To Begin Anew

Part 2


Pat Foley

The Pony Club had sponsored a post-Christmas 3-Phase Combined Training event. Colloquially called the Lollipop event, the only trophies or prizes awarded were lollipops in the appropriate colors. The event was located on the beautiful grounds of the local Hunt Master, who donated the cost of the dressage and stadium judges. The event was so low-key he didn't even bother to secure jump judges for the cross-country course, that portion of the event was ridden on the honor system. Even as laid back as this affair was, McCoy wasn't wild about Spock entering the unknown Firecracker, especially on such short acquaintance. Still, he supposed it wasn't much different than a Gambler's Choice event, when the kid's routinely changed horses with every pass over the jumps.PRIVATE

Spock didn't seem to have any qualms, though Firecracker had already shown examples of temperament that apparently landed him his name. The pony had outdone himself on the hunting field, but most horses hunted well, deriving their own share of excitement from running with the pack. Cross-country and in dressage the pony had shown well, but in stadium courses the veneer worse thin, and the temperament that had given him his name appeared. When Spock had refused to let him run out of a fence in practice, the pony had spent several minutes trying unsuccessfully to buck his rider off. Spock seemed delighted with the pony, in his repressed Vulcan way, and while to McCoy that was a surprise he found difficult to accept, he had to admit Firecracker fit Spock better, both proportionally and in temperament, than Linne ever could. And it was no more disconcerting to see Spock riding a flashy pony, once he got used to it, than dwarfed by the plodding, 'child safe' Linne. In fact, it was less, though it underscored to McCoy how much he tried to avoid seeing Spock's true appearance.

No one paid much attention to the approach of the flyer. Aircars were old news to all of these horses, none of them flicked an ear at the approach. McCoy didn't even turn and look; there were dozens of people with families who might have turned up in an aircar; McCoy had no expectations. Consequently, when someone laid a hand on his shoulder, he jumped in surprise.

"Sorry, Bones. I didn't mean to startle you."

"What are you doing here, Jim?"

"You didn't answer my message. I decided I better come and make my apologies in person."

"I didn't get a message from you."

"It was on Spock's tape." Kirk chewed his lip nervously. "I figured I better apologize to him first. But I've sent him two tapes, and he never answered." Kirk shrugged. "I decided if I didn't tell you I was coming, you couldn't say no."

"How did you find me here?"

"Your neighbor, Deveaux, told me you were here." Kirk looked at the assortment of children, sprinkled with adults, milling about. "What the hell is this, Bones? Your neighbor said something about Pony Club?"

"That's right. Spock belongs to it."

"Spock?" Kirk swallowed and looked away, after a moment he faced McCoy, his voice cool, "I can't believe you'd do something like this, Bones. I'd have thought Spock's been through enough humiliation."

"I haven't done anything. And Spock doesn't find it humiliating." McCoy said hotly. "He happens to enjoy it." Kirk's eyes narrowed and McCoy felt his own temper flare. "If you've come here to make trouble, Jim, you can head right back to the Enterprise. Spock does what he chooses to do, and he doesn't need your criticism of his activities." McCoy frowned as Kirk scanned the crowd, obviously searching for Spock. McCoy spotted him by the cross-country start. As a concession to Firecracker's inexperience in jumping, Spock was riding the pony temporarily in the six to eight year old division where the fences were a little lower, and the spread jumps a little narrower.

Spock and Jessamyn were waiting patiently for their turn, heads down, stirrup to stirrup and apparently deep in conversation. They were 'on deck', or next to go, and merely waiting for the judges to signal their start. Since there were no jump judges, riders were taking the course in pairs, both to bolster the 'honor' system, and to have someone close by in case someone ran into trouble at a jump. McCoy had felt grateful for that. Spock believed firmly in the 'over, under or through' tenet of cross-country jumping. The only rule was that the horse and rider had to make it through the penalty box around the jump without either the horse falling or the rider losing his seat. Going under or through heavy timber cross-country jumps was of course impossible, but having watched Spock take a number of courses at a full gallop, he wondered if Spock believed that. It didn't help that Spock's instructor had watched Firecracker's attempted evasions before fences, and had taken her charge aside privately, warning Spock that if a horse stopped dead in front of a jump, there was little the rider could do, but she had a riding crop reserved for any of her students who let a horse run out around a fence. That was, of course, mostly a bluff, but riding instructors had lots of ways of making their displeasure felt. Though McCoy would have been happy to see Spock hold back a little in this event, he felt pretty sure the instructor's remark had only fueled Spock's usual fervor. He was hoping Jess would be a good example for him.

Jim had followed McCoy's gaze. He frowned at McCoy and looked back at the pair just as Jess and Spock were called. They rode up to the start, Firecracker dancing a little in impatience. McCoy noticed Jess's pony was a hair bigger than Firecracker. She and Spock were the same size, she looked a little smaller on the big pony. Devon had been right, Firecracker did fit Spock to perfection. If only the stupid beast didn't break his neck. But gods, they looked like such children. Jess turned and said something to Spock, her blond braids shifting over her numbered pinny and Spock turned to answer her, giving Kirk the first clear view of his face. McCoy felt a moment of sympathy as Kirk stiffened beside him. He still found himself occasionally shocked by Spock's appearance, his mind still played tricks on him, remembering the first officer as he was, or in some compromise between his original and true appearance. He could imagine that Jim had mentally glossed over Spock's inadequacies in much the same way.

"My god, Bones." Kirks voice was thick with disgust. "A pony?"

McCoy's sympathy instantly evaporated. "That's why it's called Pony Club."

"I can't believe you'd do this," Kirk said, his voice menacing. "Do you hand out cookies and milk after school? Do you let him stay up past his bedtime if he's been extra good?"

"Get out of here, Jim." McCoy said slowly. "Neither Spock nor I want you here."

"What? And miss the show?" The judge's flag dropped, and both Spock and Jess broke into a canter. Firecracker easily pulled ahead of the slower pony, and Jess kicked her pony and whacked him with her crop. They flew over the first jump, a coop with a brush fence, which Firecracker took without a flicker. McCoy felt simultaneously relieved and worried in turn. There were 23 jumps left to go, and the next one was a high brick wall with a nasty gully-like drop after it. The only concession to the junior riders was that a rail from the top of the wall had been removed. The ground was sloping, uneven and stony on the landing, and several horses and riders in the senior divisions had already fallen there. Firecracker had already demonstrated he hated hard, bare obstacles, and McCoy could see him fighting the bit and fidgeting on the approach. He forgot Jim and was damning himself for buying the fool pony. Jess flew over the wall, losing a stirrup and half her seat on the uneven landing but recovering quickly. Spock drove Firecracker hard to the fence, squeezed the pony hard at the takeoff point, and for good measure, said 'UP' in a fair imitation of his command voice. The pony tucked in his chin, slid up to the fence on his toes, and started to buck. Spock set his face, whacked the pony with his crop, and turned him around to start the approach again. He galloped hard up to the fence, and McCoy held his breath as Spock simultaneously lowered the crop, dug in his heels and ordered 'up' in the same tone. They flew over the fence to a scattering of applause from the onlookers. The pony responded to Spock's praise with a half buck on landing, stumbled on the stony ground, recovered quickly when it saw Jessamyn's pony ahead of it on the course, and galloped on, quickly catching up with Jess. Then they disappeared.

"Who's the girl?"

McCoy glanced at Kirk briefly. "A neighbor." He walked over to position himself to where he could see the next visible fence, a wicked in-and-out listed in the program as "Blood, Sweat and Tears" that was half a field away. McCoy saw the two ponies galloping down the track; Spock was apparently still in the running. Three refusals at a fence, a fall in the penalty box, going offcourse, or three refusals over all and a rider would be disqualified. But Firecracker was either beginning to enjoy himself, or he had learned his lesson at the wall. He took the in-and-out, the water course, and an odd horizontal jump that involved a ramp over a drop in stride, and then they disappeared into the woods. The physician found himself letting out his breath in a sigh of relief after the ramp. When they had walked the course yesterday, Spock had frowned at the wall, recognizing a predictable nemesis of Firecrackers. But Spock himself had taken an odd aversion to the ramp, in itself one of the easiest of all the jumps. They had lagged behind Devon and Jess while Spock had walked over and jumped down the ramp several times. Considering the number of higher, wider, more technically complex jumps and combinations on the course, McCoy had been mystified by Spock's hesitancy over this simple, no more than two foot drop, especially considering the only difference from jumping off a bank was the wooden overhang. It was apparently one of those minor quirks riders have. Fortunately Firecracker did not share his rider's aversion. The jumps through the thick woods were not difficult, but McCoy watched anxiously at the point where the riders would appear again. Firecracker burst out of the woods and over a ha-ha, far out in front of Jess. Sensing from the direction they were heading toward the course's finish, he was going even faster. McCoy watched as another rider needing to retake a fence moved out of approach for Spock to go by. Firecracker was moving at a full gallop now, with Spock in the forward position, at the incredible speed that had so captivated Devon. They literally seemed to fly over a tall brush fence without even a break in stride, and McCoy had to smile in remembered pleasure. There were only easy fences left, and obviously Firecracker was going well. In fact, they looked like they were having a hell of a lot of fun. In another minute, Spock galloped through the finish line, and a judge registered his time.

"Faults?" asked the judge.

"One." Spock said breathlessly, pulling the pony down to a trot, and then a walk. The pony club instructor came up, caught Firecracker's bridle, and spoke what must have been words of praise to Spock, before patting the pony in dismissal. Spock moved away from the finish line for Jessamyn to ride through.

"No faults." She said to the jump judge, and gave Spock a smug look. "You would have done better on Linne."

Spock shrugged and patted his pony's neck. "He did very well." They loosened their girths a little and began walking their horses cool. Spock followed Jess for a moment as she met up with Devon and Karen, and not finding McCoy there, began to scan the crowd for him.

McCoy took a few steps away from Jim, and Spock noticed him, and started toward him. When he saw Jim, his face clouded over, and both hands and legs instinctively closed, bringing his pony to a halt.

Jim looked from Spock to McCoy, his expression set. After a moment he said, "Hello, Spock." He waited and added grimly, "I didn't expect much of a welcome, but I don't think an acknowledgement is too much."

McCoy frowned as Spock hesitated where he was. He knew, without bothering to look, that Jim's temper was flaring. Spock, on the other hand, looked like a trapped rabbit, and rather than being concerned by that reaction, it seemed to infuriate Jim further. He thought frantically for a way to defuse the situation and noted Karen approaching them with relief. She stopped by Spock in puzzlement.

"Karen," McCoy said hastily, "May I present James Kirk."

Karen may have had two kids in tow, but she was still an attractive woman, and her slender figure was set off well by the handsome bay mare she was riding.

Jim turned on the Kirk charm. "My pleasure, I'm sure."

"Nice to meet you." Karen said absently, and looked back at Spock. "Are you all right, honey? That pony didn't throw you, did he?"

"I am quite well." Spock said woodenly.

"Come on, Spock," Jess interrupted. "They're starting the stadium."

Spock glanced at McCoy and then turned and followed the girl.

"Leonard? I've never seen Spock act like that. Are you sure he's all right?"

"Yes." McCoy said shortly.

"I don't know, Bones. Maybe that nasty pony did throw him." Kirk suggested.

McCoy flushed with suppressed anger.

"What did you call him?" Karen said curiously.

"Bones. It's just a nickname." Kirk glanced at McCoy meaningfully. "He's my chief medical officer."

Karen's eyes widened. "You're from the Enterprise."

"That's right. Captain James T. Kirk. You can call me Jim."

Karen failed to look impressed. She glanced back at her daughter and Spock taking the practice jumps and met McCoy's eyes. "You're here for Leonard, then."

"Yes. Well, to see Spock too."

Karen looked interested. "I didn't realize you knew him. But of course, you knew his father."

"His father?" Kirk frowned at McCoy a moment. "Yes, I knew his father."

"We've become very fond of both Leonard and Spock, Captain." Karen said, rather pointedly. "If you'll excuse me, I want to watch the children jump the stadium course."

Kirk frowned. "I hope not all Georgia women are like that, Bones."

"What exactly are you doing here, Jim?" McCoy said heatedly.

"I told you. I came to see you."

"You can see we're not exactly delighted at your visit. You make any more cracks at Spock's expense and you can leave."

"I certainly wouldn't want to embarrass him," Kirk said coldly. "If that's even still possible."

Spock avoided McCoy and Kirk assiduously throughout the afternoon, sticking close to Devon and Jess, his distress apparent by his uncharacteristically poor showing at stadium. Firecracker was not a pony that would go around the course almost without a rider, like the well trained Linne. He needed to be ridden in stadium, to be driven to his fences at the right pace, with the right impulsion, in a path that would bring him to the takeoff point at his best stride, speed and position. His rider had to hold him back from jumping until the takeoff point was reached, signal him to jump at that point, and rapidly deal with him if he did not. And in stadium, the turns were tight enough that even in the air over a fence, the rider had to be planning the path to the next jump, positioning the pony to land appropriately. Moreover, because the pony was Firecracker, the rider had to be alert for the pony's tendency toward nasty tricks, and prevent him from indulging in any of them. Spock was distracted enough by Jim's presence that he didn't attend to half of this, and Firecracker was pony enough to take wicked advantage of the situation. They disqualified less than halfway through the course, with Firecracker refusing at every other fence, but the stadium judge, in the leniency of the day, waved them to continue the course regardless of their disqualification, for the experience alone. But Spock's heart was obviously not in the course, and Firecracker, sensing this, refused enough times at a huge white barrel that Spock, flushed with shame, pulled the pony out of competition.

McCoy fumed silently when he saw Spock's riding instructor take Spock aside and thoroughly dress him down for his lack of concentration and drive. He wanted to give the woman a piece of his own mind; he was furious that she chose this time to chastise Spock, when her pupil was already upset over other hurts. But he could hardly approach her with Kirk at his side. And he could tell Kirk was frustrated too, unable to get Spock away from his childish companions without risking a scene. Apparently, the captain had decided to bide his time until the event was over, and face Spock in the relative privacy of McCoy's home. McCoy couldn't convince Jim to leave, and was wondering how he was going to throw his captain out. Spock's face was a frozen mask as they waited through the interminable awards ceremony. Jess was awarded a fourth place lemon lollipop in her division, and Devon a second place cherry one in his. Karen took pictures of the flushed and smiling winners, their awards hanging on ribbons around their necks, but the two children were the only ones oblivious to the strain. Spock clapped politely, but in-between, McCoy could see him twisting his reins nervously through his fingers. Since his failure in stadium his face had been set in a blank, almost catatonic mask that worried the hell out of McCoy. Karen met McCoy's eyes in sympathy. Approaching him as the meet broke up, she deftly solved at least one problem for him.

"I thought we'd keep Spock tonight. That will give you and your friend," she glanced at Kirk uncertainly, "some time alone."

McCoy thanked her with a glance, but tried one more time. "That isn't necessary, Karen. Jim was just leaving."

Kirk glared at McCoy, and looked back to where Spock was waiting with Devon and Jess. The Vulcan refused to meet his gaze. "Damn it, Bones --"

McCoy caught Kirk's arm before he could confront Spock. "Thanks, Karen," he said pointedly. "I think that would be best."

Karen responded to McCoy's quiet urging and quickly got their group moving for home. Only then did McCoy release his Captain's arm. Jim was still looking frustratedly after Spock.

"I didn't come all this way, Bones, to be thwarted by Spock's hiding behind a group of kids."

"Spock doesn't want to see you, Jim. You should respect that."

"Oh, I do." Kirk said coldly. "I respect that I managed to forgive him after he tried to kill me, but I only have to break his wrist and he shuns me for life, and steals my CMO."

"You didn't only break his wrist." McCoy said coldly. "And it wasn't as if he was responsible for his actions in Pon Far. He didn't even really know you. It's not as if he deliberately got drunk and then abused and neglected a friend in need."

"So it's all right to forgive Vulcan weaknesses, but not Human ones," Kirk countered. "Damn it, Bones, I don't want to fight. I feel guilty as hell. I just want to talk to him for a few minutes, to see that he's all right."

"He's not."

"I could see that. I've ridden with Spock. No way could the Spock I knew be bested by any horse."

"I'm worried," McCoy said testily, "about a hell of a lot more than his relative equestrianship."

"Fine. I'm a bastard, and he's a lot more vulnerable than I thought. Why the hell isn't he on Vulcan, then? Why is he still here? And why are you letting him be treated like a five-year-old?"

"That's none of your business."

"It damn well is. In case you've forgotten, he's still my first officer, and you're still my CMO. I could just file a few reports I've been holding back -- "

"Damn it, Jim, if you do that--"

"Starfleet wants you both recalled from leave, or new officers assigned," Kirk said bluntly. "As far as Spock's concerned, I can't believe, especially after seeing this, that he is better off here than on Vulcan. Damn it, Bones, you're treating him like a child. If he does need to be treated that way then his parents should take him over. And I need you."

"So that's why you're here." McCoy said slowly. "You have Starfleet's blessing for this."

"Do you honestly believe I could get leave on Earth, especially at this time of the year and when I'd just had a leave, unless they wanted something? Something big, like a starship's two senior officers? You've refused to give them an answer, and they haven't heard anything at all from Spock."

"The day you file that report with Fleet, I resign," McCoy threatened.

They glared at each other for a few moments, and then Kirk looked away, the anger replaced with a wounded expression. "Do you hate me that much, Bones?"

"I don't hate you, Jim. And I'm pretty sure Spock doesn't. But he's going through a lot right now, and he needs more time, time to be settled in whatever life he chooses, before he can come to terms with you. Not just what you did to him recently, but all that you mean to him. You represent a hell of a loss, Jim. Give him a chance to adjust to it."

"And what do you represent?"

"I wish I knew." McCoy said. "Sometimes I think Spock's trying to avoid me as well. But he needs me awhile yet, Jim."

"I suppose you'd consider me selfish and insensitive if I tell you again that I need you."

"I appreciate the compliment, Jim. But Spock needs me more."

"Not to be rude, Bones, but how? What are you two doing here? You barely got along on the Enterprise. I had to referee just so that you two could share the same air without breaking out in major warfare."

"We're just taking it day by day, Jim."

"To what purpose? What is Spock doing here? What are you accomplishing? At least when he was in my home, he was trying to do something to reverse the situation."

"What makes you think Spock doesn't just need a little breathing room?"

"Hell, Bones, Spock couldn't have changed that much. He never does anything without a reason and a plan. Are you suggesting that someone who never took leave in his entire Starfleet career unless there was some scientific conference or seminar he wanted to attend, intends to just spend several months 'taking things day by day'?"

"Maybe." McCoy said noncommittally, unwilling to admit the same thoughts had plagued him. "Maybe not. I don't know, and I haven't made it my business to try to find out. And it's none of yours Jim. Maybe you didn't know Spock as well as you thought you did." McCoy met Kirk's outraged eyes coolly. "When Spock's ready to go, I won't be standing in his way. As long as he wants to stay, he can. How he spends his time is neither my business, nor yours, anymore. Let it go, Jim. Assign other officers. I'll let you know if and when Spock chooses to leave, and I become free. I might be willing to go back to Starfleet. Maybe not, though. I joined up when my divorce was pretty fresh, and I needed to get away from this place. Those wounds have healed, and I'm discovering I like it here again. I may decide to stay, regardless of Spock's choices."

Kirk looked at him, betrayal clear in his eyes. "The hell with you both," he said, and walked away.

Spock's silence went largely unnoticed in the trip home with the Deveaux. Spock was generally silent anyway, and both children were keyed up and excited over their awards. By the time they got the horses settled, her two kids had rushed into the house, eager to tell their father of their day, while Spock lagged behind, fiddling with Firecracker's tack. Karen put a hand on his shoulder, and silently

urged him into the house. Surrounded by children, ribbons and lollipops, John was trying to listen to two stories of triumph at once, and only nodded to Karen and Spock. Karen put out a pitcher of juice and glasses for the kids, pointedly poured one for her reclusive houseguest, and started dinner. Over the dinner table, John finally asked how Spock and Firecracker had done.

"He eliminated in stadium." Devon answered for Spock, who had hesitated a moment before responding. Devon frowned slightly, seemingly

for the first time of Spock's comparative lack of success, and his own role in getting the pony.

"Firecracker did very well," Spock said calmly, "considering his level of training."

John and Karen exchanged a glance at this unexpectedly mature outlook. "I'm sure you'll bring him along quick enough," John answered. "You did a real fine job with Lynne."

"I'll say," Devon commented, busily chewing. "Tracy got second in her division, and first in dressage. That was Lynne, not Tracy. Tracy'd never get a first--"

"Devon, I want you to go to bed early tonight," Karen interrupted calmly, knowing what the result would be. Devon complained, non-stop, through the rest of dinner and desert, but good-naturedly went off with the others. Karen made sure Spock was comfortably settled in the guest room before returning to John.

"Spock was awfully quiet tonight." John remarked as an opening. "He doesn't seem as reconciled to his performance with Firecracker as he says."

"No, it's not that," Karen frowned at the kitchen, and then began cleaning the already scrubbed counter. "Leonard's captain came for him today."

"I saw him," John reminded her. "Seemed nice enough."

Karen didn't comment on that, but scrubbed the counter harder. "And what happens to Spock when Leonard goes back to Starfleet."

"I didn't know he was returning," John commented. "I thought he might have decided to settle here."

"I asked him," Karen said, "a few weeks ago. He said he hadn't decided. Can you wonder Spock is upset?"

"Karen. It's not our place to interfere." He hesitated, "Is that why you brought Spock back?"

"To give them a chance to talk. Can you see them settling Spock's fate with him listening in?" Karen tossed the sponge at the sink and folding her arms, stared at her husband. "You can't possibly mind. He's never any trouble."

"He's a real nice boy. Good for Devon to have a level-headed, sensible kid like him around. I like him too. But you're getting too attached, Karen."

"Somebody should. When I asked Leonard, he acted like Spock was a package he was going to mail somewhere. Maybe to school here, maybe to school somewhere off-planet, he hadn't decided, and I got the impression he didn't have any plans to, until he was forced to. Surely Spock deserves better than that!"

John sighed. "There's nothing you can do, Karen. And no matter what McCoy picks, Spock will manage. He's a good, tractable kid, and he'll adjust."

"We could keep him." Seeing her husband's eyes widen, she cut him off. "Why not? He's never any trouble. Far from it, he's a help to me, he keeps Devon happily amused and out of mischief, and from harassing Jess. He's kind to Jess. He's even a help to you."

"Are you saying you want to--"

"Adopt him? Why not? We wanted a third child, when we got settled somewhere. And even if Leonard won't go for that, we could always keep him, board him. Be his guardians when Leonard is away, which will be most of the time. Why not?"

John was pensive, thinking. "I don't much care for that idea. If we were going to keep him, I wouldn't want to be responsible to someone else for him." He frowned a little. "You don't think Devon would be jealous?"

"Of Spock?" Karen's incredulous tone made John grin in acknowledgement of their son's cocky self confidence.

"No, you're right. For all that Spock is smarter, he follows Devon's lead."

"He influences Devon, but he's subtle about it. He just won't go along when Devon misbehaves. He plays with Jess, or follows you or me around, or goes home. To stay in the lead, Devon has to think of something else to do."

"Mmn." John agreed. "And being ignored is the worst thing for Devon."

"I don't think Devon would ever be jealous of Spock. He respects his intelligence, but he discounts it too. Spock just isn't competition, in some way." Karen hesitated. "If Spock were more like you, then I'd worry."

"Are you saying I'm stupid?" John grinned, and Karen smiled back, crossed the room, and settled herself against him.

"Smart, not brilliant," was Karen's verdict. "Spock's brilliant, but he's unassuming about it. If he lorded it over Devon, we'd have had a whale of trouble keeping Devon from pounding him into the ground. But he respects Devon, and Devon, well, Devon acknowledges he's smarter, but not necessarily where it counts."

"I know what you mean." John said comfortably. "I'm glad my boy has some spirit. Spock's smart, and he's got drive and gumption. I think alot of him, but Devon has more spark."

"He could fit in here." Karen said quietly.

John sighed. "He's a nice boy. He seems to like us, if his hanging around here is any sign." He thought of Spock, ignoring mischief and games with Devon to literally sit at his feet while he rehauled the tractor. Since then, Spock had 'hung around' for two other rebuilding jobs on a tiller and the huge combine. He'd been an undeniable help, as well as having been anxiously eager to please. The boy was getting used to him, rarely flinched at his voice or his touch now. John was indiscriminate about tousling hair or swinging kids in the air, and he'd been especially careful not to ignore one who'd recently suffered such a tragic loss. And who seemed so starved for affection. McCoy was a fine man, but he didn't seem to know much about raising kids. "It seems a shame he should be farmed out to some school when McCoy goes back to space."

"Is there a reason why he should be?" Karen asked.

"Leonard's right about one thing. He's too smart for Jess's grade. Maybe too smart for ordinary school. And special schools are expensive, Karen."

"They have gifted classes. And they probably have scholarships to those schools too."

"That's true," John nodded. "I can't think of any other objection. We are all fond of him, and he of us. We could give him a good home. I could see ourselves raising him. Hell, he's practically here full time anyway."

"We'll talk to Leonard soon."

"But we only broach it if Leonard says he's considering going back to Starfleet. I won't tell a man who wants to raise a child that I can do it better. But if he wants to get away, well then, that's another story."

"Thank you." Karen leaned down, kissed her husband, and began to fiddle with the fastenings of his shirt. "I know we won't regret it."

Upstairs, snuggled under a couple of down comforters, Spock slept. Too exhausted to consider his fate, he was unaware that in the kitchen below, his benefactors considered it settled; a mile away, McCoy worried over the future; on the Enterprise, Kirk found his former first officer's situation too painful to even contemplate, and lightyears away on the planet Vulcan, an unlucky aide to the Vulcan ambassador was trying to reconstruct his movements. Only the Vulcan ambassador, except for a slight impatience with his aide, refused to allow himself the slightest emotion concerning the inexplicable disappearance of his son.

McCoy received an unexpected singular summons to the Deveaux later that week, and was ushered into John's study and into the presence of the couple. Both Karen and John seemed more solemn and nervous than McCoy had ever seen them.

"Leonard, Karen and I asked you over to discuss something important."

McCoy looked from one to the other worriedly. "You're not leaving? You found a farm to buy, or one you'd rather work?"

"No, it's not that." John said slowly. "It's about Spock."

"He's has been over a lot." McCoy said cautiously. "If it's become a problem --"

"No," Karen interrupted. "Spock has never been a problem. Rather the reverse. We've gotten to know him very well the last few weeks."

They know, McCoy thought. They've put Jim's visit and Spock's name together. We should have called Spock by some other name. And he's been too damn indiscreet, fixing computers and teaching math. He might have let something slip about the Enterprise. Between them and that kid, we'll never keep this quiet. "What exactly do you know?"

"Karen and I have been talking it over for about a week." John said. "We know you said you haven't made any definite plans for the future. Is that still true?"

"My plans are still pretty open."

"We've become very fond of Spock." Karen said. "And we wouldn't want to do or say anything to hurt either of you. It must be very difficult to be put in your position, where you have to choose between your current career and a sudden obligation to raise a child you never expected would be a responsibility. John and I thought you might be interested in an alternative."

"We'd like to offer to adopt him." John finished.

McCoy stared at them unbelievingly. "You must be joking."

Karen flushed. "Not at all." John said calmly. "Spock's been over practically every day since you've been here. We're all fond of him. He seems comfortable with us. He needs a family. We'd like to give him one. We wouldn't be able to give him all the financial advantages you could. But Spock will get plenty of scholarships and opportunities on his own merit, and we'd promise to treat him as our own."

"I appreciate the offer," McCoy said carefully, trying to conceal a mounting anger. "And I certainly don't want Spock to lose you as friends. But I don't understand how you could believe I would even consider this."

"Leonard, please don't be angry," Karen said evenly. "I've spent a lot of time with Spock this past month, and I can see how attached he is to you, and you to him. We wouldn't try to take your place with him. But I know Spock has been worried about something. After your friend, your captain, came here, I could see how upset he was, how angry your captain was, and how torn you were between them. You said yourself you weren't going to adopt Spock. This way you won't have to. Spock will be cared for, by people who care for him, and you'll be free."

"I'm not looking for anyone to set me free." McCoy said testily.

"But you don't plan to adopt Spock, do you?"

"That doesn't mean I intend to hand him over to the first taker." McCoy said shortly.

The couple looked at each other, and John frowned, "Well--""

"No, wait." Karen interrupted. "Leonard, we wouldn't want to take Spock away from you. But for weeks you haven't been sure if you were returning to Starfleet or not. You don't seem sure whether you want to give Spock a home or not. You've talked about putting him in school somewhere. Spock is yours, and you're the only one who can decide his future right now. But I can't believe you think he would be better off as your ward in some boarding school, the receiver of an occasional letter, and even rarer visit from you, than he would be with parents who would take care of him every day, in a family with other children. And it wouldn't be as if you were cut off from him. You'd be able to see him whenever you returned from leave, the same as if you'd put him in a school. He'd be right here."

"Spock is Vulcan." McCoy said tersely. "You couldn't begin to understand what that means, or how he needs to be raised."

"You're right there, Leonard." John said calmly. "Spock is smarter than any kid we've known, maybe even than some adults. And he vegetarian. Other than those, and his appearance, we don't know of any differences, and we haven't seen any worth the mention. That doesn't mean there aren't any. We thought we knew Spock well enough to make the offer. Maybe we don't. But the offer's still open, Leonard. We didn't mean to offend, and we hope you won't take any offence. But if you find you can't keep him, for whatever reason, remember that he'd be welcome with us."

