A Night to Remember

Leonard fiddled with his ring as he read the chart of his final patient of the day: a clean break of the fourth and fifth metatarsals, displaced but closed, easily mended. His own habit of playing with his ring would take much more time to fix. It wasn’t his usual wedding band but his grandfather’s class ring from Ole Miss which Leonard had worn this morning instead. He and Pamela had tried going to a counselor, but the sad fact was that neither of them wanted to stay together anymore. Their upcoming divorce hearing was a mere formality. Now every time Leonard unconsciously touched the ring – worn on the wrong finger due to his grandfather’s hands having been smaller – it reminded him of the Pam-shaped void in his life.

Still, he donned his “doctor mask” as he walked into the private examination room, hoping it exuded his usual professional confidence to allay any concerns the patient might have. He was met by bright eyes in a delicate face, slightly lined by age and perhaps from pain, but his first impression was of intelligence and good humor. The woman was flanked by two men – one, holding her hand, obviously her husband; the other, a much younger man, probably her son. Both of them looked far graver than the woman’s injuries warranted, but Leonard focused his attention on his patient.

“I’m Dr. McCoy and I’ll be fixing up your foot today, Mrs. Sarek. The pain has subsided by now, I hope?”

“Oh, yes – and please call me Amanda.”

The charming smile that accompanied the request made Leonard smile in return.

“Then please call me Leonard. It looks like you took a little tumble. Are you sure you didn’t injure anything else?”

“I don’t think so…. Nothing hurts, anyway.”

“Good. Then we’ll get started on this and have you out of here in no time.”

Leonard nodded to the nurse, who held an imager over the patient’s foot where it lay propped up on a pillow.

“Ow… that must have hurt,” he continued conversationally as he studied the overlapping edges of the bones.

“It was my new shoes,” Amanda said with a self-deprecating sigh. “I was trying to break them in before the ball tonight. I should have known the heels were too high.”

Leonard chuckled. “I don’t know how anyone can dance in heels at all! Just trying to remember the steps is hard enough.”

“Oh! Do you dance?” she asked.

“Not well,” he replied with a wry look as he prepared a hypospray. “My mother insisted on my taking lessons as a kid, but I’m afraid it was a waste of everyone’s time. This,” he added, indicating the hypo, “is to reduce the swelling.” He applied it a few centimeters away from the break, then watched its effect spread. “There, that’s better; now I can move your bones back into place. Nurse, please bring the imager a little closer…. Thanks.”

It took a significant amount of force to move the two halves of the fourth metatarsal to where they would align, what with the tendons constantly pulling on them and the residual swelling obstructing their movement. Leonard was about to ask the nurse to hold them in place while he used the bone regenerator, but he realized that the small Marcasian did not have the strength required. He glanced up at the younger man with the patient and did a double-take at his pointed ears.

Vulcan! Supposed to be three times stronger than Humans. He’ll do.

“I’m running out of hands,” was what he said aloud. “Can I have you apply pressure here to hold the bone in place?”

The Vulcan moved with alacrity and mimicked Leonard’s grip on one side. This freed Leonard to grab the regenerator from the tray and – after checking the imager to make sure that the bone was still correctly aligned – he passed the device over the break several times. The imager showed it growing more solid until it was as dense as the rest of the bone.

“There! Good as new. And the next one should be easier now that this one’s in place,” Leonard told Amanda, who smiled back serenely. However, Leonard felt more than heard a quick intake of breath from the young Vulcan. Turning back to the injured foot, he saw why: the Vulcan’s fingers had left distinct bruises on Amanda’s skin.

“Oh, don’t worry – we’ll fix that up along with the rest of the soft tissue damage,” he said, never letting his professional demeanor falter even though internally he was swearing, Damn! They really are that strong.

The fifth metatarsal, as promised, moved into place much easier. Leonard was about to ask the nurse to help this time but thought better of it – he didn’t want the young Vulcan to feel passed over because he had hurt the patient before. And really, even if he did bruise her again, it would be healed long before the local anesthetic wore off so it hardly mattered.

“If I can ask for your assistance again,” Leonard said, shooting a quick grin at the Vulcan. He might have imagined it, but it seemed as though some of the apprehension in the Vulcan’s eyes dissipated at the invitation. At any rate, he promptly placed his hand where it was needed and held the bone steady while Leonard ran the regenerator over it. This time there were no bruises when he removed his fingers.

“Perfect! Now we’ll just make sure that everything else is in place and you’ll be good to go – back to dancing,” Leonard commented as he adjusted the soft tissue regenerator.

“Yes, well… I think I shall have to wear more comfortable shoes,” Amanda said ruefully.

“It would be illogical to continue wearing what has been proven to be dangerous,” said the older man – also a Vulcan, Leonard noticed – speaking for the first time.

“Illogical, maybe… but they were so pretty,” Amanda declared with a sigh.

“Can the heels be adjusted so they’re a bit lower?” Leonard asked, not looking up from repairing her capillaries.

“Oh! That’s a splendid idea. Although I don’t think they would be ready for tonight….”

“Maybe not, but at least you won’t have to give them up.” Leonard smiled as he set aside his tools. “I’m sure you’ll have other opportunities to go dancing.”

“Yes, of course.” Amanda beamed at him.

“And now you should be able to do all the dancing you want,” he announced, extending an arm to her. She took it and sprang up, testing his handiwork.

“Oh! Thank you – I can’t even tell what happened!”

“That might be the anesthetic,” Leonard admitted. “It probably hasn’t worn off yet. But you shouldn’t have any trouble with it now. I hope you enjoy your evening.”

“Thank you. I’m sure I will.”

Leonard nodded with satisfaction and was about to take his leave when Amanda halted him, still holding on to his white tunic sleeve.

“Dr. McCoy… may I ask you a personal question?”

“Uh… of course,” he replied, unsure what might follow.

