The usual: I own nothing, read and review?

This came from a line I wanted to expound upon. That's all.

House of Cards

It was irritating. The hairs raised on the back of neck as he felt the Vulcan watching them. He guessed "subtle" was not in Spock's vocabulary. He turned away from the dismal hand he had and the two engineers across the table and to Spock. "Do you need something, Commander?"

"No," Spock answered.

Even still, he stood from his table and strode the scant distance to the poker game in-progress. Jim looked at his opponents across the table and apologized without words for the interruption. "Then what are you doing?"

"May I observe?" Spock asked.

"Sure, just sit down." Spock did as was ordered, right behind him. Spock had a prime view of his hand as he settled back comfortably into his seat. Jim looked at the other two, who didn't seem enthused by his affirmative to Spock, but it didn't matter. It wasn't like he was looking at their cards. "Shall we?" he asked them, tossing another five chips into the center, looking at the fellow to his left and saying, "I'll take that and raise you two." He glanced back at Spock to make sure he didn't give anything away.

As always, the Vulcan sat stone-faced as though nothing in the world could faze him. He simply looked intrigued, as he did when the second player placed a bet and the third folded with the declaration that the captain and his coworker were too rich for him. Jim smiled at him and then looked back at his challenger.

Jim didn't know how good he was at the game itself, but he could bluff his step-dad out of his car keys when he was nine, so a couple of Starfleet engineers were easy-pickings as far as he was concerned. When Jim went all in, the engineer folded and Jim took all. Just as they were about to start again, Scotty called up.

"Matheson, Kang, report to Engineering."

The two made apologies, collected their chips—they didn't mean anything in this game anyway—and walked out the door and away. Jim watched them and, when they were out-of-sight, Spock turned to him.

"Captain," he said.

"What is it?" Jim asked, gathering the cards into his hand and the shuffling them.

As he bridged them, Spock said, "You had nothing."

"I know." Jim spread the cards out in front of him, flipped them over, then stacked them back in front of him, drawing two cards from the top. Another fifteen minutes before he was back on the bridge…

"You should not have won; you didn't even have a pair of twos."

So Spock knew his poker-hands, Jim thought with a slight smile as he leaned the two cards against one another. Another two cards came off the top of the deck and leaned together next to the two he'd already set up. He'd been doing this since he was nine, too. "You don't always need to have a winning hand to win, Spock. You bluff."

"You could have easily lost everything."

"You're forgetting something," Jim said, and left Spock to try to figure out what he was forgetting. Jim knew he wouldn't get it, but he let him think anyway. It was sort of hilarious to watch him, thinking, especially when he was convinced someone else knew something he didn't. He had a layer of cards now, all leaning against one another, with cards on top of them. He was ready to start on the second level.

"And what would that be, Captain?" Spock asked.

"That I won anyway."

Spock shook his head, apparently thinking very hard. So hard, Jim was sure if he actually had gears in that head of his he would have heard them clicking. He grinned and set up the second level on his simplistic house of cards.

"Now what are you doing?" If Jim didn't know better, he might have thought that Spock was irritated.

"Building a house of cards."

There was a short silence before Spock informed him, "Your 'house of cards,' as you put it, is structurally unsound. It would fall if you only breathed on it." Jim smiled and carefully put another card in his "house."

Just as he put another card down, the door slid open and, as Spock had predicted, the slightest breath of air knocked his little house of cards over. "Maybe that's why I built it." It might have sounded totally illogical to Spock. Actually, it was probably just totally illogical no matter who was looking at it.

Spock furrowed those Vulcan brows and stared even harder when Jim started to rebuild. One card leaning on another, each held up by the feeble strength of cardstock.

"You build it because it easily falls?" he said.

That did sound pretty stupid, even Jim had to admit. He took a card from the bottom of one side of the triangle house. Immediately, the rest of the cards fell flat and he picked them up one at a time. "I don't know why people build houses of cards, Spock." Because they were difficult to keep standing? It was as good a reason as any. He looked at Spock and smiled. "It's illogical."

Spock stood, looking at the cards, and then made to leave. Jim watched him. That was the problem with Humans. So many things were illogical. But they made sense all the same.

The sidewalk was deserted. On a usual day, this would have been unusual. But today it seemed right. Not normal, but right. Buildings didn't seem as sturdy anymore. Lives were just that much more fragile. Whatever lines had been drawn to keep life going along in pleasant little lanes had been erased and rubble was everywhere. Even next to his boots, dusty boots, bits of concrete and metal littered the sidewalk.

