. "I regret that I will be unable to accompany you, Jim."
Jim wouldn't let himself ask why. Despite the best of intentions, he couldn't stop his mind from running ceaselessly over the question on his walk home.
"Did you find the map helpful, Admiral Kirk?" Tathkess was a refreshing splash of aqua in the sterile gray and white of his Academy classroom, appearing fresh-scrubbed from a desultory sprinkling of rain that had been going on outside all morning. Her voice had gone comically deep, the standard Silissan reaction to excessive damp. Something about their multiple vocal boxes and the absorption factor of the epidermis and internal membranes.
All his class but one who was industriously entering something into a padd from his textbook had trickled out, but there were a few of the standard-issue awestruck worshippers by the door whispering amongst themselves. He hoped to get rid of them quickly, because he could probably carry on a polite conversation with Tathkess while he turned the office upside-down looking for his last set of papers if it turned out that his last set of marks were due today, when he got a chance to glance at the calendar. (It would be especially easy since his companion would evidently be more than willing to take all the burden of politeness on herself.)
"Oh yes," said Jim, who had spent a few hours calling up the detailed records the night before, "It doesn't look like I'll have any further difficulties making an appropriate choice. Thank you."
"May I ask your thoughts on the restaurants?" She inquired, antennae quivering at her own forwardness (which, given the usual character of her race, was a bit out of the ordinary).
The last student had ducked his head blushingly and replaced the text and was scurrying out of the classroom. It was a fifty-fifty bet whether the force of his passage would disperse the knot of admirers in the doorway. Where was the damned academic calendar? "Certainly you may, cadet," he said expansively, "but if you'd give me just a moment--I think these young ladies wish to speak to me." He nodded at the admirers. The first-year's hasty exit had done nothing to dislodge them, and they had, in fact, advanced to the head of the class with a speed which would have done Spock proud.
A nervous giggle from a dark-skinned human. "Hi, Tathkess," said another. Tathkess looked surprised and displeased.
"Cadet Tathkess. If you would assist me," said Jim, eyeing the three girls expertly, "I'm missing my copy of the academic calendar and I'm going to need it tomorrow. It's in my office, please. And I'll answer your question in a moment."
This gave her a gratifying opportunity to escape with his authority behind her, and the youngest of his visitors showed the effectiveness of the stratagem with widened blue eyes and a painful-looking nudge in the ribs of the third, who was short and rotund with old-fashioned metal-rimmed spectacles perched on her pert nose (a sure mark of not only wealth but membership in a family of great breeding).
"How may I help you ladies?" He fancied the noise he heard in the background was a gasp of amusement or dismay at the organizational state of his office. Ah, well. Not as if a warning could have helped.
The spectacled lady masterfully took charge of her motley peers, shifting a stack of folders into the tall dark one's arms as she said importantly, "Admiral Kirk, I'm Althea Olinen, and this is Chinenye Osigweh from Risa and Tia-Melle from Betazed, and we're in your second sophomore tactics section."
"Delighted to meet you. Olinen, Osigweh, Tia." Osigweh, though a deal taller than Nyota Uhura, bore her a marked resemblance in a few particulars. It was something about the cheekbones, he thought, and the large tilted eyes. Her hair was a somewhat charming mess; he was genuinely uncertain whether she'd done it on purpose or not. Jim had always been fond of the traditional trappings of femininity in a peculiarly passionate aesthetic sense. "I think I remember your face," he added, looking at Tia, who blushed interestingly so that the rush of blood highlighted the delicate ridges at the bridge of her nose.
"Honored to meet you, sir," said Tia with daring.
Olinen explained for the others again, pushing her quaint little status-symbols up her nose, "We're all great admirers of yours, Admiral."
His favorite response to this was "I see my reputation precedes me," but he regretfully judged that it would have less than its full efficacy with them and settled for a polite smile and a jocular tone. "Come to declare yourselves officially in the fan club, eh? Or perhaps you young ladies want an excuse to go to Captain Spock's office?"
Osigweh giggled, while Olinen looked faintly shocked at this undignified levity from a living legend, and Tia, unsurprisingly, a trifle wistful. "Would he just let us in?" said Osigweh.
"Well," said Jim--a muffled and triumphant "Aha!" emerged from the office behind him--"certainly he would have to if I gave you a note to take."
Osigweh had shifted the stack of books in her arms, hers and Olinen's, and a padd had slid aside to reveal a slightly oversize glossy folder, its entire front made of a large press-release photo of himself and Spock from the Enterprise years. He momentarily forgot what he was saying.
"…Problem…" He couldn't see anything under it, but Jim was pretty sure that the edge poking out from beneath it was another glossy photo, and he wondered what was on its cover. He'd never seen anything like this before.
Did they buy them in the Academy student canteen, or was the Federation releasing rights now, licensing official photos to the highest bidder? Or had the intrepid young fan club gone and had them made themselves? Good God.
He rather wished that if they had one of Spock he could see it. He wondered what photo they'd use. The derailing of his train of thought made him finish weakly, "…The problem is, ah, coming up with a note that… Captain Spock would believe, isn't it?" And then with relief at the sound of his salvation in the form of flimsies rustling near the door, "Thank you ladies for stopping by. I believe Cadet Tathkess has that information I asked for now, so if you would…?"
They trailed out reluctantly, and he noted with interest that this time Tathkess waved back.
"I found the calendar, Admiral." Twitch. "Were you aware that this afternoon--"
"Quarterly marks are due at sixteen hundred, yes, I was afraid of that," he sighed. "I need to look for the last set of marked papers before I leave, but if you care to come back we can talk about vegetariana to your heart's content."
Tathkess cleared her throat. "Actually, sir…"
Jim looked up. The source of the rustling at once became clear in his mind: the blessed child was holding a neat stack of flimsies.
"…These were on your desk."
"You," Jim beamed, "are a life-saver, cadet. I was afraid I'd miss supper entirely looking for them."
Again the charming blue flush, and she handed him the stack of flimsies. "I happened to see them when I was looking for the calendar, Admiral."
"Am I to understand that you're refusing a superior officer's attempted expression of gratitude, cadet?" He said playfully.
"Uh--no, sir! You're welcome. I only didn't think that you could, unless your dinner were scheduled,…" she subsided in seemingly considerable confusion.
"I think I owe you," said Jim thoughtfully. "Since you've salvaged dinner for me, what I owe you is a meal. I don't know about you, but I'm hungry. What's a good vegetarian restaurant near here, cadet?"
The embarrassment was fading under curiosity, he could see. It always took the new ones a while to learn to take him in stride--almost always. Spock had been returning volleys the day they met. Her antennae twitched once, emphatically, and vibrated. "I'm fond of Marcello's. It's a Terran-style café near the campus."
"In that case I suggest we adjourn to Marcello's, and we can discuss other restaurants and your friends over dinner. You know those nervous little sophomores, don't you, Tathkess?" He took her arm and propelled her towards the door to forestall any protest.
It appeared he had acquired a new protege.
Jim supposed it had only been a matter of time.
Spock was not the kind of man who jumped to conclusions. They had known each other two years before he ever suggested a game of chess, though after a few games they had been playing at least one night in three. It entertained Jim to think of it in days. Three-hundred-sixty-five per Earth year, probably that many games before the first time Spock uttered those familiar words, "Time for a game of chess?"
That first time, it had taken a few more words than that, with Spock's hands clasped behind his back as he bent over a monitor of readouts scrolling too fast for Jim's puny human eyes to follow. "Captain," he had said calmly in a somewhat constricted voice. Even though their duty shift was officially over, since they weren't done Jim had thought he had something to say about whatever anomaly they were investigating.
"What is it, Spock?"
