To Begin Anew


Pat Foley

The boy huddled, kneeling, on the far side of the bed that he dared not sleep in, shivering in his shabby coveralls. His eyes were glued to the door; his tapered ears strained to hear the movements and sounds below. The floor of the room was littered with circuit boards and solid logic devices. Transparent fiber connected them to tricorders whose readouts winked in the late afternoon winter gloom, but the boy ignored them. From below there was a crash, and a loud cursing.PRIVATE

"Damn it all! Where the hell is that brandy!"

Spock flinched and crouched closer to the bed as the footsteps drew closer, then straightened back up on his knees, straining to hear, as the sounds moved farther away. If Jim would just get drunk enough to fall asleep. Or better yet leave, even to get more brandy. There was another loud crash, closer now, and Spock started involuntarily, banging his broken wrist against the bed next to him. He closed his eyes tightly against the tears threatening to slip from his lashes, and tightened the fingers of his good hand around his wrist, seeking to numb the pain he could not control. The effort was fruitless, and Spock sunk down to a cross-legged position on the cold floor, cradling the injured arm in his lap, rocking back and forth for the scant comfort the action gave him, lips pressed tightly together against any betraying sound. He froze when the front door slammed. Outside, there was the unmistakable sound of an aircar's ignition. Heedless of the icy feel of the hardwood floorboards on his bare feet, Spock crossed to the window and peered cautiously out, careful to keep his face hidden. The aircar lights showed dimly through the thickly falling snow; the wind dropped briefly, giving Spock a clearer look at the foot high accumulation and the wind-cut drifts, before it rose to lash more snow against the windows. Spock drew back reflexively from the panes, then stood turned to stare at the cluttered room. So he was alone for now, and relatively safe.

But safe to do what? The subspace transmitter was now irretrievably broken. Spock shivered as he recalled the aftereffects of his one aborted attempt to get help, help for Jim as well as himself. He had no idea whom to turn to on Earth. He was too far from any civilized destination to reach it by foot, especially barefoot, and local authorities... Spock bit his lip, imagining what Jim would have to answer for if he put together a simple local transmitter sufficient to summon rescue. No way could he disguise or heal his injuries from Jim's last loss of control. His appearance was deceptively convincing and child abuse was a felony. He could not risk the possibility that Jim might mistakenly be so charged. Even worse was the thought of being taking into custody himself by well-meaning but ignorant Iowan authorities. To forsake, in his unshielded state, this relative isolation for the madness inducing babble of uncontrolled minds, no, it was impossible. And he knew no one else on Earth well enough to call. Starfleet would disbelieve him. If and when the facts were proven, they would only send him to Sarek. Spock sank back down on the cold floor, staring unseeing at the electronic puzzle spread out around him. An unguarded tear inched down his cheek, startling him, and he scrubbed at it angrily, irritated with his lack of control. He had no options but to wait. He'd learned too well the consequences of trying to reason with, challenge, or disobey Jim. McCoy would be here soon, McCoy would have to come, concerned about the lack of communications. And Jim's leave was almost up.

Spock closed his eyes, and rested his forehead on his knees. Hunger gnawed at his belly, but he already knew there was no food in the house, and he would not willingly go downstairs with Jim's return so uncertain. He was desperate for rest, but he dared not try the bed. Jim did not understand, did not want to understand, that he no longer had the control to go without sleep for weeks. But not since Jim had yanked him from the bed and tossed him on the floor, furious at his waste of time, had he dared again to sleep so openly. That had been the first sign of Jim's irrationality, and the drinking had started after it. Now he slept in brief catnaps, his senses always strained for Jim's approach, and in attitudes that he could at least claim he had not slept deliberately, that he had dropped off accidentally, that he had not meant to disregard his captain's impossible orders. Spock swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. He had perhaps an hour, longer of course if Jim went to sample other diversions, but there was no guarantee of that. Sometimes Jim was gone only minutes, sometime for days, but he never knew what it would be, and he'd already suffered for inaccurate assumptions. But an hour seemed a safe minimum, given the state of the blizzard outside. He could risk an hour's nap. He wrapped his left hand protectively around his injured wrist, and edged into the corner between the bed and the wall, where Jim would have most difficulty seeing him on first entering the room. Laying his uninjured cheek against his knees, he surrendered to his exhaustion.

"We're almost there, Spock." McCoy took his hand from the aircar controls to gesture at the house in the distance. Spock did not respond verbally. Since his passenger's overlong hair effectively shadowed his downcast face, McCoy couldn't tell if there was any other response. The physician swore silently to himself. Jim had a hell of a lot to answer for.

A month had passed since the mission that had resulted in Spock's transformation. Starfleet had ordered the Enterprise to investigate a scoutship's report of a planet with the considerable remains of a large, technologically sophisticated Vulcanoid society. Trying to determine if either warfare or plague had destroyed the civilization, Jim had sent in a large team of medical, scientific and security officers. The Enterprise's first officer had been part of a group checking out a medical facility. The entrance to one chamber by Spock and another scientist had activated a medical device that had apparently been intended for rejuvenation purposes. Age, the accidental inclusion of two beings, or the complications introduced by human physiology short circuited and destroyed the equipment. The other scientist, Zamconi, had died, perhaps from the device's inability to cope with his human physiology. Spock's dual physiology had apparently created some problem, for Spock had collapsed in shock. When the landing party had been recovered, McCoy had hastily put the Vulcan on full life support, stabilizing his failing body functions. When Spock had regained consciousness, his memory was unaffected, his intelligence unchanged, but the physical condition of the Enterprise's first officer had regressed to that of a child between six and eight standard years.

Damage to the equipment appeared to be irreversible, but Kirk had been intractable that a solution had to be found. When analysis on the planet of that and similar devices failed to produce a solution to reverse the process, Kirk had ordered the equipment taken aboard to be examined with the more sophisticated ship's sensors. Jim had been firmly convinced that Spock, as always, would somehow analyze and design a system to restore himself. But for the first time, the Vulcan failed to produce the requisite miracle. The rest of Spock's science staff had been baffled. McCoy, himself had spent more hours than he cared to remember trying to understand the physics of the thing, but it had been well beyond current technologies and understanding. The whole planet would become fodder for a future science expedition.

But Starfleet had been satisfied that the population had been devastated by some long mutated away plague. They ordered the Enterprise to move on. The problem remaining was what to do about Spock. Starfleet would never have permitted Spock to continue as first officer in his condition. Jim had, typically, refused to accept Spock's initial estimation of his situation as hopeless. He had delayed filing the report concerning Spock's part in the accident, and was technically in violation of several Starfleet regulations. To buy time, Jim had arranged a month's leave for both of them. Jim had often talked about taking home leave in Iowa with Spock, and now talked persuasively about the isolation and privacy of the farm. There were few things Kirk couldn't get when he turned on the full weight of the Kirk charm, and Spock had finally capitulated. McCoy, who had seen Jim manage to turn around more than one 'hopeless' situation, had closed his eyes, lost a few medical logs, and hoped for another miracle. He had considerable reservations about the situation. But since Jim's mother had died a year ago, the farmstead was empty, and the farm, almost totally automated, secluded and very private. McCoy was unsure about it's suitability as a place for private research, but for two friends to deal with a personal problem, it would serve. He suspected, in the privacy of his own mind, that Jim has chosen his own home, knowing quite well that he might be saying his farewells to Spock there. And they would be near Starfleet HQ when McCoy was sure the inevitable decision would have to be made.

Jim had sent a tape when they'd arrived, and then another a few days later, both optimistic and hopeful. And then McCoy had heard nothing. Before Jim's leave expired he'd arranged to take his own leave and arrived at the Kirk farm. What he'd found he'd half expected, half dreaded, and found too true.

Kirk, with his excellence at command and his undaunted charm, so capable at demanding and receiving the best from his crew, had never handled failure well. McCoy had personal experience with how easily he could manipulate the crew to get what he wanted. What was known to only a few of his senior officers was how potential failure brought out a ruthless, almost vicious streak in their Captain. McCoy know, from some of Kirk's shame-faced confessions, that Spock had previous experience with that side of their captain. Even when it affected only the outcome of a minor mission, Kirk obsession with success could border on the unbearable. Now that Kirk was seeing his command team, the very fabric of his command, threatened by this failure, McCoy had a fair idea of how he would react at his worst. He'd been hoping that, in fairness to his friendship to Spock, Kirk would manage to rise above his nature. But when he arrived at the Kirk farm, two days before Kirk had to assume command, having been unable to contact either of the pair for the last three weeks, he was steeled for anything.

McCoy landed his aircar in an empty hanger. The place seemed deserted, but the front door opened to his touch. The living room was empty. McCoy noticed the signs of solitary, unhappy drinking; several bottles stood open on tables, in one corner a glass had been thrown and smashed. The smell of alcohol was strong. McCoy had been about to call out, but now he felt unsure about rousing anything in this house. He went into the kitchen, which showed signs of more of the same activities. An open ice bucket, half full of water, and a few more bottles. McCoy opened the refrigerator curiously. A case and a half of beer, and some condiments. No food at all. McCoy frowned. He remembered how he cautioned Kirk about the proper feeding of a Vulcan, knowing Spock would ignore all such 'mundane' distractions until the scientific problems were solved. Kirk, had laughingly disclaimed the need for such knowledge, confident that Spock would soon be himself.

McCoy turned and mounted the steps. "Spock? Spock, it's McCoy. Are you here?" He opened a few doors on empty rooms. "Jim?" He flung open another door to find a virtual mess, unlike either Jim or Spock's quarters. The bedclothes were in a tumble; man-size jeans and shirts littered the floor, and in one corner was tossed a command gold uniform. The shirt was ripped. McCoy swallowed and entered cautiously, walking around the bed to check out the floor on the its other side. It was empty, save for a half full brandy bottle. McCoy's temper, already primed, was finally fueled.

He stormed out of the room, tripping over the mess on the floor. "Spock. Spock, if you're here, damn it, I know you can hear me. Answer me for god's sake." He flung open another door and stopped short, grabbing the door frame to keep from tipping forward. The floor was covered with a mass of circuit boards and wiring he'd nearly stepped on. Beyond it, kneeling on the floor and watching him with wary eyes, was Spock. He was thinner than when he'd left the Enterprise. His hair was long and incongruously tousled. He seemed exhausted, fatigue clearing showing in dark circles under his eyes. And there were other shadows across Spock's pale face. But what bothered McCoy most was the total lack of welcome in Spock's expression. He looked at McCoy without speaking, almost without recognition.

"Spock." McCoy paused, but the Vulcan neither moved nor reacted. He seemed to have suspended breathing. "You might say hello or something. This is a hell of a greeting."

Spock seemed to shake himself, and rose slowly. "Forgive me, Dr. McCoy. I --" Spock looked down and stopped, words failing him.

McCoy looked him over critically. Spock was wearing the same fatigues he'd left the ship in, much the worse for wear. "Where's Jim?"

Spock shook his head. "I do not know."

"What the hell's been going on here?"

"Jim," Spock paused, "has not been well."

McCoy though that was one of Spock's finer Vulcan understatements. "When will he be back?"

Spock shook his head again. "He has not been here for several days."

"Did you see him then?"

"I heard him." Spock looked at him with an oddly blank expression. "I did not go down."

McCoy though of the drunken mess downstairs and silently agreed with Spock's decision. "Why didn't you call Spock? I would have come sooner."

"The transmitter is damaged." Spock said hesitantly.

McCoy frowned, studying the mess of components on the floor of the room. They were hooked up to pieces of the alien device, but they were ample evidence of Spock's abilities. "So broken you couldn't fix it?"

"Several essential components were irretrievably sma -- damaged. I was attempting to circumvent or replace them --" Spock's voice had been getting smaller. He stopped, as if too tired to explain further. McCoy didn't need him to anyway. He could see the whole impossible situation Spock had been trying to deal with, as if it were stamped in the exhaustion on Spock's face.

"I understand." Spock looked at him mutely and then looked away. The nape of his neck, bare when he bowed his head, looked painfully vulnerable. McCoy's sharp eyes suddenly spied another oddity. Spock's right wrist had been hidden against him, on the side away from McCoy, but something bulky was tied around it, that looked suspiciously like a bandage. McCoy reached for it. "What's happened to your arm?"

Spock flinched away before he could touch it, raising it instinctively away from McCoy. After a moment's tension, Spock capitulated and surrendered the limb for McCoy's inspection. McCoy undid the clumsy attempt at restraint, noting clearly the discoloration and swelling, and ran light deft fingers over it, unmistakably identifying the unhealed fracture. McCoy looked down at Spock. "You got this trying to use the transmitter?"

Spock nodded silently.

McCoy sighed. "I haven't got the equipment to set it properly here. I wanted to talk to Jim, but it could be hours before he returns. We'll leave for Georgia now."

Spock looked up at him worriedly. "Jim will --"

"We'll leave him a message." McCoy interrupted. The look Spock fixed him with was clearly troubled. McCoy sighed. "Don't worry, Spock. Jim may be tying one on now, but he isn't going to miss his recall from leave. It would take more than alcohol to affect his command conditioning. He'll be back on the Enterprise on time."

The look on Spock's face was unidentifiable, but after a moment he said, "I believe you are correct."

"Gather whatever you need Spock. This," McCoy gestured at the equipment littering the floor, "can wait, right? I assume Jim can ship it to us. It's too big for the aircar."

Spock went to a control panel and flipped several switches. The machines' quiet humming faded into silence. "I do not think waiting will make a difference."

McCoy interpreted the bleak statement correctly. He didn't know how to answer it. He didn't know what Spock wanted for his future. There would be time to discuss that later. Now, it seemed to him that Spock had more immediate needs to attend to. Besides medical treatment, it was perfectly obvious that even simple needs like rest and decent food were impossible to come by here. And there was a chill in the air, even through his thick coat, a chill he'd first attributed to his own uneasiness and tension. "Why is it so cold in here?"

"I believe the furnace has run out of fuel." Spock said matter of factly. "This dwelling's automatic systems are rather archaic, and maintain only the minimum temperature required to prevent residential damage."

McCoy swallowed hard and turned away. "Get your things, Spock. I'll write the note for Jim."

Spock appeared in the kitchen where he was scribbling a message for Jim, holding nothing but a tricorder, presumably containing his research.

"That's it?"


He could at least have gotten you a change of clothes, McCoy fumed silently. Then he realized something. "Spock, it's freezing cold outside. Don't you even have a coat? And where are your boots?"

"I do not have them anymore." something in his expression warned McCoy not to trespass. I will be perfectly all right for the distance to the aircar."

McCoy looked for a coat in the closets by the doors but they were empty. "I'm not having you catch pneumonia on top of everything else. I'll go ahead and warm up the aircar."

He opened the front door and attached the note securely before starting the close it. Spock slipped outside with him. McCoy caught his shoulders, feeling him begin to shiver in the cutting breeze. "Stay inside, Spock. I'll be right back." He met Spock's eyes, expecting to see his usual stubbornness, but Spock met his with an anxious desperation McCoy had never seen before. He closed his own eyes briefly against it and pushed Spock back inside. "I'll be right back," he repeated and then he shut the door.

He ran for the aircar, started it, and turned the heat up full blast. Gunning the motor was easy, backing out of the hanger took a few more minutes; after so many years on ship, McCoy's flying skills were rusty, and haste made him clumsy. He kept seeing the stricken look on Spock's face as he'd shut the door. He pulled up as close to the entrance as he dared, took off his coat preparatory to flinging it around Spock, and opened the door. Spock was standing exactly where McCoy had left him, his face blank. McCoy called his name but he didn't respond. He bundled him into the too big coat and carried him to the aircar. They took off in an expensive burst of fuel that would have done Jim proud.

McCoy glanced over at Spock. The Vulcan stayed where he'd been put, as unmoving as a rag doll. McCoy didn't think that was good, but he felt Spock was more than entitled to a little emotional exhaustion, after what he'd been through. Since psychotherapy in midair was more than he felt capable of, he concentrated on putting miles between them and Iowa. After a while, Spock appeared to have fallen asleep.

McCoy had just crossed into Georgia when they were caught in a speed trap. He swore and pulled down to the ground at the burst of sirens and lights behind him. McCoy's clumsy landing jarred the sleeping Vulcan right off the seat onto the aircar floor. Spock landed forcefully on his injured arm, and cried out Jim's name in a way that would have told McCoy volumes if he hadn't already discerned them. McCoy hastily picked Spock off the floor, explained the situation in a few words, and suggested Spock keep quiet and pretend to be asleep. He turned to the officer coming up beside them, citation pad in hand, punching up McCoy's license on the compad.

"Physician ought not to be speeding, Dr. McCoy. Unless you're going to tell me you're on the way to some emergency."

"I'm very sorry." McCoy said as contritely as he knew how. Beside him Spock was frozen into stillness.

"Yes, sir. After you ignore three traffic beacons, they send me out. You must've deactivated your safety systems, or you would've heard the warnings. Don't do to be speeding with a child in the car." The cop peered into the dimness. "And Georgia takes pride in its child safety law. That child ought to be in a safety web. Twenty five credit fine for having your safety systems deactivated with a child in the car, Dr. McCoy," the officer said, punching up the citation.

Beside him, Spock suddenly spoke. "It was my fault. I wouldn't wear it."

McCoy looked at Spock repressively, and Spock froze, fear flickering unmistakably in the depths of his eyes. He shrank back into the aircar seat, into the concealing folds of McCoy's coat, melting in the darkness. McCoy frowned at that reaction, but he couldn't pursue it, not with an officer standing across from him. The officer in question tore the ticket fax off the output pad and handed it to McCoy. "Well, your daddy gets the fine regardless. We adults got to be responsible, right, Dr. McCoy? How else do our children get to be responsible? No more speeding, Dr. McCoy. Y'got to set a good example for the boy. And make sure you activate those safety systems. Y'all have a safe trip now."

The officer sauntered back to his cruiser and took off with a flash of lights and a roar of engine. McCoy folded the citation carefully and sat still, staring at it. Beside him, Spock moved. McCoy turned to see Spock reach over and tentatively push the incriminating panel McCoy had overlooked. McCoy sighed and tossed the ticket on the dash. "Welcome to Georgia, Spock."

Since the traffic violation Spock hadn't spoken another word, though McCoy knew he wasn't asleep. McCoy was relieved, at least partially, at the sight of 'home'. It had been a while since he'd thought of it that way, but now it was definitely a haven in need. He'd asked the caretaker to reopen the house, and his instructions had apparently been followed. The entrance lights were on, and as McCoy approached, the house computer turned the drive lights on. McCoy ignored the opening hanger doors, preferring to park the aircar directly in front of the house. McCoy's coat had slipped from Spock's shoulders, but McCoy decided not to fuss. Georgia was nippy in November, but it was no Iowa. McCoy exited the aircar and turned to help Spock out and almost bowled him over, so close had the Vulcan followed him, showing the same reluctance to be left in the aircar as he'd been to be left in the farmhouse. McCoy didn't comment, he lifted Spock down, laid a hand on Spock's shivering shoulder for the short walk across the yard, palmed the front door and ushered Spock in.

Once in, McCoy took Spock's tricorder and coat, and turned up the heat a little. Spock was still shivering, though McCoy thought it was as much fatigue and pain as cold. "Let's get your wrist fixed up first, then we'll see about supper." McCoy led Spock to the side of the house, and flicked on the lights of a room that was a combination of both well-equipped surgery and a museum of odd and old surgical instruments. McCoy turned to see Spock paused just inside the doorway, his expression non-plussed, one hand holding his broken wrist, staring wide-eyed at a collection of rather barbaric instruments in a display across the room.

"I won't be using any of those." McCoy said lightly.

Spock looked at him, his expression still blank.

"Collection of my Daddy's. He was a doctor too. Come here, Spock."

After a moment, Spock took a deep breath and crossed the room. McCoy picked him up to put him on the exam table. Under the tense muscles, he was still shivering. McCoy found a scanner he could calibrate to Spock's physiology and ran it over him, frowning at the result. "When was the last time you had something to eat?"

Spock didn't answer, his face still oddly without expression. McCoy took Spock's broken wrist in his hand. Spock didn't move. McCoy gently pried the fingers of Spock's left hand away from it, and pushed the arm down to his side. The fingers clutched the edge of the table. McCoy put the imaging scanners on, scowling a little at the outdated equipment. The fracture wasn't quite in alignment, setting it was bound to hurt. Glancing at Spock's white face and drawn features, he decided that Spock had been dealing with a fair amount of pain for far too long already. He set a hypo for an analgesic he knew was effective for Vulcans. Unexpectedly, his patient made no comment. McCoy felt odd administering an analgesic without hearing Spock's running counterpoint about Vulcan controls for pain. The Vulcan in question ducked his head as McCoy pressed the hypospray to his arm, and after a moment he gave a deep sigh. McCoy regretted taking away the pain only to give it back in spades a moment later. He took a firm hold of the broken wrist with both hands, squinted at the image on the monitor, and glanced at Spock's face. "This will hurt for a minute."

"I know." Spock said remotely.

McCoy nodded. "Try to hold still. One, two, three." He pulled the bones into alignment with an expertness born of years of practice, scarcely noticing Spock's gasp of pain. He'd checked the setting and was slapping on a pressure dressing when he'd felt something odd as he was bandaging the wrist, a flick of moisture like a raindrop. He pulled back to look at his patient's downturned face. The scant half dozen tears he saw there gave him pause, but were more than justified in his opinion. He handed Spock a tissue without comment.