Spock looked around and realized how outrageous it was that this little bench he sat on had survived. It seemed random: what had survived once the dust settled. This little square park made of decorative tile and concrete, a few boxed trees, a garbage bin, and this bench. This little square had survived while a garage had been half-reduced to rubble on the next block over.

He wasn't surprised. Planets could be wiped from star-maps with the single stroke of a mad man. Cities were not quite as hard. Buildings and people fell next in line. He rose from the bench and watched the rescue crews searching for life-signs from a distance. They had told him to go, leave; he wasn't needed, he was in the way. He had his own battles to fight, as these combat boots testified.

He took a few steps closer and stopped. A piece of a floor, a concrete floor a foot thick with rebar sticking out of all sides bent and burnt, sat leaning on the remains of another bench, one that hadn't made it. Maybe someone had been standing right there on the edge. Maybe they were gone.

Like the benches, he couldn't predict which ones made it.

It looked like someone had just pulled the floor out and left it here. The whole city, maybe, was a house of cards. It was easy to pull the floor out, remove the walls, cause the whole thing to come crashing down. It was alright, though; cards could be set back up. Buildings could be built again.

Lost lives couldn't be found, though.

"I have never seen you so lost."

Spock spun. "Father?"

What was he doing here? Once an ambassador, always an ambassador; perhaps he'd been here the whole time. The possibility that Sarek could have died here with countless citizens rendered him speechless. Another random story of survival.

Sarek said nothing as he came to stand beside him and Spock suddenly felt the need to explain himself. He was standing here as though there were nothing to do when the exact opposite was true. "I was helping crews search for wounded when they sent me away. I am lost," he said, "because there is nothing for me to do."

"I see."

And still with all this technology that they thought made them strong…

No. Invincible. Really, it had caused all this. Weapons revived from wars a century ago. New ones made. For every step forward in strength, they were matched by their own fragility. "It likely wouldn't matter. Most of those we found were dead."

Sarek looked at him out of the corner of his eye, and then looked back at the rubble. "Humans are not as strong as we are."

If Spock were inclined to such things, he would have laughed. But he wasn't, and this was no time for laughing, anyway. How could he say that, after—he must have known what had happened. There wasn't a "we" to Sarek anymore. If there was, Spock certainly wasn't involved in it.

Spock didn't take his eyes off the crew descending upon the pile of rubble that was once an administrative building for Starfleet. "Have you ever built a house of cards?"

Sarek's confusion very well answered the question, but he said anyway, "No."

Well, that was a lie. Hadn't they all? "I have."


Jim looked up from his book, an exultation of thanks almost overwhelming him to shout at the being standing in his doorway to, please, come on in! It might not have mattered who it was. It just happened to be Spock, so Jim managed to tone it down and just smile. Spock was still teetering on the edge of Vulcan insanity.

Which was just another way of saying Humanity.

"Hello, Spock. You can call me Jim, you know. We aren't on the Enterprise."

It wasn't what they were saying; it was what they weren't saying. At the end of the day, Jim didn't care what Spock called him and Spock knew the difference between on duty and off. No, this was a battle of wills of a sort, and Jim supposed he would eventually lose this one. Rather, switch his will, not lose. But not today.

It was his way of saying he wasn't captain; he didn't want the responsibility right now. Of course, Spock's calling him captain was just his way of saying that Jim would inevitably be captain again. Spock needed that certainty like Jim needed a break. Jim just didn't want to think about going back today. He'd only just woken up earlier this week. Only started seeing again two days after that. Still hadn't gotten over Khan's blood mingling with his own. Perhaps medically mundane but the implications were disgusting.

Spock didn't say anything. He just stood there, hands behind his back.

"What's going on?" he asked.

Spock said nothing. Again. This time he took a step into the room and looked around as though he was worried someone else was there. Did he honestly think that he would be sitting here reading a stupid book if there was someone here? What book even was this? He flopped the cover back over his hand and looked at it.

"Nothing," Spock answered finally. "Repairs on the Enterprise are going according to schedule."

"Good." He nodded. There seemed nothing else to say about that…

Spock went to the bedside and pulled a chair over, sat down. Jim watched him and then set his book on the shelf behind him. Seriously, where did he get a book about Warp Theory and Time Travel? Maybe he'd need it someday… He had distracted himself with the book long enough for Spock to bring a deck of cards from behind his back and hold them out to him.