Spock, like Cadet Tathkess--perhaps it was a vegetarian thing--had replied after a little pause, without looking up, "I merely wondered whether you had any pressing duties this evening, or whether you would have sufficient time available for a game of chess."
Jim asked like a ritual, now, "How about a game of chess?" or "Would you care for a game?" Spock had abandoned the question all together, and wherever they were, in his Spartan quarters or Jim's apartment, as often as not simply got out the chessboard and set it up without asking.
"You will have found my office empty if you happened to have passed by it this afternoon, Jim, because Doctor Theridian Steele of the planet Serenity IV has made an unannounced stop at Federation headquarters this afternoon," said the recording of Spock on Jim's home terminal. "I have had the honor of interviewing the doctor to discuss his recent breakthroughs in the field of temporo-material physics, which you will recall I have been studying. I will be occupied until the end of the dinner in his honor. I believe you will find you have received a request for your attendance. I draw this to your attention to prevent your overlooking it. Whether you are present at the dinner or not," and here Spock allowed himself a slight two-dimensional smile on Jim's vid display, "When it adjourns I will be free to make up last night's game of chess to you, if you wish." He winked out without a word, as he had begun without a greeting.
Jim scanned the data dump for the invitation marked "high-priority." Spock had been right to doubt whether he would go: Jim had a great facility for public appearances, but he hated his dress tunic with a passion. The new red uniforms weren't so binding around the neck, but he faintly regretted the loss of the raw silk. Uncomfortable as it had been, the stern sleekness had dramatically suited Spock. The cut had been rather Vulcan, actually, with the long lines, the straight high collar.
Luckily he had ten minutes left, and that was ample time to shower and dress.
Spock, who was engaged in conversation with a nervous, sharp-featured ambassador near the state hall's oak double doors, introduced Jim as "my former commanding officer, Admiral Kirk, who became acquainted with the people of Aurelia in the course of our interstellar travels, though regrettably not with Kerl Riddle himself." From the ambassador's expression of awe, distorted by stretching over the curious hatchet-like face, Jim deduced that Kerl Riddle bore some relation to the admirable Doctor Steele's field of study.
His fingers itched and he regretted not having fastened the dress tunic all the way to the neck. "Ambassador," he bowed, clasping them firmly behind his back to still the impulse.
When he observed over fruit preserves that it was unusual for the pre-chess supper to occupy more time than the chess itself, Jim was guilty of nothing more than a slight impatience. Spock knew his intolerance for official functions, but no one else present but the superior officers who had tried in vain to coax him to them in his younger days would have suspected it. Happiness, anger, boredom: at a formal meal they were all expressed in pleasant banter and empty conversational calories of small-talk.
He didn't mean it as a hint, but Spock replied straight-faced, "Jim, you forget that it is possible the value of last night's chess game to you was higher than the mean value of a game of chess. To repay my debt I must provide you with equal entertainment, either with an unusually long and/or challenging game of chess, or with multiple games to our mutual satisfaction. Logically, since we cannot know the value of a game of chess in advance, it is impossible to determine at this point whether the chess will take as long as the banquet or longer."
Jim frowned instead of smiling, and ate a piece of candied apricot. When he had finished chewing it very thoroughly, he raised his eyes to Spock's face across the table, smiling unstoppably. He said mildly, "You're quite right. I must have forgotten."
All the cadets nearing graduation had extended training simulations on either Wednesday or Thursday afternoon. Tathkess had been in Jim's office only ten or twenty minutes at the most searching for his calendar, but the following morning he found the top of his desk miraculously spotless, the trashcan nearly filled, and a quarter of the shelf in easy reach of his right shoulder set in square stacks and separated with sideways file-folders. A suspicious glance showed them to be nominally alphabetized.
It is the indignant protest of many disorganized geniuses that cleanliness interferes with the creative process, or that they alone know the method to the seeming madness, and can find any thing they wish. Jim knew better than to claim exceptional ability at finding things--all the fault, he was darkly certain, of his years of being spoiled by the combined efforts of Spock and Janice Rand. Tathkess' ten minutes' effort Tuesday had him out of the office a full half hour early on Wednesday, but on Thursday, if not for her reappearance, he would have been plunged back into lateness.
"Could you find everything?" She asked anxiously, clutching a book to her chest and hovering in the door just as if she didn't have "Admiral Kirk's Bright Young Thing" figuratively tattooed on her forehead. "When I was looking for the calendar I moved some things that I forgot to put back." He'd seen her eyes focused on the no-longer-alphabetized shelf, incontrovertible proof that he had been able to locate its contents unassisted.
"Yes, thank you," said Jim warmly. "You're very talented at this. I wonder if you'd let me abuse your extraordinary abilities any longer?" A more forward young woman of, say, the Osigweh stamp, would have required no further invitation. Tathkess' newly learned courage had faded fast in twenty-four hours, and he had to coax her into the room by dropping a folder so its contents spilled over the corner of the desk and onto the floor.
Tathkess picked them up and straightened them in a few efficient swift movements, not supernaturally fast like Spock's, but comforting all the same. Her hair was slightly disordered, he noticed, with a few jet strands gleaming like a beetle's wing caught in the fine coat of hairs on her left antenna. She was calm, and growing more comfortable in his presence, he surmised, because the antennae were perfectly motionless. "I wouldn't consider it a talent, sir," she said, with a noticeable lessening of tact.
Jim grinned. "Are you sure you don't have some Vulcan blood in you?"
"None, sir," she said, with what sounded like an eighty percent chance of smile.
"Perhaps you consciously imitate Captain Spock, then, Cadet," he half-teased. (It was actually not improbable, especially for the practical-minded scientific-track cadet.) "It's not a bad mode of behavior for any young officer, certainly."
"I've never spoken to Captain Spock," she assured him.
Jim was trying to think of a way to say "that can be fixed" without sounding like a doting grandfather hiding a chocolate behind his back.
She had finished the folder and moved to the shelf behind him. A drift of books had become a row of matched spines, and she wrinkled her forehead at a smudge of dust on her fingers from a glass bubble encasing a miniature of the Enterprise. Facing the shelf as though she was answering a question put to her by a book and not changing the subject, she said slowly, "How long have you known Captain Spock?"
Jim frowned and did some rapid mental math.
"Well, he was already stationed on the Enterprise when I took command in 2265, so I suppose that will make thirteen years now, cadet."
"Tomorrow's your birthday, isn't it, Admiral?" He was surprised until he remembered he had told her.
A theatrical sigh was in order, and a little smile. "I'll never be young again, after tomorrow."
She laughed, politely. Well, he supposed to someone he treated like a precocious grandchild he couldn't expect to seem young. Though he wasn't old enough to be her grandfather. Quite. If he'd been Silissan, perhaps.
Now he was really as close to forty-five as made no difference, fewer than twenty-four hours. Exactly one hour older than he'd been an hour ago and perhaps twelve hours older than he'd been when he'd opened drowsy eyes to see Spock moving silently from the kitchen to the door out onto the stair landing, the chess pieces neatly regimented again. Brandy had done that to him for years. He'd liked to have had something to blame on the age, if only because it was so deliciously illogical. In the absence of anything concrete, however, he could always pretend.
The cadet was sighing and chewing her lip restlessly, like a navigator who knows in her heart that you have ordered an impracticable course (say, a slingshot around a planet at a speed sufficient to propel you into the past). The antennae at rest were still and bent over slightly, a jewel-toned cobalt hiding under the sheen of white from neon office lights refracting off their fine dusting of hair. Jim thought she should have fine cuts on her fingers from shuffling the uneven stacks back and forth so quickly, but no, she had finished two shelves with no sign of slowing.