"I wonder how much you understand, Leonard." Karen said quietly. "I've seen the hand's off way you deal with Spock. Maybe that is the way Vulcans raise their children, but that doesn't mean its the best way. Spock..." Karen hesitated visibly and then continued resolutely. "He seems so unhappy, Leonard, and more so since your captain came. He so tense when he comes over he practically jumps when you speak to him. But after he's been with us awhile, he relaxes, and he seems so much better. Until he leaves. The next time he comes over he's tense all over again." Karen bit her lip. "I don't mean to criticize, or undermine the way you're raising Spock. But I've been treating Spock the same as my own children for quite a while. He's never given me the impression he wants to be kept at arm's length. Rather the reverse. Oh, he's not physically affectionate, but he stays so close to me sometimes. I'm not saying Spock isn't fond of you. But I wonder how fond he thinks you are of him. If you can't offer him affection, Leonard, at least give him some security. We all know you haven't decided what to do with Spock, or whether you return to Starfleet or not. But Spock deserves at least the security of knowing what's going to happen to him. And if you decide not to keep him, or decide to return to Starfleet, we hope you'll remember our offer."

"Karen and John came over this afternoon." McCoy said after dinner that evening.

Spock looked at him, suddenly anxious, and then dropped his gaze. "I have probably become an annoyance. I have frequented their home overmuch of late."

"They want to adopt you." McCoy said bluntly.

Spock seemed to freeze for a moment, then he spoke very deliberately. "I was not aware of their intentions. It does present a solution, of sorts --"

"A solution!" McCoy barked. "Now, I think you really are crazy. Spock, you can't be serious about being willing to be adopted by them."

"You would be free to return --"

"Have I ever said I'm in any hurry to return to the Enterprise?"

"No." Spock admitted. "You have been very patient."

"Patient." McCoy repeated softly. "Is that what I've been?

Spock remained silent.

"Karen thinks I'm 'raising' you wrong." McCoy said conversationally. "She thinks you need more attention, more affection."

"She is human. It is natural for her to assign human needs to me."

"She doesn't think they're only human needs."

"I am familiar with human ethnocentricism."

"Yet you're prepared to become her child?" McCoy said skeptically. "These people would raise you as a human child, in a human family. How could that possibly give you what you need?"

"I did not say that it would." Spock said evenly.

"You're not being honest with me Spock. I don't think you have been since the beginning of this." McCoy sighed. "Hell, I never even required it of you. I told you that you could keep whatever secrets you wanted, remember, and I told you that you didn't need to run away to keep them. But you don't need to hand yourself over to strangers either. I draw the line at this, Spock. I'll turn you over to Starfleet, or Vulcan, whenever you say the word. But I'm not going to hand you over to strangers who have no idea of your true situation."

"Jim --"

"Jim can get along just fine without me. I want to know if you want to change this arrangement we have, and if so, how and why?"

Spock said nothing, his shoulders frozen with tension.

"Do you want to return to Vulcan yet, Spock?"


"To Starfleet?"

"That is impossible."

"Do you really want to be adopted by John and Karen? Even unofficially? To be raised as a human child? You still at least have the appearance of needing a lot of raising, and Karen doesn't believe in my 'hands off' methods. That means being kissed and cuddled when you're good, and spanked when they think you need discipline. Are you really interested in that kind of treatment?"

"Of course not," Spock said tightly.

McCoy sighed. "Are you really so unhappy with me, Spock?"

Spock looked up at him, astonished. "I am not -- I do not understand why you made that statement."

"It's no secret to anyone you've been avoiding me. It seems you'd rather be anywhere than here."

"That is not true."

"You have been avoiding me, Spock."

"I have no wish to have my presence become an annoyance. It seemed prudent to take advantage of opportunities to absent myself, when available."

"I though you wanted to stay away." McCoy said gently. "That maybe I was an unpleasant reminder of what you could no longer have."

"You are mistaken," Spock answered, with a trace of bitterness in his tone, "if you believe that there is any location where I am any less aware of my situation. I do not require reminders."

"Then if you're only staying away because you think I'll get tired of you, you can stop it." McCoy said. "Truthfully, I worry more about you when you're not here. When you're around, I'm can relax. I suppose there's that much of parent/child in our relationship. Or doctor/patient. But there is one problem, though, when it comes to your staying with me." McCoy said uneasily, "It has to do with school."

Spock looked confused. "School?"

"All children are required by law to go to school here, Spock. No matter how smart they are. You might be able to get by with just a tutor. But you're going to be required to enroll in some formal educational program if you stay here much longer. The next term is about to start, and too many people, who think you're a child, know that you're here."

Spock looked mulish. "I will not pretend to learn some elementary educational program."

McCoy sighed. "No. I don't blame you for that. I thought for starters, we could give the local 'gifted' school a try. They have a good reputation." Spock's expression remained dubious. "It's a place to start, Spock.

"Is this really necessary?"

"If we plan to stay here."

Spock sighed audibly, considering this new problem.

"I thought I'd give this gifted school a call; find out more about their program. Maybe they have something you could do from here that would satisfy any authorities that might become aware of you."

"I suppose we have no choice." Spock said in resignation.

Karen had invited them, tentative and obviously appeasing, to spend New Year's Eve at the farmhouse. The invitation would have been made anyway, but it was also meant as an olive branch. He and Spock showed up for dinner, and spent a more than pleasant evening just talking before the fire, their glances occasionally straying to the newsvid telecasts of New Year's parties from all over the world. McCoy soon was relaxed and content, enjoying the company. He never felt right about going away in the evening, but with Spock turning in so early, he had spent too many evenings of late alone. He was grateful not to have to spend New Year's that way. It was doubtful that Spock would manage to stay up for the main event of the evening. Karen had already anticipated that, and invited them for the night, or Spock alone, if the Vulcan fell asleep and McCoy didn't choose to move him. Thinking of Spock he glanced down at the obviously nodding Vulcan, and frowned in confusion at sight of Jess, still wide awake and prattling away.

"Mother's trick."

McCoy's attention focused on Karen. "I had her take a nap this afternoon. His room's all ready, Leonard, if you want to take him up."

McCoy leaned down. "Do you want to nap here, Spock, or do you want me to put you to bed?" Wrong phrasing,he thought hastily. But Spock was little more than half awake anyway, and perhaps he had never heard that particularly condescending phraseology. "Bed," the Vulcan murmured, but he did not move.

Smiling a little in spite of himself, McCoy swung Spock up in his arms, and was distracted by an murmured exclamation. The videonet was on, and everyone's were glued to a fireworks display from somewhere where it was already midnight. McCoy hadn't seen fireworks in years, except the destructive kind that were the results of inadvertently witnessed battles. It was a measure of how long he had been absent from civilian life that he found it odd to see them artfully designed as a celebration. The show finished with a rippling display of the Federation banner, and feeling oddly nostalgic, McCoy looked down to see Spock's reaction.

The Vulcan was fast asleep. His face was turned up to McCoy's, lashes dark against his pale, slightly flushed cheeks, his expression in sleep as trusting as the child he appeared. Whether it was the alcohol or the nostalgia, or something still deeper, McCoy was overtaken by a rush of feeling that left him weak-kneed. Not the filial friendship he felt for Jim, not the professional concern of a physician, but a protective, nurturing affection that could be nothing else than what a parent feels for a child. For Spock. His mind froze in denial, and one part of him blazed an alarm.

Put him to bed, McCoy. Now. You can't afford this. But his feet did not move. He stood, looking helplessly down at the child in his arms, that had somehow, in spite of his best intentions, had become his child. Except he wasn't. No matter how Spock behaved, or misbehaved, Spock wasn't a child. And the Vulcan damn well wasn't his. But the evidence of his senses, that McCoy had long been trying to deny, told him otherwise. He was holding the proof in his arms. If Spock wasn't his, whose was he?

Himself. He's an adult, McCoy, with more braincells than you, if it comes to that. He doesn't belong to anyone.

But that lonely thought failed to comfort, or convince.

"Is something wrong, Leonard?"

McCoy looked over at Karen. Jess had climbed in her mother's lap to watch the fireworks. Devon sat against his father's legs. One happy little family, and McCoy again the odd man out. The physician who comforted everyone, who counseled all the lonely new recruits with wise and sage advice. Who sent his resident heroes off to face their dangers and patched them up in mind and body, and then stood back while they collected their laurels. He'd never wanted dangers or laurels, and what he had wanted he had irretrievably lost. He thought of the years of loneliness, absent from JoAnna, estranged from his wife, a failure at his most important relationship, and his arms tightened involuntarily.

Spock responded by turning in his arms, his cheek against the physician's chest. McCoy looked down at the child nestled in his arms, hair dark as Joanna's, just the size she had been when he'd left her. The same rush of pain and regret, possessiveness and love washed over him, weakening his resolve, and he knew he was lost. He sat down, both grateful for and cursing the huge, overstuffed chair that made this too easy. He looked down at the Vulcan in his lap and shifted him slightly, cradling Spock more securely against him. Spock snuggled closer in response. He's probably just trying to get warmer. It's too damn cold in this room for him to sleep comfortably. Put him to bed, McCoy. Do you want to face his probable reaction to this if he wakes? Do you honestly think your friendship would survive Spock's knowledge that you regard him as a child? That you took advantage of him in a vulnerable moment to treat him as such? Do you think you can pass this off as part of your cover? He's a touch telepath. Sooner or later he'll find out you feel this way. Wasn't Jim's denigration bad enough? Just take him upstairs and put him to bed like everyone expects. He's not Joanna, he's not a child, and you can't use him this way just because you have a case of New Year's blues.

But he didn't, and Spock stayed asleep. One after another the children dropped off, first Jess, curling in her mother's arms just like Spock was in his, then Devon, stretched across the hearthrug in front of the fire. Jess and then Devon were carried off to bed, but McCoy kept Spock in his arms, an afghan thrown across him for warmth. He held him through the rest of the evening, chatting with Karen and John, quietly celebrating the end of the year, and the beginning of the new. And when the New Year came, he took Spock home.

McCoy had not so much thought of Cotwood choosing them, but of their deciding on whether or not the school would do. He discovered, however, that the principal of Cotwood had other ideas.

"Children are referred to this institution, Dr. McCoy. Parents do not simply choose it. If your child needed to attend here, I would already be aware of it."

"My -- this child hasn't been resident very long. You wouldn't know of him."

"Where did he previously attend?"

McCoy glanced at Spock, who was out of comm range at his side, and back at the screen. It hadn't occurred to him that the school might be interested in previous records. "I'm not sure." Seeing the look on the woman's face, he hastily amended. "He's just recently become my ward, and he's Vulcan." McCoy glanced at Spock. "Part Vulcan, actually." Perhaps that would make Spock's ending up in human hands, his hands, a little easier to swallow. "I'm not sure I even have those records, and I couldn't read them if I did."

"I assure you, Doctor, we would have them translated."

McCoy began to get annoyed. "Look, I've got a stack of records, all of them untranslated, a few feet high. I couldn't even begin to sort out which ones to bring you. And frankly, I have to believe that a Vulcan curriculum doesn't have much in common with a Terran one. You're going to test him anyway to place him, can't you just go on that?"

"No, we cannot, Dr. McCoy." She said frostily. "You did not even mention the fact that this student was Vulcan. I cannot possibly proceed without adequate documentation."

"Look, Ellen Van Dorn assured me this school--"

"Ellen Van Dorn?"

"Yes." McCoy paused hopefully.

"She has assessed this child?"

McCoy considered the five minutes Ellen had addressed a mostly silent Spock on the Pony Club field. "Yes."

"Well." The woman seemed to consider. "I suppose we can take a recommendation from a member of the Georgia Board. You should have mentioned this sooner, Dr. McCoy."

"I'm very sorry." McCoy said as contritely as possible.

"Very well. We will test Spock tomorrow at 8:00 a.m. You may drop him off at my office. There's no point in further discussion until I am sure Spock is suitably advanced for this institution."

"We'll be there." McCoy promised.

Spock had been silent on the aircar trip. McCoy glanced at him in concern. "You can still back out of this Spock."

"You said we must do this." Spock stared out the window as if it offered some escape. McCoy couldn't blame him. He wouldn't have chosen to return to primary school. "I will not throw the tests though."

"Then we'll see how they deal with them." McCoy said cautiously. He wasn't sure exactly how many doctorates Spock had, but in no way could he place inside either a primary or secondary school curriculum. He intended to get assurance of the confidentiality of the test results before they proceeded. He wanted no attention garnered as a result of these tests. But that stuck up principal was due for a surprise.

She wasn't there though. A receptionist turned them over to a pleasant-faced young woman, who led them into a room full of toys, puzzles, dolls, and of course, computers. McCoy placed her immediately as the school's child psychologist. She greeted them warmly but after that she spoke only to Spock. She asked him basic questions regarding his age, length of stay on Earth, and other 'get acquainted' questions. Spock answered cautiously, giving the stock answers they'd jointly agreed upon. After a few moments, McCoy found himself ushered out of the room, and told to return late that afternoon. He hadn't expected to feel like a parent who'd just dropped his six-year old off at school.

He realized he hadn't told them Spock was vegetarian. What would he do for lunch? He realized he hadn't given him any money. He wasn't even sure if Spock knew the comm code for home. It took him a moment to remember Spock wasn't exactly helpless. He could look up a comm code, and he could speak for himself. But McCoy realized Spock wasn't the only one in for a long day.

Kirk strove to keep the shock from his face, but was uncertain how well he succeeded. "Ambassador. This is an unexpected pleasure."

"Captain." Sarek greeted without preamble. "I hope you can be of some assistance to me. I have recently been unsuccessful in contacting my son."

"Spock is on leave." Kirk said carefully. "I really could not tell you where he might be."

"And when do you expect his return?"

"Spock took extended leave. His plans to return are indefinite."

"Was Spock ...well, when he took leave, Captain?"

For a moment, Kirk thought, in his own guilt, that Sarek was aware of Spock's condition, and then he flushed as he realized to what Sarek was referring. "Yes, sir."

If Sarek was relieved at the news, it did not show on his impassive face. "May I ask then, why Spock took leave?"

"An officer of Spock's seniority is entitled to such leave without explanation." Kirk said stiffly. "I really can't give you any information."

"Can not, or will not, Captain?" Sarek said evenly. When Kirk did not reply, Sarek raised an eyebrow. "Very well, Captain. Your discretion is commendable, if unprofitable to me."

Kirk found himself facing a black screen, and let out a long, relieved sigh. He reached for his terminal, about to punch in McCoy's comm code, and then stopped. Why should he? Sarek wanted to contact Spock. What business of it was his to prevent it? McCoy had become Spock's chosen protector; let him deal with the formidable Vulcan, if Sarek knew enough to track Spock there, or chose to check up on McCoy. And if Sarek did find out about Spock, and convince him to return to Vulcan, so much the better. McCoy's choices would be open again.

McCoy found himself ushered into an office cubicle by the same psychologist. The cubicle was also an observation room to the testing room, McCoy could see Spock through the mirrored wall, curled up on the windowseat with a book. McCoy, who knew the speed at which the Vulcan read, recognized the slow turning of pages as a sham. He looked tired.

"Regarding your son, Dr. McCoy --"

McCoy winced inwardly at hearing Spock referred to that way and interrupted firmly. "Look, I would appreciate it if you could get one thing straight from the start. Spock is my ward, not my son."

The psychologists eyes widened in surprise. "You have no plans to adopt the boy?"

"Is that a requirement of this institution?" McCoy said testily.

The psychologist shrugged. "Most people in your position would do so."

"Spock is well aware of who his father was." McCoy forced himself to speak of Sarek in the past tense with difficulty. "It's not possible for me to replace him."

"That's interesting, Dr. McCoy. I'm aware your field isn't child psychology. But surely you're aware most children are better off with a stable family situation than with a caretaking one. And Spock's tests show he has a tendency to place you in that regard."

"His tests? I didn't authorize any psychological tests."

"Dr. McCoy, they are part of his placement tests."

"What sort of tests? Written ones?"

"The standard --------- optic nerve tests."

McCoy glanced worriedly at Spock through the mirrored wall. Spock knew enough psychology to fudge any written tests easily. And he had formerly had the ability to block almost any psychological probe, and most mental probes up to and including the Klingon mindsifter. But fudging that test would involve subtle neurological control Spock almost certainly did not have now. McCoy would have gladly given Spock the test himself, a day hadn't gone by that he hadn't been silently concerned about Spock's adjustment. But it would have been an invasion of Spock's privacy that McCoy hadn't been able to justify in his own mind. He'd been unable to broach even verbal questions on some topics to Spock, he couldn't have countenanced putting him through a psychological screening like that.

"I didn't authorize those tests." McCoy said coldly. "I authorized educational placement tests."

"We consider it an educational placement test." The psychologist said equally coolly.

"Since you don't have a degree in alien psychology, or in alien medicine, as I do," McCoy said pointedly. "I would appreciate your refraining from administering any test of that type to Spock without my specific permission."

"Dr. McCoy, this institution does not specialize in alien education, either, but you seem willing to place this child here."

"I want to see the test results." McCoy said coldly. "All of the test results, and now."

For a moment the psychologist hesitated, then she pushed the records across to McCoy. "I'm not supposed to show them to parents, only to interpret them for them. But I suppose you can read them as well as I."

McCoy focused on the test in question. He'd looked at Spock's textbook standard patterns often enough in the past to have memorized them. These tests showed nothing similar. He was skilled enough not to need the computer's diagnostic program. McCoy had thought he'd accepted everything different about Spock that there was, but this report was nothing like Spock's usual uninformative screens. The psychologist must have been going through Spock's recent history, and the pattern of trauma, abuse and slow restoration of trust was so blatant McCoy found himself checking the identity codes to be sure it was Spock's.

"You can see the incidence of trauma, undoubtedly the death of his parents." The psychologist commented smoothly, "and the recent -- "

"I didn't come here for a psychological evaluation, or for adoption counseling." McCoy said testily. "What about his placement tests?"

"We are interested in the whole child here, Dr. McCoy. It is something most parents have come to value." The woman remonstrated. "Spock is very gifted. Particularly in the physical sciences. His previous education seems to have been strongly slanted in that direction. He's fluent in a surprising number of languages. He shows some gaps in cultural knowledge, though that would be expected of a child of his past upbringing. But he really has no need for a primary or secondary educational program."

McCoy felt both relieved and disappointed. At least the woman seemed unsurprised. "So there's nothing you can do for him here."

"I did not say that. Cotwood has ties to GU, we take advantage of them for a number of our students. I've made inquiries with their graduate programs in physics and mathematics. Spock's tests have been sent there, and they're agreed to accept him in two of their research seminars. They are investigating forefronts in both those fields, Spock should find them interesting, even challenging perhaps."

McCoy frowned. "Are you telling me to enroll him in their graduate school?"

"You could try that if you wish, Dr. McCoy. But I would not advise it. Universities have been known to accept some young students directly into their programs, but generally they do so only reluctantly, and not unless the students are at least in their teens. It's been widely recognized that very young children, such as Spock, require more from their educational programs than simple instruction. There is a nurturing and development function to the education of small children that a university's impersonal atmosphere is ill-equipped to supply. That's is why schools such as Cotwood have been created, to combine access to advanced educational programs as well as the stabile learning environment that primary age children require."

McCoy sighed. "What exactly does this program entail?"

"Spock would attend some classes here. We offer an excellent and well-balanced primary school program, emphasizing a combination of enrichment and social development, as well as recreation. Gifted children often have trouble adjusting to a world designed to accommodate the normal. Formerly they were often channeled into such intense academic programs, that they had little exposure to the activities of 'normal' children, and their social development suffered. Our program is designed to prevent that. Spock would attend that primary program, while continuing his post-secondary education. In the social sciences and humanities, Spock can take advantage of our teleconferencing tie-ins to GU, as well as access to computer-aided instruction, and the full intra-university data network. In the physical sciences, he will have the added benefits of direct experimentation under faculty at GU. Cotwood will arrange to take him directly to campus, and return him here, along with several other children in various other GU programs. Some parents are concerned about this. We realize GU is a large and somewhat overwhelming environment to which to expose young children. However, Spock will be escorted directly to his classes and picked up afterwards to return here. You need not be concerned about security or supervision."

McCoy hadn't really considered kidnapping as a problem, nor was he worried about Spock's 'adjustment' to a university environment. He concentrated on what would be truly foreign to Spock. "What exactly is involved in this primary program?"

The psychologist raised an eyebrow, perplexed. "It's not terribly different from any primary program, except in the depth of what is covered. Current events, the arts, nature studies, and physical education." Seeing McCoy still unsatisfied, she continued. "The children discuss current events in both the Terran and Federation news media, and relate them to both historical and sociological contexts. It's considered valuable socialization, and in addition, gifted children often are more aware than we realize of such events, and often have deep concerns about them. This provides a medium to air those concerns. We have an excellent program in the arts, and the children paint pictures, create sculpture, join in dramatic activities, wherever their abilities and inclination lead them, all, of course under excellent instruction. We have a fine musical program in which the children sing or play instruments, according to their gifts and interests. We have a small orchestra if Spock is so inclined, and some of our children make occasional appearances with the Atlanta Symphony. I notice Spock has perfect pitch, reads music fluently, and indicates proficiency on several instruments. The children occasionally attend field trips to musical or dramatic events of note. They just went to 'Nutcracker' a few weeks ago. We take nature walks, they visit the zoo, and local museums and exhibits, all with suitable guides and instructors. We have a number of small animals, and bird feeders and baths the children maintain, as well as gardens in the spring. We have a naturalist on staff. And we have many programs in physical education: gymnastics, swimming, some team sports. We have to meet Georgia requirements for that." The psychologist studied McCoy's blank face. "Does that cover it?"

"Yes." McCoy stood abruptly. "I have to consider it, of course."

"Certainly. However, I must tell you there really is no other program locally that would suit Spock. You would have to go to Charleston, New Orleans, or Washington to find another in the region. Of course, you might be able to get exemption to have Spock attend a program by comm link, but the Georgia Board frowns on that type of isolation. Here are copies of our prospectus. I suggest you review them."

"Thank you," McCoy said, and entered the testing room. Spock turned, looking relieved to see McCoy.

"Come on, Spock. Let's go."

They didn't discuss it in the aircar. McCoy was concerned about the weary look on Spock's face. Nevertheless, Spock went to feed the horses on his arrival home, and came in to set the table as usual. McCoy had noticed Spock tended to latch on to routine as if it steadied and comforted him, he saw evidence of it, for Spock ate a fair amount of his supper, and seemed almost normal when McCoy decided to broach the topic.

"Well, what do you think of it, Spock? Did they show you anything besides that testing room?"

"Yes." Spock paused. "I was given a tour of the facilities, and the course of study I would be engaged in was explained. They were very --" Spock hesitated briefly "very considerate."


Spock sighed resignedly. "I suppose if I must go to school, there are worse places I have been enrolled."

McCoy blinked, surprised. "You're sure about that?"

"Is it not true I have little choice?"

"We could try and duck it. Truancy is against the law, though. Or we could try and get you exempted, but that would be hard to fight." Or we could come clean, McCoy thought, and take your situation to Starfleet. But he didn't say it.

Spock shook his head. "Is it possible to try this for an initial period?"

"A trial period?" McCoy said. "That's not a bad idea." He considered Spock's weary face and suggested. "We could try, say three days a week. That would give you Tuesdays and Thursdays away from it, as well as the weekend. I think that would go over. And if, after a few weeks, you can't stand it, we can withdraw you, and try some other option."

"Very well."

Cotwood's director was not pleased at McCoy's suggestion of part-time status, but McCoy pleaded cultural adjustment, and the need for Spock to spend time with him, and managed to prevail. She drew the line at a trial period though, although acknowledging McCoy could withdraw Spock at any time. McCoy signed the invoice for a quarter's tuition, fees and uniforms with a mental wince, glad he had the medical school job open to him. Between Firecracker, pony club, and now Cotwood, Spock was turning into an expensive proposition.

And not just financially. McCoy watched Spock board the schoolbus feeling a measure of anxiety he doubted even Spock could match. He was getting far too emotionally involved, in an unnatural situation that could end at any time. But he defied knowing how to stop it.

Spock boarded the bus with his own share of apprehension. Memories of his own first schooldays, the teasing and tormenting, the shunning that he had received when his human heritage became known, haunted him. And that had been with relatively controlled, Vulcan children. He had no idea how human children as young as these would react to an alien in their midst.

He wished, for the briefest, uncontrolled minute that he had heeded to McCoy's offer to take him to school the first day. But such thoughts were unVulcan, and he banished them. At least his hair was now long enough to completely obscure his more Vulcan features.

The bus occupants seemed well acquainted with each other. There were solitary passengers, one boy even seemed to be sleeping, and several smaller groups of twos and threes. But there was also a large rowdy group congregated in the back, and Spock's spine stiffened as his entrance caused a momentarily lull in the conversation, as they looked him over. He chose a solitary seat, slid into it, and stared forbiddingly ahead. If there would be an incident, it would be from that group, and he waited for a representative, a leader, to approach him. He was no stranger to ostracism, even as a first officer in Starfleet and a respected scientist, but his rank had protected him from most overt hostilities in the last years. He had remembered the incidents from his childhood imperfectly, as an adult remembers, with an adult's insulating control. Now it was if his body remembered them, his stomach clenching, his pulse quickening, tension lacing his muscles.

It occurred to him that he did not have to endure any ostracism, that McCoy was not forcing him to attend this institution, that he could withdraw if it became unendurable, explore other options, explain his situation to Starfleet, return to Vulcan. His stomach lurched at that, and he swallowed hard, trying to force his undisciplined body to some kind of calm. The conversation in the back had picked up again, and Spock relaxed a little. Mercifully, the only passenger they picked up after him was a girl smaller than himself, and then they pulled into the grounds of his new school.

There was an adult waiting there for him, the psychologist who had first interviewed him. She greeted him and motioned him to her side. They waited until two more children, apparently also new pupils, appeared, and then went into the school building together. The psychologist refamiliarized them with the building's facilities, notified each of them of a personal appointment they had with her later in the day, and then delivered them to their classes.

Butterflies had once again taken up residence in his stomach as he entered the room. A dozen of so children congregated there, all of them between the ages of five and eight, and a teacher stood at the front of the room. His teacher. In all the period since his unwilling rejuvenation, he had never felt his physiological age as strongly, had never felt so helpless or so young.

He had all the Vulcan reverence for teachers, and he had never had a teacher who had not left some kind of mark on him, for good or ill. But he had never had a human teacher in his uncontrolled state, and even Vulcan teachers for young students were carefully chosen for their abilities to control. This teacher would influence him, and he was not in a state where he chose to be influenced.

But he could withdraw. He did not have to remain under her influence.

Spock advanced slowly into the room, trying to get his bearings. This was to be his primary classroom, where he would spend most of his time. It was overly large, in his experience, for a human classroom, divided into areas for different activities. Other than the light board covering the front of the room, where the teacher console was, the rest of the room was a jumble. In one area, student consoles were arranged in neat rows, in another a similar group of chairs were arranged in a rough circle. One side of the room was an arched windowed greenhouse wall, crowded with plants, pots, seedlings, and their accoutrements. A rabbit raised its head from a bed of lettuce, and Spock heard the whirl of a hamster's exercise wheel. Beside this windowed wall were student easels, spattered with the remnants of past projects. The back of the room held shelves, cushioned chairs, paper books and toys and an area where mats were arranged in ordered rows, apparently for naps. Spock chose an unclaimed console, and put down his computer pad. Another apparently new student had entered the classroom behind him. At this completion to the class, the teacher clapped her hands for attention, and drew her class to the circle of chairs.

"Good morning everyone, and welcome back. I hope all of your vacations were pleasant. We have three new students this term, and I'd like to introduce them. Spock felt a moments gratitude that he was not the only newcomer, then he reminded himself that he was, after all, the only alien. The other students would assimilate and be accepted by the other long after he was still a curiosity. The teacher had moved to a dark haired, East Indian looking boy, putting a hand on his shoulder. "Andujon -- do you have a preferred name?"


"Jon is going to be a guest cellist with the Atlanta symphony this winter. He'll only be with us for part of the term, so I hope you'll make him feel welcome."

"Melissa -- it's Liss, you prefer, isn't it?" A brown haired girl a little taller than Spock, with short pigtails nodded her head. "Liss will be joining those of you in the advanced math study group, and I understand she's going to be a real asset to our swim team. And Spock." he braced himself, but she only stood behind him, without touching, "will be trying us out for a few days a week. He'll be with the GU physics group, and advanced math too. Why don't the rest of you say your name, and any special groups you're in." The children rattled them off, and Spock committed each one to memory. "Now because it's the start of the term, and for the benefit of our new students, we'll be going a little slower today. For our first class today, we're going to discuss one of the first activities that most adults schedule into their mornings. Who can say what that is?"

"Read the news fax, or watch the newsvid."

"That's right, and in current events, we'll pick a critical event in finance, politics, and sociology, art and science, and discuss them. Our references will be the Wall Street Journal, Federation Finance, Multicultural Arts, Galaxtifax, Federationwatch, and Intervid. You should all be getting these services. For the new students, the subscription information, if your not already getting them, is in the school's prospectus. Now, what are the issues we should be discussing today?"