Jim took them and frowned at them. "Thanks?" he said, not sure what else to say.

Maybe playing solitaire would be more entertaining than reading books he could only assume Scotty had brought as a get well present. It was inspiring, though. As long as he was in a hospital bed, he had no excuse not to read them. Sorry, Scotty, I've just been so damn busy. That didn't work here.

"I've said a Vulcan cannot lie, but I am willing to try poker." He squinted at the book, then added, "Unless you are more interested in warp theory."

"No!" Jim answered, perhaps a little too enthusiastically because Spock's eyebrow did that thing again. "Who doesn't love warp theory?"

He tried to keep a straight face as he opened the cards and Spock pulled a rolling table between himself and the table. Vulcans weren't usually well-versed in sarcasm, but that was a language Spock knew very well. He'd heard even Spock could spit "live long and prosper" at his elders if the occasion demanded it.

Spock watched as Jim dealt the cards and then picked them up. His face stayed perfectly Vulcan: emotionless. If he had a good set of cards, Jim couldn't tell. If only Vulcans knew what excellent liars they'd make…

The game went on rather quietly. They didn't have any chips so they bet pain pills instead. Spock was at first repulsed by the implication, but Jim promised him he wouldn't let Spock just walk out with them. They were his, thank you very much. Not that he needed them. Just in case, Bones had said. Just in case of what? Khan's murderous blood tried killing him again?

It turned out that Spock wasn't a good liar. That was no surprise. If he had been… well, lots of things might not have happened. On the other hand… most Vulcans were very good liars: a fact they didn't broadcast. They always said Vulcans couldn't lie, but that was the lie. He wondered how many of them had wanted to laugh or weep and kept it hidden.

Even though Jim had nothing, as was apparently often the case in poker, but he tried bluffing his way to winning again: a tactic Spock saw coming. Jim went all in with his pain medication and soon they were in a neat little heap at Spock's elbow, his five pathetic cards sitting next to each other. He had a pair of twos this time.

Spock glared up at him. He pulled the cards into his hand and carefully separated them into even decks. Jim wouldn't have been surprised if there were exactly twenty-one in each hand. "Why do you insist on betting everything when you know you have no chance of winning?"

Jim shrugged. "It's in my nature." He wanted to say something to justify it, but couldn't think of anything. If Spock was trying to teach him a lesson—surely he knew that couldn't be done. He'd continue to risk and win, like this time he'd won in the end again. Maybe winning was in his nature as much as betting it all. Maybe he was lucky. Maybe the universe just liked him.

Spock snapped the cards together and the fell in, one after another. It was a little clumsy, obvious he'd only just learned how to shuffle. He shoved the cards back into a single deck and sat them in the middle of the table. He stared at them, and so did Jim.

Then, one by one, he picked up cards and leaned them against one another. Building a house of cards. It was going to be a small one, only three levels high, but he was very precise about it. Every time he put a card down, leaning one against the other it just sat there. It seemed pretty sturdy, what with exacting Vulcan card-architecture, but not so much so it would never fall. They always fell eventually.

"What are you doing?"

"Building a house of cards."

"I can see that." When he waited for the Vulcan to explain himself, he didn't. He just went along with the little card house and, soon, was almost finished. "Why?"

"Celebration of metaphors."

Jim frowned and Spock put the two last cards on top. "Excuse me?"

Spock stood and looked at the house for a moment and then said, "I have to go back to my duties." He put another deck of cards on the table carefully beside the ones leaning on one another and then went toward the door. Before he exited, he turned back momentarily. "I have discovered something while you were absent, Captain."

Well, if Spock was trying to surprise him, that ship had pretty much sailed. "And what is that, Spock?" he asked, throwing his hands up a little in exasperation and confusion.

"The reason people build the card houses." He looked from Jim to the house. "It's illogical. But they build them to see how long they can keep them standing."

"They can't stand forever," Jim warned. If this was a metaphor, he had no idea what was worth celebrating about it.

"No." Spock nodded in agreement. "But Humans like a challenge." They were both quiet, then, mostly because Jim had no earthly idea what Spock was talking about. Spock started to leave again, leaving him along with the extra deck and the card house. "Captain?"

"What is it?" Jim sighed.

Just before he disappeared out the doorway, he said, "Try to keep it standing."