He moved away from his desk to give her space and perched in a spare chair, resting his chin on his hand. Spock observed birthdays, now, as a polite concession to irrational human culture, which placed an unwarranted (but, naturally, fascinating) emphasis on them. Jim imagined that with Lady Amanda for a mother he couldn't miss knowing about them, but then, with Sarek for a father, he hadn't had any cakes or party hats. He had expressed his views on them early in their acquaintance to Bones' consternation.
Although Vulcans did not accept the concept of friendship in any remotely human or emotional terms, it was only logical for him to accept and reciprocate the human customs in his dealings with humans according to their own conventions, as he would have told anyone who asked. Naturally, when Spock put his mind to something, he would excel beyond anyone else. Birthdays being part of the human tradition of friendship, he observed them whether Jim particularly cared or not.
They hadn't discussed the impending birthday for several weeks, now Jim thought of it. For the most part, it would be irrelevant to the topic at hand, and an unlikely topic for casual conversation. Jim wondered whether he had even remembered to inform Spock that for his present he was hijacking him for a long dinner?
"Cadet, you haven't found an appointment book over there, by any chance?"
She said staunchly, "Not yet, sir."
It would be faster to call Spock than to find it. But meanwhile, Jim thought Tathkess would be, if not more comfortable, certainly faster without him around. Which was an excellent reason to take himself outside and get some exercise in a brisk walk across the campus. "Well, I'll just go put a question to Captain Spock." He saw her eyeing him, and added, "Use your discretion with those papers, Tathkess. You're doing an excellent job."
"Thank you," she said automatically, and as an afterthought, "Of course, sir." The right antenna had stiffened somewhat in its droopy resting position. The left shivered from base to tip, gradually, until it was upright again and the feathered tip briefly brushed against the edge of a shelf of encyclopedias. "What if I finish?"
Jim looked around his office and smiled. It would take a small army of Tathkesses until midnight, or Tathkess and a collection of snoopy sophomores together probably as much as a week. "In that, ah, unlikely case, Cadet, I'll trust you not to peek at any of those budget memos lying around unread until I come back. It shouldn't be long."
"Oh," she repeated cautiously, "all right, then, sir. You'll be back soon?"
"You'll hardly miss me." A younger Spock would not have dignified this piece of frivolity with a response, but Tathkess was either more appreciative of the alien sense of humor or more tolerant of human weakness.
She smiled and said, "Good, sir."
"Spock, did I remember to tell you that I'm taking you out to dinner tomorrow?"
Spock blinked. "It is not your habit to tell me these things, Admiral," he replied deadpan, giving every sign that he had expected Jim to appear in his office door. "In addition, as it is your birthday tomorrow, perhaps it would be more appropriate for me to treat you to a traditional 'birthday dinner.'"
"Certainly it will be a birthday dinner," Jim retorted, "for such an important landmark as the completion of forty-five years. You can make it traditional with your presence, and I'll choose the venue, which you'll agree makes it more accurate to say that I will take you there."
Spock blinked, and Jim wondered if he had been a little too vehement. Possibly he'd over-estimated Spock's protest. "Very well, Jim," he said mildly. "No, you did not inform me of your plans."
"No conflicts, I hope." Jim couldn't resist teasing.
"Nothing unavoidable, of course." Ah! He'd caught Spock in a mood to stab back! Jim laughed, and moved to the spare chair in Spock's office, a regulation issue molded plastic one identical to the one he'd vacated in his own a few minutes earlier.
"Have the fan club declared themselves to you?" He said after a minute, wondering if, leaving his office for a week, he might come back to find them holding a séance with the glossy folder on his desk--and the bookshelves, naturally, in scrupulous order. Exactly how well did Tathkess know them? Jim thought that wherever her private sympathies lay, a séance would be held on his desk only over her dead body. He suspected her of being even more competent than she appeared, as it was hard to look startlingly competent and brisk while being built on the fragile lines of a comic-book damsel in distress, not to mention pale matte blue and stuffed with exaggerated nervous mannerisms. She could probably rid herself of the overenthusiastic little threesome as efficiently as he had done or more so.
Spock, who had decided to tolerate Jim's fan club-related terminology at length only after several extended debates, replied serenely that the last young person he had discovered in the door of his classroom he had happily been able to assist with her understanding of console electrical wiring, and he thought that she should now "surpass her peers" in that area.
"Console electrical wiring," said Jim in blank unvarnished delight, sitting up straight in the uncomfortable cradle of the gray chair and staring at Spock. "Spock, my friend,--" You're brilliant, you're magnificent, you never fail to astonish me, I'd like to package you up and carry you around in my pocket, please don't ever change. He voiced none of these thoughts, and finally settled for "I believe you've got the perfect way of dealing with them!"
"Miss Osigweh indicated to me that she had been engaged in preparation with a study-group for a presentation on the topic." Spock's tone was reproving, but Jim could hear the twitch in the corner of his long narrow mouth by now without even seeing it.
Jim blinked. The same girl. Coincidence be damned. What were the odds she had more of those glossy-folders? He wondered how to put this question to Spock, who he was sure would give him an estimate without delay whether he knew or not.
"Indeed, Jim," he added, "however improved a student's understanding of console wiring, the method requires a certain expenditure of time and effort in explaining it to them. Your strategies are no doubt just as effective, and may be more efficient." Spock entered a long string into his console, composure unruffled.
A red-letter day! Return-thrusts in verbal fencing, and admitting with no complaint that he understood "deal with" to mean "get rid of"! An early birthday present? "Well," said Jim cautiously, "When I met Miss Osigweh and her friends, our conversation was not quite as long as a thorough discussion of console wiring, retreat strategy, Prime Directive theory, or particle physics would have been. However, it was also not as, ah, ultimately useful to her education."
Spock inclined his head. "Perhaps she took the opportunity to gather a lesson for herself in command presence," he suggested. From this angle Jim couldn't see his face, and wasn't certain anyway whether he wanted to laugh or hit him. (He laughed.)
Such subtlety of wit, such imperturbable dryness and such an unshakeable conviction of superiority! "I hope she didn't waste her opportunity to learn about human relations from you," he said pointedly, a particularly under-handed jibe that brought Spock's chin up in quick startlement, eyes dancing. He was in a playful mood, then!
"As it is not yet sixteen hundred hours, I believe we have time for a game of chess prior to dinner, Admiral," was the eventual bland non-sequitur.
A non-sequitur which included an invitation to chess was something Jim could always take in stride. "I believe you're right. I'll just drop by my office and I could come back here, unless you're finished--"
"Since your office is between mine and my quarters, Jim, logically I should accompany you." And how dare Jim suggest otherwise? They proceeded together accordingly, with their sleeves brushing companionably on the paths under blooming pear trees. The perfume of well-tended gardens was doing its best to make him light-headed. Jim was silent and thoughtful.
Spock, who could never have been described as less than thoughtful, was probably contemplating his chess strategy, or scheduling to the second how long the game ought to last to avoid interfering with the meal.
The office was noticeably neater than it had been when he left, and Tathkess was standing on tiptoe in the corner, relieving the top shelf of framed photos, dusty medals and bundled reports. Judging by her unabashed smiling when she turned around she had evidently not learned her manners entirely in the Spock School. She hastened to shake Spock's hand and flushed, then paled, to the tips of her antennae while expressing her long admiration for (she stressed) both of them. Her eyes hardly seemed to know where to rest. Jim smiled, and Spock was evidently on the verge of it.
"Cadet Tathkess, I presume," he said, and she threw Jim a confused and wondering glance.
"I mentioned the assistance you were lending me to Captain Spock over dinner at an official function the other day," he explained. "When you get around to guilting me into unpleasant tasks, Cadet, I'm afraid you'll be obliged to listen to me expound on my latest hobby as well."
