"He's perfectly healthy," McCoy grumbled, "apart from being six years old when he should really be twenty-six years old. Damn those aliens and their actual fountain of youth all to hell. And damn you too, mister," he poked the six-year-old captain in the chest, "for drinking from it." Jim stuck his tongue out at him. "Thank god it's only temporary anyway."
"Doctor, I must protest your use of language in front of the child." Spock stepped closer to the boy. For some reason, he felt somewhat protective of the little Captain.
McCoy snorted. "Come on, this is Jim we're talking about. It's not like he hasn't heard – or used, for that matter – words that are a lot worse than what I just said."
"We have already ascertained that he cannot remember anything apart from what he experienced up until this age. As such, we should treat him as a six-year-old boy, and I would appreciate it if you, for once, could abstain from profanity – at least while the child is within range of audibility."
"Christ, Spock, can't you talk like a normal person?"
"Doctor, do I already need to remind you not to-"
He was interrupted by Jim hopping down from the examination table and running out of Sickbay.
"Now look what you did. You were probably boring the kid to death! I suggest you go fix it, before he gets into trouble."
Spock merely glared at the Doctor as he turned to go after Jim; he could not stay and argue with him.
Jim was nowhere to be seen as Spock stepped out of Sickbay, but he could not have gotten far. "Computer, what is the location of the Captain?"
"Captain James T. Kirk is located in storage room D."
Spock went over to the door to the storage room and for some strange reason felt he should knock. He didn't, and entered the room, and found Jim sitting next to a wall, hugging his knees. "Jim?"
Jim looked up, but didn't answer. He looked as if he was, as Humans said, 'pouting'. Spock crouched down next to the boy.
"Jim, why did you leave Sickbay?"
Jim was silent for a while, before apparently deciding that he would answer.
"You two were fighting."
Spock was slightly taken aback. He had not anticipated that Jim would react adversely to the arguing between himself and Dr. McCoy, which had become almost second nature to both of them and which Spock had always considered quite harmless.
"We were not fighting, we were merely-"
"'Discussing'? That's what Mom always tells me when she and Frank have been shouting at each other, and then Frank leaves and comes back in the morning and sleeps all day in the guest bedroom. And when he wakes up, he's always grumpy and has a headache. It's definitely fighting."
Spock was quite certain that the twenty-six-year-old Jim had never meant for him to hear such personal details of his life.
"Jim, were the Doctor and I shouting?"
"No, but you were going to."
"I can assure you that we were not. We may have our disagreements from time to time, but there is no real animosity between us, and we do not shout." Thinking about it, he added, "The Doctor sometimes raises his voice, but he is, as I believe Humans say, 'all bark and no bite'. I have observed him arguing with even his closest friends, seemingly with an underlying affection."
The little Human's lips quirked into a smile. "So he's a big old softie on the inside?"
Spock's own lips quirked slightly. "It is perhaps not how I would phrase it, but I believe you are essentially correct. The good Doctor would most likely not appreciate hearing you say that, however."
"My lips are sealed!" Jim grinned and did a zipper-like motion in front of his mouth. Apparently, that did not mean that he would refrain from speaking, however. "Are you one of his best friends, since he argues with you?"
Spock cocked his head, considering it. He had not thought about it before. "I am uncertain."
"Why don't you ask him?"
Spock felt slightly horrified at merely the thought of doing that. "It is... not a suitable question for me to pose."
"You will understand when you become your old self again."
Jim rolled his eyes. "Grown-ups always say that I have to wait until I'm old enough to understand. Like when I asked Mom how children are made."
Spock felt a tinge of amusement. "I believe you will find out in due time." Jim didn't look satisfied with that reply, but Spock was not going to elaborate further. "It is almost the recommended bedtime for a child of your age – we need to arrange with a place for you to sleep. I do not believe you should be left alone on a ship of this size."
"Bedtime?" Jim gaped. "But it was day on the planet!"
"It was not daytime on the entire planet; besides, we operate with ship's time."