Spock listened while issues were bandied about, and the teacher did not call on him, letting him and the other new students, get acquainted with the form of the discussion until that period was over. Then the teacher clapped again for everyone's attention.

"All right. Now, the next half hour is a quiet period we're going to spend on math. Math is taught by computer-aided instruction here, at your own pace. Your lesson paths have all been programmed. If you enter your names at your consoles you can start. If you have any questions you can just press your help key, and the math tutor for your level will be by to see you."

Spock typed his name at his console as instructed, curious at what type of lesson he was going to receive, and blinked. On the screen was displayed Rudolph's theorem, an abstraction that attempted to describe the geometry of multiuniverse phenomenon. He'd used something like it to calculate the equations between his own universe and the mirror universe the Enterprise had once encountered, but those equations had been specific to the relation of one universe to another, while this was a more advanced attempt to relate a concept of infinite, abstract universes. Rudolph's theorem was incomplete, and the questions related to possible scenarios to complete it. The lesson could have been in an advanced seminar at Starfleet academy, one he might well have attended. For the second time that morning, he forgot himself and wrestled pleasantly with computer extrapolations of the various flaws in the most popular scenarios of this unsolved problem. He didn't hear the entrance of the math tutor fifteen minutes later, a sotto-voiced explanation of a problem in differential equations to Liss, or his own soft-voiced teacher's explanation of a basic calculus problem to Jon. Like the rest of the students immersed in their lessons, he was used to CAI, and he didn't even look up when the tutor paused momentarily scanning his screen. He could have sat there for hours, but the rest of his classmates were both children and human. Cotwood dealt with that by interspersing active and quiet periods. Too soon, he found himself being called back to the circle of chairs for a discussion preceding their art period.

"This art period we're going to concentrate on painting. I want you all to read tonight the lesson that's going to be posted to your compads, but for now, who can tell me what two different styles, besides realism, pervaded most of two dimension art?

"Some artists expressed form geometrically, and some expressed it, well, as a flower."

"That's right. The curve as opposed to the straight edge, as some would call it. Or geometry versus lyrical form, science verses nature, structure verses stylized external form. All of those are ways to describe the major opposition in art. We going to try painting in both these representation styles today, and through the course of this lesson plan, we'll explore, in depth, each of these two styles, both experientially, and by studying the masters in these areas. Then, at the conclusion of the lesson, we'll paint the same scene again, and see how they differ after what we've learned."

Spock sat still while the teacher went through a basic description of the two styles, with simple examples. Fifteen minutes later the teacher clapped her hands. "All right, children, we're going to try painting the still life displayed by your easels. Paint two representations, one in each style. You have about 45 minutes to do them both. Remember to put your smocks on and let's try to keep the paint spatters down to a minimum."

Spock moved woodenly to his easel. After a moment, his teacher came beside him, and unhooked the smock that was hanging on the back. "Do you understand the lesson, Spock?"

He shook himself from his reverie. "Yes. I am familiar with basic art history. But...I have never been required to reproduce anything except representational form."

"Well, this will be a good learning experience, then, won't it? The teacher shook out the smock, settled it over his head, and tied the tapes at the back. "Don't worry about how realistically your reproduce the model, Spock. Remember the style you are trying to emulate, and try hard to represent that." She moved off to the next pupil, who had upset a paint cup. Spock looked down at his paints and brushes, at the accusingly white paper. The model was already engraved on his memory. He knew every line of it, every shadow, and more important, he knew exactly what was not there. His own Vulcan training had stressed precise observation. He'd been taught, if someone showed him a white cube, and asked him its color, to explain which portions of which side of the cube he could perceive as white, and not to make assumptions about the sides hidden from him. Later, he'd been taught logical deduction, and later still, the complex and delicately balanced Vulcan view of logical induction, how to correctly perceive meaning from the sum of incomplete parts.

His training had been in science, he'd striven his whole life to accurately describe the universe, to perfect the tools, and the mathematical and physical languages necessary to do so, the better to manipulate it to society's needs. The cardinal sin for any scientist was to lose sight of empirical reality, and attempt to create the universe according to his own, or some other's biased perceptions. He'd never been allowed, much less encouraged, to misrepresent form. He'd studied art history, had learned to appreciate the perceptions of others, the different types of art, and different perspectives on the universe that some aliens' physiology gave them. But he was not an artist, never had he consciously tried to emulate them. It took him several moments struggle to lift the paint brush, to attempt this act of heresy, a violation of all his Vulcan training. It never occurred to him to disobey the teacher, to paint two realistic pictures, he was still far too Vulcan to even think of that evasion. His lower lip between his teeth, and trembling slightly, he held the brush up, and started the easier geometric version. With every stroke, he felt as if he were painting out part of himself, part of his past training. He forced that image aside, trying to concentrate only on his task, telling himself when the task was over, he would be unchanged. But it was a profoundly unsettling and exhausting experience.

When he finished the first painting, he knew it had been a mistake to do the harder task second, it was almost beyond him. He painted carelessly, almost in a mental blur, some buried part of him that he was scarcely acquainted with took over for the rest of him, and he was grateful to let it do so. When he finished, he was breathing hard, and he wanted nothing more than to go somewhere quiet, if only for a few minutes, rest and try to regain his mental equilibrium. He closed his eyes against the paintings, glaring at him accusingly, unwilling to view his own corruption. The teacher then announced a quiet period.

Juice and nutribars appeared at the front of the room, and the class was told to wash up, take a snack if they wanted, and spend the next fifteen minutes resting on the chairs or mats or reading quietly. Half the class took their snacks to the cushions in the back room, some disappeared to the restrooms. Spock joined the few that went to their learning consoles, and with a concealing text on the screen, and his inner eyelids closed, managed to patch himself back together enough to face his next class.

History was next, and Spock spent half an hour in a CAI lesson, half in discussion. Their literature class would be all discussion, with their reading assignments performed at home, but since it was the first day, the teacher discussed the pending course of study. Then it was time for lunch, athletics, where Spock had wisely chosen track, and spent a half hour running wind sprints. He had not chosen to participate in the orchestral program. He spent an hour in galactosociology, an hour plodding through a CAI course in one of the more obscure biological sciences, a half hour in a discussion of environmental issues, and then it was time to leave for his physics seminar. That at least was familiar. There was one other student attending from Cotwood, but that student was absorbed in some problem on his compad and didn't speak to Spock in the ride to the university. Once there, Spock ignored the occasional stare with the expertise of one who had spent a lifetime experiencing them. But by the end of the day he was exhausted, and he was only too glad he had the next day to recuperate. He answered McCoy's inquiries politely, but he was grateful for the opportunity to retire. He still was not sure if he wanted to go through that again.

But oddly enough, as tired as he had been the day before, time began to drag for him by midday. McCoy was busy planning lessons, and certainly had no time for him. He could not ride every moment, the horses were fed, and the barn was clean. He reread Cotwood's prospectus, the one McCoy was supposed to have read, and did the lessons necessary to be caught up with school when he returned. But his thoughts kept returning to the classroom. And by Wednesday, he was actually eager to go back. He was not as tired, by the end of the day, as he had been on Monday. By Friday, he had begun to participate in class discussions, and he felt as if he could go the whole week.

And though he would never have believed it of himself before he had first come to the school, he was actually beginning to want to.

McCoy was surprised – and pleased to see that Spock settled into school quite well. He hadn't known what to think, and could hardly credit it, but then, after all, Spock had attended Starfleet after 18 years of being raised on Vulcan, so perhaps it wasn't so astonishing that after another 15 on the human dominated Enterprise that he could handle a class of Terran children. McCoy began receiving weekly reports on Spock's 'progress', reports which he perused as anxiously as any parent. Spock came home from school increasingly pleased with his activities. The impatience and disgust McCoy had expected from Spock about painting pictures and listening to stories was not forthcoming. Spock might have regarded that time as wasted, but he didn't complain about it. He took his turn feeding the animals, cleaning their cages, and filling the bird feeders, all part of the school's instruction in responsibility, without comment or complaint. The innocuous routines at least for the present seemed to comfort rather than irritate. Spock was being settled into them with all the fussy consideration and professional handling due a hyperintelligent child whose 'parent' was paying hefty fees. McCoy was grateful that at least if Spock had to go to school, he was at one that would treat him with deference and respect. And after Spock's recent experiences with abuse, it seemed to be balm to his soul. McCoy heard no complaints. And the reports from Cotwood came back favorably as well. Spock was rated as being extremely diligent in his studies, but compliant to joining in the group activities. He was obedient, a little shy, but adjusting well. In essence, they were pleased to have him.

Having Spock contentedly settled in an activity like school was a relief of sorts for McCoy. Formerly, he'd felt somewhat guilty about leaving Spock alone for long periods, now Spock was fully occupied three long days a week. He had tentatively accepted a Spring term teaching position at GU, hoping Spock would find school acceptable. Now McCoy quickly arranged to fill up those hours with teaching, general surgery in the mornings, and alien medicine, alien surgery and general trauma care in the afternoons. He crammed a full schedule of classes back to back in his three days from home, and graded and planned lessons at home the other two. It was good to be busy with real work again, good to be back in a hospital, to hold a laser scalpel in his hands and feel how fell it fitted. He felt a measure of understanding for what Spock had lost, now that his career was being restored. But Spock seemed actually interested in his lessons. McCoy supposed that computerized brain could find something to glean from any activity. And Spock, who had apparently been raised strictly as a Vulcan, without regard for his human heritage, might even be resolving some old conflicts and curiosities about the life that had been closed to him. For a few weeks everything fell into place with blissful ease.

Spock continued to attend Pony Club, and McCoy often rode along to watch. For all that Spock seemed fond of Firecracker, McCoy reserved opinion. The pony was still recalcitrant over fences, in spite of all Spock's patient schooling. He always jumped big, he seemed to have plenty of natural ability, but he always had to be driven into his fences, and it was still a moot point sometimes that he could be driven over them. McCoy paid for an expensive vetting out just to make sure there was nothing in the pony that would account for his reluctance to jump. Spock maintained the pony had been rushed into jumping. He was still bringing him along in the lower division. McCoy, who'd always found Arabians of flaky temperament, blamed it on that, for Firecracker was a pony/Arab cross. McCoy regretting selling Linne every time he saw that fidgeting shuffle before a fence, or watched Firecracker explode into his occasional bucking sprees. But Spock and Firecracker did look impressive in the dressage ring, and cross-country Firecracker generally was having too much fun to pitch a fit. It was only in stadium that his temper tantrums were real problems.

McCoy was watching one of them that Saturday. The instructor had set up a course of tight turns around half a dozen double and triple jumps, including a mock brick wall of the type Firecracker hated. Firecracker exhibited his displeasure by kicking out in a half buck with every landing. The instructor shook her head in dissatisfaction, and pointed her crop at the first jump, wordlessly indicating she wanted Spock to go round the course again. Spock did so, with the same result.

"Every time he bucks, Spock, give him a lick with the crop."

Spock went round a third time, with the same result. The instructor simply pointed to the brick wall and Spock, by now looking somewhat weary, turned the pony around and took it again. And again. The children watching from the backs of their ponies were still with silent commiseration and remembered dread as Spock failed again and again to satisfy their instructor. Not one of them missed the transition where instead of Spock driving Firecracker, the instructor began driving a reluctant Spock. No one smirked or smiled or wise-cracked. They twisted their reins nervously between their fingers and kept their horses still. Years of riding and hard accomplishment had taught them all that they each had different obstacles to conquer. For some it was jumps too high, or too wide, or of a particular composition. For some it was jumping bareback or with one stirrup, riding blindfolded or with their hands tied behind their backs. Some hated going down steep gullies, or swimming their ponies across deep water. But all of them were still there because, sweating and shaking, they had forced themselves through their fears, and earned, if not acclaim, the right to come back and try again. Fierce competitors on the field, they were unanimous in their recognition of this kind of struggle, and wide-eyed, shallow breathed, they waited for its resolution. Only the instructor seemed oblivious to her silent gallery of onlookers. Firecracker finally had enough, sensed Spock's weariness, and seizing the advantage, broke into a frenzy of bucking. Spock's dislike of the crop was well known, and the instructor chided him sharply.

"Don't let that pony get away with that behavior! If you break him of this habit, he might come to something. Otherwise no child will ever be safe with him. Do you want him destroyed because of that?"

McCoy frowned when Firecracker's tantrum subsided and the instructor mutely indicated the jump again. He understood the necessity of Firecracker being properly trained, but he also thought that Spock was becoming tired. Still, it wasn't in the etiquette of pony club for parents to comment. Spock rode the pony strongly up to the jump. Firecracker rose as if he intended to take it, then dropped and simply crashed through it. Pony, boy and jump went down in a tangle. McCoy, against all parental etiquette, flung his horse's reins to Karen and dove into the ring to assess the damage.

Firecracker was up, kicking pieces of the jump off of himself. McCoy handed the pony's reins to the instructor, who towed him out of the way, and McCoy moved a few rails and standards off of Spock. Spock had brought an arm up and rolled to shield his eyes from the pony's flying hooves.

"Don't move." McCoy said crossly. Spock froze obediently and looked around out of the corners of his eyes.

"Is Firecracker all right?"

"The hell with Firecracker. What about you?"

Spock put one hand to a trickle of green and a visibly swelling bump on his forehead.

"Just great. I don't even have a medical scanner." McCoy growled, searching fruitlessly through all his pockets. "Do you hurt anywhere else?"

"I'm fine."

"We're going home. I want to be sure of that."

The instructor brought Firecracker over. "He seems to be alright. A little scrape on one knee, but I don't think he'll be lame."

"Good," said Spock, one hand reaching for the reins.

"Can I trust that stupid beast not to throw you on the way home?"

"He's only bad with fences." Spock said defensively, mounting slowly.

They rode home slowly, in silence. When McCoy finished untacking his own horse, he discovered Spock on his knees in Firecracker's stall, beginning to bandage the pony's leg.

"Leave that." McCoy said crossly. "I want to check you out first."

Spock rose reluctantly. "I'm fine."

Not trusting himself to comment, McCoy simply swung him up, carried him through the house to the surgery, placed him on the exam table and ran the scanner over him. "You have a mild concussion."

"I just have a bit of a headache."

"You're going to bed."

"Firecracker's leg needs to be bandaged first."

"I should sell that beast." McCoy said crossly. Spock looked at him in astonishment. "You'll never change that temperament. I was a fool to buy him."


"Go to bed, Spock. I'll bring you some lunch a little later."

Spock hesitated. "But Firecracker --"

"Forget about that pony, and go to bed." McCoy barked. "Now!" Spock left.

McCoy took a deep breath, and put away his instruments. He hadn't meant to snap at Spock. He'd go up in a few minutes and apologize. Feeling guilty, he went out to the stable and took a look at the cut on the pony's leg. It was nothing, but McCoy wrapped it anyway. An hour later he took a light lunch to Spock's room.

Spock was in bed, a book next to him.

"You shouldn't be reading." McCoy said, and slid the tray onto the bed.

"I'm not hungry."

"Eat anyway." McCoy said calmly. "You can use the calories."

Spock said nothing, his face averted.

"Sulking isn't very Vulcan." McCoy said. "But I'm at fault too. I shouldn't have snapped at you, Spock. I'm sorry. I was worried." McCoy waited a moment, but Spock was silent. McCoy brushed Spock's hair back and scrutinized the incriminating bump. "That doesn't look too bad. You were lucky. A few days in bed, and you'll be fine."

Spock looked up at him sharply. "You mean I can't go to school?"

McCoy's eyes widened. "I didn't think you liked it that much. No, I think you should stay quiet for a few days." McCoy studied the silent figure for a moment. "A concussion is nothing to fool with, Spock, especially for a Vulcan. You know that. And you can't possibly be missing anything important, can you?" McCoy waited a moment, and sighed. "Don't let your lunch get cold."

McCoy received a call later that day from Spock's pony club instructor. After her dressing down of Spock at the Lollipop event, she had not been McCoy's favorite of people, and he answered her with the barest of greetings.

"How is Spock, and Firecracker?"

"Well enough," McCoy answered grouchily. "Spock has a mild concussion. I'd appreciate you're taking that into consideration in future lessons."

"You consider what happened my fault?" The instructor said, her eyes narrowed.

"Wasn't it? You were pushing them both pretty hard."

"I was pushing him? Really, Dr. McCoy." Her voice hardened. "I didn't put a six year old on the back of a half broken, poorly trained, dangerously temperamental conformation pony. You did. Oh, Spock has a head on his shoulders, I'll give you that. And he deserved something better than Linne. With Firecracker he has a good chance at cleaning up the ribbons in dressage and cross-country in every county event in his division this spring. He'll probably win most of the races, and he's certain to sweep the conformation classes. Providing, of course," and the instructor's voice hardened, "the pony doesn't break his neck in stadium first. That's the problem you've saddled me with. I'm not sure if any amount of training will correct that pony of its temperament problems, and if it were my child I wouldn't risk him trying. But it becomes my job when parents become so greedy for ribbons and points and show wins they'll risk their children's safety to get them. You consider that, Dr. McCoy." She cut the connection, leaving McCoy staring openmouthed at a blank screen.

Spock refused lunch, and feigned sleep through dinner. McCoy frowned at Spock's untouched breakfast the next morning. "This is getting old, Spock."

"I'm not hungry."

"You ought to be starving."

"I don't feel well."

McCoy raised an eyebrow and took out his medical scanner. It wasn't like Spock to pull out an old saw like that and not expect to be called on it. Spock lips tightened as McCoy ran the scanner over him, and McCoy pocketed it again. "There's nothing wrong with you other than a mild concussion. And an unsatisfied appetite. Are you trying to punish yourself or me?" Spock glared at him mutely, and McCoy picked up the untouched meal and left.

McCoy walked in the next morning, and frowned at the sight of Spock getting dressed. "You're not going to school."

"I'm fine."

"You not only have a concussion, you also haven't eaten for three days. I would be crazy to let you go to school, only to faint when you get there."

"I wouldn't faint."

"Go back to bed, Spock."

"I'll only leave after you depart for your classes."

"Well, you'll have a long wait." Seeing Spock puzzled, McCoy elucidated. "You didn't think I was going to leave you here when you're not well? I cancelled my classes for today, Spock." McCoy studied the daunting effect his statement had on Spock. "Now, go back to bed. If you behave yourself today, and stop this ridiculous fast, you can go to school on Wednesday, if it's so important to you."

Spock sat down on his bed. When McCoy came up a few minutes later with breakfast, he was still there. "I told you to get into bed, Spock."

Spock looked without interest at the tray. "I'm not hungry."

"I'm beginning to think that pony knocked what little sense you had right out of you. I've had enough of this ridiculous fast. You're going to eat this if I have to force-feed you." Spock shook his head. McCoy sat down beside him, and every muscle in Spock's body braced as if for a fight.

McCoy studied him narrowly. "You want me to do that, don't you? I don't understand this, Spock. Firecracker is the one that hurt you. Not me. Unless you're mad at me for buying that stupid pony. I admit that was a mistake I intend to rectify. And I'm sorry I snapped at you before. What else? Not letting you go to school? I should keep you out the whole week. So why the hunger strike?" Spock looked at him sharply and McCoy nodded. "Hunger strike. You concussion isn't bad enough to turn your stomach and you're not sick. You're not eating because you're angry at me. I'm just not sure why. Talking to me is a little more productive than starving yourself."

Spock said nothing. McCoy sighed, put a straw in a glass of milk, and held it out. "Take this."

Spock shook his head. McCoy sighed. "You didn't act this way when Jim broke your arm. All I did was send you to bed. Is that such a terrible thing?" McCoy studied Spock. "It's not like my prescription is any different than before, Spock. Concussion has always been grounds for restriction from duty. There are no Vulcan tricks for it. You've managed to suffer though a few days of bed rest before. Haven't you?" McCoy challenged pointedly.

"Yes." Spock finally capitulated.

"So why the melodrama now?" McCoy paused and said. "You've also gave me the cold shoulder, when I gave you that vitamin shot. But that didn't last quite so long. Is it so terrible to have someone take care of you? Is that why you're angry with me?"

Spock dropped his head. "I am not angry."

"You've giving a good imitation of it, then. I can't say it's been exactly comfortable for me to deal with either. I don't like being made to feel like an ogre, and I don't like seeing you do this to yourself. Maybe --" McCoy paused because Spock's eyes were suddenly on his. He realized he'd been about to suggest Spock might be happier elsewhere. The words hung between them a moment, without needing to be spoken, before Spock lowered his head again. McCoy considered it. He hadn't missed the flicker of anxiety in Spock's eyes before they'd been averted. "Are you trying to make me throw you out, Spock? Or do something we'd both hate, like trying to force feed you?" Spock said nothing, but he didn't deny it either. "What are you afraid of, Spock?" McCoy paused. "I have been taking care of you, so to speak, for a while. I've tried to make it as equitable as the situation allowed, which hasn't been much. Have I done such a bad job?"

"You've been very kind."

"And now I'm not being very kind. Somehow. Though I'm damned if I know why." The Vulcan flinched at the expletive and McCoy gathered his patience again. "Spock, please believe me when I tell you that you cannot go to school today. I'm not even sure if you can go Wednesday. This isn't a red alert situation where I have to send you half patched together into battle. I'd be medically delinquent to let you run around right now, and I'm not going to risk my license over that." Spock's eyes had widened and McCoy continued. "You're just going to have to tolerate what probably seems like unfairly restrictive behavior, but that's one of the drawbacks of living with a physician. Understand?"

Spock nodded. "You do not have to stay. I will not leave for school. I do not wish to see your license jeopardized either."

McCoy sighed. "I can't do that, Spock. It isn't that I don't trust you," he said hastily, seeing Spock frown. "It just so happens that too many people and institutions, who consider you're a child, know you're here." McCoy hesitated and said. "It happens to be against Georgia law to leave a child of your established age alone, unsupervised, for more than a short period of time. I'm sorry, Spock."

"I did not realize," Spock said tightly. "I regret preventing you from attending your duties."

"It's not your fault," McCoy said shortly. "It's that lousy pony's. I wish I'd never laid eyes on him. The sooner I find someone to take him off our hands, the better." Spock ducked his head and McCoy frowned. "You can't mean you still want him. After what he did on Saturday?"

"That was not completely his fault."

"He dangerous, Spock. He's unpredictable. You could have been more seriously hurt." Seeing Spock unswayed, McCoy said, "You weren't upset to see Linne go. I'll buy you another pony, Spock." He knew, as soon as he said the words, how wrong they were, how presumptuous, how condescending.

Spock reacted exactly as McCoy would have predicted. He shook his head, and his voice was at its most Vulcan. "No. That is unnecessary, Dr. McCoy."

McCoy's eyes widened. Riding, and horse care, had been a preoccupation with Spock since the horses had first arrived. For Spock to eschew another pony and essentially drop the activity meant a significant change in the Vulcan's established routine, and the loss of what little fun McCoy thought he had. McCoy tried again. "You can pick out the pony yourself this time. Or horse. It can be just what you want." Spock didn't answer, and McCoy frowned. "Is it that you don't want me to sell Firecracker?" McCoy paused, scrutinizing Spock closely. "Is that why you're so upset, because I want to get rid of him? He's a menace."

"He is not."

"Well, at least I know why you've starved yourself these three days," McCoy said dryly, sitting down heavily on the edge of the bed. "I wish you'd have told me a little sooner, but I suppose I'm lucky to have dragged it out of you now. Spock, what is it about this pony that you like so much? The danger?" Spock shook his head. "How is this different from letting Linne go then?"

Spock shook his head numbly and McCoy frowned. "Spock, you promised you were going to talk to me about things. And this is one I think I need to know."

Spock gave him a guilty look and took a deep breath. "I thought --"

"Go on, spit it out."

"I didn't realize that he wasn't mine." Spock said remotely, looking away. "I thought he was mine."

McCoy stared, unseeing at Spock, remembering the banner on the stall door. A Christmas present. Presents were gifts, that once given, were the property of the owner. Yet McCoy had already declared his intention to sell what to Spock was now his only accessible possession. All of Spock's personal property was still in storage on the Enterprise, or tied up behind retina scans and fingerprints that Spock needed years yet to catch up with. They had yet to talk about devising some way of allowing Spock access to those funds. Every stitch of clothing Spock had, every meal he ate, every activity he engaged in, McCoy had authorized and procured.

McCoy had been aware of how restrictive that control was, but he hadn't figured out a way around it. It hadn't seemed to bother Spock, and McCoy had been wrestling with what he considered more pressing problems. But he hadn't been aware of how his own perception of Firecracker differed from Spock's. Firecracker had been a Christmas present, but McCoy had bought him, not just because Spock apparently wanted him, but because children had to get presents on Christmas morning. It had been part of their cover, and he'd thought of the pony that way, as a gift of a parent to a child, not as adult to adult. If the toy was too dangerous, the adult simply took it away. An adult couldn't do that to another adult. McCoy hadn't realized how much his relations with Spock had been tainted by their circumstances. He'd thought he'd been dealing with Spock so fairly. He looked at Spock, stricken.

"He is yours, Spock. I'd forgotten that. But I won't forget it again. If you want to keep him, then you keep him."

Spock shook his head. "I could become injured again, and you might miss your classes. I have been the cause of enough expense and disruption, I have no desire to cause more."

"It hasn't been that expensive or disruptive, Spock. You don't have to blame yourself for that."

Spock's eyes skewered McCoy, and the physician felt unaccountably guilty for the bareness of truth in his assertion. In fact, Spock had become an expensive proposition, and if McCoy knew Spock, the Vulcan probably had the cost estimated right to the last credit, and as far as disruption, he was looking seriously at abandoning the Starfleet career he'd pursued for more than a decade. Spock chose to fix on the latter problem. "If I were not here, you would be on the Enterprise." Spock said tightly.

"That's true." McCoy said evenly. "But that doesn't mean I regret it." Spock looked at him, betrayal clear in his eyes before he dropped them. "Spock, that doesn't mean I'm glad you're in this situation. I know it's been terrible for you. I think you've handled it pretty well, over all. But it hasn't been that terrible for me. I'm home, after all, and my career hasn't been interrupted. I just meant you don't need to blame yourself for any imagined wrongs to me." McCoy hesitated. "I'll admit I may not be treating you properly all the time. I'm not always sure how to treat you, Spock. So don't be shy about telling me what you want."

Spock flinched as if struck. "I do not always know," he said tightly.

McCoy took a deep breath at this confession. "So let's not beat each other up if we get it wrong occasionally." Spock looked at him and McCoy nodded. "Because we will." McCoy rose. "You've been upset enough right now, I think. Try and eat a little and get some rest. And don't worry. Firecracker will still be here when you're better."

"You are patronizing me." Spock said quietly, without rancor.

"Maybe." McCoy tucked the quilts around Spock, and put the tray beside him. "But no more than I ever did before."

Spock went back to school that Wednesday, and no more was said of selling Firecracker. McCoy put in a subspace call to Sam Cogley. He wanted to ask someone about Spock's legal rights, and he couldn't think of whom else to trust. Areel was still Fleet, and her loyalties would be torn. McCoy didn't expect a return call for weeks. Sam seemed to have no permanent address, and he could be hard to track down. In the meantime he and Spock continued as they were, a little more cautiously. McCoy was trying to walk a fine line, and he always seemed to himself to be either heavy handed or patronizing. Spock, true to form after any conflict, simply distanced himself. After expressing a desire to attend school full time, he buried himself in schoolwork with the same intensity he'd first cultivated the Deveaux. Since he hadn't dropped them either, McCoy tended to see him only a few hours a night, and Spock often hid behind a wall of 'homework'.

Since Spock's school reports were uniformly good, McCoy had lost most of his anxiety on that score. When he came out of surgery one morning, and was handed a message directing him to call Cotwood, his first thought was that he must have forgotten to pay some fee, or authorize some outing. Cotwood seemed to send a flood of such requests home, and only Spock kept him straight about signing them all, and getting them in on time. When he punched in the comm code, though, he got the pretty psychologist he'd seen at the initial interview.

"Dr. McCoy. It's good of you to return my call so promptly. I wonder if you could spare some time to drop by today."

"Is Spock all right?" McCoy asked cautiously. "He hasn't been hurt, has he?"

"No. But I would like to discuss something with you regarding his behavior. It may be nothing serious," she said, "but I would like to explain something before he goes home today."

"I'll be right there." McCoy posted his classes. Half an hour later, he pulled into the expensively manicured school grounds. He looked curiously around as he walked to the office, but Spock was nowhere in evidence. The psychologist gestured him to a chair. McCoy took an adult sized one, and surveyed the toys and dollhouses in the room. It still unnerved him that Spock could even tolerate this environment.

"Dr. McCoy, I called you in because of an adverse reaction Spock exhibited today to a program we are required by law to give. Some children do tend to become upset, and that is why I give it, to talk though with them any fears or concerns they might have, or to investigate them further. Spock's reaction may have been simply cultural shock. But I do need to discuss it with you. Even if there are no grounds for Spock's reaction, he may have nightmares, or exhibit behavioral changes for a few weeks, and you should be aware of their source."

"What sort of program is this?"

"It concerns child abuse. The state requires that we hold a yearly discussion with all the children about it, so that they understand what it is, and how they get help if they should ever find themselves in such a situation."

McCoy swallowed hard. "You say Spock was upset by this?"