"That's not unreasonable, sir," she said faintly, with two sharp minute antenna-twitches. Apparently she didn't know how to handle the reference to herself as a hobby, but was not incapable of repartee.
"You will find it to your benefit to remember that, Cadet," Spock put in, and glanced around approvingly. "An excellent job."
"Thank you, sir." That taxed her Spockian composure! She looked at the polished toes of her wide, flat boots, and appeared relieved to escape when Jim indicated he was leaving, although he noticed her watching them out of the corner of her eye as she cleared a space for some as yet-unsorted data discs on a shelf.
"The presence of our combined genius got to be too much for Cadet Tathkess back there," said Jim as Spock set up the chessboard. "I suppose it'll take her a while to get used to it."
"I believe it is an Earth saying, Jim, that 'familiarity breeds contempt,' in an interestingly non-derogatory archaic sense of the word 'contempt.'"
"She was beginning to develop some familiarity with me. But then, even for a very logical-minded non-human, it might take longer than that to, er, achieve any familiarity with you, Spock."
"You are correct that Cadet Tathkess has not yet had sufficient time to become accustomed to me, Admiral. But I do not understand your implication that more time would be necessary to become familiar with me than to become familiar with you."
"Spock, you're an enigma! Enigmas are, by definition, unusually difficult to understand. Ask anyone who's worked with you."
Spock raised an eyebrow. "I think you do yourself an injustice by the implication that your character is any simpler, more understandable, or less enigmatic."
Jim surveyed the pawns and drank a sip of wine. "Now, Spock." His fingers hovered, and he shifted in his familiar chair a little. These Starfleet quarters never changed: the chair was hardly identical with any aboard the Enterprise, or even the more recent furniture of the offices, but the family resemblance remained unmistakable. "Bones, Sulu, Uhura--I'm sure not even your closest friends would claim they understand you. Only an untruth can be an injustice."
"Inaccuracy is a form of untruth. Logically, it would be inaccurate to claim a valid correlation between any individual's perception of how well they understand you and the actual depth of their understanding," his Vulcan insisted with a hint of temper. O-ho!
Jim was bemused. Why so defensive, Spock? He said cautiously, "Such a connection would not be unprecedented. Surely in the vast majority of cases a correlation exists between understanding and perceived understanding?"
Spock was hardly unperturbed; but his argument remained unshaken. "Statistically, yes; however, statistics are hardly an important argument in the face of other consistent patterns of observed evidence.
"I suggest that their degree of knowledge is insufficient to make an accurate judgment. You exert your considerable intuition and intelligence to make yourself appear understandable and accessible to your subordinates--a highly effective command strategy that I have yet to see matched. By doing so, you mask much of the complexity of your thinking and motivation.
"I myself find you, as you term it, 'enigmatic,' Jim. --I note, aside, that I believe this lack of understanding on my part springs from an inferior intuition. I do not believe you would suffer any such difficulty in a similar situation."
This speech had prevented Spock from making a chess move, which was just as well, as it had thoroughly arrested Jim's attention. His eyes returned to the board in time to blankly register one, and he tried again to digest everything he had heard. "Spock, surely your unique abilities to detect my true nature and analyze it indicate not only equal intelligence and subtlety, but very great intuition?"
"Not at all," said Spock firmly. "I am meticulously analytical by nature and training--" Jim smiled "--and yet find the task of analyzing you to be unprecedentedly difficult."
"Your proximity gains you a privilege of observation, but necessarily detracts from your perspective," Jim said drily. He hadn't observed Spock with such proximity for so many years without learning the tactic of eloquent understatement. He laid no claims at all to perspective where Spock was concerned. "The fact that I tax your powers of analysis hardly disproves the strength of your intuition. I believe you're not fully aware of it yourself, but if I am as intuitive as you claim, surely you don't question my intuitive assessment of yours."
Spock pointed out with frigid dignity the contradiction in Jim's relying on his privileged vantage without allowance for its companion loss of perspective in order to discredit Spock's own privileged judgment.
Jim was intrigued almost, but not quite, to the point of forgetting to laugh.
Spock, who might have easily been offended, relaxed after a moment enough for Jim to finish processing the state of the game and make his move. Two more moves passed in silence.
"It's ridiculous for us to sulk the day before my birthday over a contest of inferiority," Jim said lightly, focusing intently on the carved head of the white knight. "Could we declare a truce, Spock? Find ourselves matched and deadlocked with no hope of resolution, and formally pronounce ourselves equal?" (He remained unconvinced, but thought he ought to take Spock's word as a gesture of faith.)
"Certainly any such undignified activity as sulking," said Spock smoothly, humor restored, "would be extremely ridiculous for a human and unthinkable for a Vulcan." Jim snorted. "Nonetheless, I accept your suggestion."
"Thank you." He sketched an ironic little bow over the game board, knocking over a captured pawn, who rolled onto the floor.
Spock inclined his head, bent to catch the stray pawn, and restored it to its place by Jim's arm all in one breathtakingly effortless movement which called to mind his deadly and beautiful speed in hand-to-hand combat. Jim's breath seemed to snag on something in his chest and pause there until he felt quite short of oxygen.
It wasn't April yet, but the proverbial showers had been making their presence keenly felt for some time. The Academy grounds were holding just barely against the deluge, but they couldn't keep their dignity: the whole of San Francisco might have been bathed in youth and spring itself rather than in water, and nothing could stop the view out any window from turning to a quaint and charming sort of watercolor, whether alive with greenery and pale blossoms or wavery silver, downtown, where generations of smog stained generations of edifices to bring them all close together, and the water finished the job. Native Californians were exclaiming about it in wonder and exasperation left and right.
It was wreaking havoc on Tathkess' vocal cords. The night before Jim's birthday it stormed--no doubt it would have been unimpressive in some parts of the world, but to San Francisco the water on the sides of the streets constituted a flood. He met her in the corridor, and found her breathing through a piece of flannel. She looked at him with unreadable wide eyes over the edge of it, and an antenna bobbed in apology. "G'mo'ning," she said thickly, with her voice rumbling and, he knew from a five-minute lecture on the subject from Spock, doing damage to her vocal cords when she used it. There were hormones available, but the Silissan constitution was not naturally accustomed to them and had to develop, and then maintain, a certain tolerance.
This was nothing compared to what too dry an environment could do to one of her people, but that situation, of course, was more easily handled, with topical medications. It was his understanding that most of Silissa was a peculiar kind of ecology most comparable to Earth's deciduous forests, cool, damp and filled with vegetation, but not burdened with excessive rainfall. His eyes narrowed. Two of the vials in the nutrient stock clipped to her belt were missing.
"Should you be here?" He said, scandalized. "Cadet, I insist that you not put your personal welfare behind--no, no," he amended hastily when her breath stirred the flannel, "don't speak. Here. Come to my office with me--you were going anyway, weren't you? We'll fiddle with the controls and try to make you more comfortable."
He ordered a nutrient beverage for her following instructions scribbled in an appallingly messy hand on a padd with a stylus, sealed the doors and windows and took a panel off the wall to program the computer: higher temperature, inner recirculation, extra filtration.
Not necessary! Tathkess scribbled emphatically; Consequences only temporary.
"I reserve the right to fuss over any of my subordinates," he told her cheerfully, "let alone my protege. Especially on my birthday." He had seen her give herself very small injections from two of the remaining tubes with the tiny hypo, and was feeling rather reassured. Even years at the Academy could not accustom Silissan biology to this sort of misbehavior on the part of the climate; it was unavoidable, but a well-documented phenomenon.
On the off-chance that conserving energy would help her, he wouldn't let her tidy his office no matter how many longing looks she cast at the disarrayed shelves. He pressed a thriller novel into her hands instead. "You're free this afternoon, aren't you?" An antenna quivered and she fumbled for the stylus. "Never mind. You're not going anywhere."