"Oh." Jim looked defeated for a moment, but then he brightened again, and Spock recognised the expression that Jim usually got when he had an idea he thought was brilliant. It was fascinating to see the similarities between this young boy and the captain he had come to know.
"Can I sleep in your room, Mr. Spock? Pleeeaase?" He looked pleadingly up at Spock with big, blue eyes, and Spock found that he was not entirely unaffected. Curious.
"I suppose that would be an acceptable solution. It is after all my duty, as First Officer, to take care of the Captain of the ship."
"Yesss!" Jim pumped his fist in the air. "Thank you!"
Spock went over to the wall panel and pressed the comm button. "Spock to Sickbay."
"McCoy here, what's up? Did you find him?"
"Affirmative. Doctor, do you have a spare portable bed I can borrow?"
"For Jim? Where are you placing him?"
"The portable bed is for myself. I will let Jim use my bed, as Sickbay beds are eminently uncomfortable."
Spock could hear a snort from the Doctor through the comm. "Yeah, well, don't want people to get too comfortable in Sickbay; it might encourage them to get sick or injured more often. Anyway, I have a bed you can borrow. Do you want me to send someone up with it?"
"Negative, Doctor. We will be there shortly. Spock out."
After having picked up the bed in Sickbay, where McCoy had started arguing with Spock again (at which point Jim had giggled and sent Spock a knowing look), they made their way to Spock's quarters, Jim sitting on the bed as Spock pushed it.
Getting Jim to change into the pyjamas McCoy had replicated while Spock had talked to Jim in the storage room was surprisingly easy, despite Jim's earlier disappointment upon realising that it was almost bedtime. Spock suspected it had something to do with the fact that Jim was now yawning.
They went into the bathroom, and Spock opened the tube of children's toothpaste McCoy had handed him and squeezed a pea-sized amount onto the small toothbrush the Doctor had also procured. "Do you need help brushing your teeth, Jim?"
Jim grabbed the toothbrush from him. "Not yet. I brush first, and then you do it proper afterwards."
"Properly," Spock corrected. "Very well." He waited while Jim brushed his teeth, his mouth turning slightly frothy with toothpaste before he stopped and spit into the sink.
Jim pointed at Spock with the foamy toothbrush. "Okay, now you do it. Properly."
Spock noted with some degree of illogical pride that Jim had taken the correction to heart. He took the toothbrush, kneeled down in front of the boy and began brushing the small, white teeth while keeping Jim's head still with a hand on his jaw. The action felt strangely intimate, yet filled him with a pleasant emotion – something similar to paternal affection, perhaps?
They finished brushing, and Jim got into bed without protest. Spock dimmed the lights, turned on a reading light at his desk and sat down with his PADD.
After 11.34 minutes of working, there was a quiet "Mr. Spock?" coming from the bed.
Spock went over to the bed and sat down on the edge of it, not quite sure why he hadn't simply replied from where he had been sitting. "What is it, Jim?" he said in a soft voice.
"I can't sleep. Mom usually tells me a story when I go to bed." He played with a corner of the blanket and looked away, as if he was embarrassed.
"I am afraid I do not have any suitable books to read for you, and neither do I know of any stories I can tell you."
"Do you know the one about my dad? It sometimes makes me a little sad, but it's my favourite story, and Mom tells it to me all the time."
Spock felt a sudden pang of sympathy for the boy – for Jim – and his family.
"I have heard of your father's heroics, but I am afraid I am not as familiar with the events as your mother is. I would not be able to tell the story adequately."
"I can tell it to you instead, if you want."
Spock regarded the little Human who was looking up at him with big, blue eyes and wanted to tell him the story about how his father became a hero.
"I would very much like to hear it."
Spock listened while Jim told the story, and watched the little boy as he spoke about his father with obvious pride, if tinged with a little sadness. Spock wondered if this story had helped Jim cope with not having his father present during his childhood – if knowing that he had died saving a ship full of people had somehow made it easier to accept that he was not around.
Jim didn't pause or hesitate at any time during the story, as if he had it completely memorised, word by word. He ended the story and looked expectantly at Spock, waiting for a reaction.