Amanda hesitated, then glanced at her son, and a sly smile crept across her lips. “I was just wondering… are you single?”

“Single?” he echoed. He gaped for a second, then gathered himself enough to answer, “Yes… uh… I’m single… at the moment.”

“So handsome and yet… unattached?” Amanda said with wonder and delight. “Well, now… I realize this is very forward of me, but… do you have any plans for this evening?”

“Ah… no… no plans per se… just thought I would… catch up on some reading,” Leonard responded, his mind spinning. Oh, God – she wants to set me up with somebody! It had been a long time since one of his patients had tried, no doubt owing to the wedding band he’d been wearing, but of course he had left it at home today. Suddenly the look Amanda had given the younger Vulcan took on new meaning. Dear God, does she mean her son? Leonard had no qualms about dating other men, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about dating anyone at this point – it had only been six weeks since he’d moved out of the house he had shared with Pam.

“Well, you see,” Amanda began in a conspiratorial tone, her lips curving, “my son Spock has been here on Earth for over five years now, and he still hasn’t met anyone special, so I was hoping—”

“Mother,” the young man interrupted, “as I have explained before, my priority is to establish my career with Starfleet before attempting to find a consort. I am perfectly capable of selecting one for myself—”

“But Spock, it is traditionally the responsibility of Vulcan parents to find mates for their children, is it not?” Amanda asked, her eyes sparkling with mischief. “I admit our first choice for you didn’t work out, but of course we hadn’t expected you to choose Starfleet instead of the Science Academy. Isn’t it logical, then, that we should try to find another, more suitable candidate?”

Spock stared at his mother, mouth agape, apparently at a loss for words.

The older Vulcan nodded and said, “It is logical… although your methods, my wife, are somewhat… unorthodox.”

This family exchange gave Leonard a chance to process what was happening.

Okay, so Vulcan parents choose their children’s spouses, like arranged marriages? So is this more than just a date that she’s talking about? In which case, my God, of course the poor guy doesn’t wanna be stuck with me!

However, when Leonard looked at Spock, he noticed a green tinge spreading through the Vulcan’s cheeks and ears, as well as his frozen, horrified, deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression.

Wait, I thought Vulcans didn’t have any emotions? …Oh, duh! He’s part Human – so of course he’s embarrassed as all get-out to have his mom try to get him a date!

Hoping to extend a lifeline to Spock, Leonard demurred, “Well, Ma’am, I’m extremely flattered that you would even consider me for your son – who I’m sure has an illustrious career ahead of him in Starfleet – but if he’s been here on Earth for so long, maybe he would rather choose his own, uh, candidates? I mean, he doesn’t know me from Adam; you all just met me only a few minutes ago.”

“Oh, I think we can deduce enough about you to make an informed decision,” Amanda insisted, her eyes still twinkling. “You’re a doctor, so you must want to help people; you’re obviously very good at your job, efficient and intelligent; your mother raised you to dance and be a perfect gentleman; and you’re very thoughtful and kind. You asked Spock to help the second time to spare his feelings, didn’t you?”

“Uh, I… uh…” Leonard sputtered, his face grown hot from the unbridled praise.

“I saw how you almost asked Nurse Karvor, but you asked Spock instead. Most people would assume, because he’s part Vulcan, that he has no feelings to hurt – but you didn’t.”

“Well, he’s your son, so he’s half Human, isn’t he?” Leonard pointed out. “Plus when he’s standing right there, looking more nervous than a long-tailed cat in a room full of rockin’ chairs….”

“You can tell that he’s nervous?” Amanda exclaimed. “Most Humans can’t even see past his ears! Oh, Spock, I do wish you’d at least try,” she said, turning to him next. “He’s such a nice man! And there is so much more to learn in life than what your scientific instruments can show you.”

“Mother, I have exposed myself to all of the various culturally significant items you have recommended – in Terran music, art, and literature, to begin with,” Spock protested. “However, I fail to see how cultivating an interpersonal relationship at this juncture is necessary or logical.”

“Logic, logic, logic!” she cried in exasperation. “You have studied at the best school on Earth, but what have you learned of the Human heart? What have you experienced of it? Even now, all you can think of is how it would affect you, with no thought as to how your words might be affecting Dr. McCoy, who has been so considerate of you – of all of us – from the moment he stepped into this room. I just wish you could learn something of his compassion!

Spock flushed a bright green at that and, even to Leonard’s untrained eye, seemed abashed.

“I… do apologize, Doctor,” Spock said stiffly. “If I seem hesitant to accept my mother’s suggestion, please be assured that it in no way reflects upon you personally. However, I would be loath to impose upon your time and goodwill, considering how sudden a request it is—”

“It’s only one evening, Spock,” Amanda put in, rolling her eyes. “You can ask people out on a date, even on short notice, if the opportunity presents itself. And I’m sure if it would be an imposition, Dr. McCoy is honest enough to say so.”

“Ah… well, yes, of course,” Leonard stammered. “That is, I would have told you if I actually had plans.”

“Then – since my son seems incapable of identifying a good catch when he sees one – may I ask you to join us at the inaugural ball of the Vulcan Cultural Museum?”

“Oh, is that what it is? That sounds… fascinating,” Leonard hedged, not yet sure whether he should accept the invitation. If Spock were not onboard with the idea, he certainly didn’t want to be the one imposing.

“Did you hear that, Spock?” Amanda demanded in a mock whisper. “He even used your favorite word!”

“Uh… I did?” Leonard whispered back at her.

“Yes – his favorite word is ‘fascinating’!”

“Ah! Well, that’s a… funny coincidence,” Leonard said with a hesitant smile, “but I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your graciousness to foist myself onto your son – even if it is for only one evening.”