It was several hours later before she was recovered enough to speak, and Jim had left to give a lecture and had taken a walk in the meanwhile. Her voice was low, but not grainy or torn. "It's this rainstorm," she offered, a little tiredly. "They say they're setting records for the century, sir. I could hardly have predicted it. I've never experienced this sort of weather here before."
"You're bound to, eventually," he pointed out. "Particularly in Starfleet. Your people aren't very suited to the lives of adventurers."
It was a point she couldn't argue, he presumed, but she didn't seem offended, only shrugged and smiled ruefully.
"Why did you leave Silissa?" he asked, shuffling a stack of flimsies straight against the surface of the desk with so many repeated taps that they were in danger of creasing at the lower edges.
When he realized what he was doing, he put them down.
"I didn't," she replied, a little blankly; "I've lived in San Francisco all my life. My father is attached to the Sector Trade Confederacy Board." Which had its headquarters here, and had been lobbying tirelessly most of her short life to have her world admitted to the Federation.
The sleek short hair snapped into place in his mind. It fit, it did: the lack of the all-important headdress, the mannerisms so direct and abrupt in comparison with those of other Silissans he had met. If her family were merchants established at whatever level in an organization like the Silissa Sector Trade Confederacy Board, she would never have seen Silissa. Her parents had in all likelihood moved to Terra before her birth. "Ah," he said. "Excuse the assumption."
She shook her head dismissively and continued, "You see, I've never felt I belonged to Silissa as much as to Earth."
Her cup was empty at her elbow; Jim took it and ordered another one. It was thick and smelled pungent, but her eyes closed in appreciation and she emitted a high-pitched humming noise of satisfaction. When she drank, her nostrils narrowed to slits and paled. "Even so, Cadet," he said, watching, bemused, "why choose Starfleet, in defiance of your own biology? You were in no danger of being forced to leave Earth against your will?"
"No--" she said, surprised. "I think I fell in love with it before I remember."
Jim was thoughtful, watching her closely. He felt what she said to him was just within his grasp, as though it sat in the palm of his hand and he couldn't close his fingers around it.
"Do you know dandelions don't grow on Silissa?" She said with the calm air of a master story-teller. "The climate is much more uniform, as well. The atmosphere is so thick that the sky and the ground are nearly the same color; I've seen pictures. There's no horizon."
Jim frowned and Tathkess took a deep swallow of the drink. Already it was having a positive effect on her: cramped muscles had softened all over her body to allow her to relax more deeply into the drab little chair. "When I came of age, I wanted to join up because that's what an Earth woman in my position would have done." A pause, another sip. "I think it was because I had discovered a passion in myself. Pursuing anything else--was a disservice."
"You're saying this is a gesture."
She paled slightly and glanced away. "No, sir. This is my world, this is my culture, but at the same time, it is just alien enough to fascinate me forever. It's because I thought the way I felt about them was so important--the most important thing. There was nothing to do but give it my whole life."
She opened her mouth to say it, but Jim had finally gotten it, and he stole the words from her lips. "It was only logical."
It was a long day, and at the end of it Jim had collected quite a few bouquets of birthday flowers which he could hardly ask Tathkess to deliver to any medical facilities for him. He supposed it was not exactly the same when one's yeoman was a volunteer after all.
He'd unsealed his office after lunch on her repeated insistence that she was well. Then he'd been called away after his second to last lecture to attempt to diagnose a problem with a tactics computer, and was, as a consequence, unusually tired. In the normal course of things he might have kept his protege cornered in his office for hours, discussing childhood, politics, the inevitable inflammatory graduation speeches, and the silliness of dress clothes in general.
But it was his birthday, and since he had first decided to pick a restaurant that could give Spock no cause for complaint, had found himself anticipating it in a way he couldn't remember waiting since… well… since the first time Spock had shyly indicated his intention of procuring a "suitable" (and, naturally, secret) gift in advance. (That time it had been an old paper-bound edition of Vulcan poetry in translation. Spock was very fond of poetry.)
It had never been Jim's habit to stick too securely to schedules. His mother had always called it superstition. Jim insisted they just didn't deserve more than his minimal consideration, while McCoy said regulations of any kind interfered with Jim's "creative drive to remake the universe according to his own preference." In fact, he said it repeatedly. He had delivered the judgment with special enjoyment ever since he had discovered Spock could never allow the "illogically exaggerated comparison" to pass unremarked.
Tathkess would no doubt always have appreciated a lecture gone over-time (assuming her race were subject to nothing like the pon farr). Most students had not yet developed this extraordinary ability by their Academy graduations. His last class were sighing and shifting in their seats when he released them. The impetuosity of youth!, he thought fondly, watching them leave. So very different from the much more pedestrian impetuosity of old age!
Speaking of which, it was well past seventeen hundred hours, so he crossed to the door, shrugging into his jacket, and pressed the wall intercom to call Spock's office. It buzzed flatly and rang in the empty classroom, and then the computer said, "Captain Spock is not present."
Damn. "Cadet Tathkess," he called, making for his office with energy he couldn't have dreamed of in the lethargy of lecture-delivery half an hour before. The door opened to admit him, and Spock, seated behind the spotless desk with a cup of tea, looked up with raised eyebrows.
Tathkess's whole body, still curled in the chair and still slightly pale from the damp, seemed to continue the instinctive apologetic movements of her antennae. "Admiral. Can I get you some tea?"
"Stay there, Cadet. I'm forty-five, not infirm. Computer, coffee. Spock," and he was smiling and thought his eyebrows were climbing. Sulu had told him in a moment of stark honesty that this grin was particularly frightening, but he could hardly prevent himself from smiling.
"This is a pleasant… surprise."
"My duties were concluded at roughly thirteen hundred hours, Admiral," was the explanation. "I had hoped to catch you before your last class, but unfortunately you were delayed." There was a mug of Vulcan tea at his elbow, and the desk was not only tidy but entirely free of dust, smooth and polished. Spock might have been at his ease in his own office. Or he might have been a painting.
Perhaps a glossy photo, for sale in the student canteen. "The genius at work." "The legendary Captain Spock." Rank insignia shiny, tunic spotless, collar high and snug under his strong chin and wide aristocratic mouth. They'd sell like hotcakes, but he bet Olinen would have a few spares. He had his suspicions about Tathkess's fan club membership as well, for that matter.
The cadet was glowing, just slightly, and couldn't decide where to bestow the brightest of her polite and timid smiles. "Then I'll thank you for entertaining my assistant," he told Spock, "who has been confined to my office all day. Misery loves company, eh, Tathkess?"
And his Vulcan and his precocious grandchild stumbled over each other to assure him earnestly that they had not been in the least miserable.
Only Spock could stumble with such dignity. "Are you ready, Captain Spock?"
"Admiral," said Spock, with an air of slight surprise at being required to explain something so elementary. "I am at your disposal."
Jim smiled and stuffed his hands in his pockets. He felt his palms itching and didn't know what he might do. "Are you?" He murmured, and smiled over his shoulder, turning to the door. "Cadet, you can stay as long or as little as you like. Please don't feel you need clean anything unless it gives you aesthetic satisfaction."
"Spock?" Spock was already at his shoulder. They went.
The late afternoon struggled to brighten with the weight of all the sunlight on the clouds, and they found themselves walking, as a result, through a world washed pale gray and lilac, with a flat sheen of white light that stabbed from gray puddles and water-dark greenery directly into his eyes.
They walked with two pairs of hands clasped behind their backs, and Spock followed his lead for some time without a word. Then, "You have selected our destination?"
There was a hint of restrained curiosity in the tone. Jim led the way around a corner. "Spock, your antennae are twitching! You'll see when we get there."