"He stayed in the back of the room. He never joined the other children in the discussion. He scarcely looked up, and he been withdrawn ever since. I tried to discuss some of it with him. But he was uncooperative. I know you haven't had the child long, Doctor, and I'm not accusing you. All of Spock's psychological scans do show evidence of past trauma, but his reaction to you seems quite positive. But even in his relationship with you, he seems to be holding back. Withholding of trust is very common in such children."

"Are you telling me Spock's been abused?" McCoy said forbiddingly.

"Perhaps. Children often react to the death of a parent as being a type of abuse. Often their handling by authorities prior to their assumption by their true guardian can leave much to be desired. What psychological scans we have given him relate his trauma prior to your assumption of his guardianship, which makes the situation very unclear. We have a duty, of course, if Spock has been abused, to ensure that the abuser's behavior is restrained before he or she inflicts abuse on another. But we also have a duty not to interfere with the abused child's adjustment. Spock seems to be adjusting, albeit slowly, and he is a sensitive child, whose adjustment would obviously be badly damaged by any inquiry during this period where he is beginning to feel safe. Simple exposure to this neutral program alone has upset him badly. We must concern ourselves primarily with his recovery.

"Had I known Spock would react so adversely, I would not have exposed him to the program, I would have discussed it with him privately, in a less abrupt manner. But the damage has been done. You needed to be made aware of it, so that you can provide reinforcement for Spock at home. He may show no signs of what's happened today. He may become very upset, and overreact to a sharp word or some minor discipline. Regarding his past, he may take several months more to complete his adjustment. Longer than that, and we would suggest professional help. Once he had adjusted, it's important to remain cognizant of his past, since problems relating to it can surface at any time and may confuse a parent who is only relating to the present. Whether or not to explore the past after the child has adjusted should be a professional decision."

"Is that all?" McCoy said dryly.

"That depends on you. Some parents request advice on how to deal with a child's distress. Reactions such as Spock's are not uncommon, Dr. McCoy. Children do show reactions to this program from purely innocent causes, the death of a family member, an unavoidable separation, a hospital stay. For those parents I can provide counseling. In Spock's case, the loss of parents invariably implies, at least to me, the need for more professional assistance. I am, of course, aware that you are a psychiatrist."

"Yes." McCoy said shortly. "I am. And your interference has caused problems enough. I'd appreciate you're leaving Spock's adjustments to me, and your psychological theorizing to yourself. Where is he now?"

The psychologist flushed. "I really don't know, Dr. McCoy. He insisted on leaving for his classes, and I thought it best to let him go."

McCoy checked with the scheduling office, only to discover Spock had already left for GU. McCoy went back there, but he returned to his own work, rather than ferreting Spock out of whatever class he was in. Work was probably the best tonic for Spock, under most circumstances. It wouldn't hurt for Spock to have a little of it under his belt before McCoy spoke with him that evening.

Sarek summoned his senior aide. "Begin investigations on McCoy. But do so quietly."

"Captain Kirk was uninformative?"

"Precisely. If there is a chance that Spock is with McCoy, or if McCoy can be traced, then I would prefer to address this situation at the source."

"As you wish, Ambassador."

"I heard what happened in school today," McCoy opened over dinner.

Spock's eyes flashed angrily. "They had no right to discuss it with you."

"Spock, I'm supposed to be your guardian. Of course they're going to discuss it with me."

Spock sighed resignedly.

"Do you want to discuss it with me?"


"I think maybe we should." McCoy said calmly. "For one thing, it's a situation that might come up again. You need to try and get that reaction under control--"

"No." Spock said flatly.

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "All right."

Spock was particularly aloof that evening, refused a game of chess, and went to bed in a huff. McCoy let it ride, deciding not to push. He was turning in himself though. when he heard what sounded like a cry from Spock's room. McCoy entered in a rush, to find Spock sitting up in bed, eyes focused but on some inner nightmare, his breath coming in sharp gasps.

"Spock? Spock, wake up." McCoy cautiously put a hand to Spock's shoulder, and the Vulcan flinched away. But when he looked at McCoy, he had started to wake. For a moment his normally expressionless face was a mixture of confusion and fear, and then he ducked his head quickly. McCoy settled his hand cautiously.

Spock shrugged it away. "No."

"All right." McCoy waited a moment, studying the bent head. "I take it you are awake now?"


"Do you want to talk about it?"


McCoy raised an eyebrow. "All right. Sleep well, then." He turned and left, but instead of returning to his own room, he went down to the kitchen. Spock had not lost his antipathy to milk, and though a little talking would have been his first prescription, warm milk would have been his second prescription. Spock wouldn't touch the stuff, but McCoy had discovered he had been drinking hot chocolate at the Deveaux's for weeks. He'd laid in a supply of the mix Karen used, but so far hadn't dared to push it on Spock. Now he mixed a cup of it, heated it up, and reentered Spock's room. Spock was sitting upright on his bed, arms wrapped around his knees, and his head pillowed on top. He jumped in surprise when McCoy entered. McCoy handed him the cup without comment. Spock took it automatically, looked from the contents to McCoy, and lowered his head again.

"Drink it." McCoy suggested. "It might help you go back to sleep."

Spock wrapped the fingers of both hands around the cup, as if his hands were cold, and took a sip. "I'm sorry I was rude."

"Don't worry about it." McCoy answered. He studied the Vulcan a moment. "You want to talk about it?" Spock shook his head, and McCoy sighed. "You know where I am if you do." He turned to leave.

"Dr. McCoy?"

He paused at the door. "Yes, Spock?" Spock seemed unsure what to answer and McCoy crossed back.

"I'm regret having disturbed your rest." Spock finally said.

"I hadn't gone to bed yet." McCoy realized Spock didn't want him to leave yet, and sat down on the edge of the bed. Spock relaxed visibly and drank some more. McCoy watched him, seeing his breathing even out. It was new to him to see Spock actually seem to want his presence. Their relationship on the Enterprise had been antagonistic in every sense of the word, though in a low key sort of way. Still, he'd gotten used to seeing Spock stiffen in his presence, even as had relaxed in Jim's. McCoy had usually had his guard up around Spock too. He hadn't felt that way since they'd been here, but he hadn't really noticed Spock changing. Now Spock sat back against his pillows, and finished his chocolate slowly. His eyes were starting to look heavy. McCoy took the empty cup from his hand.

"Do you think you can sleep now?" Spock nodded and slid down in bed. Without thinking, McCoy tucked the covers around him. Feeling a little self-conscious, he turned off the light. "Sleep well, Spock."

The next morning Spock was touchy at breakfast, reacting suspiciously to McCoy's 'Good morning' and giving every impression he expected to be grilled as he hadn't been the night before. McCoy let it ride. Even if he'd decided to do so, he wouldn't have planned it during a meal. Spock's appetite was scanty enough that McCoy had stopped engaging in anything but small talk during meals, and even then he occasionally hit a nerve. And when he did so, Spock's first reaction was to put the fork down. Spock left for his schoolbus looking confused. Spock was less openly hostile at dinner, but responded in monosyllables to everything McCoy said. Spock was visibly tense as they cleaned up the meal, and afterwards tried to slip out the door, ditching his weekly checkup in the process. McCoy stopped him.

"Aren't you forgetting something?"

"I don't need to be examined. You don't get an examination every week."

"I'm not seriously malnourished, the recipient of a two week old concussion, a recent broken arm, and various other things. If you'd gain some weight consistently, and keep out of trouble long enough to get everything healed up without breaking something new, I'll drop it to every month." McCoy ushered Spock into the exam room with a little relief. So far, Spock had never actually outright refused to be examined. McCoy had pretty much decided he wouldn't put up with that, which would have meant quite a scene. Spock balked as usual at the exam table. The first few times, McCoy had put him up there because Spock's wrist would have made it difficult to get up there himself. He still felt a little strange picking Spock up and putting him on it. But Spock always froze before it.

He checked Spock over. He'd ordered and finally received a supply of the copper supplement Spock needed to exist on a human diet. Spock recognized the drug and forbore to comment as McCoy measured out the proper dosage, injected it, and checked Spock over again.

"Would you lie down, please, Spock? I want to get some neurological scans."

Spock glared at McCoy but complied slowly.

"Just lie still." McCoy studied the area of the concussion. There was still some edema, or swelling, but it had lessened since the accident. It wasn't even enough to be a factor in Spock's irritability. Six weeks was the minimum resolution of a concussion, the period where the area was undergoing healing, and any major complications, like chronic hematoma could occur. McCoy really didn't like to see Spock ride during this period, but actually there wasn't much advantage in keeping him quiet. Short of another blow to the head, Spock couldn't come to much harm. And even Spock seemed to understand that, and had curtailed his more strenuous activity. McCoy switched to a general body scan, and checked the wrist carefully. The fused bone had still been showing some signs of trauma, particularly after Spock had landed on it in his fall. McCoy glanced at the metabolic scans last, and winced. Spock had lost almost three pounds following his injury and subsequent 'fast'. His metabolic rate rose sharply upon any injury. Spock seemed unable to control it, as he had on the Enterprise. He'd gained a quarter pound back last week. This week he'd lost a half pound. McCoy went to the computer and pulled up Spock's history. Spock had lost most of the weight when he'd been with Jim. McCoy had been trying since then to help him gain it back. Some weeks Spock had actually shown a slight gain, some weeks he'd held his own. The weeks Spock had lost McCoy could almost invariably remember an incident of stress. Obviously, his metabolic rate rose significantly during stress as well, even as Spock's appetite dropped off. In order to see him reach some sort of nutritional balance, Spock would have to not only eat well, he'd have to avoid stress and injury both. And soon. Spock had lost what little fat he'd had; he'd been burning muscle tissue for weeks. His bones were starting to lose density, as valuable minerals were being leeched from them. Until he started meeting his nutritional needs conventionally, he would continue to strip his body of muscle and bone just to meet his own metabolic rate.

McCoy punched up the figures on a portable clipboard and carried it over to Spock, who sat up, eyeing him warily.

"No lecture." McCoy said, handing the clipboard over. "You're savvy enough to understand this." Spock frowned at him and took the clipboard, absorbing it with his usual lightning speed.

"Spock," McCoy said when Spock had put the clipboard down. "Is there something you really like to eat, maybe something Vulcan, that I'm not getting you?'

Spock shook his head. McCoy sighed. "Calories and vitamins. I hate to make you up a diet. Knowing you, it'd inhibit you enough you'd eat even less. And I'd like to see you develop some kind of natural relationship between hunger and your nutritional needs. You should want to eat when you need to, Spock, like everyone else. I'm not even going to set any kind of goal. I want you to resolve this yourself, eating what you want on your own schedule. But you've got to do it, because I can't let this go on much longer. If you don't handle it better yourself--"

"I understand."

McCoy did not let the situation rest there, though. He sat down at his terminal that evening and entered a new query: CHILDREN, SPECIES VULCAN, WEIGHT LOSS, CAUSES OF:

He didn't expect much. Between their people's extensive physiological controls, and their emphasis on mental healing techniques, Vulcan medical practices had developed on lines that seldom diverged with human ones. Most Vulcan healers had extensive psi skills; it seemed to be a major job requirement. Because of that, little in Vulcan medicine had any relevance to human practices, or any benefit for human physicians. Add to that the general Vulcan close-mouthed attitude toward anything personal, and their tendency to keep to themselves, it tended to result in little in the general medical literature about Vulcans, and not much general interest in Vulcan publications. McCoy had learned most of what he knew about Vulcans from examining Spock on a regular basis, and any other Vulcans who passed through the Enterprise, together with a sparse Starfleet compendium on basic Vulcan medicine. None of this had prepared him for Vulcan pediatrics. He hadn't even seen too many Vulcan kids. Vulcans didn't seem to let their kids travel much. The few he'd caught glimpses of had been traveling with a full regalia of adults. Vulcans obviously didn't push their kids forward like humans often did. On the contrary, they seem to guard them like the scarce commodities that, to Vulcans, they of course were. He'd never had a chance to examine any Vulcan children, and it was unlikely that he ever would examine any except Spock.

He pondered the problem while the computer searched its massive memory. Spock's readings always seemed to check out comparatively normal. Yet he had to consider some metabolic imbalance was causing Spock's problem. The terminal beeped, surprising him with an unexpected entry, and McCoy leaned forward. The entry was from a Starfleet journal, from the CMO of the Farragut, describing the rescue of 3 Vulcan children from a remote science outpost following the demise of their parents. The kids had been in bad shape upon pickup. What had disconcerted the CMO was that they became rapidly worse after their rescue. The two youngest went into what looked like shock, the oldest, a twelve year old, experienced severe stress evidenced as near catatonia. All the kids metabolic readings went off the scale, resulting in severe weight loss in spite of extensive intravenous supplementation. The CMO punched through subspace to the nearest Vulcan healer, who ordered the children turned over to the closest available adult Vulcan. The CMO described the startling improvement that occurred after the Vulcan escort arrived on board and established a necessary mental link with the children, and concluded, "Apparently, all Vulcan children require this telepathic link to serve as both buffer and control. What appeared to be a life-threatening physical disorder was actually the result of the lack of this parental link, particularly in the presence of unshielded humans. The children showed immediate and dramatic recovery from the shock and metabolic disorders upon the establishment of this link."

McCoy searched through the database for anything further and came up empty. He sat back, considering. A parental bond. Spock obviously didn't have anything approaching that. On the other hand, he was neither in shock nor catatonic. But his metabolism showed readings similar, if not as extreme, as the readings on the Farragut children. Was his half Vulcan constitution helping, or did he simply have enough control to save himself from severe distress? McCoy frowned and tapped his fingers meditatively on the revealing terminal. Either way, Spock's control was only a pale shadow of his adult abilities. McCoy thought about how Spock shadowed him in any public place, rarely straying more than a few feet from his side. When McCoy wasn't with him, he was usually not far from Karen. And he'd been losing weight markedly since he'd started school, and going to bed earlier too, another clear sign of the stress, probably brought on by contact with others. McCoy remembered his agreement with Spock. Maybe Spock's problems were unrelated to this issue, and maybe, if they were, Spock felt he didn't need to discuss it with McCoy, as per their agreement. But McCoy couldn't walk away from this conflict.

"I learned something new about Vulcan children," McCoy opened. "I learned about how they require a parental bond." McCoy watched the blood drain from Spock's face, as he tore his eyes from McCoy's. McCoy didn't need a medical scanner to see his metabolic rate jump. McCoy waited to see if Spock would respond but the Vulcan stared blankly ahead.

"Is it true, Spock?"

"I--" Spock hesitated. "I do not know what you have discovered."

McCoy raised an eyebrow at this evasion. "Why don't you tell me about them, then. I'm sure your information will be more accurate and complete than what little I've found out."

Spock looked up at him, as if surprised by this expression of trust. He searched McCoy's face, obviously looking for something apparently not found. The discovery seemed to calm him. He took a deep breath and looked down, as if to gather his thoughts. But he seemed unable to begin.

"What function does the bond serve, Spock? Does it control metabolism?"

Spock looked up, frowning. "No. That is not its function. It's primary function is to serve as a telepathic shield for the child, until the child learns the techniques of shielding."

"Vulcan children don't instinctively shield on their own? Human children born with telepathic talent generally do."

Spock shook his head. "Telepathic abilities are generally unrecognized and ignored among humans. To Vulcans they have long been a source of acknowledged power. Although dynastic lines are not selectively bred for these gifts as extensively as before the reforms, it is still an important consideration in arranging bondings. Children are trained to the extent of their abilities in every aspect of the psi sciences."

"So why aren't they born with shields?" McCoy said puzzled. "With all that emphasis I would have thought it would be a major consideration."

"In ancient times, psi was the dominant power in Vulcan society, and children were bred for extreme psi sensitivity. Such sensitivity requires considerable control impossible for developing children. Children would either develop reflexive shields that would eventually hamper their abilities, or they would become insane from the constant barrage of sensory input. It became standard practice to shield all children from birth. After so many generations of this practice, reflexive shields have been bred out of Vulcan children, even as sensitivity has been bred in. Today, children born with natural shielding abilities equivalent to their psi sensitivities are rare, and their psi abilities are usually poor. Most Vulcan children require constant parental shielding from birth. On modern Vulcan, although psi power is not used ruthlessly as before, psi abilities are still valued, especially in the ancient ruling clans. Children are not taught the rudiments of shielding until they have reached the full extent of their natural abilities and their psi training. Generally that does not occur until physical growth has been completed.

"Now how do you fit into this?" McCoy questioned. "Remember, I have all your psi evaluations, so don't try to tell me you're not gifted. Your not shielding either, or your metabolism wouldn't be so stressed."

"My intent was not to deceive," Spock said tightly. "I believed this was a difficulty I could resolve on my own."

"Not any longer, Spock. And keeping something like this from me was not exactly part of our agreement."

Spock winced, predictably, at the reproof. "I believed you would find this particular problem...distasteful."


"Your antipathy towards Vulcan mental techniques is not unknown to me," Spock said remotely.

McCoy's eyes widened, and he looked down at the figure hunched before him. Spock's head was down and his shoulders were slumped, as if his last admission had taken all the fight out of him. McCoy was still just trying to gather general facts. He hadn't yet delved into the personal considerations of how this affected Spock, and what repercussions this would have for their relationship and arrangements. Mostly he'd still been concentrating on the painful process of extracting information from a reluctant Vulcan, and wondering why Spock always made it so difficult. Now, in Spock's defeated pose, he read the conclusion the Vulcan expected him to draw.

"I have not linked with you." Spock said defensively.

"Did you have one with Jim?" McCoy said perceptively.

Spock raised shocked eyes to his, even as a flush deepened his face. "I did not--Jim and I were attuned, and--"

"I don't think that had any bearing on Jim's behavior. If that's what you're blaming yourself for, you can let that guilt go. The friendship Jim and you had together might have been helped a little by psi, on both your sides. Hell, you two read each other like books. But it wasn't where it started, and it didn't end it, Spock."

"It did not help."

"Probably not. Why don't you tell me about it?"

"I was not linked to Jim. But his mind is...was attuned to mind, and his shields are very powerful. I did use his shields as a buffer, and a link was beginning to develop."

"Did Jim know?"

Spock shook his head. "I was primarily concerned with the reconstruction of the device. We rarely spoke. When it became apparent I would not succeed, Jim -- ceased having coherent dealings with me."

McCoy remembered Spock as he had retrieved him from Jim's home. The almost catatonia. The shock. Part of it undoubtedly had physical roots. But he understood now the psi component. "What do you need now, Spock?"

"As a child, my parents were frequently absent on diplomatic missions. As a result I had developed some partial shields at an early age."

"How early?"

"I was--" Spock hesitated, "somewhat more physically advanced than I appear now. I have been attempting to develop similar shields. If I could, they would give me a measure of competence. Currently it appears to be beyond my present abilities." He said the words as if they'd left a bad taste in his mouth.

"So, where are you getting the shielding you need?"

Spock sighed. "Your shields are also very strong, and your aura is well known to me. I have not touched your mind," Spock looked at him anxiously, "but I have used that aura as a buffer. I realized it is an unwarranted invasion of your privacy," he finished bleakly.

"I hadn't noticed." McCoy said easily.

"You would not." Spock said wearily. "Human's, even psi-nulls, extend their auras to everyone they interact with. It is unconscious, and to Vulcans, a rather distasteful lack of control. I have done no more than not block it. Every human you interact with does no more than I. However, they are shielded, and unaware of the phenomena, whereas I derive some slight benefit from it."

"But it's not enough?"

"I must be careful." Spock said, "to limit contact, less a true link form. That has been difficult for me. It has been beneficial to have other adults available."

"Like Karen and John?"

Spock nodded wearily.

McCoy understood now why Spock seemed to avoid him, and so assiduously cultivated other relationships, contrary to his past behavior. "And even that is not enough."

"I still believe it is possible for me to learn to shield." Spock said tightly. "I practice daily."

"Isn't that part of the techniques you once told me had to be learned from a psi-tutor?"

"Yes." Spock admitted.

"Spock, how realistic is it to expect that you'll develop this link within a few months or so? Before you seriously damage yourself physically?"

Spock's lips tightened. "It is possible. It did not appear to be a likely possibility."

"Did not? What's changed?"

"Now that you know of the need for the link," Spock said quietly, "your eventual decision might provide further impetus to my developing some shielding."

"This is what you were waiting for." McCoy said suddenly. "What was holding you back from returning to Vulcan for training."

"I would...prefer...not to return to Vulcan until I have developed at least some partial shields. I realize that decision is perhaps more yours than mine."

"You think I'd find this too distasteful to deal with?" McCoy questioned. Spock didn't answer and after a moment McCoy relented. "This was something Jim could have done, couldn't he?"


"Is it something any human can do?"

Spock looked up at him. "Once the link is formed, yes."

"And you can form the link?"

"The link is instinctive, and necessary. You -- " Spock hesitated. "You have been my primary caretaker, and as such, I must constantly distance myself from you, just to block its formation."

"Can it be dissolved?"

"A healer can do so."

"Are there repercussions from dissolving the link?"

"As you are psi-null, your perception of the link, and its dissolution would be minimal."

"And for you?"

Spock shrugged. "Once the dependent child learns shielding, the link can be blocked and eventually dissolved.

"If its something you need that badly, Spock, then I'm willing to try it."

Spock shook his head. "You do not understand."

"That's true enough. I know you need time before you want to return to Vulcan. I want you to have that time. But it's true I don't understand why you want time to develop shielding before returning to Vulcan to learn shielding."

"It is not just shielding I will learn." Spock said. "But you must understand what you are offering. There is another aspect to a parental bond of which you should be aware. The parental bond not provides not only shielding to the child. The parent is also provided with a measure of control."

"Control? You mean control over the child's metabolism?"

Spock shrugged helplessly. "Perhaps discipline would be a better word."

McCoy raised his eyebrow. "Now I think I understand why you want some shielding before returning to Vulcan." Spock flinched and McCoy immediately regretted the remark. "I'm sorry, Spock. I don't know Sarek very well, but I don't blame you for wanting some defenses before facing him again."

Spock bit his lower lip and did not reply, silent and pensive, lost in thought.

McCoy's hands closed on his shoulders, and Spock jumped. McCoy kneaded them soothingly. "You won't have to Spock."

"But you must understand." Spock said quietly. "If you assume the parental bond, you need to be aware of the measure of control you will also assume."

"I wouldn't control you, Spock."

"You will be unable to prevent it. The link, for you as a non-telepath, would be one way. You are shielded, and will only be marginally perceptive of me. However, as I am unable to shield, the link will amplify your perceptions toward me. I will be instantly aware of your distaste. Your displeasure will be acutely uncomfortable for me. Your anger will be painful. You would not need to strike me to discipline me, but if you did so, the physical contract would intensify my perception of your anger a thousandfold."

"I'm not going to hit you, Spock." McCoy said quietly, remembering the myriad bruises Jim had inflicted upon the Vulcan. Had Jim known what he was doing?

"I know you are often displeased with me." Spock said quietly.

"Only when you won't eat. Or when you kick up a fuss about exams." Spock looked at him evenly, and McCoy sighed. "All right. I acknowledge you'd be giving me a hell of a weapon. It's not a weapon I want Spock. The question is, do you want the link?"

"I...require it." Spock said. "I would prefer to be an adult again, and independent."

"But you're not. What you're doing is wasting away. If you didn't have an alternative, if you had to be unlinked to develop your shielding, it might be necessary to wait a bit longer. But it isn't necessary, and you have an alternative, Spock."

Spock closed his eyes. "I know what the link is. Once it is in place, you will own me."

McCoy reached for Spock's shoulders again, and held him in place against the Vulcan's attempted withdrawal. "I don't want to own you, Spock. Just help you."

"That will not matter."

McCoy didn't release him. "It seems to me, Spock, that you have to have this link. The only choice is whether you link with me or Sarek." McCoy felt Spock tense even at the elder Vulcan's name.

"There is no comparison." Spock said tightly. "I will not submit myself to Sarek in this state."

"All right then." McCoy picked Spock up, ignoring the shocked look Spock gave him. He sat down, holding the Vulcan in his lap. Spock did not resist, and McCoy appreciated his trembling control in the face of losing this last battle. Being psi-null didn't hinder his awareness of Spock's fear. His hands were like ice. McCoy took them in his own to warm them. He was psychologist enough to realize Spock was too traumatized by prior experience to willingly enter into another parental bond. Given a choice, he'd waste away, given an ultimatum with a window of opportunity, he'd probably disappear. McCoy didn't like it much, but coercion was probably the only solution. "Form the link, Spock."

Spock didn't reach for his temples. When his hands were released, he pushed suddenly against McCoy's chest as if trying to escape, but without any real force. McCoy closed his arms tightly around him, in support as much as restraint. "It's all right, Spock. You don't have to be afraid." Spock struggled again, but McCoy held him easily in place, and after a moment, as if finally accepting his helplessness, Spock slumped in his arms. McCoy felt tears dampen his shirt front, Spock's shoulders shaking with silent sobs. He carded his fingers through the Vulcan's hair, and cradled him against him. Spock was no longer physically resisting, but he seemed frighteningly passive. McCoy knew that withdrawal could be more dangerous than resistance. He pulled Spock even closer. "I'm here, Spock. I'll help you. You just have to reach for it. There's nothing no be afraid of this time. This time no one is going to hurt you." Spock shook his head fractionally and McCoy hugged him again. "You're safe with me." Spock's tears hadn't slowed, and McCoy rocked him like a child, like an infant. One part of his mind was frantic with worry, one part aching with compassion, and one part, the psychiatrist still, was frantically analyzing behavior and adjusting responses. He knew he probably had only one chance at this. Fortunately, he knew Spock's past history, knew that logic had no place in this. Spock had resisted logic to stay unbonded this far. Terror was part of his resistance, but even more, the belief that he was unwanted, that he belonged to no one, that he had no place in the universe. McCoy had hoped appealing to Spock's fear would dissolve his resistance, but that was obviously not the deepest hurt. McCoy looked down at the crying child in his arms, and gambled. "Don't be afraid, Spock. I want to give you this. I want you to belong to me. You already do, you know. You might as well make it official" Spock froze, and then looked up at him, uncertain, tragic. McCoy nodded and stroked his hair, gentle, calming. "You do. Don't you think I know that? You don't have to be afraid. You're not pushing me into anything I don't want, and I know you need this too. You belong to me, now. You have for quite a while, and you will for quite a while yet. I know you need this, and you know you want it too, Spock. It's all right to form the link. Just let it happen. Let it happen." He thought of how he had felt on Christmas eve, with Spock cradled on his saddle, of holding him in his arms on New Year's eve, of seeing him leave, that first terrible day of school. Tucking him in, night after night. His outrage at John and Karen's offer of adoption. Spock belonged to him, how could anyone think otherwise?

Spock was trying to get his tears under control, his shoulders were shaking with the effort to stop his sobs, but as McCoy patiently rocked him, they slowed, then stopped. Only an intermittent shudder betrayed the storm. McCoy murmured a soft word of praise and gathered him still closer. He didn't urge Spock again, he simply waited, his patient acceptance of the inevitable more convincing than any words. Then McCoy felt something, a quiet deepening of his awareness of Spock against him. In that moment, it seemed Spock was more there, more real, than in the moment before. McCoy looked down at the boy in his arms, but Spock stayed snuggled against him, his eyes closed, his face pressed tightly into the corner of McCoy's shoulder. Slowly, McCoy picked Spock up in his arms, holding him a little away from him, but the awareness didn't lessen. McCoy pulled Spock against him again and considered. The sensation was neither distasteful nor unpleasant. McCoy realized it was similar to what he'd felt when Spock shadowed him around town, a warm presence close to him, the feeling that he had the Vulcan safe in a hip-pocket, the lightest ghost of subliminal awareness. Then he was aware of what was new, a channel open between himself and Spock, a conductor of not words, but impressions. And it was capable of more than what Spock had mentioned. Displeasure and anger were not the only impressions it could resonate. McCoy sent an experimental wave of reassurance and affection, and felt Spock shiver against him, a leaf in a cold wind. The bond was active. In Spock's mind it was only a matter of time before he would suffer for it.

He kept Spock home from school the next day, not sure what the repercussions of forming a bond were. Spock didn't seem to know, and there was certainly no one else McCoy could ask. Spock had seemed exhausted after the bond was formed. He'd fallen asleep not long after the bond had been established, and McCoy had put him to bed with dark shadows under his eyes. But McCoy had wondered if that was as much emotional exhaustion as physical or psychic trauma. He himself felt no different. Other than being more than usually passive and docile, Spock seemed otherwise unchanged, and when McCoy asked him that evening if he felt ready to return to school, Spock answered affirmatively.

McCoy got the call from Sam Cogley that Saturday. Spock was at Pony Club, but even so, McCoy took the call in his office, with the door closed, just in case Spock returned early.

"I wasn't expecting a subspace call." McCoy said, "But I'm glad of it."

"You may not be glad when you get my bill. Or hear my news." Cogley said, "So, let's be brief. Subspace isn't cheap. The situation you described to me isn't without precedent."

"It isn't?" McCoy said, surprised.

"Certainly not. Rejuv programs are becoming more popular, and some have excellent results, though none can alter the physical frame or bone structure as in the case of your friend. But there are naturally complications to any rejuv program. Retirement plans want to renege on benefits, insurance rates are challenged, legal heirs start to complain when their inheritances don't come on schedule. To date, though, the courts have taken their cues from the chronological age of the individual. If you take your case to court, Dr. McCoy, particularly if those who witnessed the event testify under verifier scan and possibly truth drugs, and your friend submits to genetic screening, your friend has an excellent chance of gaining acceptance of his identity, with all rights of access, regardless of his appearance. Whether he could continue in his present service, of course, would be the decision of Starfleet. There are fitness requirements that would allow that institution the option of removing him from active duty, and definitely from field service. However, if he would not object to duty at HQ, I believe a case could be won to keep him on active duty there."