Since it had obviously been quite some time since the Vulcan had eaten any solid food, McCoy offered Spock only some clear vegetable broth. Spock ate very slowly, left-handed, his right arm still cradled protectively in his lap. His features were drawn with exhaustion and malnutrition, and his hand shook a little, but he ate with a dogged persistence, as if he were determined to finish. McCoy puzzled over the nutritional problem Spock presented. Spock's readings had been unusual. He knew the Vulcan was capable of fasting for weeks without doing irreversible damage to himself; he'd seen evidence of it in times past. Now though, Spock had some nutritional deficiencies McCoy had never seen. He was unaccountably low even on some minerals it should have taken him months to show deficiencies in and his metabolism seemed oddly accelerated. McCoy decided to feed Spock well for a few days and see how natural nutrition corrected the problem, rather than adding artificial supplements. If true to form, Spock should bounce back quickly. McCoy picked up a carton of milk. about to pour Spock a glass and hesitated, remembering Jim had been the milk drinker on their few shared shoreleaves. He'd never seen Spock touch the stuff, even in tea, his preferred beverage. McCoy had no intention of adding caffeine stimulants to Spock's already stressed metabolism, and shrugging, compromised on juice. Spock glanced up at him, startled, when McCoy set the beverage before him. McCoy frowned at this evidence of neglect, fixed himself a sandwich and coffee and sat back to consider sleeping accommodations. The house was big, but it was old and drafty. McCoy had no intentions of repeating any examples of Jim's questionable hospitality. He wanted a room for Spock as close to his own as he could get without bunking Spock with him and violating Spock's Vulcan privacy. The nearest room to the master bedroom was equipped with two fireplaces and its own balcony, perfect for Spock, except that it had once been the nursery/schoolroom. McCoy wasn't quite sure if Spock would object to that. He finally explained the choice. Spock listened quizzically, his eyes heavy with repressed sleep, obviously puzzled by McCoy's concern.

"I think you'll be more comfortable there, Spock, if you don't mind the decor. If you do, it's easy enough to switch you to another room."

Spock shook his head slowly, his exhaustion putting him beyond trivial considerations. "You know the house best. I certainly do not object to being 'comfortable', as you put it, regardless of the style of the furnishings."

"Right. Well, I just go up then, and make sure everything's ready."

Unsure of whom he would have been returning with, if anyone, McCoy had asked to have all the rooms in this wing readied, complete with fresh sheets and full fireplaces. McCoy opened the flues in Spock's room, lit both fires, and turned down one of the beds. There were two in this room, little child's beds, but one was by a window, probably draftier, and the other was in an alcove, close to one of the fireplaces. McCoy got a down comforter from a blanket chest, spread it over the quilt, and decided to start a hot bath. He went down to find Spock nodding over his scanty dinner. "You look all in, and just in time too."

Spock followed him slowly upstairs. Very slowly. McCoy wondered if weariness alone was slowing Spock's steps, or if he was dreading a potential repetition of Jim's treatment. McCoy waited at the landing, resisting the impulse to carry the Vulcan up the upper flight. He had left the door to the nursery closed. The fires were drawing well, and they walked together into a room warm enough to make McCoy sweat. Spock looked around, visibly relaxing in the warmth, seemingly relieved at the sight of the fires, the turned down bed piled high with quilts, the steaming bath. "This is very pleasant."

McCoy gestured at the bath. "You won't fall asleep in there will you?"

"No. I will be quick."

"Good. Sleep well, Spock. If you need anything, I'm next door."

McCoy actually went next door, even though he was hardly ready for sleep. He heard nothing, though, from Spock and after a half hour of worrying, he checked on him. He'd left the door open a crack, and the hinge was well oiled. He opened the door without a noise. Spock was in bed, the covers pulled up to his chin, fast asleep. Comfortable as he now looked, it didn't take away the pinched look of his face, or the dark shadows under the closed lashes, or the unhealthy pallor of his skin. Force of habit still had him carefully cradling the injured arm in his other hand. And even in the dark, McCoy could see clearly what he'd been grateful the traffic officer had missed, the clear imprint of an adult's hand, the result of a blow aimed with full force, across one cheek.

Spock woke with a startled gasp. He was sitting up, feet half to the floor, before the crackle and glare of the fire he was facing startled him to full consciousness. For the very briefest moment, he thought the fire was from the fire idol in his quarters on the Enterprise, and that the experiences of the last month were the content of some rare nightmare. Then he thought it was a dream, and had leaped out of bed, terrified that he had, in a moment of exhaustion, succumbed to a temptation he'd been fighting for weeks, grateful to wake before Jim found him. But the fire was real and he stared at it, at the strangeness of the room, and remembered his new surroundings.

Shivering in nothing but briefs, Spock crossed to a window. Bare branches waved in a cold wind, and an icicle like moon cresented the horizon. He knelt on the window seat, holding his starved arms against him for warmth, and peered out at the constellations spanning the night sky. Their forms were distorted seen from a planet's surface, but not so much that they did not provide instant confirmation. This was Earth, Northern hemisphere, North America. Bare fields surrounded him, but there was no snow, in the air or on the ground, and there had almost always been some sort of snow in Iowa. This was Georgia, McCoy's home. Spock tried to remember the name McCoy had called it by, but it eluded him. The name was unimportant though. What was important was that he was now in McCoy's care, once again dependent upon questionable human kindness.

Spock padded reluctantly back to the warmth of his bed, fighting against an inward despair. His circumstances had been worse. In his nightmare, Jim's anger had once again become violent. He'd escaped from that anger but only into the icy winds of an Iowa snowstorm. He'd been searching for a safe haven, thought he'd found it and then...what? Spock shivered again, and slipped back into bed, pulling the quilts against him, grateful for their warmth, the luxury of being allowed to rest. He couldn't remember the part of the dream that had woken him. He'd thought he'd found safety, but it had eroded under his feet, sending him falling into a black, empty pit, to meet some unremembered horror.

Spock set his mind into the disciplined paths that should have yielded the eidetic recall of any thought or event, but instead he found himself unconsciously tensing, his mind unresponsive to the

command, his body irrevocably acting in defensive mode. He set his mind again to the discipline, and felt nothing. No resistance. As if he were trying to move a paralyzed limb, the neural pathways, trained throughout his childhood, conditioned to the point of reflex in his adulthood, and mastered through long familiarity between mind and body, were simply not there. That was only logical. He remembered the mental controls clearly, but his memory was valueless in dealing with this untrained, immature mind and body. Spock felt a touch of fear that it would be years, years of training, conditioning and discipline, to regain that control, and then pushed the thought away. Surely his memory and his prior experience could shorten that interval. Until then, he must resign himself to regressing decades in mental development.

Still his condition could be worse. He was no longer in Iowa, and relief at his rescue warred in his mind with guilt for how he had left Jim. At least McCoy had been helpful, even kind, so far. Spock looked down at his tightly bandaged wrist and sighed. McCoy knew, perhaps too well, his physical requirements. Spock did not know, nor could he ask, if McCoy was as aware of the mental. If so, McCoy had made no sign of it. Nor was it made general knowledge, even to the medical professions of the Federation. Vulcan guarded its privacy well. Only a very few knew of the mental bondings of Vulcans to their mates. Probably fewer still knew of the bonds extended to children. He was half human, he'd been conditioned by his parent's long absences on diplomatic functions to the barest of parental bonds. He'd developed, at only a few Vulcan years older than his current physical condition, a partial shield against the parental bond that had disconcerted his Vulcan trainers, and infuriated Sarek.

After the accident, he'd experienced the shielding trauma and other effects of lacking both his learned controls or a parental bond, but he'd assumed the condition would be temporary. That assumption had quickly been proven false, and he'd begun to realize the imperative of either developing a workable mental shield or forming the required bond.

Spock curled on his side, closed his eyes wearily, and tried to relax. He'd felt the lack of the bond acutely with Jim. But he and Jim were closely attuned, and they had a link of sorts. Spock had not realized how he'd used Jim as a buffer, even a Jim often irritated or angry, and later, usually drunk. Perhaps that need had contributed to Jim's attitude. Jim was hardly the type to succor dependents, especially unwillingly, and Jim was psi-aware enough to suspect a deepening of their link. But even exposed to Jim's anger, the link, fragile but tangible had been there between them, functioning in lieu of a parental bond for him, a shield from the world, a resonator of Jim's mostly negative perceptions. Even that had been strikingly similar to Spock's experiences with his past parental bond. But the worst of Jim's anger came short against some of Sarek's punishments.

He had assumed, at the time, the effect was the result of his lack of shields, not because he'd formed a partial parental bond with Jim. But now he felt the lack of that bond as he had at first, as he had never experienced as a child himself, a freezing draft in his mind so cold it burned, a willingness to capitulate to any shielding adult for a brief respite. Spock had become extremely familiar with the withholding of the bond as a disciplinary measure. But nothing had prepared him for the lack of any shielding.

It was fortunate that both Jim's farmhouse and this home were relatively isolated. Spock felt he could not have survived the babble of hundred or thousands of minds in his unshielded state. He felt he could deal with a few, if they were familiar. McCoy's presence was largely beneficial. His aura was familiar, his shields psi-null strong, and Spock had found himself inadvertently taking some slight protection from them. In McCoy's psi-blind state, he had probably not even noticed. And McCoy had been kind, and that kindness and consideration had been balm to his shattered perceptions. The danger would be in allowing his dependence to deepen into a bond. He must somehow guard against that, especially since it could have been what precipitated Jim into anger. Jim's reaction had been chilling, and Jim had always seemed open to things Vulcan. McCoy's xeno and psi-phobia was well known to him. If McCoy became aware of this need, he might quickly lose this haven as well.

But there was less danger of a casual bond forming with McCoy than with Jim. Spock had no natural link with McCoy's mind, as he had formed with Jim. In the absence of McCoy's immediate physical presence, the beneficial shielding effect was gone, and the pain he was beginning to associate with lack of shielding was back. Spock tried once again the controls, learned to the ease of reflex as an adult, that should have brought him respite, and felt again the lack of response in his mind. Spock closed his eyes and surrendered to the pain. That was familiar too. Even Vulcan controls were not all powerful.

Spock drifted into sleep, into nightmare. A guard was forcing him toward a mindsifter, the Klingon interrogator attending the machine adjusting controls impersonally, ignoring his struggles. The guard forced him into the machine, amused at his helpless struggles. Spoke woke briefly. The dream was not unusual in one respect, he had experienced the events. But in the dream, the guard had been Jim, the interrogator, Sarek. Spock closed his eyes, turned on his side wearily, and sought sleep again.

McCoy woke to a sun too well advanced for his liking. He'd tried to reach Jim several times the night before, and had spent a fair amount of time worrying about him. Not that Jim couldn't take care of himself, for the most part, but McCoy was used to fussing over him, and had spent the better part of the night sleepless. He'd expected Spock to have risen with the dawn, and felt the typical sheepishness of a host whose guests have carried on without him. McCoy showered and dressed, half-expecting a Vulcan lecture when he appeared downstairs.

Spock's bedroom door was still slightly ajar; McCoy breezed through and stopped abruptly, seeing the bedclothes on Spock's bed still rumpled. Four years of serving with someone left you sure of some things about them; he'd never known Spock to leave a bed unmade. McCoy approached slowly and frowned. Hidden under the mass of quilts and blankets was indeed Spock, still fast asleep. Not much of Spock's face was showing, but McCoy studied the bit that was quietly. Even a solid night's sleep hadn't made much of a dent in the shadows under his eyes, and the bruise on his cheek looked worse, healing was starting to muddy its clear imprint. He looked awful. McCoy was used to Spock's near-miraculous recoveries, he wasn't quite sure why, since Spock's memories and learned skills were unimpaired, Spock had not pulled off his usual feat. That question bothered him, but he would have to wait for an answer. In the meantime, he might not be able to heal the Vulcan as expeditiously as Spock could himself, but Spock had never distinguished himself in matters of nutrition, and McCoy could at least tend to that.

He headed for the kitchen, and studied the provisions. He hadn't been specific when he'd requested the kitchen be 'stocked' with a few essentials, and he'd left open his actual arrival date. Consequently, there weren't many choices open to them for breakfast. In deference to his own preferences there was no servitor. McCoy had never cared for computerized food, but that meant he'd be cooking from scratch. Someone had provided the traditional breakfast fare of eggs and bacon, but that would hardly do for Spock. Nor was there anything in the way of fresh fruit, and he ruefully unconcentrated some frozen orange juice, wondering, like all space service personnel, how people who had direct access to fresh food could buy anything else. He started a list with fresh oranges at the top and then added grapefruits, bananas, and berries, though it was the wrong season for the latter. Poking through storage compartments he found a container of frozen blueberries. He decided on blueberry pancakes for breakfast and set the berries aside to thaw. He'd never seen Spock actually eat either blueberries or pancakes, but he couldn't think of a reason why he wouldn't.

Cooking for a vegetarian did give him pause. He'd been sufficiently worried about it to have cautioned Jim, but he found himself mentally reviewing what in his culinary repertoire would serve them both. Fortunately, Spock was well accustomed to human foods. McCoy certainly wasn't up to Vulcan cuisine, whatever that might involve. On the Enterprise, Spock seemed to subsist mostly on salads, composed of simple things easily grown in hydroponics. McCoy added salad things to his list. He was obviously going to have to make a trip out for provisions. They couldn't wait for normal delivery. It would be nice if Spock could come too, but there was the problem of adequate clothing. He needed to pick up shoes and a coat for him before Spock could go anywhere.

When the com unit chimed, he hit the button automatically, and was started by the sound of Jim's voice saying his name. McCoy studied his image with relief; he'd imagined all sorts of disasters, but Jim looked the same as ever, except a little thinner, with the addition of a haunted, scapegrace kind of look.

"I'm glad to see you're in one piece." McCoy said, his voice sharp. He could be angry even when worried.

"I don't feel in one piece, if that's any consolation." Kirk answered, subdued.

"It isn't." McCoy said harshly, remembering Spock's broken wrist, the cold house, the lack of food. "You screwed up bad."

"I know that." Kirk said slowly. "Where is Spock? Is he on his way to Vulcan?"

"Vulcan? He's asleep upstairs. We haven't discussed his ultimate destination. And for your sake I hope you don't ever need to explain a certain broken wrist I found, or some rather incriminating bruises, to any of Spock's family. I don't think you can even explain them satisfactorily to me."

Kirk closed his eyes briefly. "I couldn't deal with it, Bones. I'm not sure I can now."

"You'd better be sure before you step on that bridge."

Kirk sighed and swallowed hard. "I know that. I will be, somehow. You're taking leave?"

"Yes." McCoy said shortly.

"You can't do a worse job with Spock than I did." Kirk chewed his lip and went on. "I'm having Spock's equipment crated and shipped. You should get it within a few days."

"I'll let him know." McCoy looked up and saw Spock standing in the hallway. He met McCoy's eye's evenly, but showed no sign of wanting a part of the conversation.

Kirk might have noticed McCoy's distraction and guessed the source, but his own head was down in concentration. "Bones, I would like to talk to Spock, if I could."

McCoy looked at the Vulcan. Spock didn't move, and his expression, as he listened to Jim's voice, was thoughtful but remote. "I told you, he's asleep." McCoy said calmly.

"You could wake him up." Jim said roughly. McCoy watched Spock's shoulders tense in reaction, and the Vulcan withdrew a few steps into the shadows before meeting McCoy's gaze.

"No, I don't think I could. He needs the rest. And if I were him, I not sure how receptive I'd be to any apologies right now."

"What if I need to say them?" Kirk asked quietly.

McCoy looked over at Spock, but the Vulcan didn't move. "Write him a letter," he said. He hadn't meant to be caustic, but the words definitely came out a little coolly, and Jim bristled.

"You could be a bit more understanding Bones. I've lost my best friend too, you know."

McCoy felt his heart twist. Spock had disappeared, and McCoy swore silently at Jim. Surely, Jim hadn't meant that callous statement, and if he did, it revealed a facet of his character McCoy had preferred to overlook. "I didn't think he was lost." McCoy reminded pointedly.

"You know what I mean, Bones." Kirk said brutally. "He might as well be lost to me."

You bastard, McCoy thought. For Spock's sake I'm not going to let you get away with that. "I think you're upset, Jim, and you're selling both yourself and Spock short right now. Give yourself a little time and you'll feel differently."

"I don't have time, Bones. I have a starship to run, minus a First Officer and a Science Officer. Time is going to be at a premium for me once I'm on board. But if you can't understand that, there's nothing I can do. I do hope you're not planning on a long leave. Being without a CMO doesn't help either."

McCoy swallowed hard in disgust. "I'll have to let you know on that. Goodbye, Captain." He cut the connection.

Spock was not in the hallway, and McCoy hesitated. Conceivably Spock might want to be left alone. It wasn't pleasant to hear someone who'd professed to be your best friend write you off when you ceased to be of use to him. It was worse that it had happened to Spock, who let so few people close to him. But McCoy couldn't take Jim's words at face value. Jim had a history too, of tromping on the people he loved best when he was upset. Walking away from Spock had to be hard for Jim. How much easier for him to walk if he'd made Spock hate him beforehand, or if he convinced himself their relationship was based on expediency. He was fairly sure of Jim's motives, and without condoning them he could understand. But in the meantime Jim had made the break, he would soon be back on his starship, and Mbenga's problem. His mind would be distracted with missions and orders. Spock, on the other hand, had very different problems.

McCoy found him sitting on his bed, his arms wrapped tightly around his drawn up knees, staring fixedly at the cast on his broken wrist. McCoy sat down beside him and watched Spock ignore him for a few minutes.

"Jim didn't mean that, you know."

Spock looked at him briefly, searchingly, before looking down again. "I know."

McCoy sighed a little in relief. "You know Jim pretty well. If he's been pushing you away for weeks, you know it's because he's having trouble letting go. That doesn't make it any easier for you though. I know this has to hurt." McCoy studied the top of Spock's shining head for a while. "I've been thinking about Zamconi, Spock." McCoy said quietly. "He was lost. He died, and his friends, his family, will never know him again, never have him again. But you're here, Spock. You may have taken a detour, so to speak, in life, you may have to develop physically again, but you're here and you're whole. You may not ever get that device repaired, or discover how it worked. Maybe you shouldn't try. There's no safe testing it, and the risk of trying it is too great. You could die trying, you know that, don't you?"


"Do you want to die, Spock?"

"I would not choose to remain like this." Spock said tightly.

"I think I'd feel the same way. But do you want to die, trying out a device we don't have the technology to comprehend?"

"Unwarranted risk is illogical." Spock said slowly. Something in his weary tone told McCoy it was a long debated internal argument.

McCoy smiled thinly, for once grateful to Vulcan logic, if it had kept Spock from some desperate gamble. "I'm glad to hear that. I don't think you should do it either, Spock. I'd rather have you here, and whole, and alive, just the way you are, than to see you take that risk. I think Jim thinks so too."

"He cannot bear to look at me." Spock said quietly. And then "I will never serve on the Enterprise, again."

McCoy swallowed at the pain in Spock's voice. He couldn't think of any words to assuage it, when Spock said, "Jim cannot forgive me for that."

"That's what's in his eyes when he looks at you," McCoy discerned. "That's got to be hard for Jim. When he came to the Enterprise, you were there. You were his first command, Spock, personified. He looks at you now, and realizes you won't be there, and he wonders if he has a command. That has to frighten him. But it won't always be that way. When he comes back, Spock, he'll have had the Enterprise without you. He'll realize the difference he can't accept now. And he'll be able to look at you again."

"And if he does not come back?"

McCoy studied the bowed head quietly. "Jim's a big boy. You can't protect him forever, Spock."

"But I am supposed to be there."

"Jim didn't protect you."

"He did. At times. Though I never wished him to. But it was my duty to protect him.

McCoy noted the tense with a inward shiver. If Spock, always so precise with words, was speaking in past tense, then he must have accepted his situation as inevitable. "It won't be your fault, Spock."

Spock shook his head in denial. McCoy reached out a comforting hand, and felt Spock predictably freeze underneath it. He sighed, and rubbed the bow of Spock's spine briskly. "Let it go, Spock. Jim will be all right. And we have other things to deal with. Like breakfast. I would like to see you eat some breakfast." McCoy waited hopefully.

Spock sighed. For a moment McCoy thought Spock would refuse, tacitly inconsolable over his loss, and that he would have failed to have helped at all. But after a moment Spock unfolded himself saying, "Very well."

McCoy was pleased as Spock followed him downstairs. He hadn't known what to expect, but if Spock, legendary at losing his appetite at the slightest stress or distraction, was actually condescending to eat breakfast, then he had to have handled the situation well. Jim's high handed signoff was also a good sign. Jim needed to be irritated with him to get through the first few bad weeks without missing them too much. A doctor learned to savor small successes in difficult situations. Therefore, McCoy was cheerful as he started the blueberry pancakes. Spock wandered around the kitchen restlessly, his bare feet making soft padding sounds that reminded McCoy of something he couldn't quite place. Spock looked out of each of the long French windows lining the breakfast room. McCoy watched him out of the corners of his eyes, thinking he was acting like a caged lion moved to new quarters, not expecting a chance to escape, but compelled to look.