"Mm," said Spock, no doubt wondering whether to acquaint Jim with the specifications of Vulcan anatomy, and the fact that antennae were not included.
Jim had only finally and definitely made up his mind with regard to the restaurant at the very last moment--to be specific, this morning, in his sealed and climate-controlled office with Cadet Tathkess. "Now, Cadet," he had said to her a few afternoons past, consulting the cube she had given him (to her evident pleasure). "Explain to me exactly the difference between Silissan and Tellarite cuisine? They sound awfully similar."
She had straightened obediently and explained that the Silissan and Tellarite people shared certain aspects of metabolism and that their worlds happened to have certain parallels in vegetable life which made the similarity inevitable. "I take it you are considering the Blue Study and the Tevim Sunrise, sir? Two of my favorites, if I may say so, sir."
Not surprising, given her own enthusiasm had piqued his interest. "I was not unaware of that, cadet," he'd said, smiling at her out of the corner of his mouth, and she'd flushed, looked down, and attempted to apologize for talking too much.
"Hey!" He'd said, "Not--another--word. Please don't apologize. You know, it's very important to consider expert opinion when making a decision, Tathkess. That's why I asked you."
Amidst the coming and going of a delicate cobalt flush, she'd cleared her throat and said, "Ah. Well, sir, Tellar is a world with 1.8 times Earth gravity, while Silissa supports a wide variety of flora and fauna in delicately balanced eco-systems." The antennae couldn't let this calm dissection of the issue by without a small quiver. "The Tellarite people are larger than Silissans and traditionally consume food in larger portions and fewer courses, with a meal carrying a flavor 'theme' followed by all the dishes. Silissan meals are composed of a wide variety of small portions of foods. While most Silissan flavors have a close Tellarite counterpart, you are unlikely to encounter a matched set in only one meal at each establishment."
Variety, naturally, from a human or a Spockian point of view (though Jim couldn't speak for Vulcans in general), is the spice of life. Of course, Spock would pride himself on enjoying both types of meal. "Go on."
"Well, sir, the Tevim Sunrise is decorated in the manner of the Imperial Grand Duke's palace in Tellar's capital city of Tevim. I find it a fascinating window to Tellarite culture. The Blue Study was founded five years ago on the occasion of Silissa's acceptance to the Federation and is more contemporary and Terran in terms of atmosphere. It is a popular destination late at night."
Tellar was one of the oldest worlds of the Federation, with an embassy well-established on Earth and a strong trade presence. Most of their votes in Council were known to hinge on the issue of commerce in one form or another. Their planet was still monarchial and ruled by an elaborate and rigid class system. The merchant-caste Tellarites met by the average Federation citizen on stations and planets outside of Tellar seemingly belonged to a culture light-years from the ritual dances, institutionalized tradition of perfume design, and multitude of poetic forms of the noble classes, who rarely left their home world. In the heart of every merchant-class Tellarite, however, lurked an understanding and reverence for the ritualized and stylized pursuit of art and pleasure enshrined in Tevim on his home planet.
Until this morning Jim had been leaning towards the Silissan restaurant, where Spock would likely be more comfortable, if less intrigued, in the contemporary Terran atmosphere. The Tellarite people were voluble, outspoken, long-winded, and overwhelmingly irrational, with a tendency to swift changes of temper, unprovoked rudeness, decades-long grudges, and sordid epic romances.
In that conversation with Tathkess, he had been inclined to imagine a visit to a Tellarite establishment perplexing more than relaxing Spock, who sometimes seemed to take the illogic of others as a personal affront, perhaps to his aesthetic sensibilities. (He beheld, in his mind's eye, Spock saying that the food was very satisfying, but that each successively demonstrated aspect of their host culture was "most illogical.")
But now this morning, a few days later, he had looked contemplatively out the window at the sodden marsh that had once been the lawn and watched the rain falling straight and heavy like clumsy kisses on the earth, and the sun falling through it like handfuls gold dust. "The weather promises to clear," he'd said to his protégé without tearing his eyes from the window, "by afternoon."
And she had unexpectedly said, "The Tevim sunrise has a balcony." And then it had come flooding back to him, his one long-ago visit to the Palace and the forbidden quarters of the Imperial Grand Duchess and her women. The traditional Tellarite aesthetic was extremly ornate, yet very meticulously laid out for such an impetuous and illogical race. Poetry was everywhere, on the walls and the furniture, bordering the artwork, tracing gold latticework on the floors.
Jim had gone tense and said, "A great deal of outdoor seating?"
Tathkess had shaken her head: "No, Admiral, I have never been allowed to eat there. It is my understanding that it requires a special reservation, but in addition, I have never seen anyone but a Tellarite eat there." A-ha!
Within the Palace there had been a proper setting for everything. Every speech from a suicide note to a divorce to the declaration of sexual desire was ritualized and framed in the proper curtains, facing the proper painting or fireplace or balcony, set to the proper music.
The balcony at sunset, the white gauze curtains, the consumption of the proper beverage were, on Tellar, a declaration in and of themselves.
Jim had snapped his fingers and moved to the console.
"Just a moment, Tathkess. I'm making a reservation." Why do himself, Spock and what he had to say the disservice of eating this meal in a sterilized, contemporary Terran restaurant? By everything that had ever been between them, they would drink flower-scented brandy from blue-stemmed crystal goblets on a balcony at sunset! (Jim had thought to himself.)
Now the question in his mind was whether Spock would know the traditional significance of the ritual. Purely a matter of curiosity, of course. He was going to know soon anyway.
It wasn't yet sunset when they arrived, though Jim had been doing his best to stroll, because it just didn't come naturally to him. There was something about having Spock at his side that seemed to make him more efficient unconsciously, whether he liked or no. The Tevim Sunrise was situated some little distance from the bay on the top story of a pretty skyscraper in the Art Deco revival style of the late 21st century, just within sight of the Academy if you were on a top floor.
They walked some more in what was called "comfortable silence"--and that, Jim had often thought, was what Spock would have termed a totally inadequate term. The silent presence of his Vulcan was more than comfortable; it was a balm to his nerves, as alive and delightful as a normal audible discussion.
This was only logical, as humans were a social species built not only for companionship but for total trust, to work as halves of a well-oiled whole.
"Unfortunately, Mr. Spock," Jim had said to him once early in their friendship, "Most humans are not worthy of total trust," with a warm smile.
"Indeed, Captain. Yet humans persist in trusting one another against all logic."
Jim laughed now thinking about it. "Not quite all logic, Mr. Spock. Humans know, instinctively, that not just their logical efficiency is strengthened by working in teams, but also their mental and physical well-being. A human may be hurt or damaged by someone he thought he could trust ten times before he encounters the real thing, but the total harm he comes to is not statistically likely to outweigh the benefit he gains once he has truly trustworthy people to watch his back."
"I see, Captain," then-Spock had said solemnly. "I believe you are saying that, for humans, it is--" pause, as he selected an aphorism with care. "--'Worth the risk.'" It had taken Spock years to abandon those audible quotation marks. When he used them now, on occasion, Jim suspected they were only for his amusement.
"May I ask, Jim," said now-Spock, "What is so amusing?"
Jim turned his face up to the pale lavender blaze of the sunny sky. The Gates Building loomed ahead of them at the end of the block, in silhouette, and he thought he could see a balcony high above their heads. Its feet were in shadow, and the buildings spiking the horizon behind it had just begun to dip their toes in a hazy indigo shade of twilight. He turned his head to meet his companion's cool, penetrating dark gaze and felt an incipient shiver close ginger fingers around his spine at the nape of his neck. "I'm just enjoying the day, Spock," he said simply. "It's my birthday." The doors swung open to admit them. Spock was distracted.