"But a court case would be public knowledge. It would be a zoo. We want to avoid that. Isn't there some other way?"

"To restore his identity, no. To gain access to property, possibly. If you could gain power of attorney, you could execute his estate as he no longer can. Power of attorney generally requires convincing proof. Recorded verifier scans and so forth. No doubt a computer expert of your friend's abilities would be able to create the necessary authorizations from current documents with every appearance of legality. They would then be legal, from the point of being a true expression of his will, even though they were created after the fact."

McCoy frowned. "What about his rights."

"In his present state, he hasn't many. Without an identity, he becomes a ward of his planet of birth, if that can be ascertained, which in this case is the situation. Legally, he must have a guardian to handle his affairs. You aren't even eligible to be that guardian. Under the terms of his planet's treaty with the Federation, humans cannot adopt or take responsibility for Vulcan children, except on a short term, emergency basis. His being half human makes that a somewhat debatable point, but it would go to the Federation Court, and they invariably have sided with Vulcan in any custody cases so far brought before them."

"What about the rights of children in general?"

Cogley raised his eyebrows "Human or Vulcan? Both I suppose. That's still a cultural question the Federation hasn't imposed itself upon. Mostly it's decided planet by planet. Terran kids have a lot of rights, at least to the basics: food, shelter, education, medical care. No one lets them starve on the streets like on many planets. And rights to well-being too, rights against physical, psychological or sexual abuse, even by guardians."

"What about on Vulcan?"

"It must be a cultural thing. There aren't any laws dealing with those issues. Now you see that in unsophisticated cultures that haven't reached the level where they protect children. Kids are property, workhorses, chattel. Vulcan being anything but unsophisticated, there must not be a need for such laws."

"Not a need?"

"Well, laws are only made against likely events that need to be prevented. If no laws exist to protect children, maybe children don't need them there. They are a rather precious commodity on Vulcan. Low birth rate."

"What about women? I saw a woman there become chattel in some marriage right." McCoy said roughly. "That doesn't sound very beneficent or sophisticated."

"Divorce rite. But it's true, Vulcan has a touch of feudality in its culture. Either way, children haven't any laws protecting them there. If you're friend decides to eschew his former identity, and the Vulcan authorities discover him, he'll be removed from your custody. His blood type will undoubtedly mark him as a member of a certain Vulcan's clan, and its human factors will identify the branch. They'll do a genetic scan, because Vulcan custom sends displaced children to the closest genetic relatives able to care for them. If they don't immediately recognize his identity, he might be regarded as your friend's son. In that event, you might try to retain custody on the grounds of being a legally designated guardian. But Vulcan will fight it in the Federation courts. They don't let many of their own go, and with that clan's blood in his veins, they'll go all out. His clan's resources, both political and financial, are formidable, in this situation virtually invincible. I can assure you the result is a foregone conclusion. There's no way you would win."

"Even if I were designated his legal guardian?"

Cogley shook his head. "Then you would have some grounds to bring a case to the Federation court, rather than expect an outright dismissal of your claim. Your documents would have to be pretty convincing though. Then you could fight, try to tie the case up in court, make a claim to retain custody. But you'll undoubtedly lose your claim for custody, and I can guarantee that you'll lose custody while you fight the case in court. I advise against even trying. It would be a waste of my time and your money."

"I thought you were the great trial lawyer." McCoy said sarcastically. "Can't you see some way around this?"

"We aren't talking about fairness, Doctor, or even logic. We're talking law. The law is very clear on the disposition of Vulcan minors; the Vulcans literally wrote it that way. And the Federation has consistently handled any such disposition in favor of Vulcan. There are no legal precedents for what you're suggesting. As far as making one, you could not have chosen a more unlikely candidate than a direct genetic descendent of their planetary ruler. You're probably unaware of the case of Zazcek vs. the Federation. Rita Zazcek was a human woman who married a Vulcan named Storm, an indifferent merchant not affiliated with any clan, who had not been resident on Vulcan for years, apparently by choice. When Storm died, his relatives brought a case against Zazcek, claiming she was an unfit parent for her two year old child. As part of Vulcan's treaty with the Federation, Vulcan clans automatically retain custody and disposition rights of any Vulcan or part Vulcan children upon the death or incapacitation of their Vulcan parents, regardless of other legal claims or dispositions. This child, by the way, was as human dominant, apparently genetically engineered that way, as your friend is naturally Vulcan dominant. Zazcek lost custody, parental rights, even visitation rights, because she not only refused to relocate to Vulcan, she refused to even consider allowing any Vulcan influences in the child's upbringing, and swore she would turn the child against anything Vulcan. That child is living on Vulcan now." Cogley frowned at McCoy's blank expression. "Now you see how the Federation regards the claims of a natural mother against those of the distant Vulcan relatives of a very unVulcan child, you can imagine their reaction to a custody challenge involving the genetically proven grandchild of the planetary ruler, and a son of her heir, brought by someone not even a blood relation."

"What if the child in question testifies as to whose custody he would prefer?"

"Most likely the court would disallow such testimony, especially considering the clan involved. The Federation High Court won't take chances embarrassing or alienating the ruling Vulcan clan. You must understand, Doctor, the Federation court is ruled as much by policy and politics as law. The species of the Federation are too dissimilar to really allow the rule of law priority, since the law differs so much among species. Particularly in domestic cases, such as custody challenges, what applies to one species cannot be applied to another. Vulcans arranged special treaties and conditions from their first acceptance of Federation membership due to their psionic skills, and these figure highly in the disposition of any Vulcan or part Vulcan children. And there are enough telepathic races in the Federation that any action contrary to Vulcan's interest would raise swift and serious repercussions.

"There's nothing we can do?" McCoy questioned in disbelief.

"I'm sorry, Dr. McCoy, but it is my responsibility to advise you of the probable outcomes, regardless of whether they suit you. The Federation is not about to disadvantage itself with Vulcan for the sake of one apparent child you don't even have a genetic relationship with. You have no legal claim to him that either Vulcan or the Federation would recognize, even through an initial hearing. If his presence becomes known to any authority aware of the law, he'll be immediately removed from your custody and turned over to the nearest Vulcan embassy. That's the standard procedure. You're lucky you've gotten as far as you have. Work out some kind of power of attorney, if you need access to funds or property. If it looks convincing enough, I'll authorize it. But even doing that is a risk, if someone's looking for him, and knowing his clan, I wouldn't be surprised if they were. Otherwise, stay low. Don't travel. You can forge enough documents to make it on a conventional starliner, but customs will look askance at a Vulcan kid with a human. Chances are you'll be detained immediately while it's investigated. Stay out of cosmopolitan areas on Terra. It's fortunate you're a physician, you'll never be able to take him to a healer. Stay away from public institutions altogether. They keep records, and ethnic background is one of them."

"Does school count?"

"It does."

"There's a problem there. He's enrolled at one. It a state law."

"You're taking a risk. It helps that you're a spacer. And as a physician, you have a certain respectability. No one may question it. Cross planet adoptions are common. Most people don't realize Vulcans aren't part of the give and take. Your goal is to stay clear of those that do."

"I understand."

"Now, if your friend decides not to eschew his identity, and has difficulty concerning his status in Starfleet, or if Starfleet refuses to accept his identity, and he needs legal assistance in that regard, those situations have a much better potential outcome, legally speaking."

McCoy shook his head. "I'll keep that in mind, but that's not a preferred choice."

"You should know as well that there may be repercussions from the Vulcan authorities even if your friend surfaces with his identity established. Individual rights there are largely sublimated to clan decisions, and your friend is little more than an adolescent by Vulcan standards anyway. While we could force Starfleet to acknowledge at least some of his legal rights, surfacing for such a trial would bring the situation to the attention of Vulcan authorities. If they chose to attack his competency, and claim custody, the Federation courts would be unlikely to fight it."

"But he's an adult by Federation standards, and I know he holds Terran citizenship through his mother."

"But again, in cases of dual citizenship, Federation Courts generally rule in favor of Vulcan interests. If they claim he's not competent to manage his affairs, Doctor, then it would be our case to prove it, and even if we proved it successfully to human standards, the Vulcans would challenge its relevancy."

"So you're saying any attempt to establish some legal status or rights would be a poor risk."

"I'd say the odds are better than 95 that your friend would end up back in his clan's hands, if they choose to make an issue of it. Since I believe his father regarded his enlistment in Starfleet with a somewhat ...negative... attitude, the chances are good that they just might. Your best chances to maintain his independence are to lay low."

McCoy was stunned. Now he knew why Spock had been so reluctant to contact Starfleet. It wasn't an emotional inability to deal with his status. Spock had known his only options lay in losing his identity, becoming an unrecorded child, and hiding. He swallowed hard and nodded grimly at Cogley through the screen. "Thanks for the advice, Sam."

Cogley shrugged. "Sorry the news is bad. Let me know if you need further assistance. You'll get my bill," and he signed off.

Pony Club did break up early, though McCoy had long finished his conversation with Cogley. It had been raining off and on all day, the trail ride had been canceled and the agenda limited to a lesson in an indoor arena. Spock came home soaked and chilled. Firecracker apparently had disliked the rustling sound of Spock's raingear and Spock hadn't pressed the point. McCoy supposed it was better to not wear it then to wear it and get tossed on the way home, but he remembered Cogley's warnings about Vulcan healers, and sent Spock up to get a hot bath and dry clothes. Spock went without a word. Since the link had been formed he'd been silent and subdued around McCoy, excessively careful in the physician's presence to follow his usual routines, and obeying instantly McCoy's slightest suggestions.

McCoy built up the fire in the library, and when Spock came down, he headed right for it. McCoy waited, hoping Spock would take some initiative about lunch, but Spock seemed content holding out his chilled hands before the fire. After a few minutes he moved even closer, and closed his eyes, looking as if he were about to take a nap. McCoy gave up and went to the kitchen, heated up some vegetable soup, a grilled cheese sandwich and some cocoa.

Spock looked at the tray with a combination of interest and guilty realization, and took it quietly. McCoy added a couple of logs to the fire. From his new perspective he noticed something he missed before, a bruise on Spock's cheek, hardly more than a brush burn, but obviously the result of a fall. McCoy reached out a hand to touch it. "How did you--"

Spock pulled violently away from his hand, upsetting his tray, and causing McCoy to fall backwards.

McCoy swore and picked himself up, staring astonished at the Vulcan.

Spock had righted the tray, and was kneeling before it. The delicate bones of his hands stood out in stark relief as he clutched its sides. His eyes were downcast, but his whole body was outlined in tension.

"Are you ok, Spock?" McCoy said hesitantly. "Did you get scalded?"

Spock looked up briefly in astonishment. "No. I'm sorry."

"So am I." McCoy said ruefully, rubbing his back. "What was that all about, Spock?"

"I have no explanation." Spock said stiffly. "I regret my behavior."

"You said that already." McCoy reminded. Spock said nothing and the physician sighed. He reached out very carefully, and tilted Spock's downcast face up to his. The Vulcan allowed the touch, trembling, but his eyes did not meet McCoy's. "If you'd look at me, Spock, you might notice I'm not Jim. I'm not Sarek either."

They hadn't talked much about Sarek, but Spock immediate attention on McCoy showed the physician he wasn't far from the mark. The Vulcan seemed at a loss for words. " aware of that fact."

"Good." McCoy squeezed Spock gently on the shoulder and then gestured to the mess on the hearth. "Let's get this cleaned up and get you another meal."

In spite of McCoy's verbal assurances, Spock continued chary in his presence. McCoy assumption that the behavior only extended to him was broken when Karen called after Spock's health, assuming that he was ill. McCoy discovered she hadn't seen him for almost a week, a clear reversal of his almost daily visits. Apparently he spend most of his free hours wandering around the farm, alone, except for Firecracker. Evenings he was subdued, going to bed early. His sleep was interrupted by a succession of violent nightmares. McCoy generally heard him cry out. Sometimes Spock went back to sleep immediately; sometimes he seemed to want McCoy's company for a few minutes. But the break in his obvious withdrawal never lasted longer than that, and then the walls went up again.

In spite of this seeming regression, McCoy felt remarkably confident that Spock would come around soon. Part of his supreme confidence was that for the first time, he'd lost the nagging worry that Spock would simply disappear. Without really understanding either telepathy or the bond, he understood the mechanics of its functioning instantly. He could praise or punish the Vulcan with a thought, he could exert enough pressure to bring him to his side in an instant. Without ever using the negative aspects of the bond, he still understood how vulnerable Spock must feel with him. And if Spock's withdrawal was some way of trying to develop shields, if the formation of the bond actually was the impetus Spock had needed to begin shielding, then that was part of what they wanted too.

But his confidence had come at the expense of the little security Spock had established for himself, and that did concern McCoy. Spock had raised wide, shocked eyes the first time McCoy had sent a mental reassurance through the link, and he'd been stiffly uncomfortable. But McCoy understood that was mostly fear of the bond. For the first time he understood how Vulcans could raise their children without the benefit of touch. He couldn't tousle Spock's perfect hair, but he could impart the same warm affection the gesture would have extended. If Spock had reacted to the action with icy indifference, McCoy might have never tried it again. But Spock's frozen confusion, the combination of anxiety and withdrawal he manifested, ruled out indifference or dislike. McCoy thought it spoke more clearly of need and fear, and it was the fear he wanted to eliminate. The link was inevitable, it existed, and Spock clearly had to become comfortable with it. Pretending it didn't exist might make it easy to deny the fear, but it didn't eliminate it. He couldn't remove Spock's past bad experiences, but he could try to counter them with more positive ones.

Spock's security before had come from a careful development of his relationship with the adults around him. He'd created a network of people that he'd marked as relatively safe, whose auras he'd grown comfortable with, who he could rely upon for at least minimal shielding. Now, that network was useless, and all his shielding came from one source, a source that in past experience was, at best, inconsistent towards him, and on occasion, clearly hostile. McCoy didn't blame him for being uneasy. He was perfectly willing to earn Spock's trust. He'd watched Spock and Devon together at the last Pony Club meet, comparing their behavior. It had occurred to him Devon had what Spock sorely needed, a clear trust of the adults in his life, of their treatment towards him in any circumstance, and of the consequences of his behavior towards them. Fear didn't come into it. McCoy had always regarded Devon as a little spoiled and forward. Now he was beginning to wish he could give Spock that same confidence. He wondered if it was possible to 'spoil' a Vulcan.

That night, McCoy heard Spock wake from another nightmare. When he went in to check on him, Spock was awake but he jumped as if he expected ghosts to walk through the door. His bangs were wet with sweat and plastered to his forehead. Without thinking, McCoy reached a hand out to check for a temperature and Spock flinched. Instead of pulling back, McCoy deliberately reached out, brushed back the sweat-dampened bangs, and laid a hand on Spock's forehead. Spock closed his eyes but held still for the touch. McCoy thought he felt a little warm, but that was probably nothing. He hadn't known what to expect at the physical contact, but if the touch deepened the link, he was psi-null enough not to perceive it. What Spock felt he concealed behind closed eyes and a set face. McCoy relented and let him go.

"You're a little warm, but I suppose you're all right." McCoy said dubiously.

"It was just a nightmare." Spock said, and then he bit his lip as if to withdraw the admission.

"Want to talk about it?" McCoy prompted.

"No." Spock said softly.

"All right." McCoy said easily

Spock regarded him sharply, and then looked down. "I'm sorry to have disturbed you."

McCoy eyed him shrewdly. In spite of days spent in the company of human children, Spock still rarely lapsed from his Vulcan speech patterns. If repentant or remorseful, the Vulcan might unbend enough to 'regret' his actions. His last statement demonstrated the extent of his stress. When Spock used the word 'sorry', he was not himself. Spock had nights where his nightmares seemed not to bother him. Then there were nights like these, when Spock woke drenched in sweat, and even when fully awake, trembled for minutes afterward, when he lost his Vulcan equilibrium, and McCoy watch him try to piece it back together, like a jacket of maile reduced to twisted, broken links. "How about something hot to drink?" McCoy suggested.

"That is not necessary."

"I'll be back in a minute." When McCoy returned, Spock was sitting up, head pillowed on his knees, his eyes closed. Still too shaken to lie down and sleep, McCoy thought, though Spock would never admit it. He unfolded to take the mug McCoy handed him, and drank from it thirstily. McCoy never expected to treat a dehydrated Vulcan. He noted the way Spock's pajamas clung to him, and turning up the heat, pulled a fresh pair from a drawer.

Spock finished his drink. He sighed a little when McCoy handed him the dry clothes, but changed swiftly without protest. McCoy poured him another mug of cocoa and then set the cup down, frowning. "What the hell?" Spock paused in changing pajama bottoms, looking uncertainly over his shoulder. McCoy held him still, staring at a line of dark bruises across the Vulcan's buttocks. "How did you come by these?"

"It is nothing."

"Nothing." McCoy stared at Spock and then his eyes cleared. "That riding teacher. You don't mean she's serious when she says she has a riding crop reserved -- I thought that was just an expression?"

"I was slow to obey a command in class. It was my fault."

"Nothing gives her a license to beat children. My god, Spock--"

"I am not a child. And she did not beat me."

"You are to her. And bruises don't lie. I'm going to have a talk with that --"

"No!" McCoy paused at the urgency in Spock's voice. This was the first time, since Spock's bonding, that the Vulcan had been anything other than submissive to him. "It is not her fault. I was only a swat, no different that what she has given others on occasion. My skin bruises easily. I do not believe her correction would have left a mark on a human child."

"It sure as hell left a mark on you."

"It does not hurt now, and it did not hurt then."

"Well, she won't be doing it again." Spock had lowered his head, his lashes dark against his cheeks. "Spock, you can't expect me to let this go. I'm not going to stand by and let you be abused. If it is a case of you bruising more easily, she can just reserve her crop from your human clubmates."

Spock winced at the last phrase. "You don't understand. You aren't even listening."

McCoy caught himself, and sat down slowly across from Spock. The despair in the Vulcan was obvious. His shoulders were slumped in defeat, and unhappiness radiated from every line. McCoy realized that he didn't understand, and he was so caught up in his own outrage, he wasn't listening to something that was even more important to Spock. He took a deep breath, and calmed down. "Tell me, then." Spock looked up at him, surprised, but wary. McCoy smiled a little. "I'm done ranting. Really Spock, I'm ready to listen."

"If you talk to her, she'll treat me differently."

"That's the idea, sport." McCoy said gently.

"I don't want to be treated differently." Spock met his eyes. A teacher instructing a very slow pupil. A child laying down the law to a trusted adult. Unreasonably insistent, demanding, inexorable. "I want to be treated the same as everyone else."

"But Spock, if you are--" McCoy started, and then stopped abruptly. Spock's lips had tightened as McCoy had begun his logical argument, and McCoy suddenly realized logic had nothing to do with this. His psychiatrist's mind clicked in. Being treated differently, even to avoid punishment, was no picnic for Spock. "Oh, Spock. You leave me a hell of a set of choices."

"Please, Dr. McCoy. I will tell you if it becomes a problem."

McCoy closed his eyes, embarrassed by Spock's plea, and torn with conflict. It was true that dwarfed by their ponies, and hidden by hunt caps, the differences between Spock and the other children in Pony Club were minimal. For all that Jim had bragged of Spock's equestrian skills, they'd been effectively masked, first by Linne's limitations, and then by Firecracker's temperament. In execution, he was not really much better or worse than any other child in his group, at least to McCoy's inexpert eyes. Could it be that McCoy's least favorite of people, that bitch of an instructor, was giving Spock something he had never experienced in his lonely life? Even at school he was different, special. In fact, Cotwood noted carefully each child's differences, and made much of their catering to individuality. On Vulcan, Spock had been ostracized. In Starfleet, perhaps seeking to be a cog in a wheel, he still had been subject to prejudice, and his talents were too spectacular to really allow for comfortable mediocrity. Could it be that Pony Club, of all things, was the first place where Spock had felt that sense of acceptance, of being no better and no worse than anyone else? He opened his eyes to find Spock's eyes fixed on his, fearful, tragic, already expecting to have his treasured little oasis of acceptance taken from him. Hell of a way to be accepted, being beaten by a petty dictator. "I must be crazy. You win. But you have to keep that promise."

"Yes, of course." Spock said, too quickly for McCoy's liking.

"I'm serious, Spock. I'm going to start attending Pony Club again, and when I'm not there, I want a report from you if she takes another crop to you. I mean it."

"Do you not think Karen would tell you if she thought I was being abused? She always attends."

For a moment, McCoy wondered if Spock was laying a little guilt on him, but one look at the serious eyes shook him back to reality. And he realized Spock was right. Karen hadn't said anything, and Karen was protective about her children. But not protective to a fault. "All right. I concede your point. I don't like it, but I'll go along. And as for you," McCoy scooped him up. "You're getting a dose of sonics on those bruises. One look at those and Cotwood's child abuse program will really be on our tail."

McCoy attended the next Pony Club, and he had to admit Spock was right. The instructor greeted him without any sign of embarrassment for abusing his 'child'. Watching the class, he had to admit that keeping up to a dozen dare-devil kids in order while they performed dangerous stunts on dangerous animals might justify an occasional swat. And while the teacher had a snap to her voice that was hard to ignore, the 'voice of authority' the kids called it, she didn't seem any more or less cruel than any riding instructor he'd had. The whole breed was discipline crazy anyway, but then, so was Spock, so it was right up his alley. And Spock was happy in Pony Club. He was close to qualifying, along with Devon, for 'Drill Team', an adjunct of the club that put on exhibitions of fancy synchronized riding and rode in the local parades. He seemed to be making acquaintances among his clubmates, branching out from his exclusive friendship with Devon. He was happy there. However personally outraged McCoy felt at a stranger taking a disciplinary hand to his friend, he knew he needed more than that outrage to threaten Spock's acceptance here. There were limits to his authority, and this was one of them.

Water sparkled intoxicatingly over wet rocks, and McCoy leaned back from the remains of their picnic lunch and sighed in pleasure. "This is sure a pretty spot."

"Jess, don't throw crusts at your brother." Karen admonished. "It gets too hot, though, to be a good picnic spot in the summer. We really only come here in the early spring."

"But why is it not cultivated?" Spock asked.

"The soil's too sandy to hold water. With this slope, the water just soaks the ground and runs right off. It just won't grow anything I can sell at market, Spock," John explained patiently, an adult humoring a child, while Devon rolled his eyes in boredom, and tossed dandelions at Jess and Spock. Jess flung one back.

Ignoring the projected missile, Spock rose and scooped up a handful of dirt, examining it closely, studied the incline of the hill leading down to the bank, wet a finger in his mouth and held it to the breeze. "The prevailing winds come from the southwest?"

John glanced at McCoy, smiling a little, and nodded. "Yes."

"This area would grow zibash."


"Zibash. It is a Vulcan delicacy, a tree fruit that is similar to...breadfruit, I suppose, in taste, but it has a flavor particularly agreeable to the Vulcan palate. It is normally grown in the foothills of the Llangon mountains, where there is adequate water. This hillside would support..." Spock frowned at the terrain consideringly, "perhaps sixty trees. If you purchased three year old saplings, you would realize only a twenty percent profit, perhaps twenty thousand credits, the first year, at the current market value. But zibash requires very little maintenance, in the right circumstances. The profit ratio after the first year, when the trees would be fully mature, would be ninety percent, or better, well over a hundred thousand credits. You would certainly find a market with Starfleet commissaries, and any excess would be readily bought by interstellar wholesalers.

McCoy was frowning at Spock to silence him; John looked puzzled and thoughtful, and Karen was merely amused. "Are you a farmer too, Spock, as well as a computer expert?"

Still frowning at the crumbled soil in his hand, Spock completely missed McCoy's warning expression. "Actually, I have little personal experience with agriculture, but my father holds many thousands of productive acres on Vulcan, including some of the best lands for zibash. But the demand for the product far outweighs his ability to supply it.

Karen's stricken eyes met McCoy's, and Devon said impatiently, "Are we going to spend all day talking about fruit trees, or are we going to go riding now?"

Later on at the farmhouse, where McCoy and Spock were staying for dinner, Karen sent the children to wash hands, and waylaid McCoy alone. "I'm so sorry, Leonard."


"This afternoon. Here I was misjudging you, because you wouldn't adopt Spock. But he hasn't really accepted his father's death, has he? He was speaking of him as if he were alive."

"Well, he might have got the tenses mixed up."

"Leonard, that child could give me grammar lessons! Whoever taught him English taught him well. He really doesn't accept it. I suppose it's impossible to adopt a child when he doesn't see himself as adoptable."

"He knows his fruit trees though," John said, coming in with several hardcopy faxes, which he spread on the kitchen table. Look at this. Soil, climate, growing seasons all match. The damn things wind pollinate, don't need insects indigenous to Vulcan. And the market is definitely there. Not only that, there's a subsidy available from Vulcan. They'll practically pay you the first year just to try growing them." John looked up, a wry smile on his face. "We're about to become zibash farmers."

"Can humans eat it?" Karen said doubtfully.

"At these market prices, why would we want to? Leonard, your boy is going to make us rich."

The order was placed for the zibash trees. McCoy felt a vague sense of unease about bring even that much of Vulcan home. When the trees arrived, two weeks later, McCoy was reciprocating, and the Deveaux were having dinner at his home. Curious about this new crop, the agricultural extension agent accompanied the trees and brought the interstellar customs agent around to the main house when he found no one home at the farmhouse. Everyone rose from the dinner table at the cavalcade that included the transport flyer, the state Agri vehicle, and the Interstellar agent's UFP emblazoned aircar. John went out to greet the agri agent, and Karen and the kids flowed after him. McCoy rose more slowly, a frown on his face, and said, "Stay here, Spock," missing Spock's confused glance, before he followed the others out.

"You'll have to keep me posted on how this goes, John," the agri agent was saying. "Maybe you could give a talk at the monthly meeting. This could be quite a boon for Georgia farmers. How did you hear about this program anyway?"

McCoy frowned repressively at John, and the farmer shrugged and grinned, "Just a tip from a friend."

"Well, your friend tipped you right," the customs agent said. "If you can grow them, there's a good market for them." His gaze fixed on something in the direction of the house, and he shrugged, "That is, if you're not growing a private supply."

McCoy looked up to see Spock standing on the edge of the crowd, curiosity and interest plain on his face. McCoy frowned repressively at the Vulcan, and looking confused, Spock edged closer to McCoy and then when McCoy frowned at him again, hesitated, as if unsure to come closer or return to the house. McCoy waited till the agent's attention was captured by the transfer of the trees, and gathering Spock with a glance, headed for the house.

Once safely inside, he rounded on the Vulcan. "What the hell do you think you're doing? Did you have to come out where that Interstellar agent could see you? Didn't you hear me tell you to stay in the house?"

"I didn't think..."

"You're damn right you didn't. Didn't think, and didn't listen. How much business do you think that agent does with Vulcan customs agents? Obviously enough to recognize you as a Vulcan even with your hair down over your ears and eyebrows. He must see a lot of Vulcans to do that. What if he happens to mention that he saw a Vulcan child at the place he delivered them? How many Vulcan children do you think there are in Georgia? And how hard would it be for someone to discover that there are none there legitimately?"

Spock looked stricken, his eyes wide. "I'm sorry..."

"That won't help if the Vulcan authorities come around asking why you're here without a Vulcan adult. You may have a lot of your abilities, Spock, but this is a perfect example of the fact that you are not thinking straight all the time. I can't treat you like an adult when you behave like a child. If that means treating you like a child, then so be it. In the future Spock, when I tell you to stay put, you stay put. And just to make sure you remember that, you go upstairs to your room, and think on that for a while!"

Spock looked up at him, shaken, eyes tragic, but McCoy had enough of diplomacy. He turned Spock around and gave him a push that was dangerously close to a swat on the bottom, and the Vulcan flew up the stairs.

McCoy went outside to discover the cavalcade was about to relocate to the farmhouse, to offload the trees. Devon paused before mounting his horse, "Isn't Spock coming?"

"No. He's going to stay here for a little while."

"Is something wrong, Leonard?" Karen asked tentatively.

"Nothing major."


"Do I interfere when you discipline Devon?" McCoy said sharply. "Spock will be along in a while."

"Yes, of course," Karen said, face pink with embarrassment.

McCoy went in and cleaned up after dinner, and then deliberately went to his office and read some medical journals, though afterwards, he couldn't say for sure what he had read. After an hour, and he made sure he waited slightly more than an hour, he went up to Spock's room and knocked, entering at Spock's permission.

The Vulcan was lying on his stomach across his bed, feet crossed in the air over his back, staring pensively at his fingers. He glanced up at McCoy and went back to his brown study.

"Do I get the cold shoulder this time?" McCoy asked easily.

"I was disobedient, and adversely affected my situation. Your disciplinary measures are in my best interests."

"You seem a little upset, though."

"If I am, it is not with you." Spock gave him a troubled look. "I think I am losing myself."

"Don't Vulcans make mistakes?"

"I spoke of Sarek to others as if he were alive, when for months our cover has been otherwise." Spock said heatedly. "And I disregarded a direct instruction from you. These are not mistakes that Vulcans make."

"Maybe not Vulcan adults. How about Vulcan children?"

