It is to satisfy his emotional need to rebel.
It is to prove that if they do not desire his presence, he is not going to cower and beg for acceptance when it has been made abundantly clear that they would have preferred his parents never succeed in conceiving him.
He goes to a planet he knew only vaguely from stories his mother told of a city drenched with rain. A planet he was never taken to visit, because his parents had committed to raising him as a Vulcan; to honoring a choice that perhaps he was too young to ever have made. What child, at age 4, should be asked the direction of their life and taken seriously when that choice is made?
Spock goes to a city that is loud and transient and diverse, where the sky above is blue and the ground is green and the temperature is cooler and fluctuates far more wildly than on Vulcan, and he is there, uncertain of his footing but certain, at least, of that.
He enrolls at Starfleet and tests out of many classes. They have no idea what to do with him. He is far beyond their cirriculum; he is far beyond them. Vulcans at the Academy are too rare, and Vulcans from his way of life upon Vulcan—sheltered, committed entirely to Vulcan and not expatriots—are even rarer.
He was first in his year on Vulcan; his academic record from his youth is flawless. He is the strongest touch-telepath in generations (and that, for Terrans especially, seems difficult to navigate). If Vulcan had princes, he would be one of them. Black Prince, perhaps, but irrefutably a child of two worlds who belongs to neither.
His academic advisor is Captain Christopher Pike, a man who seems reluctantly conscripted into teaching children while his ship is finalized.
"Teach," Pike advises when Spock finishes his academic curriculum and is looking into an uncertain future; cultivating multiple options is logical, but on Earth and in Starfleet his options are all too broad, and he is uncertain of which is best. "Maybe you'll find it."
"To what do you refer?" Spock inquires, puzzled and suspecting he has missed a verbal cue.
"Whatever it is you're looking for," Pike replies cryptically, and then turns in obvious dismissal to take a communication from the 2IC on the Jimmy Carter, Number One.
Spock finds that Terran conversation is convoluted. It is not the lying which is difficult—lies are easy to spot when one has only heard the truth. It is the way that they do not say what they mean, or that they think in abstract metaphor.
Spock has a purpose: he is in Starfleet. To suggest that he is waiting for an ephemeral… entity or event is something only a Terran would do.
He submits himself for instruction, and he teaches the advanced physics courses, and codes the Kobayashi Maru. Pike suggests that Spock's disgust with the hierarchy of Starfleet is being channeled into Spock's work on the test. This is perhaps true: but it is also true that he wants those who endeavor to become captains to face the worst things: if Spock is going to join someone, someday, as a captain, he wants to see what he, she or ze is capable of doing under the worst Spock can come up with.
He dines with his parents at the embassy when they are on the planet. Walks with his mother through the streets of San Francisco and startles himself at his familiarity with a city he has not yet come to think of as "home". She laughs and takes him to places she remembers from her youth, speaking wistfully of her time with her friend Maggie, and it is one thing to have heard these stories, but another to hear them and know their context.
"They had a rally," Mother confides, with a smile. "I think they thought I was somehow being coerced into marrying him. Things were...well. We didn't choose an easy path, that's true, but I like to think things worked out fine—even if "fine" has variable definitions," she teases, and Spock looks down at her and feels a surge of affection. He has only ever been helplessly adoring of his mother, who taught through example how to endure uncertainty and the disdain and discomfort of multitudes.
He is not...content. "Happy" is too emotional a term for him to be entirely comfortable using, but he is not content. He is restless, and vexed by the apathy and idiocy of his students. Leaving the equations on the board satisfies an emotional need to throw into apathetic students' faces their own inadequacies. Pike deals with his frustrations by baiting Admirals and harassing his wife and being a force of nature on Starfleet's campus. Spock deals with his by taunting students. They are neither of them unaware that these are coping mechanisms.
The first time he walks into his classroom and finds the problem solved, he stops and stands, completely still, eyes tracing over and over the math because it is correct, but even he has to stretch to realize exactly how it's been solved.
He watches his students carefully, looking for a twitch of pride or a smirk or even...it is not a Vulcan, he knows, nor is it a Tellarite. Vulcans would not hide competence, and in their own way neither would Tellarites; boasting is a sport among that race.
