Spock shaded his eyes from an undiluted summer sun whose glare flickered and sparkled from the fountain spray in Chicago's Millennium Park. Jim, his dungarees rolled up around his knees, had followed Spock's human cousin Liselle Grayson onto the wet pavement, and the two midwesterners were now splashing about like small children. Spock had elected to remain behind on a bench, watching them.
They had taken to each other well over the past two days of this Chicago shore leave. Seeing his cousin wrapped in earnest conversation with his captain, her fingers busily pointing out interesting features of the skyscrapers that rimmed the park, crystallized an idea in Spock's mind.
"They were humanitarians and statesmen, and they had a dream--a dream that became a reality and spread throughout the stars; a dream that made Mr. Spock and me brothers."
Jim had said this once to Garth of Izar, but he and Spock were not literally related. Were Jim to continue this friendship with Liselle, Spock's cousin, to a conclusion of marriage, Spock might find himself finally able to justify the depth of his affection for Jim. They would literally be family, and his mind would be at ease.
As it was, his feelings for Jim were strong enough to disturb him, both because of their intensity and because he was quite certain Jim was not interested in loving a man the way Spock loved him.
Liselle now presented a solution to that problem--Liselle in her rose-petal-pink sundress, now drenched with water. Her blue eyes reminded Spock of his mother, who was her Aunt Amanda. He hoped Jim was finding them as agreeable as he knew Sarek found Amanda's.
Jim looked over towards Spock and held up one finger, signifying: One minute. Then he and Liselle dashed off towards the vendors selling food out of carts at the far end of the promenade.
Spock leaned back against the bench, satisfied that the two humans seemed perfectly happy together. Two pigeons on the concrete at his feet seemed to echo them as they shared a pile of birdseed left by the bench's previous occupant.
A few moments later, Jim and Liselle reappeared bearing drinks. Jim placed a tall, elegant bottle into Spock's hands. "Here, I got something for you."
Spock examined the bottle. "Altair water," he observed. "I am surprised it was available in the park."
"I knew if I looked hard enough we'd find some," Jim replied jovially as he popped open his own bottle of something purple and downed half of it in one swallow.
"You boys are going to have to excuse me for a moment," said Liselle. "Would you mind baby-sitting my iced coffee while I find the ladies' room?" She handed her drink to Jim and dashed off.
"My cousin seems to like you a great deal," Spock observed once she was out of sight.
Jim smiled. "She's a lot like you, you know. I've always thought that the way you share information like an encyclopedia was a Vulcan trait, but now I know better." He inched closer to Spock on the bench. Spock didn't notice.
Meanwhile, in the restroom, Liselle was leaning against the wall with her sonic phone to her ear. "Helen?"
"Liselle! Oh, my God, I just finished ringing up the most *annoying* customer I have ever--"
"Can you tell me later? I'm hiding in a bathroom. I just wanted your advice about something."
"Hiding in a bathroom?"
"My Vulcan cousin is here on shore leave from Starfleet--"
"Can I come over later?" Helen started to giggle.
Liselle laughed nervously. "I don't think you're his type. He brought his captain with him--he's a human. Really fun to talk to. Friendly, intelligent--fruity as can be. Spock seems really besotted with him."
"Oh. Wah," Helen pouted.
"Except I don't think he has any idea the captain feels the same way."
"How do you know he does?"
"I have a pulse. Plus, you should have seen the way Jim went to every single vendor in Millennium Park looking for someone who was selling Altair water, just because it's Spock's favorite. See what I mean?"
"Altair water? Someone actually had Altair water?"
"So anyway, what should I do?"
"What should you do? Why is it any of your business?"
"Because it's driving me nuts!"
"You could always play Truth or Dare," Helen suggested.
"Truth or--" Liselle paused. "Do you have any idea how lame that sounds? At our age?" Then she paused again. "Except that it might work. You're right."