"A Tellarite establishment, Admiral?" he said. "You surprise me."
They stepped into the lift, and Jim leaned back against the wall, bracing his hands on the bar behind him, and studied Spock's thoughtful countenance in the neon artificial light. "Level T," he murmured. The lift gave a slight jerk shifting into motion. "You know, every now and then, Spock, I surprise myself, but I sort of thought I couldn't surprise you anymore."
The far corner of Spock's lips twitched, and his mouth parted slightly, then firmed. "You have a certain--facility--for the unpredictable, Jim." Jim was looking at his mouth.
The odd thing was that Jim had no facility whatever for stupidity. He made mistakes regularly, of course, and he had as many regrets as any commander--more. But he'd never met a situation he couldn't shape to his will, never a jam he couldn't get out of, never an enemy he couldn't gentle or defeat. He didn't miss things. How could he have missed it for so long, but known it all the while?
Spock stepped forward for the waiter's attention; Jim gave his name; Spock's supple spine bent slightly, like a grass stem in the wind, and he fell into step behind Jim, and he didn't say anything when the waiter put them in a waiting room. "Five minutes, sirs," said the waiter, and Spock's eyes went calmly to Jim's face.
Thinking about it was unaccustomed and awkward, as functioning with Spock had never, from the first day, been. It was simple, efficient, eminently logical and totally effortless. It always had been. Perhaps the very simplicity of their partnership had defeated him. He found it difficult still not to take it for granted--fighting habit, or instinct, or intuition, was not something Jim did at all often.
The eyebrow didn't rise until the waiter had gone.
"Tellarites are very fond of ritual," Jim explained, sitting in a chair. "Sunset is of particular importance to them."
"Indeed, Jim," said Spock, apparently accepting, "I am familiar with many aspects of Tellarite service, from my father's years in the diplomatic corps and my own studies. I believe the movements of the planet as well as of celestial bodies such as stars, including Tellar's own sun, are essential to the Tellarite religion, and considered to impart special power to people and occurrences associated with them. It is considered desirable for all important meals, especially on religious feast days at the seasonal equinoxes, to take place at sunrise or sunset. However, I was unaware of your particular interest in Tellarite custom."
"I had occasion to visit the planet on a mission before I was assigned to the Enterprise. The restaurant was Cadet Tathkess's idea, however. I have no particular interest, but--" he smiled disarmingly, "I hope we'll both like the food." In fact, he had something of a well-concealed dislike for rude, confrontational and racist Tellarites, which included a great percentage of their merchants and public officials. Spock could read him perfectly, and would be well aware of that fact.
Spock was permitted a small smile of acknowledgement. "Cadet Tathkess is an extraordinary young woman."
Jim laughed. "I collect proteges the way other people collect antiques--not that I can bring myself to regret it. She's delightful."
"There's nothing like noticing something makes you feel old and that you don't really mind in the same day."
"Logically," said Spock, "how old you feel is entirely irrelevant, Admiral. In any case, you have not yet completed half your projected life-span."
Jim laughed. "Luckily, when I feel old, I can always find someone to make me feel like an irrational and probably foolish youth."
Spock said blandly, "If such an impression helps alleviate any anxiety and contributes to your efficiency, then it is indeed fortunate."
The waiter saved Jim from a reply by announcing then that their table, a traditional circle of pale wood inlaid with Tallyric script in black heartwood, was ready.
"Fascinating," Spock murmured under his breath, and applied himself to studying the script.
"Fruit juice is correct?" Jim asked the waiter. "I'd like to eat according to your customs."
A little bow. "Water, if I may suggest, sir."
"That, then. Thank you. I'll leave it in your capable hands." Jim smiled politely, and the waiter, whose ham-like hands were covered with thick, wrinkled hide, produced two glossy opaque black glasses and whisked away.
"If I recall my knowledge of Tallyric correctly," said Spock when the waiter had left, tracing a line of angular script with his forefinger, "this is a most unusual form of the language, dating from at least three centuries prior to Tellar's development of space flight."
Jim took a cautious sip of water, then a more enthusiastic drink when he discovered it just slightly sweetened, with a vague hint of mint. "It'll be poetry, Spock," he said. "Traditional. I saw a number of tables of this type in the women's quarters at the palace of the Imperial Grand Duke."
Spock looked up, startled. "You have had occasion to visit the Imperial Palace! Fascinating. The women's quarters, you say? Yes, that explains a good deal… it appears to be a love poem."
Jim hastily hid his face in the black cup, and ended up drinking the rest of his water in a single swallow. "Yes," he said, "I've had it read to me, but I don't recall the title. This particular poem is--" he was getting ahead of himself if he planned to stick to Tellarite tradition. Was that the waiter with a tray approaching? The dark blue had faded across the sky like water on blotting paper, and the bay was turning rosy. The colored light limned the blond and black wood of the table like a silk table scarf. "--a traditional one," he finished slowly.
A black eyebrow climbed like a wing towards Spock's hair. "A traditional poem for," he said with understandable confusion, "tables?"
Jim found himself caressing the edge of the table absently. It wasn't quite glossy, but had a natural smooth-worn sheen due to the wood itself, not any artificial treatment. He smiled up at Spock again. "No," he said, "not… exactly." And leaned back for the waiter.
Spock did as well, but his eyes had sharpened and he was studying Jim intently. His eyes didn't waver from Jim's face. Jim forced himself to relax, palms up on his thighs, and return the scrutiny.
Spock was curious, fully alert, thinking as fast as he could with all his Vulcan faculties and, Jim suspected, all his human intuition. There was the crease of a little frown between his eyebrows. His lips were nearly relaxed, just slightly firmed.
This time there were two waiters, one for each side of the table. Jim hadn't had time to read anything about it since he'd made up his mind this morning, what with impromptu research into Silissan (and then Vulcan) anatomy, his lectures, and the tactical computer. The first waiter leaned over Jim's shoulder, and his companion stood by Spock's left elbow. They each got a wide platter with something pale green that steamed faintly, and had the consistency of some sort of cooked grain, a cold cake wrapped in thin gauzy layers of wide black leaves, breaded stems of vegetables, and a thick hot soup in small black bowls. The plates were square, with barely any lip, arranged like works of art.
And there were the blue-stemmed goblets, somewhat larger than Jim remembered, with wide bulbous cups narrowing and flaring out to the lip, sitting on slender straight stems. The first waiter poured brandy into the goblets one at a time, until they were half-full, while the second intoned a rhyme in a low growling voice.
Jim couldn't recall ever having seen Spock so still before. He remained unmoving for an interminable ten or twenty seconds after the waiters withdrew--Jim thought--but he found himself pinned like an insect, trapped with his eyes locked to Spock's, and the moment stretched out painfully, pulling tight as a drum till Spock moved, and it shattered like crystal on the slate floor of the balcony.
"Fascinating," he said. "I assume it is inappropriate to drink yet?"
"The water," Jim replied, relaxing again. He would have known if Spock was angry.
Spock nodded, and took a sip.
The cakes wrapped in black leaves were salty and exceptionally strong; the soup was thick, and hot, very creamy, and overpoweringly sweet. Jim regarded the smooth dome of pale green and its garnish of a single white blossom doubtfully. It had a faint delicate aroma.
Face drawn in thoughtful lines, Spock held a vegetable stick up between two fingers. It was nearly transparent, and trapped a tiny core of sunset to glow orange in its center before he took a bite. "I believe these are intended as a palate cleanser."
Jim followed his example and found them crisp, watery and very light. He ate three, hardly noticing or tasting, and had to consciously slow to savor the last.
"An intriguing mix of flavors, Jim." His face was veiled in shadow, faintly outlined in the dying light. An old-fashioned oil lamp in the center of the table flared to life with lamps all across the balcony.