He puts up another problem next to it. It is solved within a week.
And then another.
He checks security feeds, and on the fourth he starts spending inordinate amounts of time in his classroom, grading papers there instead of at home or in his office.
It is warm April when he comes into the room and finds a human male sits on the desk in front of the problem. He chews on his lower lip as he works through it mentally. He is wearing slouching jeans and a leather jacket, and Spock does not recognize his face from campus, and Spock believes that even he would remember that face. Some people have features aesthetically pleasing to all races: this male has one. He also carries himself as though he is never uncertain of his welcome: such people are rare.
He solves it in thirty minutes, and Spock works out the how because it's always so different, how he gets to the answer, before he makes himself known.
"You are not a cadet, nor a member of Starfleet."
"No," the man agrees, and his eyes are very blue, and he seems ready to run, though there is nothing tense in his posture, nor any sense of fear in his face.
"And yet you have solved four of my problems." And have failed to claim credit for any of them, he does not add. "I promised an immediate A and a recommendation and commendation for the student who first solved the problem here. An A would mean nothing to you, a commendation, given that you are not in fact a member of Starfleet, would be superfluous and inconsequential. Would you like a recommendation to get into the Academy?"
The human looks prepared to laugh, and shoves his hands into his pockets, shifting his weight. A bit of skin shows between his shirt and the waistband of his jeans. "No."
"That is illogical, please explain."
The human takes a hand out of his pocket to run over his face and scratch through his hair. "It's just math. Doesn't mean I want to go up…there."
Spock follows the wave of his hand out the window, towards the stars beyond. The interesting thing about Terrans is that they lie without realizing it, because they so frequently lie to themselves.
"I won't say no to a drink," the man offers, and it is unrelated, but Terrans are strange and Spock is fascinated, so he nods.
"I will get my coat," he says. They walk, because it is nice out, and then Spock says, "I apologize, I did not get your name."
"Jim. Jim Kirk," Kirk says, and Spock knows that name. Jim Kirk was a survivor of the Tarsus IV Genocide and much lauded by other survivors, though he had only been thirteen at the time. He had returned to Earth and vanished from the public eye. He is the heir to George Kirk's legacy (which Spock finds specious; the man did a great deed, but it is perhaps less incredible than everyone has made it seem. If either of the parents is going to have a legacy, certainly it will be Winona Kirk).
"I am Spock, son of Sarek," Spock says, and then touches Kirk's arm to encourage him to turn into the restaurant. It is by the embassy, and can be reasonably counted on to prepare Vulcan cuisine. He has not yet eaten, and it is Tuesday. On Tuesdays he finds he prefers home cooking.
Kirk slouches and splays his legs with a grin that invites Spock in on the humor of the situation. Spock takes a moment to survey why there should be humor as he folds his napkin across his lap: Kirk does not fit, and the other patrons are uncomfortable.
Kirk's clothes and attitude compound the fact that they are a Vulcan interspecial couple, and he is the son of a Vulcan and a Human, which a fair percentage of the clientele in the room know. It warrants, he supposes, attention. Even Vulcans are glancing over: they have never known what to make of him, and he imagines that this causes them discomfort. Vulcans are purests.
"Yeah," Kirk is saying to the waiter. "I'll get the bacon burger and fries. A lot of fries. With salt—and not like, you know. Skins on fries, mostly baked potatoes just crisped a little. I want honest-to-god fries that have been boiled in a vat of fat and are crispy and gold. Can I get that?" he asks Spock, who lifts an eyebrow at him.
"I believe they can accomodate that request," he says, and realizes that he is, in fact, laughing with Jim Kirk. It is most unexpected.
The waiter huffs but is appeased when Spock orders traditional dishes which will tax their very expensive chef.
"So, you got a last name, Commander Spock?" Kirk is eyeing the lemon in his water goblet distastefully, and after he fishes it out with his fork Spock gestures for him to put it in Spock's glass. He has no irrational aversion to citrus.