After the usual goodbyes she hung up and hurried back to Jim and Spock. She was pleased to see how closely Jim had sat down next to him, but equally aggravated that Spock's body language still looked as tense as one of the bridges over the Chicago River. "So that Altair water was right up your alley?" she asked Spock, taking her iced coffee from Jim.
"I find it agreeable," said Spock. He did not mention that he had developed a taste for the carbonated beverage during another shore leave, one that he had shared with Jim on Altair VI immediately following... a certain visit to Vulcan.
"When you two finish your drinks we can go inside the Art Institute," Liselle suggested.
"Lead on, Lady Grayson!" Jim said with all the pomp of a Shakespearean actor.
Liselle chuckled. "Oh, no, that's Aunt Amanda. I'm not Lady Anything."
"You're the only Lady Grayson in Chicago, and you're our wonderful host," Jim answered expressively.
Spock watched this exchange and remained a few steps behind them as they walked to the museum. He wondered if Jim would select him as Best Man at the wedding. From what little he knew of Terran marriage customs, such a position was usually assigned to the brother or best friend of the groom. Jim's brother regrettably being deceased, the honor should naturally be bestowed upon Spock. He imagined standing beside Jim, clad in his very best.
He stopped his train of thought when he realized that he wasn't particularly excited about inserting Liselle in a wedding dress into his mental tableau.
That night, after a sumptuous dinner at a restaurant with a view of Lake Michigan, Jim, Spock, and Liselle returned to Liselle's riverview condominium. Liselle broke out a bottle of champagne and passed glasses around. "It's been so much fun having you two stay here," she commented.
"I've really enjoyed getting to meet you," said Jim, flashing her a big grin as she filled his glass. "And," he added, "to see Chicago again. You know, Spock and I had an interesting Chicago-related experience on one of our voyages."
"Beta Iotia Three."
"Sigma Iotia Two," Spock corrected.
"Are you sure?"
Spock raised both eyebrows at once.
"Sigma Iotia Two, then. See, I knew I kept you around for something." He smiled, and took a sip of champagne. "The Iotians came into contact with Earth people around a hundred years ago," Jim explained. "The previous Earth ship had inadvertently left them a book about Chicago mobsters of the twentieth century. The natives wound up using it as their Bible, and by the time we got there, the whole planet looked like a neverending production of Guys and Dolls."
Liselle giggled. "I wish they could see Chicago now. Not a pinstripe in sight."
"Except on the skyscrapers."
Liselle looked at Spock out of the corner of her eye. "Playing hooky from work and hanging out with you two all week makes me feel like a teenager again. How 'bout we play Truth or Dare?"
Jim laughed, and he raised his eyebrows. "All right--I'm up for that." He looked at Spock. "What about you?"
"I am familiar with the game."
"That's not an answer," Jim countered. "Will you play? It'd be an... interesting... Earth custom for you to observe."
Spock considered the two humans. Liselle seemed quite eager for this game to occur. So did Jim. It was known that Truth or Dare games were often a low-pressure vehicle for more serious flirtation. He could only assume that the two of them needed this game to proceed to the next step in their relationship.
Well, who was he to stand in the way? This was exactly what he wanted--Jim would be his beloved cousin. Setting his unsampled champagne glass down on Liselle's coffee table, he nodded his assent. "Proceed."
"I'll go first," Jim volunteered. "I pick a dare."
"Why am I not surprised?" Liselle grinned, sipping her drink. She glanced at Spock. "Anything?"
"Perhaps I should merely observe this first round," Spock suggested, "as I have no prior experience with this custom."
"Fair enough," said Liselle. "Jim, your mother still lives in Iowa, right?"
"I dare you," she said, "I dare you to call your mother and speak to her in a foreign language--that she doesn't know. And then hang up without explaining."
Spock raised an eyebrow. A creative, if unusually chaste, request. Perhaps Liselle was more comfortable with such an introduction.
"A language she doesn't understand," Jim mused. "First, I have to think of something *I* understand! Oh, I know." He recited something neither of the others understood.
