"Jim, I fail to see the logic behind purchasing this beast."
Spock was looking down at a clownish, four-legged creature that alternated prancing, jumping, and running wildly in circles, with cautiously sniffing at his boots, and the knees of his trousers, and . . .
"Stop that, Arthur. Be polite! Sorry Spock. It's just the way dogs say 'hello,' but I try to discourage him from sticking his nose into every new person's crotch. Anyway . . . It is logical. I'm absolutely one hundred percent retired now. I won't try to give you the 'I have no friends' sob story, because I do. But I'm living alone. Bones and you are the only two people I'd ever even think of asking to live with me. And I know Bones wants to be near Joanna and the grandkids. By the way, we're going to get to call him 'Great Grandpa,' soon, you know!"
"Yes. I guess you don't hear too much about the extended McCoy family goings on. Well, Patrick Riley — you couldn't have forgotten Kevin Riley. That's his kid . . . second, maybe? I can't remember . . . Anyway, he married Joanna's oldest daughter, Becca. You remember her, right? That was a year or two ago. I can't believe no one told you! I guess Bones thought I told you, and I certainly assumed he told you. Anyway, she's due in two months. Hopefully you'll still be here when the baby's born, and we can call him together!
"But getting back to Arthur: Bones is in Georgia, and even though I can count on you to stay with me if you are off duty and on Earth, that doesn't happen enough. Arthur is almost three and you haven't met him — three years, Spock! So, I got a dog — man's best friend!"
"I always believed that friendship implied a certain degree of intellectual and emotional companionship that no canine could give."
"It's only an expression, so you don't have to be jealous. But dogs do provide an odd sort of emotional companionship, when it comes down to it. Arthur can cheer me up when he's cheery, but if I'm tired, or sad, he will sometimes just come and sit by me. I have no idea what's actually going on between those floppy ears, but at least it seems like he's sympathizing. Just the fact that he's incredibly excited to see me whenever I walk in the door is a huge plus. I don't know if I would be able to explain to you how happy a happy dog can make us humans. You should know it's not just illogical me. A lot of humans feel that way."
"I see." Spock looked at the dog, which had flopped down on the ground, with its pink tongue lolling out. He didn't really.
Jim was crouched next to the dog, rubbing its ears and speaking nonsense. Spock tried to think of a way to divert Jim's attention from the creature, without sounding too obvious. "What breed is it?"
"Ah, well . . ." and as Jim stood up, he cleared his throat and his ears turned red. "It's called a 'labradoodle.'"
Spock raised one eyebrow.
"It's a funny name, but it's a breed that's been around for several centuries now. It is a cross between a poodle and a black lab. I'm allergic to dogs, you know, and I'd rather not be on medication all the time, so I got a hypoallergenic dog. It's great."
Spock thought privately that the simplest solution might have been not to get a dog at all. Apparently the thought was no so private that Jim could not read it in his face, since he said, "I know, Spock, I know. You'll just have to trust me on this one — the dog is a good idea. Who knows? You might even grow to like him over the next few months. Won't he, Arthur? Mr. Spock won't be able to help liking you, will he boy, huh?"
Spock could not really be irritated when his erstwhile captain started talking in a high-pitched voice to his pet. It was very entertaining. He still couldn't see what was attractive about a creature that looked like a cross between a gangly teenager with four legs and a black dust mop. He could see plainly, though, that Jim really did derive pleasure from watching the creature as it lollopped toward the house and then dashed back when it realized they were not right behind it, so he was willing to bear with it for a time.
Over the next few weeks, Spock grew more interested in the dog, though one could hardly say that he was fond of it. He noticed that it never left Jim's side for anything. If Jim was sitting and reading, the dog might come and put its head in his lap, and he would scratch its ears without looking away from the page. The dog accompanied them on long walks, but Jim laughed when Spock wondered if it was wise to take him out into the wild. "Arthur won't even go into another room to get a drink of water without me, Spock. He's not going to run away."
The behavior Spock had the most trouble comprehending was a game that Jim called "fetch." Jim would throw a ball or a stick as far as he could, the dog would bring it back, covered in saliva, dirt, and other more unsanitary things, and then Jim would throw it again. The dog continually brought these repellant projectiles to Spock, and Spock continually refused to touch them, as the game seemed to be an exercise in futility, not to mention a health hazard. The dog never gave up, even though every time he came and dropped the ball at his feet, Spock said, "take the ball to Jim."
Whenever this happened, Jim would grin, and Spock would recall Jim as he first knew him — as the young captain of the Enterprise. He remembered Jim's stubbornness in everything — a stubbornness that won him their friendship. He shoved chess games at Spock the way this hyperactive canine shoved the ball towards him, determined to make them friends.
"I am beginning to see why you enjoy this creature. It is like you in many ways, Jim."
"You're comparing me to a dog?"
"In your tenacity, your illogical cheerfulness, and your enjoyment of simple things, yes."
Jim laughed brightly. "Well, they say a dog grows to be like its owner, so I'll take that as a compliment to my dog, and not an insult to me."
"It should only be a few weeks, Spock — just a quick ceremonial thing. You don't mind watching Arthur for me until I get back, right? You don't have any Starfleet business to attend to for two months, and I'll certainly be back by the time you have to go."
Jim had just agreed to be a passenger on the maiden voyage of the Enterprise-B. Spock looked dubiously at the dog stretched out on the floor, perfectly still, but following him with its eyes. It was unnerving. Still, Spock had kept his captain alive through countless missions. Surely he could keep his captain's equally rambunctious and devious, but at least less intelligent, pet in line for three weeks.