"Are there no other houses in the vicinity?" Spock finally asked.

"Not within sight. This place comes with about 300 acres. The tenant farmer has a house about a mile away."

"This is a farm which grows comestibles? Like Jim's?"

McCoy smiled a little at the unvarying curiosity of Vulcans. "I'm not sure. Maybe cotton. It's been a long time since I've been here."

"Do you miss it?" Spock asked, looking at the view over a pond full of wintering ducks, preening, squabbling and floating in their own small world.

McCoy glanced at Spock sharply, thinking that was a peculiar question from a Vulcan. But a fair one from a human. In fact, he'd joined Starfleet because he'd been unable to bear life in Georgia after his divorce, after losing custody of his little girl, after living with loneliness that nothing had filled. Even after all these years, he had some trepidations about returning here. But that was his problem, and it was an old one. Spock's problems took precedence now. He would just have to banish those memories and emotions. A little Vulcan discipline, maybe. "Sometimes." he replied briefly. "Especially when things get rough on ship. Then I wonder why I ever left. I kept this place because it's been in my family a long time, but after my divorce I couldn't stay. I'd hoped Joanna would settle here, but she went to school on Altair, met someone she wanted to marry, and settled down there. So I expect to retire here, and then leave it to her children."

Spock came over, watching solemnly as he mixed batter. "Is there something you wish me to do?"

"You could set the table." McCoy said absently, unthinking, as he poured batter into the pan.

Spock considered that, glancing at the cupboards high above his head and flicking an eyebrow in skeptical response. When Spock didn't agree, McCoy glanced at him. Spock panned his eyes slowly up the cabinets. McCoy looked down at him and up at the cabinets as if just noticing the discrepancy and said. "Right. Sorry, Spock. Here," He took two plates and glasses down, the actions oddly familiar. "The placemats are in that drawer over there, and the silverware is next to them." Spock moved to comply, and McCoy remembered. He'd given Spock the same task he would have given Joanna, and the elusive memory had come flooding back when Spock moved. Joanna, Sunday morning breakfasts, Caroline still asleep, Joanna barefoot, her little feet making small comfortable sounds on the slate floor as she set the table, smiling up at him. Dear god, after all these years could it still hurt that much? McCoy closed his eyes against the memory, bit his lip, and sought a diversion. "Hey, watch this--" He flipped a pancake expertly and looked to Spock for the reaction. Joanna would have clapped her hands and cheered. Predictably, Spock just looked puzzled.

"Was there some significance to that action?"

"It's considered a great accomplishment."

"Indeed. By whom?"

"That's a pretty snooty attitude for someone who can't reach the plates." Banning all memories, McCoy glanced at Spock for his reaction to the light teasing, but the Vulcan didn't seem overly sensitive. McCoy supposed that after over a month of dealing with the situation, Spock had come to accept at least the physical aspects. "Would you stir that juice, Spock? It is, or rather was, unfortunately, frozen. I'll get some oranges for fresh later today." McCoy placed two pancakes on each plate and poured himself some coffee. Spock took a tiny, experimental taste of the pancakes. McCoy noticed he was still using his left hand. The right one was once again cradled protectively in his lap. Perhaps it was simply habit.

"You're supposed to put this syrup on them." McCoy suggested.

Spock shuddered slightly. "No, thank you."

"Suit yourself. Some people like powered sugar sprinkled on pancakes. Others like butter and jelly or jam."

"I don't understand why humans don't simply pour refined sugar directly into a bowl and eat it with a spoon." Spock said haughtily. "It seems to comprise the largest portion of your diet."

"We do that too, Spock. But we call it cereal. What do you think of the pancakes?"

"They are edible."

"High praise. Especially from someone whose been starved for a month." McCoy looked at Spock searchingly. Spock did not seem surprised by the description. Nor did he object to it as he surely would have if it had been inaccurate. That very complacency gave McCoy pause and rather saddened him. He watched Spock slowly pick away at the first solid meal he had been given in weeks. Thinking of his scanner readings, and his numerous deficiencies, he said, "I don't suppose you'd condescend to drink some milk."

Spock looked at him curiously. "Milk?"

"You could use the calcium. And no matter how many green leaves you chew up, you'll absorb calcium faster from a glass of milk."

Spock shrugged indifferently. "Very well. I would prefer tea as a beverage."

"No tea. Caffeine depletes calcium." McCoy retrenched at the startlement on Spock's face. The Vulcan didn't seem to care for much in the food department, and he disliked alcoholic beverages and coffee equally, but he obviously considered banning tea outrageous. "You can have tea at dinner." McCoy put a glass of milk in front of Spock and watched at the Vulcan took a cautious sip. His nose wrinkled infinitesimally, and he put the glass down.

"Spock. I wouldn't be asking if you didn't need it."

Spock tasted it again, and shook his head. He was still close enough to near starvation that almost anything was palatable, but it took that to make swallowing it even possible. "I will eat the green leaves."

"Half a glass. You want that wrist to heal, don't you?" Spock looked at him sharply. McCoy frowned at Spock. "I don't understand why you haven't healed that wrist yourself. I thought your memory was completely intact?"

"It is."

McCoy poured himself another cup of coffee, ignoring the lingering look the Vulcan gave the steaming beverage, and sat back. "So if you haven't forgotten the techniques, why haven't you healed your wrist? Or, for that matter, the bruise on your cheek?"

Spock sighed and banished thoughts of tea from his mind. "Vulcan healing techniques are not a natural phenomena; they are part of the Vulcan science of mind. They require not merely knowledge, but discipline and conditioning of both mind and body."

"But you could do it before."

"If you were suddenly given the body of an athlete," Spock said relentlessly, "You might have the potential of competing in the Olympics, but it would still require much mental and physical conditioning to teach your mind and body to work together. Healing requires extremely delicate manipulation at the cellular level, often in opposition to the body's natural metabolic processes. On Vulcan, training in healing techniques is begun with adolescents who have completed their primary physical growth, and after many years of lessons in physiological control. A healer telepathically guides one through the techniques, training the body and the mind, even as the information to do so is imparted. Its dangers preclude teaching it to children. Rapid physical development makes impossible the delicate cellular conditioning required." Spock laid his fork down beside his half finished pancakes. "It is unlikely it can be developed in solitary, even in one who was previously skilled in the techniques."

McCoy frowned, reading between the lines of Spock's impersonal lecture. "What you're telling me, Spock, is that you can't do any of those Vulcan mental tricks that yield your miraculous cures. That you'll have to wait some years to relearn them, and even then you'll need an instructor." McCoy put down his coffee cup. "That means, for the present, you're totally dependent on your own abilities to recover or on standard medical practices?"

"That is correct." Spock admitted.

McCoy frowned. "Spock, I'm not much on Vulcan medicine. You get injured, but you've never been ill. I think you'd better let me know just what we're getting into here."

"You need not be concerned. I was rarely ill as a child. I do not think I am likely to require medical services in the near future."

"Somehow that doesn't reassure me much." McCoy said ruefully. "You're going to take care of yourself while you're with me. I think you'd better drink that milk."

They cleaned up after breakfast, and then McCoy insisted on laser fusing the broken wrist, and treating the rest of Spock's bruises with sonics.

"You should have told me right away, Spock. I was wondering why you hadn't created your usual miracle. It was certainly odd to practice on you without your usual running commentary on my arcane practices."

"You did not seem surprised."

"Frankly, I just assumed you'd been overworking and ignored the injuries. That wouldn't have been new." McCoy put away his instruments and watched as Spock sat up, somewhat wearily. "You should have told me, Spock."

"I had hoped --" Spock stopped abruptly and then went on. "I knew what I had been taught regarding the healing arts. I wasn't completely sure that they applied to me, and in this case. This is new to me as well."

"That's a typical Vulcan understatement." McCoy smiled at Spock, but the Vulcan had lowered his head. Normally, Spock couldn't wait to get off an exam table, now he showed no inclination to move at all. He still looked tired and drawn and that blank look was back on his face, seeming to indicate Spock had reached the limit of his coping abilities. McCoy lifted him off the exam table and set him down. Spock stayed where McCoy placed him.

McCoy realized he'd better make a suggestion to get Spock moving, and invited him into the library. The prospect of books immediately rejuvenated the Vulcan. Spock followed him in and perused the shelves while McCoy busied himself building a large fire. He waited until Spock had settled himself close by it, with several volumes to occupy him. "Spock, I'm going out for a while." Spock looked at him, his attention sharply focused on McCoy, but the physician was already preparing to leave. "Feel free to scrounge in the kitchen for whatever you like if I'm not back when you're hungry." McCoy paused, but Spock had looked away, concealing whatever faint expression he might have had. "We need groceries, and a few other things. Can I get you anything in particular?" Still looking away, Spock shook his head. "I shouldn't be too long." McCoy left, feeling Spock's eyes following him out.

He put the aircar in gear with more force than necessary, and took off faster than was his wont. He knew what Spock was thinking. This how it had started with Jim, Jim disappearing for a few hours, a day, a few days, escaping a situation too painful to deal with. McCoy was having his own problems as well. He couldn't imagine how Spock was feeling right now. So far, the Vulcan hadn't said a word about what he wanted to do. He had to be thinking about it. Spock had definite preferences for certain things Vulcan. McCoy found it very revealing that in 12 hours Spock hadn't indicated the slightest preference, even as a future possibility, for returning to Vulcan. If he wanted to go, McCoy knew he'd have already made arrangements to be on the first passenger liner out.

McCoy could hardly blame him. Reading between the lines of what Spock didn't say, McCoy had guessed he'd had an exceedingly miserable childhood. McCoy wouldn't want to repeat his own childhood, and he hadn't had Sarek for a father. Spock had apparently left Vulcan as soon as he'd legally been able. Now though, he might be forced to go back. If he did need, as he'd inferred, some kind of training to regain abilities common to Vulcan adults, then he'd have to return to Vulcan. And wouldn't he want to? Or was he afraid Sarek would use the opportunity to reindoctrinate the recalcitrant son who'd refused to follow in his footsteps?

Whatever Spock decided, McCoy thought, at least temporarily he had a houseguest who seemed to need everything from a haircut to a home. McCoy flew to a large anonymous shopping complex in a nearby city, rather than patronizing establishments closer to home. He doubted he could keep his and Spock's presence unknown to the long-time residents of the area. Too many people would already know he was in residence, and long ago 'friends' of his family would probably stop by or call. Still, McCoy thought it would be easier for Spock as well as himself if he didn't advertise their presence. There was still the chance Spock might find a way to be restored, and if not, he'd rather not discuss Spock's presence until he and Spock had agreed on an appropriate 'story'. He headed for an department that sold children's clothes hoping to get what he needed and get out as quickly and inconspicuously as possible.

Once there he realized he had no idea of what size Spock needed. Rows of little clothes hung on racks, none of which seemed right for Spock. When McCoy thought of Spock, he still thought of the somewhat imposing officer. He tried to think where Spock had come to against him, but that didn't seem much help since the clothes were on hangers or folded. Years on a starship hadn't left him with much knowledge of children or children's sizes. The last thing he wanted was to attract some sales assistant's attention, and possibly get asked questions about why he was buying clothes for a child whose size he didn't know. He realized he should have measured Spock before coming here, and yet, now that he was here, he was reluctant to leave without at least trying to get what he needed. But he was beginning to realize why Jim could have lost stomach for this activity.

Wandering the aisles, he discovered a boy about Spock's size, maybe a little larger, trying on a expensive leather jacket.

"Don't even think about it," his mother was saying wearily. "It's too impractical." She led the protesting child away and McCoy stepped up to check out the size on the jacket. One size down ought to do for Spock.

Armed with that knowledge, he had a scale to go by. He picked up one in denim, warmly lined, in a casual style that seemed to be common and thus inconspicuous. The more Spock blended into the crowd while they were here, the better. He added gloves and a knitted cap, for good measure. Remembering Spock's shabby, threadbare coveralls, he stared, frowning, at the rest of the clothing. He'd been unsure whether he could pick out clothes for Spock without having him here; when he'd arrived he'd have been satisfied at finding the minimum Spock needed to go out. But now that he was here, it seemed advantageous to pick up what he could. Sweatpants and sweatshirts were easy to size, and Spock could sleep in them as well as wear them out and about. McCoy picked up a few of those, jeans and heavy cotton jerseys, underclothes and thick socks. The pile grew as he added socklike slippers, the kind Spock could sleep or pad around in, a warm robe, and finally, after long comparison of sizes, added a pair of sneakers. The shoes were the hardest of all to size, but the most essential item. Spock could hardly go anywhere barefoot. McCoy checked out the sales personnel surreptitiously before picking the busiest, most impatient of the lot. If she wondered why he was purchasing the equivalent of a complete child's wardrobe, she didn't mention it. McCoy tossed the incriminating packages in the back of the aircar with a sigh of relief.

After that, there was only the simple task of buying groceries. He raided the fruit and vegetable aisle and picked up plenty of milk and cheese. The winter sun was low in the afternoon sky when he pulled the aircar into the drive. The house, McCoy noticed uneasily, was dark. He dumped the packages in the kitchen, and went in search of Spock. He checked the library first. The room was dark, the fire burned down to just a few glowing embers. McCoy started to close the door, when the draft from the open door caused a few sparks to flare up, illuminating the small figure curled on the hearthrug. McCoy frowned and went over to him, crouching beside him. When McCoy touched him, Spock woke with a startled gasp and visibly flinched. McCoy held him still while the Vulcan recognized his surroundings and then released him. After a moment, Spock sat up, and McCoy turned on the lights.

"Are you all right, Spock?"

"Yes, of course." Spock said, subdued.

McCoy frowned. Spock seemed disoriented and confused, even fearful, and he was visibly shivering from sleeping on the cold floor. "I'm surprised to see you here. Surely there are better places to curl up and take a nap. Warmer ones, anyway. Did you fall asleep reading?"

"I suppose so," Spock said. He glanced at McCoy, anxiety plain in his eyes, and then dropped his gaze. "I regret causing you concern."

"You don't need to apologize." McCoy said, puzzled. "I'm sure you've been working around the clock for weeks. I just don't like to see you so uncomfortable. Did you get yourself any lunch?" Spock looked up at McCoy with the same unease, and McCoy took the answer as negative. "Why don't we rustle up an early supper then?"

Spock rose slowly to his feet, moving as if every muscle ached, and McCoy studied him as they walked to the kitchen. Spock's nervousness was both uncharacteristic and revealing. Had he been expecting McCoy to return as Jim must have, drunk and probably abusive? McCoy put a hand on Spock's shoulders and he flinched again. McCoy gave him a little, reassuring squeeze before releasing him. He said easily, as if not noticing Spock's behavior, "I'll start dinner if you'll put the groceries away."

Spock complied silently. McCoy put a mug of steaming tea in front of Spock, figuring it would warm him up. Spock thanked him in a glance. His shivering stopped as he drank it, and his anxiety seemed to fade in the prosaic task of unpacking groceries.

Spock paused in his unpacking and McCoy looked over at him. The Vulcan had opened a bag containing some of the clothes McCoy had purchased. He stared at them for a long moment, and then looked at McCoy, astonishment plain on his face.

"I hope they fit." McCoy said easily. "I made the best guesses I could."

Spock looked back down. "It's very thoughtful."

Spock's bent head didn't exactly seem to indicate he was delighted though. McCoy didn't expect undying gratitude, but he'd expected Spock to be at least mildly pleased. Of course, getting clothes was kind of a statement that he wasn't going back to his former self anytime soon, but McCoy didn't think it was just that. Spock's mood had started when McCoy had announced he was going out. McCoy put a salad in front of Spock and a dubious casserole he had created from pasta, vegetables and cheese, and sat down at the table. Spock didn't look up.

"What's wrong, Spock?"

The Vulcan stirred and took up his fork listlessly. McCoy noted he was still favoring his injury. "Nothing is wrong."

"I'm not Jim, Spock." Spock looked at him in confusion and McCoy went on evenly, "I'm not going to get drunk and slap you around every time I go out."

Spock looked down swiftly, a flush rising in his cheeks. "Jim did not do that."

"We both know he did, Spock."

"Not -- not at first."

"How long did it take? About a week, a week and a half?" McCoy took Spock's silence as corroboration. "That isn't going to happen here, Spock. I know you're not overjoyed to be here, but I'd like you to at least feel you were safe from that."

"You've been very kind." Spock said tonelessly.

"But you don't trust me." McCoy suggested.

Spock flinched. "It was not dealing with Jim that was difficult as much as the lack of other alternatives."

McCoy remembered the trapped look on Spock's face when he pushed him back in the farmhouse and understood where it had come from. "You couldn't leave, and you couldn't even call for help. And even if you could get away all your research was there."

Spock shook his head wearily. "The research did not matter. The matrix that stored the image of my form was contaminated by... by the presence of another, and it was damaged with the device. The device itself was designed for rejuvenation, it was, essentially a one-way process. I had thought that perhaps intensive study of it's components might have yielded information that would enable me to construct a similar device to reverse the process. The science involved however, is beyond current techniques. Even if I managed to reconstruct the device, the necessary data was unusable. I had hoped to reconstruct a facsimile of my original form, from transporter matrices and scanner readings, but the parameters were too dissimilar." Spock looked at McCoy, but the physician's expression was neutral. Spock sighed and went on. "I knew, within the first two weeks, that the problems created by the lack of data, and the need to construct essentially a new device, to do what the original had never intended, with damaged components, and incompletely understood science, were insurmountable. Jim, however, refused to accept that a solution could not be found. He became progressively more unreasonable. You saw the result of my attempt to call for assistance."

McCoy studied the Vulcan, wondering what could reassure him. "We don't have a subspace transmitter, Spock. I'll give you the credit codes that will let you link with one from any comm unit. Just in case you need to." Spock took that in silence and McCoy asked curiously. "Did you try to leave?"

"Jim had the combination to the aircar, and I did not have a safe opportunity to attempt to circumvent its security system. I did consider such an alternative. But even if I had a destination, Iowa is very cold to travel in on foot, without protective clothing and with no certain destination. I had seen Jim's farm from the air as we arrived, and knew the residence was in the center of the surrounding fields. It is a very large farm. I left once." Spock hesitated. "I went back."

"You would have been frozen."

"That seemed the likely possibility." Spock's face was oddly without expression. "I found it rather unacceptable, after so many years of dangerous service, to perish on Earth in an Iowan field."

"You don't have to worry about any of that here, Spock. I know we haven't always had the easiest of relationships. But I wish you would accept that I want to help."

"Jim did as well." Spock said quietly.

"Jim wanted you back. I just want to help, Spock. If there is somewhere you want to go, someone you want to contact, something you want to do, I'm here." McCoy waited, wondering what Spock would say. If the Vulcan wanted something, whether to contact Starfleet or his family, or come out of 'hiding', then this would be an opportunity for him to request it. The silence stretched to the uncomfortable, and McCoy broke it finally, saying easily. "You've been through a terrible experience, and you need time to recuperate. But you're on extended leave. I have a month before I need to make any decisions, and then I can choose to extend my own leave. There's no need for hasty decisions."

Spock looked at him measuringly for a moment, and went back to his meal. McCoy couldn't tell what his thoughts were.

After dinner, McCoy suggested a game of chess. At Spock's look of astonishment, McCoy said calmly. "I won't be able to match Jim's game, probably, but you won't beat me that quickly." Spock rose to the challenge, and they went off to the library.

McCoy discovered anew there was nothing wrong with Spock's intelligence or memory as the Vulcan proceeded to beat the pants of him. McCoy lost the first game fairly quickly, but he dug in his heels for the second, concentrating thoroughly on each move. He was so deeply engrossed in trying to at least match the Vulcan's game that he didn't even notice Spock's first two yawns. The third time Spock yawned as he made his own move, the hand that put McCoy in check then moving to rub sleepy eyes. McCoy glanced at the clock in astonishment; it was 8:30. Spock was patiently waiting for McCoy's move.

"You're tired." McCoy said quietly. It wasn't quite a question. He hadn't considered this aspect of Spock's situation.

"I require more rest now." Spock said stolidly, not meeting McCoy's eyes.

"Well, then we should stop. This game is nearly over anyway."

Spock stared at the chessboard fixedly, as if reluctant to yield to the inevitable. McCoy's presence was both comfortable and comforting. Sleep meant isolation, nightmares, and the pain of losing the scant buffers McCoy was lending him. But he could not expect McCoy to tolerate his obvious exhaustion. "Very well."

"You should have told me Spock. We could have stopped sooner."

"I thought --" Spock hesitated.


Spock reluctantly spoke. "That since I had taken a nap in the afternoon I would be able to stay awake later," he said flatly, looking away.

"Maybe you will," McCoy said evenly, "when you've recovered from the last month, and aren't so run down. In the meantime, it doesn't do any good for you to know things that you need, and let yourself be deprived of them because I don't know them." Spock looked at him, visibly startled. McCoy seemed to be talking as if he suspected Spock's need for more than sleep, and was offering an opening to discuss it. Spock studied his face, and couldn't be sure.

"If I'm going to be of any help, Spock, you've got to talk to me." McCoy continued.

Spock lowered his head, feeling unaccountably weary. McCoy sighed. It wasn't an uncharacteristic gesture for Spock. He'd always had a tendency to do so under criticism, or emotional stress. Perhaps it was intended to hide any emotion that might be discernable on his face. But in his present condition he looked painfully vulnerable. McCoy felt like a tyrant.