"You are neither a pupil nor a subordinate, it is appropriate that you refer to me by my given name. As to a surname…you could not pronounce it."
"Aw, c'mon. I've got a talented tongue."
"I am sure you can supply references to that effect," Spock agrees mildly. "However, it will not be necessary."
Kirk grins at him over his glass of water. He does not seem to mind Spock watching him, and so Spock does not make a conscious effort to stop.
"Are you a consultant?" Spock asks as Kirk devours his burger.
"No. I'm a bartender," Kirk replies, and leans his chair onto its back two legs.
Spock does not understand—he comprehends, but does not understand.
"There is a 67.8% chance you will overbalance," he informs Kirk. "And there is an 89.4% chance that you will give the maitre'd a headache from stress."
"Good for him," Kirk snorts, but lowers the chair. "Gets the blood flowing."
He is content to let Spock pay the bill, and Spock is content to pay it.
"So," Kirk says, pushing his hands into his pockets as they stand outside the restaurant. "I gotta say, that was probably the worst burger I have ever had."
"I am sorry you found it less than satisfactory."
"Don't worry about it. I'll make you make it up to me." He hails a taxi and grins, moving in as though he intends Spock to join him. If Spock were uncharitable, he would suspect this is a ploy to make Spock pay the fare.
It turns out that it is, and that Kirk is not even slightly ashamed of it.
"Jim. Jim—James Tiberius Kirk," Pike says, staring at him when Spock nods in agreement. "He's—what the hell is he doing in San Francisco? Last time I saw him he was in a bar in Riverside, Iowa, drunk out of his mind."
The tone in which he says "Riverside, Iowa" implies that it is an undesirable location.
"Tending bars, from what I am able to surmise."
Pike stares at him. "I just—how did you even meet him?"
"He solved the problems I leave on my board."
Spock just looks at him. Pike stares back. "Look, it's just—there's some stuff you—you should look at—" he shakes his head, frustrated. "I'm not saying you have to, I'm just saying, after I got back from seeing him last year I looked up the kid's record and...he's been through a lot."
"Your tone suggests that you are warning me not to expect too much or pressure him to do something, which I find curious as I am merely spending time with him" Spock says, not quite understanding what Pike is attempting to convey. He suspects this is because Pike does not understand what he is attempting to convey.
He does look up Kirk's record. He watches the interview a frail seventeen-year-old Tom Leighton gave seven years ago, firmly and determinedly defending Jim Kirk from the insinuations of the interviewer. He reacquaints himself with the story of George Kirk, and and finds the curious record of Winona Kirk, who seems to be an intelligence officer whose actual title Spock cannot determine. She is currently listed as an active engineer in Starfleet, rank: Lieutenant. It is strange she has not been promoted since 2233.
Spock has lived his entire life as a public figure. The details of his conception are public domain, and he remains a subject of controversy and interest in some circles.
Spock cannot imagine surviving Tarsus IV as a Terran child of thirteen.
In the first week that Spock knows Kirk, they see each other five times. Spock feels that this is a lot—he just cannot determine whether his own tendencies towards solitude bias his experience.
Kirk shows up after Spock is done teaching, promising to take him to get "actual American food that doesn't taste like shit."
Spock is attempting to explain Kirrria's Theory to Chekov, who is a bright boy, but very young, and Nyota Uhura is presumably waiting to discuss her latest assignment in her Vulcan 407 class.
Kirk exhales and swings his feet; Spock looks pointedly towards his board, where there is another problem up for Kirk. Kirk rolls his eyes at Spock, but settles in.
Chekov leaves once he understands the basics of the theory, and Spock stands behind Kirk and watches. Kirk makes strange leaps; he intuits and has internalized theories to the point where he can accurately and reliably manipulate them.
"You solve it in a singularly unique way," Spock observes. He presses a datafile into Kirk's hand before collecting his coat. "Your mind is even more Human than most of my students'." It is not precisely what Spock means, but he does not know how to phrase it another way.
"Coming from you, that's a compliment," Kirk informs him cheerfully.
The eatery is loud and thrumming with people who shout, and Kirk effortlessly shouts over most of them. Spock is observing that he is most comfortable in chaos.
