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Laws of Ownership

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Jim isn’t sure what exactly he was expecting when he blasted the lock on the cargo bay door of the Orion Raider Ship they’d just boarded but a room full of small mewling balls of fur certainly wasn’t it. He’d hoped for the best and prepared himself for the worst but somehow this had never entered his thoughts as a possibility.

“Did we just save a ship full of kittens?” Jim asks in disbelief.

“I have never encountered kittens with such large fangs before,” Chekov says, walking up to stand next to him. “Zen again this is why I joined Starfleet.”

“To save kittens?” Jim asks, distractedly holstering his phaser.

“To seek out new life,” Chekov replies with an easy shrug. “I vas thinking more along the lines of intelligent life, but I do not complain.”

One of the creatures (and Chekov was right, Jim notices, the things do have some pretty impressive incisors on them) notices the open door and pads over to investigate. Jim stops it with one boot. The creature responds by sniffing his foot and then proceeding to try and climb his leg. Its claws may not be quite as impressive as its teeth but they are sharp nonetheless and Jim quickly reaches down to detach it, only to have it latch on to his arm. Sighing, he hefts the small thing up into his arms where it promptly curls several sharp little claws into his shirt and appears to fall asleep were it not for the slight purring noises that emit from it every few seconds.

“I think it likes you, Captain,” Chekov notes, his eyes sparkling with amusement.

“Well they must be worth something if Orions were trading them,” Jim says. He scratches gently behind the animal’s ear, the one that doesn’t look like it was gnawed on by something. It’s smaller than the others still crawling around on the floor, for which he’s grateful because it’s heavy for its size, more dense than a regular Earth feline. The ear is rounder, legs shorter, fur thicker as well. “I’m going to track down a science officer and see if any of them know what these things are called. Close that back up, will you? Don’t want them all escaping before we know what to do with them.”

“Aye, Captain,” Chekov, replies with a grin. “Commander Spock was heading toward the bridge last I saw.”

“Thank you,” Jim replies absently as he turns away. He doesn’t correct Chekov by saying that any science officer would do, because if he’s being honest with himself he is hoping that Spock will be the one he’ll run into. The chance to see his uptight first officer with an armful of fluffy, purring whatever is too good to pass up.

He does indeed find Spock in what had probably been the bridge of the ship before half a dozen of Starfleet’s best security officers- plus Spock, whom Jim not-so-secretly thought was ten times as badass as any of security for all that he was a science officer and spent half his time in a lab- got their phaser-filled hands on it. Several consoles are still sprouting sparks and Jim enters just as the last of their new prisoners is lead away.

“Spock!” Jim calls out to his First Officer where he’s poking at some questionable looking wiring.

“Lieutenant Sulu has informed me that a complete scan of the ship has revealed no sentient beings as cargo…” Spock says, trailing off as he turns and spots the now-wriggling creature in Jim’s arms.

“Nope,” Jim says, grinning. “We found something else though.”

Jim shoves the creature into Spock’s arms, and his First Officer manages to grab hold of it before it falls to the floor, staring down at it like nobody has ever dumped an animal into his hands before. Hell, Jim thinks. Maybe nobody has, it’s not like Spock was the one who grew up on a farm.

The moment that Spock looks up from the ball of fur where it looks even tinier clutched in his long fingers, Jim knows he’s made a mistake. He’s heard a lot of people describe Spock as emotionless or expressionless, but Jim knows better, has known it ever since he saw Spock standing on the transporter, face smudged with dirt and one hand thrown futilely out in front of him. The thing about Spock, Jim knows is that not only does he feel just as much as anyone else (and sometimes, perhaps even more, Jim thinks), but if you know how to watch him his feelings are written plainly all over his face, he’s just much more subtle about it than say, Jim or Bones are.