"Let's go upstairs." He said gruffly.

Spock glanced back briefly at the chessboard. "You would have been checkmated in three moves."

McCoy grinned at the offhand statement. Spock still surprised him with his resilience. "Come on, you cocky Vulcan. It's past your bedtime."

McCoy sent Spock to the kitchen to get the clothes they'd left there, while he busied himself lighting a fire in Spock's bedroom. Spock appeared while he was cursingly coaxing it along, and disappeared into the bath. McCoy left to get some more kindling. When he came back, Spock was out of the bathroom, wearing the new robe and slippers, rubbing his wet hair with a towel. "We'll have to get that cut soon," McCoy suggested.

"You can do that?" Spock looked up at him. "That would be very acceptable."

"I was thinking more of taking you out to have it cut."

Spock looked at McCoy doubtfully. The thought of facing crowds, of stranger's hands on him, had wiped all his enthusiasm for the prospect from his mind.

McCoy shrugged. "Well, I'm a surgeon after all. I suppose that makes me up to a haircut. If you don't want anything fancy I could trim the ends. It would be better not to have it cut too short, anyway. There's a certain advantage in having it long enough to cover your ears and eyebrows, for example."

Spock crossed to the mirror, staring at his changed image as if seeing it for the first time. "Do you think I would look human if that were so?"

McCoy looked at Spock sharply, wondering how Spock wanted him to answer that. "I think you could pass, for someone who wasn't looking too closely. This is Earth, Spock, and people don't expect too many aliens here."

"I agree." Spock said solemnly, still mesmerized by the stranger reflected in the glass. "I would prefer it if you could trim it that way."

McCoy paused, non-plussed. But there was no point in waiting. "I'll get the scissors."

Under Spock's watchful eyes McCoy evened up the layered edges of Spock's hair, achieving a look more Dutch boy than Vulcan. But it was neat and straight, and McCoy left it as long as possible, the bangs just clearing Spock's eyes, hiding those classic brows, and the hair completely covering his ears. Finally McCoy laid the scissors down. "I think you look much better," he said in surprise.

"Yes." Spock stared at his image for a moment. He did not, by any stretch of his imagination, look human. But he did not look obviously Vulcan either. His own lack of shielding would make him acutely vulnerable to the curious attentions of others. However kind McCoy was being now, Spock could not overrule the possibility that he might have to leave this haven, and while the climate made that possible, he would still be vulnerable to human intervention. And even if he only remained with McCoy, the less he attracted attention, the less discomfort he would experience. Looking human was small price to pay for the benefits of concealment. "I'm going to change for bed."

Spock came out of the bathroom a moment later. He was wearing the sweatpants, slippers, and one of the jerseys. Like all such shirts, it had a long tail, hanging halfway to Spock's knees, even longer because McCoy had misjudged the size. But seemingly unconcerned, Spock pulled a sweatshirt over it, momentarily tousling his now perfect hair, and rubbed his arms inside the double shirts, looking pleased. "These are very warm. Thank you."

"I'm glad." McCoy said automatically, forgetting to notice Spock had broken a cardinal Vulcan rule with his last uncharacteristic statement. He hadn't realized how much of a difference a haircut and new clothes would make in Spock's appearance. In his Enterprise fatigues he'd been a scaled down version of the Enterprise's first officer and his uneven hair had contributed to a general impression of a landing party disguise. Now, in a child's haircut, and a child's clothes, there was no trace of that officer, and no disguise. There was only a child.

Asleep, Spock dreamed he was on Platonius, a pawn on the giant chessboard. All the pieces on his side had his face, all were dressed in Starfleet uniform. The others were in black, and across the sea of black, Spock could see Sarek, also in black, playing against ...whom? Spock looked behind him. Jim was playing, with McCoy behind him, but the yellow alert was flashing. Jim, looking impatient, pulled away from McCoy's restraining arm and walked away, against McCoy's remonstrating. Spock strained to follow but his feet were firmly attached to the chess board, he could not move off the square. He could only move at the volition of the players. The rec room door closed behind Jim, who had not looked back at his trapped first officer. Spock's heart sank as McCoy took up Jim's position at the board. McCoy would never be able to match Sarek's game. The physician made a move, and Sarek's eye's flashed in triumph. Spock waited helplessly, immobile, as Sarek reached to capture him.

Spock woke, drenched in sweat, his shivering having nothing to do with the warmth of the room. He wiped his face and tried to compose himself for sleep again. Sarek had once insisted, even at this stage of his physical development, that he be sent to healers and taught to master the mental controls for his recurrent nightmares. He'd been too young to learn that kind of control, but Sarek had overruled the healers, and they'd made the attempt. Eventually, though not soon enough for Sarek's standards, he had learned enough to usually conceal them, though not enough to avoid Sarek's displeasure when he failed. Controlling his sleep was therefore a perfectly valid test to see if he could retrain this physical form without a healer's or psi-instructors usual mental assistance. He knew the techniques; he'd acquired a competence at only a few years beyond this stage of his development. Spock set his mind into the discipline, stilling his body utterly, reaching for the elusive paths. His body betrayed him as he shivered suddenly in his clammy clothes, throwing off his precarious attempt at control. Spock got up and changed resolutely, getting more chilled in the process. Back in bed, he tried again, stilling his body, reaching for the mental controls. He was tired though, his eyes drifted shut, and sleep imposed itself instead, effectively resolving the conflict between body and mind.

Across the Federation, on the planet Vulcan, an unlucky aide, the most junior of those on staff, stood stiffly before the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation.

"This report is incomplete." Sarek tapped the offending computer screen with a stylus.

"My usual sources of information were unsatisfactory."


The aide shifted position infinitesimally. "Commander Spock is no longer on board the Enterprise. He has taken extended leave."

"That was in your report. What is missing, is where he has taken extended leave, and why." Sarek studied the offending aide, but the man offered no more information, and Sarek frowned infinitesimally, suppressing impatience at such incompetence. "Submit a complete report before the end of the day."

The aide swallowed. In all the previous reports he had submitted, he had merely followed procedures and contacted information sources set up years ago by other, more senior aides. "I am uncertain how to ascertain that information."

Sarek's eyes widened slightly. "You are unfamiliar with the basic principles of an information search?"

"I am unfamiliar with human methods of information storage and transfer," the aide said, and he was unable to keep the hint of disdain from his voice.

"I see." Sarek paused. "You are young, Senet, but you have chosen the wrong career if you intend to maintain such unVulcan attitudes and prejudices. I will tolerate this type of display only once. Regarding your assignment, you have this Embassy's Federation military attaché, my senior aides, and various direct sources of information to consult." Sarek raised an eyebrow in dismissal. "You now have 5.7 hours to complete your report."

Spock came down to breakfast in jeans, sneakers and several shirts. McCoy had turned up the heat enough to be marginally comfortable in a short sleeved shirt, he looked somewhat doubtfully at Spock's many layers.

"You've got enough clothes on. I hope that means you're warm enough. I know I am."

Spock looked up from his cereal, fruit and milk, which he'd been tucking away in a rare display of hunger. "Yes," Spock looked hesitant. "It is not necessary to maintain this temperature. I am not as capable of tolerating extreme ranges in temperature in this form, but as I demonstrated in Jim's home, I am capable of tolerating some range."

"You had goosebumps on top of goosebumps at Jim's. You're lucky not to have come down with pneumonia. I don't want to lower the heat, Spock. I just want to make sure you're really comfortable. I forgot some important things when I went shopping. Long Johns for one thing." At Spock's confused look, he clarified. "Thermal underclothes. I don't see how I overlooked those."

Spock looked down at his cereal bowl, absently prodding a strawberry with his spoon. "After my recent experiences, my current circumstances seem very comfortable." Spock met McCoy's eyes with a certain candid amusement. "I have come to regard clean warm clothes as a particular luxury."

McCoy chuckled. "I'm glad you like them. But we'll pick up some long johns anyway. I tossed those fatigues, Spock. I hope you don't mind, but they'd had it." Spock shook his head and returned to his cereal.

"I will be grateful not to see them again."

McCoy glanced at the top of Spock's head. There was nothing he could answer to that.

They were clearing the table when a horn sounded close by. McCoy looked out and grinned. "They're delivering the horses. That's great."


"Horses. I like to ride when I'm here. I asked Deveaux, he runs the farm, to pick out a couple for us." McCoy disappeared out the door, and then stuck his head back in, "Don't think of coming out without that coat."

Spock walked to the window. McCoy was shaking hands with a large Terran man. The two of them walked to the double horse van parked by a low stone building. Spock had assumed it was a garage, now he noticed the archaic white board fencing surrounding the grounds. The two men opened the stables, and Spock watched as first one horse then another were led out and disappeared into the stables. The horses were swathed in blankets, boots and shipping bandages, Spock couldn't even tell their color. Spock felt the naggingly familiar ache that had begun to accompany McCoy's absences. He could withstand it, but he was curious. After a moment, he went for his coat and slipped outside.

The air was damp and chill, but it didn't have that freezing edge Spock had become only too familiar with in Iowa. He considered himself fortunate, at least, that McCoy's home was in a warmer climate. Entering the stables, he saw McCoy brushing out the coat of a handsome, tall bay gelding, while the other man was unbuckling the blanket of a smaller grey mare. Spock halted at the sight of the stranger, and looked instinctively to McCoy, who smiled at him, extending a casual reassurance that was palpable to Spock. "John, this is Spock. Spock, this is Mr. Deveaux, who runs the farm here." The farmer nodded easily at Spock, and said "Have a boy about your age, say two years older. You two ought to get acquainted."

Spock glanced at McCoy without comment.

"What do you think of the mare, Spock?" Deveaux asked.

Spock studied her, the mare surveying him through placid eyes. She stood quietly, about 15 hands, neither young nor old, obviously chosen as a sturdy, dependable junior horse. Next to her, the tall gelding fidgeting as McCoy brushed him down looked like a racehorse. "She looks gentle."

"That she is. Leonard couldn't tell me what kind of a rider you were, so I got one gentle. She's a good jumper, ridden to the hounds, but mild as milk. If you fall off this one, it's your own fault, and she'll stand over you and nuzzle you till you get back on. Not exactly an exciting ride, but dependable as they come."

Spock had taken a currycomb from the farmer, and after a glance at McCoy, began to brush the blanket marks off the mare's dappled coat. Deveaux watched approvingly. "Looks like you know what you're doing. These horses ought to be walked a bit before they're fed and watered."

"I'll do that." Spock said calmly.

"Seems you have a stable hand, Leonard. Since you've got the time, I'd like to go over a few things about the place."

McCoy looked at Spock, but the Vulcan had disappeared on the other side of the mare. "All right. Spock, just walk the horses around the arena for a few minutes, to let them get the kinks out. Then you can fill their water buckets and hay racks, and leave them in their stalls."

Spock looked around the end of the mare. "The arena?"

"Down that aisle and through that door is an indoor arena. The horses won't get chilled there."

Spock relaxed when the adults left. He'd always been fond of animals, and these were beautiful ones. The horses whiffled through the bright straw looking for hay, and snorted, testing the strange air and whinnying to each other. Spock crosstied the big gelding to keep him from eating the straw, just in case he was hungry enough to be indiscriminate, and slipped a lead rope on the mare. If he'd known the horses he might have led them together, but he wouldn't be able to control both of them if they acted up, and the gelding was a good 16 hands.

He slid open the door McCoy indicated, and stepped down into a tanbark and sawdust floored indoor arena. The mare walked patiently beside him on the soft ground the requisite fifteen minutes. Spock relaxed and enjoyed the smell of sawdust and horses, and a tantalizing view of the valley below that he could see through broad windows pairing the lower arena doors. Spock fought down an undisciplined desire to climb on the mare's bare back and explore that valley. McCoy obviously didn't think much of his abilities, having gotten this teacup of a horse for him to ride. No doubt the physician would be horrified at the thought of him riding out alone without saddle or bridle. And he didn't know how far the mare had traveled, she did deserve to rest from her journey.

An hour later, both horses were nibbling hay from full hayracks in their big box stalls, and Spock had treated his restlessness with work. He had picked out the horse's hooves and their stalls. He topped up their water buckets, adding a little warm water to the big gelding's before the horse would drink. While looking for a warm water faucet, he'd found the tackroom and explored it, and switched the mare's plain halter for a fuzzy sheepskin banded one he'd found there that wouldn't chafe her dishfaced Arabian nose. He picked out a saddle for himself and one he though McCoy would choose, bridles for both horses, and a soft rubber snaffle for the mare, and settled down to cleaning tack.

McCoy came in an hour later, as Spock was searching for something else to do. McCoy eyed the tack and the neat stalls. "I'm impressed. I wasn't sure if you'd even know the difference between hay and straw," McCoy's eyes twinkled, "But you've certainly been busy. Where did you learn about horses Spock?"

"When I was a child."

McCoy raised an eyebrow, but Spock didn't volunteer any more details. "I'm sorry about Deveaux. There's a lot of details to running this place, and he takes care of most of them for me. When he finally does get to me, he can go on for hours."

"I didn't mind. When can we go riding?"

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "Well, why not now?"

They tacked up the horses. The vault to the mare's back was a little higher than Spock anticipated, he still tended to judge relative scale by the standards of his adult stature. Grey Linne, as Spock discovered she was called, was well trained, she stood while he adjusted his stirrups and gathered his reins.

Mounted up, McCoy frowned at Spock's heels in their sneakers. "Make sure you keep those heels down. You shouldn't be riding at all in shoes like that. I suppose we'll have to get you some boots."

They took a short ride, most of it at a walk, Spock chafing inside at McCoy's slow pace, though trails that edged meadows of shorn hay, plowed fields showing the faint green of their cover crop, and bare woods. Spock stopped abruptly at the sight of a deer in the latter, McCoy rode the gelding absentmindedly up on the pretty mare's tail. She showed her displeasure with a kick, surprising both Spock, who kept his seat admirably, and McCoy, who fell off when the gelding shied. Spock caught the bridle of the gelding and held him for McCoy, and scolded the mare.

"That was my fault," he said as McCoy ruefully climbed back on.

"Now I'm really going to be sore. Who's idea was this anyway."

"Bad horse." Spock said reprovingly to the mare, whose ears were flicking back and forth. "You are reputing your 'mild as milk' reputation."

"That's it, huh?" McCoy said. "Your revenge on me for underseating you. How well can you ride Spock? You look pretty good on that horse to me."

"I have competed in three-phase events."

McCoy whistled. "Dressage, cross-country and stadium jumping. That's pretty good. I don't suppose you'd care to go hunting? Drag-hunting of course."

"I would like that very much. If you think you can stay on."

McCoy chuckled. "It'll take me a while to get back in shape. But there's always lots of events this time of year. I'll contact the right people."

Spock went to bed tired not just from the stresses of the day, but from physical exercise, which he hadn't had much of recently. He composed himself for sleep, hopeful that factor would keep him asleep. So far his dreams had been disturbing, and wakeful. But he had always woken quietly. McCoy still did not know of his problem, and Spock preferred to keep it that way. He was already imposing enough upon McCoy's hospitality, he did not wish to disturb McCoy's sleep as well. And McCoy would insist upon knowing the cause of the nightmares. And Spock preferred to keep his problems to himself until he knew the scope of them. He had not made much progress in terms of mental discipline. But McCoy had proved a comfortable buffer, although Spock found it rather repressive to be so dependent. So far, he found himself tending to become more, rather than less dependent, but that was natural for his level of development, and after his relative deprivation. Spock hoped to gain some sort of edge that would reverse that trend, and perhaps allow him a marginal competence, without forcing his return to Vulcan, and Sarek.

He dreamt anyway though.

Jim was trying him for mutiny, as he had with Chris Pike. As then, the viewscreens were displaying scenes entered into evidence, but this time he was on trial for incompetence in his duties as first officer. The evidence was a running compilation of his failure from childhood on. Spock heard the guilty verdict, and turned to the security cell awaiting him. It was smaller than on the Enterprise, a cage, rather than a cell, and the floor was littered with sand. Spock looked in question to the guard behind him. Sarek's face looked back.

Spock woke abruptly, and lay back wearily. The dreams didn't puzzle him, but they robbed him of rest, and they served to underscore his own helplessness. He spent an hour trying fruitlessly to develop a measure of control before exhaustion took over again.

They began to develop a routine. Spock woke early the next morning, and before McCoy came downstairs, he had fed the horses, turned them out, and was beginning to clean stalls. McCoy came out, looking a little relieved when he saw him. Spock paused. He hadn't considered that McCoy would be worried. The last two days had been a tangible relief to him. Pain, cold, exhaustion and hunger had kept him almost as much a prisoner as his fear of Jim's temper, and his comparative helplessness to change his situation. He had not been lying when he'd told McCoy his clean warm clothes were a luxury, but he had been incomplete. To purge his exhaustion in sleep, without fear, in a warm room, was a luxury. To have his injuries treated and largely healed was a luxury. To be fed, even fussed over while being fed, was a luxury. To be free from fear, not hiding in a cold bare room with an impossible task, was a luxury. To step outside without experiencing Iowa's bone lancing cold, and without fearing Jim's swift and violent retribution was a luxury. He was swept up in a contentment that was almost an emotional delight, and was only marred by the irrational fears that still haunted him, fears that McCoy would begin reacting as Jim had. And to care for something that needed care, as these horses did, also assuaged some of the pain he had felt at Jim's neglect, and lent him the illusion of at least controlling something. He hadn't considered whether McCoy was aware of his relief at his change of situation, or that McCoy might just have believed he'd disappear, perhaps walking off as he could not in Iowa. After all, he had nowhere to go, as yet, at least on Earth. Perhaps McCoy did not realize that.

McCoy now seemed a little embarrassed at his anxiety, and covered it, as usual, in concern. "I'm not sure you should be doing that, Spock. You should give your arm at least a few days to heal, even after laser fusing."

Spock looked down at the light cast. He forgotten about his wrist, and there had been no pain. "I will be careful."

McCoy studied him a moment. He'd been concerned about Spock's overprotectiveness of that relatively minor injury. Partially, McCoy knew, it was habit, but Vulcan's didn't tend to be ruled by habit. Judging by the condition of the bone when he'd set it, Spock had been walking around at least a week with an injury Jim had inflicted and then ignored. That had been a cruelty that had to have unsettled Spock and undermined his trust. That Spock was letting go of it was a good sign psychologically as well as physically. "All right. I'll start breakfast."

They took a long ride after breakfast, and had lunch. That afternoon, Spock entered his research into the house computers, and perused McCoy's library. Spock's equipment arrived. The delivery people stacked it in the hanger. Spock showed no interest in seeing it moved elsewhere. McCoy caught up on journals, shopped for provisions, this time by the library telecomp, since they had time to have them delivered, and settled estate problems with Deveaux. He re-registered his medical license with the Georgia board and in response, the Georgia Medical Association called and asked him to lecture at their monthly meeting. They got a packet of forwarded mail from the Enterprise. McCoy had two communiqués from research partners he was collaborating with elsewhere in the Federation, and he entered the databases into the residence computers, preparatory to working on them. Spock left his mail packet untouched. McCoy wasn't sure how to approach that, and for the moment, let it go.

He was struggling to bring in a load of wood on their third afternoon, a lazy man's load, as his daddy would say -- too big to carry easily, and too lazy to break it up into two more manageable loads. He'd already decided that this wood hauling business was getting old, and had arranged for an upgrade to the ancient heating system. By tomorrow, they would have special zoned heat in Spock's bedroom, the kitchen, and the library, the three rooms Spock frequented most, and McCoy himself would not have to sleep in an oven, or haul loads of wood to Spock's bedroom every night. As he edged around the door, a protruding log got jarred, sending several others down smartingly down on his toes. He swore fluently as the rest of the wood followed it resoundingly onto his feet, crashing on the stone floor. He was just bending down to pick it up when he caught a glimpse of Spock, leaving the library at a blue clip and flying up the stairs. His bedroom door slammed behind him with a crash. McCoy straightened, saying "What the hell?" Leaving the scattered wood, he climbed the stairs, and knocked at Spock's bedroom door. No response. When he tried it, he discovered it was locked. Frowning in puzzlement, he hesitated, then went around to his own bedroom. The door into the nursery from there locked, but only from the master bedroom side. He opened the door to find Spock, huddled against the side of his bed, terror plain in his brown eyes. McCoy halted in confusion, and then he remembered. The torn up farmhouse, empty of everything but smashed furnishings and one, much the worse for wear Vulcan. What had Jim done to Spock, that didn't show, that he would react so strongly to crashes and swearing? And so abruptly. Spock had flown as if he didn't have a second to spare, or to think. He'd known Jim's behavior had been abusive, and that it had affected the Vulcan emotionally. But he had no idea Jim had been violent enough, frequently enough, to cause this kind of mindless reaction. Revising his estimate of the Vulcan's mental condition downward again, McCoy crossed to the Spock slowly, his hands open in a promise not to hurt.