The more Spock observes, the more he becomes convinced that Kirk is likely the mathematical mind of their age: he cannot help it but do it. He breathes it, does it without thought. And Spock, despite what he might have expected, does not have to dumb down his conversation and can have a theoretical discussion about the properties of cold-burning stars without once having to pause and assess whether or not Kirk has managed to comprehend what Spock has said.
It has been three years since Spock has been around someone he has been able to speak to in that way; perhaps longer. It is therefore a source of friction between them that Jim is so adamantly dismissive of his gifts, and is content to wallow. He has no drive to rise above his experiences—he has been taught by them that being subtly intelligent and keeping it as a hidden weapon to be pulled out only when things have reached a breaking point. It is logical, but a strange misconception on Jim's part that Spock does not understand.
"I do not understand why you would not want others to know," Spock persists in a bar on Divisadero.
"What's the point?" Kirk asks, biting on a straw (Kirk has what Spock's students call an 'oral fixation'—he is always touching his mouth or putting something in it or licking his lips. It is wildly distracting). He hands the customer a bill, and then hands Spock another glass of water.
"It is illogical to hide a skill set."
Kirk shrugs and licks his lips. "I'm not really hiding it. I'm just not, you know, using it for the greater good."
"This is ridiculous," the customer informs Jim. "No way did we drink that much."
"Yeah, Peaches, you did," Kirk replies, matching the customer's tone. Kirk a no problem starting fights; that Spock is intimately aware of. He hopes today he will abstain from doing so; they are going to see an art exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, and one of the artists is Roberta al-Hiradi, a Tarsus IV survivor.
"Yes, I can see how this is preferable," Spock agrees mildly.
"Vulcan pig, dunno why we even put up with you," Peaches' friend says. It is a fascinating truth that Vulcan is the recipient of the majority of Terran xenophobia. He suspects it is due to the fact that Vulcan has not assimilated or been affected as strongly by the blending of cultures within the Federation.
"Because if you had attempted to conquer Vulcan we would have destroyed you," Spock replies. The man takes a swing at him: he is inebriated, and Spock has no time to reason with him. He administers the pinch and then again to both men, and they go down. Spock takes out his wallet and hands Kirk a card. Kirk staring at the two men on the ground, his hands hovering around his eyes
"Jim," Spock urges patiently, holding out the money. Jim takes it, still staring at the collapsed forms.
"Spock, tell me you didn't kill them," he says, raising his eyes to Spock's in abject horror.
"Humans are a melodramatic race; I merely sedated them."
Jim looks at the men on the floor, then at Spock, then back again. "You have got to teach me that," he informs Spock.
Spock does, after the exhibit. The girl, Roberta al-Hiradi, takes one look at Jim and then will not let him out of her sight for the night. She talks to him about everything, about her boyfriend, about her family, and every so often she stops and looks at Jim and then says, "You checked up on me?!"
Jim just widens his eyes innocently and she forgives him, smiling as though pleased to have merited the attention. She basks in it, her small hand firmly in Jim's throughout the night, and when it is time for them to depart she clings to him, and then wipes her face, telling him to keep in touch, you asshole.
Jim kisses her forehead and laughs, but the smile drops from his face as soon as they step out onto the street. Spock waits. With Jim, there will be no moving him until he is entirely ready to speak.
"Tarsus was a clusterfuck," Jim says as they're walking aimlessly down streets. "It was just..." he exhales, rubs a hand through his hair. "But did you see how awesome that was? She's doing so fucking well for herself."
Spock does not mention the old scars on her wrists, because he doubts very highly that Jim missed it.
"I read that datafile you gave me," Jim says, and looks at him.
Jim allows the silence to linger, then shrugs. "It was interesting."
Spock plies him with them, after that. Inserts tests and reads the copious notes Jim leaves in the margins. He spars with Jim and does not touch him too long, does not cling to the lines of him, is not irrationally envious of Hikaru Sulu, who has been coerced into being Jim's running partner. He is not envious of anything else which draws upon Jim's time. That would be illogical.