The point is that after a year of occasionally tense, but mostly companionable coexistence as Captain and First Officer, and then another year of what Jim has come to realize is one of the most intense yet comfortable friendships of his life, Jim has catalogued every single minute facial expression Spock is capable and mentally categorized them with matching emotions. But right now Spock is looking at him and for the first time in two years his face is completely expressionless and Jim thinks that something terrible is happening here that he could not have anticipated. After two years as Captain of a ship that must be the biggest trouble magnet in the universe (Jim will admit this for all that the Enterprise is his home and his freedom and the armor that protects his family all rolled into one), he automatically starts mentally going through worst-case scenarios. Spock is allergic to this whatever-it-is, he thinks, he accidentally just handed his officer the most dangerous animal in the known universe for all that it looks one of those teddy bears they sell on Earth at Valentine’s day, he’s somehow started hallucinating and he only thinks it’s a fluffy animal and he has in fact just handed his First Officer a bomb…

Spock opens his mouth slightly before closing it again, and Jim revises his internal panic. If it was dangerous Spock wouldn’t hesitate to say so, this is something else, some other miscalculation that has somehow thrown Spock off. Jim takes a quick glance around and while nobody is openly staring at them, people are beginning to notice the sudden silence.

“Come on then Commander, you can give me a full report back on the Enterprise where I don’t have to worry about getting electrocuted if I lean against the wrong console,” Jim says. He reaches forward to grab Spock’s elbow in order to lead him off the ruined bridge, and Spock flinches away minutely, pulling the creature closer to his torso as if Jim were about to take it away from him.

“Yes, Captain,” Spock replies automatically, and Jim nods toward the doorway, gratified that Spock follows when he leaves. Spock doesn’t say anything else, just stands like a statue while they’re beamed up.

If the ensign who beams them aboard finds it strange that two of her commanding officers just showed up with what looks like a stuffed animal with fangs she’s far too professional to show any sign of surprise. Then again, Jim thinks, anyone who has been on the ship for any length of time has seen stranger things. At least they’re both fully clothed, he thinks, then banishes that thought because he’s still on duty and probably shouldn’t be imagining his First naked.

Not that he should ever be imagining Spock naked, because that has got to be some invasion of privacy or at the very least slightly pervy, but somehow it feels worse to indulge in fantasies while he’s still wearing his uniform, singed though it is from the firefight on the illegal freighter. Jim mentally shakes himself and realizes that while he got lost in his thoughts his feet had automatically lead them to Spock’s quarters. He knows he should probably have brought them to his ready room, or sickbay or one of the labs or something to make sure he hasn’t just brought a furry armful of contaminants onto the ship, but Spock is still eerily quiet so he brings them to where they’ve become most comfortable.

The animal makes a contented little growling noise once the door slides shut and the extra warmth of Spock’s quarters washes over them. This time Spock doesn’t flinch when Jim puts a hand on his bicep and pushes him gently into one of his chairs by the table with their last abandoned game of chess that had been interrupted by reports of a ship with illegal cargo in their quadrant.

“So,” Jim says, sitting across from him. “Talk.”

“You found it in the cargo hold?” Spock clarifies and Jim frowns because it’s not like Spock is prone to stating the obvious.

“No, Spock, I brought it onto the Orion smuggling ship from the Enterprise because I thought it would be good in a fire fight,” Jim says, rolling his eyes. Spock’s lips tighten and Jim sighs. “Sorry, keep going.”

“It is a sehlat,” Spock says, absently pulling the animal closer to his chest and rubbing its belly. It waves its paws in the air and starts flexing its sharp little claws in a way that totally doesn’t freak Jim out at all due to their proximity to Spock’s face. In his defense, it is a very nice face, all upturned eyebrows and cheekbones that are starting to blush faintly green. Unscarred, unlike Jim’s own face and he plans on keeping it that way.

“A sehlat, right,” Jim says. “Spock, I’m trying to be patient here but…”

“It is an animal that was indigenous to Vulcan-that-was,” Spock says quietly. “I am not sure how many survived its destruction. I know some must have been on off world zoos or privately owned, but to my knowledge they hadn’t been widely introduced to any other planet so the number must be quite low. The few that remain would be quite valuable indeed.”

“So a cargo hold full of them…” Jim says.

“Would probably be worth quite a fortune,” Spock replies, raising an eyebrow. Jim feels suddenly relieved, glad that at least curiosity is still enough to draw Spock out of his sudden funk. “There are more of them?”

“Yeah, hey, put that little guy down and you can go see the rest. They should probably be scanned and checked out anyways before we figure out where to put them. Do suppose it would be easier to use the transporter or to try and herd them onto a shuttlecraft? No, Scotty can probably adjust the cargo transporter for biological entities,” Jim muses. “I’ll go talk to him about it.”

“I should leave this sehlat in my quarters?” Spock asks as he stands.