"Your father was a very brave man. I surmise you must have inherited your own bravery from him."
Jim's brow furrowed in confusion. "What do you mean?"
"You took command of this ship while Earth was under the threat of being obliterated by the man who was responsible for your father's death. Because of the decisions you made and because you were willing to risk your own life, we managed to save the planet and the lives of those upon it."
Jim looked at him with wide eyes. "Really?"
"Can you tell me the story about it?"
Spock forced himself not to give in to those big, blue eyes. "It is late; perhaps tomorrow night. You should sleep now."
Jim pressed his lips together and sighed. "Okay."
Spock was about to rise from the bed when Jim spoke again. "Mom always kisses my forehead before I go to sleep."
This time Spock did give in, and he looked at Jim with a fond expression before brushing away a stray lock of hair from Jim's forehead, bending down and gently pressing his lips to it. When he pulled away, Jim was smiling at him.
"Will you be able to sleep now?"
"Yeah, I think so."
"Very well. Good night, Jim."
"'Night, Mr. Spock." Jim's eyes slipped closed, and Spock watched him a moment before he went back to his desk.
The next day, Spock brought Jim to the Bridge with him at Jim's insistence. Sulu and Chekov seemed amused, and Uhura started uttering sounds that could only be described as 'cooing'. It seemed like strange behaviour for a linguist, considering Jim had only turned into a child, not some kind of creature who communicated through such sounds.
"Is that my seat, Mr. Spock?" Jim pointed to the empty Captain's chair.
"It is indeed."
Jim's eyes lit up. "Can I sit in it?"
Spock considered it. Technically, children should not be on the Bridge, much less in the Captain's chair. But then, this was the Captain, albeit twenty years younger than his actual age. Spock was about to give him permission when Chekov spoke to Jim, apparently assuming Spock wouldn't let him do it.
"Meester Spock is Acting Keptin now, Keptin. Uh, Meester Kirk. So he has to sit in the Keptin's chair."
Jim turned to Spock, pleading eyes looking up at him. "Mr. Spock, can I sit on your lap?"
Spock ignored Chekov's giggling. Once again, he found he was unable to say no to Jim, and he wondered if he should be worried about this trend.
"Very well, Jim."
Spock sat down in the chair, and Jim crawled up into his lap eagerly, leaned back against him and stared mesmerised at the viewscreen.
After 6.27 minutes, Jim sighed. "This is boring." He wriggled down from Spock's lap and walked around to the other stations, questioning the Bridge crew about what they were doing. It didn't take long before he lost interest in that, too, and asked Spock if he could do something else. Spock called Yeoman Rand to the bridge, and when she arrived, she, too, started cooing at the little Captain. Curious. Spock suspected he would never be able to fully understand Human females.
Spock gave Rand the task of taking care of Jim for the rest of the shift and to give him a tour of the ship. The two of them left, Rand still cooing at the boy.
When Spock's shift was over, he commed Rand and found out that she had just left him in Sickbay, where McCoy was examining him again. Spock entered the Turbolift and went down to Sickbay, stopping just outside the door when he heard Jim speaking inside, mentioning his name.
"Is Spock one of your best friends?"
"Boy, you really do know how to ask the awkward questions, don't you?" the Doctor replied in a gruff voice.
Spock knew he should not be listening in to this, but he had to admit he was curious.
"Well, is he?"
"Don't tell the hobgoblin I said this, but... yeah, I guess so." Even though Spock had already suspected that, he had to admit that hearing the words felt... nice.
"My lips are sealed!" Spock imagined him doing the same zipper motion he had done the previous day. "Can I tell him you called him a hobgoblin?"
McCoy chuckled. "That, you can tell him, but it probably won't come as a surprise."
Spock decided it would be undignified to eavesdrop more than he already had, so he entered, putting an end to the conversation. When McCoy was done with the examination, Spock and Jim left while the Doctor started examining another patient.
The doors had barely closed behind them when Jim started speaking.