“Doctor, I…” Spock began, swallowed, then started anew. “I did not mean to imply in any way that your presence would be unwelcome. Far from it, I would be honored to make your acquaintance in a more… conducive setting.”

“You would?” Leonard responded, unable to keep the skepticism out of his tone.

“Indubitably,” Spock assured him. “I am not acquainted with any of the other attendees – in fact, I have only been invited per protocol since I am visiting my parents – so I would be delighted to have your company.”

“Oh… uh…” Leonard mumbled, feeling almost a sense of whiplash at how suddenly charming (or as close to charming as a Vulcan could get, he supposed) Spock had become. At least his mama taught him well, Leonard had to acknowledge.

“Do say yes,” Amanda urged from where she was still latched on to Leonard’s elbow. “I’m afraid all work and no play has had its effect on my son, but at the very least there will be a splendid dinner – both Vulcan and Terran – and wines from across the galaxy. And music. And dancing.”

“Well,” Leonard said, realizing that it was futile to resist her expectant look, “how could I possibly refuse? It sounds amazing.”

“Oh, wonderful!” Amanda cried, clapping her hands together.

“What time does it start?” he asked with a glance at the clock. He knew that any swanky party – a ball, no less – would be black tie at least, possibly even white tie, and he would need to shower and put together an appropriate outfit.

“Cocktails will be served from seven, dinner is at eight,” Amanda informed him.

“Then I will look forward to seeing you there,” Leonard replied, taking her hand and bowing to place a formal kiss on it.

“Doctor, it would be my pleasure to provide your transportation,” Spock offered.

“Oh, there’s no need for that….”

“Please, I insist. I believe it is customary on Earth for the requester to do so.”

Can’t blame him for not trying, Leonard thought as he gave Spock his apartment address and agreed to meet him in the lobby at a quarter to seven.

***

There’s no reason to be nervous, Leonard reminded himself as he descended to the lobby and straightened his tie by the reflection in the silver doors of the lift. It’s just dinner and dancing – as a plus one to a formal event – not a real date. Still, he had left his apartment almost ten minutes early, just in case. Having checked the dress code for the ball, he was relieved to find that it was only black tie; he thanked his lucky stars that he’d invested in a tux when the hospital had started making him attend formal dinners. He knew damn well that he’d been singled out for the role of palm-presser because of his looks, not necessarily his skill as a surgeon, but at least it now gave him the confidence of knowing that he cut a fine figure. He strode out of the lift at the ground level, wondering whether to wait for Spock sitting down in one of the chairs or standing up.

Doctor McHottie!

The loud cry made him jump. Bethany, his neighbor on the fourteenth floor, was openly ogling him as she drew near. She had given him that nickname the day he had moved in and introduced himself. Now he feared it would stick to him for good, at least among the inhabitants of the building, since several of them were in the lobby and had heard her cry.

“You look… well, for lack of a better word, fabulous,” she declared.

“Thanks. I’m going to a function,” he explained unnecessarily.

“Oh, yeah, must be posh – being a doctor and all,” she teased. “But do you have a pretty girl to hang on your arm and tell you all night how handsome you are?”

Leonard could not help the slight blush that heated his cheeks. “I don’t need anybody to stroke my ego – it’s healthy enough, thank you very much. But I do have a date… albeit a somewhat reluctant one.”

“‘Reluctant’?” she echoed. “How could anyone be reluctant to go out with this paragon of hotness?”

“You’re too kind. Maybe he’ll change his mind when he sees me.”

‘He’? You’re dipping into the other pool?”

“Why not? You know my batting average with women,” Leonard countered. “Maybe it’s time to try a new tack. Anyhow, he’s pretty hot himself – see for yourself.”

Leonard nodded his head toward the front windows, through which Spock could be seen approaching the entrance, wearing black robes with silver embroidery down the center. More than five minutes early, he noted.

Bethany turned and let out a low “Whoa!” of appreciation. “He’s cute, all right… but what’s with his hair?”

“He’s Vulcan – they all wear it like that,” Leonard replied. “Must be logical or something. Excuse me.”

Leonard left her to meet Spock at the doors, although Spock reached them a few seconds sooner and entered the lobby. He seemed faintly disconcerted to see Leonard already there, since the windows were tinted to be opaque from the outside, but he recovered quickly and proffered a small box.

“Dr. McCoy… your attire accentuates your physique well. Although it needs no additional adornment, my mother informed me that it is customary to present one’s date with flowers of some kind.”

“Spock, that’s… very kind of you,” Leonard said, studying the tiny arrangement. “Is that a Vulcan plant? I don’t recognize it.”

“Yes. It is called the tal-panoka when in bloom. I arranged it in the form of a Terran boutonniere. However, if you do not wish to wear it, please do not hesitate to say so – you will not offend me in the least.”

“Why wouldn’t I? It’s… fascinating,” Leonard replied with a wicked quirk of his lips. He thought he might have even caught a ghost of a smile twitching Spock’s as well.

“In that case, please allow me to attach it for you.”

When Spock stepped closer to do so, Leonard noticed that Bethany was recording them with her comm unit. She winked when she saw his warning glare.

“Aww, you two are too cute! Just like high-school sweethearts going to prom. C’mon, pose for the camera – you’re gonna wanna show these to your grandkids someday.”

“I beg your pardon?” Spock said, one eyebrow rising in astonishment.

“Please ignore her,” Leonard said with a sigh, placing a hand on Spock’s elbow to lead him away.

“What? I’m trying to capture this moment for posterity!” Bethany protested, continuing to record them. “I just know you two are gonna hit it off – I have a sense for these things!”

Brow still upraised askance, Spock turned and walked outside with Leonard.

“Sorry, she’s my neighbor… and a really nosy one at that,” Leonard explained.

“There is no need to apologize,” Spock responded as he touched the panel of his hover-car to open the door for Leonard. “Although I do find it curious that both my mother and your neighbor believe that we are… well-suited for each other.”