“Yeah, I mean, you’ll have to put him down in order to check out the others, and no point in dragging him back to the other ship only to bring him back here,” Jim says. “And until we sehlat-proof one of the Enterprise’s cargo holds he’s less likely to get lost in a smaller space like this. If you’re worried about him clawing up your stuff we can stick him in my room or the bathroom or something.”

“No!” Spock says, then takes a step back. “It will likely be more comfortable in the warmer temperature set here.”

“Fine,” Jim says. “Once you get back to the other ship just listen for the sound of Chekov squealing about finding new life forms and that should lead you to the right cargo hold.”

“I…” Spock begins. “I had a sehlat as a pet when I was a child.”

“Oh,” Jim says, feeling something clench in his chest. “Well, good…this way you’ll know how to take care of it then.”

He leaves before he can do something truly stupid like trying to hug Spock and starts heading down to engineering where Scotty is undoubtedly double-checking all the engines despite the fact that they barely took a hit in their fight with the Orion raider ship.

“Hey Scotty!” Jim shouts, making his way toward the sound of a thunk followed by obscenities. “How long would it take to modify the cargo transporter to not kill several hundred small animals? Also how long would it take to animal-proof one of the cargo holds?”

“Ah, are we talking theoretically or actually?” Scotty asks as he emerges from underneath one of the coolant tanks.

“Actually,” Jim replies. “As in this isn’t the beginning of a drinking game but something that is happening right now.”

“So it wasn’t a slaving ship,” Scotty says. “That’s good, I think. Okay well, animal-proofing one of the holds shouldn’t take more than half an hour’s work by half a dozen ensigns, erm, the transporter will be a bit more tricky, but if you don’t mind me doing a few tweaks that may or may not be technically on the books as legal…”

“Whatever you want, just don’t tell me about it,” Jim says. “Contact Spock once you’re ready, he’s on the other ship getting the animals ready.”

“Just what kind of creatures should I be expecting, sir?” Scotty asks as they walk back across the platform.

“Sehlats,” Jim says and sees Scotty’s face light up. “You’ve heard of them?”

“Aye,” Scotty says. “Vulcan right? Didn’t think I’d ever get to see any because of the…you know.”

“Yeah,” Jim says.

“I’ll let you and the Commander know when things are right and ready,” Scotty says as he grabs a few tools from a nearby console.

“Thanks, Scotty,” Jim says.

His next stop is sickbay where he finds Bones in his office.

“Injuries?” Jim asks, letting himself sink into one of the plush chairs.

“A few minor ones on our side, a few more major ones on their side, nothing to write home about,” Bones says. “Their side is all in the brig now though so we should be all set.”

“Good,” Jim says. “Because I want you to go over to the other ship.”

“What?” Bones exclaims. “Nobody commed me about any more injuries and I was told this ended up being a smuggling ship not a slaver.”

“Yeah, it’s not that,” Jim says with a laugh. “They were smuggling sehlats.”

“You say that like I’m supposed to know what the hell that is,” Bones says.

“It’s a Vulcan…well it looks kind of like a teddy bear with teeth,” Jim says. “And we need them checked over before we can bring them aboard.”

“I’m a doctor not a damned veterinarian,” McCoy grumbles, but he’s already pulling a tricorder from his desk and Jim smiles.

“Yeah, but when else are you going to get a chance to see Spock surrounded by purring balls of fur,” Jim says. “I need to comm. Starfleet. Then the new Vulcan colony as well. Oh, and there’s already one sehlat in Spock’s quarters- don’t ask- so before you go just stop by and make sure that it’s okay, will you? It has a damaged ear.”

“You want me to go into Spock’s quarters,” McCoy says, narrowing his eyes at Jim.

“Yeah,” Jim says. “Just don’t tell him, it’ll be fine, he’ll never know.”

“He’ll know,” Bones says. “And I’m going to tell him that it’s all your fault.”

“It’s not like I’m asking you to rummage through his things, just make sure that I didn’t dump a sick or dying animal from his dead home planet in his quarters, okay?” Jim says. “I mean, it’s already got to be hard for him.”

“The two of you, I swear to god,” Bones says, trailing off as he walks toward the officer’s deck.

“What?” Jim calls out to his friend’s back, but just receives a rude gesture in response. “That’s not very professional!”

“You’re not very professional!” he hears back as he walks to the turbolift. He can’t argue with that so he braces his shoulders and heads toward his ready room to face Starfleet.