"It's all right, Spock. I just dropped a load of wood. On my toes, as a matter of fact. Just clumsy, I guess." He took a step closer, and Spock flinched. "Spock, it's ok. I didn't mean to startle you, and I'm sorry, but you're safe now. No one's going to hurt you here, really." He laid hands on Spock's trembling shoulders and the Vulcan crumpled underneath him. McCoy supported him, holding him up, but hesitated before offering any further gesture Spock might find condescending. Spock was shaking like a leaf, his lips trembling before being pressed firmly together and bitten. McCoy waited for Spock to regain his composure before following up on his decision to resolve this situation with some honest communication. But Spock was losing his battle for control. The bitten lips were still trembling. Spock closed his eyes tightly. His shoulders were rigid with tension. But then his face crumpled, his eyes scrunching tightly closed, and his shoulder shook with the first suppressed sobs. McCoy sat down on the bed, and gathered Spock in his arms, just in time to hold him against the storm of tears that shook the Vulcan. These were not childish tears. He had never seen anyone cry like this, grief, and shame and fear intermingled, except the rare rescued victims of torture. But even torture Spock had experienced without breaking, without showing any emotion, not even a flicker of fear, except perhaps when he showed fear for Jim. Damn, Jim. What had Jim done in the month he had Spock? Spock let himself be enfolded for only a moment before he tried to break free. When McCoy didn't release him, he struggled, then fought. But it was ridiculously easy to restrain him. He held Spock until the Vulcan was exhausted, crying himself to sleep, and then he tucked him carefully in bed, and sat a troubled vigil.

Spock woke in the early evening, ashamed, subdued, and silent. McCoy made a light dinner, and almost wordless they played a game of chess, and read a little before the fire. Spock went to bed at his now usual time, still tentative, still unsure, and now McCoy knew, still frightened. When he accompanied Spock upstairs, he move to lay a hand on his shoulders and saw the Vulcan visibly flinch before forcing himself to hold still under the contact. They had to talk, but McCoy couldn't push him in his present condition. This time, Spock was frightened of him.

The next morning they had planned to visit a tack shop, and McCoy decided they would keep that appointment, determined to carry on with as normal a set of activities as their situation allowed. If Spock were going to do much riding, he needed boots that could double as stable boots or hacking boots, a 'good' pair of riding boots to go hunting in, breeches, a hunt coat, and most important of all a hard hat. The hat had been the catalyst, the morning before McCoy had refused to let Spock jump without it, and there was none to fit him in the tack room.

For a first excursion, McCoy thought it went pretty well. Even when Spock was trying on the hunt cap, no-one seemed to suspect that the dark haired boy at McCoy's side was not only not his son, but a Vulcan as well. McCoy thought they'd passed. The only disadvantage to passing was that Spock had been treated like the child he appeared. McCoy had never realized how condescendingly children were treated. He found himself uncomfortable on Spock's behalf. The Vulcan said nothing to McCoy about the situation, his eyes opaque and unreadable. But McCoy noticed that at the tack shop, Spock stayed very close to McCoy's side, and he was very quiet on their return.

The second intrusion happened on Spock's fifth day, a bright warm day that felt like spring. McCoy was sitting in the breakfast room, drinking coffee and going over finances, which were climbing exponentially, and keeping an eye on Spock. The Vulcan was out in the paddock, patiently taking Grey Linne through flying changes, which she did not execute cleanly enough for his taste. McCoy put down his cup when he saw two riders come up to the paddock. Spock stopped his exercises, approached the fence, and spoke to them. McCoy went to the window. From there he realized who the visitors must be. The only people who had any right to be riding around the property were himself, Spock, and of course, Deveaux and his family. The two riders must be his children. The boy, as Deveaux had mentioned was older than Spock. Deveaux had said he was two years older, but McCoy thought he looked closer to twelve than ten, or Spock looked closer to six than eight. He had a junior horse. The girl was about Spock's age, or size, on a big pony. They were both dressed as casually as Spock, in faded breeches, rubber boots, sweaters and hunt caps, and they were obviously extending an invitation to go riding with them. Spock left the paddock, closing the gate carefully behind him. He tightened Grey Linne's girth, and shortened his stirrups. McCoy was just starting to step outside when Spock turned to the breakfast room. Seeing him at the window, Spock waved. In a moment, before McCoy could even formulate a word to stop him, the group had turned and cantered away. McCoy stayed at the window, feeling his blood pressure rise. Five minutes later he saw them clearing the brush fence at the bottom of the pasture at a full gallop. Then they disappeared into the woods.

McCoy was torn between astonishment and fury. Astonishment that Spock, for all his Vulcan airs, would actually agree to spend time, even riding, with a group of human children. And fury that Spock was probably out there cheerfully trying to break his neck and possibly succeeding. Spock would never have been Jim's friend if he hadn't shared some of Kirk's tastes, and one of them was a silly taste for danger. Jim was so flamboyant that Spock looked conservative next to him, but the tendency was still there. McCoy supposed it was too much to expect of anyone who'd joined Starfleet to be sensible about risk. Spock had been delicately indicating an interest, to McCoy, for some cross-country jumping since the horses had arrived. McCoy hadn't really felt ready for the kind of hard-riding gallop Spock had wanted. He hadn't thought Spock was ready either, but he'd told Spock he didn't think it was a good idea for him to go out jumping alone. Spock had been forced to settle for the few stadium jumps he'd set up in the paddock, and he'd been almost visibly chafing at the restriction. The invitation from these brats had been just what Spock wanted. It had never occurred to McCoy that he expected to be able to give permission to Spock for his activities until Spock went off without getting it.

The shadows lengthened and turned to dusk before McCoy saw the group again. It broke up at the bottom of the lane, the two Deveaux going off toward home and Spock and Grey Linne plodding up the drive toward the stables. Spock turned in there without even checking in first. McCoy tried to swallow down his anger, fueled by hours of worry, failed and left the house, letting the door slam behind him. McCoy stormed into the stable. Grey Linne was cross-tied in the aisle, and Spock was down on his knees, brushing the dried mud off her legs. Spock looked up at him, and McCoy had just enough time to recognize the happiness in Spock's eyes before Spock recognized the anger in his. They froze simultaneously.

McCoy closed his eyes and counted to ten. He wanted to be sarcastic and angry. He wanted to treat Spock just as he would have treated the Enterprise's science officer when that science officer had done a foolish risky thing against medical orders. And he realized he couldn't do that. It didn't matter that Spock probably had twice his intelligence. It didn't matter that Spock was chronologically close to his equal. What mattered was that one of them was dependent and the other one wasn't. The deck was stacked in his favor. It seemed impossible that a simple matter of size and physical appearance could shackle Spock so thoroughly. But Spock had no place to go but here, and in the next five minutes McCoy could effectively drive him away from this questionable haven. McCoy was beginning to be somewhat in sympathy with Jim Kirk. Maybe he wasn't quite the villain he'd been painted.

McCoy opened his eyes. Spock was still crouched down on the floor, braced as if for a blow, his face white. "I'm sorry, Spock."

The Vulcan looked up, confused.

"I've been worried about you, and I let myself get angry at you because of it."

Spock stayed where he was. "I don't understand."

McCoy sighed. "Spock, did it ever occur to you that what you did was a little reckless?"

Spock looked at him with astonishment, and a little color came back in his cheeks. "How could riding with a group of children be reckless?"

"You see? Just by saying that you prove you don't know what you're doing. Human children are always reckless, it comes built into the model."

"Their parents did not seem to think so. They were fully aware of our activities."

"You went to the Deveaux's home?" McCoy said startled.

"We were hacking across Bowles field when they returned from town. They flew in low over us and certainly saw us." Grey Linne shifted as sweat and mud began to dry and itch uncomfortably with Spock no longer brushing. She nudged the Vulcan insistently, nearly bowling him over. Spock looked at McCoy uneasily, decided he was currently harmless, and started brushing Grey Linne again, "We stopped at the farmhouse because Jessamyn was thirsty. That is the name of the little girl." McCoy let go without mention that the 'little' girl was no smaller than Spock. "Mrs. Deveaux offered us milk," Spock made a wry face to indicate his distaste, "and cookies and did not seem to consider our activities unusual." Spock hesitated. "Is there some reason why I should not go there? I was invited."

"No." McCoy said helplessly. "I just didn't expect -- " McCoy shook his head and continued on his main tack. "Spock, those kids have been riding since they could walk. They know every rabbit hole on this place. Just because they --" McCoy pulled his hair in exasperation. "I never expected to get into an argument with you over what other parents allow their kids to do.

Spock, picking out a hoof, did not look amused. "I assure you that although I am not up to my former standards, I am a quite capable of matching their skills in equestrianship. Grey Linne is well trained as well. And I fail to see how the unfamiliar territory makes a difference. It is no different than hunting or competing at a distant meet, and you did plan for us to go hunting."

"The difference is hunts and meets are supervised and the grounds and route and the jumps are at least checked out by an adult." Spock gave him a look and McCoy groaned. "I don't mean you're not -- I just don't think you should be out there following some dare devil kid who's trying to break his neck and yours. Particularly when I'm going to be the one patching you up."

"You are saying I cannot go riding without your presence or supervision." Spock said slowly.

McCoy sighed. He hadn't missed the shuttered look in Spock's eyes at the last statement, and he knew Spock's trust was still too fragile for that kind of restriction, however sensible it was to McCoy. "No. I'm not saying that. I wish I could," he said ruefully. "But I know its unreasonable. I still think you're a little out of your element here. It's not that I question your judgment --, Hell, that's exactly what it is. I don't question your intelligence. I do question your judgment. You've always taken too many risks, and now you don't even have your Vulcan tricks to help you heal yourself. I don't know these kids at all, I don't know if they can be trusted, and riding is not exactly the safest of activities. I can't help but worry about that. So I'd appreciate it if you'd at least try to be careful. Don't jump every damn fool thing you see the sky over just because some irresponsible kid dares you to it."

"I assure you, Doctor, that has never been my nature." Spock hesitated. "I regret having caused you anxiety. It did not occur to me you would be concerned."

"I suppose I'd better get used to it." McCoy watched, a little bemused, as Spock turned Grey Linne into her stall and fed her a carrot he'd concealed in his pocket. "You seem to be acclimating to this even better than me."

"I have always learned quickly." Spock said calmly.

They walked back to the house. "What do you think of Mrs. Deveaux?" McCoy asked curiously.

"She is a pleasant and intelligent woman," Spock replied easily. "She asked many questions and said she would call on you later this week."

"What sort of questions?" McCoy said uneasily.

"How old I was, what grade I was in school. How long I was going to stay, whether I would go to school here. Typical things you would ask a child."

"My god." McCoy said alarmed. "She sounds like she'd put a Klingon interrogator to shame. What did you answer?"

"I avoided answering most of them."

"You weren't rude?" McCoy asked hesitantly, thinking of Spock in his haughtiest Vulcan manner.

Spock looked up in surprise. "Certainly not."

"Then what did you say?" McCoy demanded. "If you're going to be talking to people we have to get our stories straight."

"That is true." Spock looked thoughtful. "Actually, I told her I didn't know how old I was in Terran years, only in Vulcan, and I didn't know how to convert them."

McCoy grinned. "That was clever."

"I used the same variant on the grade in school question. And I told her I wasn't sure how long I would be staying."

"That's good."

"She asked me some questions about what I'd studied last in school. Apparently she is very interested in education. And she is worried about Devon, because he is failing geometry. I offered to tutor him."

"You did what?" McCoy exploded. "I hope she didn't accept!"

Spock raised an eyebrow. "I fail to see the problem. Vulcan children learn geometry in your equivalent of nursery school. I would be well versed in it at my apparent age. She was very pleased to accept. She wishes me to go over every day after school."

McCoy took a deep breath. "All right. I suppose it won't hurt. But try to remember you're supposed to be a kid, Spock, and unless you want people to start getting suspicious, you'd better act like one."

"But I did," Spock protested. "I even ate cookies."

"Checkmate." Spock said patiently.

McCoy scowled at the board. "I thought you were going to teach me that move this time."

"I have attempted to do so, Doctor. If you would prefer to try again?"

McCoy eyed the Vulcan. It was late evening, getting near the time he was beginning to regard as Spock's 'bedtime', since the Vulcan consistently showed the need to retire then. "Are you up to another game?"

"A short one." Spock smoothed a look that served as the Vulcan version of amusement from his face. "As it undoubtedly will be."

"Smugness doesn't become you, Spock. All right, I'll be a sucker again. You set up the board, I'm going to get some coffee. Do you want anything?"

His fingers busy among the pieces, Spock shook his head, and McCoy headed for the kitchen. He poured the last of the coffee from dinner, probably strong enough by now to corrode his stomach lining. But he had neither touched nor brought alcohol into the house since Spock's arrival. He remembered only too well the reek of it in Jim's farmhouse, and he was unsure how Spock would react to its use. Spock was a puzzle to McCoy. At times he was his usual composed Vulcan self, the epitome of a career Starfleet science and first officer, a controlled, capable, logical and dignified adult. But there were periods, sometimes only brief flashes, when he reacted like a terrified, helpless child. McCoy wished he knew which was the real Spock. And he had a nasty feeling they might both be Spock, and the process of integrating his Vulcan and Human selves would seem trivial compared to this new problem. McCoy sighed and rummaged for some milk to dilute the acrid coffee. A thought stuck him, and he warmed up a cup of milk for Spock too. The Vulcan could use the extra nutrition.

Spock was waiting patiently for him, the board ready, his eyes on a book he had borrowed from the shelves. McCoy glanced at the lowering fire. "Are you warm enough, Spock?"

"Yes, thank you, Doctor. The new heating system is performing adequately."

"Uhm." McCoy commented obscurely and set his coffee and the milk down. "I brought you something too."

Spock glanced up from his book and frowned at the milk. "Thank you, Doctor, but I am not thirsty."

"Thirsty or not, it will do you good. Try it, Spock. I warmed it up. You might like the taste better."

Sighing in conciliation, Spock took a cautious taste, and the once inscrutable Vulcan was unable or uncaring about controlling his reaction. "It is far worse."

McCoy laughed. "Well, try to finish this glass. My move or yours?"

"Yours, Doctor." Spock took a tiny, infinitesimal taste of the milk and then set it down noticeably away from him, and proceeded to ignore it, making a show of concentrating on their game. As they played it out, and McCoy drank his bitter coffee, he noticed the Vulcan make no move to touch it. Afterwards, as he was packing up the chess set and screening the fire, preparatory to escorting Spock upstairs, he said casually. "Finish your milk, Spock"

"I don't like it."

"It's good for you. Think of it as a prescription from your physician."

"I drink two glasses a day already. Surely that is sufficient."

"A third won't hurt you."

"Does this mean you intend to add a third?" Spock said with a trace of belligerence.

McCoy looked up from the fire in astonishment. Spock met his eyes evenly for a moment, but then the dark Vulcan ones wavered, met his again in determination, wavered again and then dropped. It hit McCoy again how unsure Spock was, how careful of wearing out his welcome. He was seeing the transformation between uncompromising Vulcan adult and unsure child, before his own eyes and in the space of seconds. What was that shifting back and forth doing to Spock?

"How about you just finish this one and for now we'll leave it at two?" He wished he could see the Vulcan's face, but Spock had lowered his head as well as his eyes. But Spock had apparently lost his uncompromising attitude when he'd lost the posture that went along with it. The Vulcan took the glass with a hand that shook a little, and finished it slowly. McCoy saw Spock to bed, but the Vulcan stayed subdued, and McCoy felt a little shocked. He was used to issuing medical orders, and he didn't see any way around needing to continue to do so, for the Vulcan, in his opinion, was badly run down and far from what McCoy considered good health. But if Spock was going to react to his medical authority as if it were something else it was going to cause then both problems.

He'll get over it, McCoy thought. Spock's bedroom was far from Vulcan warm, but it was warm enough that McCoy felt barely comfortable in his short-sleeved shirt. He waited while Spock climbed into bed, and then tucked the quilts in snugly around him as if Spock still needed to be protected against the uneven and failing heat of the fireplace. He paused at the door after turning off the old fashioned lights that could not be waved off. "Good night, Spock."

Silence for a moment. Two. For a moment McCoy wondered if Spock would not answer him. Then he heard the Vulcan sigh from his bed. A sigh of acceptance? or of capitulation? "Good night, Doctor."

McCoy met Karen Deveaux two days later. She handed McCoy a fresh-baked apple pie and thanked him for letting Spock tutor Devon. "It's really kind of both you and him. And Devon is doing so well. He actually got a B on a quiz today."

McCoy smiled uneasily. "I'm glad. How does Devon like being tutored?"

"It did seem odd at first, Spock being so much younger. But Devon's been very good-natured about that. They seem to have a good bit of fun together in spite of their age difference. It's really fortunate for both of them. Devon does get lonely out here for company. There's his sister, of course, but it's great for him to have another boy to play with. They spend hours riding around, exploring the farm. And Spock seems to be enjoying himself."

"Yes." McCoy said tightly, still irritated over that. "He does like to ride."

"Oh, that was something I thought I'd mention to you. I'd be happy to see Spock to Pony Club for you. I always go unless the meet is very close. I do worry about the children hacking along some of the roads. That would sort of repay Spock for some of his trouble."

"Pony Club?"

"Spock didn't mention it? He must have forgotten. There's a meet every weekend. You know, riding classes, cavalry games, horse care, shows, the usual stuff. I'm sure Spock will love it. It's a very good one, and he is so keen on riding. The meet's at nine. If he can hack over by 8, I'll give him breakfast and see them there."

"Pony Club!" McCoy exasperated to Spock at the dinner table. "I thought the idea was not to attract attention. Every kid in the countryside goes to Pony Club; short of going to school, you couldn't have picked a more public function. I take that back, it's even worse than school. All the doting parents stand around and watch!"

"I did not pick it." Spock said patiently. "But I do not see how I can avoid it. I tried to do so, and all I did was lead Mrs. Deveaux to assume you were otherwise occupied, and she volunteered to escort me. And she would not brook a refusal."

"No, I suppose not." McCoy said glumly. "It's not as if a child can plead other social commitments. She knows you're 'keen' on riding, and free. I don't see how you can get out of it either."

"Actually," Spock said hesitantly. "Some of the activities seem rather fascinating."

"Fun, Spock." McCoy said, amused. "Give up that Vulcan image once and for all and admit it. You've been having your share of fun the last few days."

Spock put his fork down, suddenly troubled. "You think it is wrong."

"No." McCoy corrected. "I think it very right."

But Spock still looked troubled.

The remark about fun seemed to have had an unfortunate effect on Spock. He turned Grey Linne out after her breakfast along with McCoy's gelding, and spent all day in the library. McCoy had been approached by the Georgia University School of Medicine to serve as a guest lecturer on space and alien medicine. One of the advantages was that it gave them a computer link to the university network. Spock therefore had access to all his usual journals and more computer horsepower than McCoy had in the house systems. The Vulcan studied relentlessly until it was time to leave for his tutoring session. McCoy, preparing for his lectures, watched him thoughtfully.

That evening Spock handed him a finished article on the facts he had gleaned from the rejuvenating device that had caused his accident. "I thought you would like to submit this. Much of the science is beyond current mechanics, but the approach is a valid one, and could be useful in development."

McCoy looked it over. "Why do you want me to submit it? I don't understand half of this engineering stuff. Why not submit it yourself?"

Spock seemed appalled. "I cannot do that."

"Why not? As far as Starfleet is concerned, you're on extended leave. Jim granted it and you're entitled to it. You can just stay on extended leave, take a long sabbatical. Submit papers, do research. You don't have to surface."

Spock looked at him quietly. "It is something to consider. Very well. I will submit the paper. But the publishers may attempt to contact me. And a visual link"

"I'll tell them that you come and go. Or that you sent me the paper first for critiquing. Don't worry about that."

McCoy stopped Spock before he went up to bed. "I want to check you over."

Spock paused reluctantly. "You examined me less than a week ago."

"And you weren't in such good shape."

"My wrist is considerably improved."

"Then it won't hurt you to have me check it out. Come on, Spock, you ought to be used to my beads and rattles by now."

Spock sighed. "Very well."

McCoy compared the fracture scans to those a week ago. "You still heal fast."

"It does not seem 'fast' to me." Spock said quietly.

"No, you would have had the bone good as new in hours. But you still heal two to three times faster than a human would." McCoy calibrated the instrument for a general body scan. Spock frowned at the action, but lay down without comment. McCoy expression changed from a smile to a scowl. "You've lost weight, Spock."

Spock sat up while McCoy recalibrated the scanner, and then chose another and ran through the test again. "Damn it, I don't believe this. All that fussing at every meal and you've lost almost two pounds." McCoy took Spock's chin in his hand and looked at his face critically. "The bruises fading distracted me. You looked so much better with them gone. But I could have seen it in your face if I'd looked closer. It'd be hard to notice otherwise, with you wearing twice as many clothes as before."

Spock moved away from McCoy's hand. McCoy frowned, turned back to his pharmacopoeia, and took out an air hypo.

"I don't want that." Spock said sharply.

McCoy looked up in surprise and Spock flushed. "It's only vitamins, Spock."

"I--" Spock looked on as McCoy went back to his adjustments, and then brought the hypo over. Spock pulled his arm away as McCoy reached to take it. "No."

McCoy's eyes widened. "You've had these before. They won't hurt you." He reached again but Spock slid off the exam table. As McCoy was between him and the only door, and his back was against the table, the action didn't gain him much. He glared at the physician mutely.

McCoy hesitated, and put the hypo down. "What exactly is going on here, Spock?" The Vulcan looked at him, swallowed hard, and looked away. "Are you trying to tell me these things will hurt you now, that your system can't tolerate them? Spock?"