"I wish I didn't have to go while you were here, but it will give you time to brush up on your chess skills! I think I've been beating you because I have nothing better to do but practice now that I'm retired," Jim grinned.
"Perhaps it is because you intentionally allow Arthur to lick my hands and try to climb into my lap while we play."
Jim laughed loudly. "Perhaps. Well, whether it's the game or the dog, you'll get the practice you need while I'm gone. I fully expect to be beaten when I get back."
"I cannot guarantee it, but the probability that I will win if undistracted is 79.4397% at the moment, and should rise to 94.83729% in the next few weeks."
Jim laughed again.
Spock never did beat Jim at chess. As he sat on a chair in Jim's darkening living room and stared at the board on a table in the corner, with the result of their last game still on it — his black king knocked over, and the white rook Jim had used to checkmate him standing proudly over it — he felt numb. He was not exercising Vulcan control over his emotions; he was reeling from shock and hurt to such a degree that he had no emotions to control. Someone from Starfleet had just called him personally to tell him about the incident at the Nexus — about Jim's death.
He had always known he would live much longer than all his friends from the early Starfleet days, Jim included. He was Vulcan, and Jim was human, and he would suffer the loss of his best friend to old age. When Jim retired, the logical part of his brain told him Jim was admitting to himself and to others that he was getting closer to the end of his short human life. That was one reason Spock decided to spend all of his time on shore with Jim, even though he might have visited his father on Vulcan in the several months before his next deployment. He had begun to prepare himself to lose the man whom he had called his closest friend. He knew that no amount of preparation would neutralize the loss, but he had thought to protect himself with a well constructed suit of Vulcan logic. He had not constructed it yet because Jim was still hale — because he never thought that after Jim survived so many dangerous missions as a crewman, and then as a captain, and even, for a time, as an admiral, he would die on a ceremonial voyage. And now Spock was left sitting on a sofa in Jim's living room, holding himself perfectly still and straight, dazed by the news that had hit him like a physical blow.
He did not know how long he was sitting there, but he thought it couldn't have been more than five minutes, before he felt something wet and cold brush one of his hands as something warm and heavy dropped onto his lap. It was Arthur, staring mournfully at him. Spock had not actually petted the dog before, but suddenly, he wanted to. He gently brushed his fingers over the shaggy black head, then slowly rubbed the floppy ears. The dog just jumped up onto the couch next to him and settled his head more firmly on his lap. Spock continued petting the creature, and scratching its head. He felt the tension draining out of his body, and then, despite the illogic of the situation, he began to talk.
He talked about many things — his friendship with Jim, how much it had meant to him, but how hard it was for him to admit it at first; his stories from their two five year missions on the Enterprise, as well as from later voyages. He told the dog many things he wouldn't tell anyone, even Jim, because they were too illogical — how he regretted the time he did not spend with Jim and his other human friends, like the time he spent trying to achieve kolihnar, the time he spent being dead (and if that was not illogical, what was?), and even the time he spent on missions with young cadets, teaching them. They were all inevitable, and as far as the teaching was concerned, he knew he wanted to do it — he should do it. But when he compared the human life span to the Vulcan one, he could not help but feel that every minute he spent away from his few close human friends was a minute wasted. And finally, he told Arthur that mournful secret that he had tried not to admit, not even to himself, for years: Part of him, some little part of him, had wished for his own death in the reactor room so many years ago to be the end, so he did not have to go through this. It was selfish, and he was ashamed that he had wanted to bequeath this pain to men whom he professed to care for, even to love — men who did not have his Vulcan ability to control their grief — instead of bearing it himself. And as he spoke these thoughts aloud for the first time while stroking the silky black ears, he realized there were tears sliding down his cheeks.
The dog did not get up and beg him to play, as he'd heard of some dogs doing when they sensed sorrow. He just lay there, looking up at him, as if he knew. The animal, he thought again, was strangely like Jim. That is what Jim would have done — just sat there and supported him, as he dealt with his grief, not judging him for either half of his personality, and certainly not judging him for his unusual decision to be human for a few moments.
He must have fallen asleep on the couch, because the next thing he knew, the sun was out, and he was feeling a bit stiff. (He still had many years left, but he was beginning to feel his age.) The warmth against the side of his leg was radiating from the dog, who had curled up in a ball next to him. When he stood up to stretch, the dog jumped off the couch and did as well. It looked up at him, and yawned, and then began prancing around in a way that Spock knew (both because Jim had told him, and because he had ignored it, to his chagrin, on the second day after Jim had left) meant it needed to be let out.
Spock opened the front door, and then stood on the porch watching the dog. Once it had done its business, it began to gambol around the yard, sniffing and exploring, as if it had never seen the outdoors before. The dog ran in circles for a few minutes, to drain off its excess energy, and suddenly it stopped and snuffed enthusiastically at something in the grass, its whole body quivering. Then it ran up to Spock and, dropping a large, slimy stick at his feet, it looked up at him with its tongue lolling out of the side of his mouth, and with what Jim called a "doggy smile" on its face, convinced that this time Spock would pick up the stick and throw it for him.
Spock looked down at the dog for a moment, and then he smiled. It was an honest smile, the like of which few people had seen on his face. He could not help smiling at that familiar enthusiastic friendliness, even if it was from Jim's dog, not Jim himself. He picked up the stick with the very tips of his fingers and threw it as far as he could. As he watched the dog galumphing after the stick, he realized he had decided to keep it. He would keep Arthur in memory of Jim. Spock was certain that a starship could be modified to house one dog, and it would be illogical for Starfleet to refuse this one concession to a man who had helped save Earth at least twice.