It’s hours later by the time he’s finished first with a chain of admirals (“You opened fire on a ship full of Vulcan pets?” Pike had asked, openly laughing at him. “They’re an endangered species,” Jim had pointed out. “You know most people get flowers,” Pike had replied in a complete non-sequiter and Jim wondered just when his mentor had started to lose it), and then a whole view screen of somber Vulcans who he had a much harder time reading than he did Spock. His First Officer isn’t on the bridge or in his lab so Jim makes his way to his quarters, happy when he’s let in on the first chime.

“Captain,” Spock says, setting that first sehlat down on his desk. It sits and snuffles wetly at Spock’s pad and stylus. “I was just about to bring this sehlat down to Cargo Bay Three with the others.”

“Oh, um,” Jim steps forward and scratches the animal’s back just above its stubby tail. It stretches slowly, its claws scratching gently against the glass of the desk. “Well I mean I was thinking you could keep it here if you want. I’m sure there are some science-y readings you’ll want to take, and it’ll probably be easier just to have one on hand rather than wrangling your way through the herd down in cargo.”

“Yes, that would be logical,” Spock agrees eagerly. “It is unlikely that I will have another opportunity to study such a creature once we reach the colony.”

“Okay, so that’s settled,” Jim says, a warm feeling filling his chest as he sees Spock’s face relax. “I have to go fill out forms to explain this to headquarters, but chess later?”

“That would be agreeable,” Spock says, his voice soft. “Jim.”

“Good,” Jim says, resisting the urge once again to reach out and touch. He gives the sehlat a final pat instead before making his way out of the room.

They don’t talk much while they drink tea and play chess that night, although Jim revels in it. Once silence between them would have been fraught with tension and the inevitable missteps once they did speak, but now it’s comfortable, easy. Halfway through the game the sehlat starts to try and chew on Jim’s socked feet and he picks it up, plopping it down on his lap. It sits and watches as they move pieces until finally Jim reaches his hand forward to move a pawn when it reaches up with one paw and grabs at his fingers.

“Vincent thinks that’s a bad move I guess,” Jim laughs, smiling even more when Spock raises an eyebrow at him like he knew he would.

“I hardly think a sehlat would be intelligent enough to know a good move from a bad one,” Spock says before pausing slightly. “Vincent?”

“I’ve been calling him Vincent, you know, cause of the wonky ear,” Jim says waving his hand vaguely by the side of his head. “Like the painter.”

“Doctor McCoy has informed me that this particular sehlat is female,” Spock tells him seriously.

“Eh, Vincent could totally be a girl’s name,” Jim replies with a shrug. Spock’s shoulders are relaxed, his eyebrows both slightly raised and the corner of one lip quirked and Jim can’t seem to stop grinning, so he doesn’t.

It takes them three days to get to the Vulcan colony, another half a day to get the sehlats down to the surface. They end up herding them onto shuttles in groups of twenty because Scotty seems reluctant to let anyone outside the ship know about their new transporter capabilities and also because as Uhura rightly points out in the conference room that plopping several hundred semi-wild animals in the middle of a strange desert is probably not a good idea. Jim decides to reward her for this insight by putting her in charge of organizing The Great Sehlat Migration of 2258. Thankfully Scotty immediately volunteers to help with the logistics despite not wanting to use the transporters, and Sulu and Chekov soon follow. McCoy grumbles some more about not being an alien vet, but Jim sees him the next day helping Scotty and Uhura chase the last wayward sehlats into a shuttle, even if he won’t ride in one of them himself.

The whole thing goes much more smoothly than Jim could have anticipated and he gives the whole crew half a day’s shore leave before they ship out again. He uses the time to visit with Spock the Elder, while Spock the younger presumably visits with his father. They meet back at the checkpoint and beam back aboard the ship together.

“All set Mr. Scott?” Jim asks, stepping off the platform.

“Aye sir, you’re the last ones on,” Scotty replies. Jim comms the bridge and orders Sulu to take them out of orbit.

“Chess?” Jim asks as they head toward their quarters. Spock doesn’t respond, just nods his head in assent. They enter Spock’s quarters automatically and Jim almost runs into the back of his First as he stops dead just inside the doors. On the table Vincent is rolling around on her back amongst the ruins of the 3-D chessboard, chewing on the white queen.