"No." Spock admitted quietly.

"Then perhaps you could tell me why you're jumping off my exam table before I'm done?" At Spock's silence, he said calmly. "I didn't think much of you're prescribing for yourself when you did have a bag of your own medical tricks. You don't have a medical degree and you've demonstrated a marked disregard for your own wellbeing. I think less of it now when you've got nothing but your own recuperative powers and somewhat less than good health. I know you don't like drugs Spock. But unless you want me to have a Vulcan healer diagnose you--"

"No!" Spock interrupted.

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "You take what I prescribe." McCoy raised Spock's chin to meet his eyes and the Vulcan looked away and down in obvious capitulation. Spock tensed when McCoy gave him the air hypo, and they finished the exam in silence.

McCoy continued his habit, formed in the last week, of escorting Spock to bed. He'd done it at first in the air of host making sure a guest was comfortable, and it was a common enough habit of his, as a physician, to 'tuck in' his patients at night. McCoy had some self-conscious moments over the practice -- this was not his Sickbay, and he didn't want to imply that Spock had to retire at a particular time, or that the Vulcan couldn't put himself to bed. Far from resenting the oversolicitousness Spock had seemed reassured by it, as if for once he appreciated McCoy's fussing. But tonight they made none of the usual small talk. Spock seemed visibly upset, at least to the extent of being tense and silent. McCoy was concerned at Spock's attitude, and yet he had no intention of yielding. Spock had always been a terrible patient. Given a choice, he'd refuse most medical treatment, and McCoy had never tolerated patients running his sickbay. Spock climbed into bed and McCoy turned to leave, his hand on the light controls. "Goodnight, Spock."

The Vulcan turned on his side, away from McCoy, still silent. McCoy frowned and walked to the bed, standing over Spock. He had forgotten how sweet young children smell, the delicate scents of soap and shampoo, just washed skin and hair, and clean nightclothes and bedding. He wondered why adults never smelled quite the same. It was hard to deny the evidence of eyes and nose, hard not to sit down on the edge of that bed, ruffle that perfect hair, and try to get Spock to talk. But that was impossible. Phantom thoughts of Joanna, of stuffed bears and fairy tales teased his memory, but McCoy pushed the thoughts away. Spock wasn't a child. The thought of Spock in tears, in his arms, held him momentarily, but he dismissed it. One momentary breakdown, from understandable stress, didn't negate the facts. And McCoy's actions wouldn't have differed however Spock appeared. He didn't make medical judgments based on such superficial details. He wasn't sure if Spock was silently accusing him of that kind of petty unfairness or not. That rankled, but McCoy would let him get away with it, for now, where he wouldn't have before. A small advantage to be sure. McCoy sighed. "One thing you don't seem to understand, Spock, is that as a physician, as your physician, I have to do what's best for my patients. You're not expected to enjoy it, it's not developed with that in mind. You are expected to be better off for it." McCoy paused, but the Vulcan didn't turn. "Sleep well, Spock."

McCoy did worry about Pony Club. After a very silent breakfast, he joined Spock at the Deveaux's. Karen Deveaux seemed happy for the company. "To tell you the truth, Leonard," she said, watching their brood hack down the lane in front of them, "it does get a little boring for me. And at times it's a little cut-throat. All those competitive parents, worrying about how their kids place in shows. I hope you're not going to be like that? If so," she laughed, "I apologize in advance."

"No." McCoy said, with a small smile.

"And to hear these kids complain! They get bored waiting their turn, they get hungry, they get thirsty, they get tired. But just try to keep them away one week."

McCoy wasn't bored. He was glad he'd come. Spock, at ease with the Deveauxs, and still silent in his company since the night before, suddenly faded back close to his side when they approached the gathering. And he stayed close, almost pressing against his legs after they dismounted. McCoy paid Spock's fees. The kids were divided into groups, generally by age since most of these kids had been riding soon after they could toddle. Spock seemed on the dividing line of two groups, one instructor conferred with another, they asked him if he could do a simple dressage test, watched him over a few progressively difficult jumps, gave him a second, more difficult dressage test, and finally put him with the 8 to 12s, Devon's group. McCoy wasn't exactly happy to see he was the smallest in the group. Jess, who was just Spock's size, was a group down, but she acted her age. Karen watched admiringly as Spock and Lynne cleared an enormous spread jump that seemed to give a number of the children pause. "He's really fearless, Leonard."

"Isn't he?" McCoy said dryly, thinking of Spock in half a dozen combat situations.

"Shy though. Just the opposite of Jess. She's so friendly, but not half so bold on a horse."

"You mean she's sensible." McCoy said crossly.

Karen chuckled. "Boys will be boys, I suppose, even when they're Vulcan. I didn't realize, at first, that Spock was Vulcan. It took me back a bit, I've never met an alien. But he's such a sweet child." Karen looked at him curiously. "However did you come to get him?"

"His father," McCoy said stiffly, "was a close friend of mine."

"Drat that child!" Karen exclaimed suddenly, as Devon took a tumble. "He knows better than to take that horse over a water course. Leonard, you'd better keep me from diving into the ring over his broken body." Karen watched nervously as Devon rose, caught his horse, and waved cheerily to his mother to show he was in one piece. McCoy watched Spock take the water jump in stride and felt doubly relieved. The fall had distracted his companion from her questioning.

But it wasn't long before word got around and McCoy was discovered. He was remembered in the neighborhood and one after the other of his neighbors came up to reminisce about his father, ask after Joanna, or welcome him 'home'. They looked curiously at Spock, but one of the advantages of Spock's appearance was that his usual reticence looked, in a child, to be tongue-tied shyness. They soon turned back to McCoy, and that suited him fine.

He turned around, and found himself looking into the face of one of his childhood sweethearts. "Ellen! Ellen --"

"Van Dorn now. It's good to see you again, Leonard."

"Yes. What brings you here, Ellen?"

"Oh, I bring my grandchildren. It's quite a shock to see you here, Leonard. Are you here to stay?"

McCoy shrugged evasively. "I'm not sure." He turned the conversation around. "What keeps you busy, Ellen? You were teaching right?"

"Now I'm on the State Board of Ed."

"That must be interesting."

"Oh, it's challenging all right. But rewarding. I can save you a bit of trouble finding the right place for your boy. There aren't many gifted programs in this state, and none in the public sector that will do. If I were you, I'd put him in Cotwood. The tuition's a bit steep, but you won't mind that."

McCoy looked at the woman in shock. "I'm not at all ready for anything like that. We just got here. I'm not even sure we'll be staying."

"But Leonard. You adopted the boy, didn't you?"

"He's my ward," McCoy said tersely, improvising quickly.

"Really. I thought I'd heard you adopted him. But you still have to put him in school. It's the law, Leonard."

"Ellen, he's just -- We've just been through a difficult time. They'll be plenty of time for thinking about school."

"I understand. But school can be great therapy in that case. And while no one will be concerned about this term, since it's almost over, you really ought to be checking out places for the January term. I don't think the authorities will overlook him missing school after that."

"But Spock is Vulcan," McCoy said in dismay.

"Well, that's why I suggested Cotwood. They really have an accelerated program. They even take some children to university."

"But I don't see how Georgia laws can apply to him."

"If he's your ward, Leonard, and you're resident in Georgia, then they apply. I don't think you need to worry, though, Cotwood is definitely the place. We're lucky to have it so close."

"I'll consider it." McCoy said numbly.

McCoy worried the problem hacking home. He declined an invitation for dinner with the Deveaux, and worried the problem through dinner. Spock left after dinner to shower and change out of his riding clothes, and came downstairs dressed for bed. That was only 'logical'; his normal 'bedtime' was in less than two hours and after today's stresses Spock would probably make it an early night. Spock in his oversized sweatshirt (he really had gotten them too big) looked even younger, if possible, than he did in his riding clothes, and he had that same little child smell McCoy had noticed before, and that reminded him so painfully of JoAnna at bedtime. McCoy banished the thought of his daughter and studied Spock thoughtfully. More than one person had commented to McCoy on how 'cute' his ward was. McCoy had deliberately tried to overlook Spock's deceptive appearance, lest it prejudice him into treating Spock like the child he appeared. And because he didn't want to think about having a child in the house, another child in the house, a painful reminder of his Joanna. Joanna was grown, he reminded himself firmly. And Spock only appeared to be a child.

He'd spent the time Spock was changing looking up Georgia law. It was very clear. Children had to attend school, or be privately tutored, until they were at least sixteen. He was learning to judge the relative scale and ages of children again, now that he was in a society that included them. Spock would be lucky to claim eight, much less sixteen. In truth, he was Jess's size, and Jess was a very average six, and a girl at that, so she would be smaller than the average six year old boy. Spock had a lot of physical growth to go through before he would be exempt from compulsory education. Georgia Law made little provision for 'gifted' children. Spock might pass out of primary education by examination, but child protection laws 'entitled' him to a minimum number of instructional hours a week. Their presence was now too well known in the neighborhood to avoid the problem indefinitely. If they were going to stay, some situation, either school or tutor, would have to be found. He wondered how he could have forgotten such a critical point.

They still had not discussed any long term plans. It seemed incredible that they'd only been here a week. McCoy had taken a month's leave. He hadn't decided what to do after that. He'd assumed Spock might have some ideas about his own future, but Spock had been conspicuously silent on that regard. He certainly wasn't clamoring to go back to Vulcan. Nor did he seem interested in putting his cards on the table with Starfleet. McCoy had no idea what they would do if they knew of Spock's predicament, but he suspected Starfleet would be unwilling to deal with the situation. They'd discharge him and send him back to Vulcan on the next starliner.

He'd almost begun to believe that they could stay right here, at least for a few months, until Spock made up his mind about what he wanted, and could, do. And if Spock wanted to avoid Vulcan permanently? McCoy wasn't sure. He hadn't decided how he personally would feel about leaving Starfleet. But he could always practice here, the GU medical school would take him on in a moment. It was always hard to fill the alien medicine slot, and he was good at trauma care, and psychiatry, in addition to being a damn good surgeon. He'd find a niche somewhere if he wanted to stay.

Spock's needs were really the most critical factor. He'd mentioned needing retraining. If he could only get that retraining on Vulcan, and he wanted it, then he would have to go. In that case, McCoy wouldn't have to make any decisions. But if that were the case, then what was Spock doing here? Was he just regrouping, recovering, before taking the plunge and going back to Vulcan? Would Spock punch in those comm codes one day, and Sarek appear the next to take him away? McCoy couldn't begin to guess what thoughts were behind Spock's eyes. Sometimes he was amazed at how resilient the Vulcan was being, how well he was taking his situation in stride. Other times he thought Spock was a basket case, still expecting McCoy to turn into another Jim Kirk on a bender. He needed to broach the subject. He wasn't sure though, how to broach the subject of Spock's future plans without tacitly implying the Vulcan had overstayed his welcome. After Spock's painful experience with Jim, McCoy was especially sensitive about his handling of his guest. Spock had broken from his Vulcan standards in his friendship with Jim, and Jim had let him down. McCoy didn't want to think how Spock might regard humans, or what damage it might do to his own divided self, if McCoy rejected him in need as well. So McCoy worried, and he kept silent, and he watched the boy who had once been his colleague, and who now, at least in the eyes of the neighborhood, had become almost his son.

Spock hesitated at the door of the library. He'd thought he'd managed the stresses of the day very well. It had helped, to have McCoy there. He'd discovered that, once he'd adjusted to their auras, as he had with Deveaux's, he could function fairly well, using McCoy's strong shields as a very credible buffer. But he'd begun to need McCoy's presence. He rationed the exposure as much as he could, fearful of building a dependence he would find impossible to break. But tonight, after the stresses of the day, he required those shields to help him regain equilibrium, and he slipped into the room. McCoy glanced up casually at his entry, and went back to his book. Spock went to his usual place by the fire.

McCoy had been indifferent to him all day, ever since he'd rebuffed him the previous night. Spock could hardly fault him for the withdrawal. What he hadn't expected was how it would affect him. Normally, when he entered the doctor's presence, McCoy extended the range of his aura toward him, encompassing him. That was typical human behavior, even for psi-nulls. Vulcans found such broadcasting distasteful, but they could shield against it, as adults, and they shielded their children from it. Spock had found that encompassing aura to be a limited substitute for a parental bond. But McCoy showed no reaction to him now, neither approval nor disapproval, not even the surprise he would extend to a stranger. Spock looked at the fire and concentrated, reaching for control within his own mind to shield him, considering the possibility that need might fuel his abilities. But once again he fell short. Spock closed his eyes and rested his forehead on his knees wearily, noting McCoy took no interest in this uncharacteristic gesture. He was trying not to be affected emotionally or otherwise by his continued failures. But he was reaching a point of despair he was finding it difficult to suppress.

Spock looked at McCoy quietly. He had no wish to offend the physician, who'd been so kind to him. But offend him, he had, and since he could not continue in this fashion, he would have to apologize. Spock steeled himself to it. McCoy might very well be angry with him, behind that mask of indifference, and in his current vulnerable state, he would find it very uncomfortable to deal with that. But he had no choice.

Spock looked into the fire like a refuge. "Dr. McCoy?"

"What is it, Spock?"

Spock flinched at the dryness in McCoy's tone. Not even a yes, but a tacitly impatient demand to know the reason for his interruption. McCoy was indeed angry. Spock hung his head, wishing he'd just gone to bed. He didn't have the strength for this confrontation.

McCoy glanced over when no answer was forthcoming, and frowned at the figure on the hearthrug. Spock looked like he'd just been struck, as if he had not been the one who'd been rudely rejecting the night before. McCoy crossed over and sat on the arm of a nearby chair. "What is it, Spock?"

Spock felt McCoy's impatience like fire. He longed for the shields he'd developed against Sarek. He'd forgotten he'd gone through years of torment before he'd developed those partial, imperfect shields, shields Sarek could have torn through in an instant if the healers had not counseled against it, fearing it would permanently damage his ability to develop conscious adult shields. He had forgotten, too, how much those shields had helped in a situation like this. His memory was certainly selectively retentive. But what would have been the purpose of preserving so much pain? Spock faced the prospect of going through that period again, and felt his whole body tense in fruitless rebellion.

McCoy frowned again and reached a hand out to Spock. Spock flinched as if the gesture were a blow, and McCoy's eyes widened. He pulled his hand back slowly. "I'm not going to hurt you, Spock." He studied the unmoving Vulcan. "Listen to me, Spock. It's all right. Whatever's upsetting you, you can tell me. You can trust me, Spock."

Spock shook his head involuntarily, and then dammed himself for the gesture. But he couldn't tell McCoy about the bond. McCoy was not only psi-null, he had proven himself, at least to Spock, to be psi-phobic. Spock felt sure McCoy would contact Sarek if he became aware of the requirement. But he felt McCoy's surprise at his denial, and regretted the gesture. McCoy was trying hard to be kind, he didn't deserve this treatment. But Spock simply couldn't trust him enough to tell the truth. "I'm sorry." He said it as much for the lack of trust as for his behavior.

"I suppose I have to expect that." McCoy said easily. Spock looked at him and McCoy clarified. "It's only been a week. It took Jim a little longer than that, didn't it?"

Spock looked away, feeling shame sweep over him like a flaming tide. He still felt responsible as the catalyst of Jim's behavior. Jim would bear the regret for it the rest of his life. He had no wish to saddle McCoy with a similar regret. He didn't know what he could do to stop it, short of leaving, and he couldn't leave, not yet.

"Spock." McCoy looked at the Vulcan, appalled, and then shook himself. "I guess I have been a little angry. But that doesn't mean I'd hurt you, Spock."

Spock shook his head again, helpless to explain the connection.

"Spock, I don't know what I can say to make this easier for you. I swear I'd never strike you. I'd cut off my own hand before I'd use it against you. Do you believe that?"

Spock looked at him. McCoy was not a physical person. Spock knew, without really thinking about it, that McCoy was not likely to knock him about as Jim had. McCoy was physical, but in a totally different manner than Jim. Jim expressed his frustration in actions, McCoy expressed his in sarcastic words. He understood that McCoy would be very unlikely candidate for a physical abuser, and he nodded slowly.

"Then you believe that I won't hurt you." McCoy waited for Spock to nod again, and frowned. "I don't understand Spock. If you're not worried about that, after Jim, then I don't know what's bothering you." McCoy hesitated. "Is it that you want me to call Sarek?"

"No." Spock said sharply, and then hastily amended. "Not yet."

McCoy decided to hit the nail on the head. "Do you want to go home to Vulcan, Spock?"

"Not yet."

"That means you're waiting for something. Will you tell me what that is?" Spock shook his head slowly.

"I can't."

McCoy digested that for a moment. "Does it have anything to do with why you still can't trust me?" Spock gave him a stricken look and scrambled to his feet. McCoy caught him easily.

"Don't ask me any more questions."

"All right." McCoy held him until he made his point and Spock stopped struggling. "You don't need to run, Spock. You don't have to tell me everything. You're entitled to your own secrets. And you don't have to run away to keep them." McCoy released him. "There isn't a morning I don't wake up and wonder if I'll find you gone. I'd like to stop worrying about that."

"I have no place to go."

"Does that mean when you find one, you will be gone?" McCoy said evenly. "Is that what you're waiting for?"

"I won't do that." Spock said quietly.

"Good. Because I'd find it difficult living with the guilt, wondering what I'd done." McCoy paused. "What were you going to tell me, before we started all this?"

Spock hung his head. "I meant to apologize for my behavior last evening."

"I accept."

Spock looked at him. "I have not given you any reason to do so."

"You don't have to, Spock. That's one of the advantages of friendship." He looked at Spock's unconvinced face. "Does Jim need to apologize to you, Spock?" Spock looked away, the heat rising in his face, and shook his head.

"You still feel responsible for that." McCoy frowned. "What happened to you in Iowa wasn't something that you did, Spock. You're not responsible for Jim's shortcomings. You have to accept that."

"I am responsible."

"How?" McCoy said tersely. "Did you ask Jim to knock you around? Did you hold him down and pour brandy down his throat till he was just drunk enough to do it?" McCoy looked at Spock's face, taut with misery, and sighed. "All right, don't tell me. You don't have to. It's all right, Spock." He patted Spock's shoulder. The Vulcan did not respond. But he felt a measure of McCoy's aura return.

"I regret, Sarek, we could find no evidence of Spock in Iowa."

Sarek regarded his senior aide. "And the report that he and Captain Kirk took leave in that location?"

"Captain Kirk certainly did. He was there during that period, as several witnesses will verify. But no one recalls seeing Commander Spock, and Captain Kirk did not speak of him during his stay there, nor indicate he had any companion at all, to anyone, while he was on leave."

"You have checked all transportation records from that point?"

"If Commander Spock hired or otherwise engaged any transportation, he did not do so under his own or Captain Kirk's credit records. In fact, Commander Spock financial records show no transactions at all, other than automatic electronic salary deposits, since well before his taking leave."

Sarek frowned over that. "Yet Terran economy is not conducive to transactions in hard currency. He could hardly stay on Earth or move from there with out recourse to his own, or someone else's, financial resources."

"Precisely. Either Commander Spock never went to Terra, or he

left Captain Kirk's company relatively soon after arriving, in the company of another."

"And Starfleet?"

"Verifies Commander Spock is on extended leave. They have not contacted him, but a senior officer on extended leave is not required to stay in contact with them. They have no records or information on him past his application for leave, nor in all normal circumstances would they. If you wish Starfleet to use their resources as well, it will require contacting the senior admiral. One other point of information. The Chief Medical Officer has also taken extended leave."

"Dr. McCoy. That is disquieting. And his location? Did he also go to Iowa?"

"I do not believe so, but I have not pursued an investigation in that direction as yet."

"That may not be necessary," Sarek said quietly. "I believe it is time to contact Captain Kirk."

Aside from tacitly trying to ensure Spock took proper care of himself, particularly with regard to nutrition and rest, something he would have done in any condition, McCoy made every effort to treat Spock as an equal. Furthermore, he found it somewhat disconcerting to be in company with Spock, either in town or with his neighbors, and see Spock be treated as the child he appeared. And even in his own company, he discovered inequities he'd not anticipated.

McCoy glanced in the stables, but Grey Linne was gone. He'd just come back from a lecture, and it was late afternoon; school was closing. Spock had probably already left for the Deveaux. McCoy entered the kitchen, and glanced around hopefully. Spock's continuing to lose weight worried him, and Spock compounded the problem by never going near the kitchen unless McCoy called him in to a meal. In spite of laying in plenty of temptingly easy provisions for Spock, and even reminding Spock not to skip lunch, Spock seemed reluctant to touch anything. He still seemed painfully hesitant about making himself at home.

McCoy looked in the refrigerator, glanced at an untouched bowl of fruit, and sighed. He opened a cabinet without much hope, and paused. There was a jar of peanut butter that seemed to have been moved. McCoy had picked it up at the grocery store without much thought. Jim was the one with the fondness for peanut butter, but it was vegetarian and high in protein. McCoy removed the cap curiously and smiled. The silver foil seal was gone, and the smooth surface marred by the removal of about half a tablespoonful. A peanut butter sandwich wasn't the most balanced of meals, but it was a start. He could at least stop worrying about Spock starving unless he was home to hand out lunch.