Spock sat up wearily, crossing his legs underneath him. "I don't want to be a child, Vulcan or otherwise. I can understand the loss of physiological and mental controls, the lack of shielding. But my memory is not affected, my intelligence, at least that intelligence that does not rely on higher Vulcan mental disciplines, has not suffered. There is no reason why I should be making so many mistakes."

"But are these mistakes a child would make?"

Spock gave him a dark look. "A young child. Perhaps."

"You are a young child, Spock. Physiologically speaking."

"I thought I could regain my faculties fairly quickly." Spock said tightly. "I know how to maintain those disciplines. I remember my training. But I cannot apply it. I have not even been successful in the initial attempts."

"Spock, if you were your physiological age, would you be expected to have those skills?"

"Of course not."

"Would you be trained in them?"

"No, I would be too young."


"But that is not the point!" Spock said heatedly. "I am not a child. I know these disciplines. But I can't find my way back to them."

"Calm down."

Spock raised furious eyes to him at that adjuration, and McCoy shook his head at the incongruity of his saying it to Spock. "Well, you are upset. The worst that could have happened, Spock, is that your development schedule is not going to be accelerated because of your prior knowledge of these disciplines."

"No. I do not accept that."

"Do you have a choice?"

"Perhaps, I simply require instruction to reconnect my memories with physical ability."

"Maybe so, but how are you going to get instruction?"

Spock slumped.

"If you want to contact Sarek, Spock, I'll understand."

"No." Spock looked up at him, dark eyes pleading. "I do regret my disobedience, and I will try not to let it happen again."

"That's not what I meant." McCoy sighed. "Come here, Spock." The Vulcan obediently slid off his bed, and McCoy scooped him up and sat down with him in a comfortable armchair. Spock seemed a little surprised at the physical contact, but accepted it passively. Obviously he was depressed enough not to care about a minor violation of his Vulcan sensibilities. McCoy settled the Vulcan against him comfortably, needing the contact, the swat he had given the Vulcan still looming overlarge in his mind, pleased Spock accepted his touch so easily. But after all, he'd been picking Spock up, tucking him in, and handling him one way or another for months now. Apparently Spock was getting used to it. "I'm not angry with you. I'm certainly not suggesting you go back to Vulcan before you're ready. You know that, don't you?" Spock said nothing, and McCoy shook him lightly. "Don't you?"

"Yes," the subdued answer came.

"I've told you that I don't always know how to treat you. I'm not here to give you orders. I certainly don't think I'm entitled to punish you, and I definitely don't want to. Most of the time even the remnants you still have of your Vulcan disciplines serve you pretty well But when they're not there, like today, you can be left in a pretty vulnerable position. We were lucky today, Spock. That FC agent could have carted you off to the Vulcan embassy. Right into Sarek's hands where you've told me you don't care to be." Spock shivered. "He could still mention your presence to the wrong people. I don't want to scare you, but I do want you understand why I was so short with you, and why I sent you up here."

"I do understand. Nor was your discipline in any way equal to what I deserve. I jeopardized everything, through carelessness, and an indulgence of my own curiosity."

"Well, I think you've been punished enough for today." McCoy set Spock down, and ruffled his hair, trying to relax some of the tension in the Vulcan. "The FC agent and his Georgia sidekick are gone. You can go to the farmhouse to help with the tree planting. Or you might want to consider taking a nap."

"A nap?"

"You seem a little tired and stressed out."

"I do not want to take a nap. Vulcans," Spock said evenly, "do not take naps." He walked to his bureau and brushed his tousled hair back into reasonable order. He frowned at his reflection, then blanked his expression into the Vulcan mask he was having more and more trouble maintaining. McCoy watched him, wondering for the first time if Spock really understood what he was trying to do. It seemed to him, as time went on, that Spock's controls seemed to be slipping, rather than the reverse. But he had no choice but to be supportive, and his expression was neutral as Spock looked up at the doctor, resolutely. "If you concur, I would like to help plant trees."

"I don't know about Vulcans not taking naps. But you can take Firecracker and run along."

"You aren't coming?"

McCoy was pleased that Spock wanted his company, but he shook his head. "I'm a doctor, not a farmer. Besides, I have some lecture notes to prepare for tomorrow's classes. Be back by six, Spock. I don't want you out after dark."

"Yes, Dr. McCoy." Spock paused in the doorframe. "I won't forget this time."

Later that evening, McCoy was still organizing his notes. Spock had arrived well in advance of his curfew, been offered and accepted a snack, and was now ensconced by the fire over a children's book he was supposed to read for school. He started the book at his usual lightning speed, but the pages turned slower and slower, were flipped back to the beginning, reread, and Spock finally closed the book, staring down at it, his chin propped in his hands.

"Problem, Spock?"

"I don't understand this story."

"Come on, Spock. How many doctorates do you have? Four or five? You're certainly up to a children's book."

"Seven." Spock flipped the pages again, and then sat up sighing.

"What confuses you?"

"This story. It is about two children. They run away from home and go to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art. In New York City."

McCoy glanced at the cover. "Yes, I remember that one. A classic. Mid-twentieth century Earth. Why should that confuse you. It's sort of what you did, isn't it?"

Spock looked up at him, astonishment so plain on his face that McCoy had to chuckle. "I never ran away from home."

"Come on, Spock. How old were you when you left for Starfleet. Seventeen?"

"I was eighteen." Spock said crossly. "And I hardly regard attending Starfleet Academy as running away from home."

"Eighteen and one day maybe." Spock didn't challenge him, and McCoy nodded. "Claimed your Federation citizenship as soon as you were legally able and lit out. And you headed for somewhere nice and safe, and potentially interesting. Just like those kids. So, what confuses you."

Spock shrugged, his face closed.

"You're comparing your experiences to theirs, aren't you? And something doesn't ring true. The author could be wrong. Or it could be that you, being Vulcan, perceive things differently."

"No." Spock shook his head. "This is a human thing." Then realizing what he had done, he flushed.

"Go on."

"They don't...miss their home. They had a comfortable home, they ran away for a mere of them did not even wish to do so. But they accept their new experiences without any perception of their strangeness, and they do not make comparisons or reflect on the differences, or what they left behind."

"And you missed home when you left it."

"Not in the way you imply. I wished to leave Vulcan. I had waited long for the opportunity, and it would have taken much to reverse my decision. But I was aware of the differences between my current and former situations, and I had to adjust to them."

"What was most difficult?"

"I thought, having spent seventeen years with one human parent, that I understood humans, but I did not understand them, or human culture at all. Everything was strange, different, and ...uncomfortable."

McCoy thought of Sarek actions in disowning his son, wondering if he had been premature. "Did you want to go back?"

Spock raised startled eyes to his. "No. But it was a difficult transition. I realize these children are in a very different situation. But for them there is no transition at all. They accept the strangeness with perfect equanimity. That is not logical."

"Have you finished reading the book?"


"Well, it's not that long. Why don't we read it together, and I'll see if I can explain it to you. It could be the book is just flawed, but I don't remember it very well."

"You have read this?"

"A long time ago. To my daughter as a matter of fact." McCoy's memory flashed back, a little girl on his knee, leaning against him comfortably, listening to the drone of his voice in perfect contentment. "Well, what do you say?"

Spock picked up his book and came over to him. After a moment, McCoy moved to the couch, unwilling to risk drawing too many comparisons. But Spock leaned against him, his eyes fixed on the print as McCoy started the story, and they might just as well have been in his easy chair. Spock seemed oblivious to any of McCoy's discomfort. They might have been in a lab on the Enterprise, heads bent over a computer screen trying to solve some urgent problem, for all that Spock seemed to care. And maybe that's all it was to him. McCoy told himself firmly it was so.

Following that, Spock came to ask him questions, a little tentatively at first, but then, as he began to trust that McCoy would not take undue advantage of his ignorance, almost every day. What he wanted to know, what puzzled him, astounded McCoy. After all, Spock had been living within human society for almost fifteen years. Even though he had been living in a highly artificial, almost entirely adult, and militarily restrictive subset of that society, still it seemed impossible that a intelligent, observant individual, half-human himself, and raised by a human mother, could be ignorant of some of the things Spock questioned him about. True, at times on the Enterprise Spock had sometimes revealed a shocking ignorance of human behavior, but McCoy had largely discounted that as being an act. After all, Spock had studied human psychology extensively. But it was all textbook knowledge, and McCoy realized how little Spock had internalized that information, and how he was still struggling to apply it. It occurred to McCoy that Spock had a real reason to like his school, to like 'Current Events' and other questioning periods. For the first time, he was allowed, even expected, to ask the questions that were puzzling him, and be given an answer equivalent to his limited understanding. For all that Spock had lived with a human mother, he's been raised entirely as a Vulcan, with logic as the sole motivating force in his life, the cornerstone of his society.

Spock did not understand how human society functioned at all without any such cornerstone, when ethical systems differed so radically from culture to culture. Vulcan had one culture, ruled by logic, with tradition taking the place of emotion where logic had no place. Humans had multiple cultures, a plethora of customs, no ethical systems or traditions in common, and emotions ruled everything. To Spock, there seemed to be no rules at all. Religions seemed to dictate ethics, but religions were contradictory, both internally and with each other, and furthermore were a personal choice, unrequired for the individual, leaving many unaffected. With contradictory religions dictating ethics, and illogical emotions as the cornerstone, Spock was completely at sea. He did not understand how society functioned, how a human family unit functioned, how something as uncertain and indefinable as love could hold it together. He had the deepest suspicions of human emotion. Oddly enough, Spock had no difficulty understanding war, hatred, greed, or any of the negative emotions. Either he had encountered them enough in Starfleet, or Vulcan wasn't quite the utopia it claimed. But the positive ones he was skeptical, suspicious of, downright disbelieved, or simply found incomprehensible. The question of friendship was still so sensitive Spock gave it a wide berth. But love, specifically familial love, came under a full attack. He wanted to know if parents always loved their children, if children always loved their parents. McCoy reminded him of the truth that Spock certainly already knew, and Spock wanted to know, with an undercurrent of urgency in his voice, what made humans love and what happened when love failed. Trying to explain human society to a Vulcan who had been raised with logic, strict tradition and rules, McCoy could understand how confused Spock could be, how uncertain it all must seem, and how frightening to a dependent child in a vulnerable position. For Spock was in this society now, and even bonded, he was obviously not very sure of his position. When he asked what might cause a parent to stop loving a child, and what happened to the child in that instance, McCoy realized that unconsciously Spock was asking the question in reference to himself, if not for the present, then for the past. And having been rejected and disowned throughout his first childhood, a childhood spent in a logical society, his questions made perfect sense. He must feel doubly insecure in his current position.

McCoy only wished his answers made sense. He felt like he confused Spock more than he enlightened him. And the sad truth was that love was not very reliable, and law fell far short of ensuring stability. After all, more marriages ended in divorce than not. The stability of love was not even in question. His own failed marriage was an excellent example.

Considering that for years he had been needling Spock about the superiority of 'good old fashioned human emotion' over logic, his attempted explanations to Spock drove home to him how imperfect his system was. But Spock was not making judgments, he was striving to understand the society he was immersed in. Far from entering into a debate, he only more questions, or subsided into a confused silence. Evaluation was not his goal, objective comparisons were not being used to place either society over the other. Spock wanted to believe all that McCoy had previously claimed, had previously teased him about. And sadly, to McCoy, he seemed to view his inability to reach that conclusion intellectually as a failure on his own part, as a direct result of his Vulcan conditioning.

But emotionally, Spock seemed to have already embraced human society. He was certainly living in the thick of it, far more than he had on the Enterprise as a detached Vulcan observer. No matter how McCoy tried, Spock's dependence on him, the parent/child relationship that fact told McCoy should not exist, only seemed to increase.

Spock brought home a note from school requesting their attendance at the Atlanta symphony for a one-time only evening appearance of some famous conductor. Apparently, the 'children' had been studying his influence on musical theory, and discussions would follow in school after the performance. While attendance was not required, it was strongly urged. "Your school," McCoy said grouchily as they sat down to dinner, "is a pain in the butt."

"'Attendance is not required'," Spock pointed out with equanimity.

"Heaven forbid I be accused of restricting your education. At least it's Saturday night. You can sleep in on Sunday, but I think you better skip Pony Club that afternoon and take a nap."

Spock paused in his meal and stared at McCoy, wide-eyed. "A nap?"

"Spock, the performance isn't until 8:00 p.m.. Your eyes start drooping by then, and by 8:30 you're always fast asleep. No way can you stay up for this without a nap."

"I will stay awake," Spock said haughtily. "A nap is not necessary."

"Don't be ridiculous. You haven't successfully stayed up past your bedtime since you've been here. If I have to dress up in a suit, fight Atlanta traffic, shell out 200 credits for tickets, and sit through three hours of music I could hear just as well at home, you can at least take a nap to stay awake through it."

"Then we will not go."

"We are going, and you are taking a nap. That's final, Spock."

To say Spock was quietly furious during that Saturday was to put it mildly. He tried again to go to Pony Club, until McCoy reminded him calmly at breakfast that he was staying home. He took out his frustration putting Firecracker through a grueling training session in the arena, and going through the barn with a fine-toothed comb, scrubbing the feed and water buckets, cleaning tack they never used, straightening the tack, trophy room, and barn office, raking the arena, and generally imitating a small Vulcan whirlwind. While the activity might have help alleviate his frustration, it also probably wore him out. When he tried to slip out after lunch, McCoy reminded him again of his nap.

"Vulcans do not take naps."

"Well, this Vulcan is going upstairs, stripping off those dirty barn clothes, and diving under the covers."

"You are not Vulcan. You can't make me sleep."

"Sleep or not, you are going to bed." Spock's eyes flashed, and McCoy shook his head impatiently. "You are being completely unreasonable Spock, and I am tired of this argument. Go upstairs and take your nap. If you sleep for an hour, you can come back down and that will be the end of it. If you don't sleep, you can rest, without reading, for three hours, and do the same tomorrow for good measure."

"That's unfair."

"One more word and you take a nap tomorrow, too, regardless of whether you sleep today or not."

Spock rose, fury at this betrayal in his brown eyes, and stalked upstairs. When McCoy checked on him fifteen minutes later he was in bed, as ordered, fast asleep.

He was still asleep an hour later.

He was still asleep two hours later.

At little after four, McCoy hovered in the doorway, a cup of hot cocoa in his hand, unsure whether he should wake the Vulcan. Spock finally stirred, turning slightly. His eyes opened, studied McCoy in confusion, flickered to the darkening, late afternoon winter sky, closed again. One hand came out from the covers to rub his eyes, and Spock sat up slowly. McCoy waited still he seemed a little more coordinated, then he offered Spock the cocoa. Spock sipped it, still half asleep, and McCoy waited while he oriented himself.

"What time is it?

"About half past four."

Spock grimaced, and shook his head slightly.

"Something happened to your time sense?" McCoy asked lightly.

"Sleeping in the afternoon adversely affects it." Spock frowned at the darkening sky, and sat wearily back against his pillow.

"You still seem tired. Did I wake you?"

"I find naps temporarily disorienting."

"You never mentioned that."

"I told you I dislike naps."

"You told me something very different. You certainly didn't give me any logical argument to counteract mine." McCoy rose from his sitting position on the bed. "Take all the time you want to 'orient' yourself, Spock. We're having dinner at six, and we'll leave for the concert around seven."

Spock came down a half an hour later, still subdued, and although he took a book and sat on the hearthrug in the library, he mostly just stared at the fire. "Sulking," said McCoy, "is neither very Vulcan or very adult."

"I am not sulking."

"Well, you are giving a good imitation of it," McCoy answered. "Go right ahead. It doesn't bother me, so if you are doing it for that reason forget it. My position on naps is unchanged."

But in spite of McCoy's precautions, the nap really didn't help much. Spock managed to stay awake about an hour after his usual bedtime, finally dropping off around 9:15. The symphony was so wonderful that McCoy decided to stay in spite of his sleeping companion. When it was over he waited for most of the crowds to leave, unwilling to jostle Spock unnecessarily. He was picking his way through the remainder of the crowd, with Spock balanced on one hip, his head pillowed on McCoy's shoulder when he had to stop for an obviously agitated couple who were blocking the aisle.

"Damn it, Ariel, I took you to this damn shindig. It certainly wasn't my idea. You could at least come home with me afterward. Haven't I waited long enough?"

"Keep your voice down, Eric. And I won't go anywhere with you if you can't act like a gentlemen." She stepped back from her escort's grab for her arm, and loaded down with his Vulcan burden, McCoy couldn't sidestep her quickly enough. She bumped into him, and turning, flushed pink with embarrassment.

McCoy hesitated. Her companion wasn't drunk, though it was harder to detect some of the more sophisticated non-alcoholic euphorics. Burdened as he was, he hardly felt free to defend a damsel in distress, and yet, he was gentlemen enough not to be able to walk past. "It seems to me, sir, that you are pressuring the lady. I suggest you apologize, and perhaps call the lady a cab."

"Butt out, Buddy."

McCoy shifted Spock's suddenly heavy weight. The belligerence in the man's stance was obvious. McCoy had seen enough shore leave brawls to know when someone was spoiling for a fight. But he was no brawler. He didn't have Jim's ability to threaten with a smile, or to charm his way out of these situations. Meanwhile, the man had stood away from the door.

"Get out. If you know what's good for you. This isn't your affair anyway."

McCoy looked at the door. It was tempting, but his feet stayed planted. "Sorry, I can't."

The man turned crimson. He pushed his face into McCoy's, his fists clenched. "What business is this of yours?" His hands clenched and unclenched, but whether drunk or whatever, he obviously couldn't bring himself to swing at a man carrying a child. Instead, he swore violently, and headed for the door himself. "You want her, buddy? Take her and just see how far you get with her." The man stormed out, and McCoy flushed himself.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have interfered."

"No, really, I'm grateful." The woman pushed back her hair, waist length, and raven black, and held out a slender hand. "Ariel Melannses."

McCoy shifted Spock enough to free his hand. "Leonard McCoy." He smiled at her, and as he drew his hand back, noticed her staring at Spock. Glancing down he saw the Vulcan's tousled hair had shifted, showing the tip of one delicately pointed ear. With his free hand he brushed it back, and looked up to see her flush.

"I'm sorry. I was staring."

"I'd be happy to call you a cab, Ms. Melannes."

"No, really, I'm in your debt, Mr. McCoy."

"Dr. McCoy. And I insist."

"That's where I've seen you before. You work at GU Med, right?"

McCoy frowned. "Have I met you there?"

"No, you were just pointed out to me. I'm a visiting lecturer. Combined genetics." Her gaze was back on Spock again, fascinated. "May I ask if the boy is your son, Doctor?"

"My ward, actually. Look, we really have to be going."

"Yes, of course. I'm so sorry to delay you."

McCoy motioned to the doorman, and said evenly, "A cab for the lady." He saw her handed into it, handed the doorman his credit disc to feed into its destination slot, and brushed off her repeated thanks. After watching it take off, he looked down at the sleeping boy, thinking of the feel of her hand in his. He was attracted to her, but if she knew him by reputation, then there was a good chance she knew of Spock as well. Especially if her field was combined genetics. After all, Spock had been nothing less than a landmark case. There was no way he could pursue a relationship with her. He sighed. "Spock, you are costing me in more ways than mere money." But the warm weight in his arms had no reply.

Spock woke at his usual time at breakfast, and came downstairs obviously subdued and unhappy.

"I am sorry I was so difficult yesterday."

"You were a little impossible."

Spock flushed. "Do you wish me to take a nap today?"

"You did sleep yesterday, if you recall."

"I didn't want to. I tried not to."

"Well, you weren't very successful. I don't see any need for you to have a nap today. You fulfilled you side of the bargain.

"It wasn't a bargain. You gave me no choice."

"Very true. I told you there were going to be times it seemed to me your logic was failing, when we would disagree and I was going to make the decisions. You didn't give me a logical argument yesterday. You gave me childish defiance, and I treated you accordingly. I'm sorry if it upset you, but you didn't leave me any choice, Spock."

Spock frowned, looking thoughtful, but he said nothing more.

The next morning, McCoy walked into his office, intent on nothing more than coffee, only to come up against a large plant taking up most of his desk. He frowned at it, and stuck his head out the door searching for the department secretary. "Linda, there must be some mistake. Someone made a delivery to the wrong office."

"No, Dr. McCoy, read the card." The girl smirked at his stunned face, and walked past him to retrieve it. "Looks like you made quite a conquest, sir."

The card read, "To a true gentlemen, whom I would be privileged to know better. Your secretary says you're free for lunch. I'll be at the Faculty Club at noon, unless you choose to disappoint a lady. Ariel"

"Damn. Damn. Damn." McCoy said sotto voice. "Damn that Vulcan." But the last part he said only to himself.

When he arrived at the Faculty Club, he was actually nervous. He a veteran of numerous raucous shore leaves, and many a charming lady, nervous. Nothing will come of this, he told himself. Remember that.

Ariel smiled and rose from her table, and he joined her uneasily. "This really wasn't necessary, Ms. Melannes. Thank you, by the way, for the plant."

"Call me Ariel, please, Dr. McCoy."

"Leonard, then."

"I hope you and your ward managed to arrive home without any more incident."

"Yes, thanks." McCoy busied himself with the menu, feeling her eyes on his face.

"Leonard." He looked up at her, and became lost in her eyes. Blue as his, and a marvelous contrast to that hair, so different than the usual blond or brunette. She smiled regretfully, and set the menu down. "I'm pushing you, aren't I? I am sorry. But I had been wanting to meet you, and I heard you were unattached, and then there you were Saturday night, so obviously unattached." Her eyes were dancing and he smiled a little in return. "It seemed the perfect opportunity. I'll understand if you aren't interested in me personally, but I hope you won't let this prejudice you against me otherwise. I had so hoped to talk with you professionally, even before I saw what a gentlemen you were."


"The Fabrini translations, that you did with Commander Spock? There are several applications to my field. I'd love to discuss them with you sometime."

McCoy studied her warily, his eyes narrowed slightly. "Several distinguished groups have taken over that research."

"But none are interested in combined genetics. It is a rather narrow field, frowned upon, as a matter of fact, by many. I suppose humans are still provincial about crossing species lines. Vulcans actually lead that field, and I was hoping to parley a little research in that line into a posting on Vulcan."

"You poor child," McCoy said dryly, pouring her wine. "Change your mind before it's too late. You don't want to go to Vulcan. Trust me, I've been there."

"I've seen your little boy before, by the way." McCoy looked at her sharply, and she smiled, "around the physics lab. He's an exceptionally beautiful child."

"I'm afraid I can't take any credit for that." McCoy said brusquely.

"I'd wondered whom he belonged to, but no one seemed to know."

"Look," McCoy said tightly, "I'll be happy to discuss the Fabrini research with you, but my ward happens to be off limits. If that's your interest than I'm afraid we have nothing else to discuss."

"No, really, Dr. McCoy," she caught his wrist appeasingly. "Honestly, I was only making conversation. Most people enjoy discussing their children."

"Well, this is one person who doesn't."

"I'm sorry. I should have realized you must get enough idle curiosity. Really, I meant nothing by it. Please sit down."

McCoy looked into the depths of those blue eyes again, and sat down. For the next hour they discussed only Fabrini research, and its applications to genetics. He discovered her interest and credentials were perfectly legitimate, she was on a Fulbright tour, lecturing at dozens of medical programs throughout the year, and her own research was not inconsiderable. By the time they had finished lunch, and made an appointment for the next afternoon, McCoy was thoroughly smitten.

He told himself it was foolish, it was dangerous and it was going to lead nowhere. After all, Ariel would be gone in less than a month. But it was delightful to be in a relationship again. Two days after he had lunch with Ariel, he came home late, in a rush. Spock turned from setting the table, the chair he had used to reach the upper cabinets still underneath.

"Sorry, I'm late, Spock. I brought home a pizza for dinner. Mushroom, spinach, and green pepper. You like pizza, don't you Spock?"

"Not as a steady diet, but it is usually marginally edible."

"Vulcans." McCoy shook his head. "I have time to stay through dinner with you, but then I'm going out again."

"Is there an emergency at the hospital?"

"Not exactly." McCoy glanced at Spock, and decided he couldn't handle subterfuge in both his relationships. "I have a date, actually."

Spock looked up at him in surprise, and McCoy wondered if his candor was going to be a mistake. Then the corners of Spock's mouth just barely tilted up, before being forced back to proper lines. "A date?"

"You--" McCoy set the pizza down on the table, and ruffled Spock's hair in revenge. "Don't tease, Spock. It's embarrassing enough."

"Why it is embarrassing?" Spock asked seriously. "Are not such social interactions a normal part of a mature, unbonded male's activity?"

"Unmarried. And yes they are, but it's still embarrassing, at least to me. No, let's not get into this now, Spock. I'll answer any questions you want tomorrow." McCoy put a slice of pizza on Spock's plate, and poured him a glass of milk.

"Any questions?"

McCoy sat down across from Spock. "I don't believe this. You're becoming incorrigible. This is what comes of your hanging around with a lot of human brats. Look, Spock, do you want me to drop you at Karen's? I hate to leave you alone all evening."

"I would rather stay here. It is warmer, and I have homework to do."

"All right. Don't forget to screen the fire in the library before you go to bed, if you light one, and don't let me catch you asleep on the hearthrug when I get home. Go to bed at your bedtime. Should I leave you the number of the restaurant?"

"Really, Dr. McCoy. I am not that much of a child."

"Prove it by behaving yourself, eating your dinner, and going to bed. All right, you can always call Karen if something unexpected comes up. Though I can't imagine a situation you couldn't handle that she could. I'm going to run upstairs and change."

He came downstairs a few minutes later, and entered the kitchen. Spock was picking desultorily at his slice of pizza, a small figure at the large kitchen table. The room was nearly dark, the kitchen chandelier turned down to a dim glow that Spock had been setting the table by, and that McCoy had not turned up. A stab of conscience hit McCoy, and he drew up a chair at the table. "I'm starting to feel a little guilty about this."

Spock raised curious eyes to his. "I don't understand."

"Leaving you alone while I'm out on the town."

"On the contrary, it pleases me that you are going. I would be sorry to have disrupted your life to such an extent that you would feel restrained from participating in normal activities." The words were sincere enough, but Spock had dropped his eyes as he said them.

"But you will be alone here."

"I have made many associations outside of our relationship, largely through your sponsoring me in Pony Club, and at Cotwood. You are entitled to associations of your own."

McCoy hesitated. That was perfectly true, and his own conscience agreed, but his emotions were a different matter, and something in him twisted at the thought of leaving the Vulcan sitting alone in the near darkness. But Spock had refused the chance to join his own friends, for his own reasons. It was ridiculous to think the Vulcan could not choose his own diversions, or spend the evening in his own way. And ridiculous to deny himself an evening out because of misplaced guilt. "All right. I'll see you in the morning then. Good night, Spock."

"Goodnight, Dr. McCoy. I hope your evening is pleasant."

When the door had slammed after the physician, Spock hesitated a moment. Then he went to the narrow floor to ceiling windows flanking the front door. McCoy's aircar backed, the red warning lights shining in the darkness. Spock blinked his eyes, remembering another night, aircar lights shining through heavy snow, the air cold as ice, when exhaustion leadened his limbs, and hunger pinched his stomach. "But that was another time," he said aloud to the empty room as the red lights faded in the darkness. Spock walked back to the kitchen, and turned up the lights. The pizza McCoy had purchased for him was still there, all but for a few bites, but Spock did not feel equal to more of it. He put the untouched portion of it in the refrigeration unit, and disposed of his uneaten slice, putting the dish in the recycler. After a momentary war with his conscience, he drank, with a visible shiver, the glass of milk McCoy had poured for him. Then he ate his portion of the cinnamon baked apple dish Karen had sent over earlier in the day. She would want to know if they had enjoyed it. When he had done, he wrapped McCoy's portion and put it in the refrigeration unit, noting the shelves laden with food. He cleared the table of the rest of his dishes, put the bowl of fruit McCoy deliberately left to tempt him back in the center of the table. The kitchen was neat. He was not hungry. He was not afraid to be here. The furnace clicked on, hot air rushing through the air ducts, reminding him he was not cold. He had clothes, he did not have to spend weeks in the same dirty, thread bare coveralls. McCoy would not come home drunk and abusive. After a moment, Spock stared at the comm. Like a sleepwalker, he crossed to it and punched the long ago given but never used access codes that linked him to the subspace net. When the once familiar logo appeared on the screen, he cleared the entry as if he had made an error in dialing. McCoy would never know. He turned back to the room. In the small entranceway to the kitchen proper was a set of shelves. Below them were his stable boots, and on the shelves were his compad from school. Next to the shelves were a set of hooks that he had hung his barn jacket on. After a moment, he activated the outside lighting and slipped into his barn jacket. Before he put on his boots, he remembered, and he went to the refrigeration unit and took several carrots from the vegetable bin. Passing the table, he took an apple, for good measure, from the fruit bowl, and his pockets laden with treats, he slipped on his boots, and crossed the yard to enter the silent stable.