It is such a simple opening that at first, when Spock is looking bemusedly at his comm and wondering why he is Jim's emergency contact, it does not occur to him. But then it does, and he calls everyone, calls in favors.
Jim is stagnant and plateauing, and Spock is not an idiot. Jim knows everything about Starfleet the way only a Starfleet brat can; he watches what is going on, he argues with Pike and Number One on policy. Jim's earlier insistance that he does not want to be "up there" was a blatant lie, and Spock is, for lack of better phrasing, fed up.
In the end, the judge looks at Spock and Pike and says, "Why isn't he...I mean, does he like living like this?"
"I do not know," Spock replies over the sound of Pike's snort. "I am attempting to rectify the situation."
"Godspeed," the judge mutters, and Jim is now Spock's responsibility. McCoy insists he will spend the night with Jim, and so Spock begins getting Jim's curriculum in order.
Jim stares at him when he opens the door to his apartment and finds Spock on the other side. "I should—I should be seriously pissed at you. You had no fucking right to—"
"The alternative is clear: accept the penalties of the law without any protection," Spock says. "Or do the logical thing and live up to your potential."
Jim chews his thumbnail and Spock reaches out and removes it from his mouth. "I—" he begins, and then shakes his head, stepping inside. Spock follows and shuts the door behind him, turning curiously.
"The last paper I published I did under a stupid assumed name and—"
"Rhett O'Hara, I know," Spock agrees. He had read that paper: it is required reading for Thurgood's Advanced Astrophysics and Mathematics (PHYS 731). He had recognized the equations Jim was scrawling on bar napkins, and Jim had carelessly told him it was something he'd been working on.
"—I wait what?"
"You caused a bit of controversy."
"I haven't done school anything since I was 14, okay? And like—" he shakes his head, and Spock abruptly realizes that this tense, angry appearance is Jim Kirk dealing with fear.
"I do not believe you capable of being anything other than exceptional when you have decided to do something," Spock informs him. "It is up to you to decide to do this."
His first semester Spock and Pike handle incredulous, "Wait, Winona's kid?" questions (with several "Wait, George's kid?"s thrown in for good measure), and Pike just laughs and says, "Winona's kind of...terrifying. And Jim's...distressingly more Winona than he is George."
His ethics professor comes to Spock complaining about Jim disrupting the class.
"You are teaching Jim Kirk about genocide?" Spock asks, once he has had the full story from Yanz. "You are attempting to educate him on Tarsus IV?"
"It's the course material!"
"I understand that, Commander. I would point out, however, that the Academy encourages students to participate in open dialogue with the instructors, and that Jim Kirk is a survivor of the genocide on Tarsus IV, and as such is likely to react poorly to being taught about it, however valid your insights may be."
"I can't just excuse him from the course."
"On the contrary, it is within your power to do so. You could offer him an alternate project or require him to do a research topic. Your refusal to do so and your insistance on speaking to me, instead of Cadet Kirk, implies that you believe he has insight to offer and are hoping to gain them."
"What did you say to Yanz?" Jim demands that Thursday, when Spock has his hand clenched around Jim's throat and Jim pinned to the wall, Jim's body fitting against his as though it was designed to fit with his.
"Nothing that was not true. I assume you have a research paper."
"Twenty-nine pages," Jim agrees, voice barely coming out, and pressed this close, Jim's skin a press against Spock's...
It is inappropriate. Jim is now his student and his charge, and he is not going to take advantage. It would be entirely inappropriate.
In Jim's first semester he gets perfect marks, and arrives at the door of Spock's office, takes him out to dinner and talks about Archer's compliment, about getting a ship and working with Pike or Number One, and doesn't eat a bite. Spock has been monitoring this: when Jim is excited or not going out with the explicit intent of eating, he does not consume food. Old habits, Spock knows. He is aware of it, and so now he simply orders gravy fries and leaves them in front of Jim.
Spock will not eat them as a vegetarian, and Jim is very aware of it.
It works, and Jim eats, gesturing with the fries, leaning in towards Spock with a smile so wide it seems impossible, and his energy is infectious.