He'd needed to stop by GU to settle a few details of his instructorship that couldn't be handled by computer or comlink, and had invited Spock along. Partially because Spock still seemed tense when he left the house, and partially because he felt Spock could use a change of scene. He didn't want Spock to feel trapped. It had occurred to him that one reason why Spock was forever accompanying Devon and Jess on rides was that it was virtually his only mobility and freedom. He couldn't drive an aircar; there was virtually no civilized destination within walking distance. Even by horseback there was not much to see. Their town had grown up around the post office, when mail went electronic two hundred years ago, and filling stations became obsolete, there wasn't much left. McCoy, like everyone else, soon arranged for automatic delivery of groceries and regular household consumables based on the household computer inventory. People still enjoyed shopping as a major recreation, but anything that couldn't be ordered by comm or that they chose to 'shop' for they got in the city, inaccessible by horseback. Spock was pretty much confined to their farm, and after a month of being cooped up in Jim's home, McCoy didn't blame him if he had a touch of cabin fever. Grey Linne might not be much, and she certainly couldn't compare to a starship, but she did confer a certain independence.

McCoy had been glad he'd asked him along. Spock had observed the scenery, the city, and the people with interest and his usual thoroughness. The one change in Spock's behavior was that in public or with strangers, Spock continued to stick close to McCoy's side. McCoy had become accustomed to that in the last few weeks, and signing his contract at the chairman's office, or stopping by a colleague for a few minutes conversation, he didn't give a thought to his small and silent shadow. It was a shock therefore, to turn around and suddenly discover Spock gone.

The colleague he'd been conversing with smiled at his consternation. "Don't panic. He's right over there," and pointed to the Plexiglas windows of the University Bookstore. "Kids can really keep you hopping. You're lucky to just have one with you. I took my three to an amusement park last summer. Lost two of them once and the other one twice. I'll never try that again."

Excusing himself, McCoy studied Spock as he went to his side. Spock had his nose in some monograph that was either too obscure or too recent to be in the library database. He'd gotten over the surprising panic he'd felt when he'd discovered Spock gone. In a way, it was reassuring to discover that Spock was enough himself that the UB would still draw him like a magnet does iron. Or a kid to a candy store. What he didn't expect was the flustered look Spock gave him, or the hasty way he put the book down and rejoined McCoy's side. It took McCoy a moment to identify what disconcerted him, as if the incident were displayed in 2-d with a banner displaying "What is wrong with this picture?" Then it hit him; a nasty kind of shock, a startling jab to the gut. Spock didn't have any money.

McCoy reached for his credit case with a guilty start. "Do you want that Spock? "I can--"

"No." Spock said shortly. "It is...not well researched." Spock headed for the door, and McCoy followed, still flustered.

Flying home in the aircar, McCoy pondered the problem. Spock was staring remotely out the window. He'd never even thought about Spock's lack of access to funds, or about the way it might make Spock feel. Spock seemed to have come to him with a myriad of unmet needs as basic and material as shelter, food, clothing, and health care. Following that, McCoy had been seriously worried about his emotional health, and his future. He'd been so busy trying to cover those bases, he hadn't much considered how painfully dependent Spock must feel, or what could be done to alleviate some of that. Somehow, he'd just expected that when Spock needed something, be it a ticket home or whatever, he'd let McCoy know as straightforwardly as if they were still the equals McCoy tried to maintain, at least to himself, that they were.

But they weren't really equals. Spock could walk around wearing an avadavat stating he was really an adult in disguise, and people's first reaction would still be to treat him as a child. Nothing but time would ease his needing ten hours of sleep at night, or give him the inches he needed to reach the kitchen cabinets. McCoy wasn't sure exactly whether his pretense of equality was what Spock needed. He'd adopted it because Jim had taken unfair advantage of Spock's situation. Without really thinking about it clearly, he'd wanted to reassure Spock the abuse was over, and leave the door open for any options Spock wanted to take, including that of coming clean with Starfleet and demanding acceptance as he was.

He wanted to broach the subject. It wasn't in his character to let a problem of this magnitude wait so long, yet something in Spock's manner continually made him hesitate. It wasn't pity he felt for the Vulcan. He'd seen real disadvantage and misery in his travels. Spock situation was certainly one few would prefer, but it couldn't compare to slavery, or to imprisonment in some Klingon torture camp, or being stranded alone to go mad or die of privation on some isolated planet. He hesitated because he wanted to help, and he wasn't sure how he best could, and Spock was giving him few clues. In fact, the cues Spock was giving him seemed mostly to indicate he needed this breathing space, and was mostly content to see it continue. McCoy was willing to give him that time. And at least physically, he was showing some improvement. At his last physical his wrist had been nearly healed, his nutritional deficiencies had lessened, and the only bruises he was evidencing were falls from horseback. Emotionally though, McCoy couldn't tell. It almost seemed as if Spock was trying very hard to see if he could live as a child on a human world.

The inordinate amount of time Spock spent with the Deveaux seemed almost proof of that. On the Enterprise, Spock had been expert at avoiding social connections he'd wished to eschew. McCoy had become familiar with all Spock's tactics, since they'd often been used against himself. Yet Spock didn't seem to be hauling out his arsenal now, and McCoy could only assume he associated with the Deveaux of his own choice. His behavior in that regard was so radically different, it almost seemed as if he were seeking them out. Spock 'tutored' at their farmhouse every day after school, he rarely came home until just before dark, and their evening meal. McCoy had insisted on that. He'd been uneasy about Spock picking his way through the dark fields home, about Grey Linne stumbling in a hole, perhaps tossing Spock off, leaving the Vulcan lying injured or unconscious in the dark for hours before he could be found. Spock had countered that he had perfect night vision, but McCoy had overruled him, maintaining that Grey Linne did not.

He couldn't imagine what Spock could be doing, spending all that time there, but Spock hadn't been any more specific than his first comments about tutoring. Spock continued to be relatively subdued with him; he still seemed at times apprehensive. McCoy was beginning to wonder if Spock spent so much time with the Deveaux purely to avoid him. He couldn't exactly follow Spock around. But he did go to Pony Club the next week, purely with the intention of trying to glean some understanding of Spock in his new milieu.

"Have you decided how long you'll be staying, Leonard?" Karen asked him, as they absently watched dressage tests.

"Not just yet."

"It's been so nice to have you here. We've missed neighbors. You will be here for Christmas?"

"I hadn't thought much about it."

"Leonard, Christmas is in two weeks!"

"I suppose I'm still on Enterprise time." McCoy said ruefully. "Starfleet's 'calendar' is a little different."

Karen looked at him thoughtfully. "Are you going back to Starfleet soon? What will you do with Spock?"

"I really haven't decided yet." McCoy answered a bit testily.

She flushed. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to pry. We've become so fond of Spock. Of you both, of course, but I know Devon and Jess will be really sorry to see Spock go."

McCoy pulled out a legitimate excuse. "There is the problem of school for Spock. I'm not sure we could find an appropriate school here. He might have to go to school on Vulcan."

Karen regarded him doubtfully, and apparently decided to let that go. "He is amazingly bright. Do you know he fixed our farm computer? John won't even let Devon touch it, but Spock started asking questions about what was wrong with it. John hadn't the vaguest idea of the answers. Spock was so matter of fact about it, and he seemed to know exactly what to do, that John just stood by and Spock took over and fixed it. Then Spock watched for a while, when John was checking it out, and told him he could reorganize the database to make a more efficient estimation of production quotas. According to what they worked out, John says we're going to save 15 off our seed order, and get a 10 reduction on our arable land tax assessment." Karen looked at him quizzically, completely unaware McCoy was swearing mentally at the Vulcan. "I know Vulcans are supposed to be smart, but I had no idea their children were so adept with computers."

"Did Spock tell you why?" McCoy asked uneasily.

"He said his father taught him when he was very young. That was your friend, right?"

"Yes." McCoy said gruffly.

"He must have been quite brilliant."


Karen looked at him apologetically. "I didn't mean to bring up disturbing memories." She looked away. "If you are going to be here for Christmas, you might want to come with us tomorrow. We're going off to get a tree. It's sort of a family outing. We ride out together and cut one down. We can easily make it two."

McCoy looked amused. "I wouldn't want to intrude. And I'm not much up to chopping down trees. Anyway, it's been a long time since I've really celebrated the holiday that way, not since I had Joanna."

"But you have Spock now." Karen seemed both confused and distressed.

McCoy's eyes widened slightly. "Vulcans don't celebrate Christmas."

"He certainly seemed to understand the meaning of it."

"You asked him?"

"I wasn't sure if he'd know what we were talking about. He explained," Karen's voice became rich with amusement. "that he found the basic narrative of Judeo - Christian ideology to comprise a generally coherent philosophical system, though occasionally contradictory in detail. I was expecting to explain Santa Claus."

"I wish you would have." McCoy said, amused. "I've never been able to make him understand it."

"I didn't need to. Jess still believes in Santa Claus. She explained it to him in great detail. I was a little afraid of his reaction. We'd like to have Jess believe. A lot of children in the first grade still do, though it gets hard by the time they get to second, and nearly impossible at third. But Spock was the soul of discretion with Jess. It was Devon who was rolling his eyes. That little brat has been sneaking around the hayloft for weeks. He knows we hide the presents there."

McCoy thought of the years he had missed that with Joanna. "Kids do tend to make the holiday more special. I think we all miss that on the Enterprise."

"What have you decided to get Spock?"?"

McCoy's eyes widened. "I'm not sure we're going to celebrate Christmas."

Karen gave him a look of total shock, then looked away hastily. She seemed to be searching for something neutral to say.

McCoy realized his reply was totally unacceptable and tried to think of words to amend it. Foremost on his mind though, was the weary realization of another level of deception he and Spock had to play out. He had no objection to celebrating the holiday, and even Spock had been known to attend the bridge and science department parties, and even to give presents to one James T. Kirk. But that didn't come close to acting the part of the typical gift-showered child on Christmas morning.

"I haven't really had much time to think about it, Karen." McCoy said. "I'm sure we'll have some sort of Christmas celebration, but I haven't thought much about presents."

"Most kids have a list ten yards long. He's the only child I know who never seems to want or ask for anything. I've wondered what he might like."

McCoy groaned mentally, realizing Spock was in for a least one well intentioned but undoubtedly childish present. And that meant he would need coaching on how to act, and presents to give in return.

"Get him a pony." Devon advised McCoy, upon riding up.

"Really, Devon." His mother admonished. "I'm sure Spock is very fond of Linne."

"With the right pony he could really do some winning," Devon insisted.

"He's never said anything to me." McCoy said repressively.

Devon gave him a look that spoke volumes. McCoy suddenly felt the enormous gap between his own years-old relationship with Spock and that of this child. "Linne's too big." Devon said coldly. " She's out of proportion to him. Spock doesn't look right on her, and the judges can't help but fault for that. She'll never event better than Training Level. She's too slow for anything but Hunter Trials. She'll never place in conformation classes. She's no fun."

"I'm not buying some half-broken conformation pony just so Spock can break his neck trying to win a few measly scraps of pseudosilk," McCoy said irritated.

"No, of course not." Karen said, frowning at Devon, who rolled his eyes, making McCoy feel like the worst of Scrooges.

"And we'd still have Linne. The last thing I need is a stable full of horses all eating their heads off." McCoy argued.

"Tracy Barnes would buy Linne. She's outgrown Taggart, and she likes her. She would have bought her if Dad hadn't outbid them. She needs a quiet horse like Linne and hasn't found a good one. You might even get a better price, Spock's really brought Linne along."

"Devon, that's enough." Karen admonished.

"And what do I buy in her place?" McCoy said weakly, realizing he was losing control of the conversation. "I'm out of practice buying horses."

"Dad and I can help." Devon said enthusiastically. "I tried out Linne. I'm not too big to try out ponies for Spock. It would be fun."

"We'll see." McCoy said shortly. But he had the feeling he'd already lost.

Karen frowned Devon finally into silence, and turned the conversation back to the tree-cutting expedition. "Do think about coming, Leonard. You wouldn't be intruding. Devon has already invited Spock. It is all right for him to come along, isn't it?"

"If he wants to go." McCoy said shortly.

McCoy decided not to go along on the tree cutting party. "I'm surprised you want to go, Spock. I can't believe you're interested in that sort of thing. I could get you out of it, I suppose."

"No, thank you, Dr. McCoy." Spock said remotely. Seeing McCoy's curious look, he raised an eyebrow with a touch of his old manner and said, "It have always been curious about this custom of murdering a tree for the purpose of standing it in one's home for a few weeks. It will be a fascinating field exercise in human anthropology."

McCoy grinned, but he thought Spock's manner rather forced, as if he found it difficult to assume. "Well, I hope the weather holds," he said as Spock turned to leave. "It looks like rain. If we were in Iowa we'd be due for snow. The comm unit chimed and Spock paused on his way out the door. "It looks like you're excursion may be called off." McCoy went to the unit as Spock waited in the doorway. Then the screen flashed with the familiar blue and silver Starfleet logo, and McCoy blinked in surprise, wondering if he were going to be recalled unexpectedly from leave. "It's a message from Jim." He read the transmittal code and looked up in surprise. "For you."

Spock approached the comm unit slowly, studying the Starfleet banner. He put one hand on the controls, paused, and then looked at McCoy evenly. "I'm going to be late. I had better go." McCoy drew breath as Spock walked out the door, but Spock was gone before he could think of a thing to say.

McCoy could hardly fault Spock's attitude. His treatment at Jim's hands had been anything but considerate. But it was also inconsistent with Spock's usual behavior. That was, his usual behavior before his accident. Spock didn't court conflict, but he didn't shy from it. McCoy found himself studying the gray clouds, almost wishing the day would bring a cloudburst that would bring Spock home. Because McCoy had a nagging feeling Spock wasn't all that interested in a tree-cutting expedition, and that Jim wasn't the only Starfleet contact Spock was trying to avoid.

Spock was not finding the tree-cutting expedition exactly comfortable. Riding always kept him warm enough, but this expedition did not involve riding as much as standing around various specimens of evergreens and commenting adversely on their suitability. No one in the group seemed to have reached any kind of consensus before leaving the house on height, spread, type of needles or specimen of evergreen, so consequently the argument was continued before all the candidates, to the detriment of Spock's comfort. The humidity in the air seemed to seep through all his layers of clothing. His toes had long gone numb in his rubber boots before a tree had been chosen, and was cut and tied up for transport. Spock tried to hide his shivering when anyone looked at him, spoke enough to not draw particular attention to his situation, and warmed his fingers surreptitiously in Grey Linne's thick mane. He believed he would never adjust to the cold dampness of Terran weather. It was late afternoon before they started for home, dragging the unfortunate tree behind them. Spock was grateful to be finally moving. He heard the thunder first, of course.

"Oh no." Karen said miserably when the first fat drops began to fall. "I knew we should have stayed at home today. You kids had better make a run for it or you'll get soaked."

"We'd only have to cool the horses down forever afterwards." Devon argued, shocking Spock, who had yet to get used to the unbelievable freedoms Terran children took with their parents. Devon meanwhile was saying, "And we'll get just as soaked doing that."

So they jogged slowly home through the downpour. The Deveaux seemed to think it almost amusing. They poured into the stable laughing. Rain-soaked tack was carefully spread out to be cleaned, and the horses were hastily groomed and turned into their dry stalls. Spock had ducked into the stable almost by instinct. He was standing, looking out at the downpour, thinking of the mile of soaked fields he had to traverse in the dark. McCoy would be livid. And even though he was getting his confidence back with respect to being mishandled, he still felt some trepidation about facing him. Someone took Linne's stiffening reins from his wet hand and he turned to look in Karen Deveaux's concerned face. "You can't go home in that. You'll have to stay here for the night."

"It's only a mile."

"Don't be silly." Karen had removed Linne's saddle, set it on a tree, and hung the soaked pad on a peg to dry. "There's plenty of room for you and Linne here. And I can't send you out in that storm."

Spock watched numbly as Karen led his horse away. Linne moved gratefully into a dry stall and began to nibble hay, and Karen hung the wet bridle on another peg and faced him. Spock was not sure what options would be open to a child of his supposed age, but in spite of Devon's example, he did not feel contention was one of them. He yielded reluctantly, thinking of McCoy's undoubted disapproval. "Very well." He remembered his manners and said, "Thank you. It's very kind of you to have me."

Karen met his eyes in amusement at his formality. "Why we're very pleased to have you."

Even Spock joined in the all out run to the house. The rain had turned to sleet; he'd begun to feel as if he'd never be warm again. They pounded into the mud room off the kitchen and shed water soaked coats and boots. In spite of the warmth of the house, Spock was shivering in his wet clothes as he followed Devon's mother to a bathroom, and accepted the towels he was handed. He discovered the Terran cure for being soaked was being soaked again, albeit in warm water, as Karen started a hot bath. "I'll bring you some dry clothes and be right back."

Within a few moments she had reappeared. "I brought you pajamas and some clothes for tomorrow. They're outgrown ones of Devon's, so don't worry about returning them. Do you have enough towels? Dinner will be in about half an hour, so don't take too long."

Spock was dressing when Karen Deveaux knocked and put her head in the room. "Leonard is on the comm. He doesn't seem to want you to stay, and nothing I can say will convince him from coming out in this mess. You had better talk to him."

Spock followed her downstairs. She indicated a comm unit in a thankfully empty room and left him alone. He could hear the sleet lashing against the windows. The very sound of it made him shiver. Spock pushed the connect button and faced McCoy.

"I've already tried to make your excuses to Karen, Spock, but she wouldn't accept them from me. If you want to come home I'm afraid you'll have to tell her yourself."

"I'll stay."

McCoy's eyebrows rose. "Spock, you can't be serious."

"I will be all right."

McCoy frowned. He was beginning to believe he didn't know this Spock at all. How could Spock possibly be comfortable masquerading as a child in a human household, even for a few hours, much less through an entire day and night. But Spock obviously was comfortable, even wearing an outlandish, shabby team sweatshirt that must have once been Devon's. "All right then. I'll expect you home after breakfast."

Spock sighed, McCoy had not seemed pleased. He followed the sound of voices to the kitchen. Karen indicated his usual seat at the table, and put a bowl of vegetable soup in front of him. Spock relaxed a little. He had eaten enough meals and spent enough time here that even staying the night did not bother him. Everyone was tired and hungry enough to leave conversation to the minimum Spock preferred. Karen would probably send him to bed soon after dinner, at Jess's bedtime. Jess was already falling asleep over her soup, and Karen would expect no less of him. Sometimes, it was almost a relief to be treated as the child he appeared.

McCoy put down the journal he was reading and crossed to the window. Spock and Devon rode across the pasture below, jumped the in-and-out abreast, and continued along the edge of the woods. They were practicing to compete in the Hunter Trials together, in the junior hunter pair division. The object was not to make the fastest time, each pair was supposed to ride the course at a true hunter pace, the pair that came closest to the correct time with the fewest faults won. Even from a distance, McCoy could see Devon holding his horse in, and Spock urging Grey Linne on. Spock, of course, could calculate the time, distance and necessary speed with his usual precision. McCoy had suspected they would be a shoo-in for first place, watching them, he began to wonder if Devon was right about Linne. Spock didn't have many pleasures besides riding; it was a shame he didn't have a horse more suited to his abilities. For a moment McCoy fought a losing battle against his own better judgment. Then he went to the comm terminal.

"This is it." Devon whispered, sotto-voice triumphant from the back of a flashy black pony. "This is the perfect one for Spock."

McCoy frowned as Devon rode a figure-eight, executed a neat flying change, and put the pony over a low coop. The pony resisted a little before the jump, then jumped too big, if cleanly. Devon cantered in a circle, and brought the pony to a smooth trot.

"I'm not keen on any horse named 'Firecracker'. Why's he called that?"

The owner shrugged. "He's showy. A little dynamo."

"Cause he explodes over fences." Devon dropped into McCoy's ear, as he dismounted. "Spock'll handle that."

"He looks too small."

"He's exactly Spock's size." Devon said patiently. "He just looks small on me."

"I don't know."

"His gaits are perfect. He'll be a fantastic dressage horse. He's fast. He's got a perfect mouth, great conformation, he's young, and he wants to run. He's just a little green over fences."

McCoy thought morosely that he didn't want to see any green as a result of Spock jumping fences.

"This is the best pony we've seen. You can't make Spock ride Dull Linne forever. And it's Christmas."

McCoy bought him.

McCoy arranged to board Firecracker with his previous owners until Christmas morning. He was beginning to feel a little silly, but he figured he could always explain to Spock he'd done it as part of their cover. Christmas morning was traditional for hunting, a drag meet had been arranged. The owners agreed to groom and braid the pony and trailer him over early in the morning for Spock to find when he went in to feed.

School recessed the week before Christmas; Spock spent most of that week at the Deveaux. The only activity he refused to participate in was accompanying the family to the local shopping complex while Jess 'visited Santa.' But he participated, at least marginally, in most other activities, and Karen seemed to have innumerable ones devised to keep the 'kids' busy during their vacation. McCoy was a little surprised to discover they spent two days alone baking and decorating cookies. Spock hadn't lost his antipathy toward refined sugar, McCoy couldn't see him making gingerbread men. Maybe Spock was still considering it 'a fascinating study in human anthropology.' If so, he was approaching it with his usual thoroughness. They also decorated outdoor evergreens with strands of popcorn, raisins, cranberries and other bird treats, gathered holly, pinecones and evergreen boughs for indoor decoration, went on pony club trail rides, and apparently spent hours in quiet pursuits like reading in front of the fire. McCoy discovered from Karen that Spock was teaching Devon chess.