“Oh,” Jim says, peering around Spock’s shoulder. “That’s okay, it was just a ship standard set. I’ve got one in my room we can use.”

“You said you were going to bring Vi…the last sehlat down to the surface,” Spock says, turning to face Jim.

“I think technically I said I’d take care of it, which is really not the same thing at all,” Jim replies, moving to the replicator to order two cups of tea.

“Jim, the possession of a Class One Endangered species…” Spock begins before Jim waves him off.

“Look, we were ordered to return the sehlats to the Vulcan people, now last I checked that included you. Because your science team inventoried the sehlats in the cargo hold, the manifest said we were to deliver two hundred and thirteen sehlats to the surface of the colony and that’s exactly what we did,” Jim says, setting the cups down on the table. He carefully extricates the chess piece from Vincent’s mouth and pulls a chew toy he’d gotten from Chekov earlier and places it in Vincent’s greedy paws. “Besides, if we’re going to get in trouble for anything, it’s definitely going to be whatever it is that Scotty did to the cargo transporters. I don’t even want to think about what he’s probably done to the engines.”

“Jim…” Spock says softly, but he sits down and pulls one of the cups of tea closer to him as Jim clears away the ruined board. He picks Vincent off the table and cradles her, ineffectually tugging at the toy that the sehlat has sunk her fangs into.

“Besides, we named her,” Jim says. “You can’t just get rid of things once you’ve named them. It’s like…law or something.”

“That is a blatant untruth,” Spock replies, but he doesn’t make any move to put Vincent down.

“You know you can give her a Vulcan name if you want,” Jim says after a moment filled with nothing but Vincent’s rumbling purring as Spock scratches her good ear.

“Sehlats are intelligent creatures and I believe that she has already acclimatized to the name ‘Vincent’,” Spock says. He leans closer to the animal. “Vincent.”

Vincent bats at Spock’s face in response and purrs louder before hopping down to the floor.

“I’ll just go get the other chess set,” Jim says. He gets up and walks around Spock to get to the doorway, but Spock stops him with one hand on his arm. “Yeah?”

“Thank you,” Spock says, reaching up to cup the side of Jim’s neck with one hand. Jim almost jerks away in surprise at the rare skin-to-skin contact, but finds himself leaning forward instead. Spock meets him halfway, pressing their lips together gently. Jim loses some time, he’s not sure how much, but the next thing he knows he’s straddling Spock’s lap on what is becoming an increasingly precarious position on the flimsy metal chair, hands buried in Spock’s hair and kissing him like his life depends on it until suddenly Spock pulls away.

“What, sorry, too fast?” Jim asks breathlessly. Spock just looks to the side and Jim follows his gaze to where Vincent is watching them curiously where she’s sitting on the floor a few feet away. “Oh hell, this is going to be a thing from now on, isn’t it.”

Jim forces himself off Spock’s lap and plucks Vincent off the floor before dashing toward the bathroom that connects their quarters. He dumps the sehlat into his own room before practically running back into Spock’s room.

“No where were we?”

Later, much later, after they’ve let Vincent back in and they’ve all settled down on Spock’s bed (that Jim is pretty sure is larger than regulation, not that he’s complaining, mind) and Jim is wondering whether they can have Scotty install some sort of cat-flap type thing between their quarters so Vincent has more room to roam about, Spock suddenly lets out a huff of air that Jim recognizes as the half-Vulcan version of laughter.

“What?” Jim asks, suddenly fighting an onslaught of self-consciousness.

“Jim, in your research on sehlats you didn’t happen to note the average size of an adult female, did you,” Spock says, pulling back. One corner of his mouth twitches in a way that Jim knows expresses amusement.

“No,” Jim admits. “Why? Wait, Vincent is an adult right? Bones said she was healthy despite the wonky ear.”

“Quite healthy, yes,” Spock agrees. “For a baby sehlat.”

“Oh,” Jim says. He glances down at where Vincent is curled at the edge of the bed. He thinks she’s already grown slightly even though they’ve had her for less than a week. “So how big do sehlats get?”

Spock doesn’t reply, just lets out a real laugh, possibly the first Jim has ever heard.

“Well good thing we’ve got a big ship,” Jim says, laying his head back down on Spock’s shoulder and twining their hands together in a way that makes Spock hum appreciatively. "And the entire universe to fly her in."

“Indeed,” Spock agrees. “I believe you’ll find that’s a very good thing.”