ch 16

The next four years are something of a blur. Of course, nothing ever stays stationary in Serek's line of work – he goes where he is needed. He keeps his accommodations at Starbase 1, but his travels take him everywhere Earth and Vulcan may have a conflict – and everywhere he might help the humans avoid diplomatic disaster. In that respect, they travel frequently. Occasionally they return to Vulcan in between trips to settle matters there. More often, they return to the starbase and Ian and Leonard McCoy.

His sons learn and grow. Spock is a natural diplomat. Serek would be completely proud of that if he wasn't so certain it stems from Spock's childhood fear of adults. He has lost some of that fear as he approaches 16 years, perhaps because now he has learned to interact. He can see their reactions and direct them as he wishes.

Jim prefers to let Spock take the lead. He hangs back and watches, only stepping in when Spock asks it of him. He is also quicker than Spock to pass judgment, and rarely is he wrong. Spock seeks his advice so often that sometimes Serek wonders who is actually leading who. Together they play people like chess, and it amuses Serek how often his fellow diplomats underestimate his reticent children. After all, they weren't there for the thermite experiment.

Amanda still can't figure out if that was an astounding failure or an alarming success. Serek just thinks it's proof that one should never leave the two unsupervised and bored in a laboratory. He hasn't made that mistake again.

They boys have just turned 16 when they tell Serek of their plans. It's Jim who speaks first while they eat breakfast at their home on Vulcan.

"We will be joining Starfleet." he says quietly.

Serek pauses, spoon halfway to his mouth. He sets down the utensil and gives his entire attention to the conversation. "You have already decided this?"

"Yes, A'nirih." Spock assures him. "Starfleet accepts cadets as young as sixteen, with parental consent. They are required to go through the entire four years."

Amanda nods. "It makes sense." she agrees. "Normally it would be custom for you to attend the VSA, but all things considered – " she shakes her head. "That wouldn't be good for you."

Serek leans back in his chair and considers. Most fathers have aspirations for their children. His only hope has been that they make it to adulthood reasonably unscathed, and the entire universe has seemed determined to mess that up. Forcing them to attend the Vulcan Science Academy – well, he has no doubt they would make the grades, but they wouldn't be happy. They wouldn't be safe, and he needs to know his children are safe.

Instead of everything he could say, he simply nods and picks his spoon back up. "When does the new semester start?" he asks.

Exchanging a brief look with Jim, Spock says, "In six months."

"Then we must prepare you."

/-/

Six months passes quickly. Jim and Spock soon find themselves at Starbase 1, saying their good-byes to their parents and boarding the shuttle. They stick close to each other, hands brushing occasionally as they find their seat. Jim glances at Spock. Chris said he would need to speak with me when we arrive. he says.

Spock nods. I find myself curious as to why.

Well, when I find out, I'll let you know. Jim replies. They're the first ones on the shuttle, and for a brief moment they have the entire thing to themselves. He reaches out and wraps his fingers around Spock's wrist. A small smile quirks his brother's lips. The contact makes their bond flare stronger, and he knows Jim is anxious about Pike's news, whatever it may be. He nudges him gently with his mind.

Joining Starfleet was supposed to be the logical choice, but I find myself excited nonetheless. he says, seeking to draw his brother's mind from his anxiety.

Jim flashes him a brief but brilliant smile. It's space, Spock. We've been exploring with A'nirih and Ko-mekh, but we've never decided on our own where to go. It's gonna be great.

Spock nods. Yes, it is.

More future cadets enter the shuttle. Jim lets go of his wrist and assumes the blank façade they've been taught. Even so, Spock can feel him vibrating with excitement. It keeps a smile in his eyes even as they find themselves crowded by other species, all vying for the best seats.

The seats are divided by an aisle, with three on each side. Eventually, someone is going to sit in the seat next to Spock (Jim insisted on taking the window seat). Spock is not looking forward to having a stranger so close to him, but he will tolerate it. Having Jim physically beside him will help.

It takes a while, but someone finally falls into the seat next to him. "Took me long enough to figure out which damn shuttle you were in." a familiar, gruff voice says, and Spock and Jim automatically turn to face Leonard McCoy. Jim brightens considerably. Spock offers a human smile.

"I was not aware you would be joining Starfleet." Spock says.

McCoy huffs. "Yeah, well, Dad told me that's what you two idiots were doing, and I knew I couldn't just let you guys wander off into space alone. I said I was gonna look after you, and I meant it."

Jim shakes his head. "We are sixteen, you know." he points out. "We are perfectly capable of taking care of ourselves."

McCoy gives him a look. "Jim, you haven't eaten anything that wasn't Vulcan since you were adopted. I know for a fact that Starfleet replicators don't carry Vulcan dishes – vegetarian, yes, Vulcan no. Would you care to hazard a guess as to how many Terran dishes you're allergic to?"

Jim meets his gaze unflinchingly. "Not particularly."

"I didn't think so. There needs to be a medic around who not only knows that you're allergic to standard N13-S, but how your allergies will affect Spock. You need someone who knows both of you." He leans back in his seat and closes his eyes. "Besides, I'll be damned if I let you two have all the fun."

That makes Jim actually laugh. This is gonna be great. he tells Spock. Spock merely arches an eyebrow.

I find I agree.

The shuttle ride only takes three hours. Starbase 1 is remarkably close to Earth. Jim watches the planet get bigger and bigger as they head for the atmosphere. "You have been on the planet, Bones?" he asks. McCoy nods. Jim turns his gaze to him. "What is it like?"

"Depends on where you land." McCoy answers. "Considering where we're gonna be – it's gonna be chilly and wet. San Francisco isn't well known for its welcoming weather." Spock and Jim exchange looks. Spock arches an eyebrow. McCoy laughs. "Come on. The cadet uniforms are warm enough – so I'm told, anyway. I didn't grow up on a desert planet."

"Hey Len!" A new man joins them. He's probably a few years older than McCoy with short-cropped rust hair, green eyes, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of his nose. He leans against the back of the chair in front of McCoy and smiles at him. "Whatcha doing sitting back here? All the fun people are up front."

McCoy just sighs. "You told me that a thousand times, Blake." he says patiently. "And I told you I was gonna sit in the back. Which is what I did."

"You didn't tell me you were gonna sit back here with the freaks." Blake says, casting Spock and Jim a dismissive glance. "If I had known that, I would have rescued you earlier."

"We are entering the atmosphere." Spock says quietly. "Perhaps it would be prudent of you to return to your seat."

Blake glances out the window. "Crap, the computer is right. Catch ya later, Len." He waves to McCoy and walks off, still not sparing a second glance for McCoy's companions. McCoy groans.

"I would apologize for him, but that implies he's my friend, and he's not. I don't care what he believes." he says darkly.

Jim offers a small smile. "Do not worry about it." he says. "It is not your fault." Spock nods in agreement.

The shuttle sinks down into the atmosphere. Towards Earth and Starfleet.