"I asked him if he really is a big old softie on the inside, but he didn't answer. That means yes! And I asked him if you were one of his best friends, and he said that you are! And then he called you a hobgoblin."
Spock cocked an eyebrow at his minature captain. "Apparently, you are not very good at actually keeping your lips sealed."
"Well, I unsealed them. Somebody's gotta find out these things, right?" He did not give Spock the time to answer before he continued. "Is he one of your best friends?"
Spock looked at him suspiciously. "If I tell you, will you tell the Doctor?"
"That means yes!"
Spock experienced the urge to roll his eyes and the urge to ruffle the boy's hair fondly simultaneously. "Apparently, you have always been capable of extraordinary leaps of logic."
Jim grinned, obviously proud of the fact. Spock was uncertain if it was because he had not fully understood that it was not actually a compliment, or if he had simply chosen to see it as one. At any rate, Jim's smile did not diminish Spock's urge to ruffle his hair. Jim was a Human boy; did he not need physical contact? Spock gave in to the urge, and threaded a hand through the short, golden locks. Jim's twinkling eyes met his, and when Spock dropped his hand, Jim's much smaller hand was there for him to hold. He curled his fingers around it, and felt waves of happiness and affection from the little Captain. They walked like that to the mess hall, and Spock tried to ignore the amused smiles from passing crewmembers.
That night, at bedtime, Spock started telling the story about Nero and how they had defeated him, like he had promised the night before.
When he reached the part where he beamed down to Vulcan, his eyes began to prickle against his will. He paused and drew a deep breath, trying to regain his composure.
"Mr. Spock, are you all right?"
Spock avoided the question and continued the story. "I located the Vulcan Elders and my mother, and tried to bring them to safety onboard the Enterprise. However, the surface had already begun to collapse, and several of them perished, including-"
Spock stopped abruptly. Tears stung in his eyes.
"What does 'perish' mean?"
"In this context..." Spock's voice sounded strangely thick to his ears. "To die."
Jim looked at him with pale blue eyes for a long moment before asking in a quiet voice, "Did your mommy or daddy die?"
Spock forced himself to speak. "We were about to beam up when suddenly, the ground collapsed beneath my mother. I reached out for her, but... it was too late. I did not manage to catch her, and I saw her fall right before we were beamed up."
"Are you sad that she's gone?"
"Very much so," Spock admitted, his throat tightening painfully.
Jim looked thoughtful for a moment, and then Spock suddenly found himself with an armful of Jim, sitting on his lap and wrapping his arms around Spock's neck, holding him tightly.
It was as if something was released in Spock, and a painful, quiet sob wracked his chest. He clutched Jim close and leaned his head gently on Jim's, rocking slowly back and forth. It was strange to realise that he needed comfort, and that the comfort was given by a six year old boy. A six year old Jim. And somehow, it helped – Spock felt as if some kind of emotional tension in him was draining out of him, as if he was reaching some kind of catharsis.
The child's breathing slowed, and Spock realised Jim had fallen asleep. Spock manoeuvred him back to the bed as gently as possible, making sure not to wake him. He pulled the covers up, and touched Jim's cheek gently. "Thank you, Jim."
Even though Jim was already asleep, Spock bent down and kissed his forehead again.
The next day, Jim sat on Spock's lap during the entire Alpha shift, not once complaining that he was bored or that he wanted to do something else, though he briefly fell asleep at one point. Spock felt a swell of affection as he watched the sleeping child curled up against him, and regretted having to wake him up for lunch.
After the shift, Spock followed Jim down to Sickbay again, and left as McCoy began examining Jim again. He questioned his own motivations behind leaving rather than staying there during the examination. It could not possibly be because he wanted to give Jim the opportunity to tell McCoy that Spock reciprocated the feeling of friendship. Could it? At any rate, Spock was quite certain that Jim would tell McCoy exactly that now that the two of them were alone for a while.
Spock returned to Sickbay when the Doctor comm'ed him. McCoy took him aside while Nurse Chapel talked to Jim. Finally, a woman who did not coo in the presence of the boy.