“Woman’s intuition?” Leonard remarked, unconsciously raising his own brow to mirror Spock’s. “Not sure I put much stock in that….”

“While I would agree that the scientific evidence for such nebulous claims is lacking,” Spock replied as he got in next to Leonard and directed the vehicle to continue to the museum, “I have observed that my mother, at least, seems to draw her conclusions from subtle clues she has gathered. Although she may not be able to specify what exactly led her to feel a certain way, in many cases her intuition, as it were, has proven to be correct.”

Leonard did not try to stop the warm smile that softened his features as he realized, Spock really admires and loves his mom, in his own way. Aloud, all he said was, “I guess we’ll just have to find out. Your outfit is stunning, by the way; what do those symbols mean?”

***

The newly built Vulcan Cultural Museum was a gleaming structure of glass and intricate geometric pillars, which Spock explained was based on kal-toh, a Vulcan game of order and spatial symmetry. Once inside and registered with the attendant, Spock led Leonard to the arboretum.

“Wow… this is beautiful,” Leonard said, tilting his head back to look at the high glass ceiling and the vine plants creeping up the pillars. The westering sun was beginning to cast a golden glow on everything.

“The kal-toh inspired design of this building is naturally conducive to a greenhouse. Our botanists have found that some Vulcan plants, which are diminutive in size in their native habitat, will grow much larger here on Earth. The spectrum of radiation blocked by the atmosphere is different enough to affect their growth rate.”

“Fascinating,” Leonard said with a wry smile. “But then… does your mother have to be careful when she’s on Vulcan?”

“She does take precautions against excessive exposure, yes.” Perhaps it was Leonard’s imagination, but he thought Spock’s eyes looked warmer than usual.

“Do they go there often?”

“Since my father’s term as ambassador to Earth ended before I was born, my parents have lived on Vulcan, although they travel extensively for occasions like this.”

“Oh! So you grew up on Vulcan.”

Spock inclined his head, slowly leading Leonard through the maze-like arboretum. “I traveled with them when able – during what you would call school holidays – and came to Earth several times to visit our extended family on my mother’s side.”

“Did that help you decide to come to Starfleet?”

“Perhaps my familiarity with Earth helped to make the decision easier,” Spock admitted, “although I believe I would have chosen to do so regardless.”

“Really? Isn’t the Vulcan Science Academy much more prestigious?”

“Its academic standards are notably higher. However, I felt that the program at Starfleet offered unique opportunities that were not available anywhere else.”

“Ah! Very logical,” Leonard said, half teasing.

“Indeed. I also thought that, since I am half Human, it was fitting to receive part of my education here. On Vulcan, I stood apart as… if not entirely alien, as different. On Earth, particularly in Starfleet, I am merely one of many species, representing how the Federation itself is stronger when our discrete skills are combined.”

“‘Infinite diversity in infinite combinations,’” Leonard quoted as the proverbial light bulb went on in his head.

Spock halted his steps to turn a keen, appreciative look on Leonard. “Precisely.”

Leonard grinned back and made a small shrug. “That’s the only thing I know about Vulcan philosophy, I’m afraid. And I don’t even know much about Vulcan anatomy beyond the basics. Your people are… well, maybe not secretive, but certainly private.”

“I believe the Vulcan policy for disseminating information is on what you would call a ‘need-to-know basis,’” Spock explained. “There are certain… taboos… in our culture, which may seem unusual, even inexplicable, to off-worlders.”

“Well, I suppose the Human expression for that is, ‘to each his own.’ I’m sure we have a lot of customs that are downright confusing for non-Terrans.”

“Your assumption is correct,” Spock agreed. “I find it peculiar how almost all Terrans continue to celebrate the festival known as Christmas, even when they do not subscribe to the belief system from which it originated.”

Leonard laughed outright. “That’s because it’s Christmas! It isn’t even on the winter solstice anymore, and most people aren’t religious, but… it’s how it makes us feel, you know? Gathering with family, eating good food – some recipes have been handed down for generations – and exchanging not just gifts but stories, catching up on each other’s lives… and taking a break from everyday work. It’s a tradition that might not be logical… except when you realize that Humans are illogical beings and that feeling good is important for our health… just as important as eating and sleeping are.”

“I see… so it has distinct benefits for your emotional health.”

“Not just our emotional health,” Leonard said with a gentle smile, “half of yours, too.”

Spock’s lips parted as though he would say something, but for a moment, he remained silent, simply gazing at Leonard’s face. “Then, perhaps…” he began at last, taking a breath, “I should participate more in such activities… at the next opportunity.”

“Well, tonight seems like a perfect opportunity, don’t you think?” Leonard deliberately drawled.

“Ah… I was not aware….” Spock hesitated, then continued anew, “The inauguration of a museum can be considered a… tradition?”

Leonard’s chuckle was a low rumble. “Not usually… but anything can be turned into a personal tradition. The important thing is that you have fun.”

“Oh.” Spock’s expression shifted slightly as comprehension dawned on him. “I see… you are engaging in flirtation, are you not? Forgive me, I am unfamiliar with the complexities of Human courtship rituals–”

“No need to apologize, Spock.” Leonard couldn’t hide his amusement and didn’t try to. “I just want you to have a good time. Tell me, what helps you relax? When are you the most… yourself?

Spock considered this before answering, “Meditation allows my mind to become still, so perhaps I am the most relaxed then… however, the time I feel the most ‘myself’ is when I am playing my lute.”

“Really? You play music? I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t that a bit… illogical?”

“It may be a vestige of more primitive Vulcan history, when rampant emotionalism threatened to destroy our society; nevertheless, music is still an integral part of our culture. In fact there is a section here that displays various Vulcan instruments, if you are interested.”

“I am… and I would especially like to hear you play sometime.”