The barn was warm with animal heat, and a good warm animal smell. Both horses nickered when Spock entered, long associating his entrance with morning feeds. He waved the lights up a little, gave McCoy's gelding a carrot, and went over to Firecracker's stall. The pony came to the half door, and nudged at him insistently, smelling the carrots and apple. Spock fed them to him slowly, enjoying the sweet warm whiskery breath on his palm. Firecracker crunched the apple noisily, smelled him all over, searching for more treats, and tried chewing the pocket of his barn jacket where the treats had been kept. Spock straightened the pony's forelock over his halter, and backed away. Both horses looked at him, placid and content in their own small world, then turned back to their hayracks and began to busily empty them. Spock sighed, checked their water, waved the lights down, closed the barn door carefully, and went back to the house. Once inside, he turned off the exterior lighting and then, remembering McCoy's return, reactivated the entrance lights. He put his barn coat back on the peg, his stable boots under the shelf. Once again in socks, he went to the kitchen sink, stood on tiptoes to reach the faucets, and washed his hands. He went back to the entranceway for his computerpad and school things, and having collected them, looked back at the silent, peaceful, neat, normal kitchen. No alcohol. No broken glass. Almost in a dream state, Spock cradled his compad against his chest, took his right wrist in his left hand and ran his fingers down it, splinting it as he had once been forced to do. No pain. No one waiting to grab him and hurt him. And he was tired, but after he finished his homework, in an hour or so, he would go to his almost Vulcan warm room, take a warm bath, dress in clean nightclothes, climb into the bed he was allowed to use, and sleep. McCoy would not return home drunk and abusive, smashing things and cursing, slapping him awake, punishing him for dereliction of a duty he could not fulfill. And if he had a nightmare in the night, about those terrible times or the still worse ones before, and McCoy was home again, the physician would come to him, and offer what comfort he could. And tomorrow he would wake without fear, would have breakfast with McCoy. A real breakfast, with real food that McCoy was always coaxing him to eat, and milk that he still hated to drink. And they would converse about McCoy's evening, and his own, and discuss the day and evening ahead. Then he would go to school, because he was no longer trapped for weeks in a snow-bound, communications disabled prison. Jim was not here, and would not be coming here. The nightmare was over. He was safe. He was. He was.

Spock unclenched his hands, where the nails had left oval marks on his palms, and deliberately walked into the library, half defiant, half afraid, of ghosts both he and McCoy had thought long banished.

"How was your date?" Spock asked the next morning.

"Very nice." McCoy sat down across the table from Spock.

"I was wondering if I could attend a lecture at GU tomorrow afternoon. The lecture does not begin until four, and it lasts an hour, so that I would miss my ride back to Cotwood. But, I could wait in the library until you are ready to return home. Of course, the horses would be fed late, but the delay would not be long."

"Spock, I don't expect you to sacrifice your intellectual interest to keep my stable. The horses can wait an hour for their dinner. And I don't mind picking you up afterwards."

"You will have to write a note giving me permission."

"Why does such a technically advanced school insist on communicating by note?" McCoy complained.

"Because you do not check your E-mail on a consistent basis, while I have proved to be a reliable liaison. I'm sure they would reconsider if you decided to change your habits."

"Hell with that. I'm not becoming a slave to some machine just because they can't be bothered to contact me in person."

"It is not practical for them to attempt to communicate with dozens of parents individually."

"For what they charge, they damn well can. Anyway there's nothing in my E-mail that can't wait a few days, and you can just keep on being a liaison. Write me out a note and I'll sign it."

Spock flushed. "I have been told to tell you that is not considered satisfactory."

McCoy sighed and searched through his pockets for paper, finally coming across an old fashioned prescription pad. He scribbled a cryptic note on that, and handed it over.

The next evening, McCoy pulled up in front of the library, got out of the aircar, and headed for the entrance. They had agreed that Spock would waiting the one of the reading rooms, but as he climbed the steps, Spock slid off a stone wall, and came down the steps toward him.

"You aren't supposed to be out here. You'll catch your death. Why aren't you in the library?"

Spock glanced up at him uneasily, but whatever he would have said was cut off.


McCoy halted as if poleaxed. "Ariel." He was acutely aware of Spock at his side, and became more aware as Spock edged closer.

"What a pleasant surprise." Ariel came up to him. "You're not usually here this time of evening are you Leonard?"

"Uh, no." McCoy hesitated. He didn't want to introduce Spock, even though Ariel was waiting expectantly. Instead he gave Spock a push. "Go on in the aircar before you freeze." Spock moved with alacrity, while Ariel looked after him, frowning a little.

"Really, Leonard. I don't bite."

McCoy debated telling her Spock was shy, but couldn't figure out how to do that without mentioning his name.

"I was doing some research in the library, and came across your ward. Unfortunately he's been too well trained to respond to any advances from strangers." Ariel smiled. "Perhaps we could all go out for dinner or something. My treat."

"I'm afraid that's not possible." McCoy cast about in his mind for a reason and shrugged. "He has homework, then bed."

"But really, Leonard, just this once--"

"Not on a schoolnight, I'm afraid. Look, Ariel, I've really got to go. I'll see you tomorrow." He patted her absently on the shoulder, and made good his escape, leaving her staring after him in astonishment.

He was attending Pony Club, watching Spock and Firecracker execute a dressage test under the critical eyes of their instructor and the rest of the club, thinking of what Ariel reaction's to Spock. Was Spock's Vulcan heritage so obvious? He had thought they had done a fair job of concealing it, at least from casual view. Of course, now Spock's most exotic features were hidden under his hunt cap. Dressed in the favored costume of the pony club crowd -- breeches worn shabby by hard riding and more than a few falls, and a sweater snagged by numerous encounters with tree branches -- he looked as average as middle America. McCoy asked Karen idly, "Do you think Spock is a beautiful child?"

Karen smiled at him. "Really, Leonard. You fishing for compliments?"

"Hardly that. I can't take credit either way."

"Then what brought this on?"

"I don't know. Maybe trying to see if someone is trying to flatter me."

"Oh. I see. Spock mentioned you were dating someone."

"What?" McCoy said, outraged.

"I'd invited you for dinner and he was just making your excuses. Really, Leonard, Spock is one of the most closemouthed kids I've ever met."

McCoy sighed. "So what do you think? Am I being flattered?"

Karen shrugged. "You know how fond I am of Spock, Leonard. He is the best behaved, most sweet natured child I've ever known. But he's a child."


"So...Devon is going to be handsome."

McCoy shrugged, making a face. He tolerated Devon for Spock's sake, but he found the boy's condescending, superior attitude toward both Spock and himself occasionally hard to take. Although outstripped in intelligence and sheer knowledge by Spock, Devon was larger, just possibly stronger, and at least an equivalent rider, largely due to Firecracker's deficits. But more, this cherished pampered child of indulgent parents had a self-confidence and sheer belief in his own inestimable self-worth that Spock didn't have and probably never would. Physically, Devon took after his father rather than his petite and diminutive mother. He'd grown a half an inch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and the resemblance to John's ruggedly masculine features was becoming quite plain. And of course the boy knew it.

"And Jess, well, she's going to be pretty enough, I think." Karen looked thoughtful. "She's just starting to get some definition to her features. She has her father's eyes, and my chin. Last summer, she was still a round-faced baby, small and cute. Now she's starting to grow up, but she's not beautiful. And it's really too soon to tell if she will be, she needs a few years yet. You know, Leonard, children aren't generally beautiful. Those that are, that have that kind of definition in their faces at that young an age, usually aren't beautiful as adults, their features are too small for their faces. I do think one day Spock will have very aristocratic features. You know, a long, lean, English like face. The traces are there, and he has beautiful hair and eyes, and his color is unusual. But Spock hasn't started to grow into those features. Right now, he's just like any other little boy, with a snub nose, big eyes, and all his baby teeth. That's all anyone should see. Unless of course, they were particularly interested in Vulcan children or deliberately looking for exotic features."

McCoy shifted uneasily, remembering Ariel's fascinated gaze on Spock whenever she saw him. "So you do think I'm being flattered."

"Leonard, I've never met the girl. She might just be trying to be polite, or I might be misinterpreting her. Spock has beautiful manners, amazing intelligence, a fine character, and he mixes the reserve of an adult and the vulnerability of a child in a combination that I find very appealing. If he wasn't so reserved I'd call him adorable. In fact, to a lot of adults, that combination of cuteness and precociousness is irresistible. But Spock is too reserved, intelligent and dignified to write him off as just 'cute', regardless of how young and sweet-natured he is. Calling him beautiful is even more condescending, as if he were an object. But she might be using 'beautiful' the way I once used sweet. Spock is a sweet child, but he is more than that too. Your girlfriend certainly doesn't know that, and neither did I at the time. Has she met Spock yet?"

"No. I'm not sure I want her to." McCoy said absently.

Karen turned to him, puzzled. What do you mean?

"I think you may be right. She seems fascinated by Spock, when she has seen him. In fact, I sometimes wonder if he isn't her primary interest."

"Really, Leonard. You sell yourself too short. Why would she be interested in Spock?"

"Her field is hybrid genetics. She wants to study on Vulcan."

Karen frowned. "Oh."

McCoy looked at her and grinned wryly. "Still think I'm selling myself short?"

In spite of Spock's happiness in Pony Club, and contentment at school, his nightmares continued, sometimes minor, sometimes terrible. Waking Spock gently, offering a warm drink, and talking afterwards had become McCoy's set prescription for them, but he couldn't say it was much of a cure. Yet Spock seemed as much concerned at McCoy's reaction as he was upset by the nightmares, and the worse the nightmare, the more he seemed eager to avoid McCoy's scrutiny. After McCoy dispensed his standard panacea one evening, he was particularly insistent. "You do not need to stay. I will be all right."

"I wasn't doing anything." McCoy said, pouring a cup of cocoa for himself.

"You have surgery early tomorrow."

"It's not much past eleven." McCoy said, half smiling at this solicitude. Was Spock trying to get rid of him? Or was he just uneasy at the attention. "If you notice, I haven't gone to bed yet," he said, finding it interesting that Spock was shaken enough that he not only lost track of his time sense, but he'd failed to notice McCoy's clothes.

Spock looked up at McCoy in confusion, and then flushed. He took another sip of his drink to cover it.

McCoy noted his hands were wrapped so tightly around the mug that his knuckles were white. He ignored that, and instead started to tell Spock a story about one of his surgical interns. Spock had never been one to appreciate humorous anecdotes, but McCoy had the impression Spock was listening more to the tone of his voice than the actual words. After a few stories, the tension had gone out of his shoulders, and he'd slid down a little in bed. McCoy paused, wondering if Spock had fallen asleep, but Spock prompted him drowsily. After a few more minutes though, when McCoy called his name, he didn't stir. McCoy took the mug from his hand, tucked the blankets around him, and turned off the light. It was a first for Spock to actually fall asleep in his presence after one of these nightmares. But it spoke a little of a beginning trust, and so it was a pleasant first.

Spock looked at him a little dubiously the next morning, but McCoy didn't make a fuss about the nightmare other than to ask Spock if he'd slept all right the remainder of the night. Spock seemed amazed that McCoy wasn't prying, but after a few minutes he seemed to accept it, and relaxed enough to eat a fair amount of breakfast. Leaving for school, he said goodbye with relief and gratitude mixed in his eyes.

McCoy acted out the same scene for several nights. He didn't need to ask Spock questions about his nightmares. He didn't know much Vulcan, but Spock had cried out Sarek's name more than once on waking. It surprised McCoy that after all Spock had been through, after Klingon tortures, after Jim's abuse, it was Sarek who solely populated Spock's nightmares. The memory and terror of Sarek apparently spanned decades, and bore mute testimony to his friend's miserable childhood. That alone made the dreams meanings clear to McCoy, and details would only have been superfluous. One morning, though, Spock broached the subject himself.

"You need not come when you hear me wake from a nightmare." Spock said hesitantly. "It must be a great inconvenience."

"Not really." McCoy said carefully. "I'm usually just reading."

"Are such occurrences common for human children?"

McCoy hesitated, a little surprised at the question, and the intensity with which Spock asked it. "Not common. But not all that unusual, either."

Spock digested that a moment. "You're response is...typical, for one in a parental role?"

McCoy raised an eyebrow. "Yes."

"Humans do not discipline children for such behavior?"

"Not at all." McCoy said, beginning to understand.

Spock toyed with his breakfast. "Vulcans are not supposed to have nightmares.

McCoy kept silent.

"Sarek would set a severe discipline for such occurrences."

"I doubt that helped stop them." McCoy said with a touch of dryness.

"Eventually it did." Spock said remotely. After a moment he looked at McCoy expectantly and the physician's eyes widened. Even having broached the subject of punishments, and acknowledging the weapon he'd obtained, he hadn't expected Spock to so clearly offer him permission to use it. Spock might find his behavior inexcusable. But McCoy had never thought much of Vulcan standards, and right now the very idea turned his stomach. Studying Spock's bent head, he didn't think the Vulcan was too in favor of them either. "It wouldn't be the first time I preferred my methods to Vulcan ones."

Spock swallowed hard at this answer, and looked back down at his breakfast. After a moment, he picked up his fork.

However long Sarek's methods might have taken, McCoy's methods showed rapid results. Within a few days, Spock's nightmares had lessened appreciably, both in frequency and intensity. Even during the day, Spock seemed more comfortable with McCoy, no longer tiptoeing around him. McCoy doubted Spock had made the offer as a test, but deliberate or not, McCoy seemed to have passed one.

But not tiptoeing around him did not mean Spock had stopped deferring to him. McCoy had rather expected that, freed from the necessity of using physical proximity as a shield, Spock might roam a little further afield. While he wasn't actually delighted at the thought, he did expect it as a healthy, normal reaction. But while Spock seemed less tense in public, and didn't keep as rigidly to McCoy's side, he didn't leave it either. Curious, McCoy sent him on small errands. In the supermarket, he asked him to pick up a cereal he liked (Spock brought back the same one he'd been indifferently eating for weeks) or sent him back for some 'forgotten' item. But even sent away, Spock didn't become sidetracked. He went where he was instructed, and brought back what he was told, no more and no less. McCoy almost became frustrated in sympathy. But in watching Spock, he was surprised to discover how often he intercepted Spock's glances toward him. He hadn't realized how closely Spock watched his face, analyzed his expression. It was no great mystery why Spock would want to keep tabs on his moods. He only wished, after all his efforts, that Spock didn't feel the need to do so. He was beginning to believe it was impossible to spoil a Vulcan.

The call asking him to come to school was like rubbing salt in a open wound. McCoy wondered what possible trouble Spock could have gotten into now. It had taken weeks for Spock's nightmares to subside after the last stupid interference school had made in their lives. McCoy knew Spock professed to like the place, but he wondered how much of that was Spock just making his usual best of a bad situation. He set the appointment up for late in the day, after surgery and his classes. At least, all he would miss was late afternoon rounds.

McCoy greeted the psychologist with a look that was guaranteed to wipe the cheery smile right off her face. He swore to himself that one wrong word, one good reason, and he might just make it Spock's last day in this place.

"Dr. McCoy. Is this a bad day? We could rearrange this meeting for another time."

"I thought it was important?" McCoy said sharply.

"Well, it is important, of course. It does involve your -- Spock. But it isn't urgent."

"I'm here. Why don't we just get it over with. What is it anyway?"

"Really, Dr. McCoy, it's good news. I was so pleased, and I thought you'd be pleased as well."

"I can hardly be pleased unless you tell me what it's all about."

The psychologist pulled up Spock's records, and handed McCoy some print copies. "Spock's most recent tests show considerable improvement. I observed his primary class, and had a session with him this week, and his socialization has markedly increased. I questioned his instructors, but nothing unusual has occurred in school. I assumed you had made some major breakthrough with him, but--"

"These are psychological tests. I never authorized them." McCoy said disbelievingly.

"Dr. McCoy. If you remember, we've been through this before."

"I thought those were for placement. You mean you've been giving him these every week?"

"They are for placement. This type of institution is a radical change for most of our students. We have to be sure they are handling the changes, that they're not overstressed--"

"Did you ever consider just talking to them." McCoy said crossly, flinging the charts down.

"I do talk to them, Doctor. But I also administer a few tests for quantitative tracking. Not necessarily every week, but whenever conditions warrant. This is all in our prospectus."

McCoy thought of the tapes by his bedside he'd never gotten through.

"I think, Doctor, you're missing the point. Spock's tests do show a marked improvement, and all in areas that directly affect his caretaking situation -- his confidence ratio, his index of security. Of course, that spills over into his relations with others, and his ability to function, to do work, to concentrate.

McCoy glanced at the comparisons, and then pulled the tests back before him for a closer look. He'd wanted some sign. But how do you get positive feedback from Vulcans? Spock had showed negative reactions, nightmares, a few tears, pulling away from him, avoiding exams, lack of appetite. He could make quite a list. But positive ones were damn few. Somehow Spock's falling asleep in his presence didn't seem all that spectacular a sign. And sleeping through the night consistently was even less obvious. But they were positive. McCoy found himself smiling a little. Objective proof on emotion. Spock would not be pleased. He looked up and found the psychologist smiling back at him.

"Feeling better now?"

"Don't you go practicing on me." McCoy warned lightly.

"I would like to know what you did. But it seemed to me when you walked in, that you didn't know yourself about Spock's improvement. Yet there must be some difference?"

McCoy shook his head. "Nothing I felt was definitive."

"It must be difficult, suddenly having a child to care for after so many years outside of a family situation. And Spock does try so hard to be independent. But I think you are doing really well."

McCoy frowned. "Is this a standard parental peptalk?"

"Not at all. You should hear the tirades I launch against some of these pushy parents. No, Spock is doing much better."

"You can actually tell? Aside from these tests?"

"Why, yes. You don't see it?"

"I thought I was a pretty fair psychiatrist." McCoy shook his head slowly. "I've been looking for changes. I can't say I've seen much."

"For one thing, he meets your eyes." Seeing McCoy's puzzled look, she questioned. "Doesn't he?"

"I've caught him looking at my face more."

"Well, that's a start. This is still hard for him. But for traumatized children, that's a big step."

"How do you figure?" McCoy asked.

"Well, he rarely met your eyes directly before, right? Kept his head down, scarcely spoke, as if he were ashamed? That's very typical for such children. They consider their situation to be their own fault. Somehow, whether their parents were abusive, or neglectful, even if their parents died, these children regard their circumstances as just. It's such a common metaphor there are even fairy tales about it. Good children don't have bad things happen to them. So when bad things do happen, children are ashamed. That Spock is meeting your eyes now is a very good sign. It means enough good things are happening to him that he's starting to think of himself as a good child again. He's getting brave enough to risk looking for that confirmation in the adults he's with."

"I don't know much child psychology." McCoy mused. "Never expected to need it, actually. Never thought, even now, that it would apply."

"Spock's Vulcan background doesn't seem to me to make much difference, oddly enough."

Startled, McCoy looked at the psychologist. He'd been thinking more of Spock's true age then of his heritage.

"Don't you agree? I mean, Spock is more reserved than most children, but not so much so that he's beyond the bounds of human behavior. Even though he's Vulcan, his behavior is not noticeably alien."

"Are you saying you treat him as if he were a human child?" McCoy questioned thoughtfully.

The psychologist looked flustered. "I wouldn't know how to treat him otherwise. I don't have any experience in alien psychology."

"I do. Maybe that's part of my problem." McCoy frowned and rose. "Thanks for the news and the pep-talk. But I don't want Spock put through any more of those tests. If you think he's having a problem, talk to me first, and we'll decide jointly if he needs them.

McCoy, after some reflection, decided that there was no point in mentioning to Spock his discussion with Cotwood's psychologist. It might only inhibit the Vulcan, at a time when McCoy wanted to see Spock's confidence increase. But the conversation improved his own peace of mind.

McCoy's obvious contentment did much to confuse Spock. He had expected the psi-phobic doctor to react negatively to the bond, even more so since Jim had been unable to withstand the deepening of their link. McCoy's easy acceptance of the link undermined Spock's confidence in estimating any facet of McCoy's behavior. Unable to predict the doctor's reaction to daily situations, or reliably influence his behavior by modifying his own actions, Spock compensated for this new insecurity by making himself scarce, as usual. When McCoy seemed perfectly willing to allow Spock that space, at the same time remaining open and available whenever Spock ventured near, Spock became further confused. He was finding the bond difficult to adjust to, and it was easier in McCoy's presence. He toned down his own behavior, became more quiet and passive, and tried staying close to home. As if he understood, McCoy became even gentler with Spock, reassuring him often through the link. Confidence was infectious, and eventually even Spock found it difficult to maintain a tense and wary attitude in the face of McCoy's relaxed one. Slowly, in stages McCoy could almost see, the Vulcan began to relax as well.

"McCoy has been located, Ambassador."

"And that location?"

"He is at his ancestral home in the state of Georgia, on Terra." Sarek's senior aide frowned at the ambassador, a rare gesture for this most controlled of Vulcans, and Sarek caught it instantly.

"What else have you discovered, Suton." Sarek's voice was even, controlled, even as he prepared himself.

"There is a child with the Doctor, a very young Vulcan male. I have no factual evidence as yet, but I believe it may be your son's child, Ambassador.

Sarek's eyes flashed to Suton's face. "What leads you to that conclusion?"

"It is a well known Terran custom, is it not, to name the first born son after the father? This child with McCoy is called Spock."

Sarek was silent a moment at this unheard of breach of Vulcan tradition. "We are scheduled to leave for Terra in 1.6 months."

"The confirmation ceremony for your seat on the Federation High Council, and the opening of the general council session."

"No doubt politics would be well served if we arrived early, in Washington, to confer with Federation leaders, and the current Embassy staff. Arrange our departure as soon as possible, Suton. Maintain surveillance on Dr. McCoy and this child." Sarek paused. "What age is the boy?"

"Approximately Kahs Wan age. He appears Vulcan, but is well acclimated to Terra, attends a Terran education institution, has Terran associates."

"A Terran educational institution." Sarek murmured, appalled. "And do their records show the identity of the mother?"

"Negative. Their is no information prior to McCoy's assumption of guardianship."

"How like Spock, to complete his rejection of Vulcan by raising this child outside the traditions, as a Terran." Sarek's voice was cold. "How could he have kept something like this from observation?"

"Spock has had occasional ... liaisons. We have been aware of some. I have not otherwise followed up on any of the participants. It did not occur to me --" Suton's voice closed.

"That Spock would have a child, outside of any legal Federation union, without obvious contact or financial support? No more would I, Suton, but I have obviously underestimated Spock again. No matter. This child belongs to the clan and must be reclaimed. If he can, Spock will undoubtedly surface soon afterwards. He is apparently more adept at concealment, on a number of issues, than I had perceived."

McCoy had a habit, learned in the bachelor days after his divorce, of preparing dinner to newsnet broadcasts, and that habit persisted in his every return to civilian life. Spock had the disdain for newsnet typical of those with high security clearances, he disliked the media hype, and had been known to comment that McCoy was not paying the slightest attention to the program, but he otherwise tolerated this foible, and McCoy always turned off the program when they sat down to their meal.

McCoy was chopping vegetables for salad, and Spock was setting the table when there came the unmistakable crash of falling plates. McCoy turned to see the Vulcan staring wide-eyed at the screen as the announcer continued,"-- Vulcan's ambassador to the Federation and a Federation ambassador at large. Sarek's arrival in Washington is a prelude to the general Federation Council session in Geneva, where he'll accept confirmation to his appointed seat on the Federation High Council."

McCoy turned off the newscast and took a lone unbroken plate from Spock's shaking hands. The Vulcan focused on him abruptly, took in the mess of broken china, and scrambled abruptly to retrieve the bits.

"Whoa!" McCoy said sharply, and bodily removed the Vulcan to a chair out of the crash zone. "You ought to know better than to pick up broken glass with your fingers. And you haven't any shoes on your feet, either."

"I'll put my boots back on," Spock said, glancing across to where he'd left his riding boots just inside the door.

McCoy had already retrieved a vacuum broom and was sweeping up the broken bits. "I'm almost done. You stay where you are; you've got one cut already I'll have to laser fuse."

Spock lapsed into silence. McCoy had taken him into the surgery, removed the sock and broken glass from the bleeding foot, cleaned the cut, laser fused it, and was putting a light bandage on it before Spock spoke again.

"I'm sorry I broke your plates."

"I hated that pattern anyway." McCoy said easily. "Spock, just because he's on Earth doesn't mean he'll find out you're here."

"If he wished to find me," Spock said, "he would have no problems. I left a very short trail. From Jim to here, and getting away now would be difficult."

"Spock, you're not thinking --"

"I could not leave without you."

"And you can't leave with me." McCoy said, without thinking. Spock looked up at him. "Spock, what are the chances we'd get through a spaceport together?"

"I always disliked traveling solely with my mother." Spock said quietly. "Even with diplomatic privilege, without a Vulcan entourage, we were always carefully scrutinized. It made me believe I had no right to be with her."

"Spock, accepting a seat on the High Council is no small matter. Sarek could not have arranged that as a cover to search for you. Do you have any evidence that he is looking for you? When was the last communication you received from him?"

Spock looked at him, astonished. "Sarek does not communicate with me."

"Still? I thought you resolved your difficulties?"

"I do not know. I do not believe he intended to continue to shun me on those times we might come into contact. But there has been no opportunity to test that hypothesis."

"What about Amanda?" McCoy said, remembering something she'd mentioned on the Babel mission. "Doesn't she write to you regularly? Have you responded since you took leave?"

Spock did not reply and McCoy sighed. "So they might be concerned. But Amanda did tell me you were a lousy correspondent. She probably is used to occasional silences. And if Sarek were looking for you, I have the impression he wouldn't pussyfoot around. We would have heard something, Spock."

"Perhaps you are correct."

"Of course I am," McCoy said easily.

Preparation for dinner now had become a newless event. Trying to preserve continuity, McCoy had tried to switch to the local news, but even then, they had been startled more than once by snippets of information about the upcoming council session, even if only of previews of the upcoming Federation news. Sarek's arrival on Earth had stirred the media into speculation on how the composition of the Council would change, how a Vulcan on the highest Federation body might conceivably tilt the balance of power in favor of non-human vs. human factions. There were reviews of Sarek's positions on past events, interviews with countless experts and lower Council representatives, and commentary from media superstars. It was a perfect example of the media hype Spock had always hated, only now it was on a subject that personally affected him. The only blessing in the situation was that Sarek himself was not giving any interviews.

Spock had gotten a handle on his reaction, and managed to deal with the occasional surprise from the newsnet, but his nightmares had returned. And current events in school, he had confided to McCoy, was nothing less than sheer hell. McCoy had heard about it from another source, after Spock's primary teacher had laughingly confided in a call to McCoy that in his first exhibition of temper all year, Spock had rounded on his schoolmates one day and scathingly informed them that other incidents of importance were occurring in the Federation as well. Spock had been assigned to summarize them, and as a result they'd had the first 'non-Vulcan' oriented lesson in weeks. Spock's standing among his classmates had actually improved; for once, he had proven to be just like them, and as a result was even more accepted. But the cost, in McCoy's eyes, was too high. Spock's security was eroding before his eyes like sand before a rising tide. So maintaining some semblance of normalcy was the watchword of the day.

Sarek was being thorough, as usual, and not at all hurried. McCoy and the child were under careful surveillance, and although Spock had not appeared, as Sarek had hoped, at least they could not relocate without his becoming aware of it. Sarek had taken a week's worth of surveillance reports to study, choosing the video after merely glancing over the summarized reports.

The child had surprised him. He had not known what to expect, and had been reluctant to ask too much before he could make his own judgments, especially of the human investigative agents he was using. He had not expected that a child probably three quarters human, brought up among humans, to be anything but wild, loud, undisciplined, emotional and overtly human, in spite of Suton's initial assertion that the child was Vulcan in appearance.

And yet the child on the tapes was shockingly like his son. Sarek had not expected that. Spock, in fact, did not take after his own father, physically, he resembled his Vulcan grandfather, though Sarek had always thought that his son's emotional aura and many of his intrinsic mannerisms were pure Amanda. Why should this child look so much like Spock? Were the Vulcan genes so strong, that even with a three quarter human genetic heritage, the Vulcan would still dominate? Sarek studied the child he would reclaim and found little to regret. Other than a distressing tendency toward accepting physical contact, perhaps unavoidable for a child brought up in a human environment, the boy was outwardly far more Vulcan in behavior than Sarek would have expected of such a child. When with human companions, the child mixed with the group without losing his Vulcan reserve, almost exactly as Sarek would have prescribed. When alone, the child was disciplined and purposeful, doing apparently assigned tasks without supervision. Sarek found little to correct in the child's behavior. What did concern him was how somber the child appeared. He had expected a child overly emotional and human spoiled, this child was not, and yet he did not have the bright aura of a content Vulcan child. The investigators still had not come up with the identity of the child's mother, or how he had come into McCoy's hands, but Sarek forbore to speculate as to reasons for the child's apparent distress, though grief or neglect might be an explanation. Regardless of how he had come to McCoy, his current situation did not seem to suit him well, which made Sarek's task easier. The sooner he was removed to proper Vulcan custody, the better off he would be.

McCoy had been trying to relax Spock all evening, alternating between teasing Spock verbally, and trying to reassure him through the bond. It generally distressed Spock further to ask him to discuss what was disturbing him, and McCoy was only too aware of the reasons anyway, but when none of his actions lessened the tight core of tension around Spock, McCoy broke a long standing rule, not even waiting till after dinner, broached his concerns.

"What's wrong, Spock? Did something happen in school today?" Spock shook his head in an uncharacteristic human gesture, and McCoy frowned. "You're tense as a bow." The front door chimed and McCoy glanced in it's direction, surprised. Visitors here tended to use the back door. "Hang on while I get that."

McCoy swung open the door, and found himself gaping at the presence of the unexpected Vulcan. Sarek raised an eyebrow in acknowledgement of that surprise.