"What was that?" Liselle asked.
"Mandarin Chinese," Jim replied. "Means, 'the most beautiful pumpkin'."
"Pumpkin?" Spock looked at him quizzically.
"Orange... squash..." Jim mimed the shape of a pumpkin with his hands.
"I am familiar with that particular species of cucurbit," said Spock. "I simply fail to understand the significance of the phrase."
"No significance," Jim said with a shrug. "It's just something I picked up at the Academy. I don't know anything else in Mandarin besides hello and thank you.
"Here goes nothing." Jim fished his planetside communicator from his pocket and keyed in his mother's combination. There was a moment of silence as he waited for her to answer, and then he said, "Ni hao!"
There was another pause, to which he answered, "Juei mei li da nan gua." Then he hung up, and took a hearty drink of champagne. Jim looked over at Spock. "I know what you're thinking--strange Earth people and their strange customs..." He grinned.
"Strange, but harmless," Spock commented.
"It's Liselle's turn," Jim announced.
"Truth," replied Liselle Grayson.
"Tell us about your first kiss," Kirk invited. "Unless.. Spock... has a better idea...?"
Spock shook his head.
"Mmm," Liselle murmured, letting the champagne soak into every bit of her mouth. She swallowed. "Oh, I think I was about twelve. I was on a field trip with school, and I spent most of the day with one certain boy in my class. He asked if he could kiss me in the back of the transport shuttle. We got caught by one of the parent chaperones, but nothing happened." She sighed. "I still remember that it tasted like bubble gum. He'd been blowing bubbles all day."
Kirk smiled wistfully. His own first kiss had something to do with Tarsus and he chose not to think about it, so he liked hearing other people's stories. "Did you stay friends?"
Liselle let out a strange laugh. "Not for years. Now he lives in this building. He's just been through a divorce. It sounds horrible but I think I'm glad... I'm glad he's back."
Spock began to panic--like a Vulcan, of course, which meant that he looked as serene as ever on the outside. But on the inside, he realized that his perfect scheme of drawing Jim into his family via Liselle was cracking like an eggshell. She was clearly interested in this old flame of her youth. Was there any chance of Jim winning her attentions over the other man's?
"Spock, it's your turn," Liselle said, renewing her smile with another sip of champagne.
Kirk had been flipping idly through a magazine he'd picked up from the coffee table. He put the magazine down with the page open to a picture of a male dancer wearing very little clothing. "Truth or dare, Spock?"
Spock considered his options. He knew Kirk would never dare him to do anything that would make him uncomfortable. He trusted his best friend with that. However, he did not trust Jim not to ask him personal questions and demand a truthful answer. Without realizing the quicksand on which he was treading, Jim might easily slip into questions about Spock's love life. Spock did not want to be asked with whom he was infatuated, and especially not by Jim himself.
"Dare," said Spock.
With a wicked glint in his eye, Jim began, "I dare you to tell the truth about--"
"Jim!" Liselle giggled. "That is SO not fair. You naughty boy!" She mock-slapped his hand. "Spock, I dare you to--"
"I dare you to dance like a go-go dancer," Jim interrupted.
Spock's eyebrow rose a mile or two. "A go-go dancer," he repeated.
"I see from your reaction that we have no need to explain what one is," Jim said smoothly.
Spock blinked, slightly cornered. His eye fell upon the magazine Jim had abandoned on the table. "Yes, that's what gave me the idea," Jim affirmed.
"I hope you do not require me to remove--"
"Of course not!" Jim grinned. "Unless you'd rather--"
"I would prefer to remain fully clothed," said Spock grimly as he stood up.
"We should put on some music," Liselle suggested, thoroughly enjoying herself. She stood up and pressed a few buttons on a computer console in her wall. Gentle, seductive bass filled the room.
"Please do not inform my mother that this activity ever occurred," said Spock through clenched teeth as he began to move his hips, awkwardly but in time with the rhythm.