"Can I stay at yours?" Jim asks as they're leaving. "Bones and Christine are having their illicit unspeakable 'study session' and I was an idiot for letting him live with me."
Spock had genuinely thought to give him the guest room.
Had genuinely not expected to be pressed against the wall beside his bedroom door, Jim's teeth and hands and his body spread under Spock's warm and welcoming, and Spock is falling, falling, the footing he thought he had is gone and he is left clinging to Jim.
He does not mind.
It changes everything, and it changes nothing. They are as they have been for over two years now, and perhaps that is indicative of the type of relationship they have always had—that it was always going to end here, at this point.
Father stays silent on the subject, and Mother worries. She wants to meet Jim, and always asks after him whenever Spock calls.
"Oh, sweetheart," she laughs, when he inquires if she thought they were romantically involved, "I thought you would be."
Nyota Uhura wants to know why it took so long, a question to which Spock has no answer other than he has no idea how to navigate Terran romantic overtures.
"Oh god," Pike says when Jim opens the door to Spock's apartment in only jeans, on the comm with someone informing them that they are required to take his shift tonight, as he has to study.
Spock is working on pressuring him to withdrawing from bartending altogether, but it is a losing battle.
"I want to know what about him makes you lose your mind," Pike informs him, and then hastily corrects himself, "No, no I don't—it's an expression. Look, the thing is, this is dangerous. Not because they'll give a shit after he's graduated, after he's graduated no one really cares and, well, you're from your parents and his mother used to walk around big as a whale lacing people's nose-candy with powdered bleach, so."
Spock raises his eyebrows and drinks his tea. He suspects this has a point, but Pike is often sidetracked when it comes to the Kirks.
"Right, the point is, you already browbeat a hell of a lot of people over him, and he's going to need you to bail him out even more if he keeps like he's going with the Kobayashi Maru because you know he's going to organize a march or something in protest of it being unwinnable.
"I'm just saying, someone pointing out that you're...emotionally compromised? Not really the ace in the hole we need here."
"Jim is perfectly capable of defending himself," Spock says.
"And I find it difficult to imagine in this scenario you will be standing by offering no assistance."
Pike glares at him. "Look. What I'm saying is that you're in deep, and people in deep in this job burn out fast."
"I'm dirtside while she's in the air. Sometimes you just threaten to die of loneliness," Pike says flatly. "Just—"
"You are concerned for him," Spock realizes.
"He's Jim Kirk," Pike says, and Spock nods. It's a phrase many use, and Spock understands the inclination to do so. Jim is difficult—impossible—to describe. Spock thinks this is because of the things he guards so closely to his chest; things that one must know, such as Tarsus, the fact that Jim is the greatest mathematical mind of the age but will never do anything with that because it is not where he is most joyful.
Spock is very good at what he does. He executes his duties as professor, advisor and Commander perfectly.
He has an unparalleled ear for music and an unparalleled eye for art: his is the product of his upbringing.
His emotional control has yet to be broken once since he has reached adulthood. Given the circumstances he finds himself in on a monthly basis he would suggest that this is no small feat.
He is skilled at hand-to-hand combat. He can hack a system and he can shoot a target at 600 yards, given proper weaponry and conditions.
One day he will be a member of an endangered species, and it will seem that there are times when every mission would remind him of that. When a Vulcan crewmember dies it will be more devastating because to his race it must be more devastating than to any other race. Each life is infinitely more precious.
And there will be days when he thinks that he has lost so much of who he was when he refused the Vulcan Science Academy. He will be as angry, but for different reasons. He will have blood on his hands and have lost a dear mother. He will have bonded with a Terran male, and so much of him will be irrevocably tangled in with Jim.
Admiral Pike has said that Jim was the thing Spock was seeking before he knew he was looking. It is perhaps true, but would suggest one subscribed to a philosophy of predestination. Which, raised as a Vulcan, Spock cannot.
However, the time will come when he has an older counterpart from an alternate reality walking around masquerading as his father's cousin, and Jim has a head full of memories of a life they never led, and a galaxy which seems by the day more and more determined to throw its worst at them, and Spock will be uncertain of everything.
But he will be certain of Jim.
And that will be more than enough.