"What would you say are the logically essential elements of a good marriage?"
He took a slow bite of the pale green dish. "A most interesting problem, Admiral." Jim raised his eyebrow, but let that "Admiral" pass. "Mutual admiration is necessary."
Jim had leaned forward over the table and propped his elbow on the edge. He had the goblet in his hand and swirled the contents idly, so the brandy caught light and threw it back to him. "An emotion, Spock? What about Vulcan marriages?"
"Jim," he said solemnly. "You are well aware that Vulcans are not entirely immune to emotion."
With difficulty, Jim prevented himself from laughing. "Experiencing emotions and requiring affection from one's partner are two different things. You claim that a good Vulcan marriage cannot exist on the basis of tolerance, acceptance, and logical compatibility alone?"
"Since affection is the inevitable and intrinsic result of the combination of these logical factors in all races I know of, the distinction is immaterial."
Jim smiled at his plate, not quite trusting himself to smile at Spock and breathe at the same time. He took another bite and noted absently that his heart rate was only minutely elevated. "Go on."
Spock hesitated. "Complete, unquestioning trust. Any flaw may be fatal; in certain situations, any hesitation may become a flaw."
Jim nodded. "Implicit and immediate trust."
"Exactly." He paused. "Commitment--" another pause. "On Vulcan, marriages exist on a permanent basis due to a biological imperative, but this is not the case for other races. In human society, partnership contracts may be dissolved by mutual agreement."
"But can we say they are dissolved without damage?" said Jim.
"It is true that permanent partnerships are considered the ideal in ninety-one point three five percent of species, but this does not dictate the percentage of successful permanent partnerships. Vulcan biology--specifically, the brain anatomy associated with the telepathic ability--requires a fixed anchor in another being without which illness, insanity, or death may result. In many cases humans who are well past the point of physical maturity experience profound alterations of personality which render existing partnerships non-functional, so that dissolving them produces less damage than leaving them intact."
"'Growing apart,'" Jim supplied. "But once a pair of telepaths are mentally linked, any mental change in one inevitably affects the other as well."
Spock agreed. "Vulcan biology protects against the contingency of personalities growing incompatible, though it cannot prevent them from changing entirely. In the case of Vulcans, the damage from a dissolved mental link would be equally harmful to both parties. The link itself allows a constant exchange which prevents one partner or the other from changing independently. 'Growing apart' is unheard of."
"So Vulcans don't really prove an exception to the rule."
"No," Spock agreed, "our evolution has prevented the issue from arising. I would say that lifelong commitment is not essential to a good marriage as a general rule, but lifelong commitment between two individuals is essential, with the understanding that a profound change in personality produces a 'new individual.'"
Jim nodded. "Anything else?"
"Equality is certainly necessary."
"Equality of station, you mean, to eliminate the possibility of coercion," said Jim slyly.
Spock, jabbed, never failed to protest. "Equality within the relationship, so that each contributes and receives in equal value, though they will likely offer different strengths."
"Compensating for each other's weaknesses, and so on." Spock inclined his head, and his eyelashes drooped slightly to shadow his eyes. He took another bite, his lips closing around the fork as the deepening dusk closed its petals around them. There! Jim had known his breathing couldn't stay even forever. "What about sexual attraction?"
"It is not essential, Jim. Successful marriages may exist between injured or otherwise incompatible individuals, and certainly do not need to be monogamous. Only thirty point eight five percent of Vulcan marriages and only seventy six point nine percent of successful human marriages are monogamous. Rather, it is essential only that both partners be allowed according to mutually agreeable terms to find satisfaction--emotionally, sexually, intellectually, in any requirement--so that neither is tempted to seek a new partner."
He found himself meeting Spock's gaze squarely, and thought he felt his face melting into something--a smile, a frown. Jim looked down at the table, swirled the brandy twice. "So the essentials of a marriage are mutual admiration, affection, and total trust; permanence; equality within the relationship; and satisfaction with one's partner to the total exclusion, or irrelevance, of all others," he said softly. Irrelevance. That was it.
"Jim." He looked up to find Spock bending close over the table, seeking his gaze. Their eyes met and locked. Spock cleared his throat, without looking away. "Agreed."
And suddenly Jim wondered difficulty his imagination had created to float in the air between them. There was nothing to fear from the truth. The night closed softly around them; the sunset faded to a ruby pool in the polished center of the table, and Jim smiled, and Spock almost, almost smiled back at him. Jim laughed. "Spock," he said in a confiding tone, and paused to taste it on his tongue--"Spock, I believe we're married."
Spock dropped his gaze to the table, raised it again before Jim could look away: "Jim, I would venture to suggest that that has been the case for twelve years, two months, and six standard days." Jim was surprised to hear it calculated so exactly--stated so exactly with no pause for calculation, rather. He didn't know why he was surprised, and he certainly shouldn't have been, but he found himself laughing and near the verge of tears.
Spock smiled. "Damn you!" Jim lifted the goblet to his lips and took a drink, and held it across the table to Spock's lips. "You knew, and you didn't tell me!"
He drained Jim's goblet; neither of them spilled a drop. Then he took a drink from his own, rose gracefully to his feet, and stepped around the small table, until Jim could feel the heat radiating from his body, smell him, and nearly taste him.
Jim looked up over his shoulder to see Spock standing there just as he had so many times for so many years. He had a sudden tingling fancy that cables of light, or energy, connected them at the jaw, the shoulder, the wrist, the hip.
Spock pressed the goblet to Jim's lips and he closed his eyes and drained it free-handed while he rose to his feet with Spock's free hand hovering at his elbow, barely brushing the sleeve of his uniform jacket. He hardly knew what he was doing, but it really happened too quickly to care.
The Tellarite brandy pooled like red sunset in the center of your tongue even after you'd drunk it, and tingled a light effervescent path down your throat. It only burned in the brandy's wake. The goblet clicked onto the table and they began the process of pressing all the points of their bodies together starting with their still-damp lips. Spock tasted like brandy, and like--like--
--it only burned in the wake of the kiss. Their mouths slid open a little unevenly, broken pressure. It was wetter and softer than he expected, but Spock's lips were firm, and narrow, and sensuous, and he'd been right, he knew the shape of them by heart. Their noses bumped, and Spock's arm slid behind Jim's back. Their cheeks brushed, their chests pressed together, shoulders almost level, even though Jim had to tilt his head back. Spock opened his mouth and tilted his head, seeking, and crushed Jim to him very effectively with what was probably less than a third of the superhuman strength in his arms.
There was always the curious sense, in a kiss, of pressing slowly and ever-so-slightly closer together. And, naturally, the paradoxical frustration of getting nowhere. But when Spock pulled back a little and regarded him gravely, gripping his arms by the very wrinkled elbows, they had changed nothing, really, and everything, too. He turned around, his hand hovering at Spock's elbow, and found their waiter waiting. He bestowed upon him a dazzling smile and a credit chit.
They walked through the darkened streets, and their sleeves occasionally brushed companionably. Jim relaxed and let himself take in the night and the slight scent of Spock beside him.
"Possibly," Spock said drily when Jim paused at the top of a hill to gaze back over their path, "I was too hasty in my use of the word 'satisfied.'"
"Surely impatience is illogical?"
"It is. But I doubt, Jim, that I will ever find myself satisfied beyond the desire for--if you will excuse the expression--'more.'"
"Certainly not." He stopped Spock, and turned to press another kiss, short and secretive, to the cool waiting lips (although perhaps it became less short than had been his original intent, with his fingers curling sharply into the fabric of Spock's sleeves, and Spock cradling the back of Jim's head in both hands). He wasted no thought on the paradox.