Spock found it easier to fulfill the dare with his eyes closed. In that black world, there was only his own mind and the bass beat, which he had to admit was somewhat sensual. He jerked his pelvis around a few times and stepped around a bit.
He was incredibly relieved when Liselle turned off the music. "You did great!" she told him, patting him on the back. "Thanks for being a good sport."
Spock simply nodded. It was over. There were two other turns left before his next torture appointment. That was enough time to recharge his dignity. He merely had to remind himself that this was necessary for the obtainment of Jim into his family. It was still possible that Jim would sweep Liselle off her feet and make her forget her recently-divorced friend.
"Jim," Liselle asked, "truth or dare?"
"Oh, how about a truth this time," Jim suggested. "I don't know any more Chinese."
Liselle suppressed a small smirk. Helen was a genius. She already knew the answer to her next question, thanks to Jim's admiring, undistracted gaze during Spock's dance. But poor, oblivious Spock did not. Not for long... "Are you in love with Spock?"
All the blood in Spock's body suddenly rushed to his head as he struggled to process her words. What?
Jim gulped down the rest of his champagne as if it were a shot of rum. "Yes." Then he cast a serene glance over at Spock.
Spock's brain was a shuttle crash. He was unable to speak, think, or even breathe. He suddenly found himself very conscious of his still-full glass of champagne. He watched the bubbles rise up through the golden fluid and release themselves into the open air, one by one.
"Liselle, you're next," Jim said gently.
"I dare you to leave the room for ten minutes," said Jim. "Unless that's... uncouth of me."
Liselle yawned. "No, that's okay. I think I'll turn in now. I wanted to wake up before you two tomorrow morning to catch up on some of the work I've been missing this week while we clown around Chicago."
"See you at breakfast, then?"
"Mm-hmm," answered Liselle as she stood up and gracefully exited the room. She shut the door behind her.
Jim looked over at Spock, who seemed to be recovering. "You haven't touched your champagne," he pointed out.
"I am not accustomed to alcoholic beverages." Spock seemed to not know what to say, but his eyes spoke for him. Love me, they invited. I give you permission to love me.
"It should be your turn one last time," said Jim, "just to make things even."
"I dare you to kiss me."
"You did not ask me to choose a truth or a dare," Spock argued.
"I don't care. I dare you to kiss me."
Spock stood up and paced briefly, his hands behind his back. "You could love a man?"
"You wouldn't be the first," said Jim, "only the best. I'm surprised you didn't know."
"You have had a number of female companions," Spock countered.
"Yes, but--" Kirk paused. "I should have realized a Vulcan wouldn't necessarily be familiar with all the ... variations of human sexuality."
Spock shook his head. "I did not know, Jim. Otherwise, I would have--" He paused.
Spock crossed the room and now stood directly in front of Jim's chair. "Jim."
Jim stood up to meet him, and for the first time, took Spock into his arms. "Despite your best intentions, you're going to taste that champagne anyway," he purred, and lifted his mouth to Spock's.
Spock pressed his lips against Jim's, completing the final dare to a game that both he and Jim no longer remembered.
The next morning, Liselle greeted them warmly as they approached the breakfast table. In her opinion, her Vulcan cousin definitely looked more calm. "Morning, guys!" she called out. "Help yourselves to banana bread. Just came out of the oven."
"Mmm," said Kirk appreciatively as he sniffed the air.
"So," she asked with sparkling eyes, "Spock, how did you enjoy your first game of Truth or Dare?"
Spock, his mind slightly overloaded with memories of the gentle tugging suction of Jim's lips, and the sweet pressure of Jim's body against his own, was unable to answer beyond a long-lashed blink.
Liselle's mouth formed a small frown. "That bad?"
"That good," Jim clarified. Spock seemed relieved that Jim had spoken up.
Liselle grinned, then said after a pause, "Spock--you're not--you're not upset that I caught on, are you?"
Spock shook his head slowly. "No--you are family."
"We're all family now," Jim added, and set about heartily demolishing his breakfast.
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