Leonard McCoy surveyed the eclectic decor of the rustic dwelling, nodding in approval. He shrugged off the parka and tossed it on a chair by the door, then hugged himself against the chill. "Is that fireplace just for show, or can you light us a fire?"
"At Mountain View, nothing is for show, Doctor," Spock admonished softly as he hung his jacket on a hook.
McCoy's half smile faltered into a more sober expression, and he nodded his head in agreement. "It's freezin' in here. Didn't Roberta use the central heat?"
"Rarely," Spock replied quietly as he squatted at the hearth. "She preferred the fireplace."
In a few moments, a fire was blazing on the grate, and McCoy was ambling about the large living room, examining family portraits. "Good Lord!"
Spock raised his head.
"That's you!" McCoy whispered, leaning forward to examine an old-fashioned holovid which was perched atop an overstuffed bookshelf. "And you're smilin'!"
"I was squinting," Spock denied reflexively as he settled cross-legged on the shaggy rug before the hearth. "The sun was very bright that day; the reflection off the snow was blinding."
"I thought the Vulcan inner eyelid gave them a superior ability to shield against bright light."
"At that age, it was not yet fully developed."
McCoy chuckled, shaking his head. "How old were you there anyway? Six or seven?"
"Seven point four-three-two," Spock replied blandly. "If you find that holovid entertaining, I believe there is a family album somewhere that would most certainly make your day. When we return to the hospital, I shall ask Roberta where she keeps it."
McCoy's smile faded. "Speakin' of family, shouldn't you call Amanda?"
Spock shook his head. "It's three a.m. on Vulcan, Doctor. Roberta would be angry with me if I disturbed mother at such an hour with unsettling news."
McCoy sighed. "You're right. It's not like she could get here in time, anyway. What is it, four days to Vulcan?"
"Four point five on the diplomatic shuttle, nearly a week using public transportation."
"Too long," McCoy sighed. "Nash is doing everything he can, Spock, but if she won't allow him to operate--"
"Roberta is a stubborn individual," Spock interrupted. "She asked me to calculate the odds of the transplant restoring her to full independence."
McCoy smiled. That sounded like Roberta Grayson. He ran his index finger over the spines of nearly two dozen books bearing her name. Botany texts; each one illustrated with her breathtaking artwork. He had two framed Grayson prints on his apartment wall back in San Francisco; he'd had them for years, long before he realized that Roberta Grayson was Spock's great aunt. "She wants quality, Spock. The best Nash can offer her now is quantity, and even that..."
"She has always cherished her independence," Spock said, his voice strangely soft.
McCoy looked about him, seeing the cabin not just as a dwelling, but as mute testimony to the remarkable individual who had lived in it. His gaze fell upon Roberta's work desk; her sketchbook was open, a pen resting atop it, patiently awaiting its mistress' return. McCoy felt a lump form in his throat, experiencing grief not just for the unfinished sketch, but the unfinished life. "If she would just listen to reason!"
Spock did not answer, his gaze vacant as he stared into the snapping fire.
"Want some coffee...uh, tea?" McCoy offered, searching for something to occupy them until Nash summoned them back to the hospital. The cardiologist had suggested they transport to Roberta's home to wait while he worked at getting Roberta stabilized and settled into her private room. McCoy had agreed, thinking it would be more comfortable than the Intensive Care waiting room, and just as close in an emergency, thanks to their access to Starfleet's transporters.
Spock roused himself, lifting dark eyes to meet McCoy's. "Cocoa."
"You mean hot chocolate?"
"I believe that is an antiquated expression for the beverage I desire. To make it you shall require two hundred-fifty milliliters of milk, fifteen milliliters of cocoa and thirty-five--"
"I know how to make hot chocolate, Spock. I just couldn't believe you were asking for it."
Spock arched a brow, coolly composed. "Why?"
"Damned if I know," McCoy sighed. "Just never thought you would, that's all. Did Roberta keep the ingredients on hand?"
"Always," Spock said softly.
McCoy stared at the Vulcan, concerned by his unusual request and the increasingly introspective mood into which he seemed to be falling. Grayson was the last of Amanda's family, and from what he could tell, Spock had grown pretty close to the old woman in the past few years.
"I'll get that cocoa," McCoy offered lamely, heading for the kitchen when Spock made no response.
Spock stepped into the cozy cabin, the golden glow from the fireplace encouraging him to draw near. He struggled out of his snowsuit, powdery snow flakes flying from his collar and melting as they made contact with the warmed boards of the polished oak floor. Once the heavy outerwear was off, he unwrapped the wool scarf Amanda had insisted upon wrapping about his neck and moved closer to the hearth, outstretching numb fingers before the orange blaze.
"It's about time you wandered home," Roberta Grayson called as she and Amanda entered from the kitchen. Roberta carried a tray laden with a blue and white patterned tea set, steam rising invitingly from the spout of the pot. "I was beginning to think Ned and Theo had buried you in a snow drift!"
"Did you have a good time?" Amanda asked.
"We hiked three point six kilometers in our snowshoes, built a wall from snow blocks which Ned and Cousin Harry later destroyed in what they called a Romulan ambush..." The seven-year-old frowned slightly at his mother as he pondered that recollection. "In the actual Romulan attack on Space Station Salem One, I do not believe the Romulans fired snowballs or shouted in English, nor were there any survivors, but Ned and Harry seemed quite adamant that it was the proper way to reenact the--"
"They were just pretending, Spock," Amanda interrupted. "Like Robert Louis Stevenson."
"Ah," Spock nodded his head. "The Land of Counterpane?"
"Those boys are always playing at war," Roberta sighed. "If it's not the Romulans, it's the Kzinti."