Leonard didn’t think it was a trick of his eyes that made Spock’s cheeks seem to turn a darker shade. “If you wish, I may be able to borrow one of the lutes on display.”

They walked without haste over to the musical section, with Spock pointing out some of the flora of interest as they passed by them. More guests were arriving and the attendants were beginning to walk through with trays of drinks, which Spock invited Leonard to take.

“Don’t you drink?” Leonard asked when he saw that Spock did not.

“Vulcan anatomy does not respond to alcohol in the way Humans’ do, so it would be an unnecessary waste.”

Leonard took a sip of the champagne and savored it appreciatively before venturing, “I’d like to ask you a personal question, Spock… but if it’s too personal or you’d rather not answer, please let me know.”

“Of course,” Spock responded, one eyebrow moving up askance.

“Inter-species hybrids are extremely rare… so I have to assume that when you were a kid, you were examined quite often by doctors and xenobiologists.”

“You are correct.”

“So… do you have an aversion to doctors?”

Spock squinted for a nanosecond, which Leonard did not miss. “Are you implying that my increased contact with medical professionals might have caused me to have an aversion to them?”

“Yeah, basically.”

“That would not be logical, since they were only performing their duties, working to ensure my health.”

“Not logical, maybe… but as a kid – a half-Human kid – didn’t it get tedious?”

Spock reflected before answering, “I do not recall any… negative impressions from those examinations. They were usually informative and, from what I can remember, brief.”

“Good.” Leonard let out a long breath. “I’m glad they treated you well.”

Spock observed him thoughtfully. “You were concerned… that I might harbor negative feelings toward you, because you share the same occupation.”

“Well, yeah. A lot of people don’t like doctors.”

“I can assure you, I have nothing but respect for members of your profession. It would also be illogical for me to attribute to you any characteristics displayed by other physicians.”

“Oh, come on, Spock,” Leonard said, stopping to face him. “Maybe because you grew up on Vulcan, you think more like a Vulcan, but you are half Human, after all. You must at least feel some emotions – like irritation or boredom – even if you don’t act on them.”

Spock returned Leonard’s frank gaze, blinking slowly. Then he nodded his head once as he answered, “I believe your assessment is correct…. There were times, particularly in my early childhood, when it was more difficult for me to control my emotions than for my Vulcan schoolmates.”

“That’s what I thought… and no wonder, really,” Leonard assured him. “Humans aren’t known for being logical, even at the best of times – more’s the pity! But can I ask you another personal question?”

“Of course.”

“It seems your Vulcan genes are much more dominant. Do you know what your genomic analysis results are? Like, what percentage of traits are Vulcan as opposed to Terran?”

“The most extensive study concluded that ninety-five point seven percent of my anatomical traits are Vulcan,” Spock replied. “Indeed, if this were not the case, I would have suffered severe malformations or incompatible organs that would have been extremely detrimental to my health.”

“Well, yeah… and I’m glad it worked out for you,” Leonard agreed. “And I do apologize for being so nosy. It’s just… I’ve never met anyone like you before.”

“There is no need to apologize,” Spock assured him before resuming their walk. “You are a doctor and a scientist – I would have been surprised if you had not indicated a professional interest in my case.”

“You would’ve been ‘surprised’?” Leonard returned, his lips quirking.

“I was merely using a Terran expression to convey an idea,” Spock said primly, causing Leonard to chuckle.

“It’s all right, Spock – I won’t tell,” he said in a mock whisper.

“To whom would you tell?” Spock queried, and Leonard thought he heard a distinct note of sarcasm in the Vulcan’s voice.

“Tell what?” he shot back with an exaggerated expression of innocence, then winked at him. He could have sworn that he saw a hint of amusement in Spock’s face, but just then they entered the music room.

Spock spoke to the Vulcan in charge of the area, who immediately gave him permission to play any of the instruments displayed. Spock selected a lute which he described as “unremarkable but serviceable” before sitting down on a bench seat to tune it. Leonard settled in beside him to watch with unfeigned curiosity.

“I will play for you a section from ‘Takal-Por,’ an epic poem set to music,” Spock said as he adjusted the strings. “It is the story of how a young Vulcan goes on a quest to find his family, having been separated from them as an infant. He returns successful from his quest to the house of the woman who had cared for him as her own son, but he finds that the once-familiar surroundings are no longer suitable for him, for he is now a man, not a child. In this song he expresses his gratitude to the woman while stating his regret that he must strike out on his own to fulfill his purpose in life.”

Leonard finished his flute of champagne and set it aside as Spock began playing the first notes. The haunting melody – if it could be called a melody, since it continually changed form while retaining its original character – echoed through the room and adjacent hallways, muted somewhat by the vegetation that had been coaxed to grow along the pillars. The high notes reverberated with the clarity of birdsong, anchored by the deep low notes that measured out the rhythm, and for a while Leonard watched, entranced, at how Spock’s slender fingers seemed to dance of their own accord over the strings. Then he closed his eyes so he could absorb the sound as the song grew more mournful, expressing the sorrow of parting in a tone that had little to do with logic.

The rustle of clothes and a few quiet footsteps made Leonard open his eyes again, and he was shocked to see how many people – mostly Vulcan – had slipped into the music room. More were lingering in the hallways. All were hushed, obviously listening with great respect to Spock’s performance.

It must be a favorite song of theirs, Leonard thought, feeling honored that Spock had chosen to play something so beloved in Vulcan culture for him. What had begun as a private performance was now a de facto concert, but Spock seemed so engrossed in the music that he did not even notice. Gradually the notes grew softer and slower, until there was only an achingly sweet chord hanging in the air, hushed when Spock laid his hand on the strings. A long, collective sigh swept through the chambers and then, to Leonard’s surprise, the Vulcans began to disperse as noiselessly as they had gathered.