"My apologies, Doctor, for arriving unannounced. However, I believe it was necessary in this instance. May I enter?"

Sarek walked past McCoy before the human could think of a reply, and faced McCoy. The physician was finally thinking fast. If he could keep the Vulcan busy here, give him some excuse, perhaps Spock could hide elsewhere in the house, or even slip away somewhere. "I suppose I don't have to say this is an unexpected surprise, Ambassador."

"You should not find it totally unexpected, Doctor, considering the circumstances."

"You mean you're being present on Earth at the same time as myself," McCoy suggested.

"No, Doctor. I mean your harboring the presence of my son's child."

"Your son's child?" McCoy said blankly.

"Come, Doctor. I know you have been host to a Vulcan child since your arrival here. Perhaps you would be good enough to explain his presence here, or have the means to put me in contact with my son."

"I don't know what you're talking about," McCoy said.

"Doctor, dissembling is purposeless. Although I have regretted the necessity of such an invasion of privacy, your household has been under surveillance for several weeks. I am well aware that a Vulcan child, called Spock, approximately 6 standard years of age, is resident here, and is, in fact, present at this time."

McCoy flushed, but held his ground. "That may be, but none of it concerns you, Sarek. If your son wishes to contact you, why, he would have no difficulty in doing so, the entire Federation must be aware you're resident on Earth now. And I'm sure you have messaging systems on Vulcan that will redirect any contacts to you here. Whether Spock contacts you or not has nothing to do with me."

"Except for the matter of the child, you are quite correct."

"Even assuming a child is here, you have no proof that such a child is related to you."

"Related or not, Doctor, unless there is a adult Vulcan present in this household, which I can prove is not the case, you have no right or authority to harbor a Vulcan child. The law requires he be remanded to the custody of the nearest adult Vulcan until a genetic scan ascertains his closest relatives. I have come for that purpose."

McCoy sent a frantic message of danger through the link to Spock, urging him to flee. If Spock could get away, Sarek might be persuaded to leave, McCoy might be able to regroup with Spock elsewhere, perhaps they could somehow get off planet. To be fugitives, and from the long arm of Vulcan and Federation justice too. McCoy's mouth was dry. Jim might fit that role, but he would never be good at interstellar intrigue and deception. From the darkness outside he heard a deep voice bark a command, and higher one cry out in pain, even as he felt the echoes of it through the link. McCoy stepped outside and halted in surprise as a flood of temporary lighting suddenly blinded him with Vulcan brightness. Blinking tears from his abused eyes, he could see his house cordoned by a several Vulcans. One was trying to subdue a small form pinned to the ground, with more force than what McCoy thought was necessary.

"Damn it, Sarek, you don't have to hurt him."

"Bring the child inside." Sarek ordered. McCoy watched helplessly following as the burly Vulcan picked Spock up one handed, the other hand holding Spock's wrists immobile. The Vulcan went through to the library and deposited Spock on a chair, releasing him slowly as if expecting Spock to try to flee again. But Spock stayed where he'd been put, merely rubbing his wrists slightly. After having seen the Vulcan garrison around the house, McCoy knew it was hopeless as well.

"Now, Doctor, I suggest you send this child to pack his things, while we discuss the location of my son. I trust, child, you have learned the folly of attempting to evade custody?"

"Are you alright?" McCoy said to Spock. The Vulcan nodded and rose to his feet, giving Sarek the barest of glances as he edged to the door. McCoy glanced at the windows, where the blaze of lights outside made the area bright as dawn. As Spock left he could see the guard who'd released Spock close the front door and take a position just outside it.

McCoy turned on Sarek. "And this is how you're going to take him away. Sending some goon out to grab him in the dark, without even one word of greeting or kindness?"

"Tell me, Doctor, if your plans to keep this child concealed from me were successful, what opportunities might I have been given for any words at all?"

"Maybe you shouldn't have opportunities, when you obviously can't deal with Spock in any kind or considerate way!"

"I have yet to deal with my son, Doctor. How I deal with this child might conceivably be affected by any dealings with my son, if I could make contact with him."

McCoy rose. "I need to discuss something with...with the child first."

Sarek raised an eyebrow. "Then do so, McCoy. I suggest you be brief."

McCoy followed Spock upstairs. The Vulcan stood in the center of his room, immobile, staring unseeing at the possessions he was supposed to be packing. McCoy closed the door, steered Spock to the bed, and sat down beside him. "Spock, it's time we told him."

The Vulcan's eyes came abruptly into focus, meeting McCoy's own. "No!"

"What choices do we have? He wants to know what happened to you, the adult. He's going to question both of us, and he won't be satisfied with less than the truth. Can you stand up against a Vulcan mind meld with Sarek now?"

"If you refuse to allow it, Vulcan ethics will not permit Sarek to force you into a mild meld. Those same ethics hold true as well within the family. He may not force a meld with me. And if he does, I will have to ... resist it."

"What about the parental link you have to have? Spock, he's going to find out. When he initiates the bond--" Spock shivered, but McCoy ploughed on, "he's got to know."

"Perhaps...perhaps not." Spock said hesitantly, and then more strongly, "A parental link is not a conscious meld and--"

"Conscious or not, you can't possibly convince me he wouldn't recognize your mind or your aura, or whatever, once he's in contact with you. He's scarcely looked at you so far, but that's not going to continue."

"Actually, Sarek's communicative interests, at least where I was concerned, were always rather one-sided." Spock noted dryly.

The psychologist in McCoy registered with relief Spock's return from virtual catatonia, but he was only too aware of the elder Vulcan waiting below. "Do you expect to be able to keep it from him forever? How do you think he'll react if and when he does find out? What excuse are you going to give when he wants to know why you tried to deceive him? And even if he never finds out, do you really want to live your childhood over again from the moment he takes you out that door?"

Spock winced again, predictably. "The advantages and disadvantages of deception appear to be closely balanced."

"I can't believe I'm hearing you say that. Spock, you know honesty is always best. Whatever Sarek may have done to you in the past, you are an adult, in experience and education. Even if you need help with shielding and some psi reeducation, Sarek would have to respect your experience and wishes. I can't imagine anything Sarek could do to you now that would justify submerging your identity for the rest of your life, and hiding behind the pose of an unknown child."

"Sometimes hiding is the only way to survive."

"Maybe that was true, but I don't believe that's your best choice now. Spock, Sarek has a reputation for fairness that is unparalleled in the Federation."

"In my dealings with Sarek, that reputation was not much in evidence," Spock said stubbornly.

"Don't you think he learned anything from your years of estrangement?"

"Obviously, that is a source of my concern. Sarek would have thought long about how he could have prevented my behavior which led to his estrangement."

"You might be judging him too harshly. He might have regretted the circumstances that drove you into Starfleet, and closed the door behind you."

"You do not know that."

"What if its true? You may have had good reasons for hiding before, but Sarek may have learned a lesson, and how will you find out if you hide now? Spock, you're a strong person. There are times when giving up your identity may be the only recourse to survival, but that's not a given now. We have to tell him."

Spock sat, head bowed and silent, for several minutes, and McCoy was despairing when he finally heard the Vulcan say softly, "Very well."

McCoy sighed in relief, but the Vulcan continued, "You tell him. I will pack."

McCoy opened his mouth to protest, but one look at Spock's face, closed and forbiddingly resolute, and his protests died in his mouth. "All right."

Spock swallowed and put his head up, "I have nothing in which to pack."

"I'll bring you my bags."

When McCoy entered the room a moment later, Spock was taking folded clothes out of drawers. He did not look around.

McCoy came down the stairs slowly, directly into Sarek's eagle-eyed stare. "May I inquire as to the reason for this delay?"

"No delay. Spock is packing. But you and I have something to discuss while he does." McCoy gestured to the library, and closed the door behind him, hoping against hope Spock wouldn't take the unsupervised interval as an opportunity to run. McCoy counted on him understanding he would not get far.

McCoy sat down, dismissing the idea of fortifying himself with brandy. He'd need all his faculties for this. He met Sarek's narrowed eyes. "I have something to tell you that's a little shocking. And I don't want to be interrupted until I'm done. After that, you can ask whatever questions you like." McCoy took a deep breath, wished again for the brandy, and launched into the explanation of his and Spock's last Enterprise mission. He didn't look at Sarek as he told the tale, and Sarek, true to Vulcan form, said nothing as requested. When he finished, the Vulcan's face was exceptionally expressionless, but nothing else in his behavior indicated any emotion. McCoy felt a renewed, if reluctant, admiration for Vulcan control.

"I am aware that Humans do not necessarily share the Vulcan preference for veracity." Sarek said slowly. "However, you obviously would not tell me so easily verifiable a story unless it were true. But, I do not understand, " he continued, "why, when the condition was known to be irreversible, the proper authorities, including Starfleet and myself, were not notified."

"Spock wanted a period of adjustment in relative privacy."

Sarek's lips tightened. "Given that Spock's reasoning seems to have been adversely affected by this experience, I fail to understand how you, Dr. McCoy, could accede to this deception. Surely you were aware of the risks to Spock's health and sanity in his being without proper shielding?"

McCoy felt as if he had been dropped over his head into ice water. "Sarek, before you repeat a mistake you made 30 years ago, I suggest you think twice before judging Spock so harshly. As for neglecting his health and sanity, they have been my primary concern for the past two months. I doubt if you could make the same claim for any period that he was in your guardianship. If you disbelieve that, then give him a choice about whether he walks out of here, tonight, with you."

Sarek raised his eyebrows. "Are you suggesting that I am the primary reason Spock is hidden here under an assumed identity?"

McCoy bristled at the way the question was couched, but he couldn't deny at least part of Spock's 'cover' was false, and they certainly had been hiding, at least from some authorities. "I can't speak for your son. He never gave me all his motivations. Nor did I believe," McCoy emphasized heavily, "I had a right to know them all. I did my best to give what aid I could, as Spock has done for me on several occasions. I leave it to yourself to determine why he might be reluctant to return to Vulcan, or at least, to your guardianship."

This time Sarek did turn away, and McCoy felt a measure of control return to him as he watched the Vulcan leave his chair. The Vulcan moved as if drawn to the fireplace, where he stood for several minutes frowning into the flames. When he at last looked up, it was as if he had shouldered a burden that pained him. "Conceded, Doctor. But flawed as my guardianship may have been, yours is still inadequate. You cannot train Spock in the psi-skills he must relearn."

"He could have tutors, couldn't he?"

Sarek shook his head in human fashion. "There must be at least one parent, skilled in control techniques, and able to relinquish shielding in increments, as the child's control matures. You are psi-null, Doctor, with less abilities than even most humans in that area. You are fortunate to have been able to provide what little support you have, but your abilities are unquestionably inadequate."

McCoy was surprised as how disappointed he felt. It was no more than he expected, nor did he doubt Sarek's word. After all, Spock goal had always been to return to Vulcan after he'd mastered some shielding, but Spock had never doubted that he had to return. Still, McCoy made one last try. "It was my understanding, when Spock was a child, that he picked up some shielding on his own. Perhaps he could stay here at least until then."

"Absolutely not, Doctor." McCoy had forgotten how fierce Vulcans could appear until Sarek crossed to him, fire in his eyes. "That was a mistake, indeed, and one I have no intention of allowing to reoccur. I assure you, Spock's bond will be carefully created and monitored to insure that he developed shielding only at the appropriate time, and under proper instruction." Sarek was studying him sharply. McCoy's own disappointment had been overridden by shock at Sarek's unexpected fury, quickly followed by fear for Spock. That he had said too much was confirmed when Sarek said darkly, "If that was my son's purpose in staying here, then it was to no avail, and hardly to his credit. This time I will see my son properly instructed. He will not be remaining with you, Doctor."

McCoy was confused. Sarek's former regret had been put aside and his anger seemed out of proportion to McCoy's tentative suggestion. For a moment, the Vulcan Ambassador had been in precisely the mood he'd needed to be in for Spock's return, and now McCoy had ruined it. And if he were intimidated by Sarek, Spock would definitely have reason to be concerned. McCoy began to regret that he had so carefully talked Spock into taking a chance on trusting the elder Vulcan. "Sarek, in a moment Spock will be walking through that door, depending on you, trusting you, to give him the assistance he needs, assistance you claim only you can give. I assure you that trust is damn fragile. Do you really want to throw it away to punish him for mistakes you both made years ago?"

"Trust is extended two ways, Doctor."

McCoy clenched his fists, feeling frantic. He had only a few moments to convince one of the most stubborn of Vulcans to put aside something that after 3 decades could still rouse him to anger, a Vulcan known to hold a grudge, at least in one instance for 18 years. He could hear Spock crossing the hall above, preparing to come downstairs. "Sarek, I don't know much about this parental bond, but I do know the parent has all the cards. All of them. Can't you afford to be a little generous? I can't imagine how Spock could be more of a credit to you than he already is, but even if you disagree, who's fault can it be? I've been a parent, and I know the main responsibility lies there. And as far as Spock's concerned, I've 'parented' him through a hell of a difficult period. It's not always been easy, but it's been worth every moment, and believe me, I wouldn't hand him over to anyone else. I'm not sure you deserve him now. He's your only son, but instead of being grateful that he's alive and has a chance for a normal life, a chance that, to a large measure, depends on you, you're about to confirm every fear he's ever had about you. Don't do it, Sarek."

Sarek face was once again expressionless. McCoy could not read him at all, when he said neutrally. "You are eloquent, Doctor."

"More to the point, I'm right."

"Perhaps. Your sources are rather one-sided. Perhaps you have merely been misinformed."

McCoy closed his eyes, feeling sick. "Spock doesn't lie, Sarek. You know that."

"On the contrary, my experiences with him have been somewhat different."

McCoy frowned at Sarek, wondering how Sarek could say that about Spock, renowned for his scrupulous honestly. Spock, who even under pressure of orders on the Enterprise to act a particular part at times, always performed so badly he'd precipitated the Enterprise assumption that Vulcans could not lie. Then he remembered a different Spock upstairs. A Spock who had said, 'Sometimes you have to hide'. "I don't have any experience with that, and neither does anyone else I know. If he has lied to you, I put the responsibility squarely in your hands. Did you ever accept his truths? If he has lied to you, the reasons ought to be clear."

"Reasons, Doctor?" Sarek was still guarded, and McCoy could not tell if the Vulcan was being sarcastic, challenging, or if he truly was in ignorance of the situation. McCoy studied the Vulcan, remembering Spock sitting in his kitchen, stumbling through an explanation of the parental bond, talking about giving him weapons. Did Sarek really not understand? And if he didn't, was McCoy helping Spock if he gave him this last piece of information, or was he only giving Sarek another weapon?

"Surely you know Spock fears you. And that's no lie or deception. I don't know the details of what you've done to him, but I've woken him from enough nightmares in which you were the major protagonist to know that's a truth of which you ought to be ashamed. How is it that a Vulcan renowned throughout the Federation for mediating peace, developed such a reputation for terror at home?"

Sarek's eyes flashed, and he drew breath to reply, but his head tilted sharply toward the outer door. McCoy held his tongue as well, taking Sarek's cue as to the efficacy of Spock's hearing. This was not something either of them would want Spock to hear. McCoy crossed to open the door. Spock was at the foot of the landing, at the end of the long hall. Sarek must have heard him start down the stairs. He'd been sitting on the last step, when the library door opened, he rose, the smallest of McCoy's bags beside him. He must not have packed much. Having attempted so consistently to deliberately overlook Spock's appearance, believing that it prejudiced his dealings with him, McCoy was always shocked when he looked at him objectively. He felt Sarek tense beside him when Spock rose, and he suspected the Vulcan had similar feelings. Spock's eyes flicked briefly over McCoy's face, but he neither looked directly at, nor greeted his father, but stood stiffly, eyes at attention, a small, incongruous soldier.

Sarek stopped perhaps eight feet away from his son, startling McCoy, who stopped behind him. The elder Vulcan looked his son over carefully, and McCoy suddenly felt his own inadequacies clearly. From his overlong, slightly tousled hair to his scuffed sneakers, Spock looked every inch a Terran child. The look was precisely calculated, by both McCoy and Spock, to let Spock 'pass' for such under casual observation. But Sarek's scrutiny was hardly casual, and McCoy suddenly ached for every scuff and overlong strand. What was this scrutiny for? To humiliate Spock for his apparent youth, or McCoy for his apparently slipshod care, or both of them on general principles? Did Sarek really need to stare at Spock as if he were a sideshow freak? McCoy raised furious eyes to Sarek, but there was neither scorn nor fury in Sarek's manner. If anything, he seemed pained, or puzzled. Spock looked ahead, not even acknowledging his father's presence. He looked, McCoy thought, like he was before a firing squad, merely waiting for a blindfold. Sarek finished his scrutiny, and paused, obviously waiting for some word from his son, but Spock was silent.

"Dr. McCoy has informed me of your situation, Spock."

McCoy looked at Sarek quickly. The Vulcan's voice had been quiet, even, gentle, far different than what McCoy had expected, and the slight rise in inflection at the end clearly offered Spock an opening to reply. But Spock remained a silent statue. Sarek looked him over a moment more, the silence stretching between them, and McCoy began to understand the war implicit in that silence. Sarek remained calm in the face of Spock's implicit resistance, and Spock stayed silent, still, and emotionless, a perfect Vulcan, rebelling the only way he could.

"Do you wish to return home now?"

McCoy glanced back at Sarek, wondering, for a brief moment, if Sarek were actually offering Spock a choice, in spite of all his earlier assertions. The elder Vulcan had not changed his tone, but McCoy had begun to distrust it. He's toying with Spock, he realized. To answer yes was an obvious lie, to answer anything else condemned him to be other than a perfect Vulcan. Either way, McCoy realized, Sarek was justified in condemning Spock. McCoy suddenly knew how Sarek had found reasons to punish even the perfect child Spock had no doubt tried to be. He could see now how the expert negotiator might have used his skills to trap his son into indefensible positions. Spock had ducked his head, and McCoy, suddenly angry, moved behind his friend, putting his hands reassuringly on Spock's shoulders, and glared at Sarek.

"What the hell do you expect him to say, Sarek?"

"I was addressing my son, Doctor, and I expect him to answer me." The words were like a whiplash, and McCoy remember Spock's voice, again explaining the bond, talking about how McCoy's disapproval alone would be painful to him. If McCoy were not shielding him, what would that blast of anger done to Spock?

Spock looked up, forestalling McCoy's angry reply with a glance. "I know I have no choice."

"That response is not satisfactory. It does not answer my question." Sarek's tone was mild, but the demand was implicit, and McCoy felt Spock's shoulders tense. "No, I do not." Spock said evenly, a hint of warning in his voice.

Sarek nodded, as if he expected nothing else. "And why not? Are you" the elder Vulcan gaze dissected every non-Vulcan facet of his son's appearance, "content here?" Spock said nothing. "Or does any fate compare favorably to being at my hands?" Sarek waited a few moments more, then suddenly moved swiftly to his son's side, and McCoy stood frozen, unable to believe Sarek would strike Spock even when the elder Vulcan raised a hand.

Spock, however, had no such disbeliefs. He flinched from his father. Sarek caught him firmly with one hand, but the other that seemed about to strike his son, merely caught his son's chin, and raised his eyes to meet his father's. If Sarek had doubted his son's fear, he had confirmation of it in his son's eyes. Sarek's own eyes closed momentarily, and he dropped his son's chin to close both hands reassuringly on his shoulders. "Calm yourself, child. I have no intention of harming you. McCoy, come and take him. At the moment you can do this better than I."

McCoy snatched Spock from the Vulcan, unable to get his hands on him fast enough. He had told Spock to trust Sarek. He had brought him to this. McCoy pulled Spock close to him, and Spock let himself be enfolded. The double onslaught of his own emotions and McCoy's was tearing him apart. He let his head drop to McCoy's shoulder, and the trace of tears McCoy felt on his neck only infuriated the physician more.

"How dare you do this."

"I concede your point, McCoy." Sarek said wearily.

"You did this," McCoy sputtered, "to prove a point?"

"Calm yourself, Doctor. Spock has taught you little about parenting a Vulcan child, for you to broadcast anger that freely. You are hurting him more than I. You had better return him."

"Not on your life." McCoy said angrily, but Sarek took him from his hands, and instead of clinging to McCoy, Spock went unresisting into his father's arms. Sarek set Spock down and spoke to him, but Spock responded neither to his name, nor to Sarek's voice in English or Vulcan. McCoy let go of his anger long enough to be concerned at Spock's catatonia, real this time, and Sarek met his eyes evenly. "He is in shock, and I am not surprised, after the abuse to which you subjected him."

"My abuse!"

"Calm yourself, Doctor. You are linked to Spock, and you should realize your anger is painful to him, even if it is not directed at him."

"You're the one who--"

"Doctor." McCoy stopped at the authority in Sarek's voice, and because Sarek was studying Spock carefully. "I dislike doing this; there is a certain risk. But you obviously have more anger to express, and not only does Spock need rest, but it will shield him from that expression, to a certain extent."

"What are you going to do?" McCoy said uneasily.

"Hold him again, Doctor, but this time think reassuring thoughts, please. I would prefer he not be given any more reasons to fear at the moment."

McCoy swallowed a sharp reply. "You can't expect me to think reassuring thoughts unless I know what you are doing."

"Merely putting him to sleep, Doctor, a deep sleep, close to what you would call unconsciousness, or a coma-like state. His subconscious will then be protected from further trauma, and he can rest." Sarek raised a hand to Spock's forehead, and fixed McCoy with a commanding frown. "Reassuring, Doctor." Spock moved from catatonia to limp unconsciousness in the space of a breath, and Sarek smoothed his son's tousled hair after removing his hand from Spock's forehead. "And now he must be kept warm. It is difficult for the body to maintain temperature in this state, and you, no doubt, have not the slightest ability to control it for him. He should be put to bed, Doctor."

Confused, McCoy led Sarek upstairs. The Vulcan raised an eyebrow at the nursery furnishings, but he pulled the bedclothes back without comment, and watched as McCoy settled Spock, removed his shoes, and tucked him in. McCoy shook his head uncomprehendingly as Sarek found and adjusted the temperature controls to the room. "I need a drink." McCoy commented.

"I am not surprised." Sarek said, once again appearing in perfect calm.

McCoy led the way back to the library, poured himself a brandy, and drank it down in one gulp.

"I have never understood the human predilection for imbibing alcohol under stress, especially as its effects produce less control, rather than more."

"Not in this case. I'm hoping that maybe with a drink in me, I can keep myself from belting you. Futile as that may be."

"It is indeed futile, Doctor. I assure you, I am well capable of preventing you from, as you put it, belting me."

McCoy finished his drink, and stared at the brandy glass in his hand. "Amanda never explained to you the salutary effects of alcohol?"

"My wife has never cared for alcohol, in any form. And she has learned enough Vulcan controls that in any event it would have little effect on her metabolism."

"I pity her." McCoy said dully. "Why did you do that, Sarek? You said something about proving a point?"

"I could see that Spock was resisting. It is, I confess, a phenomenon only too familiar to me. It is, of course, illogical to resist what is necessary, but that in itself is not an unfamiliar phenomenon in Spock. But there is a great deal of difference in resisting out of anger and resentment for the necessity, and resisting out of fear. I had to know which it was."

"I told you."

"And you were correct. As I said, I concede your point."

McCoy's face twisted. "Was it worth it, to intimidate Spock only to be sure of a point in an argument."

"If you think that gave me pleasure, Doctor, you are quite mistaken. And I thought it best to have the question settled before I establish Spock's parental link, when he would truly have cause to fear me, should I wish to actually physically discipline him."

"He didn't have reason to fear you then?"

"Doctor, if you bond with Spock was functional in any sense of the word, Spock would have no reason to fear me. Even if my intention had truly been to strike him, provided you were properly shielding him, he would not have felt pain. As it stood, he had far more reason to fear you. Your punishment of him, Doctor, began precisely when, projecting anger at me, you placed your hands on his shoulders."

"Are you saying his reaction was my fault?"

Sarek sighed. "You are not paying attention, Doctor. Have I not, twice, conceded the accuracy of your assertion? I find it interesting that Spock, even while receiving severe discipline from you, was more fearful of myself."

"You find it interesting?" McCoy sputtered.

"Disturbing then, Doctor. You may be aware that I have never, at any time, physically disciplined my son."

McCoy absorbed that. "Sarek, how can you take him away from me when he's linked to me. Won't that be painful for him."

"Probably far less than being with you, Doctor." Sarek said, dryly, and then at McCoy's scowl, held up a placating hand. "The link with you will have to be broken. As you are psi-null, it will have little effect on you. However, it is traumatic for a child to have a parental link severed."

"Spock's not a child, Sarek."

"In this case, he is, Doctor. As I said, it will be extremely traumatic. In spite of your obvious flaws in administering the link, Spock appears to have a deep affection for you."

McCoy drew breath at that, but stopped, not sure if he wanted to protest or not. "I admit I don't know much about it. There's not much in the literature. And Spock didn't like discussing it. He did tell me about anger, but, well, I was so angry at you, I forgot."

"I saw that you removed contact with him when you became aware of your anger. That helped, but nothing could eliminate it's effects except a control which you have had no opportunity to learn, and as a psi-null, probably could not master."

"I did the best I could."

"Do not denigrate yourself, Doctor. You did very well, untrained as you are, to bring Spock alive and sane through this period. You may not be aware of the usual fate of unshielded children."

"I didn't know, at first. It hasn't been that long since I found out what was wrong with him, and made him establish the bond."

Sarek frowned again. "You made him establish a bond? Spock did not explain the need to you?"

"He hid it for weeks, Sarek. I only found out about it because his physical condition continued to deteriorate for no clear reason. I read about it in an obscure Starfleet log reference, something about stranded Vulcan children."

"I remember the incident."

"Even when I confronted him with it, he didn't want any part of it. I had to practically force him to establish the bond."

"He was reluctant?" Sarek sounded incredulous, then frowned. "No doubt he regretted the...indignity of being required, as a virtual adult, to accept extraneous control?"

"He was terrified, Sarek. He was in tears when I made him establish the link. I didn't see any other possibility, if he wanted to stay with me, but that was his choice. I offered to take him to Vulcan, or to you, or even just notify Starfleet. He wanted to stay with me. But he was even afraid of me, for a while. He's had recurrent nightmares since I brought him here. You were always the star of them, but after the link was established he seemed to think I was going to turn into you. It took a while before he finally decided I could be trusted."

"This will then be doubly difficult. I had no idea Spock was afraid of the link as well."

"Why shouldn't he be? That's how you control him, isn't it?"

"Doctor, a link is meant to be an assurance for a child. As I said, even had I chosen to strike Spock, he would not have felt it, had he been in a proper parental link, provided the parent chose to protect him. It provides protection from pain under certain circumstances, telepathic shielding, physiological control, affection without the need for touch--"

"And discipline."

"That too. I will not deny I was extremely strict with my son, and I must deal with that. But for him to resist the link as well as deal with its transference, in addition to his fear for me..."

Sarek was silent for so long, McCoy became uneasy. "Are you saying you won't be able to establish a link with Spock? I can still keep him?"

"That will not suffice, Doctor, as you well know. In cases such as these, normally the first bond is broken, and a for a period, usually less than a day, certainly no more than two, the child is left without a bond. Generally, the child at that point is desperate for a link, and accepts the new partner gratefully, rather than with resentment."

"It sounds cruel."

"So is setting a bone, doctor, or punishing a child, at the time that it occurs. But in the long run, the child benefits."

"And Spock?"

"If he has subsisted for months without a bond, is sincerely attached to you, and fearful of both myself and the bond, he will undoubtedly have a difficult transition. He may well resist the establishment of the parental bond for a considerable period. Eventually, he will be forced to capitulate, but whatever you may think of me, Doctor, I have no desire to see my son suffer to that point."

"I'll help however I can."

"You can not be with him, Doctor. If you were, even with the link broken, Spock would take protection from your shields, as he did before you were linked. No, only I can be with him. Perhaps, Spock will concede the necessity intellectually, and cooperate to some extent." Sarek looked weary. "Before this is over, he may well have more reasons, perhaps well justified, to fear me."

"There must be another way."

Sarek met his eyes evenly. "There is not. I appreciate your concern, Doctor. You have been a true friend to my son, even though your actions were misguided, you responded to the best of your abilities. I will not forget it. When Spock's parental link is well-established, I hope you will visit."

"Of course."

"And now I must take him. He will no doubt find it easier not to be forced to take leave of you."

McCoy carried Spock downstairs. Watched helplessly as Sarek bundled him into an aircar. "Take care of him," he said, hoarsely.

"Goodbye, Doctor."

McCoy watched the aircar fade until it was only a speck in the night and then nothingness. He stood uncertainly in the garden, wondering what to do now, alone again. His whole purpose in being in Georgia had been to heal Spock, shield Spock, help him as best he could. Which, in spite of what Sarek had said, probably had not been much. He was no Vulcan, not even the slightest of telepaths, and he had never been much of a parent. And on the balance sheet of friendship, Jim would definitely have some negatives drawn, and as for Spock, well, far from protecting him from Sarek, he had delivered him, helpless, straight into the Vulcan's arms. He might have done Spock far more harm than good It was time to reevaluate his life. The Enterprise held no attraction for him. His life here now seemed empty and barren. But he couldn't just walk away. Sarek may have been sincere about letting him check on Spock, but McCoy didn't care if he was not. Leonard McCoy didn't give up on his patients that easily.

To be continued in part 3

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