The afternoon was waning, but Spock was too absorbed to notice. "So what happens then?" he asked the girl across from him.

"Then you wait to see how it comes out."

"But you already know what the result -- how it will come out," Spock amended.

"No, you don't. You only know how you think it's going to turn out, " Jess argued.

Spock raised an eyebrow to admit this concession just as the kitchen door opened, letting John Deveaux in along with a burst of cold air. Spock scrambled to his feet in consternation, suddenly aware of the passage of time, his eyes fixed on the waning sunset he could see through the kitchen half door. He was going to be late getting home regardless, but McCoy especially disliked him riding alone across the deserted fields in the dark.

"You're late, John," Karen noted, looking up from her dinner preparations. "I was starting to worry."

"Tractor broke down. I've put off that overhaul too long." The farmer looked around the kitchen, transformed with holiday decorations, and scooped up the nearest child, who happened to be an astonished Spock. "And it's that darn Tiny Tim. He gets heavier every day." He deposited a kiss on his wife's neck."

"Oh, you." Karen smiled and gave her husband a real kiss.

"Kitchen sure smells good." John deposited Spock on his feet and ruffled his hair. "How many cookies have you all made so far? Twelve dozen?"

"Eleventeen." Jess said, crossing the room at a run and leaping into the arms Spock had just vacated. John obligingly swung her up, and tickled her. "Daddy, I changed my mind. I really want a playhouse instead of a dollhouse. With real curtains at real windows. And a door I can shut and bolt." She looked meaningfully over her father's shoulder at Devon.

"Princess, you know you have to tell all that to Santa. Have you written him a letter?"

"I just now decided. But I'll write him right now." Back on her feet, she dove for the small table in the corner that held her crayons and paper.

"Not now, Jess. It's suppertime."

Through the last exchange, Spock had been standing frozen, where John had placed him, but he came aware at the last words. "I have to go," he said, edging to the door.

"Stay for dinner," Devon demanded, looking up from his videogame. "Mom, Spock can stay for dinner, can't he?"

"Of course."

"No. No, thank you," Spock amended hastily. "I have to go." He shook himself free from his reverie, and headed for the door.

"Be careful going home," Karen called. But Spock did not hear. Still in shock from his inadvertent telepathic eavesdropping, he collected a drowsy Linne from her stall, hastily tacked her up, and headed home.

So that is love. he thought, winding his way automatically along the paths. Is that what Jim felt with his many women? What my parents felt -- feel, for each other? He shook his head again, as if to cast off cobwebs, but he still found restoring his equilibrium difficult. Snatches of the emotions lingered and he fought to keep them from overwhelming him. Lack of experience and lack of control made that doubly difficult. As an adult, he'd lived under strong telepathic barriers. As a child, his parents and other adults had kept their own barriers. His own emotions he'd always considered a failing and a flaw. Not human, unVulcan, he'd thought his true nature alien to all. What he just perceived, he had never experienced in himself. Desire, sexual excitement, he had known for T'Pring, Zarabeth, Leila, Droxine. He had wrestled with feelings of friendship and affection for Jim, and for some of his colleagues in Starfleet. But the two in combination, mutual respect and trust, affection deepening to sexual excitement, was a revelation to him.

The next day he went back to the Deveaux with both curiosity and some trepidation and found Devon in one of the outbuildings, 'helping' his father overhaul the tractor. But whether John Deveaux considered it help was another thing.

Kick, kick. John bit his tongue over an automatic reprimand and watched his son snatch for the tool rolling off the workbench that his fidgeting had nearly dislodged.

"Can I get you some coffee, Dad?" Devon asked hopefully.

"Not now, son."

Devon sighed gustily, and kicked the workbench again desultorily. A container of bolts fell with a crash to the floor. "Oh, heck." John set his teeth as Devon scrambled to the floor, scooped up the bolts in the immediate vicinity, along with a handful of dust, and tossed them and the dust back in the container. Beside him, Spock, who had edged more carefully into the vicinity, eyeing both Devon and John, settled cross-legged onto the cold floor, and began to gather the more far-flung ones.

"How much longer, Dad?"

"I've hardly started, Devon. You know this'll take a few hours."

Devon sighed again. Kick, kick. Tap, tap. Jiggle, Jiggle. John tried to ignore the fidgeting and asked for a 9/16ths wrench.


John looked at the tool in his hand, and sighed. "This isn't a 9/16ths, son."

"How do you tell?"

"It's marked, son, on the handle."

Devon looked over the bunch of tools on the workbench. "I don't see it, Dad. Won't that one do?"

"No, it won't fit." John turned on the short stepladder and squinted down at the worktable.

"But it's adjustable!" Devon argued.

John sighed. Spock rose from the floor, glanced over the jumble of tools on the table, slipped the wrench out from beneath some work gloves and handed it to Devon.

"Oh, here it is." John went back to work and Spock returned to hands and knees, gathering up the remaining bolts. "Need any more tools, Dad?"

"No, thanks."

Kick, kick. Tap, tap. Jiggle, jiggle. Devon shifted again, bumped against the stepladder, and John's tool belt, looped over it, began to slide to the floor. Spock rescued it before it fell down to brain him. John bit back another reprimand, seeing out of the corner of his eye Devon setting up a tic-tac-toe game with a collection of nuts and bolts, and Spock playing with his fallen tool belt, taking the tools out of their hastily jammed in positions, laying his good tools out on the dusty floor. Kids! But what could you do but expose them to the job, and set them an example. Eventually, they'd pick things up.

Devon wearied of tic-tac-toe. "Are you sure you don't want some coffee, Dad?"

"No, thanks."

"Well, maybe I'll get some milk?" Devon ventured.

"You just had breakfast."

Kick, kick, tap, tap, jiggle, Jiggle, while Devon considered this undeniable truth. "But I'm thirsty. It's dusty out here."

John sighed, knowing he should use that as an argument to have Devon clean the shop, knowing too that once Devon left, the boy was as good as gone. But his patience was wearing out. He didn't have time to supervise Devon's clumsy attempts to shop clean if he wanted to get this tractor done. And Devon wasn't much help anyway. He supposed he'd kept the boy long enough. After all, it was his vacation from school. "All right, go ahead."

Devon exploded off the stool. "Come on, Spock."

"I'm not thirsty, thank you."

At the door, Devon halted in consternation. Spock was still on the floor, fiddling with the tool belt. He could hardly argue with him, and let on that he wasn't planning on coming back, at least not until his Dad fetched him. With a shrug, he left Spock to his own fate.

Silence settled over the shop. Spock moved from the cold floor to Devon's vacated stool, taking the tool belt with him, but when John glanced down, he was absorbed in putting the tools back in their proper loops, as if he were assembling a child's puzzle. Satisfied he wasn't doing anything damaging or dangerous, John left him alone.

Later, John turned to ask for a tool and blinked. Spock had finished the tool belt, and it hung, every tool accounted for, shiny and in place, back over the ladder. The jumble of tools and parts on the bench had been replaced with a neat array, as if they were part of a surgical set. Spock was organizing them according to size and function and was cleaning each one with meticulous care. The boy looked up briefly as John turned, glanced beyond him to the tractor, and handed him a tool. John took the pro-offered tool, which happened to be the one he wanted. Too surprised to comment, John went back to work. Five minutes later, when he had need of a wrench, he turned to ask for it, only to find Spock repeat the action. It was as if the boy had done the job before, or had an instinctive knowledge of machinery. The morning wore on, and every time he turned for a tool, Spock had it ready for him. In between, John saw, the boy carefully cleaned, sharpened or calibrated the tools or the parts John removed. After organizing the workbench, he generally made himself useful around the shop, cleaning and straightening. Done with that, he returned to merely watch John work with absorbed interest, and with no fidgeting, and no whining. Halfway into the reassembly, when Spock shifted in obvious discomfort, and visibly restrained himself after a half aborted gesture, the movement was as obvious as a shout. John looked at him inquiringly.

"Something wrong?"

"That --" Spock caught himself, and rephrased his words from a statement to a more appropriate question. "Is not that coupling damaged?"

John squinted into the innards of the tractor, at the part he'd nearly overlooked. "So it is. Good job." John tousled Spock's hair with a grease blackened hand.

"Thank you, sir."

John glanced over at him, surprised at the boy's tension under his hand. Attention directed inward, Spock locked his muscles against another betraying shiver, and did not entirely succeed.

"It's gotten a mite cold in here. Why don't you turn on that old heater."

"Yes sir," Spock obeyed with alacrity, dragging the bulky unit over to them, and turning it on high before reseating himself.

John turned back to his assembly, but the real puzzle was not the myriad of parts spread out before him. The real mystery was how the child at his side always seemed to know which part in the complicated re-assembly to hand him, especially since the boy had been so obviously occupied during the disassembly. Furthermore, every part he was handed had already been cleaned, and those that needed it were lubricated. Without being told, Spock had tossed replaceable filters and other components, and now removed their equivalents from the boxes clustered at their feet. It was the fastest and easiest overhaul John had ever done. During the last stages of the reassembly, when John was merely snapping external casing in place, Spock hunted up a broom and swept the shop with meticulous care. When John turned from his completed job, and straightened a stiff back, he surveyed a shop in a state that hadn't existed in his memory. Spock put the broom away as John came slowly up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

"Well, that was a real fine job. You were a big help."

"Thank you, sir. It was very interesting."

John studied him. "Spock, how did you know what tools I needed? What parts to hand me?"

Spock's eyes were wide. "I watched you, sir.

"You watched me." John thought about it, shook his head in baffled resignation, and shrugged. "Let's get some lunch." John watched the boy as he moved with alacrity again toward the warmth of the kitchen. At the kitchen table, ensconced before peanut butter sandwiches and milk, amiably enduring Devon's squabbling, Jess' teasing, and Karen's fussing, Spock was just like any other child. A hair smarter and more responsible, but still just a kid. John shrugged again, and let it go.

McCoy spent a horrible four hours with Deveaux and his accountant, a duty he was unable to escape, discussing taxes, depreciation of buildings and equipment, profit, losses, and other tax-related items that interested his companions far more than himself. It was made worse by everyone wanting him to explain things they'd always foregone over subspace, and his attempts to meet their consuming interest in the business with at least attention, if not understanding. His respect for Deveaux increased over the period, and when the accountant had left, he broke out a bottle of the best to honor another successful year. The sky was beginning to darken, and through the French windows they noted Spock ride up and disappear into the stables.

"That's a nice boy you have there, Leonard. He spent hours this week helping me rebuild the big tractor. Those things take forever to disassemble and clean. Devon's supposed to help, but after a few minutes he's more trouble than he's worth, fidgeting and thinking of reasons to get away. But I had to practically chase your boy into the house for lunch. And he's always helping Devon with his chores. I'm beginning to think I should pay him a salary."

McCoy had a mental image of Spock and Scotty, surrounded by the complicated warp engines and swallowed hard. "I don't think you could afford him," he said absently.

Deveaux looked amused. "I don't know. Seems to me he comes pretty cheap. Once he saw I wasn't going to bite his head off, I can hardly keep him away. That boy's as curious as a cat, always has a million questions in his eyes, half of which he's afraid to ask."


Deveaux's eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "I can't say I think much of whomever had him before. Once he gets interested in something, he loses it for a bit. But most of the time, he looks at adults like they're going to eat him. He doesn't do it so much with me, anymore. But if I'd say a sharp word to Devon, something he needed to hear, Spock would flinch."

McCoy hesitated. "I think this is all very new to him. I'm not sure how Vulcans discipline their children, but I don't think it's as direct as human methods. That probably does unsettle him a bit."

Deveaux nodded. "I supposed that could be it. Like I said, he seems used to us now."

McCoy felt his own time too free on his hands, and subbed for a number of vacationing physicians to fill it. He still wasn't sure what he planned to do when his official leave was up. McCoy had begun to believe Spock's numerous activities were being used to avoid him. He didn't want to raise the issue now, but all these diversions would disappear once the holiday was over. His leave would soon be up, the medical school was asking about his plans for the coming term, and if Spock was going to stay, they would have to deal with the problem of school. He decided on the day after Christmas as a good time to discuss it with Spock.

Pony Club had arranged a Christmas Eve carol sing by horseback among its members. McCoy discovered the Deveaux were going and expected Spock and himself to participate as a matter of course. Since it appeared Spock intended to go, McCoy had a choice of being alone on Christmas Eve or participating. He decided to go.

One he got into the spirit of the thing, it was rather intoxicating. He dug two red saddle pads out of the tack room, and hung bells on the horses. Spock seemed amused, in his usual Vulcan way, by the proceedings, but seemed to expect that attendance was a matter of course. It did turn out to be fun. There was no snow, of course, but the air was crisp, the houses they caroled at were ablaze with Christmas lights, the old songs, a little jaded sung from a starship rec room, improved with the setting and the addition of children's voices. Spock kept to the back and listened mostly, observing everything with his sharp eyes and ears. They went on from house to house, mostly the farms and estates of their Pony Club neighbors, sometimes traveling a good distance between them. But the kids were rejuvenated by hot chocolate and cookies, and the adults feasted on eggnog. McCoy noticed Spock, the shunner of refined sugar, accepting a mug of hot chocolate at one house, and he did more than warm his fingers on the cup.

Eventually it got late, and McCoy and the Deveauxs broke off from the group to head home. McCoy studied the bright stars and wondered where the Enterprise was, and what Jim was doing. Right about now he was probably in the middle of a hell of a party, while he was in the sober company of two upright farmers, a Vulcan, and a couple of kids. Yet he didn't feel jealous. He was surprisingly content with what he had at the moment.

"John, you better give her to me."

McCoy looked around and noticed Jessamyn, her head drooping, making a valiant effort to stay awake. "Ride with mom," she murmured, even as her father transferred her to the front of her mother's saddle and began to lead her pony. McCoy looked at Spock. It was long past Spock's regular bedtime too, and even the normally exuberant Devon seemed subdued. Spock's jaw was set as if he were concentrating, and McCoy decided he was probably good for the five miles or so home. The Deveauxs rode side by side, talking quietly so as not to disturb Jess sleeping. The lights were flickering out in all the houses, the whole world seemed to be sleeping, waiting for Christmas morning. McCoy sighed in quiet contentment, pleasantly drowsy himself.

"Leonard, you're going to lose that boy."

McCoy looked up, startled, to see John Deveaux carefully lifting a slumping Spock from Linne's back. Spock opened his eyes, making a valiant effort to wake up "I can ride." He murmured sleepily.

"Sure you can." John said calmly. "You're going to ride with me." Spock sighed, and then seemed to capitulate, resting his head against the farmer's chest and closing his eyes. He seemed perfectly content, and John himself acted as if there was nothing unusual in his casual handling of the Vulcan that McCoy, sensitive to Vulcan mores, still rarely touched. McCoy was surprised at the rush of possessive jealously that flooded him. He felt irritated that he hadn't noticed Spock's falling asleep, and he had always been careful not to patronize the Vulcan. But if anyone was going to look after Spock, it was going to be him.

"I'll take him, John." he said shortly.

"Sure." Deveaux transferred him easily into his arms. "You're going to have to take him home anyway."

Spock settled down against him, seemingly unperturbed by the transfer. After a few moments he was obviously fast asleep, but McCoy rode as if he were on eggs anyway. Spock felt oddly light and fragile in his arms. McCoy looked down at him, unwillingly remembering Joanna as a very little girl, snuggling in his arms in just that way. But Joanna was grown up now, with a family of her own, light years away. And Spock wasn't really a child. Or was he? Was he an adult with some physical handicaps? Or did having a child's limitations, and some of a child's needs make him, at least partially, a child as well.

Arriving home, McCoy said Spock's name a couple of times, but Spock apparently needed more to awaken him. McCoy propped Spock up with his hands, and dismounted slowly. Fortunately, the horses were tired, and stood, heads drooping, where they were left. McCoy lifted Spock down, and then wrapped the horse's reins around a convenient rail. He carried Spock upstairs to his room, flung the covers back, laid him down, and tugged of his riding boots, jacket, and breeches. McCoy noticed through the horse stains the latter were getting worn. Spock only had two pairs, and he practically lived in them. Making a mental note to get him some new ones, McCoy tossed them aside and paused in reaching to pull the covers over Spock. He'd never examined Spock undressed since his accident. Scanners really made that unnecessary, and Spock, sensitive to winter chills and humidity, always wore multiple layers of clothes. McCoy tucked Spock in carefully, feeling more regret for Spock's situation than he had for a while. He remembered clearly Spock's former self, he'd been slight but tall, and his leanly muscled frame had been surprisingly powerful. Comparing that to the fragility of the figure before him, the slight limbs, the delicate skin, made McCoy pause. He'd seen Spock's hands play a number of scientific and musical instruments, they'd been long-fingered and strong. McCoy knew he'd had ample opportunity to notice the difference. He hadn't wanted to see these small hands, the tiny fingers. McCoy picked one up, comparing it to his own. Spock's hands had been as adept with his scientific instruments as his own were with a laser scalpel. How would he feel, transformed into a child's frame, unable, or supremely handicapped from doing the work he'd been trained for, had spend his life perfecting. He'd ignored the issue, knowing Spock had to come to his own terms with it. But he wondered now if that was the right approach.

He'd felt guilty for the restrictions he'd imposed, and saddened by the restrictions Spock's condition imposed. It still bothered him to see Spock occasionally fruitless efforts to stay up late. Spock had yet to get used to the taste of milk, or to drink a glass without a struggle and virtually a direct order. And McCoy had a similar struggle over vitamins. He practically had to put them in Spock's mouth. Handing them to him just meant seeing them left on the table, giving them by hypo meant baleful looks and the cold shoulder treatment. But Spock's skin was stretched taut over bare bones, after weeks of being diplomatically urged to eat, he still looked half-starved. Spock was doing a lot of riding, exercise that burned up formidable calories. It was still a struggle for him to hold his weight. McCoy didn't understand what Spock had against eating, but he didn't just need to maintain his weight, he needed fuel to grow on. McCoy didn't want to see Spock injure himself, or suffer any permanent consequences because of poor nutrition, but if Spock's behavior continued, that would be the case. McCoy began to feel that perhaps he'd been too diplomatic. He vowed, uncomfortable or not, to be a little stronger with Spock. He covered the boy up and went to tend to the horses.

Christmas dawned too early for McCoy's liking. His alarm clock, set early because of the hunt meet, beeped insistently. McCoy turned it off, wondering who it was who'd fixed the powerful eggnog, and if he really had to hunt today. Then he remembered Spock and Firecracker, and got dressed. Spock wasn't in his bedroom. McCoy remembered he'd offered to groom and braid both horses, so he would have risen extra early. McCoy left the house and walked toward the stables, wondering what Spock's reaction would be. He might conceivably be insulted at the gift of a pony. Devon's perception could have been wrong, or Spock might have been acting a part for the boy. McCoy started to worry.

He let himself in quietly. Firecracker was there, groomed to a high gloss, his braids bandbox neat. A banner over the brass nameplate on his stall door spelled out "Merry Christmas" in red and green bunting. Spock turned to look at McCoy, astonishment and pleasure written clearly on his face. "How did you know?"

They didn't have a lot of time before the hunt, but at breakfast Spock brought to him a neatly wrapped, rather bulky parcel. "I have a present for you too."

McCoy looked at Spock in astonishment, and started to unwrap it, wondering how, without access to money or transportation, Spock had managed to get anything for him. Inside the wrapping was a beautiful hand knitted ivory wool sweater, in an intricate fisherman's stitch.

"Mrs. Deveaux knitted it. An hour of knitting for an hour of tutoring." Spock said hesitantly, in explanation.

McCoy stared at the sweater. Spock had to have negotiated this weeks ago. He suddenly understood Karen's sudden consternation over his doubts about celebrating Christmas. Spock had prepared weeks in advance, bartering one of his few resources, and McCoy had almost answered it with nothing. He'd never would have considered getting the Vulcan a gift without their prompting.

Spock looked up at McCoy and uncertainly fingered the edges of wool. McCoy realized his silence was unnerving the Vulcan. "It's beautiful," he assured Spock. McCoy slipped it on, noting the perfect fit. "Thank you, Spock. You shouldn't have."

Spock's eyes flew to his, suddenly anxious. "It is the human custom, is it not?"

"I didn't mean it that way." McCoy reassured him. "I just meant it was more than I could possibly have expected. Thank you."

"Thank you for Firecracker." Spock recited solemnly, as if it were a formula, but looking somewhat relieved.

McCoy shook his head mentally. After all these years among humans, he would have supposed the Vulcan would be fully knowledgeable and comfortable with their concept of holidays, but Spock had obviously had some concerns about today. "I hope you still feel that way after you've ridden him. And speaking of riding, we'd better be going or they'll start without us."

"How did you know to give me Firecracker?" Spock asked, on the way to the stables.

"Devon told me." McCoy said. "Rather insistently." He gauged the surprise in Spock's eyes. "You didn't mention it to him?" Spock shook his head, and McCoy shrugged. "I suppose he saw how well you ride and figured it out for himself. How'd he do in geometry, by the way?"

"Oh, he received an A."

McCoy grinned as he mounted up. "I'm not surprised."

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