“That was… beautiful, Spock,” Leonard told him with sincerity. “Thank you.”

“I am… glad that you enjoyed it,” Spock replied, seeming to come out of a trance-like state.

“Is it a popular song on Vulcan? A lot of people came by to listen.”

“It is not… particularly well-known,” Spock was saying when his parents approached them.

“Oh, Spock!” Amanda exclaimed with delight. “It’s so good to hear you play again!”

Leonard stood to greet her and Spock followed suit, calmly stating, “I have not ceased practicing since I came to Earth. I have found the discipline to be quite helpful in preparing my mind for meditation.”

“Yes, I’m sure it’s a most logical thing to do,” Amanda said, smiling with unquenchable pride. “And Dr. McCoy! You look so dashing tonight! Not that your hospital uniform wasn’t flattering, of course, but you do look especially handsome in this tux!”

“You’re too kind,” Leonard said, lifting her gloved hand to his lips with an unwontedly bashful smile. “And may I say, you are positively radiant in red. I trust your foot hasn’t been troubling you?”

“Good as new!” she beamed.

“It is almost time for the dinner to commence,” Sarek noted. “We should go to our table soon.”

Spock inclined his head in acknowledgement, then indicated the lute. “I must return this to the exhibit. Docent Tavil was most kind in allowing me to use it.”

Amanda latched on to Leonard’s arm and whispered conspiratorially, “I’m sure they would let Spock handle any of the instruments here – he was the youngest to ever win second place at the All-Vulcan Music Competition.”

“Really? All-Vulcan?” Leonard responded, jaw-droppingly impressed. “No wonder so many people came over to listen!”

“My Wife, it is not seemly to boast of such things,” Sarek said with an air of long-accustomed patience.

“That may be true on Vulcan,” she retorted, “but here on Earth, parents are expected to brag about their children’s accomplishments… or at least, we are excused for doing so.”

Leonard had to smile in agreement. He saw that Spock, returning to rejoin them, was a slightly darker shade of green, no doubt having heard his mother’s remarks in the acoustically designed chamber. From embarrassment or pleasure? Maybe both? Leonard wondered.

They walked directly to the dining hall where the other guests were still milling about, greeting their acquaintances. As a former ambassador, Spock’s father was seated with honor at a table near the front. Leonard pulled the chair out for Amanda and helped her get situated – a gesture which seemed to catch both her husband and son off-guard.

“Oh, it is so nice to be attended by a Southern gentleman,” she said with an approving pat on Leonard’s hand.

“I suppose Vulcan customs are quite different from ours,” Leonard offered graciously as he sat down next to her.

“Well, yes – of course they are. It’s just… nostalgic, I suppose, to come back to Earth and be reminded of one’s own culture.”

Leonard engaged Amanda in conversation during the first few courses of the meal, asking about her experiences on Vulcan. She had many amusing anecdotes – most of them stories of her own faux pas from when she had first started living on the alien planet. Some of them Spock had not heard before, so he listened with a mixture of amusement and horror faintly evident on his face (now that Leonard was getting better at reading his micro-expressions). Sarek contributed to the discussion only occasionally, but if he seemed somewhat aloof, Leonard chalked it up to his being a full-blooded Vulcan and a respected official as well.

When Amanda moved on to talk about the funny things Spock had done on his first visit to Earth, not knowing Terran customs, Sarek intervened.

“My Wife, it is illogical to humiliate our son in the presence of the one whom you have selected as his potential consort,” he interrupted, his face grim.

“Oh! Darling, you are impossible,” Amanda sighed. “First you tell me not to brag about Spock, and then you tell me not to talk about his silly mistakes!”

“Which, really, are quite understandable,” Leonard put in for Spock’s sake. “I would’ve made a lot more mistakes if I’d ever visited Vulcan as a child. In fact, I probably still would, even if I studied up on your culture. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about – just an opportunity to learn about our differences.”

Spock, who had been contemplating his plate with more than necessary intensity, looked up at Leonard. “However, it is true that I had not adequately studied Terran culture before that trip… an error I was careful not to repeat thereafter.”

Leonard smiled warmly, hoping to soothe any discomfort Spock might be feeling. “I’m sure you didn’t. You probably went home to Vulcan and studied for days after that, didn’t you?”

“Weeks, in fact,” Amanda confirmed.

Leonard chuckled and turned to her. “I can imagine! He must’ve been very studious and disciplined. Tell me, though… did he ever run and play like Human children? Even in secret?”

A mischievous smile lit up Amanda’s face as she divulged, “Well, he… he did have a pet sehlat that he was very fond of.”

“A… sehlat?” Leonard asked.

“It’s sort of a… fat teddy bear.”

Leonard could not repress his glee at the thought. “A teddy bear?

Sarek interjected, rather dourly, “My Wife, you are behaving in a contradictory manner. Do you wish to have the doctor as our son’s consort or not?”

“Oh, I do! Of course I do,” she protested. “And I think it will only help for him to see that Spock is just as Human as anybody else.”

“There is no need to insult our son,” Sarek said with – for a Vulcan – a definite scowl.

“I beg to differ, Ambassador,” Leonard put in, having heard enough. “What you may consider an insult to his… no doubt strict upbringing as a Vulcan, I find to be… endearing. Having kindness and compassion toward other life-forms is hardly a fault – in fact, I would say it’s one of the best qualities Humanity has to offer. And what your lovely wife is trying to do is completely logical for a Human: she’s showing me our commonalities so that we can relate better to each other.”

Sarek seemed taken aback – whether at what Leonard had said or at the sheer audacity of a Human disagreeing with him, Leonard could not tell for sure, but he decided to press his advantage and luck.

“Ambassador, isn’t one of the most revered Vulcan philosophies, ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’?”

“Yes… of course,” Sarek begrudgingly admitted.