"Spock, I just can't find any changes indicating that he's turning back to himself again. I know the natives told us he'd be back to normal in a couple of days, but... what if it works different on Humans? His tests come out the same now as they did right after the change. And the Zaadians told me it's a gradual change rather than a sudden one – that we should be able to see him grow older. Yet he's still six!"
"I see." Spock glanced over at Jim. He had become fond of the boy at his current age, but he did not wish for Jim to be stuck as a child. "Perhaps it just takes longer for a Human to return to normal."
McCoy sighed. "Yeah, let's hope so."
They returned to Jim, who was trying out the functions of one of the biobeds under Chapel's supervision. Once again, the Doctor had another patient waiting, so Spock and Jim went down to the mess hall without him.
They joined Uhura and Sulu at a table, and Jim eagerly took a bite of his lasagna. He chewed and swallowed it noisily, and was about to take another bite when he suddenly started trembling and dropped his fork. Spock froze in alarm. To his knowledge, the lasagna had not contained any ingredients Jim was allergic to, but it seemed he had been wrong. Uhura had already gotten up from her seat in order to comm Sickbay, and Spock pulled Jim into his lap.
"Jim? Jim, are you all right?" Jim was shivering in his arms.
"It hurts," Jim answered in a small voice. "It hurts in my bones."
And then Spock realised why, as he felt the body in his arms stretch and grow longer at an unnatural speed.
Fully grown, there would be no room for Jim in his lap, so Spock got up and pulled Jim with him. Jim's clothes were getting too small, tightening around him, and seeing no other alternative, Spock tore them off. He wrapped his arms around Jim again, holding him up and shielding part of his naked body. Jim held on to him and whimpered as he continued growing. Finally, as he reached a height slightly shorter than Spock's, he stopped growing, and he slumped in Spock's arms.
Spock held him steady, his arms firmly wrapped around Jim's waist.
"Are you all right, Jim?"
"'M fine," Jim replied sluggishly. "Just tired."
Right then, the med team, led by McCoy, entered the mess hall. McCoy's eyes widened as he saw Jim, naked and back to his normal age. He grabbed a blanket and wrapped it around Jim. "How are you, kid?" He pointed his tricorder at Jim, not waiting for an answer.
"Not a kid anymore, Bones."
McCoy snorted. "Yeah, I can see that. And your readings are fine... how are you feeling?"
"Exhausted." Jim was still letting Spock hold him up.
"Okay, tell you what... you look so tired I think you might actually go to sleep without me jabbing you with a hypo, so you don't have to come to Sickbay if you don't want to. I'll trust Spock to get you back to your quarters and look after you." He gave Spock a look that was difficult to interpret, but Spock knew that the Doctor preferred to be in complete control over what happened to his patients, so it was a sign of trust indeed that he would let Spock look after Jim. Spock wondered if it had anything to do with his and McCoy's admissions to each other via Jim.
"Thank you, Doctor."
"Thanks, Bones. 'Preciate it."
Spock wrapped the blanket more tightly around Jim so it would not slip off, lifted him gently in his arms and began carrying him towards the officers' quarters. Jim put his arms around Spock's neck and nuzzled it sleepily.
"Thanks, Spock, for the last few days... you've been amazing."
Spock experienced the same affection he had felt for Jim when he had been six years old, yet the effect it had on him was slightly different. Instead of wanting to ruffle Jim's hair, he wanted to bend his head and claim Jim's mouth with his own.
"It was my pleasure to take care of you, Jim. In a way, you took care of me, too."
"Mmm, yeah, I s'pose," he said, the words slightly muffled as they were spoken into Spock's neck. "We took care of each other. I think we can be good at that."
"Indeed. I believe so, too."
They reached the door to Spock's quarters, and Spock entered, rather than bringing Jim to his own quarters. He placed Jim in the bed he had slept in the last two nights, and tucked him in.
"Good night, Jim," he said, despite the fact that it was not ship's night.
"What, no kiss to the forehead?" Jim asked with a sleepy smile.
Spock decided that his inability to say no to Jim was not a trend he needed to worry about. In fact, he rather enjoyed it.