"Theo and I expended a great deal of effort constructing that wall," Spock added mildly, his dark eyes wide. "Theo said Harry and Ned were jealous that we managed to build it as high as we did. He felt this was why they attacked it."
"Sounds like Ned," Roberta sniffed as she set the tray on a low table. "Takes after his mother's side. Hell of a way to treat you on your first day on Earth," Roberta sighed, her blue eyes shrewdly assessing her niece's son as she settled into the wing chair by the fireplace. "Well, now that you've engaged in some of the more barbaric practices of the great northwest, how about sampling one of the more civilized ones?"
Spock looked down at Roberta expectantly. He'd been at Mountain View less than twenty-four hours, and each waking minute had been full of surprises. Human children, he'd been amazed to learn, had what they called vacations, blocks of consecutive days when they were not expected to attend school or follow a home study course. Life here seemed astonishingly unstructured. Sarek certainly would not have approved, but one thing could be said for it, it was anything but boring.
"Perfect!" Amanda agreed, displaying an almost childish excitement as Roberta retrieved an odd contraption from where it rested against the woodbox. "The fire's burned down just enough!"
The object in Roberta's hands appeared to be a clear, cylindrical-shaped container attached to a long pole. Spock could not imagine what its function was. As Spock watched, Roberta unfastened a simple catch and one barrel-shaped side flipped back. She took a bowl of tiny, golden pellets from the tea tray and emptied them into the container, the sound reminding Spock of the noise coarse Vulcan sand made in the bottom of his small wheelbarrow.
Roberta snapped the lid closed and handed the pole to Spock. "Hold it over the fire, child. Shake it gently from side to side."
As Spock complied, the two women settled back into their seats to watch.
"Not too close to the fire, Spock," instructed Amanda. "Keep the steam vents on top."
Spock obeyed the terse command, eyeing the pellets as they swirled around on the transparent surface of the cylinder. When the first one exploded into fluffy white splendor, Spock nearly lost his grip on the pole. His eyes widened as several more ruptured simultaneously, staring as the staccato bursts of sound increased in an erratically random rhythm.
"You're not shaking it, Spock," Roberta admonished. "You have to keep the kernels moving."
"Kernels," he mouthed, not tearing his gaze from the amazing transformation of the tiny, yellow pellets. "What makes them do that?"
"Heat," Amanda explained. "The buildup of heat causes water in the kernel to convert to steam which ruptures the skin and--"
"--it pops," Spock finished. The cylinder was now almost full, and the popping slowed. Spock inhaled deeply the unusual fragrance which wafted from the steam vents. "Fa-a-ascinating."
"Done now," Roberta said a moment later. "Take it from the fire, and come with me."
Spock followed Roberta into the kitchen and observed her as she emptied the contents of the cylinder into a large, red bowl and sprayed it with an aromatic yellow mist. After adding a light dusting of salt, she held the bowl out to Spock. Bewildered, he accepted it.
"Afraid of your own handiwork?" Roberta questioned when Spock seemed unsure of what to do with the contents of the bowl.
"I do not understand."
"The popcorn," Roberta clarified. "Aren't you going to taste it?"
"This...this is edible?"
"Last batch I made was damn edible," Roberta sniffed a trifle indignantly as she wiped out the interior of the cylinder with a towel. "I haven't burned any in years." She studied Spock a moment and then smiled. "You may take after your father's side when it comes to looks, but you pop corn like a Grayson. Look, there's not an old maid to be found!"
Spock could make no sense of that comment, unable to fathom the effect familial ties might have on one's ability to hold a pole over a fire, or why his aunt would expect to see an unmarried woman of advancing years in a bowl of popcorn.
"Try a piece," Grayson invited as she reached into the bowl, grabbed a small handful and popped it into her mouth.
Spock gingerly picked out one piece and put it in his mouth. It nearly dissolved on his tongue, the familiar butter flavor mingling with the strange taste of the popcorn. Cautiously, he chewed, surprised that something which looked so soft would make such a crunching sound.
He looked up at Roberta, who was still smiling. "Well, what do those Vulcan taste buds say?"
"Interesting," Spock said in his best noncommittal tone, but his fingers were already moving back into the bowl.
Roberta laughed. "Come on, you little prevaricator. Let's take this in to share with your mother before the cocoa gets cold."
The popping slowed, the aroma rising from the vents of the ancient cylinder as enticing now as it had been forty-three years ago. Spock shook the fluffy white kernels with an expert toss of his wrist and stood up.
In the kitchen, the doctor was pouring cocoa into two white ceramic mugs. He made no comment as Spock took a large red bowl from the shelf over the stove, offered no assistance as the Vulcan emptied the cylinder and salted and buttered the popcorn. Without a word, they moved back through the swinging door into the living room and settled before the fire.
McCoy set Spock's cocoa on the table between them and then reached for a handful of popcorn. He chewed thoughtfully, the silence between them stretching further as he took a sip from his mug. Clearing his throat, he nodded toward the bowl. "Good popcorn."
Spock steepled his fingers in a prayer-like pose, resting elbows on his knees. He stared at the red ceramic bowl for a moment, and McCoy could have sworn he saw a flicker of a smile pass over Spock's lips before they thinned into a neutral line.
"I take after my father's side when it comes to looks, Doctor," the Vulcan said solemnly. "But I pop corn like a Grayson."
McCoy studied the tightly controlled expression of his old friend, frowning slightly with concern. Earlier this evening, he had seen both grief and nostalgia reflected in the Vulcan's eyes, but now the sable gaze also expressed an accepting serenity which reassured the physician. Taking another sip of cocoa, he was unable to contain a small relieved sigh.
It was going to be a tough goodbye, but Spock was ready for it.
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2229-2265 THE BEGINNINGS1
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