“And here you have before you,” Leonard said, holding an open palm toward Spock as though presenting him, “the perfect example of the combination of our two cultures… singular, unique, and… exceptional. He’s the embodiment of the mutual cooperation and harmony that we’re all striving for, proof that we’re stronger and better together rather than apart. His musical talent alone speaks volumes! Since his DNA is ninety-five percent Vulcan, I’m sure he owes much of his talent to you and his Vulcan heritage; but I’ll wager anything that his five percent Human side is what helps him play so well. You can’t teach a computer to express emotion – only to mimic it – because it doesn’t understand feelings.” Noting that Spock was sitting absolutely still, his cheeks pale to the point of being almost white, Leonard decided to wrap up his comments. “What I’m trying to say, Sir, is that I wouldn’t change a single thing about him. He’s perfect, just the way he is – Human flaws and all. In fact, what you consider his flaws may someday prove to be his greatest strengths.”

Feeling his other hand being grasped, Leonard turned to find Amanda beaming at him.

“Oh, Dr. McCoy! I’m so glad that you see Spock that way. I’ve tried to tell him all his life that he doesn’t need to be one thing or the other – that he can be both – but it’s been a difficult road for him.”

“I’m quite certain, Ma’am, that he’s up to the challenge,” Leonard replied, toasting Spock with his wine before taking a drink.

“I am as well,” she agreed, turning her dazzling smile on her son.

They were interrupted by the dessert being brought out, so Leonard never heard what Sarek’s thoughts on the matter were, but since Spock looked relieved to have the focus removed from him, Leonard was just as happy to let the topic go. Instead he asked Amanda what sort of sweets were typically made on Vulcan, which kept them occupied until the end of the meal. Then there were the obligatory speeches, of course – one even referencing Sarek as having laid the groundwork for the museum during his stint as ambassador. Leonard was already accustomed to wearing an intelligent, alert expression while only half listening at meetings, so he allowed his thoughts to wander.

It’s too bad his father wants him to be completely Vulcan… although if he wanted only pure Vulcan children, he shouldn’t have married a Human woman! Of course, Amanda was probably hard to resist, even for an ol’ stick in the mud like him; she must’ve been gorgeous as a young woman! I just hope I didn’t cause too much trouble for Spock… I didn’t mean to spout off at his dad. Must’ve had too much wine…. Note to self: hold off on alcohol at functions like this, especially when you’ve been invited by people you barely know – and who don’t know about you or your big mouth. I’d better apologize to Spock later… although at least this is just a one-time thing. Not like I was actually going to be invited into the family to be his “consort” or anything.

The last thought left him feeling surprisingly wistful, even sad.

Huh. Well, he really is an interesting person… I wouldn’t mind getting to know him better, maybe teaching him stuff about his Human heritage that he might not know yet… but he’s only here for the weekend, visiting his folks for this function. By Monday he’ll be back at Starfleet in San Fran, and I’ll be back at the hospital – with at least a neat story to tell about my weekend, for a change. But then we’ll probably never see each other again… especially if he lands a job on a starship or starbase or something….

Leonard tried to shake off his disappointment by reminding himself that this was his first date in years, his first time venturing back into the market, as it were, of available singles, and on the whole it was… if not a resounding success, then at least not a total disaster. After another half hour of speeches that seemed to grow more bland and boring by the minute, they were finally done, and the wait staff moved the dining tables away to clear a space for dancing. The music began playing – a small orchestra with both Terran and Vulcan instruments, including lutes like the one Spock had played – and mixed with the low murmur of conversations.

“Doctor,” Spock said as they wandered off to the side, “I believe… my mother would be extremely disappointed if I did not engage you to dance.”

Leonard couldn’t help grinning. “I’m sure you’re right. Well, since I’m terribly out of practice, I can only consent if you’re willing to lead – and risk your toes getting stepped on a few times.”

“But of course,” Spock answered, cocking his head slightly. “And as my Vulcan anatomy is far less susceptible to breakage, you need not fear damaging my toes if you should step on them.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Leonard said with a low chuckle, “although I could fix them for you if they do break.”

When they turned back toward the floor, they saw that Amanda and Sarek were one of the couples already tracing intricate steps across it, moving gracefully to the music.

“Wow… your mom really is a beautiful dancer,” Leonard remarked, pausing to watch them.

“I believe you are correct in your assessment,” Spock said, also watching them.

“Your dad isn’t half bad, either… if you’ll pardon my saying so.”

“You mean you are surprised to find that he is musical,” Spock replied without inflection. “It may interest you to know that, when I placed second at the All-Vulcan Music Competition, my father placed first.”

“Seriously?” Leonard asked, his brows rising. “So… maybe the Ambassador understands more about emotions than he lets on?”

Spock tilted his head with a noncommittal expression. “Perhaps… although he would no doubt attribute his success to his many years of dedicated practice.”

“Of course. Extremely logical,” Leonard said, trying to keep a straight face but failing. “Well that’s all… very fascinating… but I thought you didn’t want to disappoint your mother?”

Spock responded by promptly taking Leonard’s hand and leading him to a corner of the open floor, then – after a brief moment of confusion on Leonard’s part, who had always led his partners in lessons – starting them on a small, geometric pattern of steps that aligned perfectly with the music while also keeping them out of the way of the other couples. After a minute or two, Leonard was able to relax and allow himself to follow Spock’s expert leading on almost instinct, which gave him the liberty to study Spock’s face. To his amusement, Spock soon noticed his scrutiny and began to look downright self-conscious.

“I’m sorry – am I making you uncomfortable?” Leonard asked.

“I… was simply curious to know… what might merit your attention to such a degree.”

“I was counting your freckles.”

Spock’s cheeks turned slightly greener. “A Human trait, of course… and a result of my not heeding my mother’s warnings when I was younger.”

“There’s an old Earth saying: ‘A face without freckles is like a night sky without stars.’” Leonard was truly fascinated to see Spock’s greenish tinge grow darker, spreading up to the tips of his pointed ears. “I meant what I said to your dad, you know – I wouldn’t change a single thing about you.”

“I… also find your physical characteristics to be… aesthetically pleasing,” Spock managed.

“Really?” Leonard’s smile softened. “You know… that’s probably the nicest thing anybody’s said to me in… years.”

Spock had a vague look of confusion. “I find that… difficult to comprehend. You are, by any standards, an attractive humanoid.”

“Well… thank you. I wasn’t trying to fish for compliments,” Leonard said, now also blushing. “But it’s one thing to say something nice because it’s a fact… and a whole ’nuther thing to say it… just to be nice.” He leaned in to press his cheek gently against Spock’s. “This… feels nice. At least to me.”

“I concur.”

“Good,” Leonard murmured, glad to know that Spock was not averse to touching in this manner. I could really get used to this, he thought wistfully. Too bad it can’t last… but I might as well enjoy it while I can.

The music became slower and Spock led them in what was more swaying than dancing, which suited Leonard just fine. Their bodies fit well together since they were about the same height, and Spock’s arms were strong but careful as they pulled Leonard even closer. Leonard closed his eyes to savor the sensation of being held, as though he were being cherished – something he realized he had been missing for a long time.

Wish I could take him home tonight… keep him for the rest of the weekend… but I suppose he’s got plans with his parents. It would be nice to nibble on his ear-tips to see if they’re super-sensitive or not… although it might freak him out if I did that without warning. I’d have to go slow – some Human ways of expressing affection might seem weird to him. But damn, I’d sure like to have a chance to find out….

“Leonard,” Spock whispered in his ear.

“Hm?”

The pause that followed made Leonard pull back in concern. “What is it?”

“You had said, earlier, that you only knew the rudiments of… Vulcan biology….”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Have you read anything about… our telepathic abilities?”

Leonard wracked his brain, squinting involuntarily as he did so. “Um… maybe? We don’t get a lot of Vulcan patients at the hospital, I’m afraid… although I do remember – now that you mention it – that we’re not supposed to touch Vulcans without permission.” He created more space between them. “I’m sorry, was I being inappropriate?”

“No,” Spock hastily replied. “I only meant… that is, I thought I should inform you… when we come into direct contact with other life-forms, particularly with our hands… we have the ability to read their emotions.”

“Ah… okay,” Leonard said, trying to recall what he’d been feeling. “Um… was I being inappropriate with my emotions?”

“No. That is not possible. I would not expect you to rein in your emotions, since you are not Vulcan.” Spock closed the distance between them again. “I merely wished for you to know, since I did not want to startle you or… have you remain unaware. But I also wished to clarify… why you are feeling… sadness.”

“Oh….” Leonard sighed. “You really can read my feelings, can’t you? Well… I’m only a little bit sad… because this won’t last… and I’m quite… fascinated… about you.”

“Why do you think so?” Although their cheeks were still pressed together, Leonard could visualize the faint frown on Spock’s face. “I have not intentionally given any indication that I do not wish to continue our relationship.”

“No, but you’re in Starfleet. You could get a commission to go out into space at any time.”

“My career with Starfleet is primarily in the educational sector, assisting with the training of new cadets for interspecies interactions,” Spock explained. “Unless I request a transfer, I do not foresee leaving the Academy in San Francisco.”

“Oh…. That’s still a long way away….”

“The flight is only sixteen point eight minutes eastward, with some additional time for traveling to and from the airport, which may also be shortened significantly if there are site-to-site transporters in convenient locations,” Spock pointed out.

“Ah… well… you see, I’m aviophobic,” Leonard confessed.

“Ah.” Spock processed this information. “That still does not preclude the possibility of our continued courtship.”

“It doesn’t?”

“I do not see why it should, as I do not suffer from aviophobia.”

“You would… do that?” Leonard could hardly believe his ears. “For me?

“For both of us,” Spock corrected. “I find this… fascinating… as well. And distinctly… pleasurable.”

“You do?” Leonard couldn’t help asking.

“Yes,” was Spock’s quiet answer. “When we are like this, I can feel your warmth of emotion… kindness… affection… attraction – all positive and… desirable feelings. You have no indication of fear or… aversion toward me, as I have often felt from Humans and… other species. So when you said… you would not change me in any way… I know you were speaking the truth.”

“I was.” Leonard pulled away enough to look at Spock, eye to eye. “I think you’re fascinating and talented and… beautiful. Especially when you blush like that.”

“It must be… the five percent Human DNA,” Spock admitted, blushing even more.

“Mm-hmm… must be,” Leonard murmured. “Say, how long do you need to stay here to be polite?”

“The evening’s programs have concluded, so… I am free to leave at any time now.”

“Oh.” Leonard leaned closer so his lips were practically tickling Spock’s earlobe. “What say we blow this popsicle stand – that means ‘leave’ – and make this a real night to remember?”

“I am in agreement with your plan; only allow me a moment to bid my parents goodnight.” Spock glanced around the room. “However… they do not seem to be present.”

“Oh? Maybe they’re in one of the other rooms?”

They found Spock’s parents easily enough: once they were in the main hallway, they could hear a lute being played in the music room. As with Spock’s performance, there were other Vulcans congregating in or near the room to listen to Sarek – the legendary virtuoso – playing an Earth composition for his wife.

“Chopin… one of her favorites,” Spock whispered to Leonard.

After a while Amanda looked up and smiled at them. Spock inclined his head, then slipped his hand into Leonard’s and pulled him toward the entrance.

“How, exactly, do you intend to make this a… ‘night to remember’?” Spock asked when they were out on the curb, waiting for his hover-car to pull up.

“I think we should just… play it by ear,” Leonard answered with a sly